Old paintings

“Exceptional” group of paintings from the collection of Willem de Kooning’s family to go under the hammer

Three paintings from the collection of the family of Willem de Kooning will appear at auction for the first time and are expected to sell for a total of $50 million. Produced between 1969 and 1987, Sotheby’s have described the upcoming selection of paintings as “one of the most exceptional groups of paintings by Willem de Kooning to ever appear on the market”.

According to Sotheby’s, the group has been personally selected by Willem de Kooning’s daughter, Lisa de Kooning. The first is Montauk II (1969), which carries an estimate of $10-15 million. The second is Untitled (c.1979), which has the highest estimate of the group, a huge $30-40 million. This work seems to have been of special significance to the de Kooning family, who said, “for as long as we can remember, Untitled, c.1979, was referred to affectionately as ‘the Monet’ by our mother. Even as young children, we were captivated by it.” John Elderfield, chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art who curated the de Kooning retrospective in 2011, said of this work: “at a distance, all the tactility disappears and the tonality is more apparent. The blue seems to float within the frame.”

The final work to be auctioned is The Hat Upstairs (1987), which has an estimate of $8-12 million. This painting was completed at a later stage in de Kooning’s career when he was increasingly suffering from dementia.

David Calperin, head of contemporary art for the Americas at Sotheby’s commented upon the market for de Kooning paintings, explaining that, “there is no singular de Kooning market. He appeals to both the connoisseur and the new buyer. There are certain collectors who go across the decades and some who have an affinity for a particular aspect of his practice. In the past several years, the market has really shifted for the ’70s and ’80s — there are so few paintings from the ’50s and ’60s that have come to market.”

The wide appeal of de Kooning has also been made evident by Twilight actor Robert Pattinson, who has curated the upcoming ‘Contemporary Curated’ sale at Sotheby’s, which will take place on 30 September. Pattinson’s top pick is de Kooning’s Untitled (1964), which is expected to sell for $1.8-2.5 million. In a press release, Pattinson enthused, “De Kooning can capture so much energy, and this work feels incredibly fresh, present, and exciting. Looking closely, it is incredibly sensual and quite tasty.”

The sale of the three works from the de Kooning family, titled ‘De Kooning Decades: Property from the De Kooning Family Collection’ – a reference to how the three works mark the culmination of three decades – will take place on 16 November.

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