A Late Rothko From Bunny Mellon's Collection Returns To Market

  • NEW YORK, New York
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  • April 18, 2021

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Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1970.

Christie’s will offer Mark Rothko’s radiant and stately masterpiece, Untitled from 1970, in its upcoming 20th Century Evening Sale at Christie’s New York on May 11, 2021 (estimate in the region of US$40M). As one of only three works painted in 1970, during the final months of the artist’s life, Untitled marked his triumphant return to full, vibrant color, and Rothko is said to have viewed these late works as his most profound achievements. Formerly part of the Paul and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon Collection for decades before entering into a private collection in 2014—from which it arrives to market at Christie’s in May—Untitled stands as a deeply poignant finale to Rothko’s prodigious oeuvre.

Emily Kaplan, Co-Head of Christie’s 20th Century Evening Sale, commented: “Rothko’s penultimate painting, Untitled offers a parting vision of glowing, incandescent color; a luminous, resonant hymn that eloquently encapsulates the spirit of his life’s work.”

In his 1998 catalogue raisonné, curator and scholar David Anfam features Untitled among Rothko’s final few paintings, including his last work, a vivid red canvas, in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. Departing from the somber palette of his “Black on Gray” paintings from the year prior, Untitled invites contemplation and is revelatory of the artist’s mental and emotional state in the days and weeks leading up to his suicide in February of 1970.

“Shedding the mournful monochromatic hues that had occupied him for much of 1969, Rothko plunges one last time into the jewelled, intoxicating spectrum that had guided his practice for over two decades. His deep blue tone shifts and mutates as it catches the light, glimmering like a portal to the beyond,” writes Kaplan.

The renowned American collectors and philanthropists Paul and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon acquired Untitled in New York in May of 1971, less than 18 months after its completion. As part of the Mellon Collection until Mrs. Mellon’s death in 2014, Untitled took its place in the Mellon’s world-class collection alongside masterworks by Seurat, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Stubbs, Bellows, Diebenkorn and many other renown artists. Mellon began buying British art during the 1930’s, resulting in a collection that would serve as the cornerstone of both the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Conn. and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London.

Regarded as one of the preeminent collectors of Rothko, Mrs. Mellon possessed an exceptional eye for his work, and Untitled was almost immediately selected for the collection. The Mellons gifted several of the artist’s most revered paintings to the National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C., among more than 1,000 works in total bestowed to the National Gallery from the collection. The Mellons also donated important French Impressionist and British paintings, as well as Decorative Arts, to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond, VA, where Mellon served as a trustee for more than 40 years.

Untitled will be unveiled for viewing at Christie’s Hong Kong from April 17-22 before returning to New York for exhibition at Rockefeller Center ahead of Christie’s inaugural 20/21 spring auction series.


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