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Raw, uncensored, and fiercely magnificent, Untitled from 1982 is a virtually incomparable masterwork from Jean-Michel Basquiats revolutionary body of paintings, executed in the very first month of the pivotal year of 1982. Emblazoned upon the monumental canvas, the visceral impact of the artists painted searing visage is absolute and immediate, consuming the viewers gaze in an impenetrable maelstrom of violent gesture, chromatic radiance, and pure, unbridled electric charge. The overwhelming visual dynamism of Untitled vehemently declared the arrival of the brilliant, then virtually unknown young artist into a world that would be forever transformed by his paintings. In an explosive torrent of gestural vigor, Untitled embodies the indomitable force of Basquiats creative insurgency, which, in a flourishing conflagration of word, color, and mark, sent shockwaves through downtown Manhattan in the early 1980s and inaugurated a radical return to figurative painting. Here the artists anatomically rendered skull-like headexecuted in intricate strata of kaleidoscopic oilstick, acrylic, and spraypaintis surrounded in a barrage of arresting iconography, most notably the three-pointed crown and an all-over flurry of typography. Held in the same private collection since being acquired in 1984, Untitled has not been publically exhibited since its initial unveiling in June of 1982. Shortly following its creation, Untitled was exhibited in Fast, a selection of new figurative works at Alexander F. Milliken gallery in New York.  When cited in the charged presence of Untitled, the preface to the 1982 exhibition catalogue is, to this day, profoundly resonant: The spontaneity of [Basquiats] brushstroke is not lost in the transition from city walls to canvas. The graffiti, authentic and painterly, are todays answer to the New York Schools gestural marks The evidence of the artists hand confers on the work a humanistic component. These artists share an acute awareness of the times they live in, making their work highly sensitized to objective reality. Although critical, disorienting and provocative, they address an overburdened, highly complex nervous system. (Susan L. Putterman, About Fast, in Exh. Cat., New York, Alexander F. Milliken Inc., Fast, 1982, n.p.) Irrefutably the most significant work by the artist to ever appear at auction, Untitled ranks among the ultimate paragons of the artists oeuvre, and is the commanding counterpart to Basquiats Untitled (Head) in the collection of The Broad Museum. As malevolent mirror-images, the pair of shamanistic skulls ushered in a provocative artistic shift that, in its unfiltered grit and guttural symbolism, expressed the vibrant reality of urban life with thrilling authenticity.  As an indisputable masterpiece from the singular formative year of Basquiats meteoric career, the unveiling of Untitled marks an extraordinary moment within the legacy of Contemporary Arts most mythic and revered figure. Pulsating with creative furor, Untitled is the superlative embodiment of the unprecedented new manner that emerged in Basquiats paintings as he channeled the explosive charge of his street art into the first, staggeringly intense canvases of his mature corpus. A monumental fusion of viscerally charged figuration and unbridled painterly assault, the remarkable diversity of marks woven into the impenetrable layers of Basquiats figure is a clear articulation of both the artists past, as a celebrated member of Manhattans graffiti vanguard, and of his remarkable future, as contemporary arts dazzling prodigy. In the gestural ferocity of the figure, its outline delineated in bold masterstrokes of thick black pigment, the rapidly executed scrawls of Basquiats graffiti alter-ego of the late 1970s, SAMO, is readily apparent. As SAMO, Basquiat roamed the streets of New York, emblazoning his moniker and chosen icons the three point crown and the acquisitive © upon the abandoned walls of the city. From the beginning, the celebrated SAMO was known for his unique blend of the conceptual and the visual, merging a diverse linguistic arsenal of words with enigmatic symbols and icons that, while inscrutable, were likewise unforgettable. In Untitled, Basquiat sacrifices none of the immediacy and directness of SAMO, but rather, channels the explosive marks of spray paint, oilstick, and violently wielded brush into a formal order that harnesses his emotive power within the boundaries of figuration. Describing this shift, critic Achille Bonito Oliva reflects, Now, he brought to his canvases the abstract-figurative intensity of this experience, its declarative and narrative nature, explicit and didactic vigor, and its confused and spontaneous accumulation of visual elements. (Achille Bonita Oliva, The Perennial Shadow of Art in Basquiats Brief Life, in Exh. Cat., Lugano, Museo dArte Moderna, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 2005, p. 40) Absorbing, warping, and reshaping the myriad cacophonous influences of the street, Basquiat forged an extraordinarily lucid and intelligent pictorial vernacular that, while entirely his own, typified the language of the streets with searing candor. Attempting to verbalize the indescribable relevance of Basquiats new mode, Glenn OBrien reflected, He was the once-in-a-lifetime real deal: artist as prophet. (Glenn OBrien, Greatest Hits, in Exh. Cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Nows the Time, 2015, p. 180) In the frenetic, rampant inscription of graphic forms that courses across the surface of Untitled, Basquiats illustrious draftsmanship is on glorious and full-bodied display. Traces of a crossed out tic-tac-toe grid in the upper section of the canvas are surrounded by layers of overwritten and overpainted letters, counterbalancing the prominent upper and lower case a at the bottom left of the composition. As described by Richard D. Marshall, To Basquiat, the meaning of a word was not necessarily relevant to its usage because he employed words as abstract objects that can be seen as configurations of straight and curved lines that come together to form a visual pattern. The visual and graphic impact of printed letters was sufficient enough to stand alone as an artistic expression. (Richard D. Marshall, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Speaking in Tongues, in Exh. Cat., Lugano, Museo dArte Moderna, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 2005, p. 40) Conjuring allusions to the graceful scrawls and scribbles of Cy Twomblyan artist for whom he held a deep admirationthe glimpses of Basquiats graphic forms invoke a sort of proto-handwriting: a primitive kind of expression that strives toward resolution and legibility but is suspended in a perpetual territory of formal symbolism, akin to our contemporary reading of classical mark-making. Typifying this impulse, the spiky scrawl of an upper and lower case letter A is boldly emblazoned in black oil stick at the bottom left of the canvas, as though to label this work as the beginning, the first, the immediate origin of meaning. Then, conjuring the specter of SAMO, notorious vandal/hero of the streets, Basquiat violently scratches out his illusory hieroglyphs, leaving only the suggestion of signifier in a shimmering crown around the head of his gargantuan skull. Despite the variegated hues layered into the upper portion of the canvas, the potent symbol of Basquiats notorious street tag the iconic three-pointed crown gleams though the chroma, a ghostly silhouette of raised oil stick. The intricately accreted layers evoke a graffiti-scarred wall, characterized by accretive strata that in their very build-up and lush tonal variety divulge a sense of temporal progression. Below a saturated ground of vibrant blue pigment, the shimmering signifiers of Basquiats hieroglyphic scrawls peer through, offering the elusive promise of legibility without conceding meaning. Inscribing and scrawling over, painting and scraping away, he hovers between inscription and obfuscation, building the brilliant chromatic strata of his canvas with every stroke. Following the completion of the present work in January of 1982, over the course of the year, this once-in-a-lifetime artist would receive his first solo exhibition with Annina Nosei in New York, followed quickly by Larry Gagosian in Los Angeles, Bruno Bischofberger in Zurich, and, most astoundingly, an invitation to attend the international exhibition Documenta 7 in Kassel as the youngest artist of more than 176 to present his art. Paralleling the artists spectacular rise, every expressive mark of Untitled is imbued with the insatiable artistic drive which fueled Basquiat as he began his ascent. In the coursing frenzy of jet-black veins that line the frenetically rendered skull of Untitled, Basquiats impassioned, almost compulsive desire to create is readily apparent and undeniable. Reflecting upon the artists corpus, Marc Mayer describes Basquiat as, an articulate and prolific spokesman for youth: insatiably curious, tirelessly inventive, innocently self-deprecating because of youths inadequacies, jealously guarding his independenceHis work is likely to remain for a long time as the modern picture of what it looks like to be brilliant, driven, and young. (Marc Mayer, Basquiat in History, in Exh. Cat., New York, Brooklyn Museum, Basquiat, 2005, p. 57) In its searing, talismanic rendering of a skull, Untitled heralds the imminent resurgence of figurative painting through New York in the 1980s. Forged within the crucible of the gritty downtown art scene, Basquiats artistic vernacular was at the forefront of a revolution against the reigning artistic dogmas of the preceding decade. Nowhere was more enthusiastically volatile, or more bewitched by an insuppressible ferment of cultural expression, than the creative vortex of downtown Manhattan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. OBrien conjures the atmosphere luridly, citing: If you were turning eighteen in New York City in 1978, The New Frontier had gone down in flames, but the city was still frontier. New York City was the Wild, Wild East. Shootouts. Bandits. Savages. Badlands, The greatest city in the world was broke and all broke down and it was exciting.(Glenn OBrien, Basquiat and the New York Scene, 1978-82, in Exh. Cat., Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Basquiat, 2010, p. 38) Within this cacophonous context, a new style of painting began to emerge, one that privileged the immediacy of the isolated image over narrative, and the metaphoric strength of cultural signifiers over the interpretive freedom of undiluted abstraction. Typified in the celebrated Times Square Show of 1980 and the spectacular exhibition New York/New Wave at P.S.1 in 1981, both of which featured the young, undiscovered Basquiat, the rehabilitation of figuration sent reverberations throughout the artistic community. In his 1981 review of New York/New Wave, OBrien boldly proclaimed, This is a tidal wave of art, about to reduce the entire art world to limp rubblehere, art is based on life, not on art. The public might like it. (Glenn OBrien, cited in Glenn OBrien, New York, New Wave, Artforum, March 2003, n.p.)  This momentous shift is verbalized with exceptional precision in the prophetic preamble for Fast, which remarked:  The eighteen artists share a commitment to the painting process as a human, vulnerable endeavor, and to the use of recognizable imagery as a tenable tool. Finding the modernist canons of faith invalid and the realist methods of reportage insufficient, these artists use representation for expressive purposes. Although the use of figuration is not in itself new, these artists have found a viable and powerful way of using it today. (Susan L. Putterman, About Fast, in Exh. Cat., New York, Alexander F. Milliken Inc., Fast, 1982, n.p.) In its searing, almost unbearable legibility, Untitled thunderously heralds the triumphant revenge of bold symbolism into an art world that, upon Basquiats impact, would never be the same. Built up of innumerable layers of vibrant hues and coursing rivulets of pigment, Untitled is an unparalleled example of the virtuosic ability to apply, execute, shift, and render paint upon canvas that distinguished Basquiat as an undisputed master within the vanguard of young and ambitious image-makers. Exemplifying his singular command as a master colorist, Basquiat layers undiluted primary hues to spectacular effect, rapidly building up the bold figurative outlines of his composition with frenetic bravura. Describing Basquiats innate natural ability, Marc Mayer notes, "With direct and theatrically ham-fisted brushwork, he used unmixed color structurally, like a seasoned abstractionist, but in the service of a figurative and narrative agenda. Basquiat deployed his color architecturally, at times like so much tinted mortar to bind a composition, at other times like opaque plaster to embody it. Color holds his pictures together, and through it they command a room." (Marc Mayer, "Basquiat in History," in Exh. Cat., New York, Brooklyn Museum, Basquiat, 2005, p. 46) Intermingling oil-stick with spray-paint, pigment with gestural smear, in rapid succession, Basquiat builds his figure up before him, sealing the immediacy of the figure with the final addition of white to the glowering eyes. In a manner that conjures the infinite generations of graffiti on urban walls, or the peeling layers of posters papering a downtown structure, Basquiat covers his canvas in impenetrable strata of vibrant marks until every line and form of the skull is reinforced and overdrawn. In the bared teeth alone, impastoed layers of mark coalesce with hallucinogenic depth.  While the furious speed of Basquiats paint application conjures a vision of chaotic yet remarkably controlled movement, the textural depth of Untitled suggests the paintings careful and deliberate creation. Indeed, Untitled (Head), 1981, the iconic counterpart to the present work, was begun in the early months of 1981, yet unfinished for several months as Basquiat continued to stall and delay its completion. Fred Hoffmans description alludes to a vision of Basquiat conjured in the studio, similarly painting the present work: One can only speculate about the reasons for this hesitation, but several individuals close to the artistincluding myself and Annina Nosei, the artists dealer at the timesuspect that this young, unseasoned artist hesitated to complete the work because he was caught off guard, possibly even frightened, by the power and energy emanating from this unexpected image. (Fred Hoffman, The Defining Years: Notes on Five Key Works, in Ibid., p. 13) Jubilantly demonstrative of the radical creative pinnacle of Basquiats career, Untitled offers a ferocious portrait of an artist defined by explosive talent and calamitous brilliance. Ritualistically lining and relining the crude cranium, Basquiat constricts the combustive color and mark of his figure within a thrumming web of dark oil stick, alluding to an interior realm as richly textured and variegated as the canvas below. Enacting an exceptionally groundbreaking use of figuration, Untitled breaks down the dichotomy between the external and internal, revealing the cacophonous innermost aspects of psychic life with breathtaking dynamism. Visual and emotive force are fused as, turning to his canvas, Basquiat renders a figure that is raw and aggressive, a cacophonous melee of color, gesture, light, and sound held together by the unwavering confidence of the artists line. The ineffable triumph of Untitled is perhaps best reflected in the words of Ed Baynard, the curator of the only exhibition that revealed the present work to the public eye: I chose the word Fast as an umbrella title because Fast seems (to me) the opposite of apathy. Fast is passion made concrete. (Ed Baynard, cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Alexander F. Milliken Inc., Fast, 1982, n.p.) Inaugurating the beginning of Basquiats ascendancy to the highest echelons of acclaim, Untitled is an enduring triumph to the passionate, emotive force of Basquiat incomparable painterly mark. Signed, inscribed NYC and dated 82 on the reverse

  • 2017-05-18

Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)

