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Art Market

Market Brief: Demand for Grace Hartigan’s Pioneering Ab-Ex Oeuvre Extends to Works on Paper

Shannon Lee
Jul 26, 2021 6:57PM

Grace Hartigan, Untitled, 1959. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

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Last Wednesday, a mixed-media collage by the late Abstract Expressionist artist Grace Hartigan sold for $75,000 at a Christie’s online auction, achieving five times its high estimate and breaking the auction record for works on paper by the artist. Hartigan, who was lauded as “the most celebrated of the young American women painters” by Life magazine in 1958, has seen a steady surge in demand for her trailblazing work in recent years. This is partly due to a growing wave of market interest in female Abstract Expressionists from collectors looking to correct their omission from art history.


Key figures

  • Interest in Hartigan’s work was immediate. She started painting in the late 1940s and, by 1950, her work was selected for the influential “New Talent” exhibition at Samuel Kootz Gallery. Curated by Clement Greenberg and Meyer Schapiro, the show also featured work by Franz Kline, Elaine de Kooning, and Larry Rivers. Hartigan received her first solo show just a year later, at Tibor de Nagy Gallery. By 1953, her painting Persian Jacket (1952) had been acquired for the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
  • Building on this strong institutional recognition, the secondary market for Hartigan’s work was tested in 1987 with the sale of an untitled collage on paper at Christie’s New York for $3,080, just over its $3,000 high estimate. This was around the same time that other artists from this generation of Abstract Expressionists, like Kline, de Kooning, and Rivers, also began appearing at auction, achieving comparable results well within their estimates.
  • For decades, the demand for Hartigan’s work has been steadily building, reaching a fever pitch in recent years. In 2015, an untitled 1959 canvas achieved more than four times its high estimate, selling for $47,500 at Sotheby’s. Just three years later, a gouache work on paper from 1950 achieved an astonishing $35,000 at an online Sotheby’s sale—exactly seven times its $5,000 high estimate.
  • All but one of the artist’s top 10 auction results have been achieved in the past five years. In 2018, Hartigan’s work surged into the six-figure realm for the first time with the $435,000 sale of Months and Moons (1950) at Sotheby’s. This past May, Hartigan’s 1962 canvas The Phoenix rose to the top of the artist’s auction records when it sold for $687,500 at Christie’s.


Takeaway

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The market for Hartigan’s work is the strongest it’s ever been. This growing demand is echoed on Artsy, where the number of inquiries on available works by Hartigan has been trending upward. Inspired by this growing enthusiasm from collectors, Christie’s has hung a solo exhibition of her work in its Hamptons showroom. Titled “Grace Hartigan: No Rules,” the show is on view through August 8th and will likely continue to broaden the ever-growing demand for the artist’s exceptional compositions.

Explore more works by Grace Hartigan.

Shannon Lee
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019