Passionate collectors and innovative art patrons, the Pynoos’ approach to collecting grew out of their appreciation, curiosity, and respect for an artist’s creative process gained through their close friendships with many artists, especially David Hockney, Willem de Kooning, and Louise Nevelson. Assembled in partnership with these visionaries, The Collection of Morris and Rita Pynoos is highlighted by stunning selections of works by David Hockney and Willem de Kooning, whose respective signature approaches to figuration and abstraction equally satisfied the couple’s preference for bold and striking works. The Pynoos Collection not only speaks to their enduring friendships with Hockney, de Kooning and many other artists, but also showcases various key facets of these artist’s celebrated careers. The collection is further distinguished by Willem de Kooning’s large-scale 1986 masterwork Stowaway, which the couple acquired directly from the artist in 1987, and well as rare works by their friend and fellow Los Angeleno David Hockney, with each work coming to auction this spring after remaining in the couple’s esteemed collection for nearly a half century.
Additional works by other notable American artists, such as John McCracken, Louise Nevelson, Robert Rauschenberg, and more, will be offered across Sotheby’s spring Contemporary Art Day Sale and Online Sale.
Highlights from Living in Color: The Collection of Morris and Rita Pynoos will be exhibited in Los Angeles (25 – 28 March), Taipei (3 – 4 April), and Hong Kong (16 – 20 April), before returning to Sotheby’s New York for a pre-sale exhibition this May.
MORRIS AND RITA PYNOOS
Both native New Yorkers, Morris S. ‘Morry’ and Rita Pynoos moved as young children with their families to Los Angeles. The couple began dating just before Morry graduated with a degree in civil engineering from University of California, Berkeley in 1939, and married in 1941 just before World War II. During the war, Morry designed military aircraft for aviation companies Curtis Wright, Lockheed and Hughes Aircraft, while Rita later volunteered for the Red Cross at the Westwood VA, helping to shape a specialized mental health program for returning soldiers. After the war, his business interests segued to building and developing innovative modern residential and commercial real estate in Los Angeles. Prominent architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Paul Williams benefitted from Morry’s expertise in the use of earthquake resistant modern building methods in projects such as the Barnsdall Art Center, the redevelopment of Westwood, and the building of One Wilshire office tower – a 31 story modern office building that, in 1964, more than doubled the approved height of buildings in Los Angeles.
While architecture kindled Morry’s interest in contemporary art, Rita created large scale artistic weavings and lucite furniture, combining her passions of art and craft. Morry built both of their homes in Beverly Hills which soon became filled with art, at first, primarily with works by California-based artists. Rita’s passion for design extended to fashion, and they both supported American designers through their involvement with the Otis School of Art and Design. Rita commissioned Otis alumni and fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi to design the conservation lab coats for the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Her long-time support of Mizrahi culminated in Rita wearing his bright red skirt for her 2014 portrait by David Hockney which was featured in the artist’s 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life exhibition, presented at London’s Royal Academy and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2016.
For twelve years Rita served as Commissioner for the Smithsonian American Art Museum, helping to introduce David Hockney into the museum collection. The family’s extensive charitable activities also included support of other art institutions including the Otis School of Art and Design, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Oakland Museum, the Israel Museum, the University Art Museum of the University of California, Berkeley, and the Newport Harbor Museum. The couple provided support for many other causes and organizations outside the arts, including founding the Discovery Eye Foundation and raised millions on its behalf. As tennis enthusiasts, the Pynoos’ created a junior tennis program for local youths in the 1960s and recruited top tennis players as instructors including greats such as Arthur Ashe and Dennis Ralston. Rita was an ardent supporter of Women’s Rights and worked tirelessly for the Equal Rights Amendment. The scarves and sashes she created for the 1978 ERA march in Washington D.C., worn by such friends as Representative Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Dick Gregory, are now part of the National Archive.
