The Late Ernie Barnes Breaks Record As His Iconic 'Sugar Shack' Painting Sells For $15.3M At New York Auction
Photo Credit: Hill Street Studios

The Late Ernie Barnes Breaks Record As His Iconic 'Sugar Shack' Painting Sells For $15.3M At New York Auction

Maybe you remember seeing a replica of the painting in your grandmother’s house or the image flashing during the opening credits of “Good Times.” No matter the reference point, “Sugar Shack,” by legendary artist Ernie Barnes, just sold for $15.3 million.

The iconic painting, which was recently up for auction, was used as the cover of Marvin Gaye’s 1976 album; “I Want You.”

The Price Went Up

According to CNN, the painting was acquired by Bill Perkins, a hedge fund manager and entrepreneur. Christie’s auction confirmed the multi-million-dollar sale after approximately 10 minutes of bidding across 22 active bidders.

The New York auction house also notes that the auction broke financial records. Sugar Shack’s current $15.3 million price tag was about 27 times higher than the artist’s previous sales. And it surpassed the estimated bidding rate of $200,000.

“I stole it — I would have paid a lot more. For certain segments of America, it’s more famous than the ‘Mona Lisa,'” Perkins told The New York Times.

Cultural Relevance

Ernie Barnes’ painting is a soulful depiction of Black joy. Filled with people moving and grooving in what appears to be a juke joint, the painting has served as a staple in the Black community for decades.

The famous painting took inspiration from Barnes’ North Carolina childhood and is painted in the Black Romantic style.

The image was so influential that it captivated people across genres and industries. For Marvin Gaye, he wanted it as an album cover. B.B. King and The Crusaders also used the piece for their album covers.

Television creator and producer Norman Lear used it during the fourth season of “Good Times” — a television show depicting the life of a Black family (the Evans family) navigating the joys and pains of living in a Chicago housing project.

The painting was elevated in season five from the show’s opening credits to a staple in the Evans Family’s living room as an homage to J.J. Evans (played by Jimmie Walker), an emerging artist and creative.

The Man Behind The Art

During a 2002 interview with the Oakland Tribune, Barnes was described as the Picasso of the Black art world.

Before forging his career as a painter, Barnes was a football player. Due to this background, many of his early works were centered around sports. When asked about his inspiration in the Oakland Tribune interview, Barnes told them: “I paint when ideas come, and I see a vision of what I want from our common humanity.”

Barnes passed away in 2009 at the age of 70 after a battle with leukemia.