Christie's Offers $45m Pollock in May

Rare drip painting comes to market after surprise Macklowe success

It’s a small painting on masonite board fewer than three feet by two feet but a Jackson Pollock from 1949 packs a market wallop. Christie’s announced Number 31 will be sold in May with a whisper number of $45 million.

The work has been included in several prominent Pollock shows, most notably the retrospectives held at MoMA in 1967 and at the Tate and MoMA in 1998. The painting has been owned by the same collector for more than two decades.

The Pollock market entered new territory in November when the Macklowe black painting sold for a record public price for a Pollock at $61 million. That large, exceptional work was something of a surprise to collectors who do not give the black paintings primacy in the Pollock market.

Two “drip paintings” of a similar size have sold in the last decade for prices just above $30 million. In 2013, Number 16, 1949 made $32.6 million at Christie’s. Five years later, Number 32, 1949 made $34 million at Sotheby’s.

Another work of the same size and media but filled with denser array of finer drips and a metallic pigment, Number 19, 1948was also sold in earlier 2013 for $58.3 million, the previous high auction price.

The post pandemic prices for certain artists are significantly higher than they were just two years ago. Few Pollock paintings trade hands—fewer do so publicly—so the data just doesn’t exist to differentiate the Macklowe sale price from the rest of the Pollock market. Nevertheless, the consignor is following a reasonable strategy in assuming the price of this work could be as much as 50% higher (or more) than these two recent sales would indicate.

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