Another painting by mid-20th century abstract expressionist Lynne Drexler, who spent most of her later career on Monhegan Island last week, sold for a premium at auction last week .
A private buyer paid $1.5 million for a 5-by-7-foot oil on canvas titled “Herbert Garden,” according to Christie’s in New York.The total is slightly more than In March, nearly $1.2 million bought another Drexler painting, “Hundred Flowers,”.
Proceeds from both sales will go to the Rockland-based Farnsworth Art Museum, which has decided to sell works from its collection in a process known as “exit.” Farnsworth will use the money — which totals more than half of its annual budget — to purchase works from other artists, with the aim of diversifying the museum’s collection.
Interest in Drexler’s work has grown steadily since her death in 1999, but recent sales have been a notable uptick. Farnsworth director Christopher Brownawell said he knew the price would be high, but he didn’t expect it to cost more than $1 million each.
Because museums don’t often sell their collections, it can be controversial when it does.
Former Farnsworth director Chris Crosman was among those who criticized the decision.
“Museums like Farnsworth are built through gifts from private donors,” he said in March. “Once donors hear that donations are being sold, even for legitimate reasons, they may think twice before doing it again.”
However, Brownneville said the Farnsworth Museum’s collection still contains four Drexler paintings that were part of the original donation. In fact, the surge in interest in her work, at least among collectors, may lure visitors to museums that exhibit Drexler’s work.
Drexler grew up in Virginia and moved to New York in the mid-1950s to study and join the thriving art scene there. She was married to John Heltberg, also an abstract expressionist painter. Her work was often overlooked, typical of female artists of the time.
The couple traveled frequently, including to Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine, which had become an artist colony when they began their visit. They moved to Monhegan full-time in 1983, but Hultberg didn’t stay. Drexler, on the other hand, never left.
Following her death, Drexler’s estate gifted many of her paintings to Maine museums, including the Portland Museum of Art, the Bates College Museum of Art, the Monhegan Museum of Art, and the Farnsworth Museum.
Whatever works Farnsworth ends up getting from the proceeds, those works will always come with a credit showing that the sale of Drexler’s paintings made these acquisitions possible.