A Jasper Johns Summer

Jasper Johns, Summer, 1985, watercolor on paper, 11.75 x 9.125 in., tiny, not selling [?!] for $200-300,000 at Sotheby’s today from Emily Fisher Landau’s collection

As soon as I saw it in the Sotheby’s sale of Emily Fisher Landau’s collection, I added this quick, little watercolor version of Summer to my Little Johns list, iconic but intimate artworks Jasper Johns gave as gifts.

But though Landau was a friend and longtime supporter of Johns, she was not the gift’s original recipient. Johns gave the watercolor to Bill Katz, in October 1985, and Landau bought it from Katz in 1998.

Katz’s relationship with Johns goes back even farther than Landau’s, and over the years, he has designed multiple spaces—studios, homes, galleries, and exhibitions—for both of them. Which, more later, perhaps.

What I like about this watercolor is the date. Jasper Johns exhibited his four The Seasons paintings in early 1987, but they’d been seen by a few people, and talked about by many, and so their debut was hotly anticipated. Johns reportedly spent 18-months on a whole body of The Seasons work, including drawings and prints, alongside the large-scale paintings. [Landau’s copy of the ULAE prints sold this morning near the low estimate for this unique watercolor.]

The Seasons, 1987, etchings & aquatint, ed. 4/75, pretty early, sold at Sotheby’s today for $165,100

This watercolor looks less like a study, and more like a documentation, with the key elements and composition mostly worked out, and sketched out very quickly. Yet a date of October 1985 means this watercolor was there right near the start of it all. And so was Katz.

I mean, I know why I didn’t buy it, but the rest of y’all, what’s going on? Admittedly, I also misremembered the estimate as $150-200k, when it was $200-300k. But I thought the EFL collection was under a global guarantee, which would give Sotheby’s the flexibility—and the incentive—to meet a bidder where they were. If they were there, I guess. This was somehow the only lot from EFL’s collection not to sell. Wild.