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

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  • Born into a lineage of artists—including the early American Republic painter John Trumbull, and her mother, the abstract painter Alice Trumbull Mason—Emily Mason was known for her vibrant, joyous compositions which radiate warmth in whatever room they're in. The late artist, who passed away in 2019, split her time between her studio in Manhattan and her home in Brattleboro, Vermont, which she shared with her husband and fellow painter, Wolf Kahn. After she married Kahn in 1957, Mason’s success as an artist was frequently minimized by that of his and her mother’s. As the writer David Ebony said, “she developed her art overshadowed by these formidable talents.”i Throughout the 1980s, her work was often included in group exhibitions which featured all three of the artists’ paintings; it wasn’t until the 1990s when her work truly began to flourish on its own. 
    "Pick it up, make a move, wait, let time go in between. Then I know what to do."
    —Emily Mason
    Mason was named after the poet, Emily Dickinson, and her mother gifted her a book of Dickinson’s poems as a child. Many of her painting’s titles were taken from lines in these poems, like the present work, which is from Dickinson’s “’Twas warm—at first—like Us.” It is interesting that this work features a bright and warm palette, dominated by a field of fuchsia—a paradoxical choice for the description of cold “frost.” Beautifully and somewhat eerily, the date of Mason’s recent passing was also Dickinson’s birthday—just before the winter solstice, on December 10th.

    Paintings like Frost Upon a Glass are the result of a long, improvisational process which Mason first began to develop while on a Fulbright scholarship in Venice in 1956. Rather than plan out her compositions beforehand, Mason would pour paint onto canvases on the floor and then move the canvas around to spread the paint out, after which she would often leave the work to rest before coming back to it later. She compared the act of painting to a game of chess: “Pick it up, make a move, wait, let time go in between. Then I know what to do.” 
    'Twas warm — at first — like Us —
    Until there crept upon
    A Chill — like frost upon a Glass —
    Till all the scene — be gone.

    The Forehead copied Stone —
    The Fingers grew too cold
    To ache — and like a Skater's Brook —
    The busy eyes — congealed —

    It straightened — that was all —
    It crowded Cold to Cold —
    It multiplied indifference —
    As Pride were all it could —

    And even when with Cords —
    'Twas lowered, like a Weight —
    It made no Signal, nor demurred,
    But dropped like Adamant. 

    Emily Dickinson i David Ebony, quoted in Neil Genzlinger, “Emily Mason, Who Created Colorful Canvases, Is Dead at 87,” The New York Times, February 7, 2020, online

    • Provenance

      Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


Like Frost Upon a Glass

signed and dated "Emily Mason 85" lower right
oil on canvas
54 x 50 in. (137.2 x 127 cm)
Painted in 1985.

Full Cataloguing

$15,000 - 20,000 

Sold for $100,800

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