Dorothy Dehner - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 16, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "Just making art itself is the great thing. It has always been my biggest thrill. It’s a joy, a high, better than ten martinis!"
    —Dorothy Dehner
    Born in Cleveland in 1901, Dorothy Dehner originally began her creative career as a performing artist, studying drama at University of California, Pasadena before becoming a modern dancer. She moved to New York in 1922 and attended The Art Students League, where she met emerging American modernists, including David Smith, who she married shortly afterwards in 1927. During their tumultuous marriage, Smith limited her artistic output to paintings and drawings, only letting her participate in a few shows. These early two-dimensional works were figurative, and mostly depicted images of her daily life, which reflected the deterioration of her marriage. It was not until she was in her late 40s, and after separating from Smith, that she became a sculptor in her own right.  Dehner said “I was never taught sculpture at all; nobody told me anything. I didn’t need it. The minute I had (the wax) in my hands, I knew what to do.” She became very close with like-minded artists such as Louise Bourgeois and David Slivka, and after she created her first sculpture in 1955, her work rapidly gained recognition. That same year, she had a solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, and two years later in 1957, she joined the Willard Gallery at the age of 54. Despite losing her eyesight in the 1980s, she continued working as an artist until she died in 1994.

    Recently, Dehner’s output has received a reinvigorated spotlight with its inclusion in shows around the country. Speaking about her works in the 2021 group exhibition at Rosenberg & Co., A Future We Begin to Feel: Women Artists 1921-1971, in New York last fall, Roberta Smith aptly stated “the Dehner works remind us that every piece in the group show represents a career that deserves greater visibility.”i 


    Notes from a Peripatetic Collector


    “When, after years of focused work, gifted young women and men begin medical school. They are often told by thoughtful deans and mentors that a wondrous big new world awaits them. But what I learned is: “not yet!” It became axiomatic that the initial two years of basic science would require grueling hours of concentrated effort. What I soon wished for was an expanded sense of freedom.

    Fortunate at the time, to be studying at Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons in New York City, I found my corner of freedom by visiting the museums and galleries close by, where creativity lived and thrived. I of course quickly realized how disciplined and determined these artists were. But for me, the reaction was often awe and a hope that one day I would be free and creative as well. With honesty, my outreach was to become a form of psychotherapy. So began what was to be a sixty-year love affair with the visual arts.” 


    i Roberta Smith, “3 Art Gallery Shows to See Right Now: Dorothy Dehner gets her own spotlight,” The New York Times, August 18, 2021, online

    • Description

      The consignor has indicated that they intend to donate the proceeds to benefit the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.

    • Provenance

      Willard Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

Property of an Important Private Collector being sold to benefit the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College



incised with the artist's signature and date "Dehner '67" lower edge
8 1/2 x 5 3/4 x 2 1/2 in. (21.6 x 14.6 x 6.4 cm)
Executed in 1967.

Full Cataloguing

$10,000 - 15,000 

Sold for $16,380

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 16 November 2022