NEW YORK, NY. - On the evening of 13 November 2012 in New York, Sotheby’s will present eight 20th century masterworks from part of the extensive collection of Sidney and Dorothy Kohl. Acquired predominantly in the early 1970s, the offering features prime examples by the titans of the American Abstract Expressionist movement - Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Arshile Gorky, Joan Mitchell, Hans Hofmann and Adolph Gottlieb. Distinguished by their provenance and out of public view for decades, the eight works are estimated to sell for $80/100 million. Highlights will be exhibited in Los Angeles, London and Doha, before returning to New York, where all of the works will be on view beginning 1 November.
“To offer a group of true masterpieces that have remained together in the same private collection for four decades is an event nearly unheard of on the art market,” commented Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art. “The Kohls assembled their collection with great care and the help of the late Jack Taylor, a gifted curator of the American Abstract Expressionist movement. Taylor was adept at finding and suggesting works of outstanding quality that were handled by many of the artist’s primary dealers and housed in the country’s most illustrious private collections. The Kohls also acquired many works directly from the artists, visiting with them in the 1970s, on their quest to build their collection of American Abstract Expressionist art.”
Mr. Meyer continued, “It is a great honor for Sotheby’s to be entrusted with such a seminal group of works that offer a panoramic view of the 1st generation Abstract Expressionists. Individually and collectively, they represent a remarkable opportunity for collectors and the sale is certain to generate tremendous excitement.”
The group of eight works is led by Number 4, 1951, an exceedingly rare drip painting on canvas by Jackson Pollock (est. $25/35 million). Over the course of the last 20 years, only eight drip paintings on canvas by the artist have appeared at auction. Executed near the beginning of 1951, the work epitomizes the drama and dynamism of the 1950 masterpieces that had just been exhibited at Betty Parson’s Gallery in New York from November to December, many of which are now included in the nation’s leading museum collections. Layers of brilliant red, blue, yellow, green and ochre oil color are tempered by the metallic aluminum paint that seeps into the raw canvas and overlaid by frenzied flecks of shiny black enamel. Number 4, 1951 has resided in the Kohl’s collection for over four decades, prior to which its provenance was highly prestigious. Its first private owner was Dr. Ruth Fox, the psychoanalyst and expert on the treatment of alcoholism, who treated Jackson Pollock in 1951-2, near the time of the work’s execution. The subsequent owner, Stephen D. Paine, was an eminent collector, museum benefactor and trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for over twenty years. Unseen in public for 40 years, the work was most recently shown in November 1972 at Robert Elkon Gallery in New York, where it was acquired by the Kohls.
Clyfford Still’s masterful 1948-H defines the critical moment in the artist’s career when his incomparable abstract dialect achieved its fully resolved expression (est. $15/20 million). 1948-H was executed in 1948, the year following the artist’s one-man museum show at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, and his first show with Betty Parsons Gallery, New York. At this time, Still was working and exhibiting in both California and New York, and 1948-H was presented at private exhibitions in both locations during 1948: one for students and faculty at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco; and the other for artists and friends in his Cornelia Street studio, New York. The painting was also showcased in the first major museum retrospective of Still’s work, at the Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo in 1959. It was last exhibited in 1963 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art.
Willem de Kooning’s sublime Abstraction was executed circa 1949, soon after the artist’s first solo show at the Charles Egan Gallery in New York in 1948 (est. $15/20 million). Crystallizing a critical juncture in de Kooning's career, Abstraction combines the finest of his urban landscapes with the biomorphic figures that heralded his return to the Women series immediately thereafter. This stunning painting was handled by Martha Jackson and Allan Stone, who were among the key dealers in de Kooning’s career, before entering the Kohl’s collection in 1973.
Franz Kline's commanding canvas Shenandoah of 1956 is archetypal of his urgent and powerful yet complex and sophisticated brand of action painting (est. $6.5/8.5 million). This monolithic painting comprises a visceral onslaught of broad swathes of heavy impasto, principally in the signature black and white oils of his technique, though also foundationally suffused with layers of golden ochres that mark a key departure from his purely monochromatic canvases of the earlier 1950s. Shenandoah was formerly in the collection of Robert and Ethel Scull, renowned as premier patrons of American Art in New York. The work was also included in the now legendary 1965 Sotheby’s auction of thirteen key works from the Sculls’ collection, which also featured other masterworks of the period, such as Police Gazette by Willem de Kooning.
Executed in 1945, Arshile Gorky's lyrical Impatience marks the crescendo of the 1943-45 period when the artist created an elite cycle of abstract canvases now housed in institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Hirshhorn Museum, Seattle Art Museum, The Menil Collection, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and the Centre Georges Pompidou (est. $6/8 million). Impatience is distinguished by an extensive exhibition history beginning with the 1951 show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and including the retrospectives mounted by the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1962/63 and The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1981/82. The ownership history of the present work equally is remarkable, having been part of the private collections of the noted Surrealist artist, Yves Tanguy, as well as the distinguished American collector, Israel Rosen. The painting was acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Kohl in 1973 and has not been exhibited since the early 1980s.
Executed three years before the artist's death, Nirvana by Hans Hofmann is a simultaneous culmination and rebirth of his prodigious life's work (est. $5/7 million). Despite being a generation older than many of his peers, Hofmann bridged the School of Paris and Abstract Expressionism schools with energetic innovation, especially during the last decade of his life during his eighties. Nirvana definitively embodies this critical link between tradition and the avant-garde and is a masterful example of the artist’s sensational 'push-pull' synthesis of formal compositional structure and vitally energetic expressionist mark-making.
Joan Mitchell's Untitled of 1957 presents the distilled essence and perfect fulfillment of her late 1950s Abstract Expressionist vernacular (est. $6/8 million). Composed within a square canvas, the dense matrix of rich impasto seems to writhe within its rectilinear confines. The frenzied application of paint converges towards the center of the canvas to create a centripetal compression, which evokes both the chaotic vitality of Jackson Pollock's drip paintings and the powerful atmospheric compartmentalization of Mark Rothko's dense, hovering spatial forms.
Executed in 1958, Adolph Gottlieb's Transfiguration ranks in the very top tier of the artist's instantly recognizable 'Burst' paintings, and stands as a paradigm of Abstract Expressionism (est. $3/5 million). Transfiguration was acquired directly from the artist by noted collector and Governor of New York State, Nelson A. Rockefeller, and it was exhibited extensively with highlights from his collection in the 1960s. It has not been shown publicly since 1969.