Rothko’s 1960 Painting to Fetch Up to $50 Million at Sotheby’s

SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) is selling a colour-block painting by Mark Rothko at Sotheby’s evening sale in New York this May. Untitled (1960) carries a substantial estimate of $35 million to $50 million, and is sure to sell as it carries an auction guarantee.

A deep burgundy oil on canvas, the untitled painting is one of Rothko’s colour field works, and one of 19 he created in 1960 – a key period in the artists expressionist career.

The painting will be shown by Sotheby’s in London, Taipei, Hong Kong and New York, before heading to auction in May.

Acquired by SFMOMA in 1962 after a direct exchange with the artist for one of his earlier works Slow Swirl and the Edge of the Sea, the work is being deaccessioned by the museum in order to benefit its acquisitions fund. The proceeds of the Rothko sale will be used as a war chest to fund the purchase of a more diversified portfolio of art by women, and from artists of colour, that more accurately represent society.

Untitled, 1960, is being sold in order to broadly diversify SFMOMA’s collection, enhance its contemporary holdings, and address art historical gaps in order to continue to push boundaries and embrace fresh ideas,” Neal Benezra, the Helen and Charles Schwab Director of SFMOMA, said in a statement recently.

It follows a similar move by the Baltimore Museum of Modern Art last year, when the museum generated more than $7.5 million from the sale of seven works by white, male artists Andy Warhol, Franz Kline and other 20th-century masters at Sotheby’s. The proceeds were used to acquire new additions to the museum’s collection, including Jack Whitten’s seminal mosaic 9.11.01 (2006), Amy Sherald’s Planes, rockets, and the spaces in between (2018) and Isaac Julien’s Baltimore (2003).