By Michele Leight
Sotheby's dedicated evening sale of The Collection of Allan Stone New York on May 9th, 2011 includes important works by Arshile Gorky, Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, Joseph Cornell, John Chamberlain, and Alexander Calder, and, in its own separate catalogue, The Art of Wayne Thiebaud, who Mr. Stone represented and and collected.
There are also several beautiful works by lesser known artists like Alfred Leslie, Michael Goldberg, John Graham and the sculptor Cesar. The connections between many of the works of art in this sale offer a glimpse at a critical time in modern art when New York City and several of the artists represented here were poised to take on - and ultimately oust - the reigning "art establishment" that had been firmly rooted in Paris for almost a century. The dealers that represented them, like Allan Stone, helped make this happen.
The sale was astonishingly successful - not surprising given the importance of the collector - achieving $54,805,500, far higher than the pre-sale estimate of $32,800,000 to $46,000,000. Of the 42 lots offered, only 3 were unsold. The sale was 92 percent sold by lot and 98.6 percent by value. The top lots of the sale were Lot 9, "Nutcracker," by John Chamberlain which sold for $4,786,500 (pre-sale estimate $1,200,000 to $1,800,000); Lot 11, "Event in a Barn," by Willem de Kooning, which sold for $4,562,500 (pre-sale estimate $5,000,000 to $7,000,000) and Wayne Thiebaud's "Pies," Lot 30, which sold for $4,002,500 (pre-sale estimate $2,500,000 to $3,500,000), the second highest price ever achieved for the artist.
Anthony Grant, Sotheby's International Specialist Contemporary Art, said: "It was a very good night for Chamberlain; all went above their high estimates." He expressed amazement at the price achieved for the first Thiebaud offered at the sale - diminutive Lot 26, "Four Pinball Machines (Study)," that fetched a staggering $3,442,500, with a pre-sale estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. The pinball machines were winsome winners with or without a high price tag, and they set the pace for what followed. 18 paintings by Wayne Thiebaud offered at this sale sold for $23,500,000, with a pre-sale estimate of $12,800,000 to $18,300,000. All but one sold. When asked if there were family members at the sale - the sky boxes were full - Anthony Grant said members of the Thiebaud family were present.
Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's International Head, Contemporary Art, said there was a global audience for the American works on offer at this sale. There was significant Asian bidding - Japanese - for the Wayne Thiebaud paintings.
"It was a great testament to Allan Stone's eye" said Mr. Grant of the spectcular result of this sale.
Alex Rotter, Sothebys Head of Contemporary Art, New York, said: "Anthony (Grant), this was your idea, and I am extremely pleased with the result."
Allan Stone, the legendary New York art dealer, and many of the artists whose works he represented and collected that are (now) world famous, were major players in what became known as The New York School of Abstract Expressionists. However, two artists he represented resisted categorization from the outset and Stone championed their individualism. They were Wayne Thiebaud and Joseph Cornell. The first artwork Allan Stone bought was by Willem de Kooning, who he later represented. Allan Stone was a connoisseur, a passionate collector, and he recognized de Kooning's formidable talent the first time he saw his work. There will be a retrospective of William De Kooning's work at The Museum of Modern Art in New York in the fall of 2011.
It all began for Stone when he was a young student at Phillips Academy in Andover who loved painting. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale notes: "In an appreciation written for a 2002 Sotheby's sale for a collection he helped form, Mr. Stone recalled, 'I first encountered Abstract Expressionism in a touring A.F.A. (American Federation of Arts) exhibit at the Addison Gallery in Andover, Mass. in 1948. I was a young painting student who became totally captivated by de Kooning, Gorky, Kline and to a lesser degree, Pollock. Experiencing their work was probably the closest thing to a religious experience I ever had.'"
Allan Stone became a lawyer, but his passion was art. The de Koonings were among his clients, as was John Chamberlain. Elaine de Kooning, the artist's wife, was a great friend and encouraged Stone to open a gallery. On December 7, 1960, he made the transition and The Allan Stone Gallery became a reality with premises on 86th Street between Madison and Park Avenues on Manhattan's Upper East Side. This was made possible by a loan from colleagues in Stone's law firm - a real "New York story" that reflects the innovative spirit of this city. There aren't too many places in the world where this happens.
