+

Create your first list.

A way to share and manage lots.

  • One of her largest paintings Helen Frankenthaler ever made, Off White Square features the expressive expanses of pure color which characterize the highly-acclaimed body of work she created during the 1970s. The work is a masterpiece of her mature style, showcasing her transition from thinned acrylics to diluted oil paints during one of the most pivotal decades of Frankenthaler’s career. Having arrested viewers for decades, the work was deemed by The New York Times as the “centerpiece” of the exhibition at the Clark Art Institute, As In Nature: Helen Frankenthaler Paintings.i

     

    The present lot installed at Helen Frankenthaler: Recent Paintings, David Mirvish Gallery, May 26 - June 16, 1973
    The present lot installed at Helen Frankenthaler: Recent Paintings, David Mirvish Gallery, May 26 - June 16, 1973

      "The drop-everything, must-see painting in the [Clark Art Institute] show is Off White Square, an astoundingly beautiful work that, at 79 3/4 inches tall and 255 1/2 inches wide, commands an entire wall and everything else around it." 
    — Thomas Micchelli

    The present work photographed at Ace Gallery in Vancouver. Published in The Vancouver Sun, April 10, 1975. Artwork © Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    One of the most influential artists of post-war abstraction, Helen Frankenthaler created brilliantly evocative paintings that reinterpreted her personal experiences and memories in a unique visual language. Her work, such as Off White Square, built upon the expressive focus on color espoused by her forbearers such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Hans Hofmann; indeed, art critic Joan Lowndes observed in 1975 that “one can trace [in Off White Square] the artist’s debt to Hans Hofmann’s ‘push and pull’ principle, as the square appears to push out and lay on top of the rest of the canvas.”ii Clearly content with the visual effect of this motif—in which a colossal work is brought into balance by a white square—Frankenthaler returned to it in Natural Answer from 1976, which is now housed at the Art Gallery of Ontario. 

     

    Helen Frankenthaler, Natural Answer, 1976. Art Gallery of Ontario, Artwork © Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    A New Approach

     

    Earlier in 1973—the same year she executed Off White Square—the Fourth National Bank and Trust in Wichita, Kansas, commissioned Frankenthaler to design a tapestry for their lobby. The powerful, fresh composition of the maquettes she created for the project—as well as the resulting tapestry—reveal the beginnings of Frankenthaler’s exploration of the horizontal vitality that permeates Off White Square. The work is part of an ambitious group of monumental landscape works executed in 1973-1974, including Moveable Blue and The Sound of the Bassoon, which were the culmination of this investigation of her new format.

     

    Maquette for Helen Frankenthaler’s tapestry for the Fourth National Bank and Trust in Wichita Kansas. Artwork © Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

     While showcasing Frankenthaler’s signature and career-long use of diluted paint, Off White Square betrays a renewed assurance and shift in focus to all-over composition. “Off White Square... shows her at the top of her game, pouring, painting, and drawing with complete confidence,” according to renowned curator Douglas Dreishpoon. “She surely had a hot hand, trusted her instincts, and went for broke.”iii

     

    Monumental Paintings by Frankenthaler, 1973-1974

     

  • A Master of Color

     

    Off White Square exemplifies the highly expressive body of work that Frankenthaler produced during her crucial transition from gestural abstraction to paintings filled with large areas of refined. Her idiosyncratic use of color and form coalesce to establish an intense visual dynamism within the picture, proclaiming the artist’s true mastery of color for which her work is so renowned. Though Lowndes identified “some delectably subtle passages as well as starting hot pinks and dazzling whites” in Off White Square,iv it is anything but easy to characterize the remaining shades and shapes in the composition. Redolent of Henri Matisse’s cut-outs or Vasily Kandinsky’s compositions, her works are defined by their tonal harmony rather than as an arrangement of distinct pictorial elements. “It’s impossible to pin down a Frankenthaler color because it will strengthen and shift and behave as contrarily as it pleases, in relation to surrounding colors,” art critic Kay Kritzwiser elucidated in 1973. “In Off White Square, that sherberty color is sharper in its alliance with tougher colors.”v Revealing Frankenthaler’s painterly adroitness at the apex of her career, this visual harmony exudes the freshness and inner light that embody Off White Square.
    "[Frankenthaler’s] paintings are not merely beautiful. They are statements of great intensity and significance about what it is to stay alive, to face crisis and survive, to accept maturity with grace and even joy."
    — Barbara Rose

