Helen Frankenthaler Showcased at Phillips with Works from the Louis-Dreyfus Collection

Helen Frankenthaler, Fireball (1981). Courtesy Phillips.

Phillips is showcasing a group of four paintings by abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler at the auction house’s new Southampton location. The works in Helen Frankenthaler: Paintings, 1973-1981 are on view from until October 4, including three painting available for private sale, and one that will be offered during Phillips’s modern and contemporary evening sale on November 12 at the house’s New York headquarters.

Frankenthaler was a key figure in the color-field movement of postwar abstract painting. The paintings on offer come from a seminal decade in the apex of Frankenthaler’s career between the 70s and 80s. By the late 1980s, already well established in her career, she had been the subject of several solo exhibitions including one at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 1985 and and the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1989.

Among the top works in the showcase is Off White Square (1973), one of the largest paintings in the artist’s oeuvre to come up at auction, measuring at 6.6 feet by 21 feet. The work is an example of her later style, following the period between the 1950s and 1960s when the artist developed a soak-stain painting technique that became influential to color-field artists. The work has an impressive provenance. It was last sold from London’s HSBC Corporate Collection at Sotheby’s in 2005 for $419,200, beating its estimate of $80,000-$100,000. In 2014, it was then acquired by New York collector and energy industry mogul William Louis-Dreyfus. The work is coming to auction from the Louis-Dreyfus heirs. It is expected to achieve $3 million-$4 million.

The three remaining works in the showcase on offer via private sale include Untitled (1978) and two others from 1981, Tethys and Fireball. These works range in price from $1.5-$3 million. Fireball, a large-scale horizontal composition, standing at 49 1/2 inches by 48 inches, features Frankenthaler’s gestural mark making, deep colors and a single blot of paint, which she began featuring in her works in the early 1960s. The Phillips sale marks the painting’s first time on the market since 1982 when it was sold by dealer Andrew Emmerich. It changed hands only once since then before going to a private collection based in Florida in 2017. Tethys (1981), a stone-colored neutral work was also in the Louis-Dreyfus collection before it was acquired by the present owner. The third work from 1978 features a deep orange-red scheme and broad vertical brushstrokes. It’s first owner was the artist’s sister, Marjorie Iseman.

Helen Frankenthaler, Tethys (1981). Courtesy Phillips.

“For years people considered her earliest works from the 50s as well as the 60s stain paintings as some of the most important works. But recently, collectors and the market have really embraced these 70s works as among the most beautiful and desirable of her career,” said Robert Manley, Phillips Deputy Chairman of 20th Century Art.

A correction across the market has seen records move up for women abstract expressionist like Joan Mitchell and Lee Krasner as well.  “We are definitely at a moment when people are reevaluating the canon” said Manley. “Historically, artists like Morris Lewis or Kenneth Noland have sold for more than Frankenthaler, evening though she inspired them and their whole careers.” In the marketplace, according to Manley, collectors are now moving her status up, as she commands prices higher than many of her peers.

“She has always been an important and well-collected artist. What we’re seeing, in the last year in particular is her market has taken a jump” said Manley.

In June, Sotheby’s sale of the Ginny Williams collection brought a new record of $7.9 million for Frankenthaler’s Royal Fireworks (1975). The work beat its estimate of $2-$3 million, and surpassed her previous record of $3.1 million achieved for Blue Reach (1978) in 2018 at Sotheby’s New York. Head of Meadow (1967) also sold at Phillips in the houses’ July 20th Century art evening sale for $3 million, beating its estimate of $600,000 to $800,000.

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