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A B, St. James

“Abstract paintings are fictive models because they show a reality that we can neither see nor describe, but whose existence we can surmise. This reality we characterize in negative terms: the unknown, the incomprehensible, the infinite, and for thousands of years we have described it with ersatz pictures, with heaven, hell, gods, devils. With abstract painting we created a better possibility to approach that which cannot be grasped or understood, because in the most concrete form it shows ‘nothing.’” Gerhard Richter in Exh. Cat., London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter: The London Paintings, 1988, n.p. “The complex weave of textures, colors and rhythms in these new paintings…results in a literal presence that is fuller, richer, more all-inclusive than in his previous abstract works.” Jill Lloyd in Exh. Cat., London, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter: The London Paintings, 1988, n.p. The sweeping extent to which Gerhard Richter is responsible for maintaining the vitality and essential currency of painting during the course of recent Art History is undeniable and inescapable. Ever since Vasari introduced the concept of a codified hierarchy of artistic aptitude, a line of masters from da Vinci and Michelangelo to Rembrandt, Turner, Monet, and Rothko have been celebrated as preeminent within their successive eras. Gerhard Richter is, quite simply, the master painter of ours. Belonging to the group of abstract paintings created for Richter’s 1988 show The London Paintings at Anthony d’Offay Gallery—his first major commercial exhibition in London—Richter’s extraordinary monument A B, St. James is a paragon of this series of early Abstrakte Bilder indefatigably tied to their host city. Acquired by the present owners directly from d’Offay in 1989, A B, St. James has remained in the same collection since the year after its debut in the 1988 exhibition of The London Paintings. From this corpus of fourteen so-called London Paintings created in response to a trip Richter made to London in 1987, A B, St. James is one of only five executed in the dramatically panoramic horizontal orientation. Testament to the remarkable caliber of this series, a number of these paintings now reside in prestigious institutional collections across the globe; most notably, each of the other horizontally oriented London Paintings today belong to significant collections: The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington., D.C.; Tate, London; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and La Caixa Foundation, Barcelona. A B, St. James looms in exquisite swathes of the richest red accented with strident kaleidoscopic underlayers of aquamarine blue, sunset orange, canary yellow and verdant green. Sumptuous impasto passages of viscous oil paint cover and reveal magnificent sediments of intense chromatic strata; an effect that conjures organic weathering and an atmospheric intimation of the painting’s urban title. Possessing an atmospheric power connected to famous British architectural monuments and generating a viewing experience that evokes the atmospheric effects of Claude Monet, A B, St. James sublimely registers beyond our sphere of cognition to deliver a rich poetic riposte to the sights and sounds of historic London. The painting references a direct geographic connection in alluding to the central district in the City of Westminster. As with the extant thirteen works in this ground-breaking series, each follows a particular quality which is enforced by Richter’s subsequent titling. Each work from the series is named after the various towers of the Tower of London and the chapels of Westminster Abbey, providing a sense of place that roots the abstract handling of paint in the real world. Alongside other works in this corpus, Richter conjures a mixture of evocations that complexly negotiate ecclesiastical and cultural references whilst at the same time eschewing literal interpretation. Indeed, far from performing a narrative function, these names operate within an intensely imaginative dimension rooted in Richter’s experience and anticipation of his London exhibition. In the catalogue essay for the d’Offay show, Jill Lloyd singles out the present work as a highlight from the series: “The rich and spectacular appearance of the new abstract work—St James, St Andrew, Flint Tower are some of the best examples—is the result of this complex balancing act of process, that extends over a period of time and is broken by periods of inactivity and consideration, when Richter physically and emotionally steps back from the compelling presence of his work.” (Jill Lloyd in Exh. Cat., London, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter: The London Paintings, 1988, n.p.) Though entirely disconnected from referentiality in both method and conception, Richter’s abstractions nevertheless elusively evoke natural forms and color configurations. As outlined by the artist: “The paintings gain their life from our desire to recognize something in them. At every point they suggest similarities with real appearances, which then, however, never really materialize.” (the artist cited in Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago, 2009, p. 267) Thwarting the artist’s own compositional preconceptions, these works are forged by a reactive and aleatory dialogue via the means of their execution: the squeegee. The layered excavation and resonant accumulation of gossamer color imparts an eroded surface reminiscent of myriad natural forms. Like a sunset, glorious and luminescent in reflecting the chromatic intensity of stunning optical effects, Richter’s canvas evokes the beauty frequently called forth by the contingency of natural phenomena: “amid the paintings’ scraped and layered pigments” describes Robert Storr, “shoals, riptides and cresting waves” reinforce an impression of venturing beyond abstraction (Robert Storr cited in Dietmar Elger, Op. Cit., p. XIII). Such a reading is very much linked to Richter’s methodological dialogue with chance. Dragged across an expanse of canvas, the pressure and speed of Richter’s application ultimately surrenders to the unpredictability of chance in informing composition and color. It is this separation of the artist from direct expression that bestows Richter’s paintings with their inherently natural look. The shimmering and harmoniously artful orchestration of paint within A B, St. James vacillates between an act of intense evocation and a simultaneous effacement of painterly form: ingrained within the present work’s destructive and unpredictable formation is an undeniable reflection of Nature itself. As outlined by Beate Söntgen; Richter’s method “joins the painted traces of the tools together with the layering and intersections of color to form structures that are figural or landscape like in appearance, without ever solidifying into an object that is once again recognizable.” (Beate Söntgen, "Work on the Picture: The Discretion of Gerhard Richter," in Exh. Cat., Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Gerhard Richter: Abstrakte Bilder, 2008, p. 37) Richter’s London Paintings revel in pure abstraction while conjuring a very specific feeling of place. Herein, the astounding abstracts presented in The London Paintings were the very first to fully draw a bridge between Richter’s very nascent foray into the dialectic between painting and photography. Coming full circle from the earliest Photo Paintings, the present work witnesses the full induction of the squeegee as the principle compositional agent. This in turn invited the method through which Richter was able to instigate “photography by other means.” (the artist cited in "Interview with Rolf Schön, 1972" in Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Eds., Gerhard Richter, TEXT: Writings, Interviews and Letters: 1961-2007, London, 2009, p. 73) As redolent in A B, St. James, the sheen of immaculate color and endless permutations mimic the aesthetic of a cibachrome print, while a distinctly photographic quality is compounded by the out-of focus consistency in the sweeping accretions of paint. Evoking a blurred image and imploring the same searching cognitive viewing experience as his photo-works, the hazy coagulation of endlessly scraped pigment forms an extraordinary riposte to the canon of twentieth-century abstraction via the photographic, mechanical and the aleatory. Within the sheer excess of layering and dynamic compositional facture these paintings emit an extraordinary wealth of enigmatic yet recognizable evocation. The incessant erasure and denial of formal resolution induces a reading of phenomenal forms associated with those found in nature. Readily evoking natural experiences such as rain, water erosion, or architectural weathering, 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 referential representation. Intriguingly, Richter’s show at d’Offay also included a suite of landscape paintings which, at first viewing, strike the viewer as natural successors to an art historical lineage of British landscape painters as epitomized by Turner, Constable or, as is oft mentioned, the sweeping panoramas of German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich. This, however, is to simplify Richter’s highly conceptual relationship with image-making in all of its guises (both representational and abstract), which, rooted in the recognizable tropes of art history (from Romantic landscape painting through to Abstract Expressionism), looks to drive the possibility of painting into the Twenty-first Century. Ultimately, however, Richter’s achievement was without direct precedent. A B, St. James possesses a unique identity whereby the total deconstruction of perception - dismantling themes of representation, illusion, communication - becomes a sublime chaos. As a paradigm of this oeuvre the present work communes a subjective relationship with the viewer and becomes itself experience rather than object. Richter's cumulative technique depends on the random nature of chance that is necessary to facilitate the artistic ideology of the abstract works. As the artist has himself explained, "I want to end up with a picture that I haven't planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture...I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things I can think out for myself." (the artist interviewed in 1990, in Hubertus Butin and Stefan Gronert, Eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2004: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, p. 36)  With the repeated synthesis of chance being a defining trait of its execution, the painterly triumph of A B, St. James becomes independent of the artist and acquires its own inimitable and autonomous individuality. Signed, dated 1988 and numbered 653-1 on the reverse