John Richardson The Eye of the Storm: Warhol and Picasso I arrived in New York for the first time in 1959 and within a year or two I met Andy. After that I saw a great deal of him. But nobody ever got to know Andy or, for that matter, Picasso: neither ever really opened up to anybody. Andy was often asking me about Picasso. I see Andy always at the Eye of the Storm. The Eye of the Storm where there is stillness, and all around is disaster. Here was Andy at the center of all this horror: the horror of modern life. Yet Andy was unaffected. He felt this, he sensed this, but he wasn’t one of the victims of it. By virtue of being in the Eye of the Storm he could see it. And he transmitted his feelings into these amazing images. When I gave the eulogy at Andy’s funeral I stressed the fact that Andy was a Catholic who went to Mass every single day of his life. So much of his work, including the Disaster paintings, comes out of that. The whole repetition of Andy’s imagery stems from the fact that he was Catholic. He went to church, he went to confession, he had to do ten Hail Marys, twenty Ave Marias, and all this is reflected in the way his imagery is repeated again and again and again. Picasso used to claim he was an atheist, but he was the least atheistic person I’ve ever met. He was deeply spiritual. Indeed, I see Guernica as a votive painting: it is an Ex Voto. And that seems to me the link between Picasso and Warhol: this deep, spiritual approach to their work. These Disaster paintings are not Andy reveling in disaster: this is Andy sitting at the Eye of the Storm, being the one still person among disasters, death, and horror. That is the key thing that these Disaster pictures were intended to convey. And that is why to my mind they are the most moving, and the strongest of all of Andy’s imagery. From an interview with Tobias Meyer, New York, October 2013 Screening History: Andy Warhol’s Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) To stand in front of this work of art is to bear witness to events that exist beyond description: it is to be in the presence of something phenomenal. To contemplate the sheer vastness of its achievement is to enter a realm of experience rarely encountered in Art History. Enlisting the dimensions of a specific narrative to achieve a fundamental human universality, this work belongs to that rarest elite of historic masterpieces which have occasionally altered our deepest perception. Like its illustrious forbears of the epic History Painting genre, this work stands as both the most astute allegory of its era and the vital mirror to our present. Here exists something utterly essential, something that has always been and always will be integral to our human story. Here is an arena that exists both inside and outside of the present, a place where time seems suspended. It is the proposition of both a definitive end and an unending beginning. On the left there is the final instant: the permanent flash where the possibilities of existence have been extinguished. Freedom and independence lie lifeless in wreckage as definitive lament to the hopes of the future. All this is repeated over and over and each version is unique: the tragic occurrence and recurrence is never identical. Yet, however the reel of life differs, here is the moment that it is conclusively severed. The screen turns blank. On the right there is an ever-shifting silver ocean of promise: a reflection to our ever-changing current experience. The specific, unalterable finality of the past meets the abstract, permanent continuity of the present. Stories told give way to stories as yet untold. Andy Warhol created Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) in the summer of 1963, at the turn of his thirty-fifth birthday. Composed of two canvases, each over eight feet high and together spanning in excess of thirteen feet, it ranked among the most monumental and ambitious works he had ever undertaken. Indeed, there exist only three other Car Crash paintings of remotely comparable scale: Orange Car Crash 14 Times, the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Black and White Disaster #4, Kunstmuseum Basel; and Orange Car Crash, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna. It represents the zenith of the Death and Disaster corpus, a body of work that was then Warhol’s total focus, and which surely remains his most significant and enduring contribution to the course of Art History. As Heiner Bastian succinctly declared: “Whatever the many different conclusions arrived at in art-historical observations on the significance of Warhol’s work in the context of his time and his contemporaries, it is the images of disaster and death that he started to make in 1963 that Warhol the chronicler gains his credibility and Warhol the artist explains the world.” (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Andy Warhol: Retrospective, 2002, pp. 28-9) In this groundbreaking year Warhol successively produced the series that comprise this seminal canon, which today read as a roll call of almost unfathomable artistic accomplishment: Suicides, Black and White Disaster, Early Serial Disasters, Silver Electric Chairs, Red Explosion, Tunafish Disasters, Race Riots, Burning Cars, 5 Deaths and Late Disasters. Of all the paintings in this spectacular outpouring of compulsive innovation, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) is truly exceptional. It is one of only seven in the monumental, double-canvas format: in addition to the three Car Crashes mentioned above are Red Disaster, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Blue Electric Chair and Mustard Race Riot. As denoted by the corresponding titles, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) stands out from this pantheon of immense Death and Disaster works for its exceptional silver color, providing the expansive surface with a constantly adjusting, reflective quality that is absent from the single color acrylic grounds of the other paintings. The incomparable nature of Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) is further confirmed by the remarkable heritage of its provenance. Three venerated collectors have previously owned this painting: Gian Enzo Sperone, Charles Saatchi and Thomas Ammann, each of whose eminent collections famously included some of the most outstanding artworks of the Twentieth Century. Subsequently this painting has been held in the same private collection for the past quarter of a century and has been publicly exhibited only once in that time, at the Fondation Beyeler in 2000. Having been rooted in heroic tales of immigration, American history evolved over two centuries through narratives of migration and ceaseless movement. Whether by horse, stagecoach, steam train or the automobile, this vast continental expanse was traversed by countless generations in the quest for opportunity and betterment. In the Twentieth Century there came to be no more potent symbol of the freedom and independence that are such monolithic cornerstones of the American Dream than the automobile. From John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road; Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night to Nicolas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause; Chuck Berry’s Get Your Kicks on Route 66 to the Beach Boys Little Deuce Coupe; America’s love affair with the automobile became profoundly endemic to its cultural identity. When Andy Warhol created this work in 1963, forty-four percent of Americans owned a motor vehicle, nearly double the number of just twenty years before. Seven years prior in 1956, the US Congress had authorized the largest and most ambitious public works enterprise of the postwar era: a nationwide interstate highway system comprising over 40,000 miles of high-speed roadways. Fittingly Time magazine declared the highway the “true index of our culture.” (“The New Highway Network,” Time, no. 69, June 24, 1957, p. 92) And in the eighteen years between the end of the Second World War and 1963, 620,000 Americans died in automobile accidents, on average almost one hundred people per day and more than the totals of all American casualties in the First and Second World Wars combined. Looming like an ever-present, seemingly indiscriminate scythe over Middle America’s new golden age of economic prosperity and everything it stood for, the car crash had quietly become the primal, devastating threat to an entire way of life. This work's execution belongs to an extraordinary shift in this most iconic of artistic careers, during which Warhol revolutionized the terms of popular visual culture. The ideal of the seminal Death and Disaster series, which was one of the most provocative, confrontational and brilliant projects undertaken by any artist in the transformative decade of the 1960s, this canvas epitomizes the monumental themes of Warhol’s career: namely an unprecedented artistic interrogation into the agencies of mass-media, celebrity and death. With deafening resonance Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) exclaims an immediately harrowing and intensely violent scenario: the instant aftermath of a brutal car crash. Within the composition the unmistakable corporeal outline of a single body is slung across the front seats of its deformed vehicle. The metallic expanse of the vehicle's massive form accentuates the flesh-and-blood mortality of its ill-fated passenger. Intertwined with the deformed metal superstructure and jointly sprawled across the asphalt concrete is this twisted victim: man and machine having become fused together through mundane catastrophe. In more metaphorical terms, the harsh division between the gleaming automobile and the spectacularly crushed chassis is mediated by the strewn body, caught at the point between organized construction and chaotic destruction. Thus one of the great symbols of 1950s and 1960s America, a facilitator of individualism and a key signifier of social mobility, the automobile, becomes the devastating delivery system of indiscriminate fatality. As Neil Printz relates, "the car crash turns the American dream into a nightmare." (Neil Printz in Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, p. 16) Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) offers the nightmare, but also concurrently normalizes this dystopian vision of sanitized suburban brutality. Here import is incited not only by subject, but also by method, process and context. Silkscreened on spray-painted silver, the cinematic silver-screen expanse is revealed on the left through the patterned gradations of anonymous dots. In addition, Warhol faithfully reproduces the composition of the photojournalist, replicating the foreign aesthetic of a found image. The nature of this rendering is strategically impersonal. Walter Hopps succinctly describes that "Warhol took for granted the notion that the obvious deployment of traditional rendering need not be revealed or employed, thereby expunging manual bravura from his work." (Walter Hopps in Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, p. 7) Here the mechanical silk-screen dot and absence of manual bravura silence the subject, at once evoking the production of newsprint photojournalism and the unceasing everyday phenomenon that the car crash had itself become. In an interview with Gene Swenson in 1963 Warhol stated that "when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn't really have any effect." (the artist interviewed by Gene Swenson, "What is Pop Art?'', Artnews 62, November 1963, pp. 60-61) In his 1970 monograph, Rainer Crone discussed how, although the car crash photos "evoke the immediacy of the actual event... this decreases as such occurrences become more frequent." (Rainer Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, p. 29) Nevertheless, the raw power of this confrontational image remains urgently accosting, despite our immersion in supposedly desensitizing mass-media representations of violence and brutality. The tonal polarization of the silkscreen impression bleakly particularizes the mangled figure and dramatizes the finality of deathly stillness. The atrocity here is highly quotidian: it is a thoroughly everyday catastrophe, typical of what Hopps calls the "unpredictable choreography of death" amidst the "banality of everyday disasters." (Op. Cit., p. 9) Warhol, himself obsessively fixated with the fragility of existence, here scrutinizes the public face of a private disaster and questions why anonymous victims are elevated to celebrity through their unexpected encounter with death. The source was an unidentified newspaper photograph, and despite the horror of the scene before him, the photojournalist nevertheless intuitively cropped the image through the view finder to engender narrative and provide an aesthetically satisfying picture according to compositional convention. Warhol selectively accentuated lights and darks on this photograph to intensify the contrast of the reproduction on the screen when he ordered his mechanical, in order to improve its legibility as well as enhance the compositional polarization of the image. In purely formal terms, the composition is bifurcated in two by the vertical tree or telephone pole that proved the automobile’s undoing, invoking both the double take and before and after narratives in our reception. Our eye is drawn to travel side to side, up and down, and diagonally between the four principal arenas of pictorial data. Warhol's exceptional aptitude to seize the most potent images of his time defines him as the consummate twentieth-century history painter. Inasmuch as his canvas implicates our fascination with mortality and a certain voyeurism of death, as well as being sourced in the reportage of controversial contemporary events, Warhol’s masterpiece advances a heritage proposed by the likes of Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Marat, Francisco Goya’s The Third of May, Theodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. It continues this illustrious line of precedent as a defining History Painting of the Twentieth Century. On 5 July 1816 the French naval frigate Méduse ran aground off the coast of Africa, near today’s Mauritania. With insufficient capacity of lifeboats, at least 147 passengers and crew were forced onto a makeshift raft. After thirteen days’ drifting, all but fifteen of those souls perished, either by starvation, drowning, dehydration or cannibalism. When the twenty-five year-old Théodore Géricault heard of the widely-reported events he launched into an unprecedented undertaking that would culminate in one of the most celebrated paintings of all time, The Raft of the Medusa, which he finally completed in 1819. Interviewing survivors, visiting morgues and hospitals, working from severed limbs and creating a scale model of the raft, Géricault worked in isolation for eighteen months. Utterly dedicated to an uncommissioned, spectacularly controversial work that retold a highly-charged recent event, Géricault created a seminal History Painting that still thunderously resonates through its sheer evocation of unknowable human suffering and endurance. There perhaps remains no greater metaphor for, in the words of Christine Riding, “the fallacy of hope and pointless suffering, and at worst, the basic human instinct to survive, which had superseded all moral considerations and plunged civilised man into barbarism.” (Christine Riding, "The Fatal Raft: Christine Riding Looks at British Reaction to the French Tragedy at Sea Immortalised in Géricault's Masterpiece 'The Raft of the Medusa,'" History Today, February 2003) On 26 July 1937, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, German and Italian warplanes acting for Spanish Nationalist forces annihilated the village of Guernica in northern Spain, indiscriminately massacring innocent civilians with bombs and gunfire. The atrocity incited widespread outrage and having read the eyewitness account by British journalist George Steer in the French newspaper L’Humanité, Pablo Picasso, living in Paris and then Honorary Director-in-exile of the Prado Museum, conceived perhaps the most recognized artistic expression of anti-war sentiment ever to come into being, Guernica.  As memorialized by Michel Leiris, “In a rectangle black and white such as that in which ancient tragedy appeared to us, Picasso sends us our announcement of our mourning: all that we love is going to die, and that is why it was necessary to this degree that all that we love should embody itself, like the effusions of last farewell, in something unforgettably beautiful.” (Michel Leiris, Cahiers d’Art, 1937, Nos. 4-5, cited in Roland Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, 3rd Ed., Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1981 [first published 1958], p. 309) Like Géricault and Picasso before him, here Warhol created a painting for the ages, that would always speak something essential about humankind’s struggle with existence. Confronted by the tragedy of death and its incongruous by-product of celebrity, Andy Warhol nullified the news story zeitgeist through the effects of replication and multiplication, so undermining the manipulative potentiality of mass media. In keeping with his very best work, celebrity, tragedy and the absurdity of human transience inhabit every pore of this breathtaking painting, and this compelling work stands as a treatise on the emotional conditioning inherent to our culture. Scrutinizing the public face of a private disaster, it questions how anonymous victims are elevated to notoriety via the exceptional conditions of their demise, or as Thomas Crow describes, "the repetition of the crude images does draw attention to the awful banality of the accident and to the tawdry exploitation by which we come to know the misfortunes of strangers." (Thomas Crow, "Saturday Disasters: Trace and Reference in Early Warhol,” Art in America, May 1987, p. 135) The uncertain interplay between anonymous suffering and the broadcast exposure of bereavement is here locked forever into the silver and ink lamina of this masterwork. Left: signed twice and dated 63 on the overlapright: signed and dated 63 on the overlap

