Mint Museum Acquires Major American Surrealist Work

Kay Sage’s Ring of Iron, Ring of Wool is a key acquisition of the Mint’s ongoing Collections Initiative

The Mint Museum was the high bidder at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale Thursday for American Surrealist Kay Sage’s 1947 oil on canvas Ring of Iron, Ring of Wool.

The purchase was the third made possible by a Charlotte philanthropist who made a significant cash gift in 2013 as part of the museum’s ongoing Collections Initiative ; the funds were devoted specifically to the acquisition of 20th century painting. Earlier that year, the same philanthropist’s foundation provided funds for the Mint to acquire the painting Trumpet Flowers by the American artist Stanton Macdonald-Wright (1890-1973). The painting is on view at Mint Museum Uptown. This year the museum purchased Alson Skinner Clark’s important canvas, In the Lock, Miraflores, one of the stars of its recent exhibition focusing on the centennial of the Panama Canal . In the Lock, Miraflores is currently on loan to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco for an exhibition celebrating the centennial of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and will be back on view at the Mint in spring 2016.

Sage’s powerful work was last on view at the Mint for its groundbreaking 2012 exhibition Double Solitaire: The Surreal Worlds of Kay Sage and Yves Tanguy , co-curated by the Mint’s Senior Curator of American, Modern, and Contemporary Art Dr. Jonathan Stuhlman, who is one of the leading experts in the world on Sage’s art. That exhibition was the first major museum exhibition devoted to Sage since the 1970s.

The vast majority of Sage’s work was donated to museums upon her death; therefore, only the handful that sold during her lifetime now appear on the market. No others in private hands from this critical period of Sage’s career feature the same combination of scale, quality, and personal resonance found in Ring of Iron, Ring of Wool. “This is very likely the best painting by Sage that will ever appear on the market, particularly at this scale,” said Stuhlman.

Along with Dorothea Tanning, Joseph Cornell, and photographer Man Ray, Sage (1898-1963) was one of the leading American Surrealists, and perhaps the American painter most closely allied with the original group of French Surrealists given her marriage to Frenchman Yves Tanguy. Ring of Iron, Ring of Wool is a prime example of Sage’s signature style, which incorporates her interest in haunting, desolate landscapes, beautifully-rendered yet enigmatic forms, and sophisticated variations in tone and hue. It is also an early work in which she is has begun to explore ways to incorporate her unique “scaffolding” – a compositional element that scholars have argued set her work apart from that of her peers. The Mint’s Stuhlman was the first scholar to decode the work’s title, which he believes refers to the traditional anniversary gifts for a couple’s sixth and seventh anniversaries – 1947 was the seventh anniversary of the couple’s wedding and the sixth of their move from New York to Woodbury, Connecticut.

Ring of Iron, Ring of Wool is the second major American Surrealist painting to enter the museum’s collection, following the gift of Gordon Onslow Ford’s The Love Knot in 2013, which represents a very different take on Surrealism and has a very different aesthetic. “It is well in line with the museum’s desire to add significant works of art from the modern era to its collection, as well as its efforts to bolster its holdings of work by women artists,” said Dr. Kathleen V. Jameson, President & CEO of the Mint.

Staff reporter Kelly Crow of The Wall Street Journal noted the significance of the Mint’s purchase minutes after it occurred, tweeting out : “Kay Sage, the long-overlooked surrealist because she’s a she, gets a nice boost when her ‘Ring of Iron, Ring of Wool’ sells for $1 million, 10 times high estimate.”

Significant acquisitions to continue

“Not only will this gift enhance the experience of visiting the Mint for both Charlotte residents and our global visitors, but it will elevate the Mint’s role in cultural and economic development for the region,” said Jameson.

The prior acquisition, Trumpet Flowers, an oil on canvas created in 1919, is a rare example of Synchromism, a movement developed by Macdonald-Wright and his colleague Morgan Russell in Paris in 1913 that attempted to synthesize art and music through the use of color. It was acquired by the museum at Sotheby’s 2013 spring auction of American Art. The canvas by Clark had been on long-term loan to the museum from a private collector since the opening of Mint Museum Uptown in 2010. It is the first example of Clark’s paintings of the Canal to enter a museum collection.

In 2013, the museum announced the launch of its three-year Collections Initiative with the help of Bank of America, which donated Untitled (Seafirst) 1979 (38 x 19 feet) by California artist Sam Francis to the museum.

Other major gifts of works of art credited to the Initiative include the large abstract canvas Scotland (1960) by American artist Grace Hartigan, currently on view in the same gallery as Trumpet Flowers; and the video installation Orbit 12 by Jennifer Steinkamp, on view in the Level 4 Media Gallery, both given by the Mint Museum Auxiliary. Other announced gifts include Hoss Haley’s White Ripple, funded by the  Windgate Foundation, and Jens Praet’s Shredded Side Table, donated by the artist.

Above image:

Kay Sage (1898-1963)
Ring of Iron, Ring of Wool
signed and dated ‘Kay Sage ’47’ (lower right); signed and dated again, titled and inscribed ‘SAGE 1947 RING OF IRON RING OF WOOL WOODBURY CONN.’ (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
54 x 37 7/8 in. (137 x 96.2 cm.)
Painted in 1947