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2016-11-18

Grande figure

A complete woman, in danger on this earth, and yet not utterly of this earth, and who lives and tells us of the astonishing adventure of the flesh, our adventure. For she, like us, was born Jean-Paul Sartre, 1948 These fine and slender natures rise up to heaven, we seem to have come across a group of Ascensions, of Assumptions; they dance, they are dances, they are made of the same rarified matter as the glorious bodies that were promised us. And when we have come to contemplate this mystic thrust, these emaciated bodies expand, what we see before us belongs to earth. This martyr was only a woman. But a woman complete [...], a complete woman, in danger on this earth, and yet not utterly of this earth, and who lives and tells us of the astonishing adventure of the flesh, our adventure. For she, like us, was born (Jean-Paul Sartre, Alberto Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1948). Giacomettis women have a remarkable presence that captures something of the enduring dignity and grandeur of ancient sculpture. They also have a remoteness and anonymity that speak to the modern age and seem to offer a commentary on the fragile nature of the human condition; they are among the artists greatest contributions to modern art. Conceived on an impressive scale and coloured in a lambent golden hue, Grande figure is a pivotal work in Giacomettis uvre and marks the beginning of the most significant period of his working life. The year 1947 was of crucial importance for Giacometti and many of his most celebrated creations such as LHomme qui marche and LHomme au doigt (figs. 1 & 2) date from that period. His experimental masterpiece Le Chariot (fig. 3), although not executed until 1950, was first envisaged in 1947. After years of self-imposed exile in his native Switzerland, in 1945 the artist had returned to his spiritual home, Paris. He had spent the preceding years working on an ever-smaller scale as he attempted to render the perspective of distance in sculptural form. It was a period of intense frustration and of destruction as well as creation; when he arrived in Paris he carried an entire three years worth of work in six match boxes. Back in the city he had so loved before the war, his spirits were buoyed by the discovery of his old studio, preserved by his brother Diego. The two brothers soon took up their old routines, with Alberto rising at midday and then working late into the night before going out to one of the cafés or bars that he had frequented before the war. His energy was further rejuvenated by the arrival of Isabel Rawsthorne who was briefly his lover and would later become Francis Bacons friend and muse and then, more significantly, with the arrival of Annette Arms in the summer of 1946. This new environment and personal contentment heralded a striking change in direction, with his sculptures growing increasingly in stature as well as taking on the more elongated physiognomy that would become the artists hallmark. Pierre Matisse, who had been distinctly underwhelmed when he visited Giacomettis studio the previous year, was persuaded to return and finding himself deeply impressed by the works he saw, entered into an agreement to represent the artist. Plans were made for a major solo exhibition in New York that would be the artists first one-man show in America and his first significant exhibition in ten years. This provided further impetus for the artist and precipitated a period of intense productivity as well as a clarification of his artistic vision. As David Sylvester observed, this was the moment that the style of his mature work was crystallised (D. Sylvester, Looking at Giacometti, London, 1994, p. 149). During this period Giacometti developed what would come to be seen as the eponymous themes of his work: the walking man, the bust, and the standing woman. A rare, unique work, Grande figure relates closely to the other tall figures of 1947 and is among the earliest examples of the slender, elongated female figures that anticipate the iconic later series of women including the Femmes de Venise (1956) and the Grandes femmes (1960). Throughout the previous decade Giacometti had made regular studies of Egyptian statuary, both in person at the Louvre and working from reproductions, and these became an important source of inspiration in the creation of his frontal female figures (fig. 4) and must have influenced his decision to create the present work in a tenebrous gold. His belief that attempts to mimic reality through techniques like contrapposto preserved an untruth, led him to the deliberately hieratic forms of ancient sculpture which preserved a truthfulness; as he once proclaimed, The works of the past that I find the most true to reality are those that are considered the least, the furthest from it (quoted in Herbert & Mercedes Matter, Alberto Giacometti, New York, 1987, p. 211). David Sylvester explored the nature of this influence in Giacomettis work further, writing that he chose to work as if under the kind of restrictions imposed upon artists by civilisations such as Egypt and Byzantium not only the demand for adherence to stereotypes, but the insistence that the pose be formal, compact, impassive, frontal. It was not that he was aiming to create an impersonal kind of art: the nervous, agitated surfaces of the sculptures and the paintings are imprints of the gestures that made them []. The point of the rigid stereotypes could only have been that here again he felt most free to act when operating, ritualistically, within a firm, constant, repetitious framework (D. Sylvester, op. cit., p. 121). This preoccupation with the art of the past and with a quasi-formulaic methodology was essential to Giacomettis conception of his own work which was pursued with a relentless intensity and a complete focus on the process of creation. The figures that reoccur in his uvre were often worked and re-worked, with Giacometti sometimes stripping a model back to the armature in order to build it up again; many works were destroyed, or existed simultaneously in different forms, the complete work an anathema in a quest that was ongoing. It was through these repetitions that he was able to perceive the elusive reality he sought and achieve a timelessness that spoke to the continuity of the human condition. This timelessness can be measured against Giacometti's distinctive handling of the medium; he paid significant attention to the modelling of his works, and Grande figure exhibits the vibrancy and vitality that is unique to his sculpture. As Valerie Fletcher writes: Giacomettis postwar sculptures have roughly modelled surfaces that descend from the late nineteenth-century Romantic aesthetic of the sketch works not overly finished but capturing the spontaneity and personal touch of the artist during the creative process. Extensively developed by Rodin and other early modern sculptors, such active surfaces lend a vitality to the sculptures. Their variegated rhythms and the changing play of light and shade caused by the blobs and recesses of bronze suggest fleeting impressions and give the figures expressive power (V. Fletcher, in Alberto Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 1988-89, p. 42). This expressivity is the great strength of Giacomettis work in that it provides an immediacy that operates tangentially to the enduring nature of his forms. As Fletcher observes, he was working in a tradition that began with Rodin whose own sculpture of the same name was an inspiration for LHomme qui marche  but the pervasive modernity of his works is peculiar to the post-war generations compulsion to reach a new artistic truth in their work. Viewing Grande figure exactly seventy years after its conception, we are privileged with a perspective that allows us both to consider its past and envisage its future. In doing so we can appreciate more intimately the delicate balance between the figures ancient, hieratic grandeur and its humanity. It is this dialogue in his work the ability to render the reality not of a fixed moment, but of the object/human in the truer reality of timeless space that remains the ultimate achievement of Giacomettis sculpture. The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by the Comité Giacometti and it is recorded in the Alberto Giacometti database under number AGD 3673. Inscribed A. Giacometti, dated 1947 and with the foundry mark Alexis Rudier Fondeur, Paris

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2017-06-21

Wand (Wall)