Sotheby's catalogue for this sale notes that Allen Stone "considers it his real birthday when his gallery opens." As mentioned, the first artwork he bought was by Willem de Kooning, in 1954, and there are important early works by him and other New York School artists in this sale that are so sophisticated a viewer might mistake them for mature works. Reading their captions, it was surprising to learn that several were fledgling efforts - early attempts at what have now become iconic interpretations of contemporary art. And there were two "loners," Wayne Thiebaud and Joseph Cornell, that held their own in this group of red hot talent and innovation whose work had a sophisticated and passionate clientele that were guided by the eye of Allan Stone.
In 1994-95 Franz Kline's wonderful black and white "Herald," Lot 15, circa 1953-54, was included in an exhibition entitled "Franz Kline: Black and White, 1950-1961" at The Menil Collection in Houston, The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The Allan Stone Gallery exhibited it twice: first in "Franz Kline Architecture and Atmosphere" in 1997-98, and "Abstraction" in March-April 2002. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale notes: "Although greatly influenced by his contemporaries and friends Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, Kline's work seemed least given to angst and self-doubt. In Herald, the forthright black rectangle has a strength and presence perhaps inspired by both Kline's roots in the industrial coal towns of eastern Pennsylvania and subesquently his move toward the steel girders of city life in New York. Kline's rectangle is as individual and impactful as Pollock's drip, Newman's zip and Rothko's stacks of ethereal hues." "Herald's" provenance is impressive, including Sidney Janis Gallery, and Larry Gagosian Gallery, among others. Lot 15 has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $2,322,500.
Sotheby's catalogue for this sale includes a fascinating chronology featuring some of the paintings on offer in this sale together with photographs of their artists, collectors and dealers. It also chronicles landmark events leading up to the foundation of the New York School of Abstract Expressionists, and it becomes clear that along with Leo Castelli and Sidney Janis, Allen Stone was an important, player. It may not have happened without them. Some may believe that intersecting with future blockbuster artists in New York at a pivotal period in the history of modern art was just luck, "being in the right place at the right time." But it is clear that his all-encompassing love of art - even artistic innovation - helped propel Allan Stone and his iconic band of artists into the limelight. Nothing else could explain his lifelong encouragement of Wayne Thiebaud, or his fascination with Joseph Cornell, both artists that marched to their own drummer and whose work had little in common with Abstract Expressionism - at first glance.
The chronology in the catalog records how The New York School of Abstract Expressionists came into existence and it was not by "happenstance." They had support from dealers, collectors, innovative new galleries, writers and museums. In 1942 Peggy Guggenheim opened "Art of This Century" and a year later organized Jackson Pollock's first solo show. Pollock visited John Graham's studio in 1940 where Graham asked him if he had ever seen Paris. Pollock's response was: "Let Paris come see me."
Sotheby's catalogue notes that Charles Egan opened his gallery on 57th Street in 1946. Betty Parsons also opened her gallery the same year at on 57th Street, and signs Mark Rothko in 1947. Willem de Kooning, now married to Elaine Fried, paints Lot 11, "Event in a Barn," and is given his first solo exhibition at the Egan Gallery in 1948, where he is showed exclusively until 1953 when he leaves for Sidney Janis Gallery. Arshile Gorky commits suicide in 1948, and de Kooning loses an important friend and mentor who was a major influence on his art. Lot 11, "Event in a Barn" by Willem de Kooning is an important painting that has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $4,002,500. Among other venues, it was exhibited at "Picasso and American Art" from 2006-2007 at The Whitney Museum of American Art, "The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and other venues.
