Alex Katz - Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Tuesday, May 14, 2024 | Phillips

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  • “My contention is that my paintings are as realistic as Rembrandt’s… it was realistic painting in its time. It’s no longer a realistic painting. Realism’s a variable. For an artist, this is the highest thing an artist can do⁠—to make something that’s real for his time, where he lives. But people don’t see it as realistic, they see it as abstract. But for me it’s realistic.”
    —Alex Katz 

    Painted in 1981, Alex Katz’s Martha is at once intimate and monumental, capturing the very essence of the artist’s decades long investigation into the genre of portraiture. Executed larger than life, the titular subject Martha is likely the artist’s friend and fellow painter Martha Diamond, who is also depicted in Katz’s February 5:30pm, executed nearly a decade prior in 1972. Featured as the leftmost figure in a row of six, it is as though Katz has cropped Martha from the larger scene and given her own canvas. She is shown in the same turquoise polo shirt, against what appears to be the same windowpane. The resulting single portrait otherwise eliminates all specific background references to focus on what is most essential: Martha herself.


    Alex Katz, February 5:30 P.M., 1972. Artwork: © 2024 Alex Katz / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Katz routinely painted the same subject time and time again throughout his career, and Martha exquisitely demonstrates Katz’s keen and careful observation of the defining features of his sitters. Here, Martha’s features are even more refined than in his 1972 painting, as if he spent more time on each strand of hair to get it just right. The tendrils of Martha’s brown, straight hair, which frame her face, blow in an unseen breeze, adding a sense of motion to the otherwise still, serene scene. Her warm, almond-shaped eyes gaze off into the distance, placing the viewer within her peripheral vision, while the soft light peering in at right highlights the subtleties of her nose, lips and planes of her face. 


    Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Katz’s paintings became increasingly larger in size. Throughout those decades, Katz’s figures also became increasingly and often dramatically more cropped, culminating in the zoomed-in compositions of the 2010s. As compared to her scale in February 5:30 PM, here Katz paints Martha’s portrait on a canvas measuring exactly five-feet-tall. By cropping and enlarging Martha’s profile in the present composition, Katz elevates his subject to even greater importance. In removing all recognizable surroundings less the suggestion of a window, Katz strips Martha from her narrative context, and instead promotes a sense of anonymity. Here, Martha could be in any place at any given time. The resulting portrait is timeless, transcending eras, as Martha could just as easily be from 1981 as from 2024.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Toronto, Mira Godard Gallery, Alex Katz: Recent Paintings and Prints, March 31–April 25, 1990
      New York, Marlborough Gallery, A Tribute to Alex Katz, November 3, 2022–January 14, 2023

Property from a Prominent Collection



oil on linen
60 x 48 in. (152.4 x 121.9 cm)
Painted in 1981.

Full Cataloguing

$350,000 - 500,000 

Sold for $381,000

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1206

Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 May 2024