Pollock most expensive


Could This Be the Most Expensive Pollock to Ever Go Under the Hammer?

A painting by revolutionary 20th century American abstract expressionist, Jackson Pollock, may become his most expensive painting ever sold at auction. Pollock’s 1949 work titled Number 31 will hit the market at Christie’s evening sale on May 12 at Rockefeller Plaza, New York.

The painter is regarded as the first artist to ever use the drip painting technique of spilling paint directly from the bucket onto canvas. This was a bold departure from traditional practices and earned him the nickname, “Jack the Dripper”.

Using sticks, trowels and brushes, Pollock would splash colour dramatically over the canvas, smoking cigarettes and making lewd gestures in a kind of performance. Research from Brown University shows his movements and gestures when applying the paint almost perfectly avoided a very common fluid instability, extending the life of the works.

Jackson Pollock at work in 1950
Jackson Pollock at work in 1950 | Source: Art Hive

The most expensive Pollock sold privately for upwards of approximately A$250 million (adjusting for inflation) and this example from his drip period of the late 1940s is estimated to sell at auction for more than A$64 million. Number 31 was last sold in May 1988 for A$5 million to an undisclosed collector and it has remained in their possession since.

Splashes of crimson overlap algae green, black, grey and deep yellow on a tan background on a 78.7 cm by 57.1cm canvas and Pollock’s typical chaotic style is clearly evident.

A pragmatic use of colour gives Number 31 clear direction by an artist whose journey from Wyoming to his famed Long Island studio was anything but direct.

Pollack had a troubled youth and was expelled from multiple schools in California before following his brother to New York where they both studied under Thomas Hart Benton.

Rhythmic use of paint was a major influence from Benton but pretty soon Pollock had developed his signature drip painting style. He started moving away from abstract surrealism and focused more on the production of his paintings, rather than becoming too concerned trying to conform to any particular expectation.

Pollock Male and Female
Male and Female, 1942, is an early, more surrealist example of Pollock using his drip technique | Source: Wikiart

Pollock was fiercely independent and a notorious alcoholic. Years of Jungian therapy saw his therapists encourage him to paint as part of his treatment and many of his most valuable works are from this period, 1938 to 1942.

On August 11, 1956, after not producing a painting for more than a year, Pollock crashed his Oldsmobile convertible, killing a passenger and ending his life at 44. His well-documented struggle with alcohol had compelled him to undertake the psycho-analytic therapy, elements of which are evident in his artworks.

His other most expensive works have sold at auction for A$83.15 million and A$78.85 million, in 2013 and 2018 as well as the auction record for a Pollock being set last November at A$87.45 million, far in excess of its high A$50.18 million estimate.

Auctioneer Christie’s will also feature works by Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning, and Andy Warhol at the evening auction, including Picasso’s first Cubist sculpture, Tete de femme (Fernande) and Warhol’s Skull.

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