Sotheby's catalogue notes: "Together with Jackson Pollock's "drip" paintings, de Kooning's 1840s paintings catapulted the burgeoning school of Abstract Expressionsim to the forefront of the art world. In every decade of his long and illustrious career, de Kooning kept a firm grip on his medium and his muse. As in 'Event in a Barn,' his slippery forms oscillate between figuration and abstraction, conservative and radical, composed and agitated, with as much inventiveness as his choice of brilliant color palette and lush range of brushwork. He was at heart a pluralist who reveled in the multi-dimensional and multi-thematic in all his works. De Kooning's confidence in both gesture and figuration serves as a strong foundation for the terse push-pull relationship of figurative realism versus total abstraction. With contemporaries like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko working in complete abstraction in the 1940s and 1950s, de Kooning instead strove to bridge past influences, mainly Cubism, into what was the current abstract aesthetic of the time. In "Event in a Barn" the viewer is presented with the emotive content and softer organic forms of Surrealism, yet here de Kooning combines them with an uneasy tension within the flattened space and geometric constructs of Cubism."
In December 1949 the exhibition "Aviary by Joseph Cornell" opened at the Egan Gallery to tremendous critical acclaim, where Lot 4, "A Cockatoo for Pasta #3 (aviary)" was on view. Lot 4 was painted in 1949 and has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. Lot 4 was withdrawn from the sale.
Cornell was to remark "The Egan period was the only time I belonged."
In October 1949 The 8th Street Club was founded, and members met regularly at Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village, which still exists. Those that remember Cedar Tavern in the old days say it was really dark, had linoleum floors and the bar stools were of the utilitarian steel-and-faded plastic variety - unlike the more sophisticated wood bar stools that are there today.
In 1950 De Kooning painted "Woman 1," and Franz Kline had his first one-man show at Egan Gallery with 11 black and white paintings. In 1951 Pollock was represented by "Number 1, 1949", and de Kooning showed "Woman, 1949-50" at the Ninth Street Show. The sophisticated, minimalist poster was designed by Franz Kline - without photoshop and the readily available fonts that can be called up with the touch of the keypad today.
In 1953 de Kooning's first show at Sidney Janis Gallery opened. A year later Allan Stone bought his first de Kooning for $250 while studying at Harvard and Franz Kline painted "Herald" (Lot 15), that is included in this sale. In 1955 Clement Greenberg's "American-type painting" appeared in Partisan Review. Franz Kline had a one-man show at Sidney Janis Gallery in 1956. A year later, 1957, Leo Castelli opened his gallery on 57th Street and Ivan Karp, director of the gallery, befriends a young Allan Stone who is now a lawyer on Wall Street, and greatly influences him. The same year, John Chamberlain created Lot 9, "Nutcracker," (estimate $1,000,000 to 1,800,000) in 1958, illustrated in this story. It was the top lot of the sale and achieved $4,786,500. The importance of Chamberlain is noted in Sotheby's catalogue for this sale: "Chamberlain liberated sculpture from the tradition of cast metal or sculpted stone. Allan Stone was a tireless supporter and collector of Chamberlain's work and responded to the energy and grittiness of Chamberlain's inventive expressionism. The wonderfully compressed "Nutcracker" clearly moved him - he acquired it in 1963 and it remained in his collection till now."
In 1960 Allan Stone opened his gallery with the encouragement of Elaine de Kooning. In 1961 Wayne Thiebaud walked into Stone's gallery and introduced himself. Stone said: "I didn't think he was serious...and then I couldn't get those marching pies out of my head." In 1962 Allan Stone had two shows, the first for 40-year-old Wayne Thiebaud; the second is "Barnett Newman/de Kooning," a juxtaposition of styles and intent that moved Stone.
In 1963 Allan Stone presented "Mallary/Chamberlain/Cesar" and includes Joseph Cornell's boxes in "Modern Masterpieces" in 1964. He met Cornell when the artist sought legal counsel after nine of his "boxes" were stolen.
Willem de Kooning painted Lot 16, "Woman in a Landscape," in 1965-66, which has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $1,082,500. It is illustrated with Anthony Grant, Sotheby's International Specialist, Contemporary Art, and its provenance includes the American Broadcasting Corporation and Allan Stone.
By the 1970s the stage is set for ground breaking shows and retrospectives that feature many of the works in this sale, including "Wayne Thiebaud: Recent Works" in 1970 at The Allen Stone Gallery, and John Chamberlain's retrospective at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and in 1971, which includes John Chamberlain's "Nutcracker," and "Untitled, 1961," both offered in this sale and illustrated.
