1122
1122

FORMERLY IN THE COLLECTION OF SANDRA CAMPBELL STILL, PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION

Clyfford Still
PH-306
Estimate
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54,000,00084,000,000
LOT SOLD. 64,141,500 HKD
JUMP TO LOT
1122

FORMERLY IN THE COLLECTION OF SANDRA CAMPBELL STILL, PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION

Clyfford Still
PH-306
Estimate
Premium Lots
In order to bid on "Premium Lots" you must complete the required Premium Lot preregistration application and deliver to Sotheby's such necessary financial references, guarantees, deposits and/ or such other security as Sotheby's may in its absolute discretion require, as security for your bid. Sotheby's decision whether to accept any pre-registration application shall be final. We recommend you contact Sotheby's at least 3 working days prior to the relevant sale in order to process the pre-registration, and please bear in mind that we are unable to obtain financial references over weekends or public holidays. If all lots in the catalogue are "Premium Lots", a Special Notice will be included to this effect and the paddle symbol will not be used.
Irrevocable Bids
Lots with this symbol indicate that a party has provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot that will be executed during the sale at a value that ensures that the lot will sell. The irrevocable bidder, who may bid in excess of the irrevocable bid, will be compensated based on the final hammer price in the event he or she is not the successful bidder or may receive a fixed fee in the event he or she is the successful bidder. If the irrevocable bidder is the successful bidder, the fixed fee (if applicable) for providing the irrevocable bid may be netted against the irrevocable bidder’s obligation to pay the full purchase price for the lot and the purchase price reported for the lot shall be net of such fixed fee. If the irrevocable bid is not secured until after the printing of the auction catalogue, a pre-lot announcement will be made indicating that there is an irrevocable bid on the lot. If the irrevocable bidder is advising anyone with respect to the lot, Sotheby’s requires the irrevocable bidder to disclose his or her financial interest in the lot. If an agent is advising you or bidding on your behalf with respect to a lot identified as being subject to an irrevocable bid, you should request that the agent disclose whether or not he or she has a financial interest in the lot.
Guaranteed Property
Guaranteed Property. The seller of lots with this symbol has been guaranteed a minimum price from one auction or a series of auctions. If every lot in a catalogue is guaranteed, the Conditions of Sale will so state and this symbol will not be used for each lot.
54,000,00084,000,000
LOT SOLD. 64,141,500 HKD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

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Hong Kong

Clyfford Still
1904 - 1980
PH-306
signed and dated 1946-7; signed and dated 1946-1947 on the reverse
oil on canvas
136.5 by 71.2 cm.   53¾ by 28 in.
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Provenance

Personal Collection of Clyfford Still
Sandra Campbell Still (gift from the artist)
Diane Upright Fine Art, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Literature

Amelia Redgrift. Ed., Conversations on Artist's Estates & Modern Masters: For Art Basel 2019, 2019, p. 88–89, illustrated in colour, p. 90-91, text

Catalogue Note

Fundamental to Clyfford Still’s vision was an early encounter with nature. Shortly after his birth in North Dakota in 1904 Still’s family had moved to Spokane in Washington State and, from 1911 onwards, they farmed the prairies of southern Alberta, Canada. There, Still experienced harsh conditions that prompted a love-hate relationship to the environment. In particular, the landscape’s vast horizontality, which he called its “awful bigness”, instilled a polarization in his imagery. On the one hand, large expanses of land and sky expressed the force – at once vibrant and threatening – of sheer space itself. On the other hand, verticality stood for the living presence, whether it be human or such surrogates as corn and grain elevators. From the 1920s through the first half of the 1940s, the artist explored these antitheses with numerous variations, as his initially realistic figures and motifs gradually became more fragmentary and enigmatic. Another development – especially relevant for the composition of PH-306 – is that at a precocious stage Still pitted radiance against blackness, as if the two were in symbolic struggle. This went together with a tendency for his increasingly monstrous presences to simultaneously split apart and intertwine.

