NEW YORK – Collectors looking to add a Mark Rothko work to their portfolio have the opportunity to acquire a large blue-and-green painting by the celebrated and influential American abstract impressionist next month when it goes on the auction block at Christie’s.
“No. 17” will be offered at the auctioneer’s post-war and contemporary art evening sale in New York on May 10 with a pre-sale estimate of $30 million to $40 million.
The oil painting’s two large colour panes – one electric blue, the other dark green – are separated by a horizontal azure blue bar that bleeds into the neighbouring areas.
It has an extensive exhibition history.
It was created in 1957 and included in a retrospective of Rothko’s works that travelled across Europe between 1961 and 1963. When the retrospective opened at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, it was the first time that much of the British public encountered Rothko’s work.
“It was a seminal exhibition positioning Rothko as a leading figure of the Abstract Expressionist movement,” said Brett Gorvy, international head of Christie’s contemporary art. “The effect of these exhibitions in Europe was very important to his career.”
The painting comes on the heels of a red-hot market for works by Rothko, who died in 1970.
“The global interest in Rothko is enormous,” said Gorvy, adding that the work was conservatively estimated to bring up to $40 million. “What’s exciting about a painting like this coming to today’s market is that it’s not limited to one audience. Rothko’s probably the most global artist in terms of high level.”
Speaking from Hong Kong, Gorvy added: “When I talk to any of the native collectors here, they’re looking for Rothko. He’s at the top of their list of post-war artists, more than any other of the abstract expressionists.”
Last May, Christie’s sold Rothko’s 1958 painting “No. 10” for nearly $82 million, exceeding its $60 million pre-sale estimate. The auction record for a Rothko is $86.8 million for his “Orange, Red, Yellow.”
Rothko painted “No. 17” during a brief period when he was using lighter coloration and just months before he began work on his famous, darker and intense, Seagram Murals series that he later donated to the Tate museum in London.
The work was acquired by an Italian collector following the retrospective and remained unseen by the public until 2001 when it appeared at another major Rothko exhibition in Basel, Switzerland. A short time later it was purchased by another collector who is selling it now.
Gorvy called the work “majestic” and “magical.”
The “floating, cloud-like effects” of the two large colour panes “totally envelop you in this kind of almost marine quality,” he said.
“The market for big Rothko works from his prime period in the late fifties is fairly mature. That means the buyers and price levels are fairly well established,” said Marion Maneker, publisher of Art Market monitor, an art market information service that covers the global art market. “This work should provide a good test of both the global demand for big Rothkos, which has been a benchmark of the blue chip market for the last 10 years, and the strength of the top end of the market.”
The painting will be on view at Christie’s London from April 11 through April 17.