• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2171

    Important American Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture

    20 May 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 112

    Elizabeth Catlett (b. 1919)

    'Stepping Out'

    Price Realised  


    Elizabeth Catlett (b. 1919)
    'Stepping Out'
    inscribed with the artist's initials 'EC' (along the base)
    bronze with brown patina
    31 in. (78.7 cm.) high
    Cast in 2000.

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    Elizabeth Catlett has gravitated towards the female form from her earliest sculptures, winning the first prize in this medium at the 1940 American Negro Exposition in Chicago with Mother and Child, which was her thesis project at the State University of Iowa where she studied with Grant Wood. Catlett had previously studied with Lois Mailou Jones and James A. Porter at Howard University, but it was not until she was in Iowa that she began to focus on sculpture. She was drawn to the tactile, malleable nature of the medium, "I like to feel something in my hands and to feel I am shaping or molding or changing something." (as quoted in R. Bearden and H. Henderson, A History of African-American Artists: From 1792 to the Present, New York, 1993, p. 420) Throughout her career, Catlett has worked in a variety of mediums including wood, onyx and bronze, acknowledging and exploiting the limits and opportunities that are unique to each material.

    Lowery Stokes Sims wrote of Catlett's depiction of women, "Catlett's commitment to the female form has been commented on many times. Invariably it is a celebration of people of the peasant and working class. Her women are characterized by sturdy, voluptuous physiques that invite comparisons with the well-known female presences that predominate the oeuvre of the Mexican sculpture Francisco Zuñiga...In Catlett's oeuvre, the female form is never gratuitously eroticized, but rather analyzed and defined for its manifestation of fecundity and strength." (June Kelly Gallery, Elizabeth Catlett: Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1993, p. 5) Stepping Out attests to this statement in its stylized depiction of a strong, shapely female form. Catlett utilizes the folds in the woman's dress to emphasize her solidarity and positions the figure so as to imbue the sculpture with character and motion. The present work manifests Catlett's incorporation of diverse influences into her highly personal style.

    The present work is one of an edition of nine casts.


    Private collection, California.
    Gift to the present owner from the above, 2000.