Helen Frankenthaler - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 15, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Painted in 1979, Helen Frankenthaler’s Watch is a testament to her continued investigations into the possibilities of paint. The present work represents a pivotal moment in Frankenthaler's illustrious career, highlighting her evolving preference towards increasingly rich tones and dense compositions. A captivating exploration of her signature style, the picture is layered with dynamic and bold brushstrokes in a mesmerizing interplay of hues. The canvas itself becomes a window into a world of endless doldrums, a sea of emotions brought to life through gestural strokes of the artist’s brush.


    By 1979 Frankenthaler had been working with acrylic paints for over 15 years, allowing her to create sharper edges and more contrast within her palette than with the thinned oil paints that she had initially used in the soak stain technique. In Watch, this manifests itself in a canvas of striking hues, composed of inky black, blue, green, and sporadic splashes of pearlescent silver and purple. Gazing upon Watch, the viewer is invited to immerse oneself into the depths of the canvas, each brushstroke telling a story, a narrative of Frankenthaler’s expressive journey through Abstract Expressionism. It is as if Frankenthaler's artistry has unlocked the secrets of her chosen medium, allowing her to paint not only with pigment but with raw emotion.



    A detail of the present work.

     “There is no ‘always,’” Frankenthaler noted. “No formula. There are no rules. Let the picture lead you where it must go.”i Her philosophy on painting, and in life, is exemplified in Watch. The canvas acts as a guide for both the artist and viewer, the path of discovery laid out by the colors, gestures and brushstrokes of the artist, immersing the viewer in an entirely distinct visual experience. Only using this deep black color in a few other works from the 1970s, the present work is a standout example from Frankenthaler’s oeuvre.



    i Helen Frankenthaler quoted in Ted Loos, “Helen Frankenthaler, Back to the Future,” New York Times, April 27, 2003, online.

    • Provenance

      André Emmerich Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Helen Frankenthaler: New Paintings, November 3–28, 1979, n.p. (installation view illustrated, n.p.; illustrated, n.p.)

Property from an Important American Collection



signed "Frankenthaler" lower left; titled and dated ""WATCH" 1979" on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
27 x 53 3/4 in. (68.6 x 136.5 cm)
Painted in 1979.

Full Cataloguing

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $304,800

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan
Specialist, Head of Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 15 November 2023