Property from the Private Collection of Robert Motherwell & Renate Ponsold Motherwell

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A collection that traces the development of Modern art, as it evolved from Surrealism to post-war Abstract Expressionism, could only have been amassed by someone who actively participated in these circles and contributed to their legendary output. The veritable treasure trove that is the personal collection of Robert Motherwell and his wife, Renate Ponsold Motherwell, exemplifies the deep peer-to-peer relationships amongst the most significant pioneers of these artistic movements. Beginning with Max Ernst’s Le Roi jouant avec la reine to be offered in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening auction on 16 May and continuing through the Impressionist & Modern Art Day auction on 17 May, the Contemporary Art Day auction on 19 May and subsequent sales this autumn, Sotheby’s is honoured to present works from the Private Collection of Robert Motherwell and Renate Ponsold Motherwell that illustrate the continuum that is abstraction as it moved from Europe to America in the 20th century.

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening
16 May | New York  

Impressionist & Modern Art Day
17 May | New York  

Contemporary Art Day
19 May | New York 

Image: Robert Motherwell’s Studio.

Property from the Private Collection of Robert Motherwell & Renate Ponsold Motherwell

  • Max Ernst, Le Roi Jouant avec la Reine. Estimate $4,000,000–6,000,000.
    Le Roi jouant avec la Reine is Max Ernst's masterpiece in sculpture. Belonging to a small group of sculptures that Ernst conceived in 1944, this work is one of the artist’s most powerful and compelling plastic works and illustrates his visionary approach to the medium. The power of this work lies in the contrast in scale between the oneiric, god-like figure of the King who rises out of the chessboard and the smaller figure of the queen who sits within his embrace. 

  • Wolfgang Paalen, Untitled. Estimate $7,000–9,000.
    Wolfgang Paalen was an innovative artist who associated with the Surrealists often throughout his career but would eventually forge his own aesthetic style. His 1943 article “Totem Art” had considerable influence on Martha Graham, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Motherwell. Wolfgang Paalen and his wife Luchita stayed at the Motherwells's house in East Hampton for two weeks in 1946, while the artist had a show at Galerie Nierendorf in New York City. The present work, dedicated to Maria Motherwell, was a gift for her hospitality.  

  • Joan Miró, Sans Titre. Estimate $180,000–250,000.
    Motherwell very much romanticised the role Miró played in the evolution of Modern art, portraying him as an independent rogue of sorts, but also one who was invested in seeing other artists find their voice. Miró represented, in Motherwell's mind, the quintessential fearless artist who said and painted whatever he pleased.  

  • Cy Twombly, Klu. Estimate $350,000–450,000.
    "I believe that Cy Twombly is the most accomplished young painter whose work I happen to have encountered: he is a 'natural' in regard to what is going on in painting now...what leads one quite spontaneously to call him a 'natural,' is his native temperamental affinity with the abandon, the brutality, the irrational in avant-garde painting of the moment. His painting process, of which the pictures are the tracks that are left, as when one walks on a beach, is orgastic: the sexual character of the fetishes half-buried in his violent surface is sufficiently evident (and so is not allowed to emerge anymore). Yet the art in his painting is rational, often surprisingly simply symmetrical, and invariably harmonious."
    Robert Motherwell, introduction to Cy Twombly's first solo exhibition at The Seven Stairs Gallery in Chicago, October 1951

  • Philip Guston, September. Estimate $250,000–350,000.
    "Guston laid claim to a special immediacy and intimacy related to 'touch.' The paintbrush was like a sacred tool to Guston...and the flattened horsehairs that protruded from its end were like an extension of his fingers. Guston had his pigments ground to create a particularly creamy consistency, and like thick butter applied to a hard surface, each stroke subtly squeezed out at its edges, creating a micro sculptural effect."
    Michael Auping, "Impure Thoughts: On Guston's Abstraction," in Exh. Cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (and traveling), Philip Guston Retrospective, 2003-2005, p. 41 

  • Robert Motherwell, Open No. 79: In Gray with Charcoal. Estimate $200,000–300,000.
    "And in real life, I would rather spend time looking at nature that has been modified by man—at parks or town squares with walls, say—than at raw nature or wilderness. The Open series was generated in part by these feelings. In Mexico, in the old days, they built the four walls of a house solid, without windows or doors, and later cut some windows and doors beautifully proportioned, out of the solid adobe wall. There is something in me that responds to the stark beauty of dividing a flat, solid plane."  
    Robert Motherwell 

  • Robert Motherwell, Untitled. Estimate $80,000–120,000.
    This work was a gift to Renate from her husband on New Years’ Day 1972, several months after the pair met. The collaged material – the label from a bottle of Charles Heidsieck champagne – is indicative of the exciting and celebratory-filled year to come for the couple. Collage was a major component of Motherwell’s artistic practice and he even had a studio dedicated to just his collage work in their Greenwich home and studio compound. 

  • Robert Motherwell, In Beige with Charcoal #8. Estimate $100,000–150,000.
    “Motherwell's intense feeling for the brushstroke is evident and persists even in those versions which seem at first glance most uniform in colour and texture. No matter how much he has selected and eliminated in order to achieve his effect of unity, he is never concerned with the creation of a 'system' or an 'object.' All the Open paintings maintain the sense of air, of openness, of variation within the colour field."
    H.H. Arnason, "Motherwell: The Window and the Wall," Artnews 68, No. 4, Summer 1969, p. 57 

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