American artist Alex Katz is best known for his bright, large-scale portraits, combining a sense of intimacy with the more detached aesthetics of Pop Art. If you are looking to buy or sell a Katz original print or edition, browse artwork available from our network and enquire to speak to the team. We offer free and confidential valuations and market advice on any Katz print, with zero obligation to sell.
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American artist Alex Katz is renowned for his large-scale portraits and figurative works, which combine the vivid, bright visuals of the developing Pop Art movement, with a real sense of intimacy. His work's bold colours, two-dimensional compositions, and scarce detail make them a precursor to Pop Art. And yet, throughout his career, Katz's work has touched a range of mediums and styles, from Impressionist painting to architectural sculpture.
Attending art school in the 1950s, Katz’s unique representational style developed when Abstract Expressionism was at its height. But Katz knew better than to follow the trends of the art world. Taught to paint from life at the Skowhegan for Painting and Sculpture, Katz created a visual language where tradition met innovation, where the stylised language of advertisement and television met portraiture and landscape. His lack of conformity to the trends of the art world and his vast array of works make him one of the most popular artists today.
Since his first solo show in 1954, Katz’s popularity has never faded. It is estimated that Katz participated in more than 500 group shows and had over 200 solo exhibitions. To this day, Katz's artworks feature in the collections of the MoMA in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery in Washington D.C. and the Tate Gallery in London.
Undoubtedly, his most recognisable and well-loved works are his portraits, particularly of his wife Ada, whom he painted in over 250 works. Katz’s predilection for portraiture betrays his love for the Old Masters and makes him a worthy companion and precursor of the likes of Andy Warhol and Julian Opie. Since the 1960s, Katz began painting on increasingly large surfaces. His most famous portrait of Ada and an iconic Alex Katz work, The Red Smile (1963), dominated by Ada’s profile against a uniform red background, is almost 10 feet wide, making it one of the largest portraits ever painted.
With Katz’s popular and institutional recognition, it is no surprise the artist also achieved considerable commercial success. In 2019, his Blue Umbrella I (1972) made the headlines as it reached over £3 million at auction, making it Katz’s most expensive work sold at auction. The painting, unsurprisingly a representation of Ada, testifies to how the artist has won the public’s affection through his deeply intimate yet revolutionary works.
Image © Phillips / Blue Umbrella I © Alex Katz 1972
The first of a set of 2 paintings of the same title, Blue Umbrella is one of Katz’s most important works. It depicts his wife Ada, a subject whom he has depicted over 200 times since their marriage, sheltered by the angled umbrella itself, which frames her despondent gaze. The rain, palette and close composition of the work add to its sense of intimacy, and one cannot help but question Ada’s elusivity and what could she possibly be thinking?
The most expensive Katz painting to date, this work sold for a hammer price of £2,800,000 at Phillips London on the 2nd October 2019. Timeless and mysterious, it captures the essence of Katz’s bold painterly aesthetic and ambiguous yet familiar portrait style.
Image © Sotheby's / The Red Band © Alex Katz 1978
Once again a portrait of Katz’s wife Ada, The Red Band encapsulates the almost impossible combination of ambiguity and familiarity that has come to define the artist’s work. Bold colours and limited compositional line work show us two profiles of the sitter, not quite reflections, but clearly the same woman, who remains characterised by her distanced, enigmatic expression despite the closely cropped composition here.
Recently sold for £2,439,355 at Sotheby’s New York on October 28th 2020, The Red Band is particularly emblematic of Katz’s unique mode of realism. The ostensible simplicity of his painting draws us in, only to leave us questioning the motives of both painter and sitter. As Donald Kuspit so aptly summarises: “ For all their everydayness, Katz’s figures have a sense of ambient strangeness to them, suggesting the mystery of their inner existence, perhaps even to themselves.”
Image © Sotheby's / East Interior © Alex Katz 1979
Alex Katz's alluring muse and wife Ada Katz makes another appearance of many in his 1979 painting East Interior. Ada stands against the window of the artistic couple's Maine home, a soft, golden glow gently setting her face alight. Katz gives a glimpse of what lies beyond the window, a moon of golden bronze rises high against the night sky. "She's a classic American beauty," Katz describes of his wife. "She's also a European beauty."
Katz executed East Interior alongside its sister West Interior, but East Interior certainly outperforms the latter. Fetching £2million at the Contemporary Evening Auction on 19 May 2022 in Sotheby's, New York, East Interior exceeded their presale estimates of £1.2-1.6million.
Image © Sotheby's / Rackstraw And Pamela © Alex Katz 1976