The signal strength of PH-306 lies in how these foregoing elements have been transformed to a degree where their representational roots are left far behind, resulting in an abstraction that is nevertheless imbued with traces of the former impulses. For example, note the emphatic uprightness of the canvas’s format itself, as though it held distant memories of Still’s assertion: “For in such a land [the Alberta prairies] a man must stand upright, if he would live”. In turn, the forms within the image echo this verticality as they rise up from what may well be a significantly earth-hued mass that spreads horizontally along the picture’s lower margin. Secondly, the rearing black and white areas interlock with a savage, claw-like violence, emphasized by their being delineated with raw strokes of the palette-knife.

Thirdly, this tendency to shred shapes and then embed them within each other – note how the leftward lemon passage and the dark gray at right are as immediately present as the central colors that they enfold like pincers – creates a wholly new kind of spatiality. In short, PH-306 presents to the eye neither any conventional foreground nor background, but rather a vibrant continuum that owes nothing to precedents in even, say, Cubism. As such, the logic reflects one of Still’s most passionate aims: “I’ve never wanted color to be color. I never wanted texture to be texture or images to become shapes. I wanted them all to fuse into a living spirit”.

In terms of chromatic organization, too, PH-306 is quintessential Still. Key bright notes galvanize somber tones – black, grey, brown and a subfusc maroon (top center). The former include the glaring white, the pale yellow in the upper left quadrant, the orange burst within it and especially the vivid yellow that snakes through the painting’s middle. The latter ranks among the artist’s most important devices, to which he gave the self-explanatory name, “life line”.

Like a vibrant artery, this life line (established long before Barnett Newman’s “zips”) distils the work’s energies into a single, brilliantly dynamic core. And overall, although PH-306 may at first appear relatively simple, the longer the viewer beholds its changeful drama the more it exudes an uncanny animation (not to mention the subtlest strands of blue that intensify the black pigment). Here Still’s weighty words prove apt: “The best works are often those with the fewest and simplest of elements – pictures that are almost obvious, until you look at them a little more, and things begin to happen". Within the ostensibly sparse PH-306 much may be said to “happen.” Stealth incarnate.

Several other factors also distinguish PH-306. Its modest dimensions belie the cliché that Still was first and foremost an exponent of outsize works in keeping with his penchant for the sublime and its association with overwhelming magnitude, and so forth. On the contrary, many Still paintings are in fact of modest size: for this very reason they gain in intensity. Consequently, rather than engulfing the spectator the tensions draw the gaze inward (he once mentioned “implosion” regarding his visual mechanics). In this respect, as a matter of record, in 1947 alone Still created at least twelve canvases of similar dimensions to PH-306; some are even smaller. Likewise, Still did not often date a work to two years, as inscribed on the verso of PH-306. When he did, it tended to signal a shift or progression in his evolution.

Accordingly, 1946-47 was indeed a turning-point when the residual figuration sometimes faintly evident in the former year segued to a radical non-objectivity by the end of the latter. It is not coincidence, then, that PH-301 in the major donation of thirty-three works that Still made to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, in 1964 – the one canvas that most closely approaches the configuration of PH-306, including another snaking line, albeit there in darkest green and at lower right – should have been executed in the month of January 1947. On this count, it is the soul mate, or even bookend, as it were, to PH-306. Lastly, that Still gave PH-306 to his cherished daughter Sandra in 1976 to grace the wall of her Manhattan apartment surely reflects the fact that he accorded it a particular significance. In sum, PH-306 is therefore special, a most carefully considered and chosen achievement by one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century.


David Anfam
© Art Ex Ltd 2020

Dr David Anfam is a writer, curator and leading authority on modern American art. He is the Senior Consulting Curator at the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver and the Director of its Research Center. Based in London, Anfam is the preeminent authority on Abstract Expressionism: his exhibition “Abstract Expressionism” – held at the Royal Academy of Arts in 2016-17 – was described by Jackie Wullschlager, Chief Art Critic at the Financial Times, as "the most pleasurable, provocative exhibition of American art in Britain this century".

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

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Hong Kong