Kenneth Noland (1924-2010) Return 1970

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Lot 2*
Kenneth Noland

Sold for £ 231,500 (US$ 319,509) inc. premium
Kenneth Noland (1924-2010)

signed, titled and dated 1970 on the reverse
acrylic on canvas

102 by 244 cm.
40 3/16 by 96 1/16 in.


  • Provenance
    Kasmin Limited, London (no. 3749)
    Knoedler Gallery, London (no. 03359)
    The Earl of Pembroke, UK
    Stephen Haller Gallery, New York
    Nancy and John Poyner Collection, USA
    Sale: Christie's New York, Post-War & Contemporary Morning Session, 13 November 2013, Lot 146
    Private Collection, Turkey
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    London, Kasmin Limited, Kenneth Noland: New Paintings, 1970
    Birmingham, Birmingham Museum of Art, 1992 - 2013, work on loan to the museum

    London, Kasmin Limited and Waddington Galleries, Kenneth Noland: New Paintings, 1970, n.p., illustrated in colour

    Monumental and serene, the aqueous expanse of Kenneth Noland's 1970 painting Return belies the richness and subtle beauty of its surface, whose sharp minimalism is held in equilibrium by the artist's masterful command over his colours and technique. A museum-quality painting by one of the most significant and celebrated painters of the late Modernist period, it is in the present work that we see Noland's mature style at its best; a visual symphony of unrepeatable simplicity, and one of the most accomplished 'stripe' paintings that Noland began to produce at the end of the 1960s.

    Noland's practice stands at the inflexion point between Modern and Postmodern painting. One of the last true pioneers of colour field painting that was ascendant in the New York School in the 1950s, his paintings expanded the colour theories of Josef Albers and the systems of the Bauhaus School, assimilating the automatic and expressive relationship to picture-making that had been championed by Noland's friend and patron, Clement Greenberg; what culminated is a body of work whose legacy endures as the quintessence of American Minimalism.

    In tandem with his abundant ties to the New York avant-garde of the mid-century, Noland developed his style out of much more worldly soil, consistently nodding to the likes of Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian as his touchstones; European artists who engaged deeply with the spirituality of abstraction over the significance of the picture plane. Mondrian's words offer a lens through which to read Noland's Return: 'what captivated us at first does not hold us afterwards. If one has loved the surface of things for a long time, one will finally look for something more. This "more," however, is already present in the surface one wants to go beyond [...] it is as we regard the surface that the inward image takes shape in our souls. This is the image we are to represent' (Piet Mondrian cited in: Diane Waldman, 'Kenneth Noland' in Kenneth Noland: A Retrospective, New York 1977, p. 11).

    His father, a pilot, engineer and painter, nurtured Noland's interest in the arts from an early age, once recalling the impact of scrutinising Monet's paintings during a visit to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. when he was a teenager. From his formative years to those after his tours of duty, serving in the United States Air Force during World War II, Noland was immersed in a dialogue with contemporary painting. His studying at Black Mountain College under the pupillage of Josef Albers and Ilya Bolotowsky after the war, was followed in 1948 by travels to Paris on the G.I. Bill alongside Ellsworth Kelly, Sam Francis, Jules Olitski and Paul Jenkins, attending classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière taught by Ossip Zadkine.

    By the time of his moving to New York in 1963, after the death of his close friend and collaborator Morris Louis, Noland had absorbed, refined, and constructed a completely novel approach to painting. He was showing regularly with André Emmerich Gallery in New York, and his reputation as a master colourist at the forefront of painterly discourse was in no doubt. As he moved through the 1960s, developing his visual lexicon from 'targets,' to 'chevrons,' to shaped canvases, Noland's dexterity with acrylic – then named Liquitex, a new paint formula of water-soluble plastic – enabled him to modulate his application of colours across the raw cotton canvas with virtuosic skill. What emerged was the apex of the artists minimalist system, confining the narrow clusters of stripes to the top and bottom of the composition. Commenting on these most accomplished of his 'stripe' paintings, Diane Waldman noted that Noland 'appeared to be emptying the centers [sic] of his paintings [...] Colour here is intense but subdued, and Noland counters the effect of its unimpeded lateral sweep by investing the field with texture [...] these paintings represent Noland at his best' (Diane Waldman, Kenneth Noland: A Retrospective, New York 1977, p. 34).

    Return is one of the most sensitive and breath-taking of these rare 'stripes' to come to market. A painting that is teeming with almost imperceptible details and nuances over a limited palette of brilliantly organic colours, it is testament to the affective force of truly great painting that Noland spent his career devoted to. His influence as the grand master of painterly Minimalism endures in art, design, and architecture, and it is hard to view the works of Andreas Gursky, Rosemarie Trockel, or Steven Parrino, for example, without seeing the profound impact Noland had on the gravity of the surface, colour, and composition in contemporary picture-making.

    Residing in the collections of international public museums including the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the Tate Gallery, London, and the Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts, Japan, Noland's career stands as one of the foremost contributions to art history of the last hundred years. Not only is Return one of the most elegant paintings executed by the artist over the course of his life, but it is one of the finest examples of Noland's 'stripe' paintings from a unique and highly acclaimed passage in his oeuvre. Its sale represents an opportunity to acquire one of the finest, museum-quality examples by a hugely significant and collectible blue-chip artist.
Kenneth Noland (1924-2010) Return 1970
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