A Quartet of Career-Spanning Joan Mitchell Paintings Could Realize $50M at Auction

The range of works highlight monumental moments in the artist's career.

Large vibrant painting filled with green abstract strokes
Joan Mitchell, Ground, (1989). Courtesy Sotheby's/© Estate of Joan Mitchell

From pieces that played an influential role in the male-dominated New York School to nature-imbued paintings created in the French countryside, the abstract artwork of Joan Mitchell took on new lives and iterations over a career that spanned more than four decades. Now, four significant works from the American artist’s oeuvre will be offered up next month by Sotheby's in its Contemporary Evening Auction.

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The quartet of paintings dating from 1955 to 1989 come from the same private collection and have a combined estimate of $36 million to $51.5 million. “This concise and expertly curated group of paintings mark an unprecedented opportunity to trace Mitchell’s painterly evolution and witness the ways in which her mastery took shape across decades,” said Lucius Elliott, head of Sotheby’s contemporary evening auctions in New York, in a statement.

Abstract grey painting with black and red strokes
Joan Mitchell, Untitled, (circa 1955). Courtesy Sotheby's/© Estate of Joan Mitchell

Mitchell, known for her poetry-inspired works and powerful depictions of landscapes, has seen a renewed wave of recognition in recent years. Her auction record was set in November when Christie’s sold the 1959 Untitled for $29.1 million, a sale promptly followed by the $27.9 million Sotheby’s auction of her 1990-91 Sunflowers—which now stands as the second highest price paid for a Mitchell work. The upcoming sale also comes on the heels of two Mitchell retrospectives at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Baltimore Museum of Art and the 2022 “Monet-Mitchell” exhibition at Fondation Louis Vuitton.

Originally from Chicago, Mitchell studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and traveled to France on a fellowship before moving to New York in 1949. It is there that she became a central figure in the New York School, an association of artists drawn to the avant-garde that included heavyweights like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Mitchell’s circa 1955 Untitled, which will be offered by Sotheby’s with an $8 million to $12 million estimate, showcases her fusion of the New York School style with European Impressionism. It was created around four years after she participated in Leo Castelli’s historic 9th Street Show of Abstract Expressionism and around three years after Mitchell’s first solo New York exhibition at the New Gallery.

Vertical abstract painting with large blue and green swathes of paint
Joan Mitchell, Noon, (1969). Courtesy Sotheby's/© Estate of Joan Mitchell

In 1967, following the death of her mother, Mitchell inherited funds that let her acquire an estate in Vétheuil, France named La Tour and located along the Seine. The artist’s move to Europe allowed her to immerse herself in the French countryside, and she adopted a signature palette of periwinkle, marigold, violet and ultramarine. This turning point can be viewed in her 1969 Noon, which has an estimate of $15 million to $20 million and showcases Mitchell’s signature colors and a diverse painting style that includes dry strokes and liquid drips.

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In addition to her admiration of European landscapes, Mitchell felt a kinship with French Impressionists like Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh—influence that materialized in “Abstract Impressionism” paintings, a term coined by Mitchell’s friend and fellow artist Elaine De Kooning. In her 1973 Untitled, this impact can be seen through Mitchell’s foliage and water-inspired palette. Created about a year after her first major solo museum show at Syracuse’s Everson Museum of Art, the painting is expected to fetch between $1 million and $1.5 million.

Vertical abstract painting with large swathes of blue and golden paint
Joan Mitchell, Untitled, (circa 1973). Courtesy Sotheby's/© Estate of Joan Mitchell

The final Mitchell piece offered up by Sotheby’s in May will consist of the 1989 Ground, a diptych created in the final years of the artist’s career. Despite the ailing health of Mitchell, who died in 1992, the painting’s vibrant and colorful strokes call to mind the thriving garden surrounding La Tour. “It is through Mitchell’s exploration of natural forms that she transformed her work to a wholly new expression of abstraction and representation, expertly riding the knife edge to achieve a visual style that is unmistakably her own,” said Elliott.

Three of the four paintings will be displayed at Sotheby’s Los Angeles galleries prior to a group exhibition in New York ahead of the auction house’s May 13 sale. The Contemporary Evening Auction will also offer up major works like a 1964 Fine di Dio piece by Lucio Fontana and Francis Bacon’s 1966 portrait of George Dyer, which have respective high estimates of $30 million and $50 million.

A Quartet of Career-Spanning Joan Mitchell Paintings Could Realize $50M at Auction