Four Career-Defining Joan Mitchell Masterpieces Head to Auction

The group of paintings will be sold as part of Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auction on May 13.

Joan Mitchell, Ground (1989). Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.

As part of their contemporary art auction in May, Sotheby’s New York will be selling four Abstract Expressionist works by Joan Mitchell. The group of paintings, said Lucius Elliott, Sotheby’s head of Contemporary Evening Auctions in New York, in a statement, “marks an unprecedented opportunity to trace Mitchell’s painterly evolution and witness the ways in which her mastery took shape across decades.”

The four paintings heading to auction chart key moments in Mitchell’s career. Untitled (ca. 1955) was made just three years after the artist’s first New York City solo show at the New Gallery, and four years after her inclusion in Leo Castelli’s legendary “Ninth Street Show,” which also showcased work by Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. It marked Mitchell’s maturing practice as an abstract artist at the heart of the New York scene.

Abstract painting with blue and yellow painted panels interspersed with orange and red patches

Joan Mitchell, Untitled (ca. 1973). Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The second Untitled work in the set, created 19 years later in 1973, was made around a year after Mitchell’s first major museum solo exhibition at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, titled “My Five Years in the Country: An Exhibition of Forty-nine Paintings by Joan Mitchell.” The latest painting, the monumental diptych Ground (1989) is an example of Mitchell’s vibrant late-period. The paintings all come from the same private collection.

The combined estimate for the four paintings is in the region of $40 million, with Noon (ca. 1969) holding the highest individual estimate of $15–20 million. Noon was made the year after Mitchell moved to France permanently, settling in La Tour, Vétheuil in an estate close to one owned and lived in by Claude Monet. This new home had high ceilings which allowed her to work on larger canvases. Mitchell had long been inspired by the Impressionists. Monet and Mitchell shared the spotlight in the 2022 exhibition “Monet-Michell” at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.

Abstract painting with bold strokes of yellow, blue, and red, creating a vibrant and energetic composition with layers of texture.

Joan Mitchell, Noon (ca. 1969). Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Born in Chicago in 1925, Mitchell graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1947 and grew increasingly drawn to abstraction. Her large, often multi-panel canvases were emotional yet intricately composed landscapes, painted with highly gestural brush strokes and earth-toned shades. “The freedom in my work is quite controlled,” she once reflected of her process. As a key figure in the New York School group in the 1950s, Mitchell maintained friendships with the likes of Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, and was one of the few female abstract artists to achieve recognition.

“Joan Mitchell’s paintings feed on tension, and the push-and-pull of her work harkens to her lifelong commitment to abstraction and innovation, as well as her obsession with placing herself within an art-historical milieu,” said Elliott.

Abstract painting with red, blue, and black brushstrokes creating a energetic cluster amid a beige background

Joan Mitchell, Untitled (ca. 1955). Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

In November 2023, Christie’s set a record for Mitchell’s work, selling Untitled (ca. 1959) for $29.1 million, according to the Artnet Price Database. That work, along with Sunflowers (1990–91), which sold just days later at Sotheby’s for $27.9 million, became the first works by the artist ever to exceeded $20 million at auction.

Noon, Untitled (ca. 1954), and Untitled (ca. 1973) are currently on view in Sotheby’s Los Angeles galleries, before moving to Sotheby’s New York for public viewing from May 3. The Contemporary Evening Auction will close on May 13, and will also feature highlights including Édouard Manet’s 1882 Vase de fleurs, roses et lilas (estimated at $7–10 million), and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s 1871 Portrait d’Edmond Maitre (estimate $2–3 million).

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