In 1973 Allan Stone opens the John Graham exhibition which includes Lot 5, "Aurea Mediveita," (estimate $150,000 to $200,000/it sold for $230,500), and mounts a major group exhibition featuring works by Joseph Cornell, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky and Franz Kline. In 1980-81 Joseph Cornell has his first major retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art in New York which includes winsome Lot 10, "Untitled (Dovecote)," created in 1953. In November, 2006, Lot 10, "Untitled (Dovecote)" is included in an exhibition entitled "Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination," in Washington D.C. at The Smithsonian American Art Museum," which then travels to The Peabody Essex Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale notes:
"Youth and nostalgia charmingly emote from the colorful fragments of a previous innocent life: rubber balls, wooden toy blocks and tiny figurines among them. To understand the origins of the hauntingly beautiful imagery harnessed in the present construction, one must revert to June 6, 1910, the day that his brother Robert Cornell was born with debilitating cerebral palsy. Six years his senior, Joseph was profoundly protective of his handicapped younger brother, and felt responsible for his welfare. Throughout his life, Cornell would go to great lengths to entertain his brother, and much of the material he fastidiously gathered over the years appeared to be fragments of materials once employed to this effect. This weighed heavily on Cornell throughout his life, as he once reflected that the pursuit of happiness was "quickly being plunged into a world in which every triviality becomes imbued with significance." (Joseph Cornell, quoted in Deborah Solomon, "Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell, London, 1997, p.92).
It is easy to imagine Joseph Cornell rolling those little colorful balls to Robert, and the brothers building small towers with the blocks. Lot 10, "Untitled (Dovecote)" is illustrated at the top of this story and has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,426,500.
Another wonderful, mysterious "box", Lot 18, "Untitled (Soap Bubbles Set Variant)" circa 1955, illustrated above, was included in an exhibition entitled "Joseph Cornell" at The Allen Stone Gallery in October 2002. It has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. Unbelievably, this passed.
While Joseph Cornell cannot really be categorized as part of any "school," or movement, he intersected with the Abstract Expressionists because he often shared in their shows, and had the same dealers and collectors, including Allan Stone. Cornell was eccentric and reclusive, and never left the confines of New York City. He lived in a house on Utopia Parkway in Queens with his mother, and a brother he adored who had cerebral palsy. In this unlikely, restrictive, and mundane setting he created his imaginary miniature universes that became some of the most original and winsome works of art of his generation that continue to cast their spell over us today. His work actually appears incredibly innovative, perhaps even more so now than in his own time, evoking Damien Hirst's medicine cabinets and site-specific installations by cutting edge contemporary artists.
Included in this sale is a sophisticated drawing by Arshile Gorky, Lot 12, "Study for Image in Xhorkom." Gorky was a huge influence on Willem de Kooning, while a Surrealist himself. The title refers to Khorkum, a small village in Armenia near Lake Van where Gorky was born. This pencil drawing was included in the exhibition "Arshile Gorky: 1904-1948: A Retrospective," April-July 1981, at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Gorky was a superb draughtsmen, and his legacy is evident in the work of his ardent young admirer, de Kooning. Lot 12, "Study for Image in Xhorkom," has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $674,500.
The influence of "the old guard," or Paris School, is also keenly felt in the beautiful early de Kooning illustrated at the top of this story, "Event in a Barn," circa 1947, which is evocative of both Picasso and Gorky. The lush brushwork, however, is all de Kooning's own. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale notes that de Kooning said: "Of all movements, I like Cubism most." Lot 11, "Event in a Barn," has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $6,000,000. It sold for $4,762,500.
A work on paper by Willem de Kooning, Lot 21, "Black and White Rome E," circa 1959, (estimate $300,000 to $500,000/It sold for $338,500), is illustrated with Lot 19, Cesar's "Nu de Saint Denis 1," (estimate $50,000 to $70,000/it sold for $122,500), and Franz Kline's "Herald."
