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Vija Celmins (Latvian, b.1938)

Paintings

Birth Place: Riga, Latvia

Biography:

Who is painter Vija Celmins?

Vija Celmins is a Latvian painter and pencil drawer, whose work mainly consists of monochromatic, photo-realistic paintings of the natural world. These pieces often feature extremely detailed environments. Early in Celmins’ career, she focused mostly on commonplace man-made objects like TVs and pencils, then later chose to focus on tools of violence (Celmins herself was a WWII refugee to America) like warplanes and handguns. 

Her art was extremely labor-intensive, even when she moved to her naturalist paintings sometime in the late 1960s. This shift was less about aesthetics and more about the subject matter. From this point on, Celmins would choose to focus her efforts on closeups of rocks, seashells, and the night sky. These pencil drawings were anything but prosaic, retaining the tension of earlier work but recontextualizing it within the natural world. She would continue to evolve throughout the 1980s, adding sculpture and other artistic mediums to her oeuvre. Celmins continues to produce vital art to this day, proving that an artist is never too old to evolve into something new, strange, and ultimately wonderful.

What kind of art does Vija Celmins make?

While Vija Celmins experimented with many different kinds of art during the course of a long career, she is best known for her photo-realistic pencil drawings and paintings. She’s enjoyed a huge amount of success over the course of a storied career. Her art has been featured in most of the world’s prominent galleries and museums. Some of these include the Art Institute of Chicago, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. 

Her work resonates with critics and art fans the world over because of its universality. Celmin’s often features overlooked subjects painted or drawn with startling accuracy and attention to detail. While she has cited Malcolm Morley and Jasper Johns as influences, her work transcends these artistic forebears by refusing to be put in a box or become predictable. Her subject matter seems chosen at random -- as if Celmins is following a muse that the rest of us can’t see or hear.  We are all made better for it. 

How did painter/sculptor Vija Celmins get started?

Vija Celmins was a refugee during WWII, emigrating to the US with her parents during the beginning of the war. While they initially lived in New York City, they eventually made their way to Indianapolis where, in 1955, Celmins would enroll in the John Herron School of Art. From there she would win a fellowship to attend summer sessions at Yale University in 1961. She moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s, eventually receiving an MFA from UCLA in 1965. From there she painted, taught, and developed sculpting techniques throughout most of the 1970s and into the 1980s, when she would move to New York City to teach at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She continues to live there today. 

How much are Vija Celmins’ paintings worth?

Vija Celmins art is extremely valuable, pieces can be worth anywhere from hundreds of thousands of dollars into the millions. Her highest-selling piece is Lead Sea #2 (1969) which sold for $4,212,500 in 2017. She routinely has sold pieces for over a million dollars at auction, many of these from the two distinct eras of her career, the mid to late 1960s and the 1980s. A Celmins is exceedingly rare to find, prospective investors would be wise to act if one becomes available. 

Where to buy Vija Celmins paintings for sale?

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How to value Vija Celmins paintings?

The best way to value art is to compare past auction prices for similar works. View past sale prices below. When you’re ready to sell, contact Heritage Auctions to request an auction estimate of the likely selling price at auction. If you need a formal written appraisal for estate planning or insurance, please contact our Appraisal Services department.


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Vija Celmins Original Art values sold at auction

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