A Look Into Jackson Pollock’s Auction History

Shreeya Maskey
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“New needs need new techniques. And the modern artists have found new ways and new means of making their statements… the modern painter cannot express his age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or any other past culture,” Jackson Pollock once said

Pollock’s attempt to depart from traditional art methods and mannerisms would eventually redefine Expressionism. This pursuit inspired him to create some of the most notable works of the 20th century. Best known for his drip technique, Pollock spent several years perfecting this signature style. He painted these works by pouring and dripping paint on a canvas while manipulating its flow.

Jackson Pollock. Image from the Museum of Modern Art.
Jackson Pollock. Image from the Museum of Modern Art.

For a time, Jackson Pollock worked as a janitor at the City and Country School in New York. While there, the painter met a teacher interested in Jungian analysis. This form of talk therapy explores the unconscious human mind and its awareness. After his introduction to Jungian analysis, Pollock moved away from the influence of Mexican muralists. He was fascinated by Surrealist ideas of the unconscious, and his paintings gradually embraced abstraction.

Pollock’s interest in Abstract Expressionism drew attention in 1947 with paintings like Alchemy. With the help of his drip technique, trowels, sticks, and paint mixed with crushed glass or sand, his works started to turn heads in the art world.

Jackson Pollock, Number 19, 1948. Image from Christie's.
Jackson Pollock, Number 19, 1948. Image from Christie’s.

Jackson Pollock paintings regularly command record-breaking prices. At Sotheby’s Post-War and Contemporary Art sale in 2012, Pollock’s Number 4 (1951) set his worldwide auction record at USD 40.4 million. Number 19 (1948) beat that figure a year later after it achieved $58.4 million. This particular piece, sold by Christie’s New York, surpassed its high presale estimate by over $20 million.

Jackson Pollock, Red Composition, 1946. Image from Christie's.
Jackson Pollock, Red Composition, 1946. Image from Christie’s.

In 2020, the Everson Museum of Art in New York decided to deaccession Jackson Pollock’s Red Composition. The 1946 painting is among the earliest works illustrating Pollock’s drip technique. It sold for $13 million at Christie’s 20th-Century Evening Sale in October. That price is comparatively low for a major painting by Pollock. According to Artnet, at least eight Pollock works have sold for more than $20 million at auction. 

The market for Pollock’s work extends beyond the auction world. Artsy points out that Jackson Pollock paintings are regularly sold in private deals. David Geffen, an American businessman and philanthropist, reportedly sold a drip painting for about $140 million in 2006. At the time, this price was the highest amount ever paid for a painting, at auction or in a private sale.

Drip paintings have also seen an increase in popularity among international collectors. David Cook, the Deputy Director of Painting at Sotheby’s Australia, estimates that prices for Pollock’s paintings will continue to rise due to their limited availability and high demand. However, as museums move to deaccession certain works, more Pollock paintings may become available to private collectors. 

Looking for more artist histories? Auction Daily recently explored the work of Camille Claudel

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