As professed by the title, Gerhard Richter’s Wand is a magisterial wall of resonating colour: vertical bands of vibrant cadmium red intercepted by horizontal strips of diaphanous cobalt blue and magenta constitute the glorious end-point of a destructive painterly process. Continuing the Twentieth Century’s legacy of erasure and radical reduction as a mode of interrogatory image-making – at once redolent in the work of Giacometti through to Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism – Richter’s Abstrakte Bilder confront the contemporary currency of painting against a prevailing doubt over its artistic claims to ‘truth’. It is with this meta dialogue in mind that the present work is utterly without parallel in Richter’s oeuvre. Nowhere are the painterly contradictions that structure Richter’s practice more obvious: caught between the inadequacy of Abstract Expressionist idealism and the mechanical mimesis that bestows upon contemporary culture a ‘photographic face’, Wand delivers a desublimation yet glorious affirmation of the practice of painting itself. Where Richter has unwaveringly voiced his criticism of Modernist abstraction’s transcendent idealism, this painting embodies an explicit confrontation and recapitulation of this particular abstract modality. Possessing the expansive power of a Mark Rothko that has been channelled through or buried underneath the distortive fuzz of some kind of painterly static, Wand truly epitomises Richter’s pioneering operation within, to cite Peter Osbourne, a “new kind of postphotographic painterly image space” (Peter Osborne, ‘Abstract Images: Sign, Image and Aesthetic in Gerhard Richter’s Painting’ in: Benjamin Buchloh, Ed., October Files: Gerhard Richter, Massachusetts 2009, p. 109). Unambiguously conversing with the annals of twentieth-century abstraction, Wand undoubtedly embodies among the most striking and direct articulations of Richter’s essential artistic directive: to unpick and reformulate historical modes of painterly expression in order to establish new relevance for painting in the present. Executed during a year in which Richter produced some of his most powerful grand-scale abstract pictures, Wand irrefutably stands alongside the large number of these paintings presently housed in major museum collections worldwide. Indeed, that Wand significantly resided in Richter’s own collection since its execution in 1994 until 2010 is testament to its singular importance. Proudly exhibited no less than nineteen times during this sixteen-year period, it is as though Richter specifically reserved this piece for public exhibition, protecting it from anonymity in order that it might widely disseminate the furthest limits of his pioneering achievement. Alongside major exhibitions staged at some of the most important institutions across the globe, Wand appeared in the landmark Richter retrospective Forty Years of Painting at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, thereafter travelling to the Art Institute of Chicago, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. during 2002-03. Previous to this, Wand was chosen as one of only three abstract paintings to accompany the monumental exhibition of Richter’s Atlas throughout Japan in 2001, and in 1999 was conspicuously captured as a monolithic wall of enveloping colour behind Richter when a photograph of the painter was chosen for the front cover of the German contemporary art journal, art Das Kunstmagazin. The high public exposure of this painting is evidence of its striking talismanic effect: monumental in scale and unusually structured in regimented strips of dazzling colour, Wand is unlike any other painting within Richter’s body of defining abstract work, it's singular nature indicated by its individual name and status as the sole work classified 806 in the artist’s cataloguing system. Where works numbered in series with a sequential suffix indicate the Richter’s serial method – many paintings simultaneously in progress at any one time – the whole number, alongside the work’s title, intimate that this is a painting of focussed effort and individual merit. Though many works from this eminent phase in Richter's production were executed in series, this painting stands complete and alone as a masterpiece of unique importance. Possessing an astounding chromatic intensity, Wand appears to quote the dissolution of boundaries through fields of luminous colour associated with the work of Rothko. In an address to the mind and spirit of the beholder, Rothko created an iconic body of abstraction in which profoundly diaphanous colour and luminescent surface strove for new planes of aesthetic experience. Rothko’s was a mystical project that looked to pure colour and diffusive effects for a transcendent and pure visual language beyond referent and normative meaning. Where red invoked the highest degree of emotional portent of any colour on the spectrum for Rothko, red in Richter’s 1990s production also represents a pronounced engagement. Following the esoteric corpus of Blood Mirrors and antecedent to the cycle of six monumental diamond shaped canvases housed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Wand's  towering field of alluring red variegation directly invokes the kind of tonal stacking idiosyncratic of Rothko’s exploration into the sacred space imparted by colour. Though unmistakably, and most likely intentionally, possessing a chromatic resonance and commanding structure to evoke such sublime projects as No. 14 housed in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art or the immersive portent of Rothko's famous Seagram Murals, Wand is nonetheless ruthlessly anti-idealistic in its dispossession of such sacred claims to visual supremacy. 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 the sublime abstraction of the Twentieth Century’s great American painters. Though comprising seemingly infinite tonal variations and intimations of abyssal layers beyond picture plane, Wand is nonetheless a cancellation of the kind of transcendental sacred image space pioneered by Rothko. Ineluctably glorious in its enveloping celebration of colour, a pure Rothko-esque experience of boundless chromatic affect is nonetheless disrupted and offset by an enshrouding static drone. As outlined by Benjamin Buchloh: “if 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., op. cit., pp. 23-24). Much like a palimpsest in its fervently scraped back surface and repeated working over, Wand 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. The dialectic between photography and painting embodies the crucial driving force of Richter’s lifelong artistic investigation - a practice that since its incipit has searched for a new conceptual space for painting not just in spite of, but reliant upon the conditions introduced by photographic representation. Art historian Peter Osborne has identified “photography as the means for painting” in Richter’s work by positing a suspended double negation: painting negated by photography and photography negated by painting (Peter Osborne, ‘Painting Negation: Gerhard Richter’s Negatives’, October, vol. 62, Autumn, 1992, pp. 102-13). According to Osborne, Richter’s quasi-photo-realist works register the disavowal of painting’s representational function via an emulation of a photographic model, whilst making photography the subject and object of painterly rumination concerning its varying social functions and representational forms – a remit that extends the whole expanded photographic repertoire of the classical painterly genres, spanning landscape and still life through to newspaper adverts and the amateur snapshot (Ibid.). By practising painting “in the manner of photography”, Richter circumvents the problematic notion of painterly representation by forging a new objective mode of painting through the interrogation of photography as a cultural form (Ibid., p. 106). Herein, idealistic painterly autonomy is circumvented, whilst creative ingenuity and intent is evacuated via photographic mediation. It was only via a qualitative leap from a photographic model that Richter came to produce the first ‘pure’ abstract paintings circa 1980. Prior to the full realisation of the Abstrakte Bilder, Richter made a series of paintings from photographs depicting thickly applied oil paint and smaller painted brushstrokes. Monumentally blown up yet painted with photorealist veracity, these zoomed in details took on the appearance of strange landscapes or sfumato abstractions. Camille Morineau cogently illuminates this period of Richter’s career as informed and propelled by the ‘Blow-Up’, the stylistic means through which “the figurative can become abstract and the abstract figurative through being enlarged or reduced” (Camille Morineau, ‘The Blow-Up, Primary Colours and Duplications’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Modern, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, 2011, pp. 126-27). To this end, it was directly following the execution of one of Richter’s largest works, Stroke (on Red) - a monumental photo-realist enlargement of a yellow brushstroke for a school in Soest - that the role of the squeegee advanced Richter’s dialogue with abstraction. At this point the squeegee was a totally new and unfamiliar device. Experimentation with its scrape and accretion of paint across the canvas’ surface imparted disintegrating veils and exposures that for Richter directly correlated with the appearance of the enlarged brushstroke at Soest. As explained by Morineau: “Richter would have noticed that the squeegee produced an image that looked like the blown-up stroke: a veil of colour that partially hides, partially reveals what is underneath… In other words, the first squeegee painting mimics the appearance of a ‘blown-up’ stroke even though it was made completely differently. From this point onwards, Richter would have understood this lesson: an abstract painting could be made without any starting image” (Ibid., p. 127). Using the squeegee as a means to achieve photographic verisimilitude without a source image, the ensuing years witnessed an extraordinary progression towards a validation of pure painting and picturing of, as posited by Osborne, a “new kind of postphotographic painterly image space” (Peter Osborne, ‘Abstract Images: Sign, Image and Aesthetic in Gerhard Richter’s Painting’, op. cit., p. 109). Glowing in laminates of fiery cadmium and icy blue, a schema of diffused and fractured layers imparted by the operation of the squeegee lend a miraculous and somewhat otherworldly appearance. Totally independent from any photographic model, these works exhibit a quasi-mechanised reproducibility and objective, photographic opticality that is nonetheless resolutely painterly. Wand's monolithic expanse registers the slick fluidity of surface associated with cibachrome prints. Herein, Wand is an affirmation of Richter’s overarching aim to paint “like a camera” even without a photographic source. 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: I’m not producing paintings of a photograph but producing photographs. And, seen in this way, those of my paintings that have no photographic source (the abstracts, etc.) are also photographs” (Gerhard Richter in conversation with Rolf Shön (1972) quoted in: Hans Ulrich Obrist, Ed., Gerhard Richter The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings 1962-1993, London 1995, p. 73). As outlined by Richter, where the camera “does not apprehend objects, it sees them”, the Abstrakte Bilder elicit the capacity to reflect the true semblance of painting within a photographic climate (Ibid.). 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 postphotographic painterly image space nascently forged within the blur of the Photo Paintings and fully articulated in the large-scale squeegee abstractions. As 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 – a sense which is compatible with a compositional productivity, which places them closer to the video image and the digital image than the photographic image as such, as some works from the mid-1990s start to register, explicitly, in their videotic inflection of the famous blur” (Peter Osborne, ‘Abstract Images: Sign, Image and Aesthetic in Gerhard Richter’s Painting’, op. cit., p. 109). Wand is a consummate example of the type of ‘videotic’ effect mentioned by Osborne. Via a crackling, distortive fuzz redolent within miraculous sheens of colour, Wand’s purely abstract and Rothko-esque field of painterly variegation unmistakably bears the mark of televisual opticality. As cogently explained by 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). 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 dgitial glow (Peter Osborne, ‘Painting Negation: Gerhard Richter’s Negatives’, op. cit., p. 104). Furnished by the mechanistic dissemination and destructive scrape of the squeegee, Wand possesses the irreprehensible beauty of a Rothko that has been processed through Richter’s desublimatiory lens and transfigured into a glorious postconceptual affirmation of painting for the televisual age. Signed, numbered 806 and dated 1994 on the reverse

