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Exceptional Works by Rothko, Bacon & More to Highlight Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction

WATCH: ART AS A WINDOW TO THE MIND: THE COLLECTION OF GERALD L. LENNARD
THE BLEMA AND H. ARNOLD STEINBERG COLLECTION
The most important collection of Color Field paintings ever to appear at auction will highlight our Contemporary Art auctions this spring, emerging from the triumphant collection of Blema & H. Arnold Steinberg. Assembled across decades by the Canadian collectors and philanthropists from the mid-1960s through to 2014, the 100+ works offered this year together are estimated to achieve in excess of $40 million.

In addition to vibrant compositions by an array of Contemporary artists including Agnes Martin, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland and Adolph Gottlieb, the Steinberg collection is led by two transcendent paintings on paper executed by Mark Rothko in 1969, the final year of his life: Untitled (Red and Burgundy Over Blue) (pictured right, estimate $9/12 million) and Untitled (Red on Red) (estimate $7/10 million). Both are dazzling embodiments of the artist’s legendary Color Field compositions, which are distinguished as rare, exquisitely vibrant examples from a period of the artist’s fabled career that was largely characterized by a predominantly somber palette. The paintings exemplify Rothko’s work in a medium that bore an increasingly profound significance in the twilight years of his oeuvre when, tirelessly seeking to broaden the horizons of his practice, he focused his energies upon exploring the absolute limits of painting of paper. Separate release available

WATCH: THE MOST IMPORTANT COLLECTION OF COLOR FIELD PAINTINGS EVER TO APPEAR AT AUCTION
A DEFINING MASTERPIECE BY LEE KRASNER
The Eye is the First Circle represents the last major large-scale work by Lee Krasner remaining in private hands, appearing at auction this May after more than 20 years in the same distinguished private collection (estimate $10/15 million). Executed in 1960, The Eye is the First Circle stands today not only as a defining work of Krasner’s career at the peak of her artistic powers, but also a masterpiece of the Abstract Expressionist era broadly.

Reeling from her husband and fellow artist Jackson Pollock’s fatal car crash in 1956, followed by her mother’s passing in 1959 and the cancellation of a planned exhibition at French & Co. that same year, Krasner plunged into a new series of paintings, harnessing her emotional turmoil as a catalyst for her first monumental Umber paintings. Many nights, the artist found herself unable to sleep and painted instead. Without daylight to illuminate her canvas as she worked, Krasner began to eliminate color from her palette, instead working within the nuanced range of amber, cream, and umber tones used in the present work. She consequently referred to the resulting Umber paintings as the Night Journeys. The title of the present work, The Eye is the First Circle, came to Krasner as she was struck by the half-lidded eyes which seemed to peer out from the dense thicket of pigment. Separate release available

WATCH: LEE KRASNER FROM THE DEPTH OF DESPAIR TO THE HEIGH OF HER CAREER
ROBERT MOTHERWELL’S ELEGY
Measuring a staggering 96 by 120 inches, Robert Motherwell’s monumental Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 134 from 1974 is a definitive example from the artist’s revered Elegies series – his most extensive and acclaimed body of work (estimate of $9/12 million). Motherwell was a 21-year-old student when the horrors of the Spanish Civil War commenced in 1936, which had a profound impact on the young artist. As the recurrent motif of his Elegies, the symbolism of these ovular slabs has been debated extensively. Ultimately, they are intended to be read as a lamentation or funeral song – a lyrical and poetic memorial to the immense human loss and suffering endured during these harrowing years. Testifying to the importance of the series, nearly every major museum collection, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art, New York, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others, hold an Elegy to the Spanish Republic in their permanent collection.

ARTISTS FOR THE HAMMER MUSEUM
Important works by nearly 40 celebrated artists with strong ties to the Hammer Museum at UCLA have been donated for auction this May in Sotheby’s Evening and Day Auctions of Contemporary Art. Under the visionary direction of Ann Philbin, the Los Angeles institution has emerged over the past two decades as one of the most vibrant and influential museums in America. This historic sale will support the creation of a new Artist Fund, which will directly support the museum’s pioneering exhibition program and work with emerging artists. The fund is part of the museum’s $180 million capital campaign, which also includes a major transformation of the Hammer’s facility and an expansion of its endowment.

A highlight of the group is Mark Bradford’s Scratch Pink from 2018, which is estimated to sell for $2/3 million in the Contemporary Art Evening Auction on 16 May. Renowned for his richly textured canvases built up of layers of collaged paper, Bradford’s expressive abstraction embodies the urban experience as-lived. Invoking visions of cartographic grids or aerial topography, Scratch Pink is an exceptionally vibrant example of the artist’s mixed media paintings, which have most recently been celebrated in his solo shows at Hauser & Wirth in Hong Kong and Los Angeles. Widely regarded as amongst the most influential artists of his generation, Bradford received his first solo museum exhibition in his hometown of Los Angeles, Mark Bradford: Scorched Earth, at the Hammer Museum in 2015. Separate release available






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  • Lot 12 Property from SFMOMA, Sold to Benefit the Acquisitions Fund Mark Rothko Untitled signed and dated 1960 on the reverse oil on canvas 69 by 50 1/8 in. 175.3 by 127.3 cm. Estimate $35/50 million
    Lot 12 Property from SFMOMA, Sold to Benefit the Acquisitions Fund Mark Rothko Untitled signed and dated 1960 on the reverse oil on canvas 69 by 50 1/8 in. 175.3 by 127.3 cm. Estimate $35/50 million
    Sotheby’s Auktionshaus
  • Lot 9 Works from the Collection of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Francis Bacon Study for a Head inscribed with artist's symbol oil and sand on canvas 26 by 22 in. 66 by 56 cm. Executed in 1952. Estimate $20/30 million
    Lot 9 Works from the Collection of Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Francis Bacon Study for a Head inscribed with artist's symbol oil and sand on canvas 26 by 22 in. 66 by 56 cm. Executed in 1952. Estimate $20/30 million
    Sotheby’s Auktionshaus
  • Lot 25 The Gerald L. Lennard Foundation Collection Willem De Kooning Untitled X oil on canvas 77 by 88 in. 195.6 by 232.5 cm. Executed in 1975. Estimate $8/12 million
    Lot 25 The Gerald L. Lennard Foundation Collection Willem De Kooning Untitled X oil on canvas 77 by 88 in. 195.6 by 232.5 cm. Executed in 1975. Estimate $8/12 million
    Sotheby’s Auktionshaus
  • Lot 26 The Gerald L. Lennard Foundation Collection Francis Bacon Study for Portrait signed, titled, and dated 1981 on the reverse oil and dry transfer lettering on canvas 78 by 58 1/4 in. 198.1 by 148 cm. Estimate $12/18 million
    Lot 26 The Gerald L. Lennard Foundation Collection Francis Bacon Study for Portrait signed, titled, and dated 1981 on the reverse oil and dry transfer lettering on canvas 78 by 58 1/4 in. 198.1 by 148 cm. Estimate $12/18 million
    Sotheby’s Auktionshaus
  • Lot 23 The Gerald L. Lennard Foundation Collection Philip Guston Legs, Rug, Floor signed, titled, dated 1976, and variously inscribed on the reverse oil on canvas 80 by 100 in. 203.2 by 254 cm. Estimate $6/8 million
    Lot 23 The Gerald L. Lennard Foundation Collection Philip Guston Legs, Rug, Floor signed, titled, dated 1976, and variously inscribed on the reverse oil on canvas 80 by 100 in. 203.2 by 254 cm. Estimate $6/8 million
    Sotheby’s Auktionshaus