This spring Christie’s is auctioning works owned and created by Frank Stella, one of the most influential artists of his generation. Highlights range from a Dutch 16th-century life-sized double portrait to contemporary works by Hockney and Frankenthaler
Frank Stella (b. 1936) is one of the greatest American artists of the post-war period. Beginning with his iconic Black Paintings in the late 1950s, and followed by his bold geometric canvases of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Stella challenged the accepted traditions of art history.
This spring, Christie’s will be offering a selection of works from Stella’s Hudson Valley studio and Greenwich Village home. The works, which have been personally selected by the artist, span almost half a millennium of art history, from Golden Age Dutch Masters to contemporary paintings by his peers. ‘You don’t want to save everything for the end,’ the artist said of the sale in
a recent interview with The New York Times. ‘I won’t be around forever.’
Barrett White, Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Executive Deputy Chairman, describes Stella as an ‘artistic polymath. He is an expert on Renaissance Art, a teacher of architecture, a trailblazing painter, a brilliant printmaker and an innovative sculptor.’ The selection of works we will be offering at Christie’s, he adds, illustrates one of Stella’s lesser known facets: ‘his passion as a collector’.
White explains that Continuum: Select Works from Frank Stella’s Personal Collection, which consists of purchases, gifts from other artists and landmark canvases by the artist himself, is ‘a group of works that have influenced Stella’s life and creative process. They are personal relics from his private life.’
The first work from the collection to come to auction is
Peinture, a 1927 painting by Joan Miró, which will be offered on 27 February 2019 in the
Art of the Surreal Evening Sale in London.
Asked why the work appealed to him, Stella told The New York Times, ‘Basically it’s Picasso, Matisse and Miró — that’s one side of the coin; and the other side is Kandinsky, Mondrian and Malevich. It’s the heart of modernism. There’s a relatively figurative side and there’s a totally abstract side… I ended up on the abstract side.’
A week later, on 6 March, Christie’s will offer David Hockney’s A Realistic Still Life (1965) in the London
Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction.
‘The part I couldn’t resist is... the idea of having a Northern Renaissance painting in your house!’ — Frank Stella
Painted in 1965 as a playful response to the work of the American Abstract artists, the picture is one of several of Hockney’s early ‘still lifes’ which saw him foray into conceptual painting. It was shown in Hockney’s acclaimed second solo exhibition, Pictures with Frames and Still Life Pictures at the Kasmin Gallery, and has been in Stella’s collection for over five decades.
Stella, who himself rejected the idea that paintings were depictions of illusionary space, clearly saw a kindred spirit in Hockney, who would pay tribute to Stella in a 1967 series of lithograph portraits of their mutual friend
Henry Geldzahler, which he adorned with miniature proofs of one of Stella’s own prints.
One of the more surprising works from Stella’s collection is one of the earliest life-sized double portraits in Netherlandish art. Double Portrait of a Husband and Wife (1532) is by Jan Sanders van Hemessen, an important painter in Antwerp during the second quarter of the 16th century.
The work was purchased by Stella from Christie’s in 1984, and will be among the top lots in the Old Masters sale in New York on 1 May. ‘The part I couldn’t resist,’ Stella told The New York Times, ‘is that it’s from 1532. The idea of having a Northern Renaissance painting in your house!’
On 15 May a selection of works by Stella will be offered in Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York. Among them is WWRL (1967), which consists of two concentric squares, one in colour, the other in black and white. The diptych is an extension of Stella’s famous ‘Black Series’ paintings from the 1950s, in which he deconstructed shapes and forms to simple linear works, applied to one of his signature shaped canvases.
Stella’s 1974 work Lettre sur les aveugles I, which is offered in the same sale, is part of his ‘Diderot’ series, which built on his earlier ‘Concentric Squares’ format. This monumental work — more than 3½ metres square — marked the artist’s triumphant return to his geometric compositions after a hiatus lasting several years, and characterises Stella’s output from this career-defining period.
Helen Frankenthaler’s Beach Horse, above, is a testament to the influence that other artists had on Stella’s work. The painting is the only known shaped canvas ever produced by the artist, and was executed in 1959 at a time when Stella himself was experimenting with removing sections of his canvases that he deemed superfluous.
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‘I always loved Helen’s work and everything about her,’ Stella said in his New York Times interview. ‘She once offered to exchange art, for one of her smaller ’58 paintings… I couldn’t bear to exchange because it didn’t feel to me there was anything I could offer that would be equal. I was just intimidated. And then I bought this painting from a dealer because it was a ’59 painting, from that period.’