Christie’s Is Offering a $40 Million Rothko In Its May Contemporary Sale

Where will the latest Rothko trophy rank?

Mark Rothko, No. 17 (1957). Image: Courtesy of Christie's.

Mark Rothko, No. 17 (1957).
Image: Courtesy of Christie’s.

The latest blockbuster consignment for the upcoming spring auction season in New York is a 1957 blue and green Mark Rothko painting, titled No. 17. Christie’s will offer the canvas for $30–40 million at its May 10 evening contemporary sale.

The work was featured in the 1961-63 major Rothko retrospective that traveled across Europe—including London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Basel, Rome, and Paris—and introduced wider audiences to Abstract Expressionism, which secured Rothko’s status as one of its brightest stars. The stop at London’s Whitechapel Gallery “was where much of the British public first encountered Rothko’s work,” according to a statement from Christie’s.

Following that retrospective, No. 17 was snapped up by a private Italian collection, where it remained unseen by the public for decades. However, in 2001 it appeared as a central feature of a major show organized by the Beyeler Foundation in Switzerland. The consignor of the work included in the upcoming auction has not been identified.

It was produced at “the dawn of his mature period, and just a short time before he embarked on what would become his magnum opus, the Seagram murals,” according to a statement from Christie’s.

The current record, set by Christie’s in May 2012, is $86.8 million (nearly double the high $45 million estimate), paid for Orange, Red, Yellow (1961).

Despite its pricey estimate, the work may not even land in the top ten highest of Rothko’s auction lots if it adheres too closely to the estimate. To date, 11 Rothko paintings have sold for more than $40 million each.

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