The rare pieces come from the estate of Still’s wife, Patricia Still, and are being sold by the City of Denver. The proceeds will go toward the endowment of the Clyfford Still Museum, which is scheduled to open on Nov. 18 in Denver.
The auction house guaranteed the museum more than $25 million. The four works are estimated to bring between $51 million and $71.5 million. Sotheby’s could earn as much as $15 million in commission from the sale, according to the contract with the City of Denver.
“You always think in your job that you’ve seen everything, but this is a new world,” Tobias Meyer, worldwide head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, said in a telephone interview. The sale marks the first time, he added, that four works by the American Abstract Expressionist will be offered “to the global community of collectors.”
The works include three completed in the 1940s and one in 1976. The top lot of the group, “1949-A-No. 1,” features deep reds and velvety blacks. It has an estimate range of $25 million to $35 million.
Paintings by Still (1904-1980) rarely come up at auction. In 2006, Christie’s, which competed for the Denver consignment, sold a large 1947 canvas for $21.3 million, the auction record for Still.
During his life, Still sold very little and frequently rejected exhibition opportunities. His will stipulated that the estate be given in its entirety to a U.S. city willing to establish a permanent museum housing his work alone.
In 2004, Patricia Still selected Denver. The city received Still’s 2,400-piece collection, including 825 paintings. The Clyfford Still Museum will house about 94 percent of the artist’s works.
Denver’s City Council unanimously approved the contract with Sotheby’s (BID) last month. The four works had to be first offered to museums, but the private sale failed to take place by the deadline of Sept. 19, as the contract stipulated.
“We kind of knew that going in,” said Jan Brennan, director of Denver’s office of cultural affairs, adding that she is “glad that the institutions had this opportunity.”
She declined to disclose the names of participating museums, citing confidentiality, or the exact amount that Sotheby’s guaranteed Denver.
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