  • 2013-11-14


Giacometti's extraordinary Chariot is his masterpiece and ranks among the definitive achievements of 20th century art.  With its painted surface and rich, golden patina, the present sculpture is perhaps the most important bronze that the artist created. His biographer James Lord, while discussing what is considered Giacometti’s "great period" of the late 1940s and early 1950s, identified Chariot as his finest accomplishment: "There are many extraordinary sculptures of 1949 and 1950," he wrote. "Among them all, however, there is one, perhaps, more extraordinary than the others by reason of having required him to be extraordinary. It asks the beholder to be extraordinary, too" (J. Lord, Giacometti, New York, 1985, p. 304).  Chariot had a profound personal significance for Giacometti, reflecting an epiphany in his creative development. The image came to him in a memory from his Surrealist period of the late 1930s. Like other sculptures from those years, it was a product of his unconscious mind, an “automatic” image that arrived fully-formed and unmediated.  In accounts of its origin, the artist explained that Chariot derived from his souvenir of 1938 when, recuperating in Bichat hospital after an accident, he had "marveled" at nurses’ pharmacy wagons with their "tinkling" bells.  This sensory image stayed with him, and he drew several sketches that would lead ultimately to the present work.  As he explained in a letter to his dealer Pierre Matisse, “In 1947 I saw the sculpture before me as if already done, and in 1950 it was impossible not to realize it, although it was already situated for me in the past” (A. Giacometti, 1950, quoted in J. Lord, ibid., p. 306). When cast in bronze in 1950, Chariot would become a heroic emblem of Post-War renewal. Locked in place despite the large apparatus of propulsion, the figure is Giacometti's attempt to crystallize the Existentialist philosophy which dominated Post-War Paris. His charioteer exists in a state of perpetual immobility yet her strength remains intact.  She raises her arms in a commanding gesture, much like that of the gleaming sentinel in front of the tomb of King Tutankhamun.  A figure of perseverance and a beacon of hope, she stands for all eternity upon her chariot, steadfast in her mission. The spirit of victory prevails over adversity and with this glorious sculpture Giacometti made his triumphant mark on history. The genesis of the sculpture was in fact more complex than Giacometti implied. His hospital stay resulted after injuring his foot in a late-night traffic accident beside the gilded sculpture of Joan of Arc in the Place des Pyramides.  It was perhaps his remembrance of looking up at the image of the saint that inspired him to create this sculpture in gold. As Laurie Wilson points out in her biography, "gold was the substance of the magically alive mechanical servant girls of Vulcan who helped the lame smithy walk."  Wilson continues to describe Giacometti's work on this sculpture, which she likens to that of a goddess figure for the artist: "Implying movement in the charioteer cost Giacometti much effort, and he repeatedly revised the position of her arms. By raising her above the multitude, Giacometti made the woman of the Chariot into an object of worship.  She stands in direct contrast to his numerous immobile or encaged women of that year who were simultaneously enticing and threatening.... Giacometti momentarily triumphed over death with his contemporary image magic, just as ancient Egyptians believed that the shining sun triumphed every day over the darkness of night and death.... in 1950, at the height of his powers he could afford to carry out a project that secretly celebrated one of his profoundest fantasies – an apparently inanimate creature could be seen as vital" (L. Wilson, op. cit. p. 261). Scholars also note that Giacometti’s Chariot draws its formal inspiration from several art historical precedents.  Most obvious of these, according to Reinhold Hohl, is the Egyptian chariot that Giacometti saw at the Archeological Museum in Florence.  Another possible source, given his fascination with classical statuary, is the Delphic charioteer whose hands extend to hold the reigns in a manner similar to the figure in the present sculpture.  The idea of the obsolete wheel also invokes Marcel Duchamp’s famous Bicycle Wheel, which challenged the fundamental role of a utilitarian object.  But the most direct antecedent is Giacometti’s own Femme au chariot I, a 1942 sculpture of a woman standing on a small-wheeled dolly.  While the woman in that sculpture could not control her mobility, the rotating wheels of her cart could be moved by an exterior force.  For his 1950 Chariot Giacometti grossly enlarged the proportion of the wheels and precluded their motion entirely.  The woman on this chariot is going nowhere, yet she is a harbinger of times to come.  Over the following years, motionless women and aimlessly walking men became the main characters in Giacometti’s drama of humanity, and his identity as an artist became inextricably linked with these images. James Lord suggests the following interpretation in his biography on the artist: "Like a dream, the Chariot moves inward upon itself even as it seems to rush ominously forward, and in our perspective this motion signifies that the sculpture was not created by accident.  Art uses life, and the extent of the use gives the moral of the work. The Chariot leads us to look more closely than usual at this interaction. It is fascinating but frightening.  Where first there was nothing, suddenly there is everything" (J. Lord, op. cit., p. 307). The present cast of Chariot is among the rare sculptures that Giacometti painted meticulously to enhance the textural quality of the bronze, adding precise details of to the face, lips and body. This technique alludes to the polychrome empyreal funerary figures of ancient Egyptian statuary, whose timeless stance Giacometti also invokes. Only the present work and another in the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, are treated in this unique way. Perhaps inspired by the gilt of Joan of Arc, Giacometti favored an unusual golden patina for this composition. James Lord argues that this appropriate since “Chariot called for association with the metal most prized by man, the first to be worked in the pre-dawn of history, the one most often used to make or enrich the effigies of heroes, saints and deities (J. Lord, ibid., p. 306). The scale of his sculptures was an important component of Giacometti's creative vision and one that he discussed frequently with his companions.  Sculptures that were too big "infuriated" him because they relied too much on imagination rather than on existential experience.  On the other hand, he found works that were too small to be "intolerable" because they were difficult to handle and materially unsustainable.  The present work, standing about a meter and a half high, was purely a concrete object in a clearly defined space, relatable in scale to its viewer.  With its connotations of stoicism, resilience, strength, vulnerability, perseverance and stasis, it calls to mind a passage from Samuel Beckett's classic of Existentialism, Waiting for Godot: "Why are we here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come." Referring to the cast in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, curator Anne Umland has written about the significance of Chariot in relation to the Existentialist philosophy popular among intellectuals within Giacometti’s circle. “Giacometti was preoccupied with the elusiveness of contour, with the uncertain boundary between the object and the space that surrounded it. Jean-Paul Sartre influentially wrote about figures such as this as existing in some liminal state between being and nothingness. The figure's arms are tentatively outstretched; she diminishes as your eye travels up her rail thin legs to a slight swelling of the hips, to small breasts and head. No matter how close you get to her, she is always going to retreat thanks to the play of light and touch across the mottled, gnarled, knotty surface…. The pencil-thin woman is frozen in position, balanced on a platform attached to the axle of a chariot whose wheels are raised on tapered blocks. Yet her stance, with arm extended, looks unstable, raising the likelihood of sudden movement. But in which direction? Our uncertainty is heightened by the disparity in size between the figure and the huge wheels and pedestal. Looking at her, it's not clear if she's about to come toward us, or to move away. Paradoxically, the woman's reduced dimensions only add to her stature. We are drawn to her vague features. But no matter how carefully we look, we cannot quite make them out” (excerpt Chariot was cast in a bronze edition of six numbered 1/6-6/6, according to the Fondation Giacometti in Paris.  Of these six, only two bronzes, including the present work, remain in private collections.  The four other casts are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Alberto Giacometti-Stiftung, Kunsthaus, Zurich; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, MO. Inscribed with the signature A. Giacometti, with foundry mark Alexis Rudier Fondeur Paris and numbered  2/6

  • 2014-11-05

Dora Maar au chat

Dora Maar au chat is one of Picasso’s most spectacular depictions of his mistress and artistic companion (see fig. 1).   Picasso's love affair with Maar (1907-1997) was a partnership of intellectual exchange and intense passion that lasted nearly a decade, and Maar’s influence on the artist resulted in some of his most daring portraits of his career.   Among the best of them are the oils completed during the war years, when Picasso's art resonated with the drama and emotional upheaval of the era.  The luminous Dora Maar au chat  was painted in 1941, at the beginning of the Second World War in France and just as the couple's relationship was reaching its fiery climax.   This large canvas is one of the most complete and compositionally dynamic depictions from an elite group of portraits from the late 1930s and early 1940s that includes Portrait de Dora Maar dans le jardin (see fig. 2) and Dora Maar assise (see fig. 3). The story of Dora Maar’s relationship with Picasso is legendary in the history of 20th century art.  Picasso met Maar, the Surrealist photographer, in the fall of 1935 and was enchanted by the young woman’s powerful sense of self and commanding presence.  Although still involved with Marie-Thérèse Walter and still married to Olga Khokhlova at the time, Picasso became intimately involved with Maar by the end of the year, and by 1937 she had ascended to the status of the artist's primary mistress. Unlike the docile and domestic Marie-Thérèse who had given birth to their daughter Maya in 1935, Maar was an artist, spoke Picasso’s native Spanish, and shared his intellectual and political concerns.   She even assisted with the execution of the monumental Guernica and produced the only photo-documentary of the work in progress.  And as she was one of the most influential figures in his life during this time, she also became his primary model.   Looking back on the pictures that he painted of her, Picasso once admitted that Dora Maar had become for him the personification of the war.   Her image, which he reinterpreted countless times between 1937 and 1944, embodied all of the complicated and conflicting emotions of life in the midst of occupied Paris.   But what first caught Picasso's attention was Maar's transfixing beauty, which is not lost in the present picture and which  James Lord described upon meeting Maar in 1944:  "Her gaze possessed remarkable radiance but could also be very hard.  I observed that she was beautiful, with a strong, straight nose, perfect scarlet lips, the chin firm, the jaw a trifle heavy and the more forceful for being so, rich chestnut hair drawn smoothly back, and eyelashes like the furred antennae of moths" (James Lord, Picasso and Dora, New York, 1993, p. 31). More than most of the women in his life thus far, Dora Maar was Picasso's intellectual equal – a characteristic that the artist found both stimulating and challenging.  During the occupation and as tension mounted in their relationship Picasso would express his frustration by furiously abstracting her image, often portraying her in tears.   While the present portrait is undeniably appealing and might seem a departure from Picasso's more hostile depictions of his model,  it may be, in fact, one of his most brilliant and biting provocations of his Weeping Woman.  Picasso once likened Maar's allure and mercurial temperament to that of an "Afghan cat," and the cat in this picture resonates with meaning.  In the history of art, the pairing of cats and women was an allusion to feminine wiles and sexual aggression, as exemplified in Manet’s notorious portrait of Olympia (see fig. 4).  Surely this significance was not lost on Picasso, who had referenced the cat in some of his earliest and most recent compositions (see figs. 5 & 6) as symbol of women's sexual availability and animalistic nature.  Moreover, the cat's inclusion here is yet another opportunity for Picasso to impose his predilections and control on his model.  James Lord tells us that after the death of Maar's beloved pet dog, Picasso insisted on replacing the animal with a cat.  But Maar despised the creature, who was unfriendly and prone to vicious scratching.    It is interesting to consider, then, that here Picasso has paid particular attention to the sharp, talon-like nails on the figure’s long fingers. In life Maar’s well-manicured hands were one of her most beautiful and distinctive features, but here they have taken on another, more violent characteristic. When Harriet and Sidney Janis first published this picture  in a monograph on the artist in 1946, they  wrote that,  "it must be emphasized that at no time did Picasso paint any of these pictures as series" (Harriet and Sidney Janis, Picasso, The Recent Years, 1939-1946, New York, 1946. n.p.).  Considering the other portraits that he completed of her throughout the 1940s, Dora Maar au chat is a composition that Picasso never matched or attempted to revise.  Janis wrote about this picture in the context of the other portraits of Dora Maar that Picasso completed during the war, and reminded  readers that,  "it has been observed that Picasso never works directly from the model. His portraits are of persons remembered.  They portray, through the instinct and vision, through the delicately balanced co-ordination of eye, mind, hand, and heart, a new realism reaching into the deepest recesses of man's inner nature.  This is particularly true of the first group [that includes Dora Maar au chat], for all of these portrayals, psychologically intense and penetrating, become increasingly so throughout the group.  Characterized by the extreme eccentricity and psychopathic distortions of their personalities, the likenesses are visibly stamped with their traumatic scars" (ibid.). Its symbolic significance notwithstanding, the present work is a picture of great compositional ingenuity.  Dora maar au chat  was the most elaborate portrait of Dora that Picasso painted in 1941.  In other depictions of her from the Spring and early Summer of 1941, he renders her with similarly sharp nails (see fig. 7), but in no other picture from that year does he so generously embellish her image with ornamentation and color.   One of the rare, full portraits of Maar, the present work is also extraordinary for Picasso's attention to detail, right down to the polkadots on the figure's dress.   The artist has not spared one inch of the canvas from his brush, using an extraordinarily vibrant palette in his rendering of the angles of the chair and the patterning of the figure’s dress.   Although punctuated by planar elements, dots and stripes of bewildering variety constitute Dora and the chair on which she sits. Discussing the use of stripes in Picasso’s work of this period, Brigitte Léal commented : “While in portraits of  Marie- Thérèse stripes appear in a range of pastel colors that always have a summery and childlike connotation, in [the portraits] of  Dora stripes proliferate until they cover the figure and the background entirely, becoming an eloquent statement of the intensely emotional character of her image. What is one to think of the meaning of this network of concentric lines that, not content to bud prettily on her clothes, begin progressively to invade every part of her body in order to end up covering her totally with a fine tattoo that transforms her into some barbarous idol?” (Brigitte Léal, “`For Charming Dora’: Portraits of Dora Maar,” Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1996-97, p. 392 ). The most embellished and the most symbolic element of the sitter’s wardrobe in this picture is the hat, Maar’s most famous accessory and signifier of her involvement in the Surrealist movement.   Ceremoniously placed atop her head like a crown, it is festooned with colorful blossoms and outlined with a band of vibrant red.    In 1937 the critic Paul Eluard wrote about the symbolism of the hat, explaining its fetishistic importance within the Surrealist movement and shedding light on its role in Picasso’s paintings: “Among the objects tangled in the web of life, the female hat is one of those that require the most insight, the most audacity.  A head must dare to wear a crown” (quoted in Brigitte Léal, op. cit., p. 389). Larger than life, an impression enhanced by her vibrant body that cannot be confined by the boundaries of the chair, Maar looms in this picture like a pagan goddess seated on her throne.   As the artist was inspired by the beauty and charisma of his mistress, his paintings of this period focus almost exclusively on her rather than on the happenings of wartime France (see fig. 9).  Picasso’s portraits of Dora Maar are renowned as the best paintings from the late 30s and early 40s.  The artist once explained, “I have not painted the war because I am not the kind of painter who goes out like a photographer for something to depict” (quoted in Mary-Margaret Goggin, Picasso and his Art during the German Occupation: 1940-1944, Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 1985, p. 395).  However, the stress of war ultimately created a terrible strain on the artist’s relationship with Maar, and dramatic conflicts naturally arose between these two strong-willed personalities.  Not surprisingly, the portraits of Dora contain, perhaps more than any other paintings from these years, a brilliant distillation of the “terrible beauty” of the times. Brigitte Léal writes, “Their terribilità no doubt explains why the innumerable, very different portraits that Picasso did of [Dora] remain among the finest achievements of his art, at a time when he was engaged in a sort of third path, verging on Surrealist representation while rejecting strict representation and, naturally, abstraction.  Today, more than ever, the fascination that the image of this admirable, but suffering and alienated, face exerts on us incontestably ensues from its coinciding with our modern consciousness of the body in its threefold dimension of precariousness, ambiguity, and monstrosity.  There is no doubt that by signing these portraits, Picasso tolled the final bell for the reign of ideal beauty and opened the way of for the aesthetic tyranny of a sort of terrible and tragic beauty” (ibid, p. 385). The first owner of record of the present work was the Surrealist dealer Pierre Colle (see fig. 8), who had a professional relationship with both Picasso and Maar during the war years.  According to Sidney Janis, this picture was in Colle's collection in 1946.  The following year, it was lent to the Art Institute of Chicago by the famed Chicago industrialist Leigh Block, who must have acquired it between 1946-47.   Block sold the picture through the Paris-based dealer Heinz Berggruen to the present owner in 1963, where it remained for over forty years.  Although it was published in 1946 in Sidney Janis’s important monograph on Picasso’s war-years paintings, Dora Maar au chat was largely unknown to the public until now. Fig. 1, Dora Maar and Picasso in Mougins, 1937. Photographs by Roland Penrose Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Portrait de Dora Maar dans le jardin, December 10, 1938, former collection Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Saidenberg, sold: Sotheby’s, New York, November 10, 1999 Fig. 3, Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar assise, 1937, Musée Picasso, Paris Fig. 4, Edouard Manet, Olympia, oil on canvas, 1863, Musée d’Orsay, Paris Fig. 5, Pablo Picasso, Parody of Olympia, pen and ink, 1901, Private Collection Fig. 6, Pablo Picasso, Chat, bronze, 1943, Musée Picasso, Paris FIg. 7, Pablo Picasso, Femme à l'artichaut, Paris, Summer 1941, oil on canvas, Museum Ludwig, Germany Fig. 8, Pierre Colle, the first own of record of the present work, photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Fig. 9, Picasso’s studio at 7, rue des Grands-Augustins, Paris, circa 1939. Photograph by Dora Maar, Musée Picasso, Paris, Picasso Archives Signed and dated Picasso 41. (lower left)

