Ernie Barnes‘ 1976 painting The sugar shackfamiliar to millions of viewers for its use during the 70s sitcom’s closing credits Good time as well as the album cover of Marvin Gaye’s 1976 release I want yousold at auction in New York last night for $15.3 million.
According to auction house Christie’s, the sale set a bidding record for Barnes’ work of more than 27 times the artist’s previous record and was 76 times the high estimate of $200,000. The 10-minute auction drew 22 bidders ahead of Houston-based energy trader Bill Perkins.
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“I would have paid a lot more,” Perkins said The New York Times following the auction. “For some segments of America, it’s more famous than the mona-lisa.”
AP Photo/John Rooney
The sugar shack, which depicts a dance hall filled with vibrantly drawn black dancers lying to the beat of an R&B band, was inspired by Barnes’ memories of his childhood hometown in North Carolina and is painted in the style who became known as the Black Romantic. Gaye was so taken with the image that he asked permission to use it for his 1976 album cover.
During the fourth season (1976-77) of the hit sitcom produced by Norman Lear Good time, The sugar shack was used during both the show’s opening and closing credits, and in later seasons it was featured in either the opening or closing credits. During the show’s fifth and sixth seasons, the painting appeared in the Evans family’s family apartment, suggesting it was the work of eldest son and aspiring painter “JJ Evans”, played by Jimmy Walker. (Other paintings by Barnes have occasionally been featured on the show, and Barnes himself, who was a professional football player in the 1960s before devoting himself to his artistic endeavors, appeared briefly in two early episodes of broadcast.)
The painting also inspired a memorable musical number in the 1983 television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Foreverwith live dancers performing like those depicted in The sugar shack.
Barnes died of leukemia in 2009 at the age of 70.
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