Sotheby’s Unveils Highlights from Contemporary Art Evening Auction, Led by Abstract Expressionist Masterworks

Sotheby’s announced highlights from its Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York this fall, which will offer a total of 51 lots on 14 November. The group will be led by two abstract expressionist works by Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko, respectively estimated at US$25m-35m. Here is a preview of selected highlights from the sale.

Estimated at US$25m-35m, Willem De Kooning’s Untitled XXII from 1977 represents the apex of the artist’s mature output. Exhausted by the noise and tension of life in Manhattan during the early part of his career, de Kooning spent summers in East Hampton beginning in 1959, and permanently moved to Springs in 1963 to immerse himself in the light-filled, tranquil environment. Although Untitled XXII remains abstract, it evokes the essence, memories, and experience of de Kooning’s oceanic and peaceful surroundings which captivated the artist, reminding him of his childhood home in Holland.

Also estimated at US$25m-35m, Mark Rotho’s Blue Over Red represents the first work from Mark Rothko’s critical year of 1953 to appear at auction in over a decade. The painting a critical period of development in the first half of the 1950s, immediately following his move to a new studio down the street from MoMA where he painted some of his most revolutionary explorations of colour. Blue Over Red was acquired directly from the artist in 1957 by legendary dealer and collector Harold Diamond, and subsequently spent decades with Baltimore collectors Israel and Selma Rosen, who offered the work at auction in 2005, when it sold for $5.6 million. It has remained in the same private collection since 2007.

Another masterwork of Abstract Expressionism, Clyfford Still’s PH-399, estimated at US$12m-18m, demonstrates the radical innovation of Still’s visionary oeuvre. Painted in 1946 – the same year as the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York – the present work is a seminal early touchstone of Still’s practice. PH-399 was selected by Still himself for inclusion in his seminal 1959 exhibition Paintings by Clyfford Still, organized by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo.

Measuring nine feet across, Brice Marden’s Number Two from 1983-84 is estimated at US$10m-15m. It is a monumental ode to Brice Marden’s most advanced explorations of form and colour. The work belongs to a limited and pivotal body of the artist’s multi-panel monochrome and-intel system of architecture. Number Two is further distinguished as part of a suite of just four twelve-part post-and-lintel construction paintings executed between 1983 and 1984, which were first exhibited together in a critically acclaimed exhibition at the Pace Gallery in 1984. The present example has remained in the same private collection since it was acquired from Pace in 1985, and its sister painting – Number One – resides in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Highlighted Abstract Expressionist Masterworks

Willem De Kooning. Untitled XXII

Lot no.: 13
Executed in: 1977
Size: 177.8 x 203.2cm

  • Estate of the artist
  • Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2003

Estimate: US$25,000,000 - 35,000,000

Mark Rothko. Blue Over Red

Lot no.: 26
Signed and dated 1953
Size: 162.6 x 88.9 cm

  • Harold Diamond, New York (acquired directly from the artist in 1957)
  • Israel and Selma Rosen, Baltimore (acquired from the above in December 1957)
  • Christie's New York, November 8, 2005, Lot 48 (consigned by the above)
  • Pace Wildenstein, New York
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2007

Estimate: US$25,000,000-35,000,000

Clyfford Still. PH-399

Lot no.: 11
Signed twice and dated 1946
Size: 136.5 x 113.7 cm

  • Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York (acquired directly from the artist in 1969)
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1970

Estimate: US$12,000,000-18,000,000

Brice Marden. Number Two

Lot no.: 9
Signed, titled, dated 1983-84
Size: 214 x 276.2 cm

  • The Pace Gallery, New York
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above in February 1985

Estimate: US$10,000,000-15,000,000