Toweling Off was sold by a private collector who acquired the work from the gallery Allan Stone Projects in 1974. It had not been seen in public since it was exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from September to November of 1985.
Despite his reputation for still life, Thiebaud has said that figure painting is, “Significantly, the most important study the painter can pursue.” That offers one explanation for why Toweling Off so far exceeded its estimate.
Figurative art came back strongly in the first ‘post-pandemic’ auction held by Christie’s in May 2021. Alice Neel’s interior painting Dr. Finger’s Waiting Room (1966), buoyed by the artist’s solo retrospective People Come First at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (March 22–August 1, 2021), sold for a record $3 million against an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000.
Another explanation may simply be Thiebaud’s longevity and long career. The gold standard is Gerhard Richter, 89, who continues to set records at auction in the sixth decade of his career.