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Skinner expert appraisers and auctioneers discuss antiques, fine art, and collectibles. Keep up on market trends and get collecting tips from antiques experts. Discover the stories behind the art and antiques Skinner offers at auction.

A Life and Art Full of Contradictions

Can you name a renowned woman artist primarily associated with Taos, New Mexico?

Well, yes, there’s Georgia O’Keeffe. But there is also Agnes Martin.

The Canadian-born painter (1912-2004) had a life and career that were full of fascinating contradictions. She began painting traditional narrative themes, but made her name with art that has most often been classified as Minimalist. (She thought of herself as an Abstract Expressionist.) She lived off the grid in Taos, New Mexico – what was then a remote, unfashionable outpost – but became influential in the art world and a wealthy woman late in life. She was intensely private, even reclusive, yet she was active in the Taos art scene and gave generously (and secretly) to several local causes, especially those that benefited disadvantaged youth and victims of violence.

Perhaps most telling, however, was that Martin created a serene body of work that reflected a Zen philosophy despite – or maybe because of – the difficult circumstances she contended with in her long life. She was a lesbian at a time when homosexual acts were considered immoral and even criminal. She was schizophrenic and underwent electroshock treatments. Until her paintings received attention and acceptance late in her life, she experienced rejection and poverty.

Agnes Martin (Canadian/American, 1912-2004), Blue Flower, 1962.
Sold for $1,539,000

Yet she produced a distinctive body of work that radiates spirituality. The facts of her life might indicate a preoccupation with suffering, anxiety and isolation, but that is far from the truth apparent in her paintings and prints. She often gave them such joyful titles as “Happy Holiday,” “Faraway Love,”  “I Love the Whole World” and “Gratitude.”

Earlier in her career, Martin had experimented with self-portraits, watercolor landscapes, and biomorphic forms. She soon developed the geometric abstract style that became her signature and later destroyed as much of her early work as she could acquire.

After participating in the vibrant mid-century New York art scene for 10 years, Martin saw her home and studio in lower Manhattan slated for demolition in 1967. She felt compelled to return to Taos, where she had lived and taught in the 1950s after graduating from Teachers College, Columbia University. Building her own small adobe dwellings, she abandoned painting for several years to write and meditate in isolation.

By the late 1950s Martin settled on the restrained, highly disciplined themes, format and color palette that she refined for the rest of her long career.

The grid, later somewhat modified into related linear patterns such as stripes and bands, became the defining characteristic of her distinctive work. Martin’s geometries are not exercises in mechanical perfection, however. Close observation reveals tiny irregularities and relaxations, clear evidence of the artist’s hand. 

Her paintings were also recognizable by their unusual format – squares measuring 6 feet each side. (When she could no longer manage such large canvases she downsized a little – to 5 feet.) Her works on paper, although much smaller in scale, were also square.

Equally characteristic was her restricted, subtle palette, often applied in light washes of pastel shades. Martin also used multiple media to create a mysterious shifting play of light and form, incorporating graphite pencil, gesso, small nails and gold leaf into her work.

Today her work is gaining even wider recognition, as the market for Modern and contemporary art is ever eclipsing works from before World War II. A Martin retrospective in 2015 at London’s Tate Modern helped to introduce her to a new generation of art lovers,  and a catalogue raisonné is underway.

What those art lovers are discovering is that her spare, restrained style served a vision of beauty, mystery and an optimistic response to life. Her grids do not exclude or confine. In her own words, “When I cover the square surfaces with rectangles, it lightens the weight of the square, destroys its power.”

Martin once said in an interview, “I paint with my back to the world.” That thought-provoking comment, both playful and profound, is intimately connected to the Zen philosophy that was Martin’s lifelong interest. It also reveals a final contradiction. Despite her acclaim, Martin did not create her art in order to gain public approval.

And her work isn’t concerned with accurately representing what the eye sees. Instead, Martin’s works are visual meditations on what is felt and known. Her subtle depictions of a state of quiet introspection invite the viewer into a silence that is not emptiness but full of possibilities.


This piece was written by Skinner New York Regional Director, Katie Banser-Whittle, for WAG Magazine in 2020.

Portland, ME Consignment Day | June 23

Meet with Skinner Specialists in Portland, ME


Skinner is inviting consignments for upcoming 2021 auctions. Meet with Skinner specialists in Portland, ME on June 23 for a complimentary auction evaluation and consignment of your Fine JewelryFine Art, Fine Silver and Fine Watches. Appointments required. Please contact us to request an appointment and a member of our team will contact you directly for an appointment time.… Read More

Documents Led the Way in Skinner’s Historic Manuscripts & Rare Books Auction

A trove of documents collected in the late 1930s from legendary dealers Goodspeed’s in Boston, Massachusetts, and John Heise of Syracuse, New York, included a wide variety of interesting early documents spanning four centuries. 

