The Collection of Cable-Television Impresario Ginny Williams, Full of Top-Notch Works by Women, Could Fetch $50 Million at Sotheby’s

The collection will be sold across a series of sales throughout 2020.

Joan Mitchell, Straw (1976). Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Some of the most anticipated collections heading to market, such as the Macklowe Collection, are on hold amid the lockdown. But Sotheby’s has managed to secure another high-profile get: the collection of the late Ginny Williams, a highly respected Denver philanthropist who made a fortune in the cable television industry with her husband, Carl Williams.

Sotheby’s likely had to compete hard to secure the consignment, which is expected to take in over $50 million, includes 450 pieces, and carries a guarantee.

Williams, who died last fall at the age of 92, was known for her ebullient personality, her thick Southern accent, and her interest in the work of women artists.

Although the collection will be sold across a series of sales over the course of the year, a selection of highlights will comprise a single-owner sale to kick off Sotheby’s main contemporary evening offering on June 29. (It remains unclear whether Sotheby’s will be able to hold a live auction in New York with collectors in attendance, although the house has said it plans to do so pending the lifting of lockdown restrictions.)

Helen Frankenthaler, Royal Fireworks (1975). Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Helen Frankenthaler, Royal Fireworks (1975). Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Highlights of the Williams collection at the evening sale include works by Louise Bourgeois, Helen Frankenthaler, Agnes Martin, Joan Mitchell, and Lee Krasner, all expected to fetch prices in the seven figures. Notably, all five women have seen new auction records set for their work sometime in the past four years, a sign of a market slowly recalibrating the long undervalued work of women artists.

The likely star is Mitchell’s abstract expressionist Straw (1976) which is estimated at $5 million to $7 million.

The current record for Mitchell at auction stands at $16.6 million for Blueberry (1969), which had also been estimated at $5 million to $7 million but soared to more than double the high estimate when it was offered for sale at Christie’s New York in November 2018, underscoring the growing demand for her work. (Another major Mitchell—Noël (1961–62)—is expected to fetch as much as $12.5 million at Phillips in July.)

Louise Bourgeois, <i>Observer</i> (1947-49). Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Louise Bourgeois, Observer (1947-49). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Other top lots include Lee Krasner’s Re-Echo (1957), which is estimated at $4 million to $6 million and does not appear to ever have been offered at auction before. Helen Frankenthaler’s Royal Fireworks (1975), a burnt orange canvas, carries an estimate of $2 million to $3 million, as does Agnes Martin’s Mountain Flowers I (1985). And a Louise Bourgeois bronze sculpture, Observer (1947–49) is expected to realize $1.5 million to $2 million.

Williams, who was born in rural Virginia in 1927, was often described as a larger-than-life presence. In addition to her interest in contemporary art, she was also an avid photography collector and a photographer herself. (She studied with Austrian-American photojournalist and photographer Ernst Haas.) She also served on the boards of the Guggenheim Museum and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. before she relocating to Denver in the late 1950s, where she was a staunch supporter and donor to the Denver Art Museum.

Lee Krasner, Re-Echo (1957). Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Lee Krasner, Re-Echo (1957). Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

In Denver, she opened the Ginny Williams Gallery in the 1980s. (The gallery is now home to the Ginny Williams Family Foundation, which was originally intended to become a museum, though that goal was never realized, according to Westworld.) By the time of her death, she had assembled the largest collection of works by Bourgeois in private hands.

Additional auctions will be dedicated to photographs from her collection in mid-July, including work by Diane Arbus, Dorothea Lange, and Tina Modotti, as well as lower-priced contemporary works in the auction house’s upcoming day sale.

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