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Property from an Esteemed East Coast Collection


signed 'Frankenthaler' (lower right); signed again and dated 'Frankenthaler '89' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
87 ½ x 83 3⁄8 in. (222.3 x 211.6 cm.)
Painted in 1989.
André Emmerich Gallery, New York, 1991
Kukje Gallery, Seoul, 1991
Private collection, Seoul
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 20 November 1998, lot 909
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Seoul, Kukje Gallery, Helen Frankenthaler, September-October 1991, pp. 22-23 (illustrated).

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Allison Immergut
Allison Immergut AVP, Co-Head of Day Sale

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Lot Essay

Painted in 1989, Archangel is an superb example of Helen Frankenthaler’s mature oeuvre, when her creative output was bursting with even further dynamism. This new approach to painting was, in many ways, a mélange of the varied methods that she had experimented with earlier, “In 1982 she impulsively, even frantically, explores many new [techniques] that, while derived and developed from earlier ones, begin a more drastic overhauling of the possibilities of her art than before” (J. Elderfield, Frankenthaler, New York, 1989, pp. 334-335). Archangel manages to embrace the formalist and expressionist duality characteristic of Frankenthaler’s most successful works.

“…Frankenthaler strove to make paintings that would continually burst, explode, morph—paintings that would never be finished but always in a state of becoming,” (A. Nemerov, “Altarpieces without a Church: The Paintings of Helen Frankenthaler,” Helen Frankenthaler: Paintings, exh. cat. Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, 2019, p. 8).

The lavish colors and textures of this canvas serve as evidence of Frankenthaler’s decades-long commitment to the pursuit of painting. Frankenthaler had been curious about the power of pure color and form since childhood; “As a little girl she had her own private bathroom, where she would pour her mother’s blood-red nail polish into the sink and watch the patterns it made on the porcelain when she drained the water, the experiments ending only with the maid’s screams,” (A. Nemerov, “Altarpieces without a Church: The Paintings of Helen Frankenthaler,” Helen Frankenthaler: Paintings, Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, 2019, p. 6). These inclinations stayed with her through adulthood, as evidenced by the blood-red splatter at the heart of this colossal canvas.

A thread of divinity follows through Frankenthaler’s oeuvre, evoking a similar awe-struck reverence as stained glass, calligraphic carvings, and ancient shrines. Scholar Alexander Nemerov called Frankenthaler’s paintings “altarpieces without a church,” (A. Nemerov, “Altarpieces without a Church: The Paintings of Helen Frankenthaler,” Helen Frankenthaler: Paintings, exh. cat. Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, 2019, p. 6). Many artists throughout art history have explored this concept, including those of the Romanticism movement in the first half of the nineteenth century. The theory of the sublime was a major aspect of Romanticism, which is defined as overwhelming emotion—either terror or ecstasy—caused by being reminded of your fragile mortality. J.M.W. Turner exemplified this in his light-filled, dramatic landscapes and seascapes

The present work is a distinguished example of Helen Frankenthaler’s mature style and a clear reminder of her distinctive influence on art history. Archangel was executed in a time of great success for the artist and the same year as her monumental exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. The painting’s dazzling and unexpected hues ignite passion, reaffirming Frankenthaler as an unparalleled narrator of human emotions.

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