Bill Cosby and his wife Camille privately sold an iconic painting by Thomas Hart Benton called “Going West” earlier this year, according to gallery owners who participated in the deal.
Camille Cosby also pledged another Benton painting, “The Instruction,” as collateral for a loan from an art finance firm run by Asher Edelman, according to a September regulatory filing. Edelman confirmed the loan.
Beginning in the late 1960s, the couple built “the most significant collection in the hands of an African American family,” David Driskell, their former curator, wrote in a book titled “The Other Side of Color.” They acquired at least 300 works by artists of color as well as those by Renoir, Rembrandt, Picasso and Matisse.
Andrew Wyatt, a spokesman for the Cosbys, said he hadn’t been aware of their art sale and declined to comment. Bill Cosby was sentenced in September to three-to-10 years in prison for sexual assault.
The family bought much of their collection when it was undervalued and many of the works have since jumped in value, said Buck Kiechel, the owner of an art gallery in Lincoln, Nebraska. Kiechel, whose specialties include works by Benton, said “Going West” is “arguably the greatest American painting from the 1920s that wasn’t painted by Edward Hopper.”
The Cosbys sold “Going West” during the first half of this year, according to gallery owners Chris Morse and Clay Surovek. The buyer, whom they declined to identify, put the work up for sale in Morse’s Granary Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts — where Benton summered for many decades. It’s now at Surovek’s gallery in Palm Beach, Florida, for an upcoming exhibition on the artist.
Benton depicted daily life in Midwest America primarily after the Great Depression. His auction record is $4.9 million for “Ozark Autumn” sold at Christie’s in 2015.
Kiechel estimated that “Going West” and “The Instruction” have a combined market value of $12 million to $14 million. Morse and Surovek declined to disclose the asking price for “Going West.” Cosby paid $105,000 for “The Instruction,” according to a December 1978 article in the magazine Jet.
Cosby, 81, rose to fame with “The Cosby Show,” once the most popular television program in the U.S. He also appeared in commercials for Coca-Cola, Jell-O desserts and Kodak film.
Part of the Cosbys’ collection was on loan to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art several years ago, generating controversy for the Washington institution as accusations against the entertainer snowballed.
Some 60 women have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct by the former comedian, which he has denied.