THE COLLECTION OF MORRIS AND RITA PYNOOS
In the late 1970’s, the Pynoos’ met art dealer Nicholas Wilder, who had been a close friend and occasional model for David Hockney. Wilder soon became a valued advisor to the couple in the early stages of their collection’s development and introduced the couple to Hockney - a friendship that blossomed with frequent visits to his studio and Hockney’s 50th and 60th birthday celebrations at their home nearby. During this first decade of their friendship in the 1980’s, the Pynoos’ primarily acquired new work from the artist’s exhibitions in Los Angeles at LA Louver and André Emmerich in New York.
DAVID HOCKNEY, SELF-PORTRAIT ON THE TERRACE
The Hockney paintings in the Pynoos Collection mark some of the most important moments, people and projects in Hockney’s life. The group is led by his monumental oil on canvas Self-Portrait on the Terrace from 1984 (estimate $8/12 million). Acquired from André Emmerich Gallery that same year, Self-Portrait on the Terrace has remained in the esteemed collection of Morris and Rita Pynoos for over 35 years. Self-Portrait was included in Hockney’s critical 1988-89 retrospective, which travelled from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to the Metropolitan Museum in New York and to the Tate in London.
The present work features Hockney’s signature vibrant blue terrace most celebrated subject: the swimming pool. The inclusion of Hockney’s iconic swimming pool lends greater poignancy to Self-Portrait on the Terrace – for Hockney, swimming pools represented the fantasy of California he had dreamed of before he left the United Kingdom for the first time in the early 1960s. A pivotal work by an artist at the height of his powers, the present painting shows Hockney at his most compositionally and technically fearless yet showcases a vulnerable moment in Hockney’s oeuvreand personal life. Returning to the breakthrough double portrait format that the artist pioneered in the late 1960s and early 1970s, self-portraits on canvas by Hockney from this period are rare. The present work is one of just two major works of himself with Gregory Evans, Hockney’s close friend and frequent model during the time the painting was created.
After working with Hockney as a studio assistant and model, and after almost a decade as his partner, there was a marked shift in their relationship as Evans sought his independence and focused on his own career. Simultaneously, Hockney felt the need to prioritize his work over his personal life. The present work represents this turning point – a portrait reflecting the exceptionally difficult challenge of this separation. Hockney’s face is depicted twice: once downcast, turned away from Evans, and second, silhouetted in a wistful glance back towards his recumbent lover. This painting is rare among Hockney’s oeuvre, depicting such an intense moment of personal conflict while representing the ever-present dichotomy between his personal and studio life.
The Self-Portrait also incorporates the expansive ‘theatre set’ of his canyon home – particularly relevant given Hockney’s extensive work with opera productions over the preceding decade. Hockney’s 1981 design for Metropolitan Opera’s French “Triple Bill” Parade featured his vivid evocation of Maurice Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortileges. The vibrating blue and red garden scene at the end of the piece inspired Hockney to later paint his terrace surrounding his Hollywood Hills garden in similar fashion, using colored lighting to enhance the visual impact. The first Hockney painting purchased by the couple was his 1981 Ravel’s Garden with Night Glow (estimate $800,000-$1,200,000), and was conceived to dramatically transform under theatrical lighting, inspired also by Hockney’s stage design for this memorable Metropolitan Opera production.
DAVID HOCKNEY, IAN WATCHING TELEVISION
Painted in 1987 – the year of Hockney’s 50th birthday – Ian Watching Television embodies a pivotal moment in the artist’s oeuvre, when he reached his full maturity in his Cubist exploration of portraiture (estimate $1.8/2.5 million). Marking the artist’s only portrait from the late 1980s to appear at auction in the last ten years, Hockney also included Ian Watching Television in his 1988-89 retrospective. This work also demonstrates the influence of Hockney’s great artistic hero, Pablo Picasso. The 1980s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art reinvigorated his belief that Cubism marked the turning point in pictorial representation, and Hockney was a pioneer in advocating for Picasso’s later work as some of the most inventive and remarkable elements of his practice.