  • 2006-05-03


The pink star, one of the world's great natural treasures

The oval mixed cut fancy vivid pink diamond weighing 59.60 carats, mounted as a ring, size 51. Meticulously cut by Steinmetz Diamonds over a period of nearly two years - a process in which the 132.5 carat rough was cast in epoxy more than 50 times in order to create models upon which the design team could experiment with different cuts - it was transformed into this spectacular 59.60 carat, fancy vivid pink, internally flawless oval cut gem – the largest internally flawless or flawless, fancy vivid pink diamond that the Gemological Institue of American (GIA) has ever graded.The diamond was first unveiled to the public in May 2003 as the ‘Steinmetz Pink’, and was modelled by Helena Christensen at a dedicated event thrown to coincide with the Monaco Grand Prix. Writing in the Financial Times on the 31 May 2003, Mike Duff described the diamond as “the rarest, finest, most precious stone the world has ever seen”. The stone was first sold in 2007 and was subsequently renamed “The Pink Star”. In the same article, Tom Moses, senior vice-president of the GIA, is quoted as saying: “it’s our experience that large polished pink diamonds – over ten carats – very rarely occur with an intense colour… The GIA Laboratory has been issuing grading reports for 50 years and this is the largest pink diamond with this depth of colour [vivid pink] that we have ever characterised”. Of all the grades of pink which exist - light fancy pink, fancy pink, fancy intense pink, fancy deep pink and fancy vivid pink - ‘fancy vivid’ is the highest possible colour grade for a pink diamond. The current record price ever paid at auction for a diamond, or any gemstone, is the GRAFF PINK, a superb 24.76 carat, Fancy Intense Pink step-cut diamond, which sold at Sotheby’s Geneva in November 2010 for $46.16 million. Weighing in at 59.60 carats, this diamond is twice the size. The current record price per carat for a fancy vivid pink diamond ($2,155,332) was set by a 5.00 carat diamond, sold in Hong Kong in January 2009. In the summer of 2003, this amazing gem was exhibited at 'The Splendor of Diamonds' exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. Displayed in the Winston Gallery alongside the 45.52 carat blue Hope Diamond, the exhibition featured seven of the world’s rarest and most extraordinary diamonds. Also on view for the first time in the United States was the 203.04 carat De Beers Millennium Star, one of the largest diamonds in the world; the Heart of Eternity blue diamond; the Moussaieff Red, the largest known red diamond in the world; the Harry Winston Pumpkin Diamond; the Allnatt, one of the world’s largest yellow diamonds at 101.29 carats; and the Ocean Dream, the world’s largest naturally occurring bluegreen diamond. Commenting at the opening of the exhibition, Dr. Jeffrey Post, curator of the Gems and Minerals Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History said, “each of the diamonds is the finest of its kind and together with the museum’s gem collection makes for an exhibit of truly historic proportions”. In the three months the exhibition ran, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History attracted more than 1.6 million visitors. From July through November 2005, The Pink Star again took centre stage, this time at the 'Diamonds' exhibition held at the Natural History Museum, in London. “This exhibition will bring together many of the most impressive single stones in the world, fascinating science, and insights into the diamond industry to tell the story of diamonds from deep in the Earth to the red carpet,” said Michael Dixon, director of the Natural History  Museum. For three months, the dazzling exhibition attracted approximately 70’000 visitors a day. As stated in the summary of the GIA monograph, "There are no words more applicable to the Pink Star than those of French painter Eugene Delacroix ['what moves those of genius, what inspires their work is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough']. Valiant attempts to characterize its immense size, rich color, and remarkable clarity and purity all fall short. Much has been said about the Pink Star, but it is not enough. The Pink Star is a true masterpiece of nature, beyond characterization with human vocabulary. It is precisely this elusive beauty that will earn the Pink Star a page in the history books, where attempts to fully capture it will continue for years to come."

  • CHESchweiz
  • 2013-11-13

No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue)

“The progression of a painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea and between the idea and the observer… To achieve this clarity is, inevitably, to be understood” Mark Rothko, cited in The Mark Rothko Foundation: 1976-86, p.1 “Pictures must be miraculous: the instant one is completed, the intimacy between the creation and the creator is ended. He is an outsider. The picture must be for him, as for anyone experiencing it later, a revelation, an unexpected and unprecedented resolution of an eternally familiar need.” Mark Rothko, ‘The Romantics were Prompted…,” Possibilities,New York, No. 1, Winter 1947-48, p. 84 “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being." Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1962, chapter 11 The majestic summation of Mark Rothko’s legendary aesthetic language, No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue) stands as an ideal achievement of the sublime in abstract painting. This unrepeatable, inimitable masterpiece affords the privileged viewer a visual and somatic experience that is beyond comparison. The stunning aura of its brilliant red and orange surfaces is superbly countered by the intensely vivid blue rectangle towards its base; creating an alluring emanation that is impossible to reproduce in illustration. Indeed, it is almost as if this extraordinary painting is brilliantly illuminated from within: a translucent vessel of pure color and light. No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue) was the ultimate crescendo of Rothko’s first one-man exhibition in a major US museum, at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1954. The show was organized by one of the foremost champions of the avant-garde in post-war America, and the Institute’s first curator of modern painting and sculpture; the visionary Katherine Kuh. Every other work from that renowned event is now housed in a major institutional collection, except No. 6 (Yellow, White, Blue over Yellow on Gray), which broke the auction record for the artist when it was sold by Sotheby’s in 2004. In preparation for the exhibition, Kuh and Rothko corresponded extensively, originally in order to provide material for a pamphlet to accompany the show. Having visited the artist's studio in New York, her initial request for paintings specifically singled out the present work, as she wrote: "I particularly want that marvelous large red one" (letter of June 3, 1954). When Rothko provided the final list of paintings to be sent to Chicago on September 12, 1954, he included prices at which they should be sold to the public (given that he had ended his contract with the Betty Parsons Gallery in the previous Spring, it can be assumed that these were his own figures). The highest price was for No. 10, 1952-53, which, at almost ten by fourteen feet, was the largest canvas of the group by far, and which is now housed in the Museo Guggenheim in Bilbao. The second most valuable painting, as determined by the artist, was the present work, which provides resounding confirmation of the artist's very high esteem for this specific painting. Through the decades since its creation, No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue)has continued to captivate audiences as a pure icon of Rothko’s genius. It has been central to major Rothko exhibitions and was even selected as the key work for the vast announcement banner at the comprehensive retrospective at the National Gallery of Art in 1998. Among the 116 major works included in that show were many of the artist’s most iconic works, and the fact that the present painting was chosen in this way, acting as figurehead for the exhibition, further affirms its remarkable reputation. Executed at the kernel of the artist’s halcyon era, No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue) is archetypal of his very best painting and its appearance here at auction, after three decades residence in a prestigious private collection and inclusion in comprehensive major exhibitions, marks an historic moment. Following the crucial turning point of 1949-50, when Rothko resolved an abstract archetype out of the preceding multiform paintings, the artist entered what David Anfam, the editor of the Rothko catalogue raisonné, has called the anni mirabilis: the first half of the 1950s, during which the artist’s mature mode of artistic expression pioneered truly unprecedented territory. The present work is critical and integral to this spectacular outpouring of innovation and is one of just twelve canvases that Rothko created between 1950 and 1955 on a scale to exceed nine feet in height. Indeed, the scale of this painting is absolutely fundamental to the most authentic experience of Rothko’s vision, whereby we become participants in his all-encompassing canvases, rather than mere spectators. A number of other constituents of this esteemed body of paintings are today housed in the some of the most prestigious museum collections of the world such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. At the precipice of a decade during which Rothko would redefine the very essence of Abstract Art, he wrote the following words in a published statement: “A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token.” (Mark Rothko, “Statement,” Tiger’s Eye, New York, vol. 1, no. 2, December 1947, p. 44)  Rothko thus asserted a fundamental equation between the artwork and its beholder, whereby the true potential of his painting could not exist without the presence of the viewer. When Rothko asked Katherine Kuh to describe her reactions to his paintings she wrote of the ones she had seen, including the present work: "for me they have a kind of ecstasy of color which induces different but always intense moods. I am not a spectator - I am a participant." (letter July 18, 1954). Rothko’s statement that it is the experience of a painting that completes the artwork; and Kuh’s concept of becoming a participant in Rothko’s art rather than a mere spectator stand as two core tenets that make the present work a masterpiece of his oeuvre. For our experience of No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue) as participants in its stunning drama brings it to life, and may give new dimensions to our life. We do not look at this painting; we are absorbed into it. Indeed, being in its presence parallels a line of Nietzsche that had inspired Rothko since he had been a young man: “There is a need for a whole world of torment in order for the individual to sit quietly in his rocking row-boat in mid-sea, absorbed in contemplation.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, translation by Francis Golffing, New York, 1956, pp. 33-34) At over 113 inches in height, the scale of No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue) is sheer and monumental: broadcasting its allure on a greater-than human register; engulfing the viewer’s entire experience; and situating us as actors within its epic expanse. An apparent paradox typifies the artist’s ambition, declared in 1951: “I paint very large pictures…precisely because I want to be very intimate and human. To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience…However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn’t something you command.” (Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Mark Rothko: 1903-1970, 1987, p. 85)  Of course, scale is absolutely fundamental to the nature of Rothko’s work, identified as such by Clement Greenberg even in 1950:  “Broken by relatively few incidents of drawing or design, their surfaces exhale color with an enveloping effect that is enhanced by size itself. One reacts to an environment as much as to a picture hung on a wall.” (“'American-Type’ Painting” (1955) cited in Clifford Ross, Ed., Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, New York, 1990, p. 248)  Indeed, Rothko wrote to Katherine Kuh to instruct the hanging of the 1954 Chicago exhibition, of which the present work was such an important climax: “Since my pictures are large, colorful and unframed, and since museum walls are usually immense and formidable, there is the danger that the pictures relate themselves as decorative areas to the walls. This would be a distortion of their meaning, since the pictures are intimate and intense, and are the opposite of what is decorative; and have been painted in a scale of normal living rather than an institutional scale.” (Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Op. Cit., p. 58)  Indeed, describing “Rothko’s desire to envelop the spectator with art that overcame its ambient space”, David Anfam cites as example the 1955 show at the Sidney Janis Gallery that this work was also included in and where “the stature of the pictures and their siting – wedged into the spaces – is instructive. They seek to displace their environment.” (David Anfam, Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 73) Three shimmering zones of color, which are simultaneously drawn together and held apart from each other by ethereal and imperceptible boundaries, dominate the canvas. The brilliant royal blue anchors the composition and works in magisterial chromatic concert with its exact complimentary color of vivid orange that pushes towards the uppermost limits of the canvas. The central royal red strip is tonally equivalent to the luminous sea of orange above it, yet works as an elegantly sophisticated horizontal axis that our eye is drawn to, between the two larger pulsating expanses. Rothko applied paint in diverse fashions; the rectangles, or objects, being achieved either by paint being spread out from the center, or by an outline thereafter being filled in, or by strokes being applied in parallel until the form was completed. As noted by Irving Sandler, “Rothko built up his rectangular containers of color from lightly brushed, stained and blotted touches which culminate in a chromatic crescendo.” (Exh. Cat. New York, Pace Gallery, Mark Rothko: Paintings 1948-1969, 1983, p. 8)  Here chromatic resonance is attained through the meticulous aggregation of translucent veils of brushed pigment, with especially close attention paid to the spaces between forms and the edges of the canvas. Both despite of and due to their differences, the color fields equilibrate: the lure of one is immediately countered by the irresistible pull of the other as they reverberate over the fractionally paler ground. The layers of pigments concurrently hover indeterminately as three-dimensional floods of color in front of the picture plane, while also reinforcing the materiality of the painted object through their saturation of the canvas weave. Through form, surface, texture and color Rothko has struck a perennial balance that lures the viewer's constant attention. There is also a certain tension struck between the uplifting emotions conventionally evoked by warm golden hues and something implicitly more tragic. Such elemental colors harbor primal connotations of light, warmth and the Sun, but inasmuch as they invoke the Sun they also implicate the inevitable cycle of dawn and dusk, of rise and set, and their own continual demise and rebirth. Rothko once stated to David Sylvester: “Often, towards nightfall, there’s a feeling in the air of mystery, threat, frustration – all of these at once. I would like my painting to have the quality of such moments.” (in David Anfam, Op. Cit., p. 88), and with its suggestion of an unobtainable horizon and an infinite, unbreakable cycle, this work harbors something that is indescribably portentous. While much contemporary commentary cited Rothko’s oeuvre as radically dislocated from historical precedent, subsequent perspective readily posits his oeuvre an eminent historical location. From J.M.W. Turner, Caspar David Friedrich and Claude Monet to the Luminists, Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse; predecessors concerned with the pure effects of color from decades and centuries past informed the new painting Rothko initiated in mid-century New York. Perhaps foremost among these was Matisse, whose own practice had so radically redefined relationships between form and color, and as Robert Rosenblum has pointed out: “it dawned on many of Rothko’s admirers that his dense seas of color might not have existed without the example of Matisse, a point the artist himself acknowledged.” (Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Op. Cit., p. 22) It is well documented that Rothko was fixated with the literary work of Friedrich Nietzsche, above all the German philosopher's seminal opus The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music written in 1872. Nietzsche’s ideas of how the tension between Apollonian and Dionysian forces dictates the terms of human drama were important to the advancement of Rothko's color fields. Indeed, Rothko’s vast tableaux have often been discussed in the lexicon of the immediate and saturating effects of music. David Sylvester’s review of the 1961 Whitechapel Gallery exhibition in London provides an apt response to the present work in these terms: “These paintings begin and end with an intense and utterly direct expression of feeling through the interaction of colored areas of a certain size. They are the complete fulfillment of Van Gogh’s notion of using color to convey man’s passions. They are the realisation of what abstract artists have dreamed for 50 years of doing – making painting as inherently expressive as music. More than this: for not even with music…does isolated emotion touch the nervous system so directly.” (in New Statesman, 20 October 1961 cited in Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Op. Cit., p. 36) Excepting a letter to Art News in 1957, from 1949 onwards Rothko ceased publishing statements about his work, anxious that his writings might be interpreted as instructive or didactic and could thereby interfere with the pure import of the paintings themselves. However, in 1958 he gave a talk at the Pratt Institute to repudiate his critics and to deny any perceived association between his art and self-expression. He insisted instead that his corpus was not concerned with notions of self but rather with the entire human drama. While he drew a distinction between figurative and abstract art, he nevertheless outlined an underlying adherence to the portrayal of human experience. Discussing the “artist’s eternal interest in the human figure”, Rothko examined the common bond of figurative painters throughout Art History: “they have painted one character in all their work. What is indicated here is that the artist’s real model is an ideal which embraces all of human drama rather than the appearance of a particular individual. Today the artist is no longer constrained by the limitation that all of man’s experience is expressed by his outward appearance. Freed from the need of describing a particular person, the possibilities are endless. The whole of man’s experience becomes his model, and in that sense it can be said that all of art is a portrait of an idea.” (lecture given at the Pratt Institute 1958, cited in Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Op. Cit., p. 87) Signed, titled #1 and dated 1954 on the reverse

