Rothko ‘No. 1’ Sells for $75 Million at Sotheby’s in NYC

'Number 4'
"Number 4" (1951) by Jackson Pollock. The rare drip painting from the Sidney and Dorothy Kohl collection is estimated at $25 million to $35 million. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

A 1951 drip painting by Jackson Pollock sold for $40.4 million at Sotheby’s in New York tonight, setting an auction record for the Abstract Expressionist artist (1912-1956).

It was soon topped by Mark Rothko’s “No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue),” which sold for $75.1 million, against the presale estimate of $35 million to $50 million. Rothko’s auction record of $86.9 million was set at Christie’s in May.

Pollock’s “Number 4” was consigned by Sidney Kohl, co-founder of closely held finance firm Alliant Co., and his wife, Dorothy. It had a presale estimate of $25 million to $35 million.

It was bought by a client represented by Lisa Dennison, Sotheby’s chairman of North and South America. The price smashed Pollock’s previous auction record established only six months ago when “Number 28” (1956) from the estate of collector David Pincus sold for $23 million at Christie’s.

The painting is a maze of color and movement, layered all over with red, blue, yellow, green and ochre oil paint, cloudy aluminum paint, and spidery drips of black enamel.

“It’s a great Pollock,” said art dealer Dorothea Elkon, whose late husband, Robert Elkon, sold the painting to the Kohls in 1974 for $105,000. “I can’t tell you how many collectors have asked me over the years if Sidney would sell it. He simply didn’t want to.”

Classic drip paintings by Pollock are hard to come by, according to Suzanne Gyorgy, global head of art advisory and finance at Citi Private Bank.

“Many of the top collectors we work with, when you ask them what’s on their wish list, a drip Jackson Pollock is one of the top items,” she said.

The work, which had been guaranteed by Sotheby’s, a third party or a combination thereof, according to the catalog; a third party also provided Sotheby’s with an irrevocable bid on the lot, ensuring that the work will sell.

The Rothko was consigned by Anne Marion, owner of Burnett Cos. in Fort Worth, Texas, whose husband John L. Marion had been Sotheby’s chairman and chief auctioneer.

Almost 9.5 feet tall and 5.5 feet wide, the painting was among eight pieces selected by Rothko for his solo exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1954.

In 1982, Ben Heller, a major collector and private dealer of Abstract Expressionism, sold the Rothko to Anne Marion for less than $500,000, he said.

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and Greg Evans on television.

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