evening sale of contemporary art begins with a separate catalogue
of "A Private American Collection" of Abstract Expressionist
art that features 21 lots including important works by Willem
de Kooning (1904-1997), Franz Kline (1910-1962), and Arshile Gorky
(1904-1948) as well as works by Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920). These
works will be immediately followed by 46 other works including
major works by Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997),
Jasper Johns (b. 1930), Philip Guston (1913-1980) and Anselm Kiefer
In an "appreciation" to the catalogue for the private
collection, Allan Stone, the dealer, wrote that "the gravity
of this assemblage is overwhelming." Although the catalogue
did not identify the owner of the private collection, it was widely
reported that it is Thomas Weisel, an investment banker from San
Francisco, who was offered a guarantee by Sotheby's in partnership
with Mitchell-Inness & Nash, a New York dealer.
It is highlighted by a very charming and beautiful small oil,
enamel and charcoal on paper mounted on board, Lot 6, by de Kooning.
Measuring 16 by 15 1/2 inches, it is entitled "Woman"
and was executed in 1947. It has an estimate of $3,000,000 to
$4,000,000. It sold for $2,539,500 including the buyer's premium
as do all results mentioned in this article.
The catalogue notes that in the late 1940s, the artist's "curvaceous
forms have emerged from the scrim of Surrealism and the constructs
of Cubism, and his figures begin to cant at sharper angles and
develop jagged outlines." This work precedes the artist's
famous series of paintings of women that are highly agitated,
and rather violently rendered.
de Kooning that also dates from 1947 is Lot 11, "Orestes."
This 24 1/8-by-36 1/8-inch enamel and paper collage on board has
an estimate of $8,000,000 to $10,000,000. It sold for $13,209,500,
the highest price realized in the auction which had a sales total
of more than $78 million and which sold almost 78 percent of its
66 offered lots, a lower percentage than realized the night before
at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg, but a bigger sale.
started almost 15 minutes late and almost ended early as auctioneer
Tobias Meyer announced the last lot of the sale one lot too early,
to the amusement of the packed salesroom. After the sale, he said
he was "very pleased" with the results" and that
"the market is extremely healthy and very strong." Laura
Paulson, the North and South America head of the Sotheby's Contemporary
Art department, described the sale as "a triumph," added
set seven new auction records for artists and three new auction
records for artists by medium. Given the depressed state of the
nation's economy and concerns about a possible war with Iraq,
the art market has been anxious and while this auction was relatively
successful it was surprisingly uneven with some works by famous
artists selling well and some going unsold. While such discrepancies
in values is not unusual, it only adds to and accentuates the
The catalogue notes that de Kooning painted nine black and white
abstractions from 1946 to 1949 and that together with Jackson
Pollock's drip paintings are "monumental achievements that
catapulted the burgeoning school of Abstract Expressionism to
the forefront." Six of the nine works, the catalogue continued,
have entered museum collections. "Works such as Orestes contain
such a compression of imagery, organization, line, plane and space,
all alive yet at rest, that they are definitions of much of what
Abstract Expressionism was about."
Lot 12, "Woman," is a 1952 painting of a "Woman"
by de Kooning that is a pastel and graphite on paper. The work
measures 20 1/4 by 14 inches and has an estimate of $4,000,000
to $6,000,000. It sold for $3,749,500 setting a new auction
record for a work on paper by de Kooning.
Lot 14 is
an extremely bold and superb abstract work by de Kooning, entitled
"Red Eye." An oil and collage on board, it measures
16 1/2 by 14 inches and was executed in 1955. It has an estimate
of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It failed to sell and was passed
and bolder than de Kooning's "Orestes" is Lot 5, "Untitled"
by Franz Kline, an oil on board that measures 17 1/8 by 26 inches.
This black-and-white, 1957 work has an estimate of $500,000 to
$700,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $420,000.
black-and-white Kline abstraction, albeit one not in as good condition
as Lot 5, is Lot 13, "Ninth Street." Painted in 1951,
this oil on canvas is 60 by 78 inches and has an estimate of $4,000,000
to $6,000,000. It was formerly in the collection of Ben Heller
and Jack Linsky. It sold for $4,519,500, an auction record
for Kline, whose previous record was $2,860,000.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"By reducing his palette to black and white, Kline focused
on structure and paint application, whether in the force of an
individual stroke or n the sophistication of the layering of black
over white and white within black. The verticals, angles and orbs
of Ninth Street are a particularly sculpture composition that
strains to contain the powerful dynamism that seems to bust across
the picture plane. Kline is viewed as the master of black and
white Abstract Expressionism, using the two colors as counterpoints
in compositions of gestural velocity, such as Ninth Street.
Kline's reduction of palette never eliminated hints of other colors
completely, but the predominance of the two colors allowed him
to more fully explore form though line, seeking to define space
and movement in an abstract idiom. Ninth Street exemplifies
the elegant and confident dynamism of Kline's broad compositions.
With swatches of white over the thrusting black verticals and
arcs, Ninth Street believes the misleading assumption that
Kline simply painted heavy black strokes over white backgrounds.
Rather, the artist unerringly alternated between the two colors
to achieve a taut, unified composition, improvised through a strong
instinct for equivalent paint areas. One senses that each application
of one color invited a corresponding gesture from the other, so
that Ninth Street's balanced dynamism evokes a strong kinetic
response from the viewer."
While most Kline paintings are black-and-white abstractions, he
did also work with other colors as evidenced by Lot 7, "Provincetown
II," a 93-by-79-inch oil on canvas that was executed in 1959
and has an ambitious estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It
failed to sell and was passed at $1,600,000. The catalogue
notes that "De Kooning considered Kline one of his best friends,
and acknowledged that theirs was a relationship of mutual influence,"
adding that "Kline's use of large, broad brushes and muscular
architectonic compositions clearly influenced de Kooning's work
of the mid-1950s."
