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Status, price and estimation of the artist Josef ALBERS
Price of a painting: 4,000 – 1,500,000€.
Estimate of a drawing or watercolour by the artist for auction: 2,000 – 40,000€.
Selling price of a print or an engraving: 200 – 5,000€.
Average artist’s status for the sale of a sculpture: 500 – 30,000€.
A theorist as much as an artist
Josef Albers was born in Germany in 1888. His career path is rather atypical since all his artistic studies were pursued in parallel with his work as a teacher. This double curriculum will significantly influence his work and make him a theoretician as well as an artist.
His studies at the Bauhaus, where he studied under Johannes Itten, were decisive. He became a companion in 1922 and master in 1923. Until 1933, he taught material theory and work theory in parallel with his activities as head of the carpenter’s workshop and teacher of figurative drawing. Here again, theoretical and practical activities were juxtaposed, and sometimes intermingled. Thus, when he gives courses on materials, he works mainly on assemblages of glass and stained-glass windows, furniture and small objects combining several materials, often glass and metal.
As early as 1933 the Nazis order the Bauhaus school to close and Albers is forced to flee Germany with his wife Anni. Like many others, they took refuge in the United States, where he turned to abstract geometric painting, without abandoning his teaching activities, since he taught for fifteen years at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, a veritable nursery for avant-garde artists.
Another important element of his training are the trips he made to Mexico City where the art of the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica made a considerable impression on him. There he took hundreds of black and white photographs (a medium he had not really explored before), which he combined in collages. Finally, from 1950 and for nine years, he was head of the design department at the famous Yale University.
A forerunner of optical art
Albers is considered to be a precursor of optical art (a movement that developed in the United States in the 1970s) since from the 1940s he painted simple geometric shapes arranged according to the optical effects of colour. He explored his theories in a book that made him famous, The Interaction of Colours, published quite late in his career, in 1963, in which he tends to demonstrate the objectivisation of colours: it is impossible, from his point of view, to know a colour independently of its environment.
Thus, with one and the same matrix, he nests several squares of different colours to prove that the same colour is relative and can be seen differently depending on the context. Contrary to the scientific approach expected from his status as a professor, his research is empirical in nature. He also follows the teaching of his predecessors, the Neo-Impressionists and Signac in particular, without worrying about the scientific veracity of his elder’s theories.
Similarly, it would seem that some of Albers’ theories have turned out to be completely false. Nevertheless, he did make a monumental contribution to the understanding of colour and art in the post-war West. He was very well known during his lifetime and had a considerable influence on many generations of students and artists.
His best-known works are undoubtedly the Tribute to the Square cycle consisting of more than a thousand works, paintings, drawings, tapestries and engravings gathered together to study chromatic interactions.
Albers on the art market
Auctions of paintings in the series Homage to the Square have very often exceeded the highest estimates, such as Study for Homage to the Square, R-III E.B., estimated around 500 000 € and sold for over 1.22 million €. His lithographs are often found on the French art market, such as this print of Homage to the Square sold for just over 300 € at Rossini on 30 July 2019.
Italian collectors love works by Josef Albers, whose serigraphs sell very well, such as Sans titre, made in 1971 and sold on 12 December 2019 for more than 3,000 €. His photographs, which are rarer on the market, are also much sought-after, such as Paznauntal, 1930, sold for more than 18,000 € at Christie’s New York in April 2018.
Appraise and sell a painting by Josef Albers
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