If you had told anyone six months ago that a painting by Lynne Drexler would be offered at auction in Los Angeles with a low estimate of $500,000, the response would have been laughter. But this week Bonhams announced it would be offering Grass Symphony from 1962 at its Los Angeles sale on September 14th with a $500,000 low estimate. Owners of Drexler's work aren't giggling over this; they're positively giddy.
That's because the last six months have seen a steady run in the artist's work at prices far above anything seen before in the two decades since her death in obscurity.
The Bonhams sale will take place almost six months to the day after Christie’s was able to catapult Drexler from art market anonymity to a seven-figure sale. Flowered Hundred from 1962 had been deaccessioned by the Farnsworth Museum in Maine. Christie’s sold it for $1.197 million. Two months later, Christie’s sold another large Drexler for the Farnsworth making $1.5 million in the Day sale during the May auction cycle.
Drexler had been a resident of Monhegan Island from the mid-1980s until her death in 1999. Overlooked during her lifetime, Drexler donated most of her art to Maine museums where her work first received broader attention. The Farnsworth had six of Drexler’s canvases. Now the museum still has four Drexlers plus more than $2 million for acquisitions.
Christie’s had begun the Drexler momentum a year before with the sale of Daffodil Gloucester from 1960, a small painting that made the then large price of $75,000. For a seemingly unknown artist who had been shown in regional museums and galleries specializing in American art, that price was a tell.
During the same March sale that posted the $1.197 million price for the Farnsworth, another tiny work by Drexler, Keller Fair, from this important period made $69,300 effectively beating the price from May 2021 on a price per square inch basis.
Also in May of 2022, Bonhams was able to sell a work on paper from 1959 for $208,275. Sotheby’s sold a later work from 1966 for $630,000.
Bonhams closed out the first semester of 2021 with three works on paper, studies from the period around 1960, selling for solid five figure prices. One even made $82,275.
This steady sales progress by Christie’s and Bonhams explains how Grass Symphony could sensibly be offered with a $500,000 estimate. That’s not a foolproof number. And there’s a reason that most of the Drexlers offered still carry very low estimates. That’s because we’re only one disappointing sale away from her market potentially pulling back. Until then, more collectors and dealers will be scouring the country for overlooked works by this interesting artist.