How eagle-eyed market players helped boost once-obscure painter Lynne Drexler’s prices from $50 to over $1 million, and beyond
Abstract Expressionist painter Lynne Drexler worked in obscurity for decades, largely on a remote island in Maine. In the 10 years since his death in 1999, a few regional auction houses and mid-range dealers discovered the artist and developed a five-figure market for his work.
Then, just this year, the auction market for Drexler’s work exploded. At a mid-season sale at Christie’s in New York in March, Drexler’s painting Flowery Hundred (1962), estimated between $40,000 and $60,000, exploded to $1.2 million. (It was reportedly acquired by Amy Cappellazzo’s new consulting firm, Art Intelligence Global, on behalf of a client.) Another work, Keller Fair (ca. 1959), sold for $69,300 against a high estimate of $15,000.
Christie’s broke that record just two months later when Herbert’s garden (1960) reached $1.5 million (its high estimate was $100,000).
“What’s going on the?” asks our columnist Katya Kazakina. Prior to 2020, none of Drexler’s paintings had sold at auction for even $10,000, she noted.
The Artnet price database lists just 30 results for Drexler’s work and eight of them, or just over 25%, sold in 2022 alone.
Larger canvases, especially from the years 1959 to 1962, are “pretty rare”, said Andrew Huber, Bonhams sales manager for post-war and contemporary art in New York. What might have cost $50,000 in 2015, for example, would look very different today: “They weren’t cheap, but now that $50,000 could be $500,000.”
Drexler studied under Hans Hoffmann and later Robert Motherwell while living in New York. She often went to Carnegie Hall with his sketchbook and draws while listening to the symphony. “Then she would go back to the studio and make [musical] works,” Huber said.
Last week, Bonhams sold a major work by Drexler at auction in Los Angeles, grass symphony (1962). With an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000, this was the highest price ever set for a Drexler painting. It sold for just under a million dollars.
In the same way grass symphonyBonhams included a group of works by Drexler in a recent sale exhibition of female artists which ended on September 9.
Some observers believe that Drexler was eclipsed by her husband, the painter John Hulbert, who was supported and recognized by major New York galleries during her lifetime, but whose star has since faded.
Despite her talent and dedication, “the recognition never came and nobody took it, except for a group show here and there,” Huber said, and she eventually left for Maine.
In 1983, after Drexler moved full-time to Monhegan, a small, rocky island off the coast of Maine with a year-round population of just 64, according to a 2020 census, she painted every day.
Alongside her now prized abstract compositions, she was known throughout the city for her tourist depictions of sailboats and lobster boats.
His house was filled with rolled up, unstretched paintings that were not discovered until after his death. It was then that people began to take a closer look at her deft brushwork and vibrant palettes which drew comparisons to Joan Mitchell and Jackson Pollock.
Now that the work has come to light, we can expect to see a lot more this fall.
Berry Campbell, who represents the Drexler estate, and the Mnuchin Gallery, organized a two-location exhibition titled “Lynne Drexler: The First Decade,” which marks the artist’s career. first solo exhibition in New York in 38 years. It presents a curated selection of paintings and works on paper dating from 1959 to 1969, including works on loan from public and private collections, as well as previously unseen works from the estate.
The exhibition is organized into two chronological sections: Mnuchin Gallery will be showing paintings from 1959-1964 and Berry Campbell will be showing paintings from 1965-1969. Both are open October 27-December 17.
At the same time, Art Intelligence Global is including Drexler’s work in an exhibition in Hong Kong titled “Shatter: Color Field and the Women of Abstract Expressionism.”
“The market is still at the very beginning of what it can do,” said Saara Pritchard, partner at Art Intelligence Global and Drexler collector. “There’s a critical mass in the art world that hasn’t even seen his work in person, other than the handful of photos that have been auctioned off. And there really hasn’t been any serious scholarship since the Portland Museum of Art exhibit. [in 2008] and there have yet to be any real presentations of a large enough number for collectors to really understand who this artist is.
So why do the works resonate so much with viewers and collectors today? “There’s this thing in the air where people love a discovery,” Pritchard said. “Especially when it comes to the history of female artists. She has such a powerful story that is so resonant and so familiar.
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