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Sotheby's to offer Cy Twombly's 'Untitled (Rome)'
Cy Twombly’s Untitled (Rome). From the artist’s celebrated Blackboards series. Estimate $35/45 million. To appear at auction after remaining in the same private collection for nearly 30 years. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Cy Twombly’s Untitled (Rome), from the artist’s celebrated series of Blackboard paintings, will star in Sotheby’s May marquee auctions this May. Once part of the celebrated Saatchi collection, the painting has since remained in the same esteemed private collection for nearly 30 years, where it hung alongside many of the artist’s best-known works. Estimated at $35/45 million, it will be offered alongside many of the greatest names of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Willem de Kooning, Robert Colescott and more in Sotheby’s Evening Sale of Contemporary Art on May 12th – a sale that will follow the exceptional Collection of Mrs. John L. Marion.


Executed in 1970 at the apex of Cy Twombly’s celebrated Blackboards paintings, Untitled (Rome) is the finest example of the series to come to auction since Sotheby's set the world auction record for Twombly for Untitled (New York City) in November 2015. It also speaks to the profound inspiration Twombly drew from the culture, history and aesthetics of Rome – the city where the Blackboards were first conceived, and a place that continued to influence him throughout this career. The artist first conceived of the sparse iconography of his Blackboards in Rome. Upon his first visit to the city in the early 1950s, Twombly was taken by ancient forms of graffiti that he saw scrawled on the exteriors of historical Roman ruins. Echoed with newfound ferocity in the graffiti-like strokes of the present work, the artist notes the profound influence the iconographic legacy of classical antiquity enacted upon his practice.

The artist’s Blackboard works marked his abrupt abandonment of the richly colorful and expressive compositions from the first half of the 1960s known as Baroque Paintings. Within this group, this work rises to the forefront: unlike Blackboards restrained to neat rows of tightly coiled reverberations, or those which dissolve into frenetic abandon, the present work sees Twombly express the boundary between control and anarchy, order and chaos, intention and accident.


Exceptional Abstract Expressionist works from a distinguished private collector will highlight the Contemporary Art Evening and Day auctions this May. The Contemporary Art Evening auction will feature Joan Mitchell’s oil on canvas Untitled, hailing from c. 1958 - during what is widely considered the most formative period of the artist’s career (estimate $6/8 million). Testament to their rarity, only five mature large-scale 1950s canvases have come to market since 2015. Painted at a pivotal early moment in Mitchell’s long and varied career, Untitled represents the pinnacle of Mitchell’s unique mode of Abstract Expressionism and her remarkable sensory engagement with nature. Works from the collection will continue to be offered throughout 2021.


The sales will also present an exquisite selection of works from the collection of fashion designer, entrepreneur and philanthropist Kay Unger. Held in the same family collection since their acquisition shortly after their making, none of the works in the collection have ever before been seen publicly, and will be on offer for the first time this May. Beautifully assembled in the collector’s impeccably designed Soho loft, this grouping of works comprises important iconic touchstones of 20th-century art within a highly personal and visually compelling dialogue. Speaking to Unger's enduring creativity, curiosity, and passion to push past the conventional – both in her personal and professional lives – the collection reflects a discerning taste and unerring eye for the thoughtful intersection of art and design.

Unger graduated from Parsons School of Design in 1968 to join the fashion world as a design assistant to Geoffrey Beene, before founding her own dress firm, Kay Unger, a mere two years later – the first of several successful global fashion companies she both founded and managed, including The Gillian Group, A.J. Bari, Kay Unger New York, Kay J’s Pajamas and Phoebe Couture. In 2012, she formed Kay Unger Design, and in 2010, she founded her own foundation, The Kay Unger Family Foundation. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of the collection objects will go to furthering Kay’s continued philanthropic missions, as well as to expand her family’s remarkable collecting legacy with a major focus on supporting emerging artists as well as art and design education.

Works on offer this spring are led by a superb early example of Calder’s celebrated mobiles, Untitled from 1948 (estimate $4.5/6.5 million). Marked by exceptional provenance, the sculpture was first owned by Wallace K. Harrison – the celebrated American architect and engineer who orchestrated the design of Rockefeller Center, among other major projects. Several years before the execution of Untitled, Calder and Harrison collaborated on an architectural design project which, although it ultimately went unrealized, influenced Calder’s oeuvre during this period. A rare, unpainted example of the artist’s mobiles, the purity of the sheet metal and structural elegance with which it hangs tell the story of Calder in wartime, and of his ingenuity as both an artist and engineer. Additional works from the Unger Collection by artists Alexander Calder, Pablo Picasso, and Francois-Xavier Lalanne will be offered throughout Spring 2021.