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2014-02-12

1955 Jaguar D-Type

250 bhp, 3,442 cc DOHC inline six-cylinder engine with three Weber 45 DCO3 carburetors, four-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension, live rear axle trailing links and transverse torsion bar, and four-wheel disc brakes. Wheelbase: 90 in. Legendary overall winner of the 1956 24 Hours of Le Mans, raced by Ecurie Ecosse Just two private owners since Ecurie Ecosse; in the same private collection for over 16 years The only Le Mans-winning C- or D-Type that has survived intact and remained essentially original to its winning form The first team-series production D-Type and the first to be designated by its chassis as a D-Type Unequivocally one of the most important and valuable Jaguars in the world 28 JULY 1956 The 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s most prestigious and legendary endurance race, starts at four o’clock in the afternoon and it’s raining—an inauspicious start to an already exceptionally dangerous motor race. With 60 years of competition history, the starting grid at La Sarthe is utterly jaw-dropping—legends like de Portago, Trintignant, Gendebien, von Trips, Hill, Maglioli, Behra, Fangio, and Castelloti are piloting prototype and production machinery with names like Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Talbot, Porsche, Lotus, and Gordini. This is the golden age of motor-racing—the era of an unbroken Mulsanne Straight, mind-bending speeds, and supreme, life-risking danger in pursuit of eternal glory. This won’t be an easy race, and the men on the starting grid, about to sprint across the front stretch and jump into their cars, know it. After all, 49 cars will start the race and only 14 will finish. One man will lose his life. One of the most stunningly beautiful cars on the grid was the formidable Jaguar D-Type, swathed in traditional Scottish blue with a white cross, the traditional colors of the Ecurie Ecosse outfit. Standing across the track is Ron Flockhart, one of its two drivers, an Edinburgh-born driver who might not have known it, but he was on his way to consecutive Le Mans wins. Quite the adventurer, several years, later, he would make two attempts at breaking the flight record from Sydney, Australia, to London, England, in a war-era P51 Mustang. The Glasgow-born Ninian Sanderson was also on hand, Flockhart’s teammate, and by all accounts his polar opposite. A practical joker with a biting sense of humor, but with the same spirit for adventure . . . a yachtsman, he raced regattas on the Clyde Coast of Scotland. There they stand, two privateer entries in the competitive field, about to begin a 24-hour battle in conditions that Motor Sport Magazine described in September 1956 as “terrible, with rain and mist, and driving at all, let alone racing, was a nightmare . . . . How drivers can take a quick two or three hours’ sleep and then go on again defies explanation!” CRAFTING A LE MANS WINNER Following their win at Le Mans in 1953, where Duncan Hamilton and Tony Rolt led a veritable parade of C-Types to three of the top four finishes, Jaguar faced a problem. It was evident that the limits of the XK 120-based race car had been reached, and that to remain competitive at Le Mans, a new car would be required. While the C-Type had been one of the first cars of its era to employ a steel-tube space-frame, its successor was perhaps the first to claim unitary monocoque construction, with the body and frame combining for structural integrity. The successful and proven 3.4-liter XK engine was retained, but now fitted with triple Weber carburetors good for 245 horsepower. A dry-sump lubrication system was also adapted that reduced height, allowing the engine to be mounted lower, and correspondingly reducing the overall profile and coefficient of drag. It was clear that the design was effective when one of the new cars hit 169 mph on the Mulsanne Straight at the Le Mans trials in April 1954. As the previous Jaguar had been called the C-Type for “competition,” the new Jaguar was dubbed the D-Type. The D-Type made its debut at the 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Rolt and Hamilton were tasked with repeating their victory of the prior year. However, all three of Jaguar’s team entries were plagued with firing problems, and two of the D-Types retired before the #14 car of Hamilton and Rolt was adequately sorted to contend. As 4:00 p.m. approached on Sunday afternoon, the D-Type and the powerful 4.9-liter Ferrari 375 Plus driven by Froilan Gonzales and Maurice Trintignant were far ahead of two Cunninghams, a Gordini, and the Garage Francorchamps’ C-Type. After all was said and done, the Ferrari had only a narrow lead over the D-Type, besting the Jaguar in one of the closest Le Mans finishes ever. Six team cars were constructed for 1954, with chassis numbers in the range of XKD 401 through 406. In 1955, Jaguar began selling team and customer cars with 3.4-liter carbureted engines as the company gradually established the production minimum necessary to satisfy FIA homologation requirements. Fifty-four such cars were eventually built, with chassis numbers starting at XKD 501 (the first privateer team car). The factory simultaneously developed a version of the car for its competition purposes, most immediately recognizable by a longer nose. CHASSIS NUMBER XKD 501 Chassis number XKD 501 was the first D-Type production for a private team, sold to the Scottish racing team Ecurie Ecosse, and dispatched on 5 May 1955. A principal factory customer, Ecurie Ecosse was founded in 1951 and successfully ran C-Types through the early 1950s before eventually purchasing several D-Types. XKD 501 was liveried in the team’s signature colors with the St. Andrews Cross emblazoned on the front fenders. It was initially entrusted to driver Jimmy Stewart, brother of the legendary Jackie Stewart. Jimmy unfortunately crashed the D-Type twice during practice in May 1955. Each time, the car was returned to the factory for repairs. XKD 501 was therefore sidelined during June 1955, when Jaguar entered three longnose D-Types at Le Mans and played an unwitting role in one of motorsports’ most tragic disasters. Three laps into the race, team driver Mike Hawthorn, who had just lapped a much slower Austin-Healey, suddenly turned into the pits. The surprised Healey veered left to avoid hitting Hawthorn, pulling directly into the path of Pierre Levegh, who was driving one of Mercedes-Benzes new 300 SLRs. The SLR careened into the crowd, forever changing motorsports—yet the race continued. The following morning, while holding 1st and 3rd place, Mercedes-Benz withdrew from the race, and Hawthorn was left alone at the head of the pack, a full five laps ahead of the 2nd place finisher, the Aston Martin DB3S driven by Paul Frere and Peter Collins. The D-Type had won its first Le Mans, but at no small cost to the state of racing. Meanwhile, XKD 501 appeared at the Leinster Trophy on 9 July, where Desmond Titterington took the car to 9th overall, and 1st in class. Ecosse driver Ninian Sanderson assumed driving duties at the British GP on 17 July, claiming 6th place. Titterington returned to action in early August, finishing 1st and 2nd at the races at Charterhall, and then enjoyed two 1st place finishes at Snetterton a week later. Sanderson rotated in for a 1st and 2nd place at Crimond, and the two drivers teamed up for a 2nd place finish during the nine-hour race at Goodwood on 20 August. Another 2nd place by Titterington at Aintree on 3 September completed the 1955 season. VICTORY AND VINDICATION During 1956, rule changes mandated the implementation of full-width windscreens, and XKD 501 was so equipped while later receiving the engine from XKD 561 (engine number 2036-9), which the Ecurie Ecosse had acquired in the interim. The car continued to turn in solid performances during the first part of the season, with 3rd place finishes at Aintree and Charterhall, and a 1st and 2nd place at Goodwood on 21 May, while piloted by Ron Flockhart. Flockhart and Sanderson teamed for the 12 Hours of Reims on 30 June, where the D-Type model