In the 1950s, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg collaborated on a series of commercial art projects, including window displays for New York department stores and designs for publications and corporate clients. To separate the commercial endeavor from their fine art careers, the pair worked under the alias “Matson Jones,” combining a family name on Rauschenberg’s side with a similar name phonically to Johns.
A rare surviving commercial work made by the duo is now going up for auction after decades in private hands, marking its first time selling at auction. Measuring at 12 feet by 3.5 feet, an untitled four-part blue cyanotype print, an underwater scene depicting a group of suspended figures from 1955 will hit the block at Christie’s Hong Kong to New York 20th Century art sale on December 2. The work is expected to fetch a price of $600,000-$800,000.
The duo made the present work in the mid-1950s for a window display installed at Bergdorf Goodman. The prints were acquired two decades later in 1975 by the current owner. In order to finance their fine art practices, the pair created window displays for Bonwit Teller and Tiffany’s display director Gene Moore. One of the most recognized Matson Jones designs from this period was the recreation of an eighteenth-century Spanish still life painting, one part of a series of Surrealist window designs made between 1956 and 1958 to showcase Tiffany’s jewelry.
Rauschenberg and Johns were not the only American Pop art figures responsible for revolutionizing luxury retail window display design in New York at the time. Moore also tapped James Rosenquist and Andy Warhol for commercial design commissions up until Bonwit Teller’s closure in 1979.
The technique used in the present work, cyanotype photography, is one Rauschenberg began working with years earlier in collaboration with his wife Susan Weil. One print completed by the two resides at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, gifted by Carolyn and Earle Brown in 1992.
At this point, both artist were entering the apex of their careers. Johns was developing his flag motif, eventually completing his 1954-5 encaustic painting Flag in the permanent collection at MoMA. Meanwhile, Rauschenberg was working on his seminal assemblage “Combines” series completed between 1954–64.