Four Significant Joan Mitchell Paintings Could Fetch North of $40 Million at Sotheby’s Auction

Friday, April 19, 2024
Four Significant Joan Mitchell Paintings Could Fetch North of $40 Million at Sotheby’s Auction

Representing the most significant selection of paintings from Joan Mitchell’s oeuvre to ever come to market, this May Sotheby’s will offer four defining masterworks by one of the 20th century’s most celebrated titans of Abstract Expressionism - all hailing from the same esteemed private collection.

Each created during a key period of her storied career, the individual works chart the development of Mitchell’s painting through the defining seasons of her life: from her early works as she forged her own path as a leading figure of the male-dominated New York School, to her colorful soaring canvases created in the lush French countryside late in her career. Spanning nearly half a century of artistic production, together the conversation between these paintings offers a visual timeline of the radical transformations of her practice from 1954 through to 1990, testifying to her commitment to abstraction, the evolution of her mark-making, and continued affinity for the natural world.

The group is comprised of Untitled from 1954, an exceptional example of Mitchell’s early work, completed two years after her first New York City solo exhibition (estimate $8/12 million); her large-scale canvas Noon from 1969, the year after her permanent move to Vétheuil, France, where she settled along the Seine on an estate once owned by Claude Monet (estimate $15/20 million); Untitled, 1973, created just one year after her first major museum solo exhibition (estimate $1/1.5 million); and Ground, 1989-90, a vibrant late-period monumental diptych (estimate $12/18 million).

Lucius Elliott, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auctions in New York, commented: “Joan Mitchell’s paintings feed on tension, and the push-and-pull of her work harkens to her lifelong commitment to abstraction and innovation, as well as her obsession with placing herself within an art historical milieu. An artist central to the birth of Abstract Expressionist as a distinctly American artform, Mitchell would also flee New York to permanently relocate to France, even living at a home formerly owned by Monet where she would begin obsessively painting her Sunflowers and draw inspiration from the natural world. It is through Mitchell’s exploration of natural forms that she transformed her work to a wholly new expression of abstraction and representation, expertly riding the knife edge to achieve a visual style that is unmistakably her own. This concise and expertly curated group of paintings marks an unprecedented opportunity to trace Mitchell’s painterly evolution and witness the ways in which her mastery took shape across decades.”

The works come to auction on the heels of recent milestone results for the artist, with two works exceeding $20 million for the first time at auction in November 2023, and following Mitchell’s recent celebrated retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Baltimore Museum of Art, as well as the widely acclaimed Monet-Mitchell exhibition at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.

Art, poetry, music and culture were a central throughline of Joan Mitchell’s life from an early age. Mitchell graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1947, and subsequently relocated to France after she received a travel fellowship.  After moving to New York in 1949, Mitchell became a central part of the New York School. Confronted by the muscularity and machismo of the prevailing Abstract Expressionist scene, Mitchell challenged this head on, infusing her paintings with her personal memories and allusions to places - from music to poetry to dogs and nature - creating her own brand of abstraction and rising to the forefront of the movement.

Throughout her life and work, Mitchell felt a kindship with the French Impressionists and European Post -Impressionists. The Monets and van Goghs she encountered in the Art Institute of Chicago’s permanent collection proved profoundly moving – and in 1957 and 1958, Mitchell participated in exhibitions of “Abstract Impressionism” a term coined by her friend and fellow artist Elaine de Kooning. By 1955, Mitchell began splitting time between Paris and New York, until 1967, when Mitchell inherited money after the passing of her mother, and was able to purchase La Tour, an estate in Vétheuil along the Seine once owned by Claude Monet. This move would mark a decisive turning point in her career: La Tour’s large space and high ceilings afforded Mitchell the ability to work on a larger scale, and, fully immersed in the natural world that she so loved, the stimulation of the French countryside proved immensely influential. Surrounded by Vétheuil’s beautiful landscape, Mitchell adopted what would become her signature aqueous palette of periwinkle and marigold, violet and ultramarine, and produced monumental works such as Noon and Ground.

Main Image :Joan Mitchell Noon ,1969, Oil on canvas Estimate $15 - 20 Million Courtesy Sotheby's

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