Lot 3
  • 3

Frank Stella

1,800,000 - 2,500,000 USD
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  • Frank Stella
  • Arundel Castle (small version)
  • enamel on canvas
  • 17 3/4 by 12 in. 45.1 by 30.5 cm.
  • Executed in 1959.


Acquired by the present owner directly from the artist in the 1960s


New York, Rosa Esman Gallery, A Curator's Choice: A Tribute to Dorothy Miller, February - March 1982


Lawrence Rubin, Frank Stella Paintings 1958-1965: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1986, pp. 76-77, no. 45, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Frank Stella's Arundel Castle (small version) belongs to the artist's most iconic series, the Black Paintings, conceived during the artist's final year at Princeton University in 1958. When first exhibited at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1959, the Black Paintings sent tremors through the art world for their unprecedented vision that subverted the hegemony of gestural abstraction to machine-like, repetitive stripes, and reduced color to the ready-made palette of household black enamel paint. Advancing the tenets of early modernism through the geometric reduction of Piet Mondrian's grids or Barnett Newman's 'zips', Stella’s radical works stripped painting of its representational quality and emotional fervor, offering in its place a kind of painting that was entirely solipsistic and devoid of illusionistic pretense. Boasting a remarkable history of ownership that bespeaks the painting's critical significance, Arundel Castle (small version) belonged for more than half a century to the collection of the late Robert Rosenblum, the highly influential art historian who was one of Stella’s earliest teachers at Princeton University. Following Stella’s graduation from Princeton and move to New York in 1958, Rosenblum visited the young artist’s narrow, cramped studio on West Broadway. Rosenblum was fascinated by the revelatory implications of Stella’s work and purchased Arundel Castle (small version) from Stella after the groundbreaking unveiling of his work in a solo show at Leo Castelli Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Sixteen Americans in the winter of 1959-60. In Sixteen Americans, the larger version of the present work (now in the permanent collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.) was displayed alongside four other Black Paintings that made their first full-scale public manifesto. Emphasizing the rarity of the series, Stella painted only twenty-three large Black Paintings, fourteen of which are in major international museum collections such as the Kunstmuseum Basel, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Museum Ludwig, Cologne, among others. Jewel-like in its exceptional form, the present work belongs to a distinguished group of just six small-version Black Paintings from 1959.

The title of Arundel Castle (small version) refers to the dilapidated housing tenement in New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood where Stella worked as a commercial painter upon moving to the city. While working as a house-painter, Stella began working with industrial enamel and tint colors in his studio. A dollar and forty cents could buy him a gallon of enamel paint, providing a wealth of material to use—material that was, in a sense, a kind of “found object” that further reinforced the gritty, nihilistic, and reductive rawness of his approach. Paralleling the industrial nature of his chosen medium, the hard-edged composition in the present work is equally mechanical. Stella composed Arundel Castle (small version) through mirror-image rectilinear patterns of black stripes that are organized along a horizontal bilateral axis. He used the thickness of the wooden stretcher bar to determine the width of each black stripe, thus creating an evenly symmetrical painting that is engendered by repetitions of its own structural skeleton. As seen in the present work, Stella’s commitment to depersonalization and objectivity epitomizes the spirit of his prophetic and compelling rebellion against the heavy-laden gesture and emotional machismo of Abstract Expressionism—a rebellion that fueled the tide of sixties Minimalism. Rosenblum wrote, “In place of the athletic calligraphy of de Kooning, Pollock or Kline, which seemed to record the singularity of momentary impulses and feelings, Stella’s paint application moved toward an almost impersonal regularity and evenness; instead of the chromatic and atmospheric refinements of Guston or Rothko, Stella chose the stark, ascetic contrast of unmodulated black paint stripes separated by the linear patterns of white canvas.” (Robert Rosenblum, Frank Stella, Baltimore, 1971, p. 17) By this formulaic, reductive process,  Stella most importantly experiments with the ontology of painting to reject its capacity as metaphor or mimesis. In denying the meaning of painting beyond its own palpable existence, Stella defies the idea of conventional painting as a ‘window’ and instead offers the idea of painting as a self-reflective mirror.

Although Stella’s handling of paint has been discussed in terms of a rote mechanical process, the small-scale format of the present work is particularly unique for the way in which it reveals nuanced brushwork and an intimate relationship between Stella's black stripes and raw canvas. In Arundel Castle (small version), Stella’s specific rectilinear design entrances the eye through ingenious visual interplay between solid and void. As Rosenblum observed, “these rectilinear relationships never produce discrete, self-sufficient shapes, but radiate beyond the canvas edges. Stella’s rectangles, whether expanding concentrically or segmented by the perimeter, imply infinite extendibility, the taut fragments of a potentially larger whole.” (Robert Rosenblum, Frank Stella, Baltimore, 1971, p. 17) Iconically revered for their simple, hypnotic symmetry, Stella’s Black Paintings launched his immense artistic renown and symbolize the most critical revolution in the history of painting after 1960. By challenging the precedent set forth by Abstract Expressionism and provoking a reconsideration of the fundamental nature of painting, the Black Paintings mark the beginning of profound investigations in Minimalism and abstraction that challenged and indelibly altered the course of modern art. In 1970, Rosenblum wrote in his monograph Frank Stella, “One constant, at least, of this decade is the importance of the Black Paintings as epochal art history; for now, like then, they retain the watershed quality so apparent when they were first seen in 1959. Today too they have the character of a willful and successful manifesto that would wipe out the past of art and that would establish the foundation stones for a new kind of art.” (Robert Rosenblum in Sidney Guberman, Frank Stella: An Illustrated Biography, New York, 1995, p. 46)