A rare and well-preserved George Washington-signed Revolutionary War printed discharge form for a soldier in the 2nd New York Regiment sold for $18,750. A 1787 sworn oath testifying to a debt owed by a Philadelphia sailmaker signed by Benjamin Franklin brought $10,000.… Read More

Under the Tent Consignment Events | Jewelry & Fine Art

Under the Tent Consignment Events

Jewelry & Fine Art

Have you been wondering when the best time would be to sell jewelry and fine art? It’s now. Following our highly successful spring auctions, we are currently accepting consignments for upcoming 2021 sales.

Join us to have your items evaluated for our upcoming auctions! Skinner specialists will be hosting an outdoor Under the Tent Consignment Day at our Marlborough Gallery.… Read More

Fine Art from the Venerable Ritz-Carlton Hotel Boston Sold at Skinner in May Auction

A Boston landmark for nearly a century, The Ritz-Carlton’s location in the heart of the fashionable Back Bay and adjacent to the Boston Public Garden helped make it the destination for visitors and Boston’s elite seeking luxury, privacy, and discretion. As the leading Boston auction house, Skinner was pleased to offer works from the historic collection at auction in May. 

An atmosphere of gentility and elegance was created, in part, through years of art purchases guided by Boston area art professionals and acquired from local, national, and international sources.… Read More

Living Artfully – Creating Timeless Interiors

Photo Credit: Michelle Williams

Join us for a discussion with interior designer Phillip Thomas


Skinner welcomed Phillip Thomas, Founder and Principal of Phillip Thomas Inc., a New York-based design firm, for a behind-the-scenes look into the warehouse to view furniture, objects, and works of art. Phillip created “get the look” interior vignettes with pieces from our June 20th Century Design auction.… Read More

Designing @Auction: “Get the Look” with Phillip Thomas + Skinner

Skinner welcomed Phillip Thomas, Founder and Principal of Phillip Thomas Inc., a New York-based design firm, for a behind-the-scenes look into the warehouse to view furniture, objects, and works of art. Phillip created “get the look” interior vignettes with pieces from our June 20th Century Design auction.

“Dining rooms are so often under-utilized spaces for an individual to tell their story and share their passions. I enjoy incorporating beautiful collections into my clients’ dining rooms.”

LOT PICKS: 1111, 1319, 1139, 1484, 1477, 1311, 1476, 1116

“The at-home bar has been making a comeback over the last few years in my designs.Read More

Skinner May Jewelry Auctions Exceed $2.8 Million: Diamonds and Colored Stones Led the Way

MARLBOROUGH, MA – MAY 24, 2021 – Skinner presented a two-session Jewelry auction, drawing highly competitive bidding from enthusiastic participants worldwide and generating high prices across multiple categories. “The jewelry market continues its upward ascent,” says department director Kaitlin Shinnick, “we’re seeing higher prices across all categories and thrilled by the number of lots beating pre-sale estimate.”

Diamonds and Colored Stones

Jewels belonging to Irene Langhorne Gibson (1873-1956), the original “Gibson Girl” and wife of famed American illustrator Charles Dana Gibson garnered significant interest. 

Irene Langhorne was the daughter of railroad industrialist Chiswell Langhorne, and sister to Nancy Viscountess Astor, an American-born British politician and the first woman seated as a Member of Parliament.… Read More

Designers Curate the Gentleman’s Auction

Interior designers Phillip Thomas, Prudence Bailey, Christina Roughan have helped curate a portion of the May 25 – June 3 Gentleman’s Auction. Read on to see what they picked.

Phillip Thomas’ Picks

Five Pottery Planters and Flowerpots (Lot 1038)

There is something so beautiful about even the simplest of pottery. The shapes and the colors of the glazes are always so captivating to me. I could see these pieces arranged on a table with beautiful specimen plants of equal interest.… Read More

May Regional Consignment Days | Maine & Westchester

We invite you to join us online for regional consignment days in Maine and Westchester, New York. Skinner specialists look forward to evaluating items via email, and beginning the conversation about the advantages of selling at auction.

Gather information and images for up to three items of fine & decorative arts, furniture, jewelry, silver, watches & coins and much more. Send an email with the information and images at maine@skinnerinc.com, newyork@skinnerinc.com or at the buttons below.… Read More

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