Appearing at auction for the first time, Norman Lewis’s Evening Rhapsody from 1955 is an exceptional example of the profound brilliance of the artist’s groundbreaking vision (estimate $700,000/1,000,000). Evening Rhapsody remained in his own collection until 1979 when, shortly before his passing, he gifted the painting to his close friend Wallace Nottage. Wallace then passed the painting to his children, including two-time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage, and it has remained in their collection ever since. A harmonious orchestration of color and gesture teeming with joyous energy, Evening Rhapsody embodies the dynamism that defined the Abstract Expressionist movement.

One of the most socially engaged and politically active artists of the Twentieth Century, the artist’s use of abstraction to these social and political ends radically differentiated him from his peers.


Bruce Nauman’s sculpture Life, Death, Love, Hate, Pleasure, Pain from 1983 will make its auction debut this May (estimate $4.5/6.5 million). From the onset of his influential work in neon in the mid-1960s, Nauman executed a total of only 12 neon sculptures featuring a circular ring of text. Of these, 10 are in permanent museum collections, with the only other still in private hands residing in the esteemed Froehlich Collection in Stuttgart. The work encapsulates Nauman’s career-long fascination with the paradoxes of language and epitomizes his ability to convey the entire scope of the human condition in a manner that is direct, witty, and provocative.


Robert Colescott’s icon of American art George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook from 1975 is a highlight of the auction. With an estimate of $9/12 million, the painting is poised to shatter the artist’s current auction record of $912,500. Acquired directly from John Beggruen Gallery in San Francisco in 1976, George Washington Carver has remained in the same esteemed private Midwestern collection ever since. Both in title and composition, the work directly references Emanuel Leutze’s iconic scene Washington Crossing the Delaware from 1851 – which is in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, where it has remained since 1897 – and stands as one of the most recognizable images in the American popular imagination. Separate release available


Appearing at auction for the first time, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s early masterwork Versus Medici will take center stage in the May auction, offered with an estimate of $35/50 million. An extraordinary work executed in 1982 when Basquiat was only 22 years old, and soon after his transformative early trip to Italy in 1981, Versus Medici is among Basquiat’s most forceful visual challenges to the Western art establishment, in which the young artist boldly crowns himself successor to the artistic legacy as established by the masters of the Italian Renaissance. Having remained in the same distinguished private collection since 1990, the work previously belonged to Stéphane Janssen who was an early champion of Basquiat and acquired it from Larry Gagosian on a visit to Basquiat’s studio in 1982. Separate release available


The sale will also offer a selection of bold 1980s masterworks from the collection of prominent Los Angeles collectors and philanthropists Morris and Rita Pynoos – all of which have been in the couple’s esteemed collection for nearly a half century.

Leading the selection is a work by David Hockney, who was a friend of the couple. The monumental Self-Portrait on the Terrace (estimate $8/12 million) from 1984, a deeply personal painting that expands on the artist’s best-known works and captures the spirit of Los Angeles. The collection is further distinguished by de Kooning’s large-scale 1986 masterwork Stowaway (estimate $6/8 million), which the couple acquired directly from the artist in 1987. Separate release available

Immediately preceding the Contemporary Art Evening Auction

Sotheby’s will present masterworks by leading names of American Post-war art including Clyfford Still, Andy Warhol, Richard Diebenkorn, and more from the collection of legendary philanthropist and collector Mrs. John L. Marion in a dedicated evening auction on 12 May, immediately preceding its marquee auctions of Contemporary and Modern & Impressionist Art. A testament to her taste and foresight, the selection of works encapsulates the essential achievements of Post-war Abstract painting, and places these masterpieces in dialogue with the very best of American Pop. Separate release available

Auction 13 May

The following day, the Contemporary Art Day Auction will be anchored by further exceptional works from the Collection of Morris and Rita Pynoos and Mrs. John L Marion, as well as excellent examples by Post-war and contemporary masters such as Alexander Calder, Joan Mitchell, Keith Haring and Harold Ancart. Coinciding with major current museum exhibitions at the Tate Britain and Metropolitan Museum of Art, the sale will also feature works by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Alice Neel.

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