The Dedalus Foundation has consigned a group of 60 works by Robert Motherwell to auction at Christie’s this October. The collection, which includes paintings, prints and works on paper, will be sold across two parts. The first group will be in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale on October 7 at the house’s New York headquarters. The second, prints from the Dedalus Foundation, will be offered in an online-only sale with bidding open from September 22 to October 8. The combined pre-sale estimate of both sales is $2.2 million-$2.7 million.
The works span Motherwell’s career. Highlights include an untitled 1968 green-field painting for $400,000-$600,000; Study for State II “Elegy No. 100” estimated at $250,000-$350,000; and Automatic Image No. 6 for $100,000-$150,000. All proceeds from the sales will benefit the Dedalus Foundation.
The artist’s last big moment at auction came at Phillips in April 2018. His At Five in the Afternoon (1971), a monumental painting featuring his signature black brushstroke from the coveted “Elegy to the Spanish Republic” series sold for $13 million. The price far surpassed Motherwell’s previous record price of $3.6 million.
“In his works, Motherwell showed how profound and varied the vocabulary of modern painting could be, and he did so with great vitality and integrity” said Jack Flam, President and CEO, Dedalus Foundation. Known for his “automatic” drawings and large-scale color-field paintings, Motherwell is among the leading American abstract expressionists of the New York school alongside his contemporaries Phillip Guston, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko.
Although revered among critics and collectors, his prices have lagged far behind those of his New York school counterparts, some of whom have achieved above the $50 million price point for single works at auction. Specialists argue that this can be attributed to the scarcity of high caliber Motherwell works traded on the re-sale market, driven in part by many top paintings residing in public collections that will go unsold. A new class of trophy-hunting collectors have emerged in recent years and driven the masterpiece market. Consequently, the opportunity for Motherwell’s prices to reach a new threshold at auction have been rare.
Founded by the artist in 1981, the Dedalus Foundation was established to further cultivate the artist’s posthumous legacy and scholarship around modern art. The sale is meant to raise capital to further the foundation’s initiatives.