  • 2012-11-14

World auction record for any diamond or jewelhighest price for any

The oval mixed-cut fancy vivid pink diamond weighing 59.60 carats, mounted in platinum. Ring size: 5¾, illustrated unmounted. Accompanied by GIA report numbered 2175607011, dated 28 April 2016, stating that the diamond is natural, Fancy Vivid Pink Colour, Internally Flawless; together with a diamond type classification report stating that the diamond is determined to be a Type IIa diamond; also accompanied by a letter from GIA stating that this is the largest Flawless or Internally Flawless, Fancy Vivid Pink, Natural Colour, diamond they have ever graded; the GIA report is additionally accompanied by a separate monograph.Further accompanied by a monograph from Gübelin, duplicate no. 16 of the original report numbered 0701199, dated 22 November 2007, stating that the diamond is Fancy Vivid Pink Colour, IF, Type IIa, together with history and chemical analysis of the stone. _________________________________________________________ One of the Worlds Great Natural Treasures Meticulously cut by Steinmetz Diamonds over a period of nearly two years - a process in which the 132.50 carat rough was cast in epoxy more than 50 times in order to create models upon which the design team could experiment with different cuts -it was transformed into this spectacular 59.60 carat, fancy vivid pink, internally flawless oval cut gem the largest internally flawless or flawless, fancy vivid pink diamond that the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has ever graded. The diamond was first unveiled to the public in May 2003 as the Steinmetz Pink, and was modelled by Helena Christensen at a dedicated event thrown to coincide with the Monaco Grand Prix. Writing in the Financial Times on the 31 May 2003, Mike Duff described the diamond as the rarest, finest, most precious stone the world has ever seen. The stone was first sold in 2007 and was subsequently renamed The Pink Star. In the same article, Tom Moses, Executive Vice President and Chief Laboratory and Research Officer of the GIA, is quoted as saying: its our experience that large polished pink diamonds over ten carats very rarely occur with an intense colour The GIA Laboratory has been issuing grading reports for 50 years and this is the largest pink diamond with this depth of colour [vivid pink] that we have ever characterised. Of all fancy coloured pink diamonds, those graded Fancy Vivid are the most precious and desirable. The current world auction record for a pink diamond is the Graff Pink, a superb 24.78 carat diamond which sold at Sotheby's Geneva in November 2010 for US$46.16 million. Weighing in at 59.60 carats and graded as Fancy Vivid, the Pink Star is twice the size. In the summer of 2003, this amazing gem was exhibited at 'The Splendor of Diamonds' exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. Displayed in the Winston Gallery alongside the 45.52 carat blue Hope Diamond, the exhibition featured seven of the worlds rarest and most extraordinary diamonds. Also on view for the first time in the United States was the 203.04 carat De Beers Millennium Star, one of the largest diamonds in the world; the Heart of Eternity blue diamond; the Moussaieff Red, the largest known red diamond in the world; the Harry Winston Pumpkin Diamond; the Allnatt, one of the worlds largest yellow diamonds at 101.29 carats; and the Ocean Dream, the worlds largest naturally occurring blue-green diamond. Commenting at the opening of the exhibition, Dr. Jeffrey Post, curator of the Gems and Minerals Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History said, Each of the diamonds is the finest of its kind and together with the museums gem collection makes for an exhibit of truly historic proportions. In the three months the exhibition ran, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History attracted more than 1.6 million visitors. From July through November 2005, The Pink Star again took centre stage, this time at the 'Diamonds' exhibition held at the Natural History Museum, in London. This exhibition will bring together many of the most impressive single stones in the world, fascinating science, and insights into the diamond industry to tell the story of diamonds from deep in the Earth to the red carpet, said Michael Dixon, director of the Natural History Museum. For five months, the dazzling exhibition attracted approximately 70,000 visitors a day.

  • HKGSonderverwaltungszone Hongkong
  • 2017-04-04

Untitled (New York City)