    Mark Rothko, No. 11/No. 20, 1949. Collection of Christopher Rothko, Photographed by Christopher Burke / Art Resource, Artwork © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    Mark Rothko, No. 11/No. 20, 1949. Collection of Christopher Rothko, Photographed by Christopher Burke / Art Resource, Artwork © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

     

    Collector’s Digest

     

    • Though the contributions of woman Abstract Expressionists have historically been overshadowed by their male peers, a recent reconsideration of Helen Frankenthaler’s oeuvre has precipitated unprecedented demand in her market.

     

    • Her top three results at auction were all achieved in 2020; her world record stands at $7,895,300.

     

    Royal Fireworks, 1975. Achieved $7,895,300 in 2020

    Royal Fireworks, 1975.
    Achieved $7,895,300 in 2020

     

    Nancy Princenthal, “Berkshire Tour: Formalism Relaxes, Handcraft Goes Digital,” The New York Times, August 30, 2017, online.
    ii Joan Lowndes, “The Human Edge: It’s the Frankenthaler Effect in Painting,” The Vancouver Sun, April 10, 1975, p. 29.
    iii Douglas Dreishpoon, Giving Up One’s Mark: Helen Frankenthaler in the 1960s and 1970s, exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, p. 17.
    iv Joan Lowndes, “The Human Edge,” p. 29.
    Kay Kritzwiser, “A Color Master Controlling Magnitude,” The Globe and Mail, Toronto, June 2, 1973, p. 32.

    • Provenance

      David Mirvish Gallery, Toronto
      Ace Gallery, Vancouver
      Joan and Robert Weiss, California
      Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, November 8, 1979, lot 860
      HSBC Corporate Art Collection, London (acquired at the above sale)
      Sotheby’s, New York, May 11, 2005, lot 250
      Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
      William Louis-Dreyfus (acquired from the above in 2014)
      Thence by descent to the present owners in 2016

    • Exhibited

      Toronto, David Mirvish Gallery, Helen Frankenthaler: Recent Paintings, May 26 - June 16, 1973
      Vancouver, Ace Gallery, Helen Frankenthaler: Major Paintings, April - May 17, 1975
      Colorado, Denver Art Museum; Washington, D.C., Smithsonian American Art Museum; Nashville, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Color as Field: American Painting 1950-1975, November 9, 2007 – September 21, 2008, pl. 11, p. 118 (illustrated, n.p.)
      Williamstown, Clark Art Institute, As in Nature: Helen Frankenthaler Paintings, July 1 – October 9, 2017, p. 72 (illustrated on the frontispiece and pp. 48-49; further illustrated on the exhibition calendar)
      New York, 860 Washington Street, November 2017 - September 2020 (on loan)

    • Literature

      Kay Kritzwiser, “At the Galleries: A Color Master Controlling Magnitude”, The Globe and Mail, June 2, 1973, p. 32
      Joan Lowndes, “The Human Edge: it’s the Frankenthaler effect in painting”, The Vancouver Sun, April 10, 1975, p. 31 (Ace Gallery, Vancouver, 1975, installation view illustrated)
      Helen Frankenthaler: Toward a New Climate, PBS special, produced by Perry Miller Adato, March 6, 1978
      John Elderfield, Frankenthaler, New York, 1989, p. 401 (illustrated, p. 236)
      Giving Up One’s Mark: Helen Frankenthaler in the 1960s and 1970s, exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York, 2014, fig. 11, p. 17 (illustrated)

    • 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

Property from the Louis-Dreyfus Family Collections

Ο ◆27

Off White Square

signed and dated “Frankenthaler ‘73” lower left
acrylic on canvas
79 1/2 x 255 1/4 in. (201.9 x 648.3 cm)
Painted in 1973.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$2,800,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for $3,720,500

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278

[email protected] 


 

20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 7 December 2020