Chances are, if you live in Kentucky, you have never heard of Ellis Wilson. Wilson was born in Mayfield, Kentucky in 1899. His works capture the average lives of black people and black culture in both the Southern United States and in Haiti. The artist was known for his proficiency with color and his ability to use simplified forms to the maximum effect. Although he attended two years of college at Kentucky State University, Wilson left at age 19 to study art at the Art Institute of Chicago. After graduation, the artist struggled for five years in Chicago trying to make it in the commercial arts business. Eventually, he gave up and moved to New York where he became very involved in the “New Negro Art Movement” of the 1920s and 1930s. He remained in New York for the duration of his life.
During the height of his career in the 1930s and 1940s, Wilson was well-received and gained some prominence but he was never widely known while he was alive. After the artist’s death in 1977, he was largely forgotten in his home state. Then, in the 1985 The Bill Cosby Show decided to use a Wilson painting on the set. In the episode, Mrs. Huxtable acquired the painting, Funeral Procession, from an auction for $11,500 claiming it was made by her “Great Uncle Ellis” and soon after Dr. Huxtable hung the painting on the mantle. The painting remained over the mantle for the duration of the Cosby Show and ultimately, the exposure revived the interest in the artist.
On December 6, 2008 Neal Auction Company in New Orleans will be offering the paintings below for sale. You can bid online here.
Ellis Wilson, Colonnade, Promenade, Oil on Masonite, 24.5" X 37.5", Neal Auction Company (lot 386), will be auctioned on 12-6-08, Estimate: $10,000-$20,000 BID HERE