Estimated at £15,000-20,000 in a sale of 20th century Art & Design on December 4, the vast 7ft x 7ft 2in (2.23 x 2.2m) oil on unstretchered canvas drew multiple bids before it was knocked down to a phone bidder at £38,000.
Simply titled Kanvas, Hartigan (who occasionally showed under the pseudonym ‘George’) created the painting in 1958 and dedicated it to American playwright William Inge (1913-73), who owned it until it passed into a private London collection.
It was after a move to New York in 1945 that the young New Jersey-born artist first became heavily involved with and was influenced by the Abstract Expressionist movement, by then in full swing. Her large-scale gestural paintings are reminiscent of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, but distinct from both.
Hartigan’s paintings sold well, unlike most women’s art at the time, especially after they were included in 12 Americans at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1956, and in The New American Painting, which was co-organised by MoMA and the United States Information Agency and travelled across Europe from 1958-59.
Paving the way for pop art
Interest in her Abstract Expressionist work tailed off in the 1970s, as she began incorporating figurative imagery into her work. This led to her being labelled a forebear of pop art.
Recognised today as one of Abstract Expressionism’s leading female talents, her star is rising on the secondary market. An auction record was set in May this year for Month and Moons (1950), a favourite that hung above Hartigan’s desk for many years. It sold at Sotheby’s New York for a premium-inclusive $435,000 (around £324,630) – double the previous record set two years ago.