“The Sugar Shack,” the famous Ernest “Ernie” Eugene Barnes’ 1976 painting many have seen during the opening or closing credits of the Norman Lear-produced ’70s sitcom Good Times, has been sold at a New York City auction for $15.3 million by Houston energy trader Bill Perkins.
“I would have paid a lot more,” Perkins told
The New York Times. “For certain segments of America, it’s more famous than the Mona Lisa.”
The painting is a vibrant picture of Black dancers in a dance hall, grooving to an R&B/jazz band. Using a style known as Black Romance, Barnes was inspired by his North Carolina hometown during his childhood to paint “The Sugar Shack.” Barnes got the idea from a time when he was 11 when he wasn’t allowed to go to a dance that he wanted to attend.
Marvin Gaye was so drawn to the painting, he asked permission to use it for his 1976 album cover, “I Want You.”
Gaye dropped the classic album with the artwork on Motown Records-subsidiary label Tamla.
According to Christie’s auction house, “The Sugar Shack” sale set an auction record for being 27 times more costly than Barnes’ previous work which was considered the most expensive. The auction sale also flew past the estimated sales price of $150,000 to $200,000. The 10 -minute action lured 22 bids before Perkins swooped in and dominated.
The painting has been seen in the Good Times family’s apartment, claiming it was the work of “J.J. Evans,” played by Jimmie Walker. Barnes has appeared in a couple of episodes on the show and has had a couple more of his paintings shown in the sitcom. Before Barnes became a painter, he was a professional football player from 1960 to 1964, playing for the New York Titans, San Diego Chargers, and Denver Broncos.
Barnes died in 2009 in Los Angeles, California, from myeloid leukemia at age 70.