On Tuesday, Sotheby’s announced that it will sell 26 works of postwar art from the collection of renowned West Coast collectors, the late Harry “Hunk” and Mary Margaret “Moo” Anderson, including Clyfford Still’s 1947-Y-No.1, valued at $25 million–$35 million. The full group of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper come with a presale high estimate of $55 million, and will be included in Sotheby’s contemporary art evening and day sales on May 13 and 14. The news comes as a first preview into what will be offered in the upcoming May contemporary and modern auctions in New York.
The Andersons, who gave 120 works from their collection to Stanford University in 2011, amassed a major collection of 20th-century works by the likes of Helen Frankenthaler, Franz Kline, Morris Louis, Joan Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, Frank Stella, and Jackson Pollock. Speaking of the Still, Sotheby’s head of contemporary evening sales in New York, David Galperin, noted in a statement that “one cannot help but think of the impact of the iconic 1957 Still that hangs at the top of the stairs at the Anderson Collection at Stanford, undeniably one of the crown jewels of the museum.”
Among other highlights of the collection sale are Richard Diebenkorn’s View from a Porch (1959), an early landscape oil painting with a style that informs the artist’s later venture into abstraction. Diebenkorn’s current auction record was set at Christie’s New York contemporary evening sale in May 2018 with Ocean Park 126 (1984), from the iconic series of Bay Area abstract landscapes, which sold for $23.9 million. Another leading lot is Henry Moore’s seven-foot-long brass abstract sculpture, Reclining Connected Forms (1969). The highest price for a Moore sculpture at auction is the $32.8 million forked over for Reclining Figure: Festival at Christie’s 2016 London sale of British art.
Still’s last major auction moment was in 2011, when Sotheby’s sold a group of four of the artist’s paintings sourced from his widow’s estate for $114 million in a contemporary art evening auction. The auction was a fundraising endeavor arranged by then-mayor of Denver and the late artist’s executors, which would eventually go to the development of a major institution to house the artist’s residual estate. Still’s painting 1949-A-No. 1 set the artist’s current auction record, selling for $61.7 million, far exceeding its $35 million high estimate. Most recently, a similar oil painting by Still titled PH-399 sold at Sotheby’s in the November 2019 contemporary evening sale for $24.3 million with fees, surpassing its high estimate of $18 million by 26 percent.
Among his heavyweight Abstract Expressionist contemporaries, Still drew attention later in his career for resisting the art market and scholarly establishment. The consequences of withholding both his works and insight on his artistic practice only served to increase his market potential over the years.
As more than 90 percent of Still’s works belong to the permanent collection of the Denver museum and other institutions, few major works remain in private hands. In 2013, Denver-based art collector J. Landis Martin, a major benefactor of the Clyfford Still Museum, which opened in 2011, told the Denver Business Journal in an interview that he owned eight works by the artist ranging in dates from 1937 to 1965; he started collecting the artist seriously in the early 2000s. This upcoming sale anticipates another key market moment for the artist’s historical legacy and will serve as an important market indicator for the few collectors holding works by Still.
Following Harry Anderson’s death in February 2018 and that of his widow last fall, competition for the sale of the storied collection among the top auction houses has been stiff. In fall 2018, Christie’s sold more than 200 contemporary and modern works from the Anderson collection as highlights during their 20th Century Week sales in New York and in their December online sale. The top lot in the November 15 evening sale was David Smith’s stainless-steel sculpture Five Ciarcs (1963), which made $9.3 million, failing to reach its low estimate of $10 million.
In addition to Stanford, the Andersons supported other top West Coast institutions such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The late Hunk Anderson amassed the family’s fortune as the founder and CEO of Saga Corporate, a Palo Alto–based food service company. The Andersons’ sole heir is Mary Patricia “Putter” Anderson Pence, who is based in Los Angeles.