On 9 September 2022, a painting by Ernie Barnes (1938-2009) entitled ''Solid Rock Congregation'' was auctioned at Bonhams auction house in New York for a staggering $1.6 million. The result exceeded all expectations, the estimate being ''only" between $500,000 and $700,000.
The painting depicts a church scene on a Sunday morning with people singing, dancing and playing instruments. It is one example of Barnes' energetic and emotional multi-figural compositions. The work was commissioned by American gospel singer Margaret Bell, she is depicted as a woman singing into a microphone. The work measures 91 by 121 cm and was painted in acrylic on canvas.
Ernie Barnes was an American artist, as well as a professional football player, actor and author. He became famous in the art world for his style of elongated figures in motion. He studied at North Carolina Central University and specialized in art. After college, he continued his professional sports career as a football player, but never let his love of football overshadow his love of art. After retiring from sports, Barnes was hired by Sonny Werblin, owner of the New York Jets, a professional American football team. Instead of playing football, Barnes was expected to paint, while Werblin promoted his work, including organizing his debut solo exhibition at the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York in 1966.
The painting entitled ''Solid Rock Congregation" is not the first price hit for a Barnes work on the art market. In May 2022, a painting entitled: ''The Sugar Shack'' (1976) stole the show at Christie's auction in New York. The composition with an estimate of $150,000-200,000 was auctioned for $15.3 million. Also in May, Bonham's sold another painting by the artist: ''Maestro'' reached a price of $882,375, the estimate being between $25,000 and $35,000.
Photo: ''Solid Rock Congregation'' by Ernie Barnes, courtesy of Bonhams