PH-234 by Clyfford Still (1904-1980) will be among the top lots in Christie’s Evening Sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art on 10 May in New York. The majority of Still’s work resides in the collections of museums and institutions, including the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, making the appearance of PH-234, painted in 1948, a rare opportunity to acquire an iconic example of his work at the heights of his artistic power.
PH-234 (Estimate: $25,000,000-35,000,000) has only had two previous owners and was included in a major Still retrospective curated by James Demetrion at The Hirshhorn Museum in 2001, Clyfford Still: Paintings, 1944-1960. ‘Clyfford Still’s paintings are among the most powerful and important produced in latter part of the twentieth century,’ remarks Laura Paulson, Chairman, Post-War and Contemporary Art, America’s. ‘PH-234 is one of the rare instances that an example of this magnitude from the artist comes onto the market.’
Still’s reputation as one of the giants of Abstract Expressionism is built upon this mastery of the painterly process. Creating his richly textured surface by painting layer upon layer of richly pigmented oil paint, carefully sculpting and applying each brush stroke, Still would often scrape away the surface only to rebuild it again, resulting in a surface both densely layered with colour or often transcendent, conveying deep, mystical space.
The spatial relationships created from this process and Still's vision, especially as seen in PH-234, defined his mastery of the canvas and set him apart from his colleagues such as Pollock, Newman and Rothko.
This painting was produced during the period immediately after Still’s first great solo exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of this Century Gallery in February 1946. In the introduction to the exhibition the artist’s then friend, Mark Rothko, explained how Still, ‘working out West, and alone’, had, ‘arrived at a completely new way of painting.
PH-234 was shown in Still’s first solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1951, and acquired in 1957 by E.J. ‘Ted’ Power, one of the great collectors of international post-war art. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Power sought out the newest and most radical art he could find, refining his eye to search for quality works by artists such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman. He acquired PH-234 in January 1957 having been enthralled by the work of the Abstract Expressionists at the important exhibition of new American art organised by the Tate Gallery in London.
Still’s work, and examples such as PH-234 in particular, represent the pinnacle of Abstract Expressionism — a pure form of painting that relies solely on its creator to express the power, intensity and visceral nature of its form.