Paintings by Muhammad Ali sell for almost $1million at auction

The Greatest Artist? Paintings by Muhammad Ali including boxing matches, mountains and fighter jets sell for almost $1million at auction

  • Muhammad Ali’s little known artwork was auctioned off by Bonhams Auction House in New York City for $945,524 on Tuesday – smashing the pre-sale estimate of $384,000
  • The boxer’s Sting Like A Bee painting, which depicted his knockout moment against Sonny Liston, sold for more than $425,000 – ten times the pre-sale estimate of $40,000
  • The paintings came from the personal collection of old friend Rodney Hilton Brown
  • Ali used his art to reflect what was on his mind, including boxing, religion, and social justice 
  • Ali’s father, Cassius Clay senior, was a professional artist and some of the paintings are a collaboration
  • The boxing legend died in 2016 at age 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease

Rare artwork by boxing legend Muhammad Ali including a painting called ‘Sting Like A Bee’ sold for nearly $1million at an auction in New York City on Tuesday. 

Ali’s passion for painting was little known compared to his legendary career as the greatest boxer of all time.

But the star used to wind down after fights with a sketchpad – inspired in part by his artist father Cassius Clay Senior.

The collection of 28 paintings, drawings and sketches by the former heavyweight champion reflected Ali’s interest in religion, social justice and his own career. 

The pieces were auctioned off by Bonhams Auction House in New York for a whopping total of $945,524 – almost three times the initial estimate of $384,000.

The sketch called ‘Sting Like a Bee’ and drawn on paper in 1978 was the most sought-after work, and sold for more than $425,000 – ten times the pre-sale estimate of $40,000.

The Sting Like A Bee drawing (pictured) was sold for $425,312, the highest and most sought after art piece of the night. It featured his famous saying and depicts his win over Sonny Liston. It was sold to a British-based collector

This 1977 Moon Over Mountains drawing sold for $9,562 at the auction

The Starving Children of Mississippi (pictured) sold for $12,750 and was created for Avant Garde magazine in 1967. The boxer wanted to donate money from his fights to feed the hungry children of Mississippi, but the boxing commissioners and judges turned him down 

The picture depicted Ali’s knockout moment against Sonny Liston, and was bought by a British-based collector of Ali memorabilia, Bonhams said. 

It immortalises his famous catchphrase ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’ he stated before the match in 1964.

Ali has his arms aloft in the colorful picture as his opponent lies prostrate on the canvas with the speech bubble ‘ref, he did float like a butterfly and sting like a bee’.

The referee, who is half way up the entrance ramp, responds ‘yes, if you were smart you would run like me’. 

The second-highest priced picture was a red, white and blue painting on canvas from 1979, with the words ‘I Love You America,’ which sold for $150,000.

A 1967 sketch in felt pen comparing Islam to Christianity fetched $24,000. 

The collection also included his 1967 drawing ‘War In America’ depicting black people being gunned down on the nation’s streets in the Watts riots of 1965. It sold for $16,562.

‘America The Big Jail’, which depicts the United States as a giant prison, sold for $16,562. He had drawn the image for Avant Garde magazine in 1967.

The boxer had told the magazine: ‘I see the U.S. with lots of bars, a big jail because when you take a man to jail, you change his clothes, you change his name, you change the way he talks. When we were brought here, our clothes were changed from Arabic Eastern clothes to English clothes. When a man goes to jail, his language changes. A room is no longer a room, but it’s a cell…’ 

A scene entitled ‘Moon Over Mountains’ sold for $9,562 at the auction.

Many of Ali’s doodles and drawings featured topics that were close to the boxer’s heart, including war, race, and social justice. His War In America drawing from 1967 sold for $16,562. It depicted black people being gunned down on the nation’s streets in the Watts riots of 1965

America The Big Jail, made for Avant Garde magazine in 1967 sold for $16,562. The boxer told the magazine: ‘I see the U.S. with lots of bars, a big jail because when you take a man to jail, you change his clothes, you change his name, you change the way he talks. When we were brought here, our clothes were changed from Arabic Eastern clothes to English clothes. When a man goes to jail, his language changes. A room is no longer a room, but it’s a cell…’ 

Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali was also a little-known artist who used to paint and sketch after his matches to wind down. Twenty-eight pieces of his artwork went up for auction at Bonhams Auction House in New York City on Tuesday

Ali’s passion for art was little known but he liked to sketch as a way of unwinding after a fight or training. Some of the works for sale were traditional nature paintings, while others were more personal cartoon-like sketches.

The paintings that went up for auction were from the personal collection of Rodney Hilton Brown, an old friend of Ali who asked the boxer to produce some artwork for his gallery in the 1970s.

The paintings came from the personal collection of old friend Rodney Hilton Brown 

‘I had taken over a failing art gallery in Soho, and I was looking for a world-class famous figure that could paint some paintings that we could make limited edition prints of and sell,’ Brown told CBS News. 

‘He never claimed to be a great artist,’ Brown recalled to CBS. ‘He knew he was the greatest boxer in the world, but when it came to art, he said to me, “I paint pictures with meanings.”‘

Ali’s passion for art came from his father, Cassius Clay Senior, who was a professional artist. The young boxer grew up creating art informally before enrolling in art classes with sports artist LeRoy Neiman, Bonhams said. 

Some of the paintings sold were collaborations between Ali in his father, and have until now have been in the personal collection of Hilton Brown, who also published a book about the icon’s passions outside of the boxing ring. 

‘Ali commonly drew and painted those subjects closest to his heart: boxing, civil rights, world peace and humanitarianism,’ the auction house said.  

The former world heavyweight champion, who announced his conversion to Islam in 1964 after winning the title for the first time when he went by the name Cassius Clay.  

 The boxer died in 2016 at age 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. 

Sunset with Tree of Life, 1977, sold for $9,562. Ali’s passion for art came from his father Cassius Clay Senior, who was a professional artist, some of their collaborative work was sold at the auction 

Black Jet, 1977, sold for $9,562

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