These Joan Mitchell Paintings Could Sell For $19M At Phillips

Two major Joan Mitchell paintings are expected to bring more than $19M at a high-valued Phillips auction in December.

Nov 9, 2020By Antonis Chaliakopoulos, MSc Museum Studies, BA History & Archaeology
Untitled, Joan Mitchell, 1953–54, Phillips, via Artnet (left); Two Pianos, Joan Mitchell, 1979, Phillips, via Artnet (right).

Two paintings by the abstract-expressionist painter Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) could fetch more than $19 million at a Phillips auction next month. A work by David Hockney estimated at $35 million will lead the auction day. Robert Manley, Phillips’ deputy chairman, told Artnet News that this could be one of the best sales in the history of the auction house.

The Auction At Phillips

The auction will take place at Phillips’ 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York on December 7.

The auction will include a sculpture by Ruth Asawa and paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, Barkley Hendricks, Mickalene Thomas, and Amy Sherald.

In addition, the night will lead the landscape painting Nichols Canyon (1980) by David Hockney. The painting is estimated at $35 million. Jean-Paul Engelen, Phillips’ deputy chairman and co-head of 20th Century and Contemporary Art called the painting “without question, the most significant landscape by Hockney to ever appear at auction”.

Alongside the two paintings by Joan Mitchell, Phillips is certainly looking at one of its best nights to date. A night that could bring at least $100 million. Robert Manley stated:

“We’re bullish about the market and—knock on wood—we think we’re going to have one of the best sales we’ve ever had.”

The Joan Mitchell Paintings Worth $19M

Joan Mitchell in her Vétheuil studio, Photo by Robert Freson, 1983, Joan Mitchell Foundation

The two multimillion Joan Mitchell paintings mark two different periods in the artist’s life.

The first is an untitled canvas from 1953-4 when Mitchell’s painting career was just beginning. This is estimated between $10 million and $15 million.

The Two Pianos is a diptych from 1979 closer to a time when the painter had developed her own distinct style. Two Pianos is expected to sell between $9 million and $12 million. This artwork was also included in the book Ninth Street Women (2018).

It seems, however, that these two works do not belong in the most sought-after period of the painter’s life; namely the late ’50s and early ’60s.

Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter

Nevertheless, Phillips seeks to reach for the higher estimate, since Joan Mitchell’s paintings are currently enjoying renewed recognition. According to Artsy, demand for Mitchell paintings is continuously increasing, especially since 2016. This is part of a rise in the prices for artworks by women and people of color during the last few years.

Also, the retrospective exhibition about Mitchell next March will surely bring new attention to the painter. The exhibition will first take place at the Baltimore Museum of Art and then move to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The auction house is planning to take advantage of the hype around Mitchell’s name which could propel sales.

Should Mitchell’s untitled work reach its high estimate, it will become the painter’s second-highest sale. Blueberry (1969) had sold at Christie’s in 2018 for $16 million.

Who Was Joan Mitchell?

Blueberry, Joan Mitchel, 1969, Christie’s

Joan Mitchell was an American painter and printmaker of the so-called second generation of abstract expressionist artists. Even though abstract expressionism as a movement is associated with New York, Mitchell spent most of her career in France.

Mitchell managed to establish herself as a prominent artist alongside other abstract expressionist female painters like Helen Frankenthaler, Shirley Jaffe, Elaine de Kooning, and Sonia Gechtoff. This was a great accomplishment for a time when women were not welcome in the art world.

In addition, Mitchell took part in the Ninth Street Show of Abstract Expressionist art and became a member of the Eighth Street Club. The New York club of abstract expressionist artists only included a handful of women at the time.

Mitchel is also famous for painting large canvases with colorful emotional brushstrokes. Amongst her influences are De Kooning, Monet, Cézanne, Matisse, van Gogh, and Wassily Kandinsky.

Mitchell went against the current of society looking to break down gender roles and hierarchies. She was a heavy alcohol drinker, as well as a smoker, which eventually led to her death.


Author Image

By Antonis ChaliakopoulosMSc Museum Studies, BA History & ArchaeologyAntonis is an archaeologist with a passion for museums and heritage and a keen interest in aesthetics and the reception of classical art. He holds an MSc in Museum Studies from the University of Glasgow and a BA in History and Archaeology from the University of Athens (NKUA). Antonis is a senior staff member at TheCollector, managing the Archaeology and Ancient History department. In his spare time, he publishes articles on his specialty.