“Herbert’s Garden,” a 1960 painting by Lynne Drexler, who summered on Monhegan Island for two decades before moving there full time for the final 16 years of her life. The painting sold at auction last week for $1.5 million. Christie’s Images Ltd. 2022

Another painting by mid-20th century abstract expressionist Lynne Drexler, who spent much of her late career on Monhegan Island, sold at auction last week for a hefty sum.

A 5-by-7-foot oil on canvas titled “Herbert’s Garden” was purchased by a private buyer for $1.5 million, according to Christie’s Auction House in New York. The total was slightly higher than the nearly $1.2 million paid for another Drexler painting, “Flowered Hundred,” in March.

Proceeds of both sales will go to the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, which decided to sell the pieces from its collection in a process known as deaccessioning. The Farnsworth will use the money – which totals more than half its annual budget – to purchase work from other artists, with the goal of diversifying the museum collection.

Farnsworth Museum director Christopher Brownawell stands next to “Saha,” left, one of the museum’s four remaining paintings by Lynne Drexler. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Interest in Drexler’s work has increased steadily since she died in 1999, but the recent sales represent a significant bump. Farnsworth director Christopher Brownawell said he knew the sale prices might be high but didn’t expect each to eclipse $1 million.

Because museums don’t often sell from their collections, it can be controversial when it happens.

Chris Crosman, former director of the Farnsworth, was among those who criticized the decision.

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“Museums like the Farnsworth were built through gifts from private donors,” he said in March. “As soon as donors hear donations are being sold off, even if it’s for a good cause, they might think twice before doing so again.”

Brownawell, however, said the Farnsworth still has four Drexler paintings in its collection that were part of the original donation. Indeed, the surge of interest in her work, at least among collectors, might draw visitors to museums that have pieces by Drexler on display.

Drexler grew up in Virginia and moved to New York in the mid-1950s to study and join the burgeoning art scene there. She married John Hultberg, who also was an abstract expressionist painter. Her work was often ignored, which was typical for female artists at that time.

The couple traveled often, including to Monhegan Island off Maine’s coast, which already was established as an artist colony by the time they started visiting. They moved to Monhegan full time in 1983, but Hultberg didn’t stay. Drexler, on the other hand, never left.

After her death, Drexler’s estate gifted many of her paintings to museums in Maine, including the Portland Museum of Art, the Bates College Museum of Art, the Monhegan Museum of Art and the Farnsworth.

Whatever work the Farnsworth ends up acquiring from the proceeds, the pieces will always carry a credit indicating that the sale of Drexler’s paintings made those acquisitions possible.


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