NEW YORK—Phillips de Pury & Company’s sale on April 7 of the estate of Nina Abrams—the late widow of the publisher Harry N. Abrams, who died in 1979—realized $5.8million, surpassing the overall estimate of $2.2million/3.3million. All 318 lots on offer found buyers except one: a Robert Indiana oil painting, LOVE, 1966, which sold immediately after the auction for $215,000, below the estimate of $300,000/500,000.
The Abrams collection included 20th-century American and European art, with a focus on Postwar and Pop art. Paintings by David Burliuk (1882–1967), one of the first artists whose work the couple collected in depth, dominated the sale, with five appearing among the top ten lots. The highest-selling of these was Song of Harvest, 1936, which sold for $422,500, several times the estimate of $80,000/120,000. That was followed by Burliuk’s Man with Dog, ca. 1949, which sold for $290,500, several times its $30,000/40,000 estimate.
A sparse 1956 sepia ink self-portrait on paper by Alberto Giacometti sold for $254,500 against an estimate of $20,000/30,000, followed by another Burliuk work, Couple by a Fence, which sold for $218,500, far above the $30,000/40,000 estimate. Arman’s Bach 2 Violin Concerto, 1963, a unique “Tantrum” sculpture consisting of smashed violins on a wood panel, sold for $206,500 against an estimate of $100,000/150,000.
Afterward, Phillips chairman and auctioneer Simon de Pury said “there was amazing energy throughout the sale. It demonstrates that the market loves nothing more than a group of works of great provenance.” In an interview in 1972, Harry Abrams said that in his early collecting days he bought the work of artists who were friends, but soon began to look to other artists such as Raphael Soyer, Milton Avery and Philip Evergood. “I liked collecting paintings, and I was becoming more and more involved,” he said. “And so, as I earned more money I bought art at every opportunity. I had the bug and I couldn’t seem to stop.”