Featuring works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Richard Diebenkorn, Lee Bontecou, and Marsden Hartley, a live auction with some of the of the top works of the collection will take place on May 18 at Christie’s New York headquarters. An online sale will also take place from May 6–20. The entire collection is expected to achieve a collected $4.6 million–$7.4 million.
Both painters were second-generation Abstract Expressionists. Kahn, a German-born war refugee, and Mason, the daughter of American painter Alice Trumbull Mason, were married for 60 years. Mason died in December 2019; just a few months later, Kahn died in March 2020. Over the course of their six-decade relationship, they collected works by artists in their circles, including Richard Diebenkorn, whom Kahn met when both were teaching at the University of California, Berkeley; Lee Bontecou, whom Mason met in Venice while the two were both living there on Fulbright scholarships; and Milton Avery, who was a friend of Mason’s mother.
“Part of their responsibility to the world as artists was to collect and support other artist with their funds,” said Steven Rose, director of the Emily Mason|Alice Trumbull Mason Foundation, adding that Kahn and Mason were as much committed to collecting emerging and younger artists like Nari Ward as they were to the more established names in their network.
“They really paid attention to young and mid-career artists that came their way,” said Mara Williams, director of the Kahn Mason Foundation. “That work was given pride of place on the wall along with these name-brand artists.”
Headlining the live sale is Georgia O’Keeffe’s floral abstraction Autumn Leaf with White Flower (1926), a work on canvas, which Kahn purchased in 1977 from a New York dealer before having ever met the artist. It is expected to achieve a price of $3 million–$5 million. “They were very much admirers of O’Keeffe,” said Rose.”She was their elder, but also somebody they really looked up to.”
Mason and Kahn also knew Richard Diebenkorn personally, and he will be represented in the sale by his 1957 still life Cups II, which the couple purchased in 1961. It is expected to achieve a price between $500,000–$700,000.
Two early canvas and steel sculptures by Lee Bontecou—Untitled (estimate $180,000–$250,000) and Box (estimate $120,000–$180,000), both from 1959—will be offered. Other highlights include a rare 1917 reverse painting on glass by Marsden Hartley, titled Round Flower with Three Green Leaves (estimate $100,000–150,000), and Charles Demuth’s 1918 painting Cyclamen (estimate $50,000–$70,000).
Kahn and Mason, who maintained separate studio practices, actively sought out acquisitions to support a community of artists they met across California, New York, and Vermont, where the two settled in the late 1960s. They mostly pursued works that were unlike the vibrantly colored canvases they each made themselves. The group of works, Williams said, reflects Kahn and Mason’s practice of “curating … a life in art.”