LOT 012

1924 - 2010

Misty Mount
acrylic on canvas
on verso signed, titled, dated 1974 and inscribed "Top" (with arrow)
28 5/8 x 7 in, 72.7 x 17.8 cm

Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000 CAD

Sold for: $67,250

Preview at:

A gift from the Artist, 1974
Private Collection, France

Misty Mount is a subtle and quietly compelling Colour Field painting by Kenneth Noland, one of the American artists who shaped this important movement as it evolved from Abstract Expressionism in the 1960s and 1970s. The boundless visual interest generated by Noland here appears through consciously restricted parameters. The surface is painted all over in a non-gestural way; colour is significant and often heightened; there is a concentration on shape, both on the surface and in the perimeter itself; the format is typically large. The interactions of these factors establish a pleasurably complex and refined visual encounter.

Abstract paintings are good at posing questions to us as viewers. We are not encouraged to look through them to something depicted and can instead stay focused. In Misty Mount, are we seeing a self-contained field or a detail of elements that have been selected for our appreciation? The answer could be “both.” Noland provided a glimpse, a detail of a larger pattern, in his so-called plaids series, begun in 1971. Horizontal formats are more common in his oeuvre, and it was again only in the early 1970s that he tried the other, very human orientation that we see here, one that encourages a “face to face” relationship.

While he is known for experimenting with the shape and placement of his canvases, his handwritten directions on the back about hanging this work (“Top,” with a vertical arrow underneath) make it clear that this is a vertical painting. What we might see in this encounter is simply endless. The hues, textures, weight and reflectivity of the colour bands are intriguingly various. They do not settle into patterns but instead keep us looking, for example, at the subtle difference in saturation and hue between the top two bands – which are closer to the colour of the ground – and the weightier forms towards the bottom. This distribution of pigment does not overtly suggest bottom and top, yet we know, perhaps subconsciously, that the painting would look very different if inverted.

Appropriate as it is to dwell on the details of Misty Mount, it is interesting to know that Noland has several important connections to Canada. He showed with the David Mirvish Gallery, Toronto, at the time this work was painted, in an exhibition titled Recent Paintings by Kenneth Noland in June 1974. Notably, Noland offered a choice of several paintings from this series to our consignor - from which they chose Misty Mount - in appreciation for their assistance with the 1974 exhibition. Also, Noland had in 1963 led the Emma Lake Artists’ Workshops, the forum in Saskatchewan that brought together prominent American and Canadian abstract artists and significantly influenced art in Canada for decades after its start in the mid-1950s. Significantly too, Noland and American Colour Field painting remain part of ongoing discussions about one of Canada’s best-known artists internationally, Jack Bush, who knew and exhibited alongside Noland and other prominent American Colour Field painters from the 1960s until his death in 1977. Bush and Noland were shown together by American art critic and curator Clement Greenberg in his famous show Post-Painterly Abstraction, a 1964 touring exhibition organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and seen in Minneapolis and Toronto.

We thank Mark A. Cheetham for contributing the above essay. Cheetham’s two books on abstract art offer new understandings of this form over its 100-plus-year history: The Rhetoric of Purity: Essentialist Theory and the Advent of Abstract Painting (1991) and Abstract Art Against Autonomy: Infection, Resistance, and Cure since the 60s (2006). He is a professor of art history at the University of Toronto and a freelance curator and art writer.

This work, along with Jack Bush's Plume Totem and Pink Blossoms (lots 10 and 11 in this sale), is making its auction debut and returning to Canada from a Canadian collector living abroad in the South of France.

Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

Although great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information posted, errors and omissions may occur. All bids are subject to our Terms and Conditions of Business. Bidders must ensure they have satisfied themselves with the condition of the Lot prior to bidding. Condition reports are available upon request.