Christie’s Expected to Break Arshile Gorky’s Auction Record With a $20M Sale

Billionaire David Geffen currently owns the painting.

In the winter of 1946, a fire broke out in a barn in Sherman, Connecticut. It wasn’t any old barn—the building was being used as a studio by Arshile Gorky, the late Armenian-American artist renowned for his contributions to Abstract Expressionism. Alongside his books and drawings, 20 of Gorky’s paintings were destroyed in the blaze.

Abstract pastel painting with black burned spots
Arshile Gorky’s Charred Beloved I, (1946). Courtesy Christie's

Shortly afterward, the artist moved to New York and began working in a temporary studio in a ballroom overseeing Central Park. There, he created four works in response to the fire, one of which is expected to set a new auction record for the artist when it is sold by Christie’s this fall. The 1946 Charred Beloved I is estimated at upwards of $20 million. and set to surpass the current record set for Gorky in 2018, when Sotheby's sold his 1944 painting Good Afternoon, Mrs. Lincoln for $14 million.

The work, which will highlight Christie’s 20th Century Evening Sale in November, belongs to a trio of Charred Beloved pieces immortalizing Gorky’s studio tragedy. More colorful than its series counterparts, the painting’s cream-colored background is scattered with scorch marks and burning embers. It was first exhibited in 1953 at the Sidney Jais Gallery and has been shown by the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The National Gallery of Canada currently holds another Charred Beloved work.

“Offering this masterpiece, the finest Gorky to ever appear at auction, represents everything we aspire to here at Christie’s,” said Max Carter, the auctioneer’s vice chairman of 20th and 21st century art, in a statement.

Charred Beloved I was finished two years before Gorky’s untimely death at age 44. Born in the Armenian village of Khorkom, the artist fled the region during the Armenian genocide and later emigrated to the U.S. as a teenager in 1920. After making his way to New York, Gorky’s work pioneered the emerging movement of Abstract Expressionism and became sought after by patrons like Katherine S. Drier and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Three-quarters of a century later, the artist is still admired among prominent collectors such as philanthropist Agnes Gund and late music tycoons Mo Ostin and Stephen Swid.

Billionaire David Geffen currently owns the painting

Media mogul S.I. Newhouse was also a fan, having added Charred Beloved I to his vast art collection in 1989. The painting was later bought by Robert Mnuchin, an art dealer and former Goldman Sachs banker. Mnuchin sold the work in 1993 to billionaire producer David Geffen, who has owned it for the last 30 years.

This isn’t the first time Geffen has sold off a multi-million dollar piece from his collection, which is reportedly valued at $2.3 billion. In 2006, Geffen sold Jackson Pollock’s No.5, 1948 to investor David Martinez for $140 million, setting a record for the highest price ever paid for a painting. Ten years later, Geffen sold Pollock’s Number 17A and Willem de Kooning’s Interchange to Citadel’s Ken Griffin for a total of $500 million. The film magnate’s collection focuses primarily on Abstract Expressionism and post-war, with of works by artistic contemporaries of Gorky like de Kooning, Pollock and Mark Rothko.

Christie’s Expected to Break Arshile Gorky’s Auction Record With a $20M Sale