Ian Watching Television presents the opportunity to join Hockney in his joyful studies of physics and art, Cubism and modern photography. As well as reflecting Hockney’s enduring fascination with Picasso’s Cubist innovations, Ian Watching Television speaks directly to his life-long study of what the artist referred to as “methods of depiction”, and the profound influence of changing cultural visual mediums, with the television dominant at that time. Hockney evokes the light-emitting mesmerism of television, and the blankness of its mass media appeal. Through repositioning of the legs and sneakers, a body sinking into the ballooning red chair and the anchor of a hand-held burning cigarette, Hockney playfully suggests the experience of movement and time while watching television.
In the early to mid-1980’s Hockney had experimented with joining photos together to create a series of memorable composite images with multiple views. Capitalizing on this era of photographic work, including composite images of Falconer, this breakthrough painting brilliantly introduces a physically dynamic collage of poses into the art of cubist-style portraiture.
The present work depicts Ian Falconer, Hockney’s longtime collaborator and former partner who served as a frequent model and muse throughout this explorative period. Introduced by the artist’s close friend and groundbreaking curator Henry Geldzahler at a party, Hockney and Falconer immediately formed a strong bond. Drawn into Hockney’s creative orbit, Falconer moved to Los Angeles to be with him, and attended the Otis Art Institute while working in his studio. By August 1983, their romance dissipated, however the pair remained close. Hockney invested trust and confidence in this young artist, inviting Falconer to work with him on many of his stage design projects during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Falconer would go on to provide creative direction for opera and theatre productions around the world, illustrate numerous covers for The New Yorker, and become a renowned children’s author and illustrator, creating the highly successful Olivia children’s book series.
WILLEM DE KOONING, STOWAWAY
In their collection of works by Willem de Kooning, Morris and Rita selected superb examples in a diverse range of media and across three decades. Together, these works comprise a deft overview of de Kooning’s singular oeuvre. The selection is led by de Kooning’s Stowaway from 1986: a rare example from the artist’s final decade, the large-scale painting provides a personal look into his artistic journey while referencing his own past and identity as a stowaway voyaging to New York (estimate $6/8 million). After acquiring the work directly from the artist in 1987 and remaining in the Pynoos Collection ever since, Stowaway will appear at auction for the first time this May. Painted exactly six decades after de Kooning first set foot on American soil, Stowaway offers a rare and extraordinary glimpse into the pivotal beginning of the artist’s life in America. Born in Rotterdam in 1904, de Kooning was entranced by the prospect of America’s far-away shores. Eventually, this dream came to fruition: while studying art at the Academie van Beeldende Kunsten en Technische Wetenschappen in Rotterdam, de Kooning met Leo Cohan, a fellow artist who had already traveled to America as a waiter on merchant marine ships. In order to return to America, Cohan needed money to pay union dues, and agreed to smuggle de Kooning aboard his next departure in exchange for the required twenty-five dollars. De Kooning borrowed the money from his father, and Cohan and de Kooning set-off on the S.S. Shelley. On August 15, 1926, de Kooning disembarked in Newport News, Virginia, and subsequently traveled to New York – the city where he would, over the following decades, paint some of the most iconic masterworks of the Twentieth Century. Executed on a grand scale with the finesse of an artist at the height of his powers, Stowaway is a superb example of the unique painterly method de Kooning applied to his compositions of the 1980s. One of only a few 1980s abstract paintings which de Kooning titled, de Kooning faces his own mortality in Stowaway, reflecting on his career and painting a jubilant celebration of the early turning point in his life which brought him to New York - the epicenter of the art world and the genesis of Abstract Expressionism.
Additional works by Hockney highlight the collection, including Henry, the first Hockney drawing acquired by the Pynoos’ which depicts curator Henry Geldzahler (estimate $100/150,000). Additional works from the Pynoos Collection will be offered throughout the spring, including Hockney’s Blue Pot of Purple Flowers (estimate $1.2/1.8 million); Robert Rauschenberg’s Rush (from the Cloister Series) (estimate $250/350,000); John McCracken’s Plank (estimate $250/350,000); Louise Nevelson’s No. 5951 Moon Garden Wall I (estimate $150/200,000); John McLaughlin’s Untitled (No. 22-1960) (estimate $80/120,000), and more.