Blockbuster consignments continue to roll in as the May auctions in New York approach, and the latest is a showstopper. At its contemporary art evening sale on May 16th, Sotheby’s will offer a Lee Krasner painting that could more than double the famed Abstract Expressionist’s current auction record. An example of Krasner’s “Umber” painting series, The Eye is the First Circle (1960) features a swirling composition of abstract marks and forms spanning nearly 20 feet in width. It has been tagged with a pre-sale estimate of $10 million to $15 million. Unless it fails to find a single buyer willing to bid at the reserve and thus flops spectacularly, The Eye is the First Circle will surpass Krasner’s current auction record, set at Christie’s in November 2017, when Shattered Light (1954) sold for $5.5 million.
In a statement, Saara Pritchard, the senior vice president and senior specialist in the contemporary art department at Sotheby’s in New York, said:
The work further serves as Krasner’s examination of and confrontation with her husband Jackson Pollock’s legacy as figurehead of the ‘action painters’ and the New York School. Krasner’s angst is translated on the monumental canvas in arcs of pigment that writhe, splatter, and dip across the canvas with a sense of untampered motion and force.
The Eye is the First Circle has been in the same private collection for more than 20 years, and has been a fixture of most significant Krasner exhibitions, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s retrospective in 1983 to 1984 and LACMA’s Krasner survey that opened in 1999. The painting was nearly lost in 1991, when it was stolen from the New York City loft of art dealer John Cheim. It was subsequently recovered, thanks to an anonymous tip, and restored.