Lot 15 is
a major work by Arshile Gorky. Entitled "From a High Place,"
the oil on canvas measures 22 by 28 inches. Executed in 1944,
it has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It failed to
sell and was passed at $4,100,000. After the sale, Mr. Meyer said
that paintings by Gorky were rare and perhaps the market was not
educated enough to understand his importance.
"In his tragically brief, but potent career," the catalogue
wrote, "Gorky assimilated the pictorial innovations of Cézanne,
Picasso, Kandinsky, Miró and the Surrealists, and serves
as a crucial link from European modern art to the burgeoning Abstract
Expressionists of the following decades. His synthesis of Modern
art's many inventions, combined with is passionate embrace of
nature and visual memories of Middle Eastern art, created a new
vision for painting that would inform the work of his fellow artists
of the 1940s and 1950s, from de Kooning to Still. Visits to the
Virginia landscape would be the catalyst for his transformation
of childhood memories into a metaphorical language of symbols
and forms that constitute his inner vision, portrayed in lush,
jewel-like tones that bring a new sense of sunlight to the artits's
work.The chromatic brilliance of From a High Place, and
the manner in which the linear shapes have dissolved into the
atmosphere of the canvas is reminiscent of Kandinsky."
Lot 17, "Composition (Still Life)," is an 1936-7 oil
on canvas by Gorky that measures 34 by 26 inches. The brightly
colored work has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It
failed to sell and was passed at $900,000. Another Gorky, however,
fared better, Lot 2, an untitled work on paper sold for $697,000,
breaking the artist's former auction record of $431,500 for that
was the subject of a major restrospective exhibition in 2001 at
the Whitney Museum of American Art. Lot 19, "Toy Counter,"
is a superb oil on canvas by Thiebaud. Measuring 60 by 72 inches,
it was executed in 1962 and has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000.
It failed to sell and was passed at $2,800,000.
Thiebaud from the same private collection is Lot 10, "Freeways),"
an oil and charcoal on linen that measures 48 by 60 inches. Executed
in 1975-9, it has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000. It
sold for $3,089,500, an auction record for the artist.
In the catalogue for the rest of the sale from various owners,
there are numerous highlights.
"Triptych: Three Studies of Henrietta Moraes," is a
stunning small triptych by Francis Bacon. Each of the three parts
measures 14 by 12 inches and the triptych was executed in 1966
and has a modest estimate of $1,800,000 to $2,200,000. It was
once in the collection of Nesuhu Ertegun. It sold for $2,429,500.
In describing his small portraits, the catalogue entry remarks
that "here, color, form and composition are tightly knit
together in a dazzling display of painterly bravura, forming a
small group of extremely rare works that remain some of the highlights
of the last one hundred years of painting." About 41 of these
small triptychs exist, almost half of which are in museum collections.
Roy Lichtenstein is represented by two works in this auction,
Lots 35 and 43.
The former is entitled "Step-on Can With Leg," and is
a two-panel oil on canvas that measures 31 1.4 by 52 inches. Dated
1961, it has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold
is entitled "Reclining Bather," and is oil and magna
on canvas. It measures 60 by 90 inches and is dated 1977. Once
in the collections of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond D. Nasher of Dallas
and Keith Barish of Los Angeles, it has an estimate of $1,800,000
to $2,500,000. It sold for $2,099,500.
The auction has two works by Jasper Johns, Lots 39 and 41.
Lot 39 is entitled "0 through 9," and is a 27-by-21-inch
sculpt-metal relief on canvas. Dated 1961, it has an estimate
of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It failed to sell and was passed
Lot 41, "Untitled," is an encaustic on canvas that measures
66 1/8 by 44 1/8 inches. Executed in 1995, it has an estimate
of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $1,989,500.
"Die Funftorichten Jungfrauden (The Five Foolish Virgins),"
is an impressive and large work by Anselm Kiefer. The oil, acrylic,
emulsion, shellac, straw and mirror fragments on oiriginal photograph
on canvas measures 94 1/2 by 133 7/8 inches. Executed in 1983,
it has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $669,500.
"Painter in Bed," Lot 29, shown above, is a major work
from 1973. The 59 1/2-by-104-inch oil on canvas was once in the
collection of Charles Saatchi of London. It has an estimate of
$1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It sold for $1,879,500, breaking
the former auction record for the artist of $1,707,500.
"Seated Figure with Pink Background," by Nathan Oliveira
(b. 1928), sold for $317,500, smashing the artist's former auction
record of $68,750.
"Boy With Flute," by David Park (1911-1960), sold for
$779,500, breaking the artist's former auction record of $501,000.
"Archilles and the Tortoise," by Mark Tansey (b. 1949),
sold for $999,500, soaring above the artist's former auction record
a large untitled gray painting with white squibbles in horizontal
rows by Cy Twombly (b. 1928), sold for $5,619,500, $119,500 over
the artist's former auction record. Another Twombly, Lot 51, "Mohammed
Ali," a oil paint, wax crayon and graphite on canvas that
was executed in 1964 had an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000
and was passed at $650,000.
Warhol's "Del Monte Boxes (Peach Halves)," Lot 33, sold
for $647,500, almost three times the artist's previous auction
record for a sculpture. Another Warhol, Lot 64, "Myths: Santa
Claus 36 Times," had a low estimate of $400,000 but was passed
at $260,000, and a "Mao" portrait by Warhol with a low
estimate of $450,000 also failed to sell.