Four works by the controlling Abstract Expressionist Clyfford Still will go on the block at Sotheby’s in November. The canvases are from the estate of Patricia Still, the artist’s widow, who died in 2005. The works will headline the contemporary art auction on Nov. 9 and are expected to bring a combined total of over $50 million for the museum’s endowment.
As part of a controversial deal struck with the City and County of Denver, to which Patricia Still bequeathed her estate for the benefit of the Clyfford Still Museum, opening Nov. 18, the auction house had attempted to sell the paintings privately to a public institution by Sept. 19, but failed to find buyers. They will now go on the block, where they are more likely to end up in private collections. After the deal was announced on Aug. 18, rival auction house Christie’s unsuccessfully contested Denver’s consignment to Sotheby’s.
The top lot is 1949-A-No. 1, estimated to sell for $25–35 million. (In 2006, a major Still canvas fetched $21.3 million at auction.) The stylistically similar 1947-Y-No. 2 is estimated at $15–20 million, while the 1976 work PH-1033 is anticipated to go for $10–15 million. PH-351, from 1940, is an early canvas that captures his transition from figuration to abstraction, with a figure/ground relationship still evident (est. $1–1.5 million).
Still paintings rarely come to market so, combined with the pending museum opening, expectations are high. The four canvases will go on view in Hong Kong and London in October in advance of the New York sale.