An important late Jackson Pollock titled ‘Number 5’ (Elegant Lady, 1951) goes under the hammer at Christie’s New York as part of their May evening sale of Post War and Contemporary art. The work comes from the E.ON art collection and carries an estimate of $15 – 20 million. E.ON, which has been an important patron of the arts for over 20 years, aims to raise funds to continue their art and culture activities as well as their commitment to Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf, which E.ON has generously supported since 1998 in Germany‘s largest cultural public-private-partnership.
The sale of Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) offers the rare opportunity for collectors to acquire a late Jackson Pollock masterpiece with exceptional provenance. This work has been owned by two legendary dealers from both sides of the Atlantic – the celebrated New York dealer Martha Jackson and one of the most powerful gallerists of Post-War Germany Alfred Schmela. It‘s an honor for Christie‘s to support E.ON to continue pursuing its outstanding dedication to the arts by facilitating this sale‖, commented Robert Manley, International Director Post-War and Contemporary Art New York and Herrad Schorn, Director Post-War and Contemporary Art Düsseldorf.
We do not part with Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) easily, but this sale will allow us to secure E.ON‘s engagement with art and culture for years to come‖ explained Dr. Johannes Teyssen, CEO E.ON SE and Dorothee Gräfin von Posadowsky- Wehner, Head of Arts & Culture E.ON SE.
Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) found its way into the E.ON art collection in 1980. The corporation known then as VEBA acquired the painting on the advice of the legendary art dealer Alfred Schmela (1918-1980). For the next twenty years, the painting hung in VEBA‘s headquarters in Düsseldorf. In 2001, after VEBA merged with VIAG to become E.ON, the company moved into its new headquarters in Düsseldorf, neighboring the Museum Kunstpalast. To share the work with the wider public, Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) was exhibited in the museum from then on. At Museum Kunstpalast Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) was part of the widely acknowledged exhibition Le grand geste! (April – August 2010), which traced the development of Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism. Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) was also shown in the equally bespoke exhibition Jorn & Pollock: Revolutionary Roads (November 2013 – February 2014) at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk north of Copenhagen.
The outstanding exhibition history of Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) spans back to 1956, when the legendary New York art dealer Martha Jackson (1907-1969) presented it in the opening show of her new space at 32 East 69th Street. In 1954, Martha Jackson had traded this work with Pollock along with another painting from the same period (Number 23, 1951/Frogman currently in the collection of the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia) – for her green 1950s Oldsmobile. a move which would have tragic circumstances two years later when Pollock crashed this car into a tree near his home on Long Island killing himself and Edith Metzger. As was the practice at the time Pollock only titled his work with a number and the verbal titles of these two pieces were assigned by Martha Jackson herself. It is not difficult to see how she come up with this particular moniker as the curvaceous line that spills down the right hand portion of the canvas recalls the seductive outline of a female figure along with the sultry form of two eyes suggested by the bold form that emerges in the upper left corner. Both paintings, Elegant Lady and Frogman are from Pollock‘s celebrated series of black enamel paintings, which he started in late 1950s and of which examples can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Tate Modern in London as well as the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. 1951 marks the most productive and significant moment in Pollock‘s career as a draughtsman and the black enamel paintings articulate a new and more sophisticated approach to his famed dripped technique.
In the months prior to 1951, Pollock began to work on a series of drawings using black enamel dripped directly onto his chosen support. In a letter to his friend and mentor Alfonso Ossorio in January 1951, Pollock announced, ―I‘ve had a period of drawing on canvas in black — with some of my early images coming thru — think the non-objectivists will find them disturbing — and the kids who think it‘s simple to splash a Pollock out‖. Following his radical intervention into the artistic canon with his iconic ̳drip‘ paintings, this return to his earlier interest in automatic drawing provided the artist with a new approach to the drip. In works such as Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951), Pollock reduced its means to the bare minimum: colors are expelled in favor of black, and lines are used sparsely. Although not properly figurative, these paintings began to move away from the abstract, atmospheric feeling of the drip paintings, in which lines, colors and space fuse into wholeness. As Kirk Varnedoe suggests, Pollock disliked being thought of as a ̳known quantity‘ and with these new works he relished the opportunity to surprise people again by revisiting some long abandoned habits of the hand.
Following its exhibition debut at Martha Jackson Gallery in 1956 Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) was included in a number of early museum exhibitions for the artist, including the influential New Images of Man show curated by Peter Selz at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1959. The exhibition included works by artists such as Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti and Willem de Kooning. In his essay for the exhibition catalogue, Frank O‘Hara extolled the virtues of Pollock‘s work, particularly its originality and richness: ―One of the dramas of these paintings is the intolerable conflict between an artistic intent of unerring articulateness and a medium which is seeking to devour its meaning. In the traditional sense, there is no surface, as there is no color. There is simply the hand of the artist, in mid-air, awaiting the confirmation of form.