To articulate the inexplicable: this is what Cy Twombly set out to do, in paintings that consecrate the sublime visual poetry of that which cannot be written. With the obsessively systematic repetition of his Blackboard paintings, Twombly lyrically expresses both a ceaseless effort and persistent inability to depict an emotion that is quite simply beyond representation. Created in an outburst of significant invention, Twombly’s epic Untitled (New York City) from 1968 sits at the very head of the artist’s celebrated Blackboards.  Unrivaled for its scale and ambition, the artist painted an extremely limited number of other seminal Blackboard canvases that share the present work’s fully formed loops and vast format. Untitled (New York City) has remained in the same private collection for the past quarter-century, prior to which it belonged to two highly distinguished collections: the Saatchi Collection in London and the Collection of Fred Mueller, an illustrious fixture in the New York art world of the 1960s. The painting is a rare, monumental testament to the artist’s iconic drama and piercing intelligence. Evoking the richly worked surface of an archaic palimpsest, the present work confounds drawing, painting, and reading in the oblong lines that boldly proliferate across every verse. In Untitled (New York City), Twombly’s cylindrical forms reverberate within their own echo chamber, refracting into seeming infinity whilst elegantly contained within the parameters of the canvas. Twombly here investigated the definition and physical nature of a simple geometrical element in space as it erupts within the picture plane with cataclysmic graphic narrative, pulsing with an ineffable rhythm. The six magnificent horizontal bands of loops increase in volume and expressive abandon as the artist progressed down the canvas—Twombly’s lassoed lines progressively lose regularity and control, resulting in thrillingly increased drips, smears, and spatters toward the bottom of the picture. Especially against their grey ground, the oval scrawls emerge from and recede into one another in dense relief, teetering on the threshold of legibility. The painter leaves behind any didactic meaning of his intervention, abandoning the safe haven of mythological symbols and reverting to the most primal usage of the line as an almost naïve yet extremely potent transmitter of space, duration, and motion. As explained by Heiner Bastian: “Twombly tries to shatter form as well as its concomitant intellectual and narrative history in a kind of relativism, reducing it to a rationality of 'black and white' that is at the same time the structural sum of all movement." (Heiner Bastian, ed., Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume III 1966-1971, Munich, 1994, p. 23) When Leonardo da Vinci painted his whirlwinds, storms, and floods, he sought to capture a subject that could be written about but was nearly impossible to be painted. Da Vinci’s cataclysms and maelstroms were a considerable influence for Twombly’s all-engulfing abstraction, a muscular study of colossal light and shadow that in its tempestuous intensity evokes da Vinci’s sublime storms. Twombly approached the issue of movement and time within pictorial space by reconsidering artists like Leonardo, Marcel Duchamp, and the Italian Futurists, who would conceive mythology and history through abstract principles. Suzanne Delehanty described the critical moment in Twombly’s practice during which he painted the present work: “Around 1967-1968, Twombly isolated the abstraction of movement, whether at rest or in motion, and its coefficient, space-time; the passionate centrifugal motion of Galatea is transformed into the supreme poetry of movement which intrigued Leonardo throughout his life… It is as if Twombly entered Leonardo’s mind to envision the affinities between natural and human processes—to see the drawn line, like a natural phenomenon, unfold in space and time.” (Suzanne Delehanty, "The Alchemy of Mind and Hand" in Nicola del Roscio, ed., Writings on Cy Twombly, p. 68) The painting reflects the artist’s supreme introspection and affinity for draftsmanship, here magnified through an exceptional scope. With expressive clarity and sobering gravity, Untitled (New York City) exudes the ineffable vitality and cadence of the most resplendent written or musical compositions. The enigmatic plasticity of the matte paint, coupled with the operatic calligraphy orbiting the surface’s grisaille expanse, seduces in its rich, impassioned reduction. The spectacular scale of the present work amplifies the momentum of Twombly’s cyclical shapes, which unroll along a rectilinear axis with unparalleled rhythm. Twombly complied with the canvas’s perimeter, as evident by the bounded edges of each lassoed line; this nuanced formal restraint is challenged as Twombly grappled with controlling an irrepressible energy that reached a riveting crescendo in the seismographic jolts of accelerating scale and intensity along each band. The Blackboard works marked Twombly's abrupt abandonment of the richly colorful and expressive compositions from the first half of the 1960s known as Baroque Paintings, giving rise to works that would employ a visual language of pure austerity and sublimity. Renouncing the rich, Baroque style of his earlier 1960s work, in 1966 Twombly turned his focus back to the restrained monochrome works that he first embarked upon in the 1950s. However, unlike the static, semi-figurative black and white paintings of Twombly's formative years in the early 1950s, the inimitable gray works of the 1960s saw the centrifugal energy and erotic charge of Twombly's Baroque-inspired early 1960s paintings transferred into a rhythmic discourse of mood and movement. In the same year Twombly painted Untitled (New York City), he opened his first one-person museum exhibition in the United States at the Milwaukee Art Center; upon the occasion of the show, Robert-Pincus Witten praised Twombly’s heroic development: “Handwriting has become for Twombly the means of beginning again, of erasing the Baroque culmination of the painting of the early 1960s… it has been drowned in a schoolmaster’s blackboard. It has been reduced to rudimentary exercises… With it, Twombly casts down all that was grandiose in his mature style, rejecting a lush manner for simple and stringent exercises.” (Pincus-Witten cited in Nicola del Roscio, ed., Ibid., p. 216) This new series revived the artist’s career following a troubling period in the early part of the decade. In the winter of 1963, Twombly completed the painting cycle Nine Discourses on Commodus (Guggenheim Museum Bilbao), a group of nine canvases based on the murder of the Roman emperor Aurelius Commodus. The lushly impastoed yet highly esoteric paintings were shown at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in 1964; the exhibition was received by scathing critical reviews, after which Twombly severely slowed his production. The artist made only 20 canvases in 1964 and none in 1965; he returned to painting in 1966 with a series of grey-ground works from which the cycle of Blackboard paintings emerged. With 1966 paintings like Problem I, II, III (Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt) and Night Watch (Private Collection), Twombly eschewed the literary and mythological undercurrents of his earlier works in favor of pure geometry and abstracted line to advance a similar expression of temporal development and motion. Although the first of the grey-ground paintings were made in Rome in the spring of 1966 and shown in February 1967 in Turin, the artist himself noted that New York proved to be a more suitable location for them because of its relative “coolness.” Twombly spent the greater part of the years 1967 to 1970 in New York, working in studios on the Bowery and on Canal Street; Untitled (New York City) exudes a metropolitan severity and urban grit reflective of the artist’s surroundings at the time. The present work ushered in a rediscovered Americanness in Twombly’s work, reflecting the contemporary artistic discourse in marked contrast to the Europeanness of his earlier works. Minimalism had become the dominant strain in contemporary art, and it was in the mid-1960s that artists such as Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and Sol Lewitt were pioneering aesthetic developments toward a stark and austere form of art that dominated the city. In 1966, Primary Structures opened at the Jewish Museum; organized by Kynaston McShine, the exhibit was the first to group the major artists working in similar modes of production under the umbrella of Minimalism. Moreover, two years later in 1968, the Paula Cooper Gallery opened its doors with the now legendary exhibition “Benefit for The Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam,” bringing together work by 14 artists including Andre, Judd, Lewitt, and Flavin, in addition to Robert Mangold, Robert Ryman, and Bill Bollinger. Chromatically sparse and formally reductive, the grey-ground pictures demanded new modes of reading Twombly’s work with relation to the artistic developments pulsing through New York City. Kirk Varnedoe explained: “Just as those earlier pictures had represented a cooling shift away from painterly and erotic energies, these new canvases were lean and unemotional, in contrast to the baroque color and violence of the work of the early 1960s… That temporal aspect was then extended through the grey-ground works of the next few years, in the frequent imagery of analytically segmented movement… Twombly’s previous attraction to the evidence of deep, slow, ‘vertical’ time, in scarred surfaces, here is translated into a fascination for the forms of ‘lateral’ speed, forms and forces rushing by with their proliferation of marks more rationally divided than confoundingly layered.” (Kirk Varnedoe, "Inscriptions in Arcadia" in Nicola del Roscio, ed., Ibid., pp. 215-6) The rhythmic harmony and balanced composure of voluminous loops that sprawl across the surface of Untitled (New York City) recall Paul Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook and Palmer Method handwriting exercises. These are forms that insist on a progressive linear continuity but simultaneously concede to isolated bursts of irregular activity. Unlike Twombly’s earlier canvases, in which episodes of personal expression are scattered across the canvas, the artist here constricts his activity to a gestural framework—nevertheless, the lassoed bands give way to expressive subjectivity in their vigorously imprecise execution. Twombly recalled being taught to write using the Palmer method, a strict technique of teaching handwriting that required pupils to repetitively practice rote drills keeping their fingers and wrists rigid while only moving their arms. In the lattice of tiered lateral ovals scoring the canvas, Twombly’s own gestural abandon erupts from the structural balance of the composition; while more precise and mathematical than the automatism of the Surrealists or the impulse of the Abstract Expressionists, Twombly’s subjectivity seeps through what appears to be mechanical labor. Like the individual strokes of encaustic that burst forth through the predetermined grids and formats of a Jasper Johns painting, Twombly’s loops similarly bely in subtle disobedience a totally objective geometric precision. With the rigid syntax and rudimentary forms of the grey-ground paintings, Twombly appeared to deny the insouciance of personality; however, the tremulous inflections of each parabolic rise and fall inevitably give way to the signature intensity of the artist’s own hand. Varnedoe commented: “As before, Twombly courts the accusation that there is no mind involved—previously, because the manner seemed chaotically subjective, without sufficient ordering control, too episodic and too little marked by work; and now, because it seems mechanically rote and impersonal, too monotonous and too completely a matter of work. No familiar evidence of heroic spontaneity or intuited compositional judgment, nor any universal coordinate such as geometry, anchored the pictures’ claim to attention.” (Kirk Varnedoe, “Inscriptions in Arcadia” in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, 1994, p. 42) Like the work of Minimalist artists who pursued a repetitive, doggedly systematic task—such as Yayoi Kusama’s looped Infinity Nets, Sol Lewitt’s serial pencil-drawn lines on the wall, or Günther Uecker’s intricately nailed surfaces—Twombly’s painting experimented with the unplanned personal inflections that can arise from following strict conventions, a departure from ideals of purely spontaneous expression. At moments, the line is tight and dense; at others, Twombly abandoned control and his cursive energy drives off course, a high-speed choreography in which individual events of personal expression are sublimated into a greater whole of dense accumulations. Within this dichotomy lies the very brilliance of Twombly’s painting: reveling in the contradictions between the systematic and the irregular, the unruly and the cerebral, the premeditated and the intuitive, Twombly achieved a balletic complexity unsurpassed by any of his contemporaries. Twombly was conscripted to the military from November 1953 to August 1954, and during these years of service, the artist was assigned first to Camp Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, and then the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. It was here that Twombly worked as a cryptologist, studying the art of writing and solving codes. The artist often drew at night after lights out, producing a group of works that initiated his motif of ‘scribbling’ and laid the foundation for much of his subsequent work. Drawing in the dark excised the sense of reason and rationality associated with the eye; instead, Twombly liberated his graphic activity from optical control and made his hand alone responsible for form, thereby encouraging instantaneity and the unanticipated. Such techniques evolved out of Surrealism—abandoning inhibitive self-consciousness, blind composition was a method of automatism taught by leading figures like André Breton and André Masson. Around this time, Abstract Expressionist artists seized on the influence of European Modernism and adopted considerable interest in glyphs and modes of primitive communication. This attention to the symbols of archaic societies and their inherently expressive power were a natural point of departure for these New York School painters, for whom the power of simple expressive abstract signs held clear associations to their own modes of gestural abstraction at the time. Jackson Pollock’s Stenographic Figure and Adolph Gottlieb’s various pictographic structures come to mind as critical starting points for the intersection between cryptology and painting that occupied Twombly during this formative period. The artist arrived in New York in September 1950, precisely at a critical moment in the city’s development as the nucleus of the most significant artistic breakthroughs of the century. This is the year that Jackson Pollock dripped his most revered paintings, among them Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), Number 1 (Lavender Mist), and One: Number 31, 1950; Willem de Kooning had begun work on Woman I; Mark Rothko had moved away from his earlier Multiforms to develop the stacked zones of color he is best known for today; and Barnett Newman had just painted his first ‘zips’.  Enrolling in the Art Students League following two years at the Boston Museum School, Twombly’s landing in New York coincided with the height of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. His Blackboard paintings, executed 15 years later, bridged Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Pop, akin to his pioneering peers Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Together these three artists embraced, questioned, and advanced the formal and conceptual progressions enacted by the preceding generation of painters and sculptors. Twombly met Rauschenberg at the Art Students League in New York in the beginning of the 1950s, and it was Rauschenberg who suggested Twombly study at Black Mountain College. The two artists later journeyed to Europe and North Africa from fall 1952 to the spring of 1953, in part enabled by a grant Twombly received from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Upon his return to New York, and whilst sharing a Fulton Street loft with Twombly, Rauschenberg completed his body of black paintings, composing layers of newspaper and dense, glossy black paint on a two-dimensional surface. The thickly built-up surfaces reveal Rauschenberg’s preoccupation with collage, while the highly articulated inky paint evokes gestural expressionism and the monochromatic surface anticipates the advent of Minimalism. Rauschenberg said that he wanted his Black paintings to possess “complexity without their revealing anything.” Like Rauschenberg, Twombly brought the outside world into his abstract paintings by way of a highly self-aware detachment, suffusing them with his own personal brand of subjective mark-making. In undertaking the challenge of capturing movement in time and space, Twombly aligned himself to the godfather of the avant-garde, Marcel Duchamp. Like the shadows of Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, the ethereal loops multiply and overlap across the surface of the canvas. Katharina Schmidt noted: “During these years Twombly’s interests ranged beyond the Leonardo drawings mentioned and his draping studies to all those artists and movements in art at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century that sought new, more adequate forms for the representation of space and movement in a changing world. Eadweard Muybridge, Marcel Duchamp’s painting Nude Descending a Staircase II, 1912, and the formal and spatial concepts of the Russian Constructivists should all be mentioned here, as well as his investigation of the Futurists, Balla, Boccioni, and Russolo.” (Katharina Schmidt, “Way to Arcadia: Thoughts on Myth and Image in Cy Twombly’s Painting,” in Nicola del Roscio, ed., Op. Cit., p. 154) The linear sequences of layered frames in Untitled (New York City) recall the Futurist explorations into forms in motion, and its chronicling of a contemporary psychological landscape. While the Futurist principle of movement in space was centered on the rational, quasi-scientific understanding of transformation and duration, Twombly appears to have reacted to the dispersion of forms in which painstaking precision comes into contact with an energetic abandon. With all the rough, fractured rawness of street graffiti, Twombly presented an entirely novel visual language that innovatively explored both the most elementary and the most sophisticated concerns posed by the genesis of creativity. Heiner Bastian expounded on Twombly’s representation of time and spatial progression, exemplified in the geometric planes that vibrate across Untitled (New York City): “Twombly’s understanding of space had developed through his experience of form. The definition of individual forms led to the dramatic imagining of space as surveying and distance, as movement and the prism of this movement in temporal progressions and static sequences. In place of the total figure, which also takes a firm place in the movement at a given moment, there follow representations in which the figure, split into parts, becomes a dynamic configuration. From this lining up of movement sequences, Twombly moves to the problem of the permanence of pictorial impressions... Time and space blend in the idiosyncrasy of a constant Present. 'Spatial time' is fixed through the dissolution of all substantive, physical impressions. Perception, memory, and progression coincide in the darkness of the moment that is just transpiring. The attempts to render it transparent are energetically flowing lines and sweeping movements.” (Heiner Bastian cited in Katharina Schmidt, “Way to Arcadia: Thoughts on Myth and Image in Cy Twombly’s Painting,” in Nicola del Roscio, ed., Op. Cit., pp. 155-156) The surface of Untitled (New York City) evokes a graffiti-scarred wall, characterized by accretive layers that in their very build-up and lush tonal variety divulge a sense of temporal progression. Atop a lustrous silvery ground of oil-based house-paint, Twombly used a pearlescent wax crayon to impress a torrent of overlapping lassoes into the thin wet surfaces; his impressions are both positive and negative, oscillating between additive mark-making and reductive incisions tangled and together suspended in fractured continuum. In Untitled (New York City), Twombly's gestures hover between inscription and erasure—the record of his process is captured in the luscious drips of diaphanous paint that spatter and cascade from the six horizontal bands. Pentimenti punctuate the surface of his painting like a chalkboard, resulting in a constant state of flux between writing and erasure, and possessing a ripe wetness that lends it the urgency of the here and now. This graphic, primitive mode of expression is at once imbued with Twombly’s fascination by archaeological surfaces corroded over time, together with the reductive schematic economy of prehistoric art. Moreover, the scrawled spirals invoke a sort of proto-handwriting: a primitive form of expression that strives toward resolution and legibility but is suspended in a perpetual territory of formal symbolism, akin to our contemporary reading of classical mark-making. Twombly said: “Generally speaking my art has evolved out of the interest in symbols abstracted, but never the less humanistic; formal as most arts are in their archaic and classic stages, and a deeply aesthetic sense of eroded or ancient surfaces of time.” (the artist cited in Nicola del Roscio, ed. Op. Cit., p. 199) His marks, in this way, escape any fixation in time; the temporality exists within the primacy of the line, embroiled in the narrative, history, and rhythm of its own unrolling across the canvas. The development of each loop traces its own history and charts the narrative of its own realization, existing forever both in the moment that Cy Twombly applied his crayon to canvas and in each current moment that the painting speeds before the viewer’s eye. With Untitled (New York City), Twombly rendered the past as alive as the present, and makes the present ever more electric and more sensuous in every instant that we are suspended in the painting’s sublime odyssey. Signed, inscribed NYC and dated 1968 on the reverse

