How Eagle-Eyed Market Players Helped Raise Prices for Once-Unknown Painter Lynne Drexler From $50 to Over $1 Million—and More

Abstract expressionist painter Lynne Drexler worked in obscurity for decades, much of it on a remote island in Maine. In the 10 years after her death in 1999, some regional auction houses and mid-range dealers discovered the artist and developed a five-figure market for her work.

Then, just this year, the auction market for Drexler’s work exploded. At a Christie’s mid-season sale in New York in March, Drexler’s painting hundred flowers (1962), estimated at $40,000 to $60,000, skyrocketed to $1.2 million. (It was reportedly acquired by Amy Cappellazzo’s newly formed advisory firm, Art Intelligence Global, on behalf of a client.) Another job, keller fair (ca. 1959), sold for $69,300 compared to a high estimate of $15,000.

Christie’s broke that record just two months later when herbert’s garden (1960) fetched $1.5 million (its top estimate was $100,000).

lynne drexler, herbert’s garden (1960). Photo: Christie’s.

“What’s going on there?” asked our columnist Katya Kazakina. Before 2020, none of Drexler’s paintings had sold at auction for even $10,000, he noted.

Artnet’s price database lists just 30 results of Drexler’s work and eight of them, or just over 25 percent, were sold in 2022 alone.

Larger canvases, especially from the years 1959 to 1962, are “pretty rare,” said Andrew Huber, head of sales for postwar and contemporary art at Bonhams in New York. What might have cost $50,000 in 2015, for example, would be very different today: “They weren’t being given away, but now that $50,000 could be $500,000.”

Drexler studied under Hans Hoffmann and later Robert Motherwell while living in New York. She often went to Carnegie Hall with his sketch pad and draws while listening to the symphony. “Then she would go back to the studio and do [musical] it works,” Huber said.

Last week, Bonhams sold a major Drexler work at auction in Los Angeles, grass symphony (1962). At an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000, it was the highest price set on a Drexler painting to date. It sold for just under $1 million.

With grass symphonyBonhams included a group of Drexler’s works in a recent sales exhibition of female artists that closed on September 9. Bonhams said the sale received “really strong sales and interest” but did not disclose private sale prices.

© Estate of Lynne Mapp Drexler.  Courtesy of Berry Campbell, New York.

Lynne Mapp Drexler at the Chelsea Hotel, 1971. Photo: John Hultberg, © Estate of Lynne Mapp Drexler. Courtesy of Berry Campbell, New York.

Some observers speculate that Drexler was overshadowed by her husband, the painter John Hulbert, who was supported and recognized by leading New York galleries during his lifetime but whose star has since faded.

Despite her talent and dedication, “recognition never came and no one picked her up, other than a group show here and there,” Huber said, eventually leaving for Maine.

In 1983, after Drexler moved full-time to Monhegan, a small rocky island off the coast of Maine with a year-round population of just 64 people, according to a 2020 census, he painted every day.

Along with her now prized abstract compositions, she was known around town for her tourist depictions of sailboats and lobster boats.

His house was full of rolled up, unstretched paintings that were only discovered after his death. It was then that people began to take a closer look at her skillful brushwork and vibrant palettes that have compared her to Joan Mitchell and Jackson Pollock.

Lynne Drexler, Untitled (1959).  Image courtesy of Bonhams.

lynne drexler, Entitled (1959). Image courtesy of Bonhams.

Now that the work has come to light, we can expect to see a lot more this fall.

Berry Campbell, which represents Drexler’s estate, and the Mnuchin Gallery have hosted a two-location show titled “Lynne Drexler: The First Decade,” marking the artist’s journey. first solo show in New York in 38 years. It has a careful selection of paintings and works on paper dating between 1959 and 1969, including works on loan from public and private collections, along with some unpublished works from the estate.

The show is organized into two chronological sections: Mnuchin Gallery will present paintings from 1959 to 1964 and Berry Campbell will present paintings from 1965 to 1969. Both are open from October 27 to December 17.

At the same time, Art Intelligence Global is including Drexler’s work in a Hong Kong exhibition titled “Shatter: Color Field and the Women of Abstract Expressionism.”

“The market is still early in what it can do,” said Saara Pritchard, a partner at Art Intelligence Global and a Drexler collector. “There is a critical mass of the art world that hasn’t even seen his work in person, apart from the handful of paintings that have been up for auction. And there really hasn’t been any serious scholarship since the Portland Art Museum exhibit. [in 2008] and there have yet to be actual showings of a large enough number for collectors to really understand who this artist is.”

So why do the works resonate so much with viewers and collectors today? “There’s something in the air where people love a discovery,” Pritchard said. “Especially when it comes to the history of female artists. She has such a powerful story that is so resonant and so familiar.”

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