Lot 121
  • 121

Agnes Martin

70,000 - 90,000 GBP
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  • Agnes Martin
  • Untitled
  • signed and dated 77
  • watercolour, graphite and ink on paper
  • 22.9 by 22.9cm.; 9 by 9in.


Pace Gallery, New York
Private Collection, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although there is more contrast and the pink tends more towards a soft salmon in the original. Condition: This work is in very good and original condition. The sheet is hinged verso to the mount in the upper two corners. Visible only when unframed, there is very light mount staining in the margins. There is light undulation to the sheet likely resulting from the artist's choice of media. Very close inspection reveals a few pinprick-sized media accretions scattered in isolated places.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The art of Agnes Martin manifests itself as an intellectual balancing act, engaging numerous dichotomies with a grace and integrity that verges on the sublime. In works such as the present one, Martin’s aesthetic vision finds a sensitive equilibrium between the subtle poetry of delicate mark marking and expressive colour gradations.

Martin's paintings present themselves as portals into her unique spiritual sensibility, and yet they function within an ordered system. Through her work, the artist strips down the traditional notions of composition and perspective to the bare essentials, and achieves breathtaking serenity in the process. Her manipulation of the logic of geometry and classical perfection manifests itself in gentle execution, which contrasts with the solidarity of her pictorial structure. Minimalist abstraction is thus employed not as a clinical device, but rather a means of revelation. The perfection of the surface engenders beauty, calm and self-reflection in the viewer.

Martin’s early paintings of the 1960s established her classic and defining aesthetic which focused on a grid of tightly interwoven vertical and horizontal pencil lines over muted monochromatic backgrounds, a subtle nod to the geometry of Piet Mondrian. Varying pressure and thickness of the graphite line and accommodating for human variation in a supposed clinical approach of the resulting rectangular forms, she created a mesmerising visual effect. This identifies with the minimalist chromatics of Ellsworth Kelly and Frank Stella in a defining aura of formal clarity and statement, yet due to her freeness and deliberate lack of perfection, leans more towards the masters of abstract expressionism such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.

In 1968 Martin left her New York home to settle down in New Mexico and abandoned painting until she re-emerged with an exhibition at Pace Gallery in New York in 1975. These new paintings, although rooted in her innate sensibilities, represented a series of shifts in the structure of the canvas and the use of colour. The logic of the grid was maintained but was now revelled in a more painterly approach, which is exemplified in Untitled. In this new series of works gradations of style emerged whilst the artist's signature objectives and techniques remained strong. Indeed, Untitled perfectly exemplifies how Martin's palette and spatial composition became transcendent over time. Here, the muted pinks and yellows expand before us like a sandy beach at sunset, referencing the non-objectivity of her work with its clear link to nature.

The pencil-heavy works of the 1960s gradually gave way to broader bands of lightly tinted colour, inspired by the undulating vistas of the New Mexico skyline. The sovereignty of symmetry has staying power although her spatial arrangements are more dynamic with varying bands of thickness. The softly gradation of tones are subtle yet defined systemically by the ever-present graphite demarcations. Martin’s reductive visual language conveys her emotional response to nature and transmits the experience of beauty and lightness in their essence.

Martin’s philosophy was one of being able to reveal reality through the creative process, but in a deeply philosophical manner. Throughout her lifetime the artist drew on multifarious sources from the Bible to the scripts of Chinese sages, yet her works do not conform to any prescribed ideology. Instead, her essence is captured in her ability to connect with viewers on an intensely emotional level. As the artist wrote herself: “It’s not about facts, it’s about feelings. It’s about remembering feelings and happiness.  A definition of art is that it makes concrete our most subtle emotions”(Agnes Martin quoted in: Lois Tarlow, Art New England, April-May, 1994, online).