put on a clinical display. The two Ecosse drivers finished 4th, behind the three factory D-Types at 1-2-3, notably defeating the latest Ferrari TR Spider, and an F1-derived Gordini. The 24 Hours of Le Mans was held in late July, delayed from its usual June date due to modifications to the circuit intended to make the track safer for both drivers and spectators. The Jaguar factory again entered three D-Types with longnose bodywork, though in the face of the latest rule restrictions, the cars were equipped with fuel injection intended to improve mileage (a new consideration in the wake of reduced fuel allowances). Two carbureted 1955 privateer D-Types were also entered, fielded by the Garage Francorchamps and Ecurie Ecosse. The Scottish entry, this car, was again guided by the team of Sanderson and Flockhart. It was here that XKD 501 turned in its greatest performance, but as Motor Sport related two months later, “everyone had to do 34 laps on 120 liters of fuel, which worked out at approximately 11 mpg, with nothing to spare for emergencies. Naturally, the small cars were sitting pretty while the Jaguars and Aston Martins, Ferraris, and Talbots were doing plenty of worrying.” Certainly everyone was expecting a repeat of Reims, but it was not quite that simple. Although Hawthorn in the factory D-Type took an early lead, on the second lap of the race, everything changed with an early accident and two possible winners were eliminated, followed by Hawthorn, who came in after only four hours with a misfire. With 23 hours, 30 minutes still to go, the complete Jaguar team was in trouble, two cars eliminated, and one struggling with a bad fuel line. From a Works standpoint, the race appeared lost and Aston Martin and Ferrari were poised to outrun the older D-Types. The race report continued: “this left the Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar to uphold Coventry honors, and right nobly it did this, for by 5 p.m., it was in the lead and for the rest of the race, it was a game of cat and mouse between Flockhart/Sanderson and Moss/Collins. While Flockhart was driving, he was able to keep ahead of Moss and after 34 laps, when Collins took over the Aston Martin, he made up ground on Sanderson, who took over the Jaguar. Then, the next 34 laps saw the position reversed and the result was that the Scottish Jaguar had the race under its kilt, providing they played their cards wisely. With David Murray in charge of the time-keeping and Wilkie Wilkinson in charge of the pit stops, they could hardly go wrong.” Certainly, the Aston Martin didn’t quite stand a chance. The D-Type was so exceptionally fast that “Jaguar lapped regularly with nearly 1,000 rpm in hand” without significant fuel concerns, while the Aston had to be red-lined, gear by gear, entering the pits on fumes, simply to keep up. On occasion, Moss and Collins would even slip into neutral well before the end of the Mulsanne Straight and dart behind the Porsches’ slipstreams, all in an effort to save fuel. By the race’s final lap, however, with just 14 cars remaining in the field, the D-Type had a seven-lap lead on Trintignant and Olivier Gendebien’s Ferrari 625 LM spider, and a narrow lead over Stirling Moss in the Aston. Swaters’ D-Type held at 4th place, and this is the order in which the cars finished, with XKD 501 claiming its definitive victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. XKD 501 completed 2,507.19 miles at an average speed of 104.47 mph, and a maximum speed of 156.868 mph on the Mulsanne Straight, good enough for 9th in the Index of Performance rankings. In doing so, XKD 501 upheld the D-Type’s dominance despite the adversity faced by the factory cars (to his credit the skilled driver Hawthorn managed to roar his way back to 6th overall). Following the amazing finish at La Sarthe, XKD 501 returned to action in Britain, with a 2nd place at Aintree and 3rd at the Goodwood Trophy Race, but these triumphs paled after its perfect performance in France. AFTER THE LIMELIGHT In 1957, Jaguar retired from factory racing altogether and sold its latest longnose D-Types, with several cars acquired by the Ecurie Ecosse. As these 3.8-liter D-Types became the team’s focus, XKD 501 was only occasionally entered in various races, beginning with the Mille Miglia on 12 May, where the car retired early with Flockhart driving. Ecurie again experienced great success at the 1957 24 Hours of Le Mans, taking 1st and 2nd place, while other D-Type privateers finished 3rd, 4th, and 6th. Even with the Jaguar factory officially retired, the D-Type was still proving to be a dominant force on the world’s biggest stage. XKD 501’s time in the spotlight faded with these developments, however, and the car elapsed 1957 with a handful of DNFs, as well as 3rd, 6th, and 7th place finishes, punctuated by a final checkered flag at the Goodwood Whitsun Meeting in June. The car was essentially retired after June 1957, and it soon passed to Ecurie Ecosse financier Major Thomson of Peebles, Scotland. In May 1967, the car was demonstrated and presented at the Griffiths Formula 1 race at Oulton Park, driven by Alistair Birrell (a photo of which appears in Andrew Whyte’s 1983 book, D-Type and XKSS: Super Profile). In October 1970, XKD 501 was sold to Sir Michael Nairn, a fellow Scot, and over the following few years was sympathetically restored with emphasis on retaining its purity and originality to its 1956 Le Mans specifications by Raymond Fielding, as detailed in the September/October 1996 issue of Jaguar World magazine. The engine head and block were returned to Jaguar to be rebuilt, while the suspension and brakes were restored with proper components. Parts were sourced from John Pearson, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the D-Type, and a boyhood associate of the factory C-Type teams of the early 1950s. Most of the work was actually performed by ex-HRG/Cooper/Vanwall employee Dick Watson. Sir Nairn then used the car rather frequently, including presentation at the 1996 Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Silverstone Classic. In 1999, XKD 501 was purchased by the consignor, one of America’s most respected collectors of exceptional sports and racing cars. The new owner retained John Pearson to evaluate and freshen the car as needed for vintage racing applications, where it was presented at the 2002 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, winning the Jaguar Competition class and the Road & Track Award. A LEGEND AMONG LEGENDS In May 2002, Jaguar World Monthly magazine ran a feature on the car by marque expert Paul Skilleter, where he described his spirited ride: “With a 0–100 mph time of probably around the 12-second mark, the acceleration combined with the blast of the exhaust and the rush of air over the cockpit made it an exhilarating experience . . . The other aspect of a D-Type [that I noticed] is its solidity of build: sitting comfortably deep within those enfolding curves, you feel nothing vibrate, nothing rattle, nothing flex. Just sit in a D-Type and you know why it won Le Mans.” Now offered from only its third private owner, XKD 501 checks all the proverbial boxes. It has won the most grueling contest in sports car racing, the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans, and is a centrifugal component of Jaguar’s three consecutive wins at La Sarthe. The Jaguar has been fastidiously maintained and serviced by just four caretakers, including a restoration by some of the world’s most knowledgeable experts. Almost unique among a run of automobiles that inevitably led hard lives, its history is refreshingly clean, concise, and incredibly well-known. Chronicled in many books as a permanent part of Le Mans lore, this extremely important Ecurie Ecosse D-Type would crown the finest collections, notable for its history, rarity, and beautifully authentic presentation. Not merely a significant and markedly well-preserved D-Type, nor a star in the forefront of important racing Jaguars, XKD 501 can inarguably be held among the most historic British sports cars ever made. It is a legend among legends. Chassis no. XKD 501 Engine no. E 2036-9

