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Bonhams New York Ernie Barnes Sale

September 14, 2022
Solid Rock Congregation by Ernie Barnes, sold at Bonhams New York, commissioned by Margaret Bell-Byars in 1983

Solid Rock Congregation by Ernie Barnes

On Friday, September 9th, Bonhams New York held a very special sale, particularly because it was a rather brief affair. There was only a single lot in the catalogue: Solid Rock Congregation by Ernie Barnes. Why Bonhams didn’t just put it in the next 20th Century or American sale is unknown. Ever since the Ernie Barnes painting The Sugar Shack sold for $13M at Christie’s 20th Century sale on May 12th, the demand for and value of his paintings have completely skyrocketed. Most Ernie Barnes works that have sold since The Sugar Shack have greatly exceeded the expectations of auction house specialists. And Friday’s sale was no different. The painting, completed in 1983, is entitled Solid Rock Congregation. It shows the interior of a modest church on a Sunday morning. The American gospel singer Margaret Bell-Byars originally commissioned the work, and she can be seen singing on the right-hand side of the painting among other singers and instrumentalists. The canvas is very large, measuring about 36 by 48 inches. For such a large work, Bonhams specialists appeared comfortable with a $500K to $700K estimate. But, of course, bidders blew past the estimate within a few minutes. The hammer finally came down at $1.3M (or $1.62M w/p). This makes it the first time a Barnes work exceeded $1M since Main Street Pool Hall sold at Christie’s on June 28th for £1.2M / $1.47M (or £1.48M / $1.81M w/p). It helped that the Bonhams sale is not only the first time Solid Rock Congregation was sold at auction but the first time it’s been seen publicly since its creation thirty-nine years ago.