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Rubbish or Riches: A color lithograph by Abstract Expressionist Joan Mitchell

By Staff | Dec 24, 2014

© Estate of Joan Mitchell, New York, N.Y.

Has the owner of this week’s chosen object found Rubbish or Riches? Read on as I assess a color lithograph on paper by Abstract Expressionist Joan Mitchell (b. 1925 – d. 1992) from a private collection.

I was approached by a private collector who had a Joan Mitchell graphic on paper titled “Champs” (translation from French: “Fields”) from 1990. The collector acquired the piece from a dealer in Prague in the Czech Republic and was interested to learn more about the graphic and its value.

Mitchell is one of the second generation artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement, which was formed by a group of artists who began to create the first completely non-representational or abstract artwork in history. The artists quite often employed what was dubbed as “Action Painting” which was the use of full body motions for applying paint in abstract composition to a canvas that was usually laid upon the floor or tacked to a wall. They used techniques that included the dripping of paint, pouring of paint, large unconventional gestural brushstrokes sometimes using house paint and many other methods to create their often large paintings that were usually proclaimed to represent nothing as far as subject matter.

Other artists, along with Kline who co-founded the American movement, were Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell. Today, Pollock (1912-1956) is the most highly valued of the artists with individual paintings having sold for up to $140 million!

Born in Chicago in 1925, Mitchell moved to New York City in 1947 where she studied under Hans Hoffmann at the venerable Art Students League for a short time. In 1948-49 Mitchell traveled to the French countryside for the first time where she developed a lifelong love for the region and later in life would relocate permanently. In 1952, Mitchell had a short and turbulent marriage to Alan Greenspan (later to be the chairman of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System). Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Mitchell, who was plagued by alcoholism, created primarily dark, abstract paintings which she called “black paintings.” She held the distinction of being one of the few female artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement, which was dominated by males. In the 1970s, Mitchell relocated to the French countryside not far from the Giverny, the location of Claude Monet’s studio. Although Monet had been deceased for many years, Mitchell found herself to be inspired by the region in a similar manner to the inspiration that the Impressionist master had found so many years earlier. Mitchell’s palette brightened and her colors reached a level of vibrancy that was nearly unparalleled within the Abstract Expressionist movement with the exception of the artwork of Franz Kline and Paul Jenkins.

Following a long period of multiple bouts with cancer, Mithcell died in Paris in 1992. Her artwork is owned by nearly every major institution in the United States and many abroad including the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, the Library of Congress and scores of others.

The artwork to be assessed today is an color lithograph trial proof on paper by Mitchell from 1990 titled “Champs” that measures 60 x 40 inches. Historically the graphic is important for a couple of reasons; in physical dimensions it is the largest graphic work of Mitchell’s career in addition to having been commissioned by Carnegie Hall to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding. Trial proofs are often considered to be more valuable than sheets from the regular edition because they preceded the publication of the regular edition and contain differences in technique and appearance because the artist uses these to work through the creative process, therefore each is generally considered to a unique, one of a kind artwork rather than a multiple. The graphic is hand signed by the artist, and inscribed “trial proof.” While one of Mitchell’s large paintings on canvas from 1960 sold at Christies auction house in New York City for in excess of $11 million in 2014 making her the most financially valuable female artist in world history at the time, the question posed here is what is this color lithograph worth?

I would place the value of this graphic at $20,000 – $30,000

Do you have an artwork that you’ve always wanted to know the value and history of? Send it to Eric I. Hornak Spoutz at ericspoutz@gmail.com.

Eric I. Hornak Spoutz is a nationally recognized Art Historian, Museum Exhibition Curator. Mr. Hornak Spoutz curated the 2013 Presidential Inaugural exhibition at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington D.C. and has placed artworks into the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Dartmouth College and a score of other institutions throughout North America. Mr. Hornak Spoutz resides in Cape Coral.