In October 1994 Allan Stone's exhibition "William de Kooning: Liquifying Cubism" opened to critical acclaim, where Lot 13, "Forest of Zogbaum," (circa 1958), was prominently displayed. This gorgeous work was painted in 1958 after de Kooning began traveling back and forth between New York City and the Hamptons, where he moved permanently by 1960. This composition is expansive, references nature, and holds its power without the inclusion of women. The title references Wilfred Zogbaum, from whom de Kooning bought four acres in The Springs, Easthampton, in 1959. He was able to afford to do this after the success of his show at Sidney Janis Gallery. Lot 13, "Forest of Zogbaum," has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $2,658,500.
In 2004 Allan Stone Gallery presented "Alfred Leslie: Expressing the Zeitgeist," in which Lot 20, "Quartet # 1," (1958), was included, illustrated above. Lot 20 has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $350,500. In the foreground is Lot 14, "Compression, 1986," by Cesar, that is registered in Mrs. Denyse Durand-Ruel's archives.It has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $86,500. This sale includes Lot 24, "Little Cross," (estimate $2,000,000 to $3,000,000/It sold for $3,330,500) a monumental, delightful sculpture by Alexander Calder and Lot 8, "#2 Whale Square," by Michael Goldberg," a sophisticated oil on canvas painted in 1959. It has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $230,500.
In 50 years of collecting Allan Stone remained loyal to the artists whose work he championed till his death in 2006. The last show he presented in 2006 was "Willem de Kooning: Slipping Glimpses, 1920s to 1960s." It included Lot 13, "Forest of Zogbaum."
Wayne Thiebaud and Alan Stone had a personal friendship and professional relationship as artist/dealer that lasted untill Stone's death in 2006 that was both successful and fulfilling. At first glance Thiebaud's representational subjects - mundane ties and sunglasses - and mass produced consumer goods such as gumball and pinball machines, and foods such as cakes and pies, seem to have more in common with Pop Art. However, close inspection reveals that his brushwork is eerily similar to the lush, pigment-laden swathes of color deployed by Willem de Kooning. Thiebaud systematically compresses his rich impastoes within the confines of each triangle of pie, or the outlines of ties and and hats. His cakes, pies and candies induce unimaginable cravings, begging to be licked off the canvas. His ingenius technique makes ordinary subjects hugely desireable. What is quite amazing about Thiebaud's work is that many of his paintings are created from memory, not direct observation, which aligns him with Abstract Expressionists like Willem de Kooning. His painting is visceral. It can be felt.
"As stated in 'The Collector: Allan Stone's Life in Art,' a film by the dealer's daughter Olympia Stone, he later recalled: 'I tacked the paintings up in the apartment all the other things I had, you know the de Koonings and this and that...I noticed that these things really held their own...You put a Thiebaud next to a de Kooning, Thiebaud wasn't going anywhere...and the images of these marching rows of pies just kept burning themselves into my mind...His work would make my hands twitch.' (The Collector: Allan Stone's Life in Art, 2007). Stone offered the forty year old artist his first one-man show in New York, and the 1962 exhibition would serve as a watershed moment in both their careers." Sotheby's catalogue for this sale continues: "Stone remained Thiebaud's dealer until his death in December 2006, and the two shared an extremely close and sympathetic relationship during those 45 years."
Tobias Meyer auctioning "Pies"
There is a wonderful photograph in the catalogue of Allan Stone installing works for Thiebaud's first solo exhibition at The Allan Stone Gallery with Lot 30, "Pies" hanging on the wall behind him. Lot 30, "Pies," has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $4,002,500.
Thiebaud's compelling figures mark a departure from his earlier still-life paintings because they are painted from models, not from memory. This journey began after the success of his cakes and pies that were exhibited at The Allan Stone Gallery in 1962-63. Sothebys catalogue notes that the life-sized nudes are rare because of the artists belief "that the figure is the most difficult and demanding subject matter an artist can undertake" and that "Allan Stone shared the painter's respect for the genre and so admired Thiebaud's conquest of the figure that he collected several of the most important works including 'Nude, Back View." It was also fitting that the Allan Stone Gallery held a tribute exhibition of the series in 2008 that included the present work."
