115
115

STANDARDS OF EXCELLENCE: THE BLEMA AND H. ARNOLD STEINBERG COLLECTION

Helen Frankenthaler
AFTERNOON
Estimate
1,000,0001,500,000
LOT SOLD. 2,060,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT
115

STANDARDS OF EXCELLENCE: THE BLEMA AND H. ARNOLD STEINBERG COLLECTION

Helen Frankenthaler
AFTERNOON
Estimate
1,000,0001,500,000
LOT SOLD. 2,060,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction

|
New York

Helen Frankenthaler
1928 - 2011
AFTERNOON
signed; signed, titled and dated '82 on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
70 3/8 by 156 1/8 in. 178.8 by 396.6 cm.
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Provenance

André Emmerich Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in October 1982

Literature

Karen Thomson, Ed., The Blema and H. Arnold Steinberg Collection, Montreal 2015, cat. no. 32, p. 40, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

A luminous and monumental canvas extending just over thirteen feet across, Afternoon by Helen Frankenthaler exquisitely captures the emotional power and painterly bravura that has established the artist as one of the most innovative and accomplished abstract painters of the last century. Impressively scaled, its expansive, saturated hues appear as strikingly spontaneous as they are carefully controlled. As a product of Frankenthaler’s move towards visible gesture and mark-making later in her career, the present work, executed in 1982, is rife with surface variation and impasto in addition to the soaked stains for which she is most famous. Building on her own pioneering trademark language by incorporating stylistic elements of her contemporaries like Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell, she composed magnificent, emotive canvases that reflected an increasing interest in experimenting with pigment and depth. Afternoon’s lyrical orchestration of yellow, ochre and cerulean thus exemplifies the artist’s mature mastery of color and line in producing complex rhythmic climates on an impressive scale.

With her triumphant exhibition in 1952 of the pivotal Mountains and Sea (Collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.), Frankenthaler introduced what would become her signature style: large washes of diluted color that dripped and spilled across the canvas. Seeking to emphasize the flatness of the support, she thinned her paint with turpentine to create translucent areas of color that soaked into the unprimed canvas, leaving elegantly flat stains. As a result, “she gained what watercolorists had always had—freedom to make her gesture live on the canvas with stunning directness” (Eleanor Munro, Originals: American Women Artists, New York 2000, p. 218). The preeminent critic of the day, Clement Greenberg, coined the term 'Post-Painterly Abstraction' in the 1960s as a way to describe the merging of paint and canvas exemplified by Frankenthaler’s work, in its departure from the materiality of paint central in the work of the Abstract Expressionists. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Frankenthaler continued to paint large abstract landscapes but began to flood her canvases with color instead of soak-staining them, while also switching from thinned oil paint to diluted acrylics. In later works of the 1980s like Afternoon, Frankenthaler also began to combine her flat surfaces with more painterly textures and gestures.

The present work in particular epitomizes the flood and flow of her mature, acrylic-based work. Despite the superimposition of layers of paint, her canvas does not appear opaque or clotted. Instead, there is a sense of lightness and airy appeal to the colors, which flow evenly outward from the center. To maximize the expressive potential of each hue, their marked fluidity is sometimes interrupted by drops and areas of concentrated paint, which are executed in contrasting tones or sit in high relief on the canvas, or both, as in the case of the bright blue line that runs horizontally along the center of the present work. These impastoed areas are characteristic of Frankenthaler’s mature phase. They call attention to the disjunction between surface and paint, reminding the viewer of the flatness of the canvas and of the medium used to secure the illusion of depth and space.

Anchored horizontally by a horizontal wash of tawny copper, the entire composition exudes a heady strength. Vertical plumes of the same hue billow upwards over the sunny golden expanse, in eloquent contrast to the long slash of azure blue that balances the arrangement. The play between soft earthy washes and areas of thick impastoed pigment creates a sophisticated surface that speaks to Frankenthaler’s experimentation with the picture plane. As she articulated, “my feeling [is] that a successful abstract painting plays with space on all different levels, different speeds, with different perspectives, and at the same time remains flat...for me the most beautiful pictures of any age have this ambiguity” (the artist quoted in Alison Rowley, Helen Frankenthaler: Painting History, Writing Painting, New York 2007, p. 46). By harnessing the fluid nature of her signature thinned paint and combining it with a newfound interest in painterly strokes, Frankenthaler imbues her canvas with a startling complexity and vibrancy, modulating between the muted chestnut fog and the crisp staccato sapphire. The surface transitions between passages of brilliant radiance and rich color, and moments of soft and delicate handling. Taken together, these elements establish Afternoon as a culmination of Frankenthaler’s mastery over the elusive and most fundamental elements of painting.

Contemporary Art Day Auction

|
New York