Ernie Barnes’s Painting “The Sugar Shack” Just Sold For a Record Amount

The painting appeared on the cover of Marvin Gaye's album "I Want You"

Ernie Barnes in 1964, 12 years before painting "The Sugar Shack."
Ernie Barnes in 1964, 12 years before painting "The Sugar Shack."
Denver Post via Getty Images

Even if you’ve never seen Ernie Barnes’s painting The Sugar Shack on the wall of a gallery or museum, you’re probably familiar with it. Its exuberant depiction of people joyfully dancing as a band plays also appeared on the cover of Marvin Gaye’s 1976 album I Want You, and it also featured prominently in the comedy Good Times. As for Barnes himself, the fact that his career included forays into both acting and professional football suggests that there’s a great biopic about him just waiting to be made.

As ARTnews noted in a recent report on an auction at Christie’s, a retrospective of Barnes’s work at the California African American Museum in 2019 has helped spark renewed interest in the artist and his art. All of which led to The Sugar Shack selling via Christie’s for a record-setting sum for Barnes’s work — $13 million (or $15.3 million total). This was a bit more than the auction house had expected; the low estimate for the painting was $150,000.

In the aftermath of the auction, The New York Times spoke with Bill Perkins, the energy trader who purchased the painting in question. He told the Times that “I would have paid a lot more” for it, and said that he planned to loan it to a museum before displaying it in his home.

The Sugar Shack wasn’t the only painting to set a record for the artist behind it on that particular night. Grace Hartigan’s Early November sold for $1.3 million, nearly doubling the previous record sale for her work — another indication of a night that may well reveal shifting trends in the art world.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.