  • 2016-08-19

Sculpture éponge bleue sans titre, SE 168

"In working on my pictures in my studio, I sometimes used sponges. They became blue very quickly, obviously! One day I noticed the beauty of the blue in the sponge; at once this working tool became raw material for me. It is that extraordinary faculty of the sponge to become impregnated with whatever may be fluid that seduced me. Thanks to the sponges – raw living matter – I was going to be able to make portraits of the observers of my monochromes, who, after having seen, after having voyaged in the blue of my pictures, return totally impregnated in sensibility, as are the sponges." The artist in 1958, cited in Exh. Cat., Houston, Institute for the Arts, Rice University, Yves Klein 1928-1962: A Retrospective, 1982, p. 111 A sensational constellation of oceanic architecture drenched in Yves Klein’s unmistakable International Klein Blue pigment, SE 168 is the definitive archetype of the legendary Sculptures éponges oeuvre that epitomizes Klein’s art of immateriality. Held aloft over forty inches by its supremely elegant stem, this magnificently articulated marine phenomenon is truly exceptional for its spectacular scale and the intricacy of its sponge composition. Klein’s unprecedented output has forever eluded ready categorization and this sublime sculpture, exceptionally rare and of incomparable quality, is the ultimate testament to an artist who was nothing less than visionary. While a number of Sculptures éponges works today reside in the permanent collections of the most esteemed international museums, the sheer scale and simply awe-inspiring effect of the present work is exceptional. Elevated to confront the spectator at eye-level, this unearthly, celestial flower emanates a chromatic intensity that is not only uniquely indescribable due to the composition of Klein’s famous pigment, but is also continually changing due to the constantly shifting schema of light and shadow across its countless surfaces. As we experience its three-dimensions in the round we experience an intense evolution of color, light and form. Showcased in Iris Clert’s legendary 1959 Paris exhibition Bas-reliefs dans une forêt d’éponges, SE 168 was acquired in the year of its execution by the collectors Mr. and Mrs. Burton Tremaine, without question among the most revered connoisseurs of Modern and Contemporary art of their time. Following a 1984 exhibition of their collection, The New York Times reported “Not only is the art a first-rate sampling of American and European modernism, much of it acquired within a year or two of its creation, but it is also a clear reflection of unaided taste… This may explain why the names Burton and Emily Tremaine, seldom seen on the society pages, command such respect among curators.” (Vivien Raynor, “Prominent Collection is in Atheneum’s Spotlight,” The New York Times, March 4, 1984) The reviewer clearly had the present work close to mind as she went on to single out “Klein's huge sponge soaked in the artist's distinctive blue.” The sculpture thereafter entered the private collection of the eminent art dealer Sidney Janis, who had known Klein in the 1950s and had staged exhibitions of the artist’s work at his gallery. In the preface to his 1986 exhibition catalogue Mr. Janis wrote “Having long expressed his ideas on life and art in empathy with the supernatural, [Klein’s] earlier beliefs had led him to a space-color, a deeply pigmented blue which was to bear his name… Klein’s International Blue is one of today’s esthetic phenomena.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Monochrome Paintings and Sponge Reliefs by Yves Klein, 1986, n.p.) Yves Klein’s life and career witnessed the ultimate confluence of spectacular innovation and tragic brevity. Few others in recent cultural history have ignited such a dramatic artistic revolution within such a short space of time. During the half-century since his shocking early death at just thirty-four years of age, Klein’s legacy has been a benchmark against which major advancements in abstract, conceptual and performance art have been measured. More than this, beyond mere labels and categories, Klein’s aspiration to the purest form of creativity has been an inspiration for generations. His life was devoted to innovation and his art remains unlike anything else: it is, quite simply, unique. Despite an impressive output for such a transient existence, his oeuvre is highlighted by an elite number of works in which the various facets of his manifold artistic ideology resonate together in brilliant concert. These extraordinary vestiges of his influence possess profound conceptual depth and broadcast astonishing aesthetic allure. Indeed, for decades these pieces have imbued their viewers with nothing less than pure wonderment. Positioned at the forefront of this cadre and long-recognized as an outstanding triumph of Klein’s meteoric career is the transcendent SE 168. The pure, distilled essence of his sensational, provocative and sublime art, this work can only reasonably be described as a masterpiece. Klein's meteoric career - ended barely before it had begun - was devoted to a relentless search for an immaterial world beyond our own. To this end he developed modes of expression that fused together a sweeping array of profoundly held interests in aesthetics, nature and mysticism. Situated at the heart of Klein's epoch of immateriality, the unreal Sculptures éponges masterworks deliver the crescendo promised by the IKB, gold and rose Monochromes and bring to life the enigmatic shadows of the Anthropométries. While the Monochromes invite the viewer to step into the window of Klein's world, this Sculpture éponge advances out into the world of the viewer; whereas the Anthropométries narrate the trace of transient human presence, this three-dimensional phenomenon absorbs ancient creatures themselves into the depths of its fathomless blue. Although it may be indicative of some alien planetary landscape or the deepest ocean bed, the topography of this sculpture encapsulates the artist's pure concept of an ethereal and intangible state. Both the intense aesthetic and incomparable physical experience of SE 168 are magnificently unique and impossible to emulate adequately. The powdery, velvet blue surface continually evolves according to the play of light and while the sponges afford a beautiful compositional structure, their arrangement also reinforces the effect of the monochrome. Indeed, the sheer power of the IKB pigment unifies the whole work to such a degree that the exact topography of the surface is not always discernible and the spellbinding blue intermittently overcomes silhouette and contour. The labyrinths of minute spaces within the sponges create multifaceted schema of light and shadow and the extraordinary potency of Klein's blue seems to fill these void matrices with a coloristic energy independent of the physical forms. Thus while the sponge bodies loom towards us, the myriad recesses draw our world into the immaterial infinity of Klein's blue epoch. Having first observed the powerful chromatic effect of pure powdered pigment while in an art supply shop in London in 1949, through the 1950s Klein experimented with various fusions of asphalt, plaster, cement, sand, tar and other materials that he acquired from Edouard Adam, a chemicals and art supplies retailer in Montparnasse. From these trials he developed the legendary International Klein Blue, a synthetic medium that included the transparent binder Rhodopas M 60 A, which preserved the pigment as if it were still pure powder. It was also Adam who provided Klein with sponges from 1956, sourced from Greece and Tunisia, which the artist first used to apply paint to his surface before being struck by the extraordinary aesthetic of soaking them in IKB. As aquatic animals, sponges have evolved over hundreds of millions of years into bodies of maximum surface area and exceptional absorption qualities in order to extract nourishment and oxygen as efficiently as possible from the constant flow of water passing through them. As a living being the shape of a sponge changes, but extracted from its life-support of plankton-filled seawater it is frozen in its final, ultimate form. In the present work these outstanding features of natural selection are profusely drenched in Klein's blue, resulting in an organic construction of immeasurable chromatic depth. From his earliest experiments with monochromes Klein was gripped by sculptural possibilities: curved edges emphasized dimensions beyond the flat rectilinear canvas and in his first IKB exhibitions the works were projected away from the hanging wall so as to be suspended in space. This exploration into the prospects of hanging sculpture finds its apogee in the Sculpture éponge corpus where the three-dimensional elements exist independently in the same space as the viewer. Klein was fascinated by the work of Gaston Bachelard, the French philosopher of Air and Dreams, and by the Zen philosophy of spiritual and physical harmony that he first encountered during his training as a judo-ka in Yokohama in 1952. The composition of the sponges in SE 168 harbors some parity with the Zen gardens Klein had visited in Kyoto, where stones are grouped together on raked gravel in the Ryoan temple, presenting an order that appears entirely natural as if the stones had grown in place. Klein’s attentions were also deeply absorbed in Rosicrucian principles developed by Max Heindel in La Cosmologie de Rose-Croix, first published in 1909 and obtained by the artist in 1947. Heindel's words provide a startlingly apt parallel to Klein's work: "the dematerialization of all finite figures into the infinite ground of the immaterial constituted the passage into the next age ....which would no longer be characterized by figures with limits, but by pure space, the absence of figures, the lack of boundaries, the world of 'color,' the passage into the infinite." (Exh. Cat., Berlin, Deutsche Guggenheim, On the Sublime, 2001, pp. 71-72) Furthermore, Heindel enlisted the sponge itself as a metaphor to explain how diverse, isolated and separate elements of existence can simultaneously inhabit the same space. In the same way that sand, water and the air within water together saturate a sponge, various facets of material and immaterial worlds saturate our existence. SE 168 translates this multifaceted conceptual philosophy into breathtaking material physicality. Inasmuch as Yves Klein’s art was a self-determined extension of his existence (he was after all a pioneer of performance art), his lifelong passion for judo proves also to be pertinent to interpretation of SE 168. Already a judo enthusiast in France, Klein travelled to Japan from 1952-1954 to further his mastery in judo in the prestigious Kodokan Institute, which treated the discipline as both a combat technique and a way of meditation. While 'Ju' means adaptability or pliability, 'Do' means way or path. The suffix Do also implies a profession or practical activity, as well as a secular method for teaching Taoist and Zen principles. Hence judo is not only a martial art but a ritualistic and meditative practice rooted in Zen Buddhism. The attraction of judo was not simply that it gave one power, but that it made power beautiful: tangible force and power becoming a dance and an art. “Judo has helped me to understand that pictorial space is, above all, the product of spiritual exercises” Klein declared. “Judo is, in fact, the discovery of the human body in a spiritual space.” (Yves Klein, ‘On Judo,’ in Overcoming the Problematics of Art: The Writings of Yves Klein, 2007, p. 2) Functioning on a scale that closely relates to the human domain, SE 168 is intensely corporeal, and aside from the organic, living genesis of its sponge forms, its continual evolution in appearance projects a powerful sense of ‘being.’ This sense finds close analogy with the artist’s Anthropométries inasmuch as these artworks do not merely reflect or record life, but have been invested with a life of their own. Klein's ability to impregnate art with life, as definitively embodied by this sculpture, surely finds its roots in his fixation with the realm of bodily experience as learned through the art of Judo. Yves Klein's artistic contribution to contemporary culture is most frequently described as visionary, and the scope of his artistic innovations was utterly without precedent. The works he left behind are testament to a genius that perceived things others could not. SE 168 expedites the artist's career-long investigation into how to communicate these concepts through artistic means, and because his language is so utterly unlike any other and precipitates a unique response in each individual spectator, this profoundly engaging and immensely beautiful work will always transcend and surpass our expectations of what art can achieve.

