Top Selling Alex Katz Paintings at Auctions

Collectors' Tip, Top Lists

August 8, 2019

Alex Katz paintings are widely recognized for their highly stylized aesthetics. As one of the most renowned American artists of his generation, Katz has developed a unique visual language, as a reaction to the Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s. Being highly influenced by cinema, television and billboard advertising, Katz began painting large-scale paintings in the beginning of the 1960s. His paintings are equally divided into the genres of portraiture and landscape. When it comes to portraiture, Katz is known for depicting his muse and wife, Ada Katz, who has been the subject of over 250 portraits throughout his career.

Alex Katz is also often described as precursors to Pop Art. His imagery is not psychologically complex, and the artist is not interested in narrative. As Katz himself stated once: "(The) one thing I don’t want to do is things already done. As for particular subject matter, I don’t like narratives, basically." In his own words, Katz focuses on surface. Finally, speaking about his style, Katz bridges the gap between abstraction and figuration.

There are many experts labeling Katz’s art as New Realism, or American Realism, and identifying the influence by American Scene artists in his practice. But, the fact is that Alex Katz has always avoided affiliation with any group or movement. This is how Katz explains his approach:

When you're working with the tradition of art, you're usually painting like the paintings you've seen; your vision is other people's vision. You see things through the culture in which you live, and the culture in which you live is always past tense. Some people are always seeing things in another time period. To see things in the present time period, you have to break through, and that's what I've been trying to do.

Editors’ Tip: Alex Katz (Contemporary Artists (Phaidon))

Alex Katz is based in New York, and he was under heavy influence by American Scene artists, which is visible in many of exhibitions the artist has had. Katz is one of the most renowned American contemporary artists, and certainly, one of the most important artists belonging to the figurative art movement. He is best-known is for his distinct portraits of sophisticated, irresistible women, masterfully painted using precise, broad areas of color. He has been exhibited worldwide, at the most recognized museums and galleries in the world. Katz's work is in the collections of over 100 public institutions worldwide. Throughout his career, Katz has been the recipient of numerous awards, including The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship for Painting in 1972, and in 1987, and many more.

Scroll down and see the top selling Alex Katz Paintings at auctions!

Grey Day

Alex Katz is considered a painter whose oeuvre explores representation on various levels. His work explored the similarities and differences between the real and abstract, blurring - or even erasing - the line in between. As the artist told once:

Everything in paint that’s representational is false because it’s not representational, it’s paint. We speak different languages and have different syntax. The way I paint, realistic is out of abstract painting as opposed to abstract style. So I use a line, a form and a color. So my contention is that my paintings are as realistic as Rembrandt’s...

This piece was sold for $538,000 at Sotheby’s New York in 2016.

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Red Cap, 2003

Katz has always sought to capture the essence of his sitters, not necessarily as they appear, but as they seem to him at the moment of painting them. The present work depicts Kati Lovaas, a close friend of Katz's friend David Teiger. Lovaas recalled:

Originally Alex painted me as a whole, but after getting to know me he felt strongly about doing paintings reflecting the two sides of my personality, the bitch lawyer side and the warm fuzzy side. David chose the latter

In this portrait, her features are stripped to the bare essentials, appearing as cool but mysterious woman. The subtle play of light and shadow and the lack of depth in the composition creates a surreal effect.

The work was sold at Sotheby's London on October 5th, 2018 during The History of Now: The Collection of David Teiger | Sold to Benefit Teiger Foundation for the Support of Contemporary Art for $449,398.

More info about the work here.

The Red Scarf (Ada In Polo Coat)

The Red Scarf (Ada In Polo Coat) was executed in 1976. This painting also portraits the artist’s muse and wife, Ada Katz. Those were the years when Katz was using people around him as models. These portraits, such as The Red Scarf resulted in a fascinating social history of his aging circle of artists, poets, writers, and critics. The Red Scarf was sold for $569,000 at Sotheby’s New York in 2014.

For more information about the artwork, please click here.


Casually posed, a man and a woman sit on a leather couch in a softly lit interior. The man in his sweater and tropical shirt stares directly out at the viewer with an assertive expression. Next to him, a woman with a lavender sweater and hand resting her tilted head, staring up and out past the viewer. Both have relaxed into comfortable positions as they listen, watch and wait. This beautiful painting was sold for $605,000 at Christie’s New York in 2016.

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Red Tulips

Alex Katz is known for his portraitures and landscapes. However, from the 1960s on, he has been painting flowers, often painted during summer residencies in Maine. The cropped, flattened composition displays a debt to Japanese art. Red Tulips was sold for $690,600 at Sotheby’s New York in 2007.

For more information about the artwork, please click here.

Blue Umbrella #2

This painting is one of the most famous artworks ever made by Alex Katz, and it also depicts Ada Katz. The paintings by Katz are popular among collectors. Blue Umbrella #2 is the most expensive one, and it was sold for $666,000 at Christie’s New York in 2011.

For more information about the artwork, please click here.

Ada With White Dress, 1958

The same year they married, Katz painted his wife Ada serene in a white dress, against a lush green ground. He depicted her barefoot, as is she is standing in the long grass. The work demonstrates signs of Katz’s burgeoning mature style, which combines flat color and clean lines filtered through the chromatic sheen of Pop Art.

The work was sold on June 26th, 2019 at Christie's London during their Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Auction for $600,624.

More info about the work here.

The Light I, 1975

The work Light I from 1975 is a perfect example of the artist's flat, elegant, and realistic style which made him a pioneer in figure painting but an unsung hero to the general public. He once said:

I wanted to use contemporary gestures, contemporary clothes and contemporary people. It was socially all the people I was seeing at the time more or less, I just invited them up and painted them.

The work was sold on May 17th, 2018 at Sotheby's New York during their Contemporary Art Day Auction for $780,000.

More info about the work here.

Dark Glasses, 1989

This is yet another portrait of Katz's wife Ada. Over the course of their 60-year marriage, Ada has been his timeless muse, appearing in more than 250 portraits in simple, idealized styles. The artist once said:

Ada for me is like Dora Maar to Picasso. But Ada has better shoulders, and could easily be Miss America.

When asked whether these portraits of Ada actually look like her, Katz responded, “Nothing does.”

The work was sold on May 17th, 2019 at Sotheby's New York during their Contemporary Art Day Auction for $1,220,000.

More info about the work here.

Ada And Louise, 1987

Painted in 1987, Alex Katz’s Ada and Louise captures the buoyant optimism of a perfect spring day, with a dazzling blue sky punctuated by a few thin clouds. It depicts Katz's wife, Ada, and her mother, Louise, sitting on the bench and facing each other. Their bench is facing the Lincolnville Beach, just down the road from the Katz’s house. The work signals the artist's shift from pure portraiture towards landscape painting. In this particular work, equal emphasis is placed on both the women and the land.

The work was sold on March 7th, 2019 at Christie's London during their Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Auction for $1,017,512.

More information about the work here.

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