By Damali and Nii B. Andrews.

A painting with the title, “Women of Ghana” fetched USD 269K at auction in the Swann Galleries, New York City earlier this month, on June 4.

It was executed circa 1960 by the acclaimed African-American artist and educator, John Biggers (1924 – 2001).

He was a pioneeer; one of the first African-American artists to visit Africa in order to study its traditions and culture. In 1957, accompanied by his wife – Hazel Hales, and armed with a UNESCO grant; he spent a total of six months in West Africa – Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria.

WOMEN OF GHANA: John Biggers, oil on masonite board, 32 x 40 in, circa 1960. Sold for USD 269K; the artist’s second highest result at auction.

During the trip, he made many sketches. 

On his return to the US, Biggers created an extensive body of paintings that formed a visual diary of his travels in West Africa titled Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa 1962.

Biggers’ most valuable works are from this series, including “Kumasi Market,” a work that established the artist auction record at USD 389K in Swann Galleries’ 2015 sale of the private collection of Dr Maya Angelou.

KUMASI MARKET: John Biggers; Oil and acrylic on masonite board, 863×1524 mm; 34×60 inches. Signed and dated in oil, left edge, center, 1962.

His paintings telegraphed his belief about the importance of the African woman in her society; he said that “Africa has a female sensibility”, and “the woman was so powerful in African culture.”

Between 1959 and 1963, he created the monumental painting, Jubilee: Ghana Harvest Festival, now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.There are many complex, symbolic murals based on African American and African cultural themes that he created at Texas Southern University where he was the founding head of the Art Program in 1949, a position he held for 34 years after receiving his Masters from Penn State in 1948.

MARKET WOMEN, GHANA: John Biggers, Oil on canvas,1015×1280 mm; 40×48 inches. Signed in oil, lower right, circa 1960.

Biggers initiated a mural program for art majors in which every senior student was expected to complete a mural on campus: there are now 114 such murals on the Texas Southern campus.

Prior to his retirement in 1983, he left a fifty-foot mural in the student center for Texas Southern University. 

The mural depicts the progression of birth, death, and the continuity of heritage.  

Biggers has been honored by a major retrospective of his work that traveled to seven art museums across United States; including The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Cincinnati Art Museum; Hampton University Museum; North Carolina Museum of Art; Wadsworth Athenaeum; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the California Afro-American Museum.

JUBILEE, GHANA HARVEST FESTIVAL: John Biggers. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.


  1. Amazing talent! Never heard of him before. He is a hidden treasure. Thanx for sharing

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