  • 2013-05-13


AN OUTSTANDING BLUE AND WHITE VASE WITH FRUIT SPRAYS, MEIPING MING DYNASTY, YONGLE PERIOD, THIS IS A PREMIUM LOT. CLIENTS WHO WISH TO BID ON PREMIUM LOTS MAY BE REQUESTED BY SOTHEBY'S TO COMPLETE THE PRE-REGISTRATION APPLICATION FORM AND TO DELIVER TO SOTHEBY'S A DEPOSIT OF HK$1,000,000, OR SUCH OTHER HIGHER AMOUNT AS MAY BE DETERMINED BY SOTHEBY'S, AND ANY FINANCIAL REFERENCES, GUARANTEES AND/OR SUCH OTHER SECURITY AS SOTHEBY'S MAY REQUIRE IN ITS ABSOLUTE DISCRETION AS SECURITY FOR THEIR BID. THE BIDnow ONLINE BIDDING SERVICE IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR PREMIUM LOTS. evenly potted of generous proportions with the full rounded shoulders rising at a gently flaring angle from the base, well painted in lively style with a wide band of ten fruit sprays arranged in an alternating double register, the upper register showing lychee, pomegranate, peach, longan, loquat, the lower one with crab apple, melon, ginkgo, cherry, and grape, all between a triple line border above and a five-line border below, the shoulders with a decorative band of twelve flower sprigs including two types of lotus, chrysanthemum, camellia, hibiscus and tea, each contained within a collar formed from interlocking upright and pendent ruyi lappets, all enclosing the white collar and small waisted mouth, the lower body with border of upright lotus lappets each enclosing a further flower sprig similar to those in the upper band, all above a narrow classic leafy scroll band above the foot, the underglaze cobalt blue of intense purplish-blue colour with pronounced 'heaping and piling' emphasising the three-dimensional quality of the design, the unglazed foot and slightly countersunk base showing the fine white ware dotted with tiny brown iron spots 36.5 cm., 14 3/8 in.

  • HKGSonderverwaltungszone Hongkong
  • 2011-10-04

Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère

Depicting what is arguably the most famous theme of Manet’s œuvre as well as one of the most iconic images of the Impressionist movement, Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère is an earlier version of his celebrated oil of the same title, now in the collection of the Courtauld Gallery, London (fig. 1). Painted several months after the present canvas, and on a larger scale, the Courtauld oil was exhibited at the Salon of 1882 and is now recognised as the crowning achievement of Manet’s career. In 1881, the year when he executed the present work, Manet received important tokens of recognition for his art: in May he was awarded a second-class medal for his Portrait de M. Pertuiset, le chasseur de lions which he exhibited at the Salon, and in December he became a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. In the late 1870s Manet turned to the theme of bars and café-concerts as inspiration for his paintings, which reached a climax in the present subject. Whilst in the earlier oils on this theme Manet depicted men and women enjoying themselves or absorbed in spectacles, in the present work the viewer is positioned in their place, looking straight at the barmaid. Occupying a narrow yet elevated space between the bar and the mirror, she in turn appears to be looking at a male customer, who is only visible as a reflection in the mirror, and whose ‘real’ figure seems to be placed outside of the scope of the picture. This multiplicity of gazes is further amplified by the audiences seen in the background, who are depicted watching a show. Françoise Cachin suggests that the idea of a composition in front of a mirror may have been inspired by Caillebotte’s oil Dans un café (fig. 3), which Manet would have seen at the Impressionist exhibition of 1880 (F. Cachin in Manet (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., 1983, p. 480). John House has described the scene of the present work: ‘The Folies-Bergère was a fashionable Parisian café-concert, a celebrated venue that would have been well known to many of the painting’s viewers at the Salon. It levied admission charges, rather than simply charging for drinks consumed, which set it apart from most of the other cafés-concerts at the time […]. Manet’s painting depicts one of the bars in the balcony of the main auditorium; the reflection in the mirror behind the barmaid shows the opposite balcony, with, at bottom left, a glimpse of the stalls area below and two of the columns that supported the balcony’ (J. House in Manet Face to Face (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 64). Café-concerts, variety theatres and dance halls were a popular form of entertainment in the fin-de-siècle Paris, and provided a source of inspiration for a variety of artists including Degas (fig. 4), Toulouse-Lautrec (fig. 5) and Picasso (fig. 6). The Folies-Bergère, a Parisian variety theatre, was opened in 1869 on the rue Richer. It offered a combination of pantomime, ballet, acrobatics and music, with many bars ‘tended by charming girls whose playful glances and delightful smiles attract a swarm of customers’, according to one contemporary account. Manet made various sketches there: one, for instance, a pen and ink drawing of 1878-80, shows figures in the balcony seen from below as they peer down towards the stage. The present work was based on an ink sketch depicting a barmaid engaged in a conversation with a man, both figures reflected in the mirror behind her. The immediacy of the composition and fluidity of brushstrokes give the present work a sense of vivacity, and in this respect it stands in marked contrast to the studied monumentality of the Courtauld painting. Discussing the relationship between this and the final version, Françoise Cachin wrote: ‘As is the case repeatedly in Manet’s oeuvre […] a great deal has been done between the preliminary study and the final canvas intended for the Salon. Between the liveliness of a little painting such as this and the definitive canvas, there is a transformation at work guided by the logic of the picture rather than of the scene; reality is transposed, bent, as it were, by a need for order and simplification, at the expense of actual appearance. The reflections of the two figures in the study become implausible in the painting, where they propound a more complex poetic truth. The principal figure in the study, seemingly not the final model, has not yet assumed a mythical stature. From a vignette of everyday life, Manet in the end created an icon of contemporary Paris; from an impressionistic memorandum, he fashioned a great morceau de peinture’ (F. Cachin in Manet (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., 1983, pp. 483-484). Indeed Manet worked on the Salon canvas in his studio over a long period of time, as his brother Eugène confided to Berthe Morisot in March 1882: ‘He is still reworking the same picture: a woman in a café…‘ (quoted in Manet (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., 1996, p. 245, translated from French). The model appearing in the present work was replaced with Suzon, a barmaid from the Folies-Bergère who posed for the artist. Georges Jeanniot, a visitor to Manet’s studio in January 1882, recounted: ‘He was then painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, and the model, a pretty girl, was posing behind a table laden with bottles and comestibles’ (G. Jeanniot, quoted in ibid., p. 246). After Manet’s death in 1883 Fernand Lochard photographed all the works that remained in his studio. According to Léon Leenhoff’s manuscript notes accompanying the photograph of the present painting, this version was executed in the studio at rue d'Amsterdam, and the man on the right is identified as Henry Dupray, a military painter who was Manet's neighbour there. Leenhoff locates the bar shown as being on the first floor, to the right of the stage and the proscenium, and dates the painting to the summer of 1881. Ronald Pickvance, however, argued that Manet did not start working on this painting until his return to Paris from Versailles in October of that year at the earliest, and possibly as late as December (R. Pickvance in ibid., pp. 245-246). Whilst the present work is usually discussed by scholars in the context of how it relates to the Salon version, Richard R. Brettell suggests that Manet may well not have executed the present version as a conscious study for the larger composition, as evidenced by the quick, spontaneous wet-on-wet style of the present work. ‘It is perfectly possible that Manet had no clear idea when painting this study that he would later elaborate it in the studio and use it as the basis for his last Salon painting’ (R. R. Brettell in Impression: Painting Quickly in France, 1860-1890 (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 96). A print of the earliest photograph of this painting, taken by Fernand Lochard, was accidentally trimmed so that the bottom section was excluded (in the original set of albums, in the Pierpoint Morgan Library, New York, vol. 1, no. 33). As a result it was falsely speculated by earlier scholars that the lower area from the bar top downwards might be a later addition. This erroneous supposition is conclusively refuted by the existence of an untrimmed Lochard photograph among the 'duplicate' albums in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (Dc 300g, vol. IV, no. 21), and by Leenhof’s manuscript dimensions of the original which tally with the shape of the full image rather than the trimmed one. In the mid-1980s Juliet Wilson Bareau led a research based on X-ray photography of both the present work and the Courtauld version, and concluded that the present composition ‘was painted with great freshness and spontaneity and was hardly altered in the course of the work’. Furthermore, the X-rays shed revealing light both on their individual gestation and on the process which transformed one into the other. The only changes of any significance detectable in the course of the execution of the first version are an adjustment to the position of the man and the added flesh-tones effectively baring the bosom of the barmaid. The evolution of the Courtauld picture, on the other hand, is much more complex. Beneath its present surface lies a composition much closer to the first version. Manet initially transferred the composition of the present work to the larger canvas, and over a longer period of time made changes that would lead to the final image: he monumentalised the figure of the barmaid and depicted her frontally and in the centre, replaced her clasped arms with straight ones, moved the barmaid’s reflected image to a less logical position on the right, and moved the image of her male companion further up into the top right corner. In the process he substituted the immediacy of the first version, in which reality is transcribed with a wonderful vibrancy and freedom, for a more complex poetic truth (J. Wilson Bareau in The Hidden Face of Manet: An Investigation of the Artist’s Working Process (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., pp. 76-83). This work remained with the artist until his death, and was inherited by his widow, Suzanne Manet (née Leenhoff). It was subsequently given to Edmond Bazire, who was a friend of the artist and wrote the first monograph on his work in 1884. The painting was eventually placed by Paul Durand-Ruel with the Viennese art collector Dr Hermann Eissler, where it hung alongside works by El Greco, Goya, Gericault and Delacroix. In 1928 Franz Koenigs acquired the work through the Amsterdam branch of Paul Cassirer's dealership, which had it on consignment from the estate of Dr Eissler's brother Gottfried, also a great collector. Koenigs was a German investment banker who settled in Haarlem in 1922 and took Dutch nationality. During the 1920s, he became one of the leading old master drawings collectors of his generation, building up a collection of exceptional range and quality. The collector and art connoisseur Frits Lugt once observed that ‘his eye, his flair and the speed with which he made decisions surprised all those who worked with him’. He acquired a considerable number of works on paper by Dürer, Tintoretto, Rubens, Rembrandt, Watteau, Tiepolo, Ingres, Delacroix, Daumier and Cézanne, as well as major paintings by Rubens, Bosch and Van Gogh. The Manet remained in the Koenigs family until 1994 – much of that time on loan to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam – while the remainder of Koenigs' collection had a more tumultuous history. Financial difficulties during the 1930s forced Franz Koenigs to pledge the major part of his collection to a Bank in Amsterdam, and the collection was put on loan with Rotterdam's Museum Boymans in 1935. After the occupation of Holland in 1940, Koenigs was unable to regain control of the loaned collection, part of which remains there to this day. After Franz Koenigs died under the wheels of a train in Cologne in 1941, the present work stayed in his family collection for several decades. Over the course of its rich history, this painting has been extensively exhibited both in Manet retrospectives and Impressionist group shows. In 1905 it was included in the now legendary exhibition of Impressionist painters organised by Durand-Ruel in London's Grafton Galleries (fig. 8). Most recently it was exhibited alongside other masterpieces of the Impressionist movement in the critically acclaimed show Inventing Impressionism held at the National Gallery in London earlier this year. This work has been requested for the forthcoming exhibition Manet: Sehen to be held at the Hamburger Kunsthalle from May to September 2016.

