Two Major Joan Mitchell Paintings Could Fetch a Total of $19 Million at Phillips Next Month

The auction house is hoping to cash in on the excitement of a big retrospective of Mitchell's work next year. 

Joan Mitchell, Two Pianos (1979). Courtesy of Phillips.
Joan Mitchell, Untitled (1979). Courtesy of Phillips.

A pair of multimillion-dollar Joan Mitchell paintings representing both the first and last chapters of her storied career is coming to Phillips New York next month. 

An untitled, 80-inch-tall abstraction from 1953–54 and an even larger untitled diptych from 1979 will highlight Phillips’s 20th century and contemporary art evening sale, slated for December 7.

The sale, which also features a $35 million painting by David Hockney, is expected to be “one of the highest-valued sales in the history of Phillips,” according to Robert Manley, the auction house’s deputy chairman and worldwide co-head of 20th century and contemporary art. Though an official estimate has yet to be announced, Manley says the sale is projected to bring in more than $100 million. 

The two Mitchell canvases will account for a good chunk of that number, Phillips brass hopes. The earlier painting is expected to fetch $10 million to $15 million, while the later work is estimated at $9 million to $12 million. (The former painting carries a guarantee; the latter does not.) The ’53–54 artwork went on view today at Phillips Hong Kong. 

“One of the things I love about [this pair] is that it really shows her at the beginning and toward the end of her career,” Manley tells Artnet News. He describes the older painting as a “subtle and nuanced” effort from an artist still wearing her influences. “I see Guston, I see Cézanne,” he says of the work, which was featured in the landmark 2018 book chronicling the lives of postwar female painters, Ninth Street Women.  

Joan Mitchell, <i>Untitled</i> (1953-54). Courtesy of Phillips.

Joan Mitchell, Untitled (1953–54). Courtesy of Phillips.

The late-career creation is an ambitious example of Mitchell’s “passion and fervor,” Manley says. “In a way, they’re for two entirely different kinds of collectors.”

Notably, neither of these works come from Mitchell’s most desirable period, which experts identify as the late ’50s and early ’60s. But the auction house is hoping to cash in on the interest surrounding the artist leading up to a major retrospective of her work set to open at the Baltimore Museum of Art next March before traveling to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (The ’53–54 painting from Phillips’s sale has been requested for the exhibition.)

Mitchell’s market began to heat up a few years ago: Six of her top seven auction records have all come since 2018, according to the Artnet Price Database, including two from 2020. But this year has proven slightly mixed for Mitchell. Of the 10 paintings by the artist to come to auction so far this year, six sold within estimate, three sold above estimate, and one was withdrawn.

In addition to the standout Hockney work, Phillips’s December sale will feature a 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting (estimated at $10 million to $15 million), an untitled Ruth Asawa sculpture from the late ‘60s ($1.5 million to $2 million), as well as artworks by Picasso, Magritte, Barkley Hendricks, Mickalene Thomas, and Amy Sherald.

“To me, it’s a sale that exemplifies exactly what Phillips wants to be,” says Manley, noting the diversity of the offerings. “We’re bullish about the market and—knock on wood—we think we’re going to have one of the best sales we’ve ever had.”


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