  • 2015-11-12


Exceedingly rare, Modigliani's elegant stone carvings are among the most coveted works of modern art.  While the majority these sculptures are in the collections of museums, the present work is the finest remaining in private hands.  Tête that has the power to enthrall those who enter its realm.  Created in the likeness of an ancient totem or deity, this magnificient carving was created in Modigliani's open-air studio at the Cité Falguière in Montparnasse.  At night the artist would illuminate these sculptures by candlelight, creating a sacred space for his goddesses of stone.   Those faced with the spectacle could not escape the power and allure of this beautiful figure.  "The stone heads affected me strangely," confessed Augustus John, the British artist who purchased the present sculpture directly from Modigliani. "For some days afterwards I found myself under the hallucination of meeting people in the street who might have posed for them… Can ‘Modi’ have discovered a new and secret aspect of ‘reality’?"  Even Modigliani was not immune to its transfixing effect.  Jacques Lipchitz remembered that "Modigliani, when under the influence of hashish, embraced these sculptures."  And Jacob Epstein, after visiting the studio one night when it was filled with nine or ten of these elongated heads, recalled that "when we had left him very late, he came running down the passage after us, calling us to come back like a frightened child" (quoted in Meryle Secrest, Modigliani, A Life, New York, 2011, p. 143). Such is the bewitching effect of Tête, a venerable idol of the avant-garde. Modigliani's work on Tête was a product of a devotional mania towards sculpture as an act of carving, or the liberation of form from a block of stone.  His passion for this process was witnessed by many of his fellow artists at this time.  The English painter Nina Hamnett observed that Modigliani "always regarded sculpture as his real métier, and it was probably only lack of money, the difficulty of obtaining material, and the amount of time required to complete a work in stone that made him return to painting during the last five years of his life" (in Alfred Werner, Modigliani the Sculptor, New York, 1962, p. XIX).  Jacob Epstein, too, described Modigliani's fanatical approach to this medium and explained that his process was integral to his desired result:  "Modigliani, like some others at the time, was very taken with the notion that sculpture was sick, that it had become very sick with Rodin and his influence.  There was too much modeling in clay, too much 'mud.'  The only way to save sculpture was to start carving again, direct carving in stone... the important thing was to give the carved stone the feeling of hardness, and that came from within the sculptor himself ... he worked furiously... without stopping to correct or ponder.  He worked, it seemed, entirely by instinct - which was however extremely fine and sensitive, perhaps owing much to his Italian inheritance and his love of the painting of the early Renaissance masters" (reprinted in op. cit., p. 130). Modigliani’s passionate avowal of direct carving is especially evident in the extraordinary richly varied surface texture of the present work; with passages alternating between an extremely fine, smooth finish to roughly hewn and chisel-marked. This expressive handling emphasized the creative process and the artist’s dedication to his newly developed aesthetic. The present sculpture was created in 1911-12 from a single block of limestone known as pierre d'Euville, a porous rock quarried in a small town in eastern France.   Modigliani scavenged the material from construction sites around Paris, carting it in a wheelbarrow back to the studios he shared with Constantin Brancusi, who instructed him in carving.  While Brancusi's influence on Modigliani can surely be detected in his smooth carving here, another important influence was the streamlined, puckered-lipped Guro maskes from the Ivory Coast.  Modigliani had seen many examples of these African ritualistic objects at the Musée du Trocadéro, and their impact was clearly recognizable upon visiting the artist's work space: "His studio at that time was a miserable hole within a courtyard where he worked," Lipchitz remembered. "It was then filled by nine or ten of those long heads which were suggested by African masks and one figure.  They were carved in stone. I can see him as if it were today, stooping over those heads of his, explaining to me that he had concieved all of them as an ensemble.  It seems to me that these heads were exhibited later the same year (1912) in the Salon d'Automne, arranged in step-wise fashion, like the tubes of an organ, to produce the special music he wanted" (quoted in ibid.). Modigliani's theatrical and poetic leanings with regard to his sculpture were reinforced by his acquaintance with the young Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, with whom he had an developed an intense relationship between 1910 through 1912.  During the spring of 1911, Akhmatova was inseparable from Modigliani and wrote that "you could hear the knock of his mallet in the deserted alley" of his Montparnasse studio as he liberated the figures from their stone.  While Tête bears the linear and elongated facial features that would define the paintings of his later years, the face that perhaps can be credited as a main inspiration for this sculpture is that of the young and striking Akhmatova.  With her unusual Slavic beauty and taste for the melancholic poetry, Akhmatova left a lasting impression.  "You are for me like a haunting memory," he wrote adoringly to her in 1911.  Following their tour of the Egyptian Antiquities department at the Louvre that spring, Modigliani painted a portrait of Akhmatova dressed in the garb of an Egyptian queen, as well as several other representations of her with distinctly Egyptian embellishments. Her distinctive sharp profile became a constant feature in his production of this era, particularly in his representations of the Greek "princesses at the Temple of Diana," known as the Caryatids.  The elegant Tête, with its elongated nose, densely piled sweep of hair and intensely regal bearing, is readily identifiable as an amalgam of these influences and the artist's adoration of this specific type of beauty. In his essay for the exhibition catalogue, Modigliani, Sculptor, Kenneth Wayne has written about the influence of antiquity on Modigliani's extraordinary sculptures: "Modigliani's sculptures share many characteristics with the Egyptian art that he loved so much and visited regularly at the Louvre.  A quiet solemnity, a profound air of mystery and spirituality, blocky forms, blank almond-shaped eyes, a beatific smile, an imposing frontality and forward stare, and decorative elements in the hair and forehead.  The blank eyes in Modigliani's sculpture also recall Greek and Roman sculptures as they have come down through time, with the painted elements worn off.  Even the rough, unfinished quality of some of Modigliani's sculptures gives them the look and feel of bruised ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman sculptures.  Modigliani's favorite material too, limestone, was the same used to make the Great Pyramid and Great Sphinx in Giza and some Egyptian and Greek sculpture" (K. Wayne, "Modigliani, Modern Sculpture and the Influence of Antiquity," op. cit., p. 76). Tête was exhibited at the Salon d'Automne of 1912 in the famous Salle des Cubistes, a landmark exhibition in the history of modern art. The photograph of the Salle des Cubistes published in L'Illustration of October 12, 1912 shows the present work taking the dominant position on the far left, in the semi-circular arrangement described by Lipchitz.  Modigliani's sculptures were on view alonside Cubist works by the pioneers of modernism including Léger and Kupka, and offered a sensual alternative to the more severe, geometricized works of his contemporaries.   Following the exhibition, the present sculpture was acquired by Augustus John, the celebrated British artist who met Modigliani in Paris in 1912.  In his memoirs John recalled the experience of first seeing this sculpture among its companion works in the artist's studio, where they had a lingering, transfixing impact on his consciousness: "D. [Dorelia McNeill] and I visited his studio in Montparnasse one day, and bought a couple of the stone heads he was making at the time. The floor was covered with them, all much alike and prodigiously long and narrow. Returning with us to Montparnasse after this transaction, “Modi” exclaimed, ‘Ah, comme c’est chic d’être dans le progrès!’ and pressed into my hands his well-thumbed copy of Les Chants de Maldoror. This was his bible" (Augustus John, Chiaroscuro, London, 1954, p. 96). John prominently displayed the work first at Alderney and secondly at his final home, Fryern Court. The sculpture was subsequently sold in 1955 to Dudley Tooth and thence through the Hanover Gallery to a private collector in Europe. As Erica Brausen noted in a letter to the purchaser  "In fact after Sir Augustus you are the only private collector to own it" (letter of 9th July 1956 from E. Brausen, Director of the Hanover Gallery, London).   Today, the present work is perhaps the finest stone carvings to remain in private hands.  With approximately two dozen known in existence, the vast majority are in prominent museums, including the Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University; Tate Gallery, London; Kunsthalle, Karlsuhe, Germany; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Le Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and the Musée d'Art Moderne Lille Métropole, Villeneuve d'Ascq.

  • 2014-11-05

La Gommeuse

Picasso's extraordinary La Gommeuse is among the rare and coveted pictures created during the artist's Blue Period (1901-1904). The painting dates from the second half of 1901, following Picasso's widely-praised exhibition at Vollard's gallery that June and amidst the sobering aftermath of his friend Casagemas' suicide earlier in the year. Just shy of 20, the artist was sharing an apartment in Paris with his Catalan anarchist friend Pere Mañach, and the two young men immersed themselves in the debauchery of the Parisian demi-monde.  This dizzying mixture of professional success and personal tragedy, along with the carnal pleasures of youth and the inexorable sadness of mortality, brought Picasso's creative genius to a climax. Central to this artistic narrative is La Gommeuse, a gorgeous cabaret performer whose very body defines the perverse beauty of the age.  Portrayed in an absynthian haze of sexual ennui, she is both temptation and downfall incarnate, a high priestess of melancholy and a siren of joie de vivre. In recent correspondence with Sotheby's, curator and Picasso historian Marilyn McCully has provided her interpretation of the picture, in which she states that it features an entertainer posed in front of a painting in Picasso's studio.  Art historians have also suggested that the composition depicts a cabaret perform in front of a stage, where a dancer appears to be swirling a floral skirt.  McCully has expanded on her analysis as follows: "The painting known as La Gommeuse represents a pivotal moment in Picasso’s artistic development in 1901, the year in which he had his first major exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery in Paris (24 June-14 July 1901). That show had featured more than sixty paintings and drawings, which reflected the young Spaniard’s immediate response to recent French art. The major influence was Toulouse Lautrec, both in subject matter – café scenes, prostitutes and dance halls – and, to some extent, technique, but Picasso’s subsequent focus on isolated figures and restricted, subdued palettes in his new works emphasized his own exploration of the theme of loneliness and his interest in formal experimentation. The depictions of syphilitic prostitutes and poverty-stricken mothers in his Blue Period of late 1901-1902 was in many ways anticipated in La Gommeuse and works related to it. Here the nude, who is placed at the left in the foreground, is enclosed with a strong defining outline to emphasize her self-containment within the composition. Her body, with its ochre and greenish hues, is set against a flat background divided between light and dark, in a way that is reminiscent of a similar formal device used by Gauguin to give emphasis to frontal figures. The slumped position of La Gommeuse, where her head obscures her neck and joins her rounded shoulders, is characteristic of a group of compositions by Picasso in which women, usually seated at café tables, are depicted alone. These “sisters” of La Gommeuse, painted from the late summer to the autumn of 1901– such as Woman with a chignon (Fogg Art Museum) – are, however, always dressed. And while these women often seem to have been of a generic, French type, La Gommeuse appears to have been based on a specific model. The woman’s black wavy hair, black curved eyebrows, straight nose, and downturned mouth are noticeably different from the others, whose red or dark hair is piled on their heads. The title La Gommeuse was probably given to this composition when it was exhibited, and the woman portrayed was presumably an entertainer. Around 1900 the word ‘gommeuse’ was popularly associated with sexily dressed – or underdressed – café-concert singers and with their songs. We know that in 1901 Picasso drew from life a number of such performers, including the celebrated singer Polaire, for the Paris journal Frou Frou, which published his drawings between February and September 1901.  Polaire, who is easily identified by her wavy black hair and diminutive features and often wore plunging necklines and even patterned scarves around her neck, may have been the inspiration if not the real model for this composition. Around the turn of the century, when Polaire was performing in Paris, she was referred to as “la gommeuse épileptique” because of the way her body shook as she shifted her feet from one side to the other during her songs. Picasso painted La Gommeuse in his atelier on the Boulevard de Clichy, and the painting on the wall behind the figure defines the setting as the artist’s studio, where the woman may actually have posed. In the painting on the wall we only see the lower part of what appears to be a large, predominantly blue canvas with a figure wearing a gauzy dress and red stockings, surrounded by loosely painted, bright colors – evoking another composition that Picasso had done earlier in the summer of 1901, Nude with red stockings (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons). The caricatural composition on the reverse of La Gommeuse bears the inscription “Recuerdo a Mañach en el día de su santo” – which reveals that the canvas was intended as a gift to Pere Mañach on his Saint’s Day (29 June), and this allows the completion of the canvas to be dated with accuracy. Pere Mañach, who shared the Boulevard de Clichy studio with the artist, was a Catalan who lived in Paris and worked as a runner for several dealers, scouting out new artists from Spain. He had been responsible for finding buyers for Picasso’s works in 1900 and had put him under contract when the artist returned to his native country at the end of that year. It was Mañach who organized for the artist to show at Vollard’s in the following summer, and Picasso’s bold portrait of his friend (National Gallery of Art, Washington) was one of the featured works in the Vollard show. In contrast to the rather conventional pose of Picasso’s formal portrait of Mañach, the painting on the reverse of La Gommeuse shows the moustached dealer wearing a turban, which is painted with yellow and red stripes, perhaps alluding to the Catalan flag.  Mañach’s nude body is adorned with necklaces, and the awkward posture suggests that he has assumed a sexual, if not Kamasutra-like pose. Picasso shows him urinating in an imaginary landscape, which is dotted with lotus flowers and unexplained symbols.  If, as we assume from the inscription, La Gommeuse was a gift to Mañach on 29 June 1901, the latter must have sold or given the canvas to Vollard at a later date" (Marilyn McCully, "La Gommeuse," in correspondence with Sotheby's, October 2015). Picasso's emasculation of Mañach here is not without significance, evidencing the whimsical spirit of the young Spaniard at a particularly vulnerable moment of his life.  Picasso's reasons for poking fun at Mañach's are not made explicit, but his outrageously wicked rendering of the man speaks volumes about the ribald exchanges that must have transpired between them.  Perhaps it is no surprise that Mañach did not retain this picture and it ended up with the more successful dealer Ambroise Vollard, probably sometime after 1906.  In later years, it came into the possession of the young New York dealer Lucien Demotte, who sold it to Josef von Sternberg (1894-1949), one of the most acclaimed Hollywood film directors of the 1930s.  Sternberg is best remembered as the director of the 1930 film "The Blue Angel," in which Marlene Dietrich made her screen debut as the louche caberet performer Lola Lola.  It seems that Sternberg acquired this work about one year after the release of "The Blue Angel," so the subject of La Gommeuse would have held great significance for the director.  In 1949 Sternberg sold this picture, along with over one hundred other objects from his collection of fine art, at Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York.  It was later acquired by Jacques Sarlie, a Dutch-born financier based in New York, who had befriended Picasso after the war and amassed a large collection of the artist's work from every period.  Sarlie sold this picture at Sotheby's in London in 1960, at which point it was acquired by a dealer for a private collection.  The picture was later offered for sale at Sotheby's in 1984, when it was purchased by William I. Koch, who has kept it in his private collection for the last 30 years. Having lived with this picture for three decades, Mr. Koch has interpreted  La Gommeuse to be slumped on a banquette or divan in the same fatigued posture of so many of Degas' ballet dancers post-performance. Her sad, contemplative expression and physical exhaustion inspire the viewer to think about what her life must have been like that evening. The verso of the picture, however, presents a whimsical character depicting Manach’s head on a woman’s body leaping like a dancer. The paradoxes presented by this dual composition will no doubt continue to intrigue generations to come. Sotheby's would like to thank Marilyn McCully for contributing to the catalogue essay of the present lot. Signed Picasso (upper left); inscribed Recuerdo a Mañach en el día de su santo and fully painted on the reverse

