Katya Kazakina puts a lot of guess work together to postulate what might have happened in the private sale of three of Bunny Mellon’s paintings, two of the nine Rothkos the Mellons once owned and a Richard Diebenkorn. The Rothkos were the monumental 10 x 15 foot No. 20 (Yellow Expanse) which the late David Anfam described as the “the jewel in the crown.” The 1953 painting (seen above in Bunny Mellon’s Virginia library) was casually valued at $125m as early as 2010. The conjecture that the group were sold for $300m—and that’s just conjecture as you will see below—would suggest that No. 20 was sold for $200m or more:
Alexander Forger, the executor of Mellon’s estate, confirmed in a telephone interview that three paintings had been sold. He declined to identify the paintings, the price or buyer’s identity, citing confidentiality agreements. The paintings were probably sold for about $300 million based on auction estimates, said the person. The sale was probably orchestrated with the help of Franck Giraud, a dealer whose longtime client was Bunny Mellon, according to six experts in postwar art who asked not to be identified because they weren’t involved in the sale. […]
The sale of the three paintings leaves about 2,000 lots in the Mellon collection at Sotheby’s that is valued at about $100 million. A blue diamond estimated at $10 million and two additional paintings by Rothko, jointly estimated at about $50 million, will be among the stars of a series of six auctions in November.
The Mellon estate had previously given two Rothkos to the National Gallery and sold three to Francois Pinault after Paul Mellon’s death. Franck Giraud was involved in that sale which is why the art world speculates that he was the agent in this sale. Pinault subsequently sold two of the works by Rothko, including one to Steven Cohen.
The second Rothko in the private sale was a 1957 8-foot-tall vertical, blue canvas “No. 14 (White and Greens in Blue),” which was previously owned by Nelson A. Rockefeller.