Helen Frankenthaler - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 14, 2018 | Phillips

Create your first list.

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

  • Provenance

    Irving Galleries, Palm Beach
    Private Collection, California
    Bonhams, New York, May 14, 2013, lot 77
    James Barron Art, South Kent, CT
    William Louis-Dreyfus, 2013 (acquired from the above)

  • Exhibited

    Williamstown, Clark Art Institute, As in Nature: Helen Frankenthaler Paintings, July 1 - October 9, 2017, p. 57 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    William Louis-Dreyfus: A Passion for Art

    A passionate and avid collector of art, William Louis-Dreyfus (1932‐2016) assembled, over the course of fifty years, an exceptionally rich collection comprising works by Helen Frankenthaler, Wassily Kandinsky, Jean Dubuffet, as well as contemporary artists such as John Newman and Catherine Murphy. “Collecting is a little piece of madness,” Louis-Dreyfus said, “I always had an eye for what was hanging on the wall, any place. And I always had this internal conviction that I knew better than most what a good painting was” (William Louis-Dreyfus quoted in, “William Louis-Dreyfus on his Passion for Art and Collecting”, New York Studio School, September 2016, online). Trusting his discerning and uncompromising eye, Louis-Dreyfus loyally and continuously followed the work of artists that piqued his interest.

    Helen Frankenthaler was among the only abstract expressionist artists whom Louis-Dreyfus admired and collected in depth. An already avid collector of artists like Stanley Lewis and Graham Nickson who epitomized American realist painting, Louis-Dreyfus always sought artworks that he described as “in praise of the world,” not merely referring to a deferential and idealist worship of life, but rather to the incredible gift we possess of observing the world and carefully examining its beauty. Frankenthaler’s works capture a moment of “seeing” in every sense - her luscious tonal washes seep and bleed into the raw canvas, simultaneously infusing her paintings with a deep material permanence within visually shifting swathes of color. Louis-Dreyfus sought to see and collect perfectly realist paintings of life and nature, and in Frankenthaler’s work, he found, rather than a literal depiction of nature, a vibrant, all-encompassing scene which absorbs viewers into their own unique and abstract landscapes.

    A defender of social justice and a committed philanthropist, Louis-Dreyfus transferred much of his collection to the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation, which strives to improve the lives of the underprivileged and increase public awareness of self-taught, contemporary and emerging artists. As such, the Foundation is an advocate and patron of Harlem Children’s Zone, a non-profit organization that works to mentor and educate children in Harlem from pre‐kindergarten through college. Louis-Dreyfus’s legacy lives on in the works he brought together and in the activities of the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation. It is a testimony to his exceptional vision as a significant collector and philanthropist.

    Helen Frankenthaler's Red Shift

    A key figure in Post-war American painting, Helen Frankenthaler developed a richly diversified body of work over the course of six decades, examining the quintessential qualities of color through “the work of one wrist”. Red Shift, executed in 1990, generously diffuses washes of red and purple in subtle gradation, across a 76-inch-high by 60-inch-wide surface. While the majority of the canvas is tinted with uniform layers of acrylic paint, applied in the artist’s quintessential technique of saturating the canvas, splotches of color emerge in dripping motion, infusing the serene composition with bursts of spirited, vibrant hues.

    Helen Frankenthaler emerged in the early 1950s as a leading figure of Color Field painting. Upon discovering her magisterial painting Mountains and Sea in 1952, the legendary art critic Clement Greenberg was utterly stunned, recognizing the hand of an indisputable master. One of the most influential figures of the art scene at the time, Greenberg quickly propelled Frankenthaler into fame. Described by Morris Louis as representing “a bridge between Pollock and what was possible,” Mountains and Sea laid the foundations for works like Red Shift to emerge, equally brimming with a poignant sense of elegance and lyricism (Morris Louis, quoted in John Elderfield, Morris Louis, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1986, p. 13).

    Aside from their visual poise and poetic edge, Frankenthaler’s pictures represent visual transcriptions of freedom. The American Abstract Expressionists shunned dogmatism and rigidity, instead favoring fluidity and approximation, and were enabled by the versatility of acrylic paint and watercolor. Frankenthaler's works celebrate this freedom of creative expression. “There is no 'always’. No formula. There are no rules. Let the picture lead you where it must go”, she remarked (H. Frankenthaler, quoted in “Helen Frankenthaler, Back to the Future,” The New York Times, April 27, 2003). Red Shift, as such, owes its strength not only to its maker’s command of her medium but also to her courage – her utterly unfettered sense of possibility.

    Toward the end of the 1980s, Frankenthaler said, “Anything that has beauty and provides order (as opposed to chaos or shock alone), anything resolved in a picture (as in nature) gives pleasure—a sense of rightness, as in being one with nature” (Helen Frankenthaler, quoted in Frankenthaler: Paintings on Paper, Miami, 2003, p. 30). Frankenthaler expresses an intuitive and intimate grasp of the natural world, envisioning it as a conscious unity endlessly fragmented by individual consciousness. This sense of grandeur found in fusion as opposed to narrow individualism is invoked in Red Shift. The painting’s impressive scale and fiery hues are evocative of all things larger than life – formidable flames able to consume the canvas’s fabric, a pulsating force integrating the painting’s very weave, the inside of a heart making the surface of the work beat.

    Color, as such, is Frankenthaler’s main subject – it commands her works in an arresting fashion. The effect it carries in a painting is primordial; Eleanor Munroe expressed this sentiment in the following terms: “The feeling-tone her paintings have projected has been the serene and beautiful, achieved by the insightful control over the elements of form: floating areas of color; occasional fountains, spurts, jets of color thrown against bare canvas; hard-edge panels or curtains of bright flat non-naturalistic color” (E. Munro, Originals: American Women Artists, New York, 2000, p. 208). Inherently complex and spontaneous, it is unsurprising that Frankenthaler’s paintings are likened to nature and human emotions. Red Shift, an exceptional mature work of the artist, epitomizes this very trait.

Property from the Louis-Dreyfus Family Collection


Red Shift

signed "Frankenthaler" lower right; further signed, titled and dated ""RED SHIFT" frankenthaler 1990" on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
60 x 76 in. (152.4 x 193 cm.)
Painted in 1990.

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $759,000

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 14 November 2018