From inauspicious beginnings, when the discouraged artist showed up at his gallery with little hope of acceptance, Thiebaud and Allan Stone had a charmed relationship based on trust and a genuine liking for each other - but ultimately it was Thiebaud's art that impacted on the young, up and coming dealer. Sotheby's catalog for this sale includes Allan Stone's introduction to "Wayne Thiebaud at Allan Stone Gallery: Celebrating 33 Years Together, 1994:
Late one afternoon in the spring of '61 out of the bustle of Madison Avenue a shy, reserved man came to the gallery. He was exhausted after spending a depressing day showing galleries his paintings...unsuccessfully. We were his last stop. Luckily, we were then and still are, the most northern gallery on the Avenue.
So Wayne Thiebaud ended up at The Allan Stone Gallery. He was discouraged, as any one who has tried to show work around town understands. He didn't even want to show me his paintings. Thiebaud had a special quality about him and I asked him to join me for dinner.
We dined at the Embers, Errol Garner played the piano and Thiebaud talked about Dubuffet and about being good at being bad. He was bright, incisive and articulate. I asked him to leave me his roll of paintings. I'd look at them later and return them by parcel post.
Abstract Expressionism was still going strong and everyone was trying to identify the new stars, the next generation of important abstract painters. The explosion of POP art was yet to come, and no one was particularly interested in representational painting. I lived with Thiebaud's for a month and his images began to haunt me. I offered Wayne a one-man show which opened in April 1962.
I have had the pleasure of friendship with a complex and talented man, a terrific teacher and cook, the best raconteur in the west with spin serve, and a great painter whose magical touch is exceeded only by his genuine modesty and humility. Thiebaud's dedication to painting and his pursuit of excellence inspire all who are lucky enough to come in contact with him. He is a very special man.
___ Allan Stone
Over the years, Allan Stone's unwavering confidence in Wayne Thiebaud resulted in his work being collected by an A-list clientele that included William Rubin: "Stone took a great amount of pride and satisfaction in reporting how fabulous Thiebaud's works looked in William Rubin's collection, hanging amongst the works by Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko and Newman ('I feel VERY PROUD of you because you are hanging where you ought to be. It's terrific!!!'), and in chronicling the long list of 12 group exhibitions that included Thiebaud's work and the major collectors who acquired his paintings. Arnold Maremont and Robert Mayer of Illinois, Joseph Hirshhorn of Connecticut, Larry Aldrich, William Copley, Carter Burden and Leon Kraushar of New York City: the list quoted in Allan's letter of June 2, 1994 is impressive even today." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale).
Allan Stone was un-phased by Lawrence Alloway's decision not to include Thiebaud in a Pop art exhibition planned at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. With characteristic optimism he advised that the free publicity was good, and that "artists survive, not movements. ...On the whole I think it a very good idea that you stand alone, as a still-life painter, or whatever...and as things are working out, you are developing a very strong reputation, on your own, which in my judgment will be a lasting one." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale).
When many of these works were painted Thiebaud's peers were abstract expressionists - the hottest ticket around. It was the next generation of movers and shakers - Warhol and Lichtenstein among others - that returned representational art to the walls of cutting edge galleries and museums. Warhol went one step further and sold his work directly to clients at his "Factory." But Thiebaud and Stone remained close, both professionally and personally, and the Pop Art movement came and went, but its impact was huge and resonates today. Representational art - and Warhol's idea of art for the masses - is evident in superb photography, digitial imagery, video and film. Retrospectives and art openings that take place in New York and around the world show there are many young artists working in the time-honored genres of figurative, still-life and landsape painting. Allan Stone was on target with Thiebaud.
