Christie’s will present Willem de Kooning’s 1977 masterpiece, Untitled XXV, in its November 15 Evening sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art in New York. Estimated in the region of $40 million, Untitled XXV comes to the auction market for the first time since setting the world auction record for any example of Post-War Art in the very same saleroom exactly ten-years ago to the date.
Brett Gorvy, Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, remarked: “Untitled XXV is an unequivocal Abstract Expressionist tour de force. We are very proud to be unveiling this work in London, where the extraordinary international presence of the Royal Academy’s Abstract Expressionist show has been so well received. Untitled XXV is a pinnacle picture from one of the most remarkable years in de Kooning’s career. Its vivid colors and painterly dynamism come together to form a totality of expression, resulting in a consummate example of the artist’s approach to abstraction.”
Untitled XXV comes from a remarkable series of large canvases that de Kooning made in a sudden burst of activity in the mid-1970s. In the spring of 1975, a comparatively long stretch of painterly inactivity for the artist suddenly came to an end. In a flood of creativity that lasted until 1978, de Kooning found himself once again reveling in the act of painting. Fresh and re-vitalized by his recent exploration into sculpture and rejuvenated by an ever-deepening love affair with a young woman, Emilie Kilgore, de Kooning was able to sustain this output for a period of nearly four years. "I made those paintings one after the other, no trouble at all," he said. "I couldn't miss. It's a nice feeling. It's strange. It's a man at a gambling table (who) feels that he can't lose. But when he walks away with the dough, he knows that he can't do that again.”
These years are now viewed by critics as the apex of de Kooning’s painterly oeuvre, and 1977 a particular highpoint amongst them. The celebrated critic, David Sylvester called this year de Kooning’s annus mirabilis, writing that the works from 1977 “belong with the paintings made at the same age by artists such as Monet and Renoir and Bonnard and, of course, Titian.”
The artist’s surroundings are often attributed in part to the fruitfulness of this period. When he had first moved to the Springs on Long Island, de Kooning had enjoyed the unique landscape of the area and this in many ways had entered and informed his work. However, in the mid-'70s he became increasingly preoccupied with his immediate environment, its light and topography as well as, in particular, the wateriness of the landscape around a spot called Louse Point.
At Louse Point, de Kooning spent hours observing the water and its effects. He became captivated by the shimmering surface of water and its ability to reflect and merge the imagery of the land, sky, figures and itself in a constantly shifting abstract surface of color and form. It was this mercurial effect that he began again to try to emulate in his paintings, attempting to translate these relationships into the equally fluid but more materially substantial and plastic medium of paint.
Untitled XXV is a joyous and heavily material painterly expression. Layer after layer of painted form and color is built up and overlaid within the square canvas to maintain a dynamic and tenuous balance. Somehow rooted in nature yet seemingly absent of any figurative appearance, the painting articulates a landscape of painterly form brought alive with a sense of the human through the length and scale, as well as the emotive power of the artist's vigorous brushwork and twisted painterly gesture.
Untitled XXV sold for the first time at Christie’s New York on November 15, 2006. At the time, it realized $27,120,000, setting a world auction record for both the artist and for any post-war work of art sold at auction.
The current auction record for Willem de Kooning is now held by Untitled VIII, 1977, which was sold for $32,085,000
at Christie’s New York in November 2013.
The record for a post-war work of art is now held by Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud (in 3 parts), which sold for $142,404,992 at Christie’s New York in November 2013.
Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild from the Collection of Eric Clapton will be another highlight Christie’s November 15, Evening Auction of Post-War and Contemporary Art in New York (Estimate in the range of $20million). Dating from the artist’s most celebrated period of abstraction and one of the highlights of the fall season, Abstraktes Bild was acquired by the rock legend Eric Clapton at auction in 2001. The painting will be unveiled at Christie’s London, and on view to the public from October 1-6, 2016.
Francis Outred, Chairman and Head of Post War and Contemporary Art EMERI, remarked: ‘This series marks a moment of great professional triumph for Richter. First exhibited at Anthony d’Offay Gallery in 1995 as a group of four paintings,
one of which is now in the joint collection of Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland, the further three were acquired at auction by Eric Clapton from the collection of Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch in 2001.
The first of Clapton’s Richters to come to auction achieved a world record price for the artist in 2012 when it realised a figure of £21.3 million. We are delighted to unveil this third painting in London, the city where it was first shown, before it goes on to star in Christie’s November auctions of Post-War and Contemporary Art.’
Abstraktes Bild is the second canvas in Richter’s monumental four-part series of works created in 1994, the third of which resides in the joint collection of Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland. A superlative example of the artist’s celebrated abstraction, Abstraktes Bild is a dazzling, prismatic explosion of opulent jewelled tones. Standing as the culmination of a three-decade-long investigation into the properties of paint and perception, the works produced by Richter during the late 1980s and early 1990s represent the first major abstract achievements since those of Abstract Expressionism. Revealing and obscuring in equal measure, Richter’s squeegee gave rise to unplanned textures and formations that shed new light on the complex relationship between abstraction and figuration. With its kaleidoscopic collision of jewel-like tones, Abstraktes Bild confirms Robert Storr’s assertion that ‘it is hard to think of [Richter] as anything other than one of the great colourists of late twentieth-century painting’.
Abstraktes Bild was first shown in 1995 at Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London as part of the landmark exhibition Gerhard Richter: Painting in the Nineties. Following the artist’s career-defining retrospectives of 1991 and 1993-94, the show was a critical and commercial triumph, with works subsequently acquired by major museums across four continents. Three of the four paintings in the series were bought by the noted collectors Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch, from whom they were purchased by Clapton in 2001.
Echoing the grid-like structures of Richter’s four-part Bach series (1992, Moderna Museet, Stockholm), and foreshadowing his six-part response to the work of John Cage (2006, Tate, London), the present work represents a chapter in the closely-entwined stories of music and abstraction. Indecipherable notations dance across its quivering horizontal planes, spawning a matrix of pounding rhythms, discordant harmonies, contrapuntal textures, interrupted cadences and chromatic inflections. In the clamouring polyphonic tremors of its surface, the work aspires to the condition of noise: a virtuosic rhapsody that strains to be heard.