  • 2015-11-06

L'Allée des Alyscamps

A majestic allée at the peak of its autumnal splendor is the subject of Van Gogh's magnificent L'Allée des Alyscamps, his Arles-period painting from November 1, 1888.  This was the very moment in Van Gogh's career when his most legendary expressions of great beauty and exuberance were captured on canvas.  Works such as Sunflowers, Self-Portrait, L'Arlesienne, the Night Café, The Sower and the postman Monsieur Roulin were all brilliantly realized with unparalleled creative force during this period, and the unrestrained passion of this artistic genius was at its apotheosis.  For two months during the fall of 1888 Van Gogh painted in the company of his close friend Paul Gauguin, who had come to the south of France for a shared artistic experiment known as the Studio of the South.  The artists would set up their easels side-by-side or back-to-back, tackling what are now some of the most famous subjects of their careers.  Their first shared experience to this end was a series of views of lovers strolling through Alyscamps, the ancient "Elysian Fields" just outside the walls of the city.  With its lush scenery, historic importance and romantic undertones the location was an irresistible starting point, resulting in four major oils by Van Gogh and two by Gauguin.  Over the passing weeks conflicts increasingly arose between the two artists, with the simmering tension ultimately resulting in Van Gogh's violent breakdown at the end of the year.  But the present work, created during those exciting first days of their time together, presents the glorious product of Van Gogh's ambitious undertaking.The scene depicted here is the central thoroughfare of the Alyscamps, one of the most famous Roman burial grounds in all of Europe.  During the prime of Caesar's reign Arles was an important imperial outpost, boasting a stately amphitheater modeled after the Colosseum.  Alyscamps was central to city life, as it served as the great necropolis for the nobility of the empire and would later be a coveted Christian burial ground throughout Middle Ages.  Over the centuries Alyscamps was pillaged by the locals for building materials, souvenirs and museum displays, and the shaded ruins became an ideal setting for lovers' rendez-vous.  Much romanticized by 19th century Romantic writers, Alyscamps was well-known to artists during Van Gogh's time, and his choice to paint here would have been a foregone conclusion for any artist spending time in Arles. In Van Gogh's depiction here, the ruins of  Romanesque sarcophagi are visible down the tree-lined promenade known as the Allée des Tombeaux, now a popular lovers' lane and parade ground for fashionable and single Arlesiennes of questionable virtue. ""The street girl is as much a lady as any other and looks as virginal as a Juno," Gauguin marveled after his first day on site.  Aside from its historic importance and illicit allure, Alyscamps offered an accessible place for tourists and locals to experience the tranquility and beauty of the Provençale countryside.  On October 29th, both artists completed views of the grounds, with Gauguin focusing on three women walking alongside the canal with the bell tower of the 12th century church of St. Honorat in the background.  Van Gogh, however, situated himself in the middle of the allée, painting the smokestacks of the railway workshop across the canal on the left and the archway of the church in the distance, while the ruins of ancient crypts flank a solitary couple taking a romantic stroll.  Two days later, on the Feast of All Saints', the artists returned to the allée, depicting the colorful foliage in all of its splendor.   Gauguin positioned his easel at the end of the promenade at the portico of the church, and Van Gogh looked down the dramatic allée towards the direction of Saint-Accurse chapel to paint the present picture. L'allée des Alyscamps presents a more formal schematization and vastly grander perspective than did the one Van Gogh had painted two days earlier. While slightly larger in size, this second composition presents a vertical alignment of trees that creates an illusion of profound depth and frames the sky so that it appears to be a giant funnel lifting into the heavens.  All Saints' Day would have been a popular one to stroll through the  grounds of the sacred cemetery, Van Gogh captures the visitors as they walk from the church.  Figures appear in motion down the great expanse of the promenade, with the rhythm of their gate reverberating in the colored patches along the pathway.  In a letter to Bernard written on November 2, the artist described his Alyscamps picture as a "study of the whole avenue, entirely yellow." Van Gogh described the support on which he painted to be "burlap," but recent scholarship suggests that it is actually rough jute.  He and Gauguin had purchased this material in bulk and primed themselves, and Van Gogh used it for the first time for this picture.   Both artists were fascinated by the visual effect that the coarse surface lent to their compositions, and they exploited this property differently in their works.  Whereas Gauguin painted with thinner layers of paint that allowed the texture of the weave to appear more clearly, Van Gogh applied his paint impulsively and with thick slashes, building up the surface texture dramatically in areas and allowing colors to blend more fluidly. But these different approaches to painting on jute became a point of debate, sowing the seeds for future conflicts between the two artists.  Writing to Émile Bernard in mid-November, Gauguin alluded to his lack of compatibility with his partner, taking issue with the very manner by which he paints: "In general, Vincent and I agree on very few topics, and especially not on painting...  He appreciates the hazards of thick paint as Monticelli uses it, whereas I detest any form of tampering by brushwork" (R. Brettell, op. cit., p. 113).  Van Gogh criticized Gauguin's highly controlled painterly style, which he believed was at the expense of authentic creative expression.  "Aren't we seeking intensity of thought rather than tranquility of touch?" he lamented.  "Under the conditions of working spontaneously, on the spot, and given the character of it, is a calm, well-regulated touch always possible?  Goodness gracious - as little, it seems to me, as during an assault in a fencing match (quoted in D. Silverman, op.cit., p.206)."  This last quip was apparently a thinly-veiled attack on Gauguin, who prided himself at being an accomplished fencer and was a believer that "the head, always the head" should prevail in painting.  Van Gogh, however, prided himself on the frenetic pace of his execution, and the slow and meticulous pace of his companion, who often completed his paintings within the studio, were antithetical to this approach.  In due time, the artists' ideological differences would send them on different courses, with Gauguin deciding to leave France for the South Pacific. The anxiety caused by Gauguin's scheduled departure, among other things, prompted Van Gogh to commit the legendary act of self-mutilation that December, which sent him to the hospital in Saint-Remy for a period of recovery.  But the present picture, created at the "honeymoon" phase of the Arles period, evidences the joyous expressive power that Van Gogh possessed at the beginning of this most important collaboration. In the days following his completion of the present composition, Van Gogh would go on to paint two other depictions of jute of Alyscamps, but in horizontal format. These pictures, both entitled Falling Leaves, would hang in Gauguin's room at the quarters the two men shared at the Yellow House and signified their important collaboration.  The present work, however remained with Mme Marie Ginoux, the beloved innkeeper at the Yellow House and the model for L'Arlesienne.  The picture then came into possession of Henri Laget, the editor of a journal called Provence artistique.  Laget sold this picture, as well as several others left with Mme Ginoux, to Ambroise Vollard.  Isaac (Jack) Aghion, the husband of Marguerite Bernheim, acquired the picture, presumably from Vollard, by 1901 and was sold at his Estate sale in 1918, when it was presumably purchased by his in-laws at Galerie Bernheim Jeune. Paul Vallotton, the art dealer and brother of the Nabis artist Felix Vallotton later acquired the picture for his private collection, and then it was acquired by Hans Mettler (1876-1945) and remained with his family until it was sold at auction in 1985.

  • 2015-05-05


Lesedi la ronathe largest gem quality rough diamond to be discovered

The rough diamond of high colour and purity weighing 1,109 carats and measuring approximately 66.4 x 55 x 42mm. It is a huge privilege for Sotheby’s to have been chosen by Lucara Diamond Corp. to offer Lesedi La Rona for sale. Indeed, it is a unique honour as no other rough diamond of even remotely similar size has ever been proposed for public auction. What has struck me personally, since I first held this phenomenal gemstone in my hands, is how well it embodies the symbolism that Man has invested in diamond since remote antiquity – ideas of permanence, indestructability, immutability, and of course, adamantine hardness. Just try to imagine the epic journey this stone has undergone to arrive with us. Having been formed as a result of unimaginable temperatures and pressures, soon after the birth of the earth itself – some two to three billion years ago – the crystal then waited until, by chance, perhaps a billion years later, it became associated with a volcanic eruption that carried it upwards a distance of over 100 miles towards the surface. Having survived that tumultuous passage it still had to undergo the dramatic explosions and crushers associated with the mining process before eventually seeing the light of day – and the gaze of man – on the 16th November 2015. Perhaps no other gemstone could have survived such a journey unscathed - certainly no other diamond of this size has been recovered in more than a century. Only a few months have passed since Lesedi La Rona’s adventure with man began. Perhaps it will be cut and polished into the largest, most beautiful stone the world has yet seen, to be admired by countless generations down the centuries to come. Or maybe, as the survivor it is, it will remain untouched and admired not only as one of the earth’s most beautiful creations but also as the supreme symbol of permanence in our constantly changing world. David Bennett, Worldwide Chairman of Sotheby’s International Jewellery Division FORMATION “The cleavage faces and sculpted surfaces on the 1,109 carat rough lead one to consider the remarkable story of a natural diamond’s growth and transportation to the earth’s surface. Between one and three billion years ago, at depths of more than 140 kilometres below the surface, intense and dynamic surroundings lent the circumstances necessary for a diamond to form. But the extreme heat and pressure were also mitigating factors – conditions that may have limited how large it could become. After the mineral formed, it undertook a tumultuous journey through the earth’s crust, forced upwards against unimaginable odds through volcanic conduits and pipes. Those mechanisms deposited the diamond near the earth’s surface, where it could have been uncovered through mining efforts, or separated from its volcanic host rock by erosion. Many diamonds fracture or crumble under the tremendous stress of this journey or the mining process; the fact that a crystal of this size withstood such conditions is a combination of ideal conditions in nature and good fortune”. Excerpt from the GIA letter DISCOVERY The outstanding 'Lesedi la Rona' diamond was uncovered in Botswana, in the Karowe Mine, on 16 November 2015. It is the largest rough diamond ever recovered through a hard rock diamond mining process. Diamonds were first discovered in Botswana in 1969; they have been the main force behind the country’s economic expansion. The Karowe Mine, meaning “Precious Stone” in Tswana, is owned and operated by Lucara Diamond Corp., headquartered in Vancouver, Canada. After acquisition, the mine was completed in 2012 and is expected to have a production life of fifteen years. The mine has a production of approximately 400,000 carats of gem quality diamonds, including many type IIa, and employs almost a thousand people. Botswana maintains a beneficial relationship with all its mine operators and established protocols for all to be corporate citizens and adhere to the highest environmental and sustainability standards. The country is a participating member of the Kimberley Process. Botswana, Lucara and the Karowe Mine are all involved jointly in the highest levels of responsible field practices, management systems in Environment, Health and Safety. The cleavage faces and sculpted surfaces on the 1,109 carat rough indicate that the stone was once larger and Lucara has indicated that pieces of this stone have been matched. Many diamonds fracture or crumble under the tremendous stress of surfacing or by the mining process; the fact that a crystal of this size withstood such conditions is a combination of luck and an endorsement of the success of the new Tomra large diamond recovery machine which utilises X-ray transmission sensors. ‘Lesedi la Rona’ is circa 2.5 to over 3 billion years old, it was extracted in a kimberlite pipe approximately 200 meters below the surface in the South Lobe of the Karowe Mine. The following day, two more colossal diamonds weighing 813 and 374 carats were also found. “Though the Karowe mine went into production just four years ago, it has already earned a reputation for producing many of the world’s finest colourless diamonds. The 1,109 carat rough crystal is the flagship recovery from the mine and now holds the honour of being the second largest gem-quality diamond ever recovered”. Excerpt from the GIA letter NAME The diamond was first given a generic name after the mine (Karowe) and the pipe (AK6) where it was found. On 18 January 2016, Lucara Diamond launched a competition to name this spectacular diamond. The competition was open to all Botswana inhabitants. Entrants were invited to submit their suggested name and the rationale for their choice. More than 11,000 entries were received. On 9 February 2016, Lucara Diamond announced that the stone had been named 'Lesedi La Rona' which means "Our Light" in the Tswana language spoken in Botswana. The winner of the competition stated that his reason for the name was that "the diamond is a pride, a light and a hope for Botswana”. William Lamb, CEO and President of Lucara Diamond, commented: "The outpouring of pride and patriotism shown by all the participants in the contest was incredible. The diamond industry has played a vital role in the country's development, allowing for significant and ongoing investment in world-class healthcare, education and infrastructure. "Lesedi La Rona" symbolizes the pride and history of the people of Botswana." AN HISTORIC DISCOVERY In terms of its size, the gem quality rough is exceeded only by the legendary ‘Cullinan Diamond’, recovered in South Africa, in the Premier Mine, in 1905. The 3,016 carat ‘Cullinan Diamond’ produced nine major diamonds that are part of the historic Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, including ‘The Great Star of Africa’ – currently the largest top-quality colourless polished diamond in existence, weighing 530.20 carats - set in the Imperial Sceptre of Great Britain. The other important diamond cut from the Cullinan is a cushion-shaped stone weighing 317.40 carats set in the brow of the British Imperial Crown. The provenance of the 1,109 carat ‘Lesedi la Rona’ is the most significant colossal gem quality diamond rough extracted through modern mining methods to date. The ‘Cullinan’, the only larger gem diamond rough, was exposed in blueground approximately 6 feet below the surface and was extracted by the superintendant of the mine during a routine inspection. Lesedi la Rona is therefore the largest rough diamond ever recovered through a hard rock diamond mining process and the largest gem quality rough diamond in existence today. “Approximately a century after the discovery of the 3,106 carat Cullinan Diamond, another large, high-quality rough diamond was found in the Karowe mine in Botswana: at 1,109 carats, it is the second largest gem-quality diamond that has ever been discovered.” Excerpt from the GIA letter “The 1,109 carat ‘Lesedi la Rona’ is historic and significant as the largest gem rough diamond mined since the discovery of the 3,106 carat ‘Cullinan’ in 1905. This is a centennial event.” Excerpt from the GCAL report   THE POTENTIAL OF THE STONE Sotheby's commissioned two independent reports from Diamex Inc./Crodiam Consulting DMCC and Gem Certification & Assurance Lab (GCAL) to explore and give their opinion on the potential yield of the stone. According to these reports, the Lesedi la Rona may have the potential to yield one of the largest top-quality diamonds that has ever been cut and polished. “This crystal had the potential to produce one of the largest top quality polished diamonds of any shape that has ever been cut and polished”. Excerpt from the Diamex Inc. report “According to our preliminary calculations, this rough diamond could possibly yield the largest D colour faceted and polished diamond known in the world”. Excerpt from the GCAL report “The possibilities of how this rough could be fashioned into faceted diamonds are infinite. Master diamond cutters will undoubtedly spend hundreds of hours studying this rough before it ever touches a diamond cutting wheel”. Excerpt from the GCAL report COLOUR This diamond possesses exceptional transparency and quality, as mentioned in the GIA letter. Independent reports on the potential yield of the rough have also stated that there is a high probability that the resulting polished diamonds will be D colour – the highest colour classification for white diamonds. “The stone has high potential to be a D colour. The stone was observed under a polariscopic light to have limited to no stress and there was no surface graining evident”. Excerpt from the Diamex Inc. report “The cleaved faces are windows into the diamond giving us a view into the centre of the crystal… The ‘Lesedi la Rona’ is an extraordinary rough crystal of exceptional transparency and quality… The centre of the rough crystal appears to be clean so far as our field examination permits. The colour of the rough is very high, which we estimate will be graded as ‘D’ if faceted”. Excerpt from the GCAL report “The crystal has the potential to produce one of the largest top quality diamonds that has ever been cut and polished”. Excerpt from the GIA letter  “The Lesedi la Rona is simply outstanding and its discovery is the find of a lifetime. It is a huge honour for Sotheby’s to have been entrusted with its sale. Every aspect of this auction is unprecedented. Not only is the rough superlative in size and quality, but no rough even remotely of this scale has ever been offered before at public auction”. David Bennett, Worldwide Chairman of Sotheby’s International Jewellery Division  “We are very excited to be partnering with Sotheby’s on this landmark auction. Lucara has made innovation the cornerstone of its development strategy and this has led to the historic recovery of the Lesedi la Rona diamond. The forthcoming sale presents a unique opportunity to present this extraordinary diamond to a worldwide audience”. William Lamb, President and Chief Executive Officer of Lucara Diamond Corp

  • 2016-06-29

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