Thiebaud's fantastic "streetscapes" demonstrate the strong drawing that underpins even his most abstract paintings. His landscapes are lush, expansive and impossibly beautiful, like Lot 42, "Brown River," illustrated at the top of this story. It is diminutive and also illustrated beside Lot 34, "Diagonal Ridge," a wonderful semi-abstract (estimate $800,000 to $1,200,000/It sold for $902,500) with a skewed perspective of a hillside lined with quirky trees. Lot 28, "Down Penn Street" evokes Diebenkorn and reflects Thiebaud's move to San Fancisco. The dizzying topography of these paintings with "steep hills and dramatic horizons are the perfect forum for exaggerating spatial dynamics and investigating the complexities of form and composition." Sotheby's catalog for this sale also notes: "In streetscapes such as 'Down Penn Street' Thiebaud explored the opposing tensions between modern abstraction and classic representation. As he observed: 'There is an element of oriental art in them, that kind of flattening out of planes - and a lot of playing around ...San Francisco is a fantasy city. It's easy to make it into a pretend city, a kind of fairytale. There's an almost Australian sense of quick riches, of hills and precipitousness.'" (Exh.Cat., San Francisco, Fine Arts Museum, California, Palace of the Legion of Honor, 'Wayne Thiebaud: a Retrospective, 2000')
Lot 28, "Down Penn Street" (1977) has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold for $338,500. Lot 41, "Intersection," (1977-1978), is a superb charcoal on paper with an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $290,500. Lot 42, "Brown River" has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $482,500.
"Cherry Bowl," illustrated above, is an unusual combination of materials and techniques - pastel and watercolor are applied over drypoint etching. Lot 33, "Cherry Bowl," was created in 1987, and has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000. It sold for $302,500. Wayne Thiebaud's deployment of this mystical medium drew great praise from Allan Stone in the film "The Collector: Allan Stone's Life in Art," when he described it as "asmost spiritual, it's so beautiful." In the same film, Thiebaud says of his friend and dealer: "There isn't any baloney in what he does - its just straight. The work has to be something that he's just interested in - likes...He doesn't want to be told by anybody - critics or otherwise - what he should be doing or what he's done. He's his own special man and he wants to keep it that way." (The Collector: Allan Stone's Life in Art, 2007, included in Sotheby's catalogue for this sale)
Lot 42, "Brown River," illustrated at the top of this story, is the most recent work by the artist in the sale. It is expansive, even bucolic, evokeing Van Gogh's highly charged brushwork and bold colors. Thiebaud's technique is mind-blowing and has nothing in common with the screen-printing or stencilling of Pop Art. It is the antithesis of mechanical. He is meticulous, even obsessive, his subjects systematically engulfed in layers of encrusted pigment, often outlined in black. The push-pull of drawing and painting continuously cast their spell in Thiebaud's work. His superb draughtsmanship - evident in the wonderful "Man Reading" (Lot 38) - is built on his early experience as an illustrator in the military, and in advertising. Lot 38, "Man Reading," was painted in 1963 and has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $2,658,500.
Thiebaud's paintings remind us that time is passing. His pinball and gumball machines and fussy pastel cakes induce nostalgia because they are already outdated, replaced by newer versions of themselves in fast paced, forward thrusting America. His subjects are often associated with pleasure. They gratify our need for amusement or our tastebuds, which is also very American. They are fun. But it is as if Wayne Thiebaud knew his subjects were slipping into the past - into history - as he painted them.
The early works of artists and sculptors are often amongst their finest, or they are precursors of what is to come. When artists turn out to be the towering geniuses of their generation, those that encouraged, supported, collected and sold their work also inspire awe, like Allan Stone. He did not follow the herd. What is most striking about the band of artistic brothers he represented is that they were so different from each other stylistically. In choosing and celebrating diversity, Allan Stone was a true New Yorker, and he certainly had a gift for picking winners.
The works on offer in this collection evoke a special time in New York when a group of artists and their dealers dined and went to bars together, shared ideas and friendship, while simultaneously pursuing their individual goals and ambitions. Along the way they made contemporary art history.
In 2007, Christie's held a sale of 71 lots from the Stone estate and all but seven sold for a total of $52.4 million.
Sotheby's served these "Thiebaut"-style cupcakes to the press after the auction
See The City Review article on the Carte Blanche auction curated by Philippe Ségalot at Phillips de Pury November 8, 2010
See The City Review article on the Contemporary Art evening auction Part I at Phillips de Pury Pury following the Ségalot auction
The City Review article on the Fall 2010 Contemporary Art evening
auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2010 Contemporary Art day auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2010 Contemporary Art evening auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2010 Contemporary Art day auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2010 Contemporary Art day auction at Phillips de Pury