Lot 403
  • 403

Kerry James Marshall

150,000 - 250,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Kerry James Marshall
  • Portrait of Nat Turner on Loan from Hell
  • acrylic and burnt printed paper collage on canvas mounted to board
  • 25 1/2 by 24 in. 64.8 by 61 cm.
  • Executed in 1990.


Koplin Gallery, Santa Monica
Acquired from the above by the present owner in April 1991


Pasadena Armory Center for the Arts, Under Construction: Rethinking Images of Identity, January - March 1995
Los Angeles, California State University, Harriet and Charles Luckman Gallery, In the Black, June - August 1995
San Diego State University Art Gallery, Kerry James Marshall: Looking Back, April - May 1997
Washington, D.C., Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Portraiture Now: Framing Memory, May 2007 - January 2008


Kerry James Marshall, Terrie Sultan and Arthur Jafa, Eds., Kerry James Marshall, New York 2000, p. 45, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Completed in 1990, Portrait of Nat Turner on Loan from Hell is manifest of an enduring thread of historical mythmaking, memorialization and interrogation in Marshall’s body of work. The present work falls into a series of paintings which take on the visual idioms of 15th and 16th century European religious painting. The work is grounded by a collage of pulp fiction novels which have been set aflame, the gleaming white faces which adorned their covers partially visible underneath the work’s charred surface. The face of Nat Turner, a slave who believed that he had been anointed by God to lead a rebellion against his masters, eventually killing scores of white men, women and children in a quest for freedom, emerges from the center of the work. Turner’s expressive eyes and bared teeth gleam in the pitch darkness of the scorched center. Turner’s head is adorned with a glowing halo, recalling renaissance scenes of ecstatic pain and saintly martyrdoms. Marshall plays a humorous and political conceptual game through the juxtaposition of his subject, title, materials and stylistic references. Marshall has turned Nat Turner into “Saint Nat” through the use of European painterly signifiers, yet this canonization has been made ambiguous through a material irony. Marshall seems to be making a joke: Turner’s hell is a smoldering bed of cheap romance novels, their protagonists embodying an idealized whiteness that omits the existence of black beauty and interiority that the artist himself is trying to establish.