Sotheby’s to Offer Four Masterworks by Joan Mitchell Spanning Nearly Half a Century

Sotheby’s to Offer Four Masterworks by Joan Mitchell Spanning Nearly Half a Century

Charting the defining decades of the artist’s celebrated career with a combined estimate in the region of $40m, this is the most significant group of works by the artist to appear at auction.
Charting the defining decades of the artist’s celebrated career with a combined estimate in the region of $40m, this is the most significant group of works by the artist to appear at auction.
Walter Silver, JOAN MITCHELL, c. 1958. The Walter Silver Collection, THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY. Image © Copyright NY Public Library

R epresenting 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 the one of the twentieth 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 c. 1955 through to 1989, 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 circa 1955, an exceptional example of Mitchell’s early work, completed three years after her first New York City solo exhibition (Estimate: $8 – 12 million); her large-scale canvas Noon from circa 1969, the year after her permanent move to Vétheuil, France, where she settled along the Seine (Estimate: $15 – 20 million); Untitled from circa 1973, created just one year after her first major museum solo exhibition (Estimate: $1 – 1.5 million); and Ground from 1989, a vibrant late-period monumental diptych (Estimate: $12 – 18 million).

ESTIMATE: $8,000,000 - 12,000,000
“I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me—and remembered feelings of them, which of course become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would like more to paint what it leaves me with."
The artist, 1958, quoted in: Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Nature in Abstraction: The Relation of Abstract Painting and Sculpture to Nature in Twentieth-Century American Art, 1958

Joan Mitchell, City Landscape, 1955. Image © The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY. Art © Estate of Joan Mitchell

Untitled from circa 1955 is an exceptionally rare example of Mitchell’s abstractions of the mid-to-late 1950s, which are today celebrated as her first mature body of work. This group sees Mitchell as a young, academically-minded painter establishing her rigorous compositional strategies and technical range. Her masterpiece at the Art Institute of Chicago, City Landscape (1955), also dates to this decade, one that was characterized by critically lauded and commercially successful gallery shows. Untitled was painted four years after her participation in Leo Castelli’s legendary 9th Street Show, which firmly placed her place at the fore of New York’s post-war artistic circle, and three years after her first New York City solo exhibition at the New Gallery, which further cemented her as a young, prominent artist in her own right. This pivotal moment heralded a seminal period in Mitchell’s life and work, when she moved back and forth between New York and Paris, seamlessly blending the abstract machismo of the New York School with an elegant European fidelity to nature.

Walter Silver, Contact sheet with Joan Mitchell on steps (upper right), Mike Goldberg, Franz Kline, ca. 1950s. Photo © The New York Public Library / Art Resource, NY
“Mitchell had that rare gift of looking at the world from a perspective that was not human-centered – from a point of view that gives back to us nature in its radical otherness, that refuses to domesticate it or interpret in terms of human needs…What her paintings make palpable is an immediate presence of feeling.”
Philip Larrat-Smith quoted in: Exh. Cat., Edinburgh, Inverleith House Royal Botanic Garden, Joan Mitchell, 2010, n.p.

JOAN MITCHELL, NOON, C. 1969. 102 BY 79 IN.
ESTIMATE: $15,000,000 - 20,000,000

In 1967, Mitchell purchased La Tour, an estate in Vétheuil along the Seine, and permanently relocated her studio there in 1968. Executed circa 1969, Noon emerged the year after Mitchell permanently relocated to Vétheuil. This move marked a turning point in her career, as her canvases became larger and the stimulation of the French countryside proved immensely generative. Mitchell’s confidence in her painting by the late 1960s is on full display, particularly in the diversity of her painting – in Noon, the surface ranges from sumptuous impasto, to liquid drips, to dry, pattering strokes – reminiscent of the reflections of light on Monet’s waterlilies. A window into Mitchell’s bucolic surroundings, Mitchell has also adopted her signature palette of rich violets, sunny yellows, and oranges.

JOAN MITCHELL, UNTITLED, C. 1973. 31 ½ BY 15 ¾ IN.
ESTIMATE: $1,000,000 - 1,500,000

P ainted circa 1973 - just one year after her first major museum solo exhibition, My Five Years in the Country: An Exhibition of Forty-nine Paintings by Joan Mitchell at the Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse - Untitled is consistent with the best paintings from this period, and reflects the artist's evolving painterly language on an intimate scale. Speaking to the kinship Mitchell felt with the French Impressionists, Untitled is executed in a palette suggesting the juxtaposition of land and water, florals and foliage.

ESTIMATE: $12,000,000 - 18,000,000

P ainted in 1989, the final years of her career, Ground is an exceptional example of Mitchell’s last mature body of work in her favored diptych format. During this period, Mitchell ambitiously expanded the scale of her projects, often working in diptychs and triptychs, while maintaining a brilliantly saturated palette and vigorous brushwork. Despite Mitchell’s declining health during the time it was painted, Ground is distinguished by a physical and creative vitality that not only defies her age, but also testifies to the artist’s painterly and technical mastery. Mitchell’s late works from the 1980s are perhaps her most powerful and self-assured expressions of nature, as she radically abstracts landscape into consistently muscular yet restrained brushstrokes that evoke light and color. Ground is distinguished by its bright and ebullient palette of rose, orange, green, and yellow, which is made even stronger by Mitchell’s calligraphic yet bold brushwork. Together, the colors and brushstrokes evoke Mitchell’s lifelong inspiration from nature: the abundance of the landscape surrounding her home in Vétheuil and the lushness of her garden are represented in the abstract and explosive fullness of the present work’s composition.

Joan 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.

Left: Willem de Kooning, Merritt Parkway, 1959. Image © Detroit Institute of Arts / Bridgeman Images. Art © 2024 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Right: Claude Monet, Waterlilies, 1916-1919.
Musee Marmottan-Claude Monet, Paris, France.
Image © Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

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 Expressionism” 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. 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.

“She would open up the tenuous space of her compositions and dance ribbons of color and gesture across the surface, or construct compartmentalized passages of form and color that would coalesce into energized physical expressions. With apparent abandon, she threw, splashed, or forced paint onto the canvas in her distinctive colors and gestures: the paintings display her fondness for a palette of blue, green, orange, black, and white, together with her personal vocabulary of choppy vertical smears, washes of pastel hues, slashed aggressive hues, loops of joyful color, definite drips, thick orbs of paint, and eccentric composition.”
Richard D. Marshall quoted in Exh. Cat., New York, Cheim & Read, The Last Paintings, 2011, n.p.

Joan Mitchell photographed in Vétheuil, France, 1972. Photo © Nancy Crampton.



Los Angeles

Today through 19 April

Including Noon, Untitled (c. 1955), and Untitled (c. 1973)


New York

3-13 May

Full Exhibitions of Contemporary and Modern Art




The New York Sales

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