$39.9 Million Rothko Leads $158.7 Million Sale of Art from Bunny Mellon’s Estate
Two Mark Rothko paintings, a moody blue and green work from 1970, the artist’s penultimate canvas, and a radiant orange and yellow painting from 1955 led Sotheby’s sale of art from the collection of the late Rachel “Bunny” Mellon this evening in New York. All of the 43 lots on offer were sold – they included Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, European and American paintings and works on paper, Diego Giacometti furniture, and one Old Master floral still life by Ambrosius Brosschaert the Elder – raking in a combined hammer price of $141,060,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $82.88 to $120.12 million, a total of $158,737,250 with the buyer’s premiums. The proceeds will benefit the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation.
“Rothko painted just three canvases in 1970 before his demise in February,” writes Artinfo.com’s Judd Tully. One of those three (above), estimated at $15-20 million, pulled in $39,925,000 ($35.5 million hammer price plus premium) – the combination of a powerful painting, fresh to the market and impeccable provenance no doubt helped it achieve an extraordinary result. Bidding started strong at $12 million, escalating quickly to $20 million,then jumped to $25 million. Bidding slowed at the $30 million level, but continued steadily to the close. The work had not been on the market since 1971. The other Rothko (below), created in 1955, has been in the Mellon collection since 1970 and was sold to art dealer David Nahmad, according to Bloomberg. According to the sale catalogue: “Rothko painted only twenty-two works in the pinnacle year of 1955, thirteen of which reside in prestigious museum collections, including the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Museum Ludwig, Cologne.” It made $36,565,000 ($32.5 million hammer price plus the buyer’s premium). Tully noted: “The Mellons at one time owned other, more significant Rothko paintings, including at least two from the 1950s, both of which were reportedly sold privately by the estate for sums well in excess of $100 million.”
Other highlights included three Richard Diebenkorn paintings from the artist’s Ocean Park series (below), one of which (Lot 11) sold to the designer Valentino. Created between 1972 and 1974, they were all in the Mellon collection by 1974. The small oil on copper Brosschaert (below), once in the collection of Mrs. E.F. Hutton, was acquired in 1965 – a superb example, and one of the earliest of its genre, that had been off the market for nearly half a century, it made a solid $4,645,000 ($4 million hammer price plus premium) against a $3-4 million estimate. Another highlight was Winslow Homer’s 1873 Children on the Beach (Watching the Tide Go Out; Watching the Boats), a work Mellon purchased in 1971.