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No. 21 (Red, Brown, Black and Orange)

Signed and dated 1953 on the reverse241.5 by 162.5cm.; 95 by 64in.Executed in 1951. Signed and dated 1953 on the reverse “These are the edgings and inchings of final form” – Wallace Stevens (Wallace Stevens, “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven,” in The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, London, 1984, p. 488) To encounter the majestic No. 21 is to be embraced by the full force of Mark Rothko’s evocation of the sublime. As privileged viewers of this indisputable, inimitable masterwork we are afforded a visual and somatic experience that is beyond compare and bespeaks the absolute mastery of the artist’s abstract vernacular. Executed in 1951 at the very incipit of what David Anfam, the editor of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, refers to as the anni mirabilis of Rothko’s oeuvre, the present work is a paragon of this halcyon era in which his mature mode of artistic expression pioneered truly unprecedented territory. Last seen in public during the major European travelling retrospective of Rothko’s art organized by the Kunsthaus Zürich in 1971-72, this superb painting has remained in the same highly distinguished private collection for over 40 years and its appearance here at auction marks an historic moment. A veritable treatise on the absolute limits of abstraction, No. 21 transmits an aura of the ethereal that is entirely enthralling and immersive. In accordance with the most authentic experience of Rothko’s vision, we cease to perceive this work as a dialogue between medium and support, and instead become wholly submerged within its utterly captivating compositional dynamism, chromatic intensity, and sheer scale. Soaring to 95 inches in height, No. 21 projects itself into our space on a greater than human scale, engulfing us entirely within its epic expanse. Dominated by simultaneously distinct and inextricably intertwined radiant zones of sumptuous color, the canvas pulsates with a tangible energetic intensity, pulling us ever inward. A concentrated field of gloriously vibrant orange surges forth from the sheer profundity of fierce black that surrounds it, the subtly perceptible strokes of Rothko’s brush in this area encouraging a sense of inexorable ascent towards the upper limits of the canvas. The captivating depth of the black band at the center, seemingly inhaling the areas of impossible illumination that surround it, pulls us in and takes absolute hold of our vision, encouraging us to travel through the subtle variants of tone and contour that comprise the intricate landscape of its surface. In a stunning feat of compositional and coloristic genius, this fiery ground is counterbalanced by the diaphanous layers of blush pink that seem to float amongst a sea of sunset orange in the lower register, bestowing upon No. 21 an otherworldly glow. Acting as a portal to the sublime, the limitless realm of sumptuous color in the present work envelops the viewer and brings life to Rothko’s assertion that his monumental canvases be experienced up close rather than from a distance. In its utter brilliance of palette, compositional dynamism, monumental scale, and indelible gravitas, this painting exists as an empyreal manifestation of the very apex of Mark Rothko’s painterly prowess. No. 21 was first shown in the year immediately following its creation in the iconic 1952 exhibition 15 Americans held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Organized by legendary curator Dorothy C. Miller, this seminal show included masterpieces such as Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and Clyfford Still’s PH-371 (1947-S), in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In characteristic fashion, Rothko was deeply involved in the curatorial planning and installation of the gallery devoted entirely to his paintings. Of the nine works originally chosen for the exhibition, five were eventually included in the show, among them No. 10, now housed permanently in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This final group of canvases was carefully and deliberately selected with an eye to variety. A diverse interplay of hues and forms, at once remaining distinct to their individual supports whilst communing directly with one another across the gallery, relayed an odyssey of progress towards an ultimate artistic truth. For its installation, Rothko demanded “blazing light” be shed on his paintings, thus intensifying the magnitude of his looming symphonies of color and contour, and conferring upon them a supremacy and majesty commensurate with their undeniable status as his first mature masterpieces. The paintings in this seminal exhibition, all executed between the years 1949-1951, are monuments to a crucial turning point in Rothko’s aesthetic evolution, when he resolved an abstract archetype out of the preceding multiform paintings. Begun in 1947, and emerging from an exploration of biomorphic forms drawn from Miró, Picasso, Dalì, and his other Surrealist predecessors, Rothko’s multiform paintings reduced all figurative remnants to brightly tinted patchworks of irregular floating shapes that seem to variously coalesce and disintegrate as if fluidly and organically moving of their own accord. As Rothko wrote at the time, “I think of my pictures as dramas; the shapes in the pictures are the performers… They are organisms with volition and a passion for self-assertion.” (Mark Rothko, “The Romantics Were Prompted,” first published in Possibilities, no. 1, 1947) By 1950, however, Rothko had abandoned these multiform compositions to contemplate what he called “an unknown space.” David Anfam, in his definitive text on the artist, deems this crucial moment the onset of the “classical period,” a time he delimits as beginning in 1950 and spanning the remainder of Rothko’s lifetime. He draws particular attention to 1951, the year of No. 21’s execution, as being decisive: “From 1951 onward, Rothko’s artistic self-confidence was everywhere visible – from the meticulousness, authority and range of the paintings to his very attitude toward them.” (David Anfam, Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 71) No. 21 is a paean to the newfound aplomb with which Rothko approached his towering theses on abstraction, reflecting across its luscious, vigorous surface the artist’s desire, as elucidated by Stanley Kunitz, “to become his paintings.” (Stanley Kunitz, interview with Avis Berman, December 8, 1983, Archives of American Art) Indeed, in the same year as this painting’s execution, Rothko declared the apparent paradox that distinguishes his oeuvre: “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.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Mark Rothko: 1903-1970, 1987, p. 85) When Rothko asked Katherine Kuh, The Art Institute of Chicago’s visionary first curator of modern painting and sculpture, to describe her reactions to his paintings, she wrote of the ones she had seen: "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) Like the artist himself becoming one with his canvas, physically entering into the incandescent environments as he created them, we too, as viewers, come to relate to his towering fields of luminosity as if engaging in a personal exchange. Our experience of No. 21, as participants in its stunning drama, brings it to life and may in turn 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) Rothko’s arrival at his mature style, which in retrospect reads as the sole, inevitable, and predetermined conclusion of his quest for a reimagined abstraction, was in fact the supreme result of a calculated and concentrated purge, the product of an overwhelmingly radical and profoundly effective stripping away of compositional superfluity in order to arrive at the pure elemental state of the image. The distinct zones of color in the earlier multiform canvases coalesced into an impenetrable totality in works such as No. 21, wherein all elements engage in a choreography of endlessly pulsating flux and fusion so that the composition seems to shed the confines of its support, existing instead as a shimmering, energy-laden entity that fully surpasses the inadequacies of mere written description. Thus, the present work stands as the crowning evocation of Rothko’s declaration of 1948, delineating his ultimate goal a full three years before it was achieved: “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, ultimately, to be understood.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, 15 Americans, 1952, p. 18) The theoretical foundations of Rothko’s aesthetic revolution conform to the predominating rhetoric of Abstract Expressionism in the mid-Twentieth Century. Absolutism, themes of purging and beginning art anew, and other extremes of theory and practice were similarly espoused by Rothko’s now-heroic compatriots of the New York School such as Clyfford Still and Barnett Newman. In response to a pervasive general malaise and loss of faith in the external realities of modern life in the wake of the Second World War, an impassioned, quasi-sacred belief in the transcendental power of art rose to prominence. Donning the philosophical mantle of his great Romanticist forebears – pioneering giants such as J.M.W. Turner, Caspar David Friedrich and Théodore Gericault – Rothko devoted himself to the pursuit of art as a portal to an enhanced realm of physical and spiritual experience. In an impassioned reaction against the prevailing social norms that arose as a result of the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment, the Romantics emphasized and validated the emotional intensity that results from confronting the transcendence of an uninhibited aesthetic experience. J.M.W. Turner, in his 1817 masterwork Mt. Vesuvius in Eruption, realized the unquantifiable power of the sublime when he culled an utterly affecting narrative out of pure color and light. As we bear witness to the immeasurable devastation of the depicted scene, conveyed through the impossibly precise yet ethereally light stroke of Turner’s brush, we nonetheless cease to understand it in terms of our corporeal reality. Instead, we are willingly transported at once to the very core of Turner’s masterful surface and inwards, towards the depths of our own subconscious. Developing on the same fundamental principles espoused by the Romantics a century earlier, the late-nineteenth century Symbolists – Odilon Redon, Gustav Klimt, and Edvard Munch among the most influential – eschewed naturalism and realism in art, proclaiming instead the sovereignty of spirituality, the imagination, and the unconscious.  Munch in particular, in stirring canvases such as The Vampire painted in 1893, gained prestige for his intensely redolent translations of the human psyche into art. This image, a collection of darkened hues punctuated by an electrifying mass of red that swirls and churns into a staggeringly affective depiction of two intertwined human forms, immediately and aggressively wrests us from reality, ferrying us into a world of dreamlike fantasy. Like the Romantics who preceded them, the Symbolists considered Art as a contemplative escape from a world of strife, achieving this liberation through themes of mysticism and otherworldliness grounded always by an incisive sense of mortality. With the advent of Abstract Expressionism, this remarkable philosophical lineage was given an ever grander and more evocative visual form. As early as 1943, Rothko published a joint statement with fellow pioneers of the new Abstraction, Barnett Newman and Adolph Gottlieb: “To us art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take the risks. … It is our function as artists to make the spectator see the world our way – not his way.” (Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Adolph Gottlieb, “Statement” in Edward Alden Jewell’s column, The New York Times, June 13, 1943) Thus, while delivering the tenets of Romanticism and Symbolism to the modern era, via a revolutionary compositional clarity and monumentality of viewing experience, Rothko conclusively asserted the paramount equation between his artwork and its beholder, whereby the true potential of his painting could not exist without the presence of the viewer. Four years later, he developed this integral relationship even further: “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) Through form, surface, texture, and color Rothko struck a perennial balance that lures the viewer's constant attention. Yet, as we are beckoned into the glowing lustrous embrace of the devastatingly beautiful and complex No. 21 there is a profound tension struck between the uplifting emotions evoked by our perception of Rothko’s vibrant hues and something implicitly more tragic. Such elemental colors as the vibrant red-orange and dazzling rose of the present work 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. Indeed, the near violent encroachment of the depthless black upon the shining orange expanse, though entirely and adamantly abstract, nonetheless communicates a narrative of perpetual contest between the primal forces of light and darkness. The environment that is created in No. 21 ubiquitously encompasses us yet, in its immateriality also eludes our grasp, projecting a sense of space that is at once material and metaphysical, encapsulating Rothko’s proclaimed goal to “paint both the finite and the infinite.” (Dore Ashton, About Rothko, New York, 1983, p. 179) 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.” (the artist cited in David Anfam, Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas, Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 88), and with its suggestion of an infinite depth in the darkest areas of the black shape, this enigmatic work harbors something that is indescribably portentous. 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) Paintings such as No. 21, in truth, involve both spirit and nature, and Rothko sought to instill in the viewer a profound sense of the spiritual whilst evincing his abject faith in the role of the artist in attaining the highest realm to which a man could aspire. For Rothko, art was capable of provoking in the viewer an existential sense of awe and wonderment for the sublime miracle of existence, and in this truly spectacular painting that capacity is wholly and perfectly achieved.

  • 2014-11-11

Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1

Throughout her career, Georgia O’Keeffe strove to depict what she described as “the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.” Her spirit of adventure and passion for the natural world drove her to explore the landscape of the United States, and to do so in such diverse places as Lake George, New York and Abiquiú, New Mexico. As such, the core of O’Keeffe’s work lies in the natural imagery around her, but her ability to capture the elusive boundary between representation and abstraction is central to her singular language of modernism. Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 is a strikingly bold and elegant representation of the artist’s mature intent and aesthetic. Painted in 1932, the work exhibits one of O’Keeffe’s most enduring motifs: her innovative renderings of magnified flowers. O’Keeffe first explored this theme early in her career, drawn to the flower as subject for what she felt was the challenge it posed to observation. It was easy, she believed, to overlook the beauty found in the details of these small forms. Beginning in the 1920s, she decided to paint them on a large scale so that “even busy New Yorkers” would have to stop and appreciate her unique, sensory experience of nature. “Where I come from the earth means everything,” O’Keeffe said of the profound connection she felt. “Life depends on it. You pick it up and feel it in your hands” (Debra Bricker Balken, Dove/O’Keeffe: Circles of Influence, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2009, pp. 24-5). O’Keeffe utilized the Jimson weed as subject matter on multiple occasions, presenting it each time with a new viewpoint or altered perspective (fig. 1). The beauty of the blossom first attracted her when she discovered a group of them near her home in New Mexico, where these poisonous flowers grew in abundance. She examined one closely and remarked that “It is a beautiful white trumpet flower with strong veins that hold the flower open and grow longer than the round part of the flower—twisting as they grow off beyond it…Some of them are a pale green in the center—some a pale Mars violet. The Jimson weed blooms in the cool of the evening—one moonlight night at the Ranch I counted one hundred and twenty five flowers. The flowers die in the heat of the day…Now when I think of the delicate fragrance of the flowers, I almost feel the coolness and sweetness of the evening” (Georgia O’Keeffe, Georgia O’Keeffe, New York, 1976, n.p.). In Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, O’Keeffe transforms the poisonous into the sublime, presenting her perception of its essence rather than its literal form. She depicts the flower with subtly modulated tones of pure white, yellow and green to evoke the play of light and shadow on its delicate surface. Eschewing the details of the subject, O’Keeffe renders the blossom and leaves as elegantly simplified, circular forms—a motif essential to her aesthetic (fig. 2). She composes each element with precise, assured strokes of pigment to create sharply delineated contours and a lush surface. O’Keeffe’s perfectionism and technical facility was legendary, described by her longtime friend and collaborator, Doris Bry, as “a meticulous craftsman in everything she chose to do—from cooking to making clothes and gardens to grinding her own pigments between glass (on occasion) for greater translucency to having a go at creating her own pastel sticks. She loved the very substance of color” (Sarah Whitaker Peters, “Georgia O’Keeffe: Color and Conservation,” Georgia O’Keeffe: Color and Conservation, Jackson, Mississippi, p. 18). Indeed, the artist came to consider color as essential to form, once explaining that she visualized shapes in her mind that she could not translate onto canvas or paper until she could identify the appropriate colors with which to portray them. “I work with an idea for a long time,” she explained. “It’s like getting acquainted with a person, and I don’t get acquainted easily…Sometimes I start in a very realistic fashion, and as I go on from one painting to another of the same thing, it becomes simplified till it can be nothing but abstract” (Calvin Tomkins, Notes from Interview with Georgia O’Keeffe, September 24, 1973, for his New Yorker profile, “The Rose in the Eye Looked Pretty Fine,” March 4, 1973). In the present work, the Jimson weed is monumental, filling the picture plane nearly to entirety with its velvety petals. The artist grants merely a glimpse into its larger context, showing only portions of its leaves and a vivid blue sky. As the muse and wife of Alfred Stieglitz, O'Keeffe was undoubtedly exposed to his ideas and aesthetic preferences. O’Keeffe’s dialogue with the photographs of Stieglitz and his colleague Paul Strand is plainly evident in Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 as she crops the picture plane sharply and focuses intently on the blossom to present its form up close (fig. 3). Although she allows for a degree of three-dimensionality within the composition, the pictorial space is largely compressed, contributing to the impression of the blossom as a pattern of shapes and colors. These forms appear to ripple and swirl on the surface of the canvas, emanating outwards as if without definitive boundaries. A painter similarly inspired by the landscape of the American Southwest, Agnes Martin achieves a comparable, pulsating effect in her 1960 work, White Flower, in which she interprets her botanical subject as a starkly minimal geometric grid of minute lines and dashes of white pigment (fig. 4). Set against the dark gray background, these strokes seem to float forward into space, pushing against the two-dimensional picture plane to impart a more immersive experence of nature. Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 represents one of the rare instances during the first few decades of O’Keeffe’s career that she selected a canvas size noticeably larger than her standard format. In 1932, the same year she executed the present work, O’Keeffe had begun plans for a mural commission for Radio City Music Hall—then under construction in Rockefeller Center—which may have compelled her to experiment with this larger scale. As in Martin’s work, the proportions contribute to the sense that the landscape is enveloping the viewer. Presenting the blossom as a commanding form, rather than the delicate entity it is in reality, O’Keeffe achieves an effect not unlike that of Jeff Koons’ 1995-7 work Pink Bow, in which the artist depicts his subject in isolation, similarly centralized and frontally (fig. 5). The meticulous, nearly photographic  technique Koons utilizes in Pink Bow imbues the dainty folds of a ribbon with a bold sculptural presence and recalls O’Keeffe’s remarkably precise brushwork in works such as Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, in which her color, noted Paul Rosenfeld, “has an edge that is like a line. She created her edges with the finest and most precise kind of brushwork” (Peters, p. 17). In both works, the artist changes the subject into an iconic, timeless object that defies the fragility and, in the instance of the Jimson weed, the impermanence that are inherent to it in reality. O’Keeffe’s vision of the flower reveals the power and exuberance with which she viewed her natural environment. It is a deeply personal image that speaks to ideas of timelessness and universality. “O’Keeffe acted to suspend time,” explains Jack Cowart, “producing art that would capture the transient. [Here], O’Keeffe made a flower, with all of its fragility, a permanent image without season, wilt or decay. Enlarged and reconstructed in oil on canvas or pastel on paper, it is a vehicle for pure expression rather than an example of botanical illustration. In her art, fleeting effects of natural phenomena or personal emotion become symbols, permanent points of reference (“Georgia O’Keeffe: Art and Artist,” Georgia O’Keeffe: Art and Letters, Boston, Massachusetts, 1987, p. 2). As the enlarged blossom floats in the ambiguous pictorial space, O’Keeffe transforms this traditional still-life subject into a meditative experience. O’Keeffe’s intent  foreshadows the work of artists like Mark Rothko, who also used color, shape and scale to induce an emotional reaction from the viewer (fig. 6). Despite her initial association with Stieglitz and his circle, O’Keeffe’s aesthetic was always distinctly her own. Although connotations of sexuality and gender were continuously ascribed to the imagery displayed in works Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, O’Keeffe repeatedly denied these suggestions “…when you took the time to really notice my flower you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower,” she later explained of the tendency of audiences to misinterpret her work, “and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower—and I don’t” (Britta Benke, O’Keeffe, London, 2003, p. 38). O'Keeffe's flower paintings bring to mind the flowers of Andy Warhol, who also used the subject in a distinctive and individual way (fig. 7). Warhol met O'Keeffe in 1979 at her home in Abiquiú home to create her portrait. In Warhol's series, the artist presents his subject without narrative or context to purposely invite a greater degree of interpretation, questioning and reflection from the viewer. Both artists ultimately elevate an ordinary object into the realm of high art, compelling the viewer to consider something familiar in an entirely new way. “I have but one desire as a painter,” O’Keeffe once summarized of her creative intent, “that is to paint what I see, as I see it, in my own way, without regard for the desires or taste of the professional dealer or the professional collector. I attribute what little success I have to this fact" (B. Vladimir Berman, "She Painted the Lily and Got $25,000 and Fame for Doing It," New York Evening Graphic Magazine Section, May 12, 1928, p. 3M).

  • 2014-11-20

Onement VI

Onement VI by Barnett Newman overwhelms and seduces the viewer with the totality of its sensual, cascading washes of vibrant blue coexisting with Newman’s vertical “Sign” of the human presence, his iconic and revolutionary “zip.”  As a portal to the sublime, the limitless realm of sumptuous color envelops the viewer and brings life to Newman’s assertion that his monumental canvases be experienced up close rather than from a distance.  The demarcation of the zip, in its placement, form and complementary hue of light blue, serves both a temporal and spatial purpose in the expansive and personalized experience of this masterpiece of Newman’s aesthetic. By far the most momentous in scale of the six paintings of the Onement series, Onement VI is also one of only two of this title to be held in private hands. Annalee Newman gifted Onement I (1948) – the sister painting that so dramatically altered the course of Newman’s oeuvre – to the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1992, where it joined Onement III (1949), a clear demonstration of the importance of this innovative group of paintings to the canon of modern art. Onement II (1948) and Onement IV (1949) both entered the collections of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford and the Allen Memorial Museum in Oberlin as early as the 1960s. Onement VI was gifted by the artist to his wife, Annalee, in 1953 and was later acquired by the prestigious collectors Frederick and Marcia Weisman in 1961, the same year that the Newmans lent the painting to the influential show at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum titled Abstract Expressionists and Imagists. Onement I was the first canvas in which Newman’s zip manifested and is the only consistent trait of the eponymous series that includes canvases of differing colors and scale; the poetic and primal zip was the core of Newman’s ambition to create paintings free of objects, dogma, precedence or referential subject matter. Along with other heroic artists of the Twentieth Century, Newman wanted to regenerate art and society through the invention of new forms of expression that could capture the ineffable essence of existence. Onement VIand its fellow paintings are not representational – they convey a state of being and communion. Regarded as among the most independent and courageous artists of the Twentieth Century, Barnett Newman was distinctly influential at two critical junctures in American art: first among his peers and later with the next generation of artists who sought the means to redefine and celebrate painting in their own time. One of the great writers and philosophers during the creation of Abstract Expressionism in the 1940s and early 1950s, Newman was deeply admired by his colleagues and friends such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still and Adolph Gottlieb. As an organizer of exhibitions for the newly opened Betty Parsons Gallery in 1946, Newman played a critical role in the advancement of their careers; through his introductions, Rothko and Still joined Parsons in 1946 followed by Pollock in 1947, solidifying Parson’s gallery as the new forum for American avant-garde art upon the closure of Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century in spring 1947. Newman showed his own work with Parsons in his first and second one-man shows in 1950 and 1951, yet the public and critical attention that had come to his comrades was to be deferred for Newman which was a tacit acknowledgement of the radical nature and unique boldness of his painterly vision. Newman had withdrawn from the Parsons Gallery – and all commercial art endeavors - after the 1951 show when critic Clement Greenberg, the great proponent of Pollock since 1943, wrote a 1952 article in Paris Review which included a belated admiration of Newman’s exhibitions that “displayed both nerve and conviction” and declared the painter “to be an important as well as original painter.” (excerpted from Clement Greenberg, Art and Culture: Critical Essays, Boston, 1961, p. 150) Among the works in Newman’s 1951 show was one of his great masterpieces, Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950-51, Museum of Modern Art, New York) which, at 18 feet in length, is a grandiloquent statement of the revolution of Newman’s work which began with the artist’s first zip in Onement I which is only roughly two feet high. As he recounted in an interview in 1967, “I’d done this painting [Onement I, 1948] and stopped in order to find out what I had done, and I actually lived with that painting for almost a year trying to understand it. I realized that I’d made a statement which was affecting me and which was, I suppose the beginning of my present life, because from then on I had to give up any relation to nature as seen. .. I remove myself from nature, but I do not remove myself from life.” (Interview with David Sylvester in New York on March 3, 1967 as cited in John P. O’Neill, ed., Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1990, p. 255) With these words, Newman concisely memorialized his commitment to pure painting as a totality of transcendence, devoid of subject matter aside from the belief in the visual and spiritual phenomena of his creations so beautifully embodied by Onement VI of 1953. Newman recognized that his aesthetic ideas had been at last given form and his own unique pictorial language had been realized. Aided by his move to a larger studio at 110 Watt Street in August 1950, Newman’s paintings expanded in scale as the grounds, voids, rhythms and zips spill beyond the edges of his canvas to encompass the viewer in a spiritual dialogue.  The ambitious size of paintings such as Onement VI, which at the time was not accommodating for most homes or even galleries, was not however related simply to mere measurements or illusionistic depth, as Ann Temkin observed in her essay for the 2002 retrospective of Newman’s work in Philadelphia: “Newman, however, always talked in terms of scale, not size….Newman’s paintings prove that the dynamics on which they depend for success could operate on very little surface. What counted was the emotional resonance – the perfect adjustment of a color and the size and shape of its extent and to what neighbored it.” (Exh. Cat., Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Barnett Newman, 2002 p. 42) In Newman’s devotion to a single color and reductive use of demarcation with his sparsely employed zips, his work was deemed provocative and shocking, even among his fellow artists at the time of his 1950 and 1951 exhibitions; yet by the time of the first public appearance of Onement VI at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1961, Newman’s enigmatic works had struck a chord with a breed of younger artists who investigated the future of painting as Abstract Expressionism waned and the movements of Minimalist, Conceptual and Process art were in ascendance along with Pop art. By the late 1950s, Newman had begun to show his work again and his 1959 exhibition at French & Co. in New York was a revelation to artists such as Frank Stella. His banded Black Paintings, begun the same year, inaugurated the era of Minimalism in paint, and claimed a kindred spirit with Newman’s prescient work; yet the intent of the artists were diametrically opposed. For Stella, his paint was paint, his canvas an object, his bands methodical; for Newman, paintings transcend their objectness and his zips flicker with portent and presence. The subtlety of the surface of Onement VI is simultaneously voluptuous and diaphanous, proving in its sensuous evocation of atmosphere that Newman was as great a colorist as Rothko or Richard Diebenkorn. The zips were created by masking tape that reserved the area for the vertical band, and Newman welcomed the chance effects of bleeding that lend the zips their simultaneous sense of void and substance. As Richard Shiff noted in the catalogue raisonné of Newman’s paintings, Clement Greenberg had Onement VI in mind when he wrote of Newman: “If he uses his skill, it is to suppress the evidence of it. …Other contemporary painting begins to look fussy.” (Excerpted from The Collected Essays of Clement Greenberg, Vol. 4: Modernism with a Vengeance, 1957-1969) Shiff further elaborates on the distinction between Newman’s “disposition” of his zips and colors, as opposed to schematic composition. “Despite the generous scale of Onement VI …bleeding along the taped edge becomes visually prominent, probably because it is much more pronounced toward the top of the band than at the bottom. This unevenly distributed feature creates something of a tapered effect that catches the eye, an anomalous element in an otherwise symmetrical image. Yet this anomaly belongs to, coheres with, the painting as much as any other feature …As Newman said of perceiving the human face, it requires no scrutiny, no differentiation of parts, just a vision of the integrated whole.” (Richard Shiff, Carol C. Mancusi-Ungaro  and Heidi Colsman-Freyberger, Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, New Haven and London, 2004, p. 58) With its title, Onement VI honors Newman’s quest for the totality of the art object, evoking emotional and spiritual resonance with essential and organic features. Newman’s aesthetic philosophy was expressed in his greatest essay on abstract art, “The Plasmic Image”, which was published posthumously. In this lengthy treatise, Newman outlined the search for a universal art and defined abstract forms as ‘plasmic’ – which he identified with an organic fluidity like the movement of thoughts as opposed to the ‘plastic’ of inert matter like paint or marble. As Newman elaborated, “The new painter feels that these (abstract shapes) must contain the plasmic entity that will carry his thought, the nucleus that will give life to the abstract, even abstruse ideas he is projecting. …The effect of these new pictures is that the shapes and colors act as symbols to (elicit) sympathetic participation on the part of the beholder in the artist’s vision.” (John P. O’Neill, Op. Cit., pp. 141-142)  In Onement VI, the single zip resonates within the canvas and with the viewer; it is described both by sharp tactile edges that retain a crisp memory of the delineating tape and by the gentle laps of marine blue that seep into the void of the cool light blue. Soft ghostly traces toward the bottom of the zip disperse as if into air, while deeper bleeds at eye level seek to bridge the gap of the zip from edge to edge, creating a spatial tension. The act of the pigment bleed is the locus of the temporal element in Newman’s work that finds corresponding resonance with the temporal experience of viewing Onement VI at our leisure and contemplatively. As Harold Rosenberg wrote in his 1978 monograph on Newman, “The format of Onement I takes its meaning from being experienced as an undifferentiated whole, thus functioning as a ‘space vehicle’ for the idea of singularity. Oneness itself in Newman’s terms is an exalted ‘subject matter’.” (Harold Rosenberg, Barnett Newman, New York, 1978, pp. 59-60) As the agent of inner coherence to the painting, the zip of Onement VI is also the agent of identity and universality, brought so memorably to life in the sculptures in zip form, such as Here I (To Marcia) of 1950/1962, so named when Marcia Weisman, the purchaser of Onement VI in 1961, prevailed on Newman to cast a 1962 bronze based on a 1950 plaster and wood construction. Placed prominently in the Weisman’s collection, Newman’s painting and sculpture gave graphic testimony to the enduring power of Newman’s creations. Critics who were puzzled at Newman’s work in the early 1950s sometimes regarded his paintings as philosophic statements made without artistic attributes, or conversely, as pure painting devoid of a subject.  Paintings such as Onement VI, in truth, involve both spirit and nature, and Newman sought to instill in the viewer a profound sense of the spiritual. This did not imply that Newman was religious, but rather that he sought a profound faith in the role of the artist in attaining the highest realm to which a man could aspire. For Newman, art was capable of provoking in the viewer an existential sense of awe and wonderment for the sublime miracle of existence. Signed and dated 1953 in dark blue paint on lower right corner

  • 2013-05-13

Paulette Jourdain

One of the last paintings created by Modigliani, the portrait of Paulette Jourdain is an outstanding example of the artist’s work.  Pauline “Paulette” Jourdain was the housemaid and later the lover of Modigliani’s dealer Léopold Zborowski.  She is painted on one of the largest canvases used by the artist in a completely frontal, stately manner that directly engages the viewer.  She is presented with great dignity and presence, commanding our attention and respect.  The rich colors, transcendent light and dynamic surface further transform this painting into a masterwork.  The painting demonstrates well how the artist assimilated a broad range of influences from African art to Old Master paintings to create his own unique, sophisticated vision. Modigliani was famous during his lifetime, having exhibited internationally in Paris, London, Zurich and New York, and being written about by the leading writers and art critics of his time.  His fame was firmly established by the time that he created this painting in 1919.  During the first half of the year, while living in the south, Modigliani visited Pierre-Auguste Renoir in Cagnes who agreed to meet him because “I have heard that he is a great painter” (Jeanne Modigliani, Modigliani:  Man and Myth, New York, 1958, p.79).  Modigliani returned to Paris on May 31 and painted Paulette Jourdain that fall, probably in November, when he executed the Portrait of Thora Klinkowström (private collection), which features the same format, composition and color scheme.  At the time that Modigliani finished these paintings, the English writer Wyndham Lewis referred to him in the London journal The Atheneum as being “the best-respected painter in Paris” (Wyndham Lewis on Art:  Collected Writings, 1913-1956, New York, 1969, p.167).  Within weeks, on January 24, 1920, Modigliani died. Modigliani was an exceptional colorist who created a rich, distinctive palette that is seen to advantage in the portrait of Paulette Jourdain:  the wall is bright ochre yellow, the wainscoting is orange-brown while the door is reddish-brown, all colors unique to him. He was surely inspired to explore color by Paul Gauguin’s work, which “fascinated” him when he and fellow artist Ludwig Meidner saw the Post-Impressionist’s retrospective at the Salon d’Automne in 1906.  The experience left him “intoxicated with excitement.”  The studio in which Paulette Jourdain was painted was located directly above an atelier once occupied by Gauguin, at 8, rue de la Grande Chaumière in the heart of Montparnasse.  As with many of Modigliani’s paintings, brushstrokes are readily apparent in Paulette Jourdain, making for a dynamic, busy surface.  He wanted to move as far away as possible from the slick, sterile canvases of the academic painters who preceded him. Along with Matisse and Picasso, Modigliani incorporated elements of African art into his paintings, thereby revolutionizing Western art.  The influence of African masks is evident in Modigliani’s portrayal of Paulette’s face:  the long oval shape of her head, blank eyes, long nose, button mouth and extended neck.  Her elongated form and frontal pose give her the hieratic presence of a totem.  His friend Jacques Lipchitz commented that it was African art’s “strange and novel forms” that captivated Modigliani. Other artistic influences can be discerned as well, from Old Masters to contemporaries.  Modigliani admired the Italian Renaissance Master Fra Angelico, whose figures seem to have an inner light, and he painted Paulette’s skin with iridescent luminosity.  The work of Leonardo da Vinci appealed to him as well.  Modigliani remarked to Paulette that the “Mona Lisa” was his favorite painting at the Louvre, an institution that he often frequented.  Modigliani gives Paulette an enigmatic look, akin to that of the Mona Lisa.  Her face also has a caricatural quality that recalls the portraits of Henri Rousseau.  Modigliani visited Rousseau’s studio in Montparnasse with his patron Dr. Paul Alexandre and was a great admirer of the Douanier’s paintings.  Sharp angles in the background introduce a subtle form of Cubism into the painting through the positioning of the figure:  in a chair in a corner, next to a door (that is slightly ajar), in front of a wall that is divided by wainscoting.  The angular elements behind her contrast with the flowing, curvilinear lines of her form.  While not formally one of the Cubists, Modigliani was part of their social circle.  He met Picasso soon after arriving in Paris and made several portraits of him (one in paint, two in pencil).  They exhibited together on numerous occasions.  Modigliani had deep respect for Picasso, according to his intimates. On Modigliani’s obsession with representing the human figure, Lipchitz explained:  “He could never forget his interest in people, and he painted them, so to say, with abandon, urged on by the intensity of his feeling and vision.” As the writer Jean Cocteau wrote, “He reduced us all to his type, to the vision within, and he usually preferred to paint faces conforming to the physiognomy he required…for Modigliani’s portraits, even his self-portraits, are not the reflection of his external observation, but of his internal vision…” The sitter, Paulette Jourdain (1904-1997), was born in the small coastal town of Concarneau in Brittany.  She came to Paris in the first part of 1919 and moved into Zborowski’s apartment at 3, rue Joseph Bara in Montparnasse to work, first as a domestic servant before quickly becoming an assistant in the Pole’s dealer operations.  She also took courses at a local commercial school.  Zborowski operated his business out of his apartment because he did not have a gallery until 1926.  It was at the apartment that Paulette met Modigliani who immediately invited her to come to his studio/apartment on rue de la Grande Chaumière to have her portrait painted.  Paulette remembered that there were multiple sittings and that Modigliani painted quickly. Modigliani’s portraits of young people, including this one of Paulette Jourdain, are among his most poignant paintings.  Youths emerged as an especially popular subject for him in the years 1918 to 1919.  The young people whom he portrayed often came from humble backgrounds with many being servants, workers or peasants.  A major part of Modigliani’s enduring appeal lies in the fact that he ennobled common people by painting them in large formats with grandeur and majesty.  It is no surprise then that many of these paintings are in museum collections:  The Little Peasant (Tate Gallery, London), Boy in Short Pants (Dallas Museum of Art) and Servant Girl (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo).  Paulette Jourdain has always been among Modigliani’s most prominent portraits of young people.  While his other youthful sitters have faded into anonymity, Paulette has not.  Her name has always remained in the title.  Modigliani was clearly taken with her for he wished to paint another portrait of her, but his rapidly declining health and untimely death prevented that from happening. Paulette soon posed for other artists as well, including Chaim Soutine and Moise Kisling.  She remained close to Zborowski and had a child by him in 1924 named Jacqueline.  Paulette took over operations of Zborowski’s gallery upon his premature death in 1932 from a heart attack and continued as a gallerist until WWII. Modigliani embodied the very essence of Montparnasse, a place which Marcel Duchamp called, “the first really international group of artists that we ever had.”  He was known as the ultimate Montparnasse sophisticate, someone who was highly cultured, well read and well traveled.  Paulette recalled that Modigliani sang parts of the Italian opera “La Traviata” when he painted her and that he would recite verses by the French poet Charles Baudelaire.  Remarkably, Modigliani’s style matured at the same time that his health declined.  Perhaps he knew that his end was near and that he needed to push himself to the highest level to secure his legacy.  Within his generation, he stood with Matisse and Picasso as the only artists who created world-class works in three media:  painting, sculpture and drawing. Dr. Kenneth Wayne, Director The Modigliani Project Sotheby's would like to thank Dr. Kenneth Wayne assisting with the cataloguing of this painting.   Signed Modigliani (lower right)

  • 2015-11-05

Superb and extremely rare fancy vivid blue diamond

The pear-shaped fancy vivid blue diamond of truly and outstanding colour and purity weighing 14.54 carats, mounted as an earring with a pear-shaped and a brilliant-cut diamond, post fitting. Fancy Coloured Diamonds The 17th century French merchant and adventurer, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, was among the first to be intrigued by fancy coloured diamonds. In 1669, he sold the Tavernier Blue Diamond, also called the French Blue, to Louis XIV.  In the first half of the 17th century, he was the first who made a reference to pink diamonds. Moreover, in 1642, he mentioned a very large rough pink diamond, weighing over 200 carats, shown to him by Moghuls in the Kingdom of Golconda. This diamond, named The Grand Table and valued at 600,000 rupees at the time, is still the largest pink diamond recorded to date. The French merchant also purchased two pale pink diamonds around 1668 and drew pictures of the stones in his travel book. Since the 17th century, the value of coloured diamonds increased considerably. Fancy coloured diamonds are rarer than their near colourless counterparts as their hues come from a disturbance during the formation process of the stone deep in the earth. For all coloured diamonds except pinks, the colour comes from trace elements that interfere during the formation of the crystal. A diamond is composed of pure carbon; it is the intrusion of another atom that causes the colour: nitrogen for yellows, boron for blues. Concerning pink diamonds, the colour is a consequence of a distortion of the crystal structure during the formation of the stone. Although other rare coloured diamonds, such as pink and red, are found in India, Brazil and Australia, blue diamonds are primarily recovered from the Cullinan mine in South Africa.    Apollo and Artemis   Leto bore Apollon and Artemis, delighting in arrows, Both of lovely shape like none of the heavenly gods, As she joined in love to the Aegis-bearing ruler. Hesiod, Theogony, 7th century BC, lines 918920 In Greek mythology, Leto (Latona in Latin), daughter of the Titans Coeus and Phoebe, had a liaison with Zeus and became pregnant with twins. When Hera, wife of Zeus, discovered this, she forbade Leto from giving birth on terra firma, the mainland, any island or any place under the sun. Leto eventually found the barren floating island of Asterios, later named Delos, which was neither mainland nor a real island, and gave birth there, promising the island wealth from the worshippers who would flock to the obscure birthplace of the splendid god who was to come. Leto gave birth to Artemis, the elder twin, without difficulty, but she laboured for nine nights and nine days with Apollo, according to Homer. Artemis, Diana for the Romans, became one of the most venerated of the Ancient Greek deities. She was the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, virginity and protector of young girls. She was often depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrow, and deer and cypress were sacred to her. Apollo is one of the most important of the Olympian deities in classical Greek and Roman mythology. The ideal of the kouros, he has been recognised as the god of music, truth and prophecy, healing, the sun and light, and poetry. In Hellenistic times, as Apollo Helios, he became identified among Greeks with Helios, Titan god of the sun, and his sister Artemis similarly equated with Selene, Titan goddess of the moon. These magnificent fancy coloured diamonds are so exceptional that they deserve to be named after a god and goddess. Moreover, as the stones are quite similar in shape, dimension and weight, the names of a twin brother and sister are justly appropriate.   The Apollo Blue Mining Some of the earliest and most historical blue diamonds, such as the Hope and Idols Eye, are believed to have originated in the ancient mines of India. In more recent times, the only mine to produce blue diamonds with any regularity is the Cullinan mine in South Africa. When in full production, less than 0.1% of diamonds sourced showed any evidence of blue colour, according to the Gemological Institute of America. Thomas Cullinan discovered the Cullinan mine in 1902, which at that time was named the Premier mine. Established on the second largest kimberlite pipe by inherent value, the Premier mine gained immediate prominence as a quality producer of large colourless diamonds and also rare blue diamonds. Annual production from the Premier mine was the largest in the world for the mines first decade of operation. Perhaps one of the greatest finds in the mines history is the Cullinan diamond. The Cullinan diamond is the largest colourless diamond ever discovered with a weight of 3,106 carats which has since been cut and polished into nine major stones, including 96 minor stones. Two of them currently reside within the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. Excerpt from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles website The Cullinan I weighing 530.20 carats and the Cullinan II weighing 317.40 carats are set in the Royal sceptre and the Imperial State Crown of the United Kindgom. The Cullinan mine is also the source of several important blue diamonds: the Blue Heart, a 30.62 carat Fancy Deep Blue gem discovered in 1908, now at the Smithsonian Institution, the 27.64 carat Fancy Vivid Blue Heart of Eternity, unveiled by Steinmetz in 2000, and the Blue Moon of Josephine, a superb 12.03 carat Fancy Vivid Blue stone sold for a record price per carat for any gemstone at USD 48.5 million (USD 4 million per carat) at Sothebys Geneva in November 2015. According to the records of the GIA Laboratory, the 14.54 carat Pear Brilliant diamond has been determined to be a type IIb diamond. Type IIb diamonds are very rare in nature (from our experience, less than one half of one percent) and contain small amounts of boron that can give rise to a blue or grey colouration Historically, the ancient mines of India produced occasional blue diamonds but today the most significant source is limited to the Cullinan (formerly Premier) Mine in South Africa. Among famous gem diamonds, the 70.21 carat Idols Eye and the 45.52 carat Hope are examples of type IIb. Excerpts from the GIA type IIb classification letter   COLOUR Fancy coloured diamonds are exceedingly rare in nature, but the intensity of the colour is also an important quality of the stone. The Gemological Institute of America grades fancy coloured diamonds as such: Faint, Very Light, Light, Fancy Light, Fancy, Fancy Intense, and Fancy Vivid. Fancy vivid colours are the most sought-after. The amazing stone offered in this auction displays a very bright and deep fancy vivid blue colour. Even in the category Fancy Vivid, one can find different levels of intensity; the saturation and hue of this stone are absolutely mesmerising. Diamonds obtain their colour from so-called colour centres. They are single or multiple non-carbon atoms that replace carbon in the structure of the diamond, causing a disturbance in the structure and sometimes giving rise to the colour. The distinctive blue colour in diamonds is attributed to trace amounts of the element boron in the crystal structure. Minute traces of boron are required to create the colouration. Less than one boron atom per million carbon atoms is sufficient to produce the blue colouration. Excerpt from the Natural History Museum website Blue attracts and fascinates people and this is no exception when occuring in a diamond. Fancy vivid blue diamonds have a beauty that is incomparable to that of any other gem. They are greatly admired and eagerly sought after by collectors and connoisseurs alike. Often the blue colour is not evenly distributed, and on occasion almost entirely absent, therefore it is a professional challenge for the diamond cutter to encapsulate a beautiful pure even blue colour. He will spend months studying the rough in order to guarantee the greatest standards of proportionality, colour and beauty, and to bring out this captivating colour, making fancy vivid blue one of the natures rarest endowments of colour in diamonds. Accompanied by GIA report no. 1176680448, stating that the diamond is Fancy Vivid Blue, Natural Colour, Internally Flawless, together with a type IIb classification letter. 

  • CHESchweiz
  • 2017-05-16

The Ring (Engagement)

In 1962, Roy Lichtenstein transformed the intimate moment of engagement into a thundering blast. With his audacious early masterpiece The Ring (Engagement), Lichtenstein delivered a critical crescendo at the height of the Pop Art era, cogently revealing the vicissitudes of American civilization by means of vernacular imagery appropriated directly from the heart of a universal cultural iconography. Mining public idealism toward the cultural constructions of love and its structural manifestations, The Ring (Engagement) is at once an immediately arresting and exhilaratingly complex crystallization of the style and themes that enveloped Lichtenstein’s oeuvre for the rest of his life. The years 1961 and 1962 marked the genesis of Lichtenstein’s pioneering series of paintings based on scenes of love and war from popular comic books, whose powerful graphic impact and narrative drama remain the most groundbreaking pictures from his career. Widely exhibited in a number of the artist’s most prominent museum retrospectives—from Lichtenstein’s first survey at the Tate Gallery in 1968 to his most recent that travelled to Chicago, Washington, D.C., London, and Paris in 2012-13—The Ring (Engagement) is highly regarded as a thrilling, monumental cornerstone of the artist’s output. Moreover, having resided in only two private collections in the past 53 years, the painting is a prized exemplar of the Pop icon's highest achievements in the medium of painting. When asked on the occasion of his 1968 Tate Gallery exhibition where he derived the imagery of The Ring (Engagement), Lichtenstein responded, “It was actually a box in a comic book. It looked like an explosion.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein, 1968, p. 12) At an exceptionally impressive scale that magnifies the instant of proposal to epic proportions, while evoking the cinematic frame of a comic strip in its sprawling horizontality, The Ring (Engagement) is explosive in dynamism and elemental force, gripping each viewer in its pictorial exuberance and conceptual gravitas. As is archetypal of the artist’s most resonant paintings, Lichtenstein’s The Ring (Engagement) oscillates between the high emotive content of the rhapsodic imagery and the detached, readymade nature of his borrowed mass-reproduced comic-book imagery. In the artist’s own words, “I was very excited about, and interested in, the highly emotional content yet detached, impersonal handling of love, hate, war, etc., in those cartoon images.” (the artist cited in an interview with John Coplans, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1972, p. 52) With sharp focus and a clear acuity for such simplified modernist precepts as line, color, and shape, Lichtenstein’s The Ring (Engagement) harnesses the affective power of culturally pervasive signs and symbols by means of the highly generalized imagery that acts as its communicative agent. Though intentionally universal in their imagery, content, and legibility, Lichtenstein’s comic paintings of the early 1960s retain a sly autobiographical undercurrent; the subjective significance of his seemingly objective, impersonal signs resonate with highly charged meaning. Lichtenstein turned to comic-book depictions of war concurrent with his love paintings, drawing on his personal experiences in the U.S. army—after entering service in 1943, the artist began his combat operations in France in 1945, continuing tactical operations in Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland before returning home to Fort Dix in 1946 after learning his father had fallen ill. If his participation in the war inspired such renowned paintings as Mr. Bellamy (1961), Bratatat! (1962), Live Ammo (Take Cover) (1962), and Whaam! (1963), it is logical to deduce that his love pictures of the same time period were similarly informed by a private dimension of his life. Paintings of romance such as Masterpiece (1962) and M-Maybe (1965) make specific reference to painters through the narrative lens of his female protagonists—heroines who either fawn over the genius of their artist lovers or distress over the painter’s occupation in the studio and subsequent romantic absence. By the winter of 1962, Lichtenstein and his wife had permanently separated. In 1949, the twenty-six year old Lichtenstein had married Isabel Wilson, with whom he had two sons, born in 1954 and 1956. When the family moved to New Jersey in the summer of 1961, Isabel was suffering from alcohol abuse that impaired their relationship, and in the fall of that year, Lichtenstein instigated a trial separation. The next year, the artist moved into a loft in downtown Manhattan with Letty Lou Eisenhauer, a graduate student and part-time Art Department secretary that he met while negotiating his divorce. The Ring (Engagement) captures this doubling of emotion: the painting at the same time satirizes the social conventions and rituals of love as inoculated by the commercial media, while embracing a universal desire for affection. The time of this painting’s production marks the end of one marriage while coinciding with the buoyant beginnings of new love, encapsulating the complexity of emotion that Lichtenstein imbues in the image. Bradford R. Collins noted, “A contextual analysis of the comic book paintings suggests that their themes presented [Lichtenstein] with an opportunity to play out subconsciously a series of satisfying fantasies, which apparently helped him to cope psychologically with the hopes and disappointments of this tumultuous time…. Looking at these paintings, it is difficult not to recall one’s own adolescent expectations about romance. Few among us ever completely give up on the dream of perfect love…” (Bradford R. Collins, "Modern Romance: Lichtenstein’s Comic Book Paintings," American Art 17, no. 2, Summer 2003, p. 62) 1962—the year he painted the present work—was also the year of his first solo show at the Leo Castelli Gallery (which sold out before it even opened), a breakthrough that cemented his long quest for success. Thus created in one of the most emotionally charged, turbulent, and transitional periods in his life, some of the expressive power of The Ring (Engagement) can be located in the artist’s own projections toward the future during the time it was painted—engaging in the dichotomous attraction and rejection of socially normalized standards of love. Lichtenstein’s The Ring (Engagement) triggers associations surrounding love, ritual, and happiness that reveal a uniformity of social experience—in causing the viewer to realize his or her own associations profoundly wrapped up with such imagery, we come to understand the deep potency that this recognizable, but otherwise contextually displaced, iconography holds. More omnipresent than the war paintings from the same moment of Lichtenstein’s production, his pictures about love resonate with attainable realities rather than unfeasible fantasies. Human relationships and the prospect of marriage are more relatable than piloting a fighter jet, yet what is so powerful here is that Lichtenstein leavens this moment with the same explosive fantasy as in paintings like Whaam! (1963) and Varoom! (1963). In fact, The Ring (Engagement) preceded these blast paintings, suggesting that this pictorial device of outbreak and detonation originated in the privacy of human relationship; as exemplified by the painting Kiss III also from 1962, which employed the same expressive red rays emanating from a central moment of embrace. In The Ring (Engagement), Lichtenstein probed a defining stereotype of our culture: the moment of engagement as the ultimate expression of true love. By dislocating it from any contextual framework as though splicing up a comic book, Lichtenstein removed the frame from its relation to the rest of the story. This distortion and magnification in scale here elevates the moment of engagement and the symbolism of the ring to the status of sign, compelling and effective in raising universal connotations without any surrounding narrative structure. Without any specificity of time, person, or place, the image swiftly becomes generalized, and thus universal. The Ring (Engagement) is particularly phenomenal for its abstracted image devoid of text, which allows for greater narrative interpretation—without the speech bubble that appears in many other of Lichtenstein’s paintings from this period, Lichtenstein opened the door for a wide raft of interpretation that is not governed by authorial intent, but rather, by receptive understanding. Removing a comic strip from its relation to other frames of the narrative abstracts the frame and seals the image as a singular stereotype of our culture. Heightening the image’s vast complexity, the artist therefore expanded the reading of the painting in both its celebrative and cynical significations, thereby adopting the very ambiguity and oscillation of meaning that both dictates the human condition and in particular defined Lichtenstein’s romantic life at the start of the 1960s. Roy Lichtenstein instinctively understood the phenomenal potential of popular imagery, and more than any artist of his generation realigned the cipher of that imagery to unveil verities behind the ever-proliferating pictorial panorama of contemporary culture in 1960s America. By so doing he revolutionized how we perceive the world around us and how, in turn, the world has subsequently been presented back unto itself. Where his great art historical counterpart Andy Warhol directly appropriated quotidian images to force issues of perception through the simple act of re-presentation, Lichtenstein's genius lay in a more subtle yet equally radical transformation. Having mastered the primary modus of industrial pictographic transmission, by almost covert means he enlisted this mass-media vocabulary to present alternate perspectives onto ideal realities. Through this methodology he shone a brilliant light on the artifice of our image-saturated society, and yet, simultaneously, he also brought his paintings closer to a veritable authenticity, for the terms of their manufacture are laid entirely bare to the viewer. In his early comic paintings from the 1960s, Lichtenstein proved himself a realist of the postwar period, in the same manner that in nineteenth century France, Gustave Courbet rejected the academic conventions of his predecessors and committed to painting only what he could see. What Lichtenstein saw, in the postwar period, were predominantly images of desire dictated by the media. In the late 1950s, television sets entered nearly every living room in America, irrevocably shaping the cultural consciousness: in 1949, about one million sets were in use, and by the end of the 1950s, more than fifty million televisions had gained a stronghold in American homes. Amplifying the pervasiveness of the mass media, the introduction of the television enforced an augmented reality driven by highly composed imagery, tightly regulated messages, and universal instantaneity. As the media increasingly constructed how we viewed the world, symbols of ritual idealism such as marriage and professional success became branded and universalized, packaging innate human desires through consumable images and acquirable realities. Turning to commercial source material, Lichtenstein’s Benday dot technique harnessed the impersonal artifice of such mass-reproduced imagery in order to convey highly emotional, charged subject matter, thereby emphasizing the very clichés that underpin the mainstream media. As Otto Hahn described, “His cool detachment creates a shock, produces an interplay, an overturning between the truth of the mechanical artifice and the falsity of the emotion—between the truth of the emotion and the falseness of its translation into image. Artifice and dream, image and language, this is what Lichtenstein speaks of, giving them a monumental grandeur which refers back to the human condition. He presents a purified and structured fact: This is how men dream and how they speak of their dreams. Love, glory, victory, force, comfort, art, travel, objects—such are the dreams that are unfolded in the papers and these dreams speak...” (Otto Hahn, "Roy Lichtenstein," in John Coplans, ed., Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1972, p. 143) Lichtenstein’s pictorial economy and brusque simplification renders emotion in the most direct and conventional way, making explicit the stereotyped impersonality that is necessary for the image to be universal to the human condition and thus, retain the most affective potential. 1962 was the apogee of Lichtenstein's comic strip paintings, the series that propelled the artist to international fame. Lichtenstein was not merely an artist; he was an innovator, able to catapult mass-produced commercial images into the realm of fine art. His innate gift for editing 'found' images and subsequent presentation so as to capture the telling gesture of an emotive moment defines the Pop leader's profoundly insightful understanding of the nature of perception. Many of Lichtenstein’s early paintings are composed of heavily cropped hands in isolation, dynamically gestured in their performance of various tasks—this formal propensity is expressed perhaps nowhere as sexily or appealingly as in The Ring (Engagement). Tightly cropping the image and focusing on the very action at the center created images with heightened intensity and emphatic force, all the while maintaining the elemental primary nature of generalized signs and symbols. Lichtenstein abstracted action, foregrounding the hands and the central ring without any narrative context; as John Coplans suggested, “This paring away of the unessential led Lichtenstein to a sharper confrontation with the outside world, to a wider range and sharper focus in his use of stereotype… It is not that Lichtenstein avoids painting the whole figure because it is too complex but, rather, that the whole figure is too specific, too anecdotal for his purpose. Too much detail weakens the focus and the power of the image to immediately and recognizably signal the desired content. Thus, Lichtenstein crops away until he gets to the irreducible minimum and compresses into the format the exact cliché he desires to expose. Lichtenstein’s technique is similar to his imagery: He reduces his form and color to the simplest possible elements in order to make an extremely complex statement. In short, he uses a reductive imagery and a reductive technique for their sign-carrying potential.” (John Coplans, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1972, p. 23) For Lichtenstein, whose painterly strategies over the course of his work were often concerned with the interrogation of his art historical precedents, the foregrounding of hands in motion can be read as a response to the overwhelming influence of Abstract Expressionism. Following his comic-inspired reproductions of masterpieces by Cézanne, Mondrian, and Picasso, Lichtenstein made paintings of precisely drawn cartoon brushstrokes, enlarged and exaggerated as a sardonic comment on the heroic, gestural handling of paint that epitomized the Abstract Expressionists. Here, Lichtenstein satirically confronts the legacy of gesture by drawing attention to the seeming lack of hand in the precise, photo-mechanical Ben-Day Dot while simultaneously enlarging and positioning two single hands as the primary content of the painting. Paul Schimmel explained, “In a perverse way, Lichtenstein’s works of the early 1960s exhibit a keen interest in action. He paints about process and not with it… The early cartoon paintings of romance and war are ‘action packed’ with water, wind, and explosions. Seeing these works in the context of Lichtenstein’s years of ‘desperate’ struggle with an imitation of action painting provides an insight into this critical period of transition in his work.” (Paul Schimmel in Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), Hand-Painted Pop: American Art in Transition 1955-62, 1993, p. 46) As The Ring (Engagement) is indeed centered around explosive action, magnified by the rays emanating away from the ring being placed on a manicured finger, this early painting represents a decisive point in Lichtenstein’s questioning of popular modes of art-making from previous generations. With the present work, Lichtenstein initiated a critical move away from the hegemonic forms of Abstract Expressionism, dominated by the macho, toward a more incisive Pop Art. In 1961, Lichtenstein began to employ his trademark Ben-Day dot technique, appropriating the commercial printing style for comic books and print advertisements where closely spaced dots coalesce into a greater image. Hand-painting through the use of a screened metal stencil each individual dot that comprises the two hands of The Ring (Engagement), Lichtenstein’s technical virtuosity here is on grand display. The highly simplified color palette of red, white, black, and yellow coupled with the procedure mimicking newspaper printing imbued his paintings with an ostensibly impersonal, anonymous style. With the precision of his colored dots, thick black outlines, and solid fields of brilliant red, Lichtenstein endeavored to make his carefully considered hand-made process appear as mechanical as possible. Paradoxically, Lichtenstein strived toward the crudest forms of illustration to efface the presence of his hand all the while devoting himself to an intensive process of production. The sharp, simplified clarity of the composition of The Ring, as well as its flattened and foreshortened perspectival space, recall modes of consumer advertising, while strengthening formal principles and pictorial conventions native to early Modernism. The eponymous Ben-Day dots are perfectly regimented to create a kinetic dynamism that in turn invests a powerful sense of tension in the gestural motion of the two hands. Moreover, in enlarging the hands of his source material, Lichtenstein emphasized the banal, abstract artificiality of the comic strips and advertisements that served as his inspiration, as opposed to the realism that they purported to convey. Lichtenstein sought to achieve an impersonal aesthetic that appears to conceal the subjectivity of  the personal experience and expression that clearly informed the painting’s creation. Expressing an extraordinarily emotive moment in his archetypally dispassionate painting technique epitomizes the artist’s complex juxtaposition of powerful imagery with Pop clarity. What is particularly compelling about The Ring (Engagement) is the subtle eroticism that charges through the disembodied hands arrested in mid-air; although the fragmented and isolated body parts appear depersonalized and universalized, Graham Bader stressed that “its iconographic rhetoric is repeatedly one of heightened, often extreme bodily sensation… We practically feel the tactile charge of 1962’s The Ring, the radiating pattern of which directs all attention to an impending act of penetration, or 1961’s Popeye, whose schematic lines communicate the bodily impact of a just-passed moment of aggression… Lichtenstein himself, for all his stated disinterest in iconography, repeatedly stressed the central importance of such paintings’ simultaneous draining and eroticization of the human body. As he told Gene Swenson in 1963, he chose to work from comics precisely for their ability ‘to express violent emotion and passion in a completely mechanical and removed style,’ an ability he sought to mimic in his own practice: ‘I was interested in anything… that was emotionally strong—usually love, war, or something that was highly charged and … opposite to the removed and deliberate painting techniques.’” (Graham Bader, Hall of Mirrors: Roy Lichtenstein and the Face of Painting in the 1960s, Cambridge, 2010, p. 97) The passionate vitality emanating from the focal climax at the center of the composition is thrillingly juxtaposed with the stark, proto-mechanical mode in which Lichtenstein painted the image. Thereby, Lichtenstein’s painting acquires a different energy—one that is suggestive of a close human charge that serves only to heighten the sensory drama and visceral reaction conjured by the image. Furthermore, the potent magnetic force that hovers in the center of the composition between the two hands calls to mind Michelangelo’s depiction of The Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel. If in Michelangelo’s painting, God reaches to touch Adam and confer life upon him with the energy from the meeting of their fingers, Lichtenstein seems to suggest with his image the social perception of man carrying a similar emphatic power in his capacity to anoint woman with the symbolic ring. Honing the media’s perception of womanhood in 1950s America, Lichtenstein commented on the social power that engagement brings for the woman, as ceaselessly suggested by the cartoons and advertisements whose imagery Lichtenstein purloined—aspirational comics such as “Young Romance,” “Brides in Love,” and “Secrets of Young Brides.” With his signature sardonic bent, Lichtenstein brought to the fore an iconographic parallel between man’s conferring status on a woman to God’s gift of life, creating an image that reverberates with the same astonishing graphic energy as the Sistine Chapel. In its spectacular allure, The Ring (Engagement) represents a crucial point in the artist’s life and career, rife with a multivalent stratum of interpretation and significance. With the painting’s simply radiant intensity and cinematic vitality, Lichtenstein ensured that the only answer to his proposal is an unequivocal yes. Signed and dated '62 on the reverse; titled on the stretcher

  • 2015-05-12

Les Pommes

Painted in 1889-90, Les Pommes encapsulates Cézanne’s artistic achievement, and displays the brilliance and economy which characterize his best work. This strikingly modern composition foregrounds the artist's unrivaled facility with the medium and his ability to imbue a still-life with all of the subtlety and emotional potency of portraiture. Cézanne’s still-lifes have long been recognized among his greatest achievements, the works which demonstrate most clearly the innovations that led to the stylistic developments of early twentieth-century art.  His vision breathed new life into the tradition of still-life painting, and his accomplishments had a profound impact on the generations of artists that followed. Picasso proclaimed that “Cézanne was like the father of us all,” and this statement has remained true to this day, with his painting, particularly still-lifes, continuing to influence artists in the twenty-first century (fig. 6). Cézanne executed a powerful series of medium-scaled still-lifes during the 1880s. His depictions of fruit from this period focus on the inherent geometry of objects and explore the spatial problems of representing three-dimensional form on a two-dimensional surface. In the present oil, several apples are arranged in a pyramid-like shape on a plate, mirrored by an adjacent grouping, on a simple, unadorned surface. Two partially visible apples, disappearing beyond the scope of the picture on the right, emphasize the artist’s radical framing. A dynamic composition is achieved through a contrast between the rounded shapes of the apples and the plate on one hand, and the pronounced horizontal of the background and the table-top on the other. Cézanne’s still-life series became increasingly complex, and would culminate in celebrated paintings such as Les grosses pommes of circa 1890 (fig. 4) and Rideau, cruchon et compotier painted in 1893-94 (fig. 3). Cézanne initially approached the genre during the first decade of his artistic production, the 1860s. He executed a number of varied still-lifes, romantic in feeling and based on close observation of reality. In the subsequent decades, his pictorial language became more sophisticated and his compositions more complex (fig. 6). Richard Kendall wrote about Cézanne’s mature paintings: “By this stage in his career, the still-life had taken on a special significance for [Cézanne], and he was to become one of the most original and dedicated exponents of the form. Far from being just a pretext for picture-making, the groups of apples, pears, cherries or flowers were for Cézanne as much a part of nature’s extravagant beauty as the trees and hillsides of Provence, and as likely to produce his ‘vibrating sensations’ as the landscape itself. According to Joachim Gasquet, Cézanne once claimed to overhear conversations between the fruit he was painting, and approached each item in a group as he would a human portrait” (Richard Kendall, Cézanne by Himself: Drawings, Paintings, Writings, London, 1988, p. 11). Les Pommes imparts the full range of expressive potential that Gasquet identified in Cézanne's still-lifes. The apples are constructed through careful geometries and intrusions of bright yellow tones. Cézanne grounds the gentle curves of the fruit with a clear horizon line provided by the table's back edge. He creates a sense of space and volume that gives the fruit a palpable presence - there is an intrinsic logic to the composition wholly unique to Cézanne's artistic vision. Cézanne’s mature still-lifes are considered the harbingers of twentieth-century Modernism, and provided a key inspiration for the Cubist compositions of Picasso and Braque (fig. 2). As they formulated a new artistic language during the early years of Cubism, these artists were inspired by Cézanne’s radical approach to form. Although Cézanne’s art was well known and widely exhibited during his lifetime, the first major retrospective of his work was held at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1907, a year after his death. This comprehensive view of his oeuvre was an instant inspiration to many artists, including Juan Gris and Henri Matisse (fig. 7). For all its modernism and avant-garde style, Les pommes, like other still-lifes Cézanne executed throughout his career, finds its origins in the trompe-l’oeil compositions of the French Old Masters that he had studied at the Louvre. Like his forebears, Cézanne set out to capture the essence and allure of each object in his works. His approach, however, was rooted in a truly modern belief that “Painting does not mean slavishly copying the object: it means perceiving harmony amongst numerous relationships and transposing them into a system of one’s own by developing them according to a new, original logic” (quoted in Richard Kendall, op. cit., p. 298). Both art historians and artists have argued that Cézanne reached the very pinnacle of his genius within the genre of still-life. This genre – unlike portrait or plein air painting – allowed him the greatest time in which to capture his subject, since in the studio environment he could create and control the composition, arranging the elements in ways that provided an infinite variety of formal problems to be solved on the canvas. The young painter Louis le Bail described how Cézanne composed a still-life, reflecting the great care and deliberation with which he approached the process: “Cézanne arranged the fruits, contrasting the tones one against the other, making the complementaries vibrate, balancing the fruits as he wanted them to be, using coins of one or two sous for the purpose. He brought to this task the greatest care and many precautions; one guessed it was a feast for him. When he finished, Cézanne explained to his young colleague, ‘The main thing is the modeling; one should not even say modeling, but modulating’” (quoted in John Rewald, Cézanne: A Biography, New York, 1986, p. 228). Discussing Cézanne’s still-life paintings, the English artist and critic Roger Fry noted that he “is distinguished among artists of the highest rank by the fact that he devoted so large a part of his time to this class of picture, that he achieved in still-life the expression of the most exalted feelings and the deepest intuitions of his nature. Rembrandt alone, and only in the rarest examples, or in accessories, can be compared to him in this respect. For one cannot deny that Cézanne gave a new character to his still-lifes. Nothing else but still-life allowed him sufficient calm and leisure, and admitted all the delays which were necessary to him for plumbing the depths of his idea. But there, before the still-life, put together not with too ephemeral flowers, but with onions, apples, or other robust and long-enduring fruits, he could pursue till it was exhausted his probing analysis of the chromatic whole. But through the bewildering labyrinth of this analysis he held always like Ariadne’s thread, the notion that the changes of color correspond to movements of planes. He sought always to trace this correspondence throughout all the diverse modifications which changes of local color introduced into the observed resultant… it is hard to exaggerate their importance in the expression of Cézanne’s genius or the necessity of studying them for its comprehension, because it is in them that he appears to have established his principles of design and theories of form” (Roger Fry, Cézanne: A Study of his Development, Chicago, 1927, pp. 37 & 50). Les Pommes has a remarkable provenance. Having first belonged to Cézanne’s dealer, Ambroise Vollard, it was later acquired by the prominent Dutch collector Cornelis Hoogendijk (1867-1911), who gathered a large number of Old Master and Modernist works. He accumulated one of the most important collections in Holland and beyond at the turn of the twentieth century. In a buying frenzy that lasted between 1897 and 1899, he acquired over thirty paintings and watercolors by Cézanne from Vollard. Some years after Hoogendijk’s death, the Paris dealer Paul Rosenberg purchased a number of Cézanne works from his estate, and sold them almost immediately to museums and French collectors. The present work was sold to the Parisian collector Jacques Laroche, whose collection included one of Cézanne’s famous self-portraits later donated to the Musée du Louvre. Les Pommes later came into the possession of the industrialist and distinguished collector of Modern art Marcel Kapferer, whose collection was sold at the Galerie Charpentier in Paris in 1934. The painting has been in the Lewyt family collection for almost sixty years.

  • 2013-05-07

Nature morte aux tulipes

The extraordinary Nature morte aux tulipes  is one of the celebrated 'Marie-Thérèse pictures' that would ultimately establish Picasso as the most famous artist in the world. Painted in 1932, the year that is recognized as the pinnacle of Picasso's near-century long production, this magnificent painting evidences the creative explosion that defines the renderings of his incomparable golden muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter.   Nature morte aux tulipes  provides us with a synthesis of the two main media (painting and sculpture)  that Picasso utilized to represent the scale, dimensionality and physical impact of his young lover.  More than many of the pictures from this era, it evidences his desire to objectify his model in the truest sense of the word.  "Picasso pursued, embellished, transformed, deconstructed, and annexed Marie-Thérèse, as a wild beast its prey," says the artist's grand-daughter Diana Widmaier Picasso (D.W. Picasso, Picasso & Marie-Thérèse, L'Amour fou (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2011, p. 61).  This grand picture, completed in the span of less than three hours on a single day in March, is one of the most powerful examples of Picasso’s tireless pursuit, with Marie-Thérèse's image transformed into a divine object of veneration. As a singular composition,  Nature morte aux tulipes appears to be a vibrantly colorful ode to classicism:  a plaster bust positioned alongside an offering of tulips and adorned with a garland crown.   But there is much more to this picture than meets the eye, as it is the story behind the canvas that adds another powerful dimension.   What we see here is the unmistakable profile of Marie-Thérèse Walter, bathed in the warm glow of a kerosene lamp that hung in his Boisgeloup studio.  In prior years he had only referenced his extramarital affair with Marie-Thérèse in his pictures in code, sometimes imbedding her initials in a composition or rendering her strong, Grecian profile as a feature of the background.  By the end of the year, Picasso could no longer repress his creative impulse with regard to Marie-Thérèse, and she became the primary focus of art. Throughout 1931 Picasso had been working on several monumental plaster busts that incorporated the strong profile of Marie-Thérèse.  While molding wet plaster into the likeness of his lover offered Picasso a way to caress her in absentia, it also allowed him to transform her body into a fully-exploitable object.   These bright white forms, gleaming amidst the darkness of his Boisgeloup carriage house, were an irresistible spectacle, inciting Picasso’s Cubist fascination with the dimensionality of form in space.  By the end of 1931 he began to feature images of his plaster sculptures into his paintings, and it is Marie-Thérèse’s highly tactile and plasticized form that defines these magisterial paintings of 1932 (figs. 1, 4 & 5). Elizabeth Cowling has written on Picasso’s incorporation of sculptural imagery into his paintings of this era:  "Here, as in many paintings, drawings and prints of the Marie-Thérèse period, Picasso reflects on the relationship in his work between paintings ...  and sculpture...  The style of the painting as a whole seems intended to dramatise the oppositions between pictorial flatness and sculptural mass in the oppositions between pure line and bold areas of color on the one hand and gradations of light and dark on the other.  The sculpted head is a synoptic reference to the earlier series of plaster heads inspired by Marie-Thérèse.  The same head, raised on a tall plinth and sometimes garlanded with vines, in a object of veneration in several of the etchings in the 'Vollard Suite'" (E. Cowling in Picasso: Sculptor/Painter (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1994, p. 272). Although it is believed that the bust depicted in the present composition was not painted from a specific one in his studio, certain elements featured in the composition can be seen in photographs from the time (fig. 1), including the garland that is draped over the head and the dark shadows cast against the wall from the artificial light source.  Some objects are symbolic embellishments, such as the lapis-blue cloth and blooming tulips that evoke the iconography of the Blessed Virgin.  Others, like the basket, are recycled from past compositions.  A similar arched, woven basket had appeared in an earlier charcoal composition from September 1931, where it featured as a signifier for Marie-Thérèse.  In that earlier picture, the basket was positioned alongside a stark porcelain vessel -- the same minimalist one that was used to signify Picasso’s wife Olga in Still with Jug and Apples of  1920 (fig. 3). John Golding has written about  the studio environment in which this painting was depicted, and how it "evokes [Picasso's] nocturnal working habits, and the light shed by the big kerosene lamp made him particularly sensitive to the play of shadows over the white plaster sculptures.  He tended to distrust the official heaviness of bronze and declared that the Boisgeloup plaster heads in particular were more beautiful in their original white or plaster state.  While the studios were being got ready Picasso executed a series of small slender standing figures whittled out of single pieces of wood, and the respect for material that these required may have encouraged him to concentrate on more closed, self-contained sculptural forms."  (J.Golding in  Picasso: Sculptor/Painter  (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1994, p. 28). Picasso’s theme for his picture is drawn from a more literary source.  Not long after his fiftieth birthday that past October, he began a series of Ovidian etchings to celebrate a new publication of the Metamorphosis and would ultimately create a body of work over the years know collectively as the Vollard Suites (fig. 6).  The present work is one of several canvases that alludes to Ovid’s writings, specifically the harrowing story of Persephone’s abduction by Pluto to Hades: Playing, gathering flowers Violets, or white lilies, and so many The basket would not hold them all… Sorrowful to be sure, and still half frightened And still a queen, the greatest of the world Of darkness and empress, the proud consort Of the proud ruler of the world of darkness Jean Sutherland Boggs made the following association between the Persephone myth and the present picture in her research for the Picasso and Things exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art.  She writes in the catalogue entry for this picture, “It is as the goddess returned to the earth in the spring that we find her here, the wreath in her hair, the basket of tulips and three pieces of fruit before her pedestal indicating the season with which she is identified.  Although she is placed on a blue cloth of royal intensity and assurance, the background has mysterious black shadows against the dark brown, and there is a pattern of a delicate gray on the bust itself, perhaps to remind us of the shadows of the underworld” (Picasso and Things, op. cit., p. 237). Nature morte aux tulipes is one of the legendary pictures completed in anticipation of the major retrospective that Picasso was planning that summer in Paris and Zurich.   It was at this exhibition that Olga, upon seeing Picasso's numerous references to a specific face that was clearly not her own, was alerted to the presence of another woman in her husband's life (fig. 8).  Until the exhibition, Picasso's relationship with Marie-Thérèse had been a tightly guarded secret, the evidence of which he had kept sealed away at the studio he maintained at Boisgeloup.   He had purchased this property near Gisors in 1930 as a retreat house, where he could escape from Olga and spend time alone with his mistress.   The chateau at Boisegeloup was much larger than his studio in Paris, and the space allowed him to create the monumental plaster busts of Marie-Thérèse that inspired the present picture.    Nature morte aux tulipes  evidences Marie-Thérèse's role as a completely accessible aesthetic resource for Picasso's art.  Like the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, Picasso would take his sculpture off its pedestal and brought his muse to life. Signed Picasso and dated XXXII (upper right); dated 2 Mars XXXII H 9 à 11 1/2  Hs on the stretcher

  • 2012-11-08

Bild mit weissen Linien(Painting with White Lines)

1913 A Revolutionary Year Only very rarely does a single year make its mark so completely on the collective consciousness of a culture, and none so vividly as 1913. The year 1913 is particularly important within the history of modern art, marked by events and works that fundamentally changed the way art was conceived and understood. Across Europe and America artists of every sort set down new ideas and formulas for artistic expression, and in turn some of them made their defining contributions to modern culture. In New York the Armory Show introduced the American public to the European avant-garde (fig. 1), with Marcel Duchamps Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 making its debut. Pablo Picasso continued to reinvent Cubism with his use of papier collé to establish the foundations of Synthetic Cubism; Umberto Boccioni created his Futurist masterpiece Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, and in Munich Wassily Kandinsky set about creating the most celebrated series of abstract paintings in the history of early 20th century art. No other single year in the artists career can be said to have produced so many masterpieces or such a coherent and magisterial body of work. Bild mit weissen Linien, executed on a grand scale and in dazzling colours, is one of the most important paintings by Kandinsky from this crucial year. The major works of 1913 share a monumental quality, both in scale and ambition, that Kandinsky had not attempted to achieve before, and which he would never truly attain again. It was a year of prodigious achievement and prolific creation. There was a great outpouring of studies in ink, watercolour and oil for the primary works of the year such as Komposition VI and VII (figs. 5 & 6) and other major oils such as Bild mit weissen Linien which attest to the meticulous approach Kandinsky took to preparing each unique composition. The Path to Abstraction From an early stage in his artistic career, Kandinsky was aware that his pursuit of his own form of expression was leading him toward an entirely new visual idiom. In a letter to his lover and fellow painter Gabriele Münter written on 2nd April 1904 Kandinsky wrote: Without exaggerating, I can say that, should I succeed in this task, I will be showing [a] new, beautiful path for painting susceptible to infinite development. I am on a new track, which some masters, just here and there, suspected, and which will be recognised, sooner or later. As predicted, in the years that followed Kandinsky travelled further towards abstraction than any painter previously, and in 1913 finally achieved it in a uniquely pure, lyrical form. Kandinsky's first major breakthrough was his discovery that colour, when disassociated from representational concerns, could become the principal subject of a painting. Taking his cue from musical composition, Kandinsky determined that every colour corresponded with a particular emotion or sound. For example, in his first major theoretical text On the Spiritual in Art, published in 1911, Kandinsky likened different shades of green to stringed instruments which matched his synaesthetic experience of colour, for example: mid-green sounded like the quiet, mid-range tones of a violin, whilst yellow-green was perceived to be the higher notes of the violin, in contrast to blue-green as a muted alto-violin. As Will Grohmann writes, Colour becomes increasingly crucial... [yellow, white, carmine, pink, light blue and blue-green] transport the subject to the sphere of dream and legend. This was the direction of development. The painter distributes and links the colours, combines them and differentiates them as if they were beings of a specific character and special significance. As in music, the materials now come to the form, and in this respect Kandinsky stands between Mussorgsky and Scriabin. The language of colour - just as in those composers - calls for depth, for fantasy (W. Grohmann, op. cit., p. 61). This revelation was due in part to the journey the artist took to Paris in 1906 and his acquaintance with Fauve paintings by Derain, Delaunay and Vlaminck, as well as his appreciation of Cézannes brushwork in his late works. Though, as Hans Roethel writes: when Kandinsky returned to Munich, ideologically and practically, the ground was well prepared for abstract painting and yet it needed a final spark to come into being (H. K. Roethel & J. K. Benjamin, Kandinsky, London 1979, p. 25). In his Reminiscences Kandinsky recalled the precise moment at which the spark was ignited: 'Once, while in Munich I underwent an unexpectedly bewitching experience in my studio. Twilight was falling; I had just come home with my box of paints under my arm after painting a study from nature. I was still dreamily absorbed in the work I had been doing when, suddenly, my eyes fell upon an indescribably beautiful picture that was saturated with an inner glow. I was startled momentarily, then quickly went up to this enigmatic painting in which I could see nothing but shapes and colours and the content of which was incomprehensible to me. The answer to the riddle came immediately: it was one of my own paintings leaning on its side against the wall. The next day, by daylight, I tried to recapture the impression the picture had given me the evening before. I succeeded only half way. Even when looking at the picture sideways I could still make out the objects and that fine thin coat of transparent colour, created by last night's twilight, was missing. Now I knew for certain that the subject matter was detrimental to my paintings. A frightening gap of responsibility now opened up before me and an abundance of various questions arose. And the most important of them was: what was to replace the missing object' (W. Kandinsky, quoted in ibid., p. 25). Through constant experimentation and extensive preparatory work Kandinskys artistic means developed from an essentially figurative Fauve style to pure abstraction. By 1910 he had found the language he sought, with sweeping lines, beautiful iridescent patches of colour and kaleidoscopic compositions. Figurative elements still feature, abstracted to their farthest point, but still recognisable, and often alluded to in the titles that the artist gave to the works. Among the most advanced pictures of those years were those entitled Improvisations or Compositions and numbered sequentially, which is a clear allusion to their symphonic qualities. However the source of inspiration for the main motifs Kandinsky used in his works were all based in the same romantic vision of Old Russia and folk stories that bewitched him from the beginning of his career. Landscapes were either drawn from his immediate surroundings such as the bucolic countryside around Murnau and Munich or for his major compositions concocted out of romanticised, lyrical scenarios featuring onion domed citadels presiding over mountains, lakes and streams which are inhabited by horses and people. Two preparatory watercolour studies Kandinsky produced (figs. 8 & 9) reveal how he took the most recognisable motifs of the tall-towered city in the upper left and the two horses in the immediate foreground with the three-arched red bridge in the centre and energised them with colour and line in the final work. These motifs are clearly visible in all the main works completed in 1913 and are a key part of his most celebrated works including Komposition VI (fig. 5), Komposition VII (fig. 6) and Kleine Freuden (fig. 3). Kandinsky in Russia In the first half of the decade, while resident in Bavaria, Kandinsky exhibited his works far and wide throughout Europe, America and his native Russia, gaining an impressive international following. However in December 1914 Kandinsky felt compelled to return to Russia after nearly twenty years of living in Germany. The war in Europe threatened his way of life, and as a Russian citizen he had to leave the country that he had adopted as his homeland. Prior to his own emigration, in January 1914 Kandinsky selected a few important oils from 1913 to be exhibited at the Galerie Ernst Arnolds Die Neue Malerei show, which included the present work, Bild mit weissem Rand, Bild mit grünem Mitte, Improvisation 34 (fig. 4) and Komposition VI (fig. 5) all of which are now in museum collections. Settled in Moscow, he barely painted, concentrating on producing watercolours and establishing himself in the citys artistic circle. In 1914 Kandinsky was invited to participate in the Spring collective exhibition at Odessa, and the choice of works from 1913 he sent is telling each seems to perfectly represent one of the four key types of painting he produced that year a more literal view of Dunaberg near Murnau (The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), the lyrical, highly abstract Improvisation 34 (fig. 4, National Museum of Fine Arts  of the Republic of Tatarstan, Kazan), the present work and the monumental Komposition VII (fig. 6, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). This group was subsequently exhibited in Moscow at a landmark show entitled The Year 1915, and over time each painting found a permanent home in a Russian museum. Over the next four years, the artist witnessed the Revolution and the rise of Communism as an essentially apolitical being, whose art remained ostensibly unaffected by the social situation. However, he swiftly became a member of the Department of Visual Arts in the Peoples Commissariat of Enlightenment (NARKOMPROS) and a founding member of the Institute of Artistic Culture (INKHUK). In 1919 as part of the programme to disseminate avant-garde art through the new Russia, hundreds of artworks were selected or purchased by the Museum of Painterly Culture by the museums committee, comprised entirely of artists, including Alexander Rodchenko, Vladimir Tatlin and Kandinsky. Bild mit weissen Linien was purchased by the State and allocated initially to the museum in Penza, an industrial city south-east of Moscow. Through schemes such as the Museum of Pictorial Culture and other cultural programmes, Kandinskys art made a profound impact on the on the artists of the Russian avant-garde. Sometimes charged with a lack of interest in the younger generations work, he was nonetheless seen an inspirational figure by younger artists, in particular the Constructivists who appreciated his dedication to abstraction. Writing in 1920 the critic Konstantin Umansky was highly supportive of Kandinsky, and stated unequivocally: The entire Russian art scene can be traced back to Kandinsky. If anyone deserves a nick name, Kandinsky does; he should be called the Russian Messiah, his work has cleared a way for the victory of absolute art, although contemporary abstract art is now moving in a different direction. [] Kandinskys art found its logical conclusion in Suprematism (quoted in Jelena Hahl-Koch, Kandinsky, Brussels, 1993, p. 243). Kandinskys Legacy It was not only in Suprematism that the influence of Kandinskys Munich period paintings can be felt. At no other time is his abstraction so lyrical, dynamic or expressive, and its lineage is clearly distinguished in the art of the Abstract Expressionists working in post-war America. Though technically innovative and ideologically different, the Abstract Expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, were indebted to Kandinsky and his pioneering art for taking the first steps on the path to abstraction in 1913. Kandinskys legacy stretched far beyond those of the Abstract Expressionists and continues to influence artistic production today, though grounded in a proliferation of symbolic and romantic ideals which were born out of his own era, the raw energy of his work and prescient modernism transcends its original context. Signed Kandinsky and dated 1913 (lower left); signed Kandinsky, titled, dated 1913 and inscribed No. 178 on the stretcher

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2017-06-21


The canvas is unlined. There is a loose dust canvas at the back of the original. The paint surface is very well preserved and has retained the artist's original finish. There are two tiny abrasions on the lower right framing edge, and very faint horizontal stretcher-bar lines and a faint vertical line visible in the lower right. There is a small area of extremely fine, stable, craquelure in the lower right and in a line in the lower centre. Apart from a small spot of retouching in the centre of the lower framing edge and two tiny further retouchings just above, this work is in very good condition. Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although less red in tone and fresher and more vibrant in the original. "In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE." Signed Claude Monet and dated 1906 (lower right)

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2014-06-23

Number 4, 1951

"I approach painting in the same sense as one approaches drawing; that is, it's direct.'' Jackson Pollock interviewed by William Wright, Summer 1950, cited in Clifford Ross, ed., Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, New York, 1990, p. 144 Worthy of the highest critical acclaim, yet readily surpassing the inadequacies of mere written description, Jackson Pollock’s Number 4, 1951 encapsulates on one canvas the pure essence of his art and is, quite simply, a resounding and incontrovertible masterpiece of Abstract Expressionism. The occasion of this painting’s appearance for sale is a spectacularly rare and historic event: in the past quarter century only an elite handful of drip paintings on canvas by Pollock have been offered at auction. Executed in 1951, this work epitomizes the chromatic variance, heroic drama and thrilling dynamism of the 1950 masterworks that had just been exhibited at Betty Parsons' Gallery in New York from November to December, such as Lavender Mist: Number 1 (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.); One: Number 31 (Museum of Modern Art, New York); and Autumn Rhythm: Number 30 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Focused to a point of sensational intensity, the layering here of brilliant red, blue, yellow, green and ochre oil color is tempered by the metallic aluminum paint that seeps into the raw canvas, which in turn is overlaid by the frenzied poetic chaos and flecked matrices of shiny black enamel. This painting thus represents the heightened epitome of Pollock’s preceding definitive period, and anticipates the creation of such works as the more monochromatic Brown and Silver I (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid) and the subsequent graphic severity of the black enamel on unprimed canvases that occupied the artist for the remainder of 1951. The painting has resided in the present owner's collection for over thirty years, prior to which its provenance was highly prestigious. Its first private owner was Dr. Ruth Fox, the distinguished psychoanalyst and expert on the treatment of alcoholism, who treated Jackson Pollock in 1951-2, near the time of the work’s execution. Following other distinguished subsequent owners, Stephen D. Paine was an eminent collector, museum benefactor and trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for over twenty years. His collection included a number of Abstract Expressionist masterworks, including the Willem de Kooning pastel Woman of 1952 that set a world auction record for a drawing by that artist when sold by Sotheby’s in November 2002. Barely seen for forty years, Number 4, 1951 appears today as the rare vestige of an historic moment when the eyes of the world looked to New York for the most groundbreaking creative innovations and the forging of contemporary Art History. In this work the technically diverse layers of material accretion, readily apparent from the soaked-through reverse of the canvas, deliver an all-over effect that is at once aesthetically arresting and infinitely subtle. Our sustained experience of the painting is rewarded with a sublime catharsis, as the compositional complexity of the work continually fluctuates between the shadows of rhythmic patterns and the disorganized chaos of action painting unrestrained. Pools of intensely-hued pigment have stained the rectilinear canvas weave beneath misty aureoles of reflective metallic silver; all superseded by a looping matrix of black tendrils slicked onto the uppermost paint strata. While the enthralling surface encourages the eye to examine its detail, the density of layered pigments creates a dynamism that presses outward toward the canvas edge. The present painting exemplifies the innovation that most defines Pollock's achievement as embodied in the phrase "drawing into painting", coined by William Rubin in 1967 to describe the liberation of line from figuration into abstraction. Distinctions between artistic practices did not exist for Pollock whose ground-breaking technique married paint to the freedom of draftsmanship in order to express his innermost artistic impulse. Pollock's pursuit was immediacy and the fluid union of material and creativity as one. In his mature oeuvre, neither brush nor any other tool applied paint to his support surface; instead, he placed the canvas on a flat surface and with his quick wrist and flowing movement dripped, splattered and pooled paint from the can, creating complex, all-over patterns. However, although often considered an essentially graphic artist preoccupied with the primacy of line, the present work is also a major demonstration of Pollock's mastery of color. Indeed, the combination of the harmony of pure color and the tensile strength of linear design positions this painting in the highest order of Pollock’s oeuvre. The skeins of material interweave to build the structure of a picture that seems almost to possess an inner life and ultimately a sense of wholeness emerges from the combination of physical abandon and aesthetic control. Enlisting a technique of chance that would subsequently influence generations of the Twentieth Century’s most prominent artists, from Francis Bacon’s famous throwing of paint, to Gerhard Richter’s entire dependence on the arbitrary squeegee spatula for his Abstract paintings, Pollock faced an unprecedented dilemma in deciding the moment at which a picture arrived at its crescendo of resolution. In this respect the present work is yet again a definitive example of Pollock’s genius. Kirk Varnedoe has described how Pollock judged the success of a work or its arrival at its final form: "Like many other modern artists before and since, he was drawn to explore edge conditions, extreme boundaries where coherence might give onto its opposite, and where fullness of meaning and total emptiness rubbed against each other." (Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Jackson Pollock, 1998, p. 51)  Number 4, 1951 exists for perpetuity in precisely such an “edge condition”: harboring a fundamental order yet poised on the very precipice of utter dissolution. Pollock proved that if art was defined by the artist, then the individual's subconscious and instincts directly influenced the technique, composition and content of the art. He revolutionized easel painting by asserting that material and medium could fundamentally replace subject matter in painting. It is true that there were some distant forerunners, such as the innovative use of collage and found objects in the works of Picasso, Braque and Duchamp, as well as the automatism of the Surrealists and the conceptual subversions of Marcel Duchamp. Yet Pollock demonstrated unequivocally that the medium was the message while working in the most traditional of mediums, oil paint.  As Varnedoe observed, " 'How?' would take over from 'What?' as the prime point of genesis. Changing his self-awareness from a search for buried icons or totems to a reliance on more pragmatic instincts about how it felt best to work, Pollock would unblock the way to a fundamentally personal, original art. And a great deal more." (Ibid., p. 48) Pollock's innovations were elemental and instinctive, born of many years of struggling with the tension between figure and ground, abstraction and representation, content and technique. Beginning in the winter of 1946-47 when Pollock first placed his canvases on the floor of his Long Island barn, he pushed the boundaries of painting beyond his earlier Surrealist and Expressionist work. Standing above the painting surface, Pollock worked from all four sides to drip, pool and fling pigment from sticks, brushes and other implements. From 1947 to 1951, Pollock's brush seldom touched his paintings, but his dexterity and total physicality orchestrated the fluidity, density, speed and rhythm of his medium into an all-over composition of cohesive expressiveness. This golden period witnessed the genesis of a sublime body of work, including the present painting. As one of the most iconic figures of twentieth-century Art History, Jackson Pollock’s long shadow cast a protean myth that has almost obscured his monumental achievement in creating an independent aesthetic that revolutionized artistic practice during and after his lifetime. Yet a few works of genius such as Number 4, 1951 transport us directly to the crucible of that revolutionary enterprise, and stand as enduring testament to this master’s sheer brilliance. Signed on the reverse

  • 2012-11-14


An intoxicating and enigmatic electricity galvanizes every pore of Mark Rothko’s Untitled of 1970, classified as the penultimate painting of the artist’s prodigious oeuvre. Three inky, crepuscular green regions of color shiver bewitchingly atop a groundwork of brilliant indigo, encapsulating at the very last moments of his life the formal essence of Rothko’s entire body of work. According to David Anfam’s authoritative 1998 catalogue raisonné of Rothko’s work, the artist started and finished only three paintings in the first fifty-five days of 1970 before his death; bar one painting currently hanging in the National Gallery of Art, the present work is perhaps Rothko’s final expression of all. As the three viridian planes hover hypnotically against one another, conjuring an image of a vast ocean expanse at dusk separated by the vivid blue horizon lines, the viewer is transported into a deeply contemplative state archetypal of Rothko’s most accomplished chromatic compositions. Prior to the 1970 completion of Untitled, Rothko painted eighteen works in 1969 with a nearly identical composition—these paintings bear two adjoining color zones, all possessing a generally black on gray superstructure, though some are tinted in a sepia or hazy bluish tone. This last cohesive body of paintings, referred to by Anfam as the “Black on Grays,” evoke an overwhelming sense of tragedy—meditations on finality, mortality, and closure. The dark always sits atop the light, as if a shade is being lowered in a window to obscure the remains of the day. It is as though Rothko sensed the foreboding onset of his own death, and these paintings were his one final rumination on humanity. What is most striking in this context, then, is the artist’s triumphant return to full color in the last three canvases of his life—a triumverate of rich luminescence that includes the present work. Within this chronological narrative, the sheer vibrancy and vividness of Untitled becomes an uplifting paean to the vigor and sheer brio of the painter’s soul, following a prolonged period of darkness. Until his death in 1970, the trajectory of Rothko’s later years proved to expose the artist’s rawest and most pronounced sensitivities, a magnified introspection that provided the emotional catalyst for his palette progressing towards hauntingly darker hues. While the works from this period are famously characterized by their ominous darkness, Untitled from 1970 demonstrates the complexities of Rothko’s colors: the chromatic interplay of intense blues and verdant greens tinted by ominous blacks shift before the eye like the ocean and sky at night, the twilight glimmering from within the stacked bands like the irridescent moon peering in through Henri Matisse's 1913 French Window at Collioure. Pushing the bounds of painting using his distinctive economy of forms, Rothko's abstract fields of pigment here evolve before the eye into a partial seascape; content and form merge seamlessly through the temporal experience that is the deep spatial immersion of the viewer. 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.” (the artist cited in David Anfam, Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 73) The bars of rich sumptuous blues concurrently imply a cavernous abyss while surging forward, a dynamic optical experience resulting in a brooding majesty that places the work at the pinnacle of the artist’s late oeuvre. The upper right corner of the irridescent Untitled is punctuated by a downward vertical drip stain, freezing the moment in time at which Rothko painted the canvas forever in the present. This drip functions as a pentimenti, recording a history of the painting’s making and imbuing the canvas with a distinct temporality. The vivid blues and greens conjure the effulgent moonlight illuminating the dark roaming surface of the night sea. However, in this spectacularly subtle zone of the painting, the metaphysical is replaced for material quiddity, as the painting reasserts its own presence as a corporeal object. Rothko’s renowned late paintings of 1969-70 are most frequently interpreted as being inseparable from his deteriorating psychological and physical state that eventually culminated with his suicide in February 1970. The increasingly somber palette and unrelenting employment of black in these late works has inevitably been integrated into a narrative about the final two years of his life. Rothko himself reportedly regarded these works—ultimately his culminating series—as his “most profound,” an opinion shared by critics such as Brian O'Doherty who referred to this period as harboring some of Rothko's “most remarkable” paintings in his essay for the 1993 exhibition of Rothko's Last Paintings in New York. Diane Waldman assessed Rothko’s last paintings as the ultimate realization of the painter’s goals, declaring the works from the end of his life as positioned firmly at the summit of his entire oeuvre. Waldman further noted, “By the end of his life Rothko had moved beyond such concepts in his painting. No longer is his art earthbound, sensual, corporeal. He had attained a harmony, an equilibrium, a wholeness, in the Jungian sense, that enabled him to express universal truths in his breakthrough works, fusing the conscious and the unconscious, the finite and the infinite, the equivocal and the unequivocal, the sensuous and the spiritual. Now he had left behind all that spoke of the carnate, the concrete. He had reached the farther shore of art.” (Diane Waldman in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Mark Rothko, 1903-1970: A Retrospective, 1978, p. 69) A sensation of rich, somatic absorption that is unparalleled by any other artist’s work, Untitled causes us to sink deeper into our own minds. As Dore Ashton eloquently wrote, “The interior realm was where Rothko wished to or perhaps could only live, and what he hoped to express. The ‘theater of the mind,’ as Mallarmé called it, was immensely dramatic for Rothko. His darkness at the end did allude to the light of the theater in which, when the lights are gradually dimmed, expectation mounts urgently.” (Dore Ashton, About Rothko, New York, 1983, p. 189) Through his technique of layering thin washes of paint one over the other, often allowing colors from initial layers to show through the subsequent coats of pigment, Rothko’s painting seems to conceal a hidden light source emanating from its very core. Twinkling through and around the elegant planes of color, the present work achieves an incandescent dimensionality that is reminiscent of Rembrandt or Caravaggio’s divine virtuosity for rendering natural light in flat oil paint. Michael Butor wrote of this series of Rothko’s works that “one of the most remarkable of Rothko’s triumphs is to have made a kind of black light shine.” (Ibid., p. 189) Indeed, it is almost as if this extraordinary painting is brilliantly illuminated from within: a translucent vessel of pure color and light. A stunning paradigm of Rothko’s determination to elicit human emotional response in each of his paintings, Untitled emits a serene aura that stirs the viewer into trance-like contemplation, a wholly pure and directly unique effect for each individual but one that mirrors Rothko’s immense introspection at the time of execution. Ineffably elegant and devastatingly theatrical, Untitled lures the viewer into its seductive world and captures our gaze in its irresistible chromatic aura. The present work is a quintessential example of the deeply metaphysical experience that Rothko asked of the highest forms of abstraction—a simultaneously expansive yet intimate theater of the sublime. We do not purely look at this painting; we are actively engulfed in its waves, situated as actors within its epic expanse.

  • 2014-11-10

Tête de femme

Picasso's radiant composition belongs to the extraordinary group of canvases depicting Marie-Thérèse Walter, his beloved mistress during the early 1930s.  The present painting is one of the most geometrically complex renderings of his lover, depicted as a bust on a pedestal and reminiscent of the large plaster sculptures of her that he created nearly a decade earlier.  Picasso completed this canvas at the height of the Surrealist movement in March 1935, when his palette was at its most vibrant and Freudian psycho-sexual symbolism played a defining role in the imagery of the avant-garde.  But Picasso's composition here, with the deconstructed appearance of the pedestal and the bust, is a decidedly forthright example of the artist's individualism, as it incorporates elements of his groundbreaking Cubist compositions of the 1910s.  Indeed, more than any other model, Marie-Thérèse inspired Picasso's creative genius, and her very image conjured a creative synthesis of the most radical aspects of Picasso's production.  Tête de femme is constructed with the sharp, geo-linear elements that were defining features of Picasso's early Cubist compositions, yet the colors are unlike any that Picasso has ever used before -- pulsating red, shrill orange and yellow, and soothing marine tones of green and blue.   One of the more unexpected elements of the composition is the thickly-painted latticework, reminiscent of Picasso’s chair caning collages from the early century and still-lifes from the 1920s.  In her correspondence with Sotheby's about this painting, Diana Widmaier Picasso observed that her grandfather clearly had other media on his mind while he was completing this composition. "What makes this painting so exceptional," she said, "is that it shows again the dialogue between painting and sculpture, as a culmination point following his great monumental works from Boisgeloup.  Not only the vibrant colors and voluptuous shapes of Marie-Thérèse can be instantly recognized but one can see that Picasso uses his model to explore further his earlier cubist experimentations, playing with the contrast of geometric forms and plane surfaces.  It also appears to be supposedly the last painting made before Marie-Thèrèse gave birth to my mother Maya. He will then concentrate on the great print La Minotauromachie, symbol of the tumult in his personal life, that starts in March 1935." Distinguished by their rich coloration, harmonic curves and sweeping arabesques, Picasso's Marie-Thérèse pictures are renowned as Picasso's most euphoric, sexually-charged, and inspired compositions, and they rank among the most instantly recognizable works of 20th century art.  In fact, of all the manifestations of Picasso's exceptionally prolific career, it is during his 'Marie-Thérèse period', when his creative force was at its most powerful.  Among the most significant of these pictures is Tête de femme created when Marie-Thérèse was firmly at the center of Picasso's artistic universe. Picasso’s unusually vibrant palette in this composition is similar to the one he used for his allegorical depictions of Marie-Thérèse reading or drawing by candle light, Fille dessinant à l’intérieur, painted that February.   By the time he painted the present composition, his focus on new aesthetic and personal concerns are apparent.  Marie-Thérèse was just ending her first trimester of pregnancy when Picasso painted this picture on March 12, and the composition bears specific references to the young woman’s fertile state, from the swell of her breasts rising in the foreground to the crescent moon  - symbol of the Roman fertility goddess Diana - that shadows her face which could be interpreted as the tell-tale “mask of pregnancy.”  The bold outline of the breasts and the green latticework in the background also forecast the linear direction of Picasso’s work in the weeks to come.  On March 23, he would begin work on his famous engraving Minotaure, with its elegiac presentation of a young Marie-Thérèse leading a Minotaure out of darkness with a lit candle. In the context of his personal life, one might conclude that the light in this elaborate etching represents Picasso’s unborn child, whereas in the present work Marie-Thérèse radiates with the promise and hope of future happiness. “You have an interesting face.  I would like to do a portrait of you.  I feel we are going to do great things together.”  It was with these words that Picasso began his near-decade long seduction of the Marie-Thérèse, the young woman who would forever be remembered as the artist’s golden muse.  Marie-Thérèse's potent mix of physical attractiveness and sexual naïvete had an intoxicating effect on Picasso.  His rapturous desire for the girl gave rise to a wealth of images that have been acclaimed as the most erotic and emotionally uplifting compositions of his long career. Picasso's reverence is nowhere more apparent than in the depictions of his lover reading, sleeping or writing, the embodiment of tranquility and physical acquiescence.   Her passivity in these pictures makes her body all the more pliant to Picasso's manipulations and distortions.  It must be remembered that Marie-Thérèse came into Picasso's life when the avant-garde was enthralled by Surrealism.  Exaltations of sexual deviance and grotesque manipulations of form fanned the flames of Picasso's creative and physical desire, resulting in some of the most extraordinary interpretations of his lover. In later years, Françoise Gilot, another of Picasso's lovers and an artist herself, recognized the tantalizingly sculptural possibilities presented by Marie-Thérèse's body during this feverish period: "I found Marie-Thérèse fascinating to look at.  I could see that she was certainly the woman who had inspired Pablo plastically more than any other.  She had a very arresting face with a Grecian profile.  The whole series of portraits of blonde women Pablo painted between 1927 and 1935 are almost exact replicas of her.... Her forms were handsomely sculptural, with a fullness of volume and a purity of line that gave her body and her face an extraordinary perfection.  To the extent that nature offers ideas or stimuli to an artist, there are some forms that are closer than other to any artist's own aesthetic and thus serve as a springboard for his imagination.  Marie-Thérèse brought a great deal to Pablo in the sense that her physical form demanded recognition." Picasso first saw Marie-Thérèse on the streets of Paris in 1927, when she was only seventeen years old and while he was entangled in an unhappy marriage to Olga Khokhlova. "I was an innocent girl," Walter remembered years later. "I knew nothing - either of life or of Picasso... I had gone to do some shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, and Picasso saw me leaving the Metro.  He simply took me by the arm and said, 'I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together' "(quoted in Picasso and the Weeping Women (exhibition catalogue), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles & The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994, p. 143). The couple's relationship was kept a well-guarded secret for many years, both on account of Picasso's marriage to Olga and Marie-Thérèse's considerably young age. But the covertness of the affair only intensified Picasso's obsession with the girl, and many of his pictures, with their dramatic contrasts of light and dark, allude to their secret interludes held under cover of darkness. By the time the present work was painted in March 1935, the girl who once "knew nothing of Picasso" had come to define the artist and his production.  Marie-Thérèse's features were readily identifiable in Picasso's painting at this point, and Robert Rosenblum wrote about the young woman's symbolic unveiling in these works: "Marie-Thérèse, now firmly entrenched in both the city and country life of a lover twenty-eight years her senior, could at last emerge from the wings to center stage, where she could preside as a radiant deity, in new roles that changed from Madonna to sphinx, from odalisque to earth mother. At times her master seems to worship humbly at her shrine, capturing a fixed, confrontational stare of almost supernatural power; but more often, he becomes an ecstatic voyeur, who quietly captures his beloved, reading, meditating, catnapping, or surrendering to the deepest abandon of sleep" (R. Rosenblum in Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 342). Soon after learning of Marie-Thérèse’s pregnancy on Christmas Eve 1934, Picasso promised to file for a divorce from Olga, and his lawyers told him that he needed to separate from his lover during the proceedings.  Picasso was devastated by this forced separation during this intimate moment in their relationship.  In the spring of 1935, he ceased all work on painting for nearly a year and instead devoted himself to poetry.   The present picture, which is the last major canvas completed before this hiatus, is a testament to Marie-Thérèse’s transcendent importance as a source of inspiration and solace for the artist in the midst of a bitter marriage to Olga.  Indeed, Marie-Thérèse would soon take on another role in the artist's life, giving birth to his first daughter Maya in September 5, 1935.   But it is in this image from earlier that year that her creative succor and its impact on Picasso's art is at its most dramatic. Signed Picasso (lower left)

  • 2013-11-07

Abstraktes Bild

“Richter’s painting explores the enigmatic juncture of sense and non-sense. His paintings encircle, enclose the real as that which it is impossible to say: the unrepresentable.” Birgit Pelzer, ‘The Tragic Desire’ in: Benjamin D. Buchloh, Ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Massachusetts 2009, p. 118. Chance, layering, erasure, chromatic power and compositional counterpoint are wielded to sublime effect in Abstrakes Bild from 1986. Following a corpus of nascent abstractions executed between the years of 1980-85, the present work heralds a decisive break and undeniable landmark achievement; from 1986 onwards Gerhard Richter would relinquish any planned compositional elements of form and structure in favour more predominantly of the indeterminate scrape and accretion of the ‘squeegee’. As laid down in the present work across seemingly photographic layers of pearlescent underpainting (more prominent towards the lower half of the composition), Richter has waged a battle between the squeegee and the brush. Horizontal veils of stuttering paint present a riposte to the vertical drag of wide brush-strokes, both of which are punctuated by finer and more angular accents. The result is a mesmerising field in which painterly elements both spar against and complement each other while the paint’s chromatic value injects this piece with an undisputed brilliance. Broadcasting deepest blue through to acidic yellow and red, along with all the possible permutations that exist in between these primary values, Abstraktes Bild imparts glorious light effects that verge on the experiential. In the centre, a vertical band of radiant green is pierced and intercut by a stream of luminous colour to impart a reading akin to light flooding ecclesiastical architecture or sunlight coursing through the soft miasma of cloud. Indeed, the balance between hard and soft, structural solidity and phosphorescence, photographic and the abstract, finds an apogee in this enveloping work. Towering in strident swathes of luminescent and kaleidoscopic paint, Abstraktes Bild is not only one of the largest abstract paintings by the artist, it is also one of the most chromatically, compositionally and redolently astounding. Having been on extended loan to the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, during the 1990s, this painting is a remarkable exposition of the very apogee of Richter's abstract canon. Texture, colour and structure are deployed in Abstraktes Bild with spectacular force and sensitivity to engender a seductive painterly synthesis visually aligned to an exquisite and strikingly atmospheric evocation: structural strips and impastoed ridges of thick oil paint delineate a schema of painterly revelations and under layers of diaphanous blue, green and purple that are punctuated with sunset flashes of yellow, orange, red and pink. Herein, the present work draws a uniquely evocative dialogue with late nineteenth-century landscape painting from a distinctly contemporary perspective. Invoking an utterly self-referential language of abstraction, Abstraktes Bild nonetheless shares aesthetic and atmospheric congruencies with Monet’s late Nympheas, Gustav Klimt’s jewel-like treatment of the Austrian landscape, and Seurat’s proto-scientific treatment of light and colour. Indeed, Richter’s breathtaking Abstraktes Bild captures an atmosphere akin to a post impressionistic translation of landscape scenery. However, Richter has frequently spoken of aspects of his work as ‘cuckoo’s eggs’ in that his paintings are often mistaken for something they are not, or not fully. Where this most aptly applies to the artist’s take on the sublime landscape, it is also at stake within his response to both an evocation of an Impressionist landscape and the sublime abstraction of the Twentieth Century’s great American painters. Though comprising seemingly infinite tonal variations and intimations of abyssal layers beyond the picture plane, Abstraktes Bild is nonetheless a cancellation of the kind of transcendental sacred image space pioneered by Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and perhaps most apt for the present work, Franz Kline. Ineluctably glorious in its enveloping celebration of colour, an experience of unbridled structure and boundless chromatic affect is nonetheless disrupted and offset by an enshrouding static drone. As outlined by Benjamin Buchloh: “[I]f the ability of colour to generate this emotional, spiritual quality is presented and at the same time negated at all points, surely its always cancelling itself out. With so many combinations, so many permutational relationships, there can’t be any harmonious chromatic order, or compositional either, because there are no ordered relations left either in the colour system or the spatial system” (Benjamin Buchloh, ‘An Interview with Gerhard Richter’ (1986) in: Benjamin Buchloh, Ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Massachusetts 2009, pp. 23-24). Much like a palimpsest in its layered surface and repeated working over, the present work resembles a restless confluence of many paintings at once. The exuberant strata of paint bear the ghosts of previous accretions and colour juxtapositions applied, erased, remade and obliterated over again. Such chromatic and compositional negations represent Richter’s rebuttal of the bold idealism of 1950s abstraction: "Pollock, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, their heroism derived from the climate of their time, but we do not have this climate" (Richter quoted in: Michael Kimmelmann, ‘Gerhard Richter: An Artist Beyond Isms’, The New York Times, January 27, 2002, n.p.). Rather, the climate we do have, and the climate Richter’s entire production concerns itself with, is our contemporary age of the photographic. Coming full circle from the earliest Photo Paintings, the present work witnesses the full induction of the squeegee as the principal compositional agent. This in turn invited the means through which Richter was able to instigate “Photography by other means” (Kaja Silverman, Flesh of My Flesh, California 2009, p. 173). As redolent in Abstraktes Bild, the sheen of immaculate colour and endless permutations mimic the aesthetic of a cibachrome print, while a distinctly photographic quality is compounded by the out-of focus consistency of the sweeping accretions of paint. Evoking a blurred, half-seen or remembered image and imploring the same cognitive viewing experience as his photo works, the hazy coagulation of endlessly scraped pigment forms an extraordinary repost to the canon of abstraction via the photographic, mechanical and the aleatory. Within the sheer excess of layering and dynamic compositional facture this painting emits an extraordinary wealth of enigmatic yet recognisable evocation. The incessant erasure and denial of formal resolution induces a reading of phenomological forms associated with those found in nature. Readily evoking natural experiences such as rain, water erosion, or in this case light streaming through a window, the Abstract works derive their affect from a spontaneous naturalism. Where Richter’s Photo Paintings fall away into abstraction, the Abstrakte Bilder return us to a suggestion of referentiality. As made explicit by Kaja Silverman, Richter has made claims to paint “like a camera” even when photographic content is absent from his work (Gerhard Richter quoted in: ibid.). Speaking in overarching terms of his wider painterly project, in 1972 Richter explained: “I’m not trying to imitate a photograph… I’m trying to make one. And if I disregard the assumption that a photograph is a piece of paper exposed to light, then I am practicing photography by other means… [T]hose of my paintings that have no photographic source (the abstracts, etc.) are also photographs” (Ibid). In making this analogy with the camera, Richter embraces the fact that perception and the way we view the world today is entirely mediated by the photograph and its technological proliferation. Thus, as outlined by Richter, where the camera “does not apprehend objects, it sees them”, the Abstrakte Bilder elicit the capacity of painting to propagate a true semblance of perception and appearance. To quote Hal Foster: “The semblance that concerns Richter is of a “second nature”… a culture-become-nature bathed in the glow of the media, a semblance permeated with photographic, televisual, and now digital visualities” (Hal Foster, ‘Semblance According to Gerhard Richter’, in: Benjamin D. Buchloh, Ed., op. cit., p. 126). Redolent across the endless exposures and variegation of the present work, the crackling, distortive fuzz redolent within Richter’s endlessly applied layers of pigment unmistakably bears the aesthetic mark of photographic reproduction. Indeed, Abstrakes Bild and its oleaginous layers of unrestrained colour delivers an effect that is at once utterly evocative of natural phenomena and photographic exposure. As many scholars of Richter’s work have pointed out, it is apt to note that the collective title for the abstract paintings, Abstrakte Bilder, is not a straightforward translation; rather, the closest equivalent to the original German is Abstract Pictures: by his own admission, Richter is not creating paintings but instead making images. The abstract works thus picture a post-photographic painterly image space nascently forged within the blur of the Photo Paintings and fully articulated in the large-scale squeegee abstractions. As art historian Peter Osborne outlines: “Richter’s abstract images are images of this image space itself. In this respect they are still ‘photo paintings’, but in an ontologically deeper sense than the phrase conveys when used as a designation for the earlier, more particularistically ‘photo-based’ work” (Peter Osborne, ‘Abstract Images: Sign, Image and Aesthetic in Gerhard Richter’s Painting’ in: Benjamin Buchloh, Ed., op. cit., p. 109). Abstraktes Bild is a consummate example of the type of ‘videotic’ effect mentioned by Osborne. Via a crackling, distortive fuzz redolent within miraculous sheens of colour, this painting's purely abstract field of painterly variegation unmistakably bears the mark of televisual opticality. Having sought new ways to paint that rally against “redundant” figuration and the “inflated subjectivism, idealism, and existential weightlessness” of Modernist abstraction, Richter’s Abstrakte Bilder picture an assertion of abstract painting, not only in the face of photography which lies at the root of painting’s crisis, but immersed in its digital glow (Peter Osborne, ‘Painting Negation: Gerhard Richter’s Negatives’,October, vol. 62, Autumn, 1992, p. 104). Furnished by the mechanistic dissemination and destructive scrape of the squeegee, the present work possesses the irrepressible beauty of a Franz Kline that has been processed through Richter’s de-sublimatory lens and transfigured into a glorious post-conceptual affirmation of painting for the televisual age. Gerhard Richter’s unprecedented art of abstraction stands as ultimate culmination to the epic journey of his career, during which he has ceaselessly interrogated the limits of representation, the nature of perception and the operations of visual cognition. Variously evoking something of Monet’s translation of his garden at Giverny, Rothko’s exuberance of transformative colour, Kline’s structural expressionism, Pollock’s instigation of autonomous composition, and de Kooning’s transferal of the figural to the abstract, Richter’s abstraction is ultimately without comparison. Herein, the vast expanse of Asbtraktes Bild is utterly replete with the most spectacular colour, form and texture; a sheer cliff face of unadulterated expression as delivered by the world’s greatest living painter. Within the field of this canvas, acts of unfathomable chaos have touched something not quite of this realm, creating, in short, something that is phenomenal. Signed, dated 1986 and numbered 599 on the reverse

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2015-02-10

Maternité (II)

Among the most visually engaging images of Western art are the oils that Gauguin painted while he was living in the South Pacific in the 1890s.  One of the few European artists of his generation to visit this part of the world, Gauguin fell in love with the mystique of the tropics and incorporated the region’s lush colors and organic forms into his paintings, drawings, and sculptures.  Not since the days of Gerôme and the Salon painters of the mid-19th century had a French artist been so transfixed by the Orient and enraptured by the strength and beauty of its people.  But unlike his predecessors, Gauguin’s approach to these exotic themes was unprecedented in its creativity and imaginative flare.  The wholly new aesthetic that he created with these works would come to define his career and would have a profound impact on the work of Picasso and Matisse over a decade later.  Most precious among Gauguin’s production from this era are his iconic depictions of Tahitian women.   Whether harvesting fruit, relaxing in the privacy of an interior, or posing for more formal portraits, the Tahitian women of these pictures possess a beguiling and exotic beauty that was unseen in the painting of the avant-garde at the turn of the century. Gauguin was indulgent in his portrayal of the overwhelming seductive appeal of his young models, some of whom were his lovers.  His attraction to these women resulted in depictions that are raw with sensuality.  The present work, painted in 1899 while Gauguin was living in the Punaauia district of Tahiti, is an ode to fertility.   The subject of this painting is maternity, and the artist has rendered this time honored-theme with a rich and highly personalized interpretation.  The painting was completed around the time that Gauguin’s 17-year-old Polynesian mistress, Pahura, gave birth to the couple’s son in April 1899.   The figure nursing the baby at the bottom-right of the composition symbolizes this event, while the two attendants holding their bounty of maiore fruit and flowers reiterate the beauty and abundance of nature.  Gauguin also completed another slightly larger related composition, Maternité (I) (W. 581, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, see fig. 1), which is also known as Femmes sur le bord de la mer and was titled as such when it was exhibited at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery in 1903.  In that picture, Gauguin includes the characters of fishermen and a dog, the latter being a symbol of the artist’s alter-ego.  In the present work, however, the composition excludes these narrative details and is pared down to images of the three women, creating a bolder statement about the importance of motherhood. Richard Brettell has pointed out that the title Maternité was probably not given to these pictures by Gauguin, but instead, by art historians who have admired these paintings for over a century.  Brettell has also discussed the stylistic differences of these two works, noting how the present work presents a much greater realization of Gauguin’s interest in vibrant color.  He writes that Maternité (II) “is much more brilliant in hue.  It is signed, but not dated, and we know it was kept by Gauguin because it was included in the sale of his estate in Tahiti.  The smaller version has a light-struck background of acid yellow-green, and a salmon-pink cloud floats behind the figures.  Here, the women recline in the shade.  This smaller painting has never been adequately explained.  While Gauguin had painted two versions of several earlier compositions, none but this is known from the last decade of this career.  For that reason, his motivation in translating the composition into another language of color is not clear.  That he was deeply concerned with the expressive and pictorial power of color is evident, for he had sent an essay on that subject to Morice for publication in 1898” (Richard Brettell, et al., op. cit., p. 423).  Recent technical analysis of this picture has shown that, contrary to Brettell’s observation, Maternité (II) is indeed dated, and the date 1899 appears faintly above the signature in the lower right corner of the painting. The subject of women and newborn children had factored into several of Gauguin’s compositions of this time, and some of these works made pronounced references to Christianity, such as Nativité, 1899-1900 (see fig. 2).  Ziva Amishai-Maisels has discussed the religious iconography in Gauguin’s work, calling the present picture and the related work “a Madonna and Child with believers.”  She points out, however, that Gauguin did not have to go to great lengths to invest these pictures with blatant spiritual meaning and could elevate “normal life activities to a symbolic level, creating a symbol of motherhood that has religious significance even without its reminiscence of the Madonna” (Ziva Amishai Maisels, 1985, p. 306). Maternité (II), however, is much more than a modern reinterpretation of Christian imagery and is known to have been of great personal significance for artist.  At the time of Pahura’s pregnancy, Gauguin was already in his early fifties and had not seen his European family since he first left France for Tahiti in 1891.   The artist’s absence from his children, two of whom died while he lived abroad, and his relative isolation in Polynesia, made him long for familial relations.   Despite his willful renunciation of his bourgeois life in France and his desire to place his art above all else, he missed his children, naming his new Tahitian son ‘Emile’ after his first son, born in 1874, with his wife, Mette.  Robert Goldwater hypothesized that this picture enunciated the values of family and love that were important to the artist at this point in his life.  He emphasizes that while Gauguin’s Tahitian companions may have offered him a certain kind of domestic contentment, “Maternity is no genre anecdote of the primitive, full of realistic detail and incident.  On the contrary, it has been stripped of all but its essential symbols of love and care:  the nursing mother, guarded, as it were, by watchful and protective sisters; the fruit, of abundance; and the flower, of beauty.  We do not know where they are, except that it is in some tropical garden of Arcady (and Poussin would indeed have recognized the group). Earth and sky (distinguishable only in color), move upward behind the group in soft, rounded shapes that echo the flowing contours of the figures.  The warm colors of the foreground in close harmony, suggest the warmth and contentment of the human scene, and close it in, yet open out into the note of gaiety of the brilliant hues of the sky beyond” (Goldwater, op. cit., p. 134). As Goldwater points out, Maternité (II) had several formal precedents, including the work of artists like Nicholas Poussin and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (see fig. 3).  The work also influenced numerous compositions in various media that Gauguin completed around the same time.  The figure on the left holding the flowers was inspired by the Javanese frieze of Borobudur and appears in several of Gauguin’s paintings from the late 1890s, including Trois Tahitiens, 1899 (W. 573, Alexander Maitland Collection, Edinburgh, see fig. 4), Faa Iheihe, 1898 (W. 569, Tate Modern, London, see fig. 5), Rupe Rupe, 1899 (W. 585, Pushkin Museum, Moscow), Te Avae No Maria, 1899, (W. 586, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, see fig. 6) and Les Seins aux fleurs rouges (W. 583, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, see fig. 7).  Gauguin also used the head and shoulders of the two standing figures for a title plate of his Tahitian newspaper, Le Sourire, and incorporated the figures in a wood relief, War and Peace and in a woodcut, Rape of Europa, all completed around the same time as the present work.  The cropping of the flowering branch that extends from the top right edge of the oil is similar to that of the decorative compositions of Japanese ukiyo-e prints, with which Gauguin had been familiar since his days working in Brittany in the 1880s.  The dramatic color and amorphous forms that represent sky and earth are also reminiscent of the Symbolist pictures that he completed in Le Pouldu and Pont Aven a decade earlier.   But unlike those pictures, which focused on religious themes and the lives of the Breton peasants, this work emphasizes the overwhelming presence and physical desirability of the women of the South Pacific. Gauguin was enthralled by the sensual power of these women, whose nudity was unabashed and whose physical availability was in stark contrast to the behavior of the more reserved women of Europe.   He was also impressed by the independence and strength of the Tahitian women whom he encountered, many of whom would be considered under-aged by Western standards.  The artist’s interactions with these young women thrilled him and ultimately enriched his art.   Living outside of the influence of the Catholic Church, he was free to explore a sensual freedom that would not have been condoned by the mores of traditional Western society.  He found great value in these experiences, and they profoundly influenced his progressive social philosophies at this time of this life.   In 1902, the artist wrote in his journal, “…woman, who is after all our mother, our daughter, our sister, has the right to earn her living.  Has the right to love whomever she chooses.  Has the right to dispose of her body, of her beauty.  Has the right to give birth to a child and to bring him up – without having to go through a priest and a notary public.  Has the right to be respected just as much as the woman who sells herself only in wedlock (as commanded by the Church) and consequently has the right to spit in the face of anyone who oppresses her” (quoted in The Lure of the Exotic, Gauguin in New York Collections, op. cit., p. 124). Many of Gauguin’s oils of Tahitian women did not survive the inhospitable climate and transport conditions from the South Pacific or were destroyed by European officials who deemed them morally reprehensible.  Maternité (II) is a rare example of one that escaped this fate.  Upon Gauguin’s death in 1903, this picture remained in the artist’s studio and was later offered at the auction of his estate in the Tahitian capital of Papeete.  At that sale, the picture was purchased by a French naval officer, Commandant Cochin, for 150 francs.  According to Cochin, the underbidder on the picture, Governor Petit, had only bid up to 135 francs.  Cochin brought the painting back to France “between two shirts” and had it relined by Maurice Denis.   In 1910, it was acquired by the great collector of Modern art, Alphonse Kann, and it was eventually sold to Dikran Khan Kelekian.  Kelekian, a dealer and collector living in Paris, exhibited this work at important exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1921 (see fig. 8) before selling it for $7000 at the New York auction house (and corporate predecessor of Sotheby’s, New York), American Art Galleries in 1922.  After that sale, it was eventually acquired by the prestigious New York collector, Adolph Lewisohn, who hung this work in his home on Fifth Avenue alongside some of the greatest works in his collection (see fig. 9), including Gauguin’s Ia Orana Maria (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).  In 1948, Lewisohn’s son, Sam. A. Lewisohn, wrote the following about his father’s prized Gauguins: “Something in Gauguin’s complicated Catholic soul seems to have demanded inner appeasement.  In the ‘Ia Orana Maria’ or ‘Maternity,’ there is a Sabbath calm that is impressive and that repeats the achievements of the Italian masters of the fourteenth century.  The contrasting curves repeated with rhythmic insistence give a sense of Handel’s Largo – possibly a little sweet, but most arresting.  In a curious way, the first, ‘Ia Orana Maria,’ reminds one of the Florentine master Gentile da Fabriano – the second, ‘Maternity,’ because of its simpler construction, of Fra Angelico” (Sam A. Lewisohn, op. cit., p. 61). Fig. 1, Paul Gauguin, Maternité (I), 1899, oil on canvas, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg Fig. 2, Paul Gauguin, Nativité, circa 1900, monotype on paper, pencil highlighting, Private Collection, Paris Fig. 3, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, L’Automne, 1864, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon Fig. 4, Paul Gauguin, Trois Tahitiens, 1899, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh Fig. 5, Paul Gauguin, Faa Iheihe, 1898, oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London Fig. 6, Paul Gauguin, Te Avae No Maria, 1988, oil on canvas, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg Fig. 7,  Paul Gauguin, Les Seins aux fleurs rouges, 1899, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Fig. 8, Installation view of 1921 exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  The present work is on the far wall, fourth from the left. Fig. 9, Lewisohn apartment, 881 Fifth Avenue, New York City, circa 1939.  The present work is on the right. Signed and dated Paul Gauguin 1899 (lower right)

  • 2004-11-04

Head of a Young Apostle

PUBLICATIONS CITED IN SHORTENED FORM Bambach - Carmen Bambach, Drawing and painting in the Italian Renaissance workshop: theory and practise, 1300-1600, Cambridge 1999 Fischel - Oskar Fischel, ‘Raphael’s Auxiliary Cartoons’, The Burlington Magazine, LXXI, October 1937, pp. 167-168 Henry & Joannides – Tom Henry and Paul Joannides, Late Raphael, exhib. cat., Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, and Paris, Musée du Louvre, 2012-13 Jaffé – Michael Jaffé, The Devonshire Collection of Italian Drawings, 4 vols., London 1994 Joannides – Paul Joannides, The Drawings of Raphael, with a Complete Catalogue, Oxford 1983 Pouncey & Gere -  Philip  Pouncey and J. A. Gere, Italian Drawings in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum; Raphael and his Circle, 2 vols., London 1962 Vasari  - Giorgio Vasari, Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori scultori ed architettori scritte da Giorgio Vasari, ed. G. Milanesi, 9 vols., Florence, 1878-85 (English translations by Gaston de Vere, published London 1912, revised edition London 1996) Raphael’s Head of a Young Apostle This highly worked and immensely powerful, large study of the head of a bearded young man relates to, and is the same size as, the figure of the young apostle to the far left of Raphael’s ground-breaking last masterpiece, the Transfiguration.  For the past three centuries or so, the drawing has resided in the Devonshire collection, as part of one of the finest collections of Old Master Drawings that has ever been assembled. One of the most important Italian Renaissance drawings to have come to the market in modern times, it is a definitive representation of the summit of Raphael’s achievements as a draughtsman, encapsulating his astonishing technical originality and his mastery of the chalk medium, through which he explores the most delicate nuances of volumes and lighting. Just as the Transfiguration was a major milestone in the history of art, anticipating elements of the much later Baroque style, so too the drawings relating to it were unlike anything previously seen in Raphael’s oeuvre or anywhere else.  In works such as this, where an intensely sculptural sense of light and a breadth and freedom in the painterly touches are combined to create a monumental, yet immensely subtle, image, Raphael effectively defined the visual language that was to underpin western art for several centuries.  We can only speculate how, had he not died aged only 37, Raphael himself might have built upon the extraordinary originality and brilliance of the Transfiguration and its related drawings. The Transfiguration: the commissioning of Raphael’s last masterpiece The Transfiguration (fig.1), the last of Raphael’s great artistic achievements, is the expression of his most mature development as a painter, and his final great bequest to posterity.  The painting can be considered Raphael’s artistic testament, a work in which the painter achieved his ultimate perfection, as the influential biographer, Giorgio Vasari, wrote in 1550: ‘Dipinse a Giulio cardinale de’Medici e vicecancelliere una tavola della Trasfigurazione di Cristo per mandare in Francia; la quale di continuamente lavorando ridusse ad ultima perfezione…’1 (‘For Giulio de’ Medici, Cardinal and Vice-Chancellor, he painted a panel-picture, to be sent into France, of the Transfiguration of Christ, at which he laboured without ceasing, and brought it to the highest perfection with his own hand’). The altarpiece was commissioned from Raphael in 1516 by Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici (1478-1534), later Pope Clement VII (1523-1534) (fig.2).   It appears, however, that the artist did not determine the final compositional arrangement or begin executing the painting itself until the middle of 1518, and perhaps not even until 1519, so the Transfiguration, in its final form, is in fact the product of the last two years of Raphael’s life.  It was the Cardinal’s intention that the altarpiece would be sent, once completed, to the cathedral of Narbonne, the seat of his episcopal diocese, but it never reached its original destination; after Raphael’s sudden death, on 6 April 1520, the patron decided to retain this last work by Raphael in Rome, and the large panel was installed on the high altar of the Franciscan minorate church of San Pietro in Montorio (see also Iconography, below), where it remained until 1797.  The Transfiguration is now in the Pinacoteca of the Vatican Museums. Most modern scholars agree with Vasari’s claim that the Transfiguration was still unfinished at the time of Raphael’s death, but in the following weeks the altarpiece was nonetheless displayed in the Vatican.  It is generally thought that the figures to the lower right of the panel, namely the group of the possessed boy and his family, were executed by Giulio Romano, Raphael’s chief studio assistant. The Transfiguration: the evolution of the composition The composition, which in its final form is a work of extraordinary complexity, underwent radical and significant changes as Raphael moved away from his original intention, which was to represent just the miracle of the Transfiguration itself.  This first idea was rather traditional, in terms of both composition and iconography, and much less sophisticated and original than the artist’s challenging final solution for the altarpiece, in which he integrates, in the most dramatic and theatrical way, two consecutive narratives from the Gospel of Saint Matthew: the Transfiguration, and the episode of the possessed boy. The survival of seventeen drawings related to this project enables us to follow its complex and extraordinary evolution.  These drawings are not all by Raphael himself – they also include copies made by his assistants or in their workshops – but ultimately all these works at least record lost original studies and thoughts of the master.  Although these seventeen sheets surely represent only a tiny proportion of the numerous drawings that must have been made in connection with the project, the rest of which are lost, they provide a clear record both of the various different stages in the evolution of the final composition, and of Raphael’s indefatigable pursuit of perfection.  Even very late in the creative process, he was clearly prepared to make significant changes, to clarify and further refine his ideas.  The most extraordinary proof of this highly personal working method is the small group of actual size, highly finished studies of the heads (and sometimes also the hands) of certain principal figures, drawings known as ‘auxiliary cartoons.’  These were executed very late in the creative process, and their precise role is discussed in greater detail below.   Six such drawings relating to the Transfiguration survive, four of which, including the present, very striking Head of a Young Apostle from Chatsworth, were memorably reunited in the revealing Late Raphael exhibition, held earlier this year at the Prado Museum, Madrid. Raphael’s first idea for the composition is recorded in a workshop modello (circa 1516), now in the Albertina, Vienna (fig.3).2  This shows a classic representation of the subject, with Christ on Mount Tabor standing prominently in the centre, his hands spread in a gesture of prayer, flanked by the figures of Moses and Elijah floating just above the ground.  The three chosen apostles, Peter, James and John, are kneeling in the foreground while on the extreme right, also kneeling, are two deacon saints, Justus and Pastor.  Above, in the upper part of the composition, in celestial glory and surrounded by angels, is the figure of God the Father.   As Tom Henry and Paul Joannides have pointed out in the recent Madrid exhibition catalogue, this initial representation of the subject seems to indicate a possible awareness of the frescoed version of the same subject, which was painted at almost exactly this moment by Sebastiano del Piombo, in the semi-dome of the Borgherini Chapel, in the same Roman church of San Pietro in Montorio where Raphael’s Transfiguration was to spend some 250 years (fig. 4).3 Sebastiano del Piombo may also have influenced the development of Raphael’s Transfiguration in another way.  Presumably with the support of Michelangelo, Sebastiano persuaded Cardinal Giulio de’Medici to commission from him, also for the cathedral in Narbonne, a panel of the Raising of Lazarus, which was the same size as the Transfiguration, and was clearly intended to parallel and rival Raphael’s work.  The commissioning of these two works at almost the same time put Raphael in direct competition with Sebastiano, and through him, more significantly, with Michelangelo, who had often provided Sebastiano with drawings – as, indeed, he did on this occasion.4   It has been suggested that Raphael may even have delayed completing the Transfiguration until he had had the opportunity of seeing Sebastiano’s panel, which was finished in May 1519.  The Raising of Lazarus was shown in the Vatican in December of 1519 and then again the next year, when following Raphael’s death it was displayed – for the first and only time – alongside the Transfiguration.  Soon afterwards, Sebastiano’s altarpiece was sent to Narbonne, as intended, unlike the Transfiguration which was, as we know, retained in Rome;  Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici did order a copy of the Transfiguration to be sent to Narbonne as a substitute, but not even this copy, now in the Prado,5 made it as far as France. The evidence of the surviving drawings shows that Raphael’s second compositional idea for the Transfiguration was dramatically different from his initial version, introducing another biblical episode alongside the main subject, and transforming the composition into a far more complex scene, depicted on two visual levels.  There has been much scholarly debate as to why the artist made these radical changes, but given the influence of the commissioner, the importance of the commission, and its theological complexity, it is hard to imagine that Raphael himself made these decisions.  The most recent theory, proposed by Stefania Pasti and published by Henry and Joannides in the Madrid exhibition catalogue (see Iconography, below), seems to provide the most plausible explanation so far for this sudden and revolutionary change of iconography. The new composition, incorporating a double narrative, is known from the second surviving modello for the project, in the Louvre (fig. 5),6 which is a workshop copy of a lost drawing by Raphael’s assistant Gianfrancesco Penni.  With this unprecedented combining of the two biblical episodes, the previous version of the project was entirely superseded, and at this crucial moment, Raphael’s extraordinarily resourceful and inventive mind created a far more complex and ambitious composition, in two registers, with the majority of the figures in the lower area.  The new arrangement of the scene is made possible by the introduction of a high hillock, a divider between the upper and lower episodes.  This thoroughly theatrical device, surely inspired by Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi7 (a work which had deeply affected Raphael), creates a visual – and spiritual – middle-ground that simultaneously separates and unites the two parts of the composition.   In the upper level, Christ is still in the centre, both receiving and emanating light.  The disciples, just awakened by the Saviour’s radiance, try to shelter from its blinding power, while below them, in the earthly world, human weakness and suffering are demonstrated in the episode of the family bringing their possessed son to the powerless apostles.  In this new composition, Raphael introduces echoes of two other subjects, the Agony in the Garden and the Resurrection, while eliminating the figure of God the Father, whose presence would have required a third level in the already elaborate and crowded composition.   This modello contains in nuce all the elements that would ultimately be fully developed in a more dramatic and effective way in Raphael’s final composition.  As Henry and Joannides have noted: ’…the two episodes remain juxtaposed and not unified.  There is no formal connection between the upper and the lower parts.’8 Two further drawings witness the next step in the development of the Transfiguration. The first of these, at Chatsworth (fig. 6)9, is a red chalk study for the upper register of the composition – the figures all drawn nude, in accordance with Raphael’s Umbrian training.  The Chatsworth drawing is surely the surviving upper part of what was originally a study for the whole composition, as it appears in the other drawing recording this compositional stage, now in the Albertina (fig.7) – a studio replica, in pen and ink, after a drawing by Gianfrancesco Penni.10  In both these drawings Christ appears airborne, as in the Resurrection, his powerful energy, like a magnet, drawing the two prophets and the Apostles to his aura.  In the lower register, seen in the pen and ink modello in the Albertina, Raphael has clearly succeeded brilliantly in unifying the two narrative episodes, while employing a series of powerful gestures in the figure group of the possessed boy to achieve a highly dramatic and theatrical rendering of that scene.   In addition, the artist introduced, in the far left of the foreground, the figure of the evangelist Matthew, shown with his gospel open and his left arm outstretched, in a gesture that invites the viewer to participate in the dramatic events that are unfolding just beside and above the seated evangelist, in the celestial world.  With infinite ingenuity, Raphael has here succeeded not only in unifying the two scenes, but also in involving his audience in St. Matthew’s narratives. The remaining surviving studies for the Transfiguration provide further evidence of Raphael’s working method.  After the nude modello, the next step would probably have been to make separate nude studies for individual figures, such as the squared red chalk study for the figure of St. Matthew, in the Albertina.11  This type of quick sketch was then developed in more elaborate and finished nude studies, made from the live model, which would probably, in turn, have been integrated into another, more finished modello.  Of these red chalk figure studies, only four have survived: two by Raphael and the other two by Giulio Romano, who, following Raphael’s working method, clearly also made studies of this type wh