$20m Philip Guston at Sotheby's in May

Unseen for 40 years, the sale of Peter and Edith O'Donnell's Nile from 1958 will fund their foundation


Works from Philip Guston’s late period have been making rapid progress on the masterpiece market for several years now. Six of the artist’s top ten prices come from works made after he abandoned Abstract Expressionism in favor of the controversial—and highly personal—figurative vocabulary of his works from the 1970s.

Last November, the Macklowe’s late work, Strong Light, made a massive $24.4 million price to put it just below the record-setting work from 1958, Fellini, which made $25.8 million nine years ago.

Today, Sotheby’s announced another abstract work from 1958, Nile, that will be auctioned in May with a $20 million estimate. Sotheby’s believes that Nile stands among the best works by Guston made in the prime period of his Abstract Expressionist phase:

Of the 29 works produced by Guston between 1956 and 1960, the pinnacle of his abstract expressionist output, there are 10 which stand above the rest as unquestioned masterpieces. Nile is one of these ten exemplary canvases, and one of only three remaining in private hands. The additional seven works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (promised gift); The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

This work comes from the collection of Peter and Edith O’Donnell of Dallas, Texas. It will be sold to benefit the O’Donnell Foundation, which advances a wide range of higher education causes; innovations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; medical research and public health programs; and an array of arts and culture initiatives.

The O’Donnells owned the work for 40 years. Sotheby’s has other late works, including Remorse estimated at $5 million and Studio Celebration. But the interest in Guston is heightened by the opening of a retrospective of his work at Boston’s MFA next month.  

Nile will shown in a public for the first time in over forty years when it goes on view in Sotheby’s London galleries from April 8-13, in Hong Kong from 24 – 27 April 24-27, and in New York from May 6 – 17 May ahead of the Modern Evening Auction on 17 May.

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