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Widening Demand for Louis Kahn Drawings Fuels Rise In Prices

Louis I. Kahn (1901–74) is best known as an architect, but his drawings in pen and ink, charcoal, pencil, watercolors and pastels have become a focus of collector interest, and prices have been rising steadily.

NEW YORK—Louis I. Kahn (1901–74) is best known as an architect, but his drawings in pen and ink, charcoal, pencil, watercolors and pastels have become a focus of collector interest, and prices have been rising steadily.

The prices for Kahn’s artworks vary widely, from $3,500 for a 5-by-7-inch pencil sketch to $125,000 for a 12-by-14-inch pastel. The most expensive works are those related to Kahn’s architectural designs, and dating from the 1950s and ’60s, when he was at the height of his fame. The less expensive pieces, primarily watercolors and the occasional oil on canvas, were made while the artist was on vacation with his family.

“They were done for pleasure, and are not as distinctive as the drawings,” Lauren Bakoian, director of Lori Bookstein Fine Art, New York, told ARTnewsletter. Bookstein Fine Art has represented the Kahn estate since last year; before that, the estate was represented by the now defunct Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, New York.

Considered a late bloomer by experts, Kahn developed his distinctive architectural style in the early 1950s. His design for the Yale University Art Gallery, completed in 1953, is considered a pivotal work in the development of Kahn’s style; other important buildings he designed include the campus of the Jonas Salk Institute of Biological Studies, La Jolla, Calif., 1959–67, and the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Tex., completed in 1972.

In February of last year, Bookstein Fine Art exhibited more than 40 drawings by Kahn at its booth at the Works on Paper fair in New York, and sold all of them to private collectors, a number of them architects, according to Bakoian. The ­highest-priced pastels sell in the range of $65,000/125,000, she said. Another category of Kahn’s oeuvre comprises his architectural drawings related to specific commissions. The Max Protetch gallery, New York—which has a specialty in works by noted architects—has sold pieces by Kahn in this vein since the mid-1980s.

Stuart Krimko, director of exhibitions at Max Protetch, told ARTnewsletter that early drawings by Kahn from the 1940s are priced at $12,000/15,000, while those from the 1950s and ’60s—“canonical drawings” of important buildings Kahn designed, generally measuring from 6 by 9 inches to 12 by 20 inches—are priced at $18,000/35,000. Larger, 2-by-3-foot drawings from the same period are priced at $65,000/80,000, according to Krimko.

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