Mark Rothko's Yellow & Blue to headline contemporary art sale

Mark Rothko's Untitled (Yellow & Blue) is valued at $40m-60m ahead of Sotheby's Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York on May 12.

The painting dates to 1954, a time when Rothko was at the height of his creative powers.

Rothko Yellow Blue
Works by Mark Rothko achieves major sums at auction

Sotheby's comments: "Standing at over eight feet tall Untitled (Yellow and Blue) engulfs the viewer in the vastness of its yellow and blue planes. Like so many of Rothko's most renowned canvases the work stands as a towering thesis on the absolute limits of abstraction with the seamless flow of color and light emanating as if from within.

"For nearly thirty years, from the time that it was acquired directly following Rothko's death in 1970, Untitled (Yellow and Blue) held an esteemed place in the renowned collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon."

The record for a work by Mark Rothko stands at $86.9m, set for Orange, red, yellow (1961) at Christie's New York in 2012.

The sale will also include a major work by Vincent Van Gogh.

L'Allée des Alyscamps (1888), valued in excess of $40m, was produced during the summer that Van Gogh spent with Paul Gauguin.

David Norman of Sotheby's commented: "With the vast majority of his most important paintings in institutional collections, it is extremely rare to see a major canvas at auction - only two paintings from his final breakthrough years were offered in all of 2014.

"To offer a picture from Van Gogh's famous Arles-period is therefore a particular privilege".

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