Helen Frankenthaler - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Tuesday, May 14, 2019 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Provenance

    Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist)
    Christie's, New York, November 13, 1986, lot 141
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Embracing Helen Frankenthaler’s stylistic language and idiosyncratic painterly techniques, White Rose of Sharon, 1978 is punctuated by luminescent bursts of color that bleed into the canvas fibers, distinguishing her controlled and considered practice from the gestural vigorousness of her contemporaries. After a 1951 introduction to Jackson Pollock’s monochrome ink works on paper, Frankenthaler began to interrogate the visual effects of directly staining the surface of paper or canvas, ultimately developing the acclaimed “soak-stain” approach utilized in White Rose of Sharon. By positioning the canvas flat on the studio floor and saturating the canvas with paint, Frankenthaler allowed the pigment to seep into the weave, producing a fluid, aqueous result similar to that of watercolor. This technique conspicuously influenced the work of Color Field painters including Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, both of whom adopted her “soak-stain” method after a 1953 visit to Frankenthaler’s studio. Despite a formal affinity to Color Field painting, however, she dared to challenge Clement Greenberg’s prohibition of presentation by engaging in a career-long dialogue with the natural landscape, as exemplified by both its title and earthy hues of malachite and sand that permeate White Rose of Sharon. Frankenthaler’s profound, relentless preoccupation with the natural environment was documented in the 2017 exhibition As in Nature: Helen Frankenthaler Paintings at the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts.

    Throughout her oeuvre, Frankenthaler’s paintings became more densely flooded with color, as encapsulated by White Rose of Sharon, as well as more indirectly concerned with nature through abstraction. Airy white paint blooms at the century of the canvas in the present work, evoking the felicitous memory of a rose more than a flower itself; meanwhile, the thinned pigment and flatness of the picture plane ironically implies an optical sense of natural space, juxtaposing representation with abstraction and dimensionality with emotion. “My pictures are full of climates, abstract climates, and not in nature per se, but a feeling, and the feeling of an order that is associated more with nature,” Frankenthaler has elucidated. “I think art itself is order out of chaos, and nature is always fighting the same battle” (Helen Frankenthaler, quoted in Perry Miller Adato, Frankenthaler – Toward a New Climate, film, 1978).

  • Artist Biography

    Helen Frankenthaler

    Helen Frankenthaler was one of the most influential members of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists and had a considerable impact on the transition from the prevailing New York School sensibilities to the subsequent Color Field style. Frankenthaler first achieved widespread praise for the opaque, floating fields of color of her 1952 painting Mountain and Sea, created using a technique that involved pouring thinned paint onto untreated canvases that had been laid on the floor of her studio. This so-called “soak-stain” technique was an acclaimed overture to Frankenthaler’s tireless experimentations with other styles and media throughout her career, including work in ceramics, sculpture, and printmaking.  

    Frankenthaler’s distinguished career has been widely celebrated since its beginnings. She was featured in the storied 1951 Ninth Street Show in New York as well as in Clement Greenberg’s 1964 Post-Painterly Abstraction exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Frankenthaler co-represented the United States at the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966 and received the National Medal of the Arts in 2001.  

    View More Works


White Rose of Sharon

signed and dated "Frankenthaler ’78" lower right; further signed and dated "Frankenthaler ’78" on the overlap
acrylic on canvas
61 1/2 x 19 7/8 in. (156.2 x 50.5 cm.)
Painted in 1978.

$250,000 - 350,000 

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 15 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue