Alex Katz - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Thursday, May 19, 2022 | Phillips

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    "Realist painting has to do with leaving out a lot of detail. I think my painting can be a little shocking in all that it leaves out. But what happens is that the mind fills in what’s missing…Painting is a way of making you see what I saw."
    —Alex Katz 

    Painted in the late 1950s, Untitled is a wonderful example of Alex Katz’s early paintings, specifically the artist’s development of his signature, simplified style through color blocking. During this time when Abstract Expressionism dominated the New York art scene, Katz introduced a refreshing approach to painting landscapes, portraits and still lifes. He found a unique way of depicting recognizable scenes, using only the most fundamental elements in his compositions. With his bold use of colors and subjects taken from his own life, his works prefigured the development of the Pop Art movement, which would soon take the art world by storm.i


    Color Blocking 

    Untitled embodies Katz’s ability to create a chorus of figurative and abstract forms. During the early 1950s, he was interested in studying amateur black-and-white photographs, specifically their visual compositions. These first inspired the artist to focus on the pictorial flatness and stillness of his original source images. He would select, edit, and crop a scene, like a filmmaker – omitting details, blocking out forms, and emphasizing these by adding color.ii Katz’s first exploration of this technique was through the collages he created between 1954 and 1960, of which the present work is reminiscent. To create these collages, the artist cut out elements from his own drawings and hand-colored paper, and then glued them over sheets of vibrantly colored stocks. Working on these collages undoubtedly contributed to his later and most celebrated paintings, distinguished by their reduction of forms, and their rhythm of color and lines.iii In Untitled, Katz depicts himself, his wife Ada, and his son Vincent in a reductive manner only through their outlines, juxtaposing them against a large blue passage that merges sea and sky. There is an abrupt transition of color which exemplifies the color blocking technique used in this work. The yellow of Vincent’s hair and Katz's hat, and the stripes in the artist’s clothing, further define the figures from the flatness of the background, resulting in a collage-like effect. 


    Alex Katz, Greenwood Lake, New Jersey, cut-and-pasted painted and colored paper on paper, 1960. Museum of Modern Art, New York, Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 Alex Katz / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Maine Scenes 


    Untitled portrays a frequent subject in Katz’s most celebrated works, a scene most likely located at Katz’s summer house in Maine. Katz went to Maine for the first time when he attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in the summers of 1949 and 1950 after graduating from Cooper Union in New York City. The teaching at Skowhegan was more traditional than in Cooper Union. Each morning, a bus would take the students to paint the Maine landscape from life. This was the first time Katz had done direct painting, looking at something and painting it on the spot without doing any preliminary sketches. As he has written of this key moment in his career, Katz "tried plein-air painting, and found my subject matter and a reason to devote my life to painting.”iv Since then, the artist has spent every summer at his house in Maine. Here, we are likely viewing a scene in the coastal village of Lincolnville, Maine. Through its depiction of an ultramarine sea beneath a light blue sky, the painting embodies a tranquil and quiet atmosphere, very typical of Katz’s landscape paintings. The color, light, and composition of this work provide a window into the early development of the Katzian style, and how the artist redefined traditional realist and figurative painting.

    "The paintings look easy, the way Fred Astaire made dancing look easy and Cole Porter made words and music sound easy, but don’t let [us] be fooled."
    — John Russell wrote on Alex Katz in the Times.v 

    i Simon Schama and Dave Hickey, Alex Katz Under the Stars: American Landscapes 1951–1995, exh. cat., The Institute for Contemporary Art / P.S.1 Museum, New York, 1996, pp. 9–13.
    ii Tom McGlynn, “Brand–New & Terrific: Alex Katz in the 1950s,” The Brooklyn Rail, September 2018, online

    iii Grace Glueck, “Clever Collages and Quite Maine Scenes: Two Sides of Alex Katz,” The New York Times, September 9, 2005, online

    iv Ibid. 
    v Calvin Tomkins, “Alex Katz’s Life in Art,” The New Yorker, August 20, 2018, online

    • Provenance

      Stable Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above in 1961)
      Private Collection, New York (thence by descent from the above)
      Sotheby’s, New York, March 5, 2015, lot 25
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner



signed "Alex Katz" lower right
oil on linen
35 1/4 x 56 in. (89.5 x 142.2 cm)
Painted circa 1959.

Full Cataloguing

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $403,200

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 19 May 2022