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2015-06-24

Plant de tomates

'The tomato plants are an earthy and decorative metaphor for the human need to survive and flourish even within the constraints of war.' Jean Sutherland Boggs in Picasso and Things (exhibition catalogue), The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland; The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1992, p. 286 Symbolic of victory in France, Picasso's paintings of a tomato plant in bloom are considered some of the most important works that the artist produced during the war years. Executed during a most turbulent era in European history, they are ripe with both personal as well as wider political and cultural significance. Picasso remained in Paris throughout the war, and his production at the time was dominated by still-lifes imbued with a sense of threat and destruction (fig. 1). In the summer of 1944, when the Allied forces began to advance towards Paris and the end of Nazi Occupation was in sight, Picasso could not help but be embroiled in current events. The series of tomato plant paintings, of which the present work is the most complex and visually striking example, was Picassos way of reflecting the spirit of hope and resilience that characterised this time. While staying with his mistress Marie-Thérèse and their daughter Maya at the Boulevard Henri IV in the weeks before the Liberation, Picasso took notice of the potted tomato plant that was growing besides the window of the apartment. Potted fruit-bearing plants such as these were not uncommon in civilian households throughout Europe during this period, when food rations limited the amount of available produce for consumption. Seeing the resilient plant as a symbol of hope, Picasso executed four drawings on the theme on 27th July, and eventually developed his ideas in a series of five canvases between 3rd and 12th of August. In her discussion of this series, Jean Sutherland Boggs wrote: Picasso was recording this consequence of war, not as a deprivation, but as a source of admiration. His tomatoes are heavy and full, most of them handsome green promising the blush of pink, and then the brilliant vermilion of the ripe fruit. Picasso could not have helped admiring their readiness to grow toward the freely painted sunlight and sky, which he expressed in the movement of the vines and the shape of the leaves as well as in the fruits themselves. The tomato plants are an earthy and decorative metaphor for the human need to survive and flourish even within the constraints of war (J. Sutherland Boggs, Picasso and Things (exhibition catalogue), The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland; The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1992, p. 286). Christian Zervos documented the creation of this series of paintings, photographing several of them, including the present canvas, while Picasso still worked on them. The present composition was started on 6th of August and completed three days later, and is the finest of this series of five canvases that Picasso completed over the course of ten days. In each of these pictures, he renders his subject with different levels of abstraction and detail, and presents the tomato plant at different stages of bloom. Discussing the group of works, Harriet and Sidney Janis note that the present canvas is the most realistic version of the series of the tomato plant. Still, the configuration of the flowerpot and saucer there is almost completely abstract. The pot seems to be transparent, permitting a view of darkened segments of both saucer and windowpane which are behind it (H. & S. Janis, op. cit., n.p.). In the present work, the branches of the plant are weighed down with the heavy tomatoes; their arched shapes stand in contrast with the strong horizontals and verticals of the window, which fragment the composition into a grid-like surface. The contrast between these two elements, both of which spread across the canvas, makes this the most complex and dynamic composition from the series of five paintings. For his palette Picasso chose vibrant shades of red and green to emphasise the fecundity of the plant. For the background view outside the window, he paints the canvas with different shades of yellow and grey - a colour that calls to mind the smoke and gunfire that could be heard throughout the city during these frightening last few weeks of the war. Rarely did Picasso invest a still-life with such meaning and sociological importance. In both its stylisation and colouration, the highly abstract vase incorporates vestiges of Cubism from the early years of Picassos career, while the curvilinear forms of the plant bear resemblance to Picassos treatment of the female body in his later work. In his ever present fascination with sexuality and the female form, Picasso incessantly explored new ways of giving a visual expression to his fantasies. Numerous art historians have commented on the ways Picasso used everyday objects as symbols of desire. From the pieces of fruit and jugs of his neo-classical phase to the painters' brushes and musician's flutes in his late works, Picasso often suggested sexual tension and a potential erotic encounter. In the present work, the depiction of bright, round tomatoes against a dark background suggests the curves of a female body, reminding us that even the seemingly most innocent subject matter can become a vehicle for exploring the artist's obsession with the female figure. Unlike many of his avant-garde contemporaries, Picasso had no urgent need to leave Paris during the war, and continued to work in his studio at 7, rue des Grands-Augustins. His art was blacklisted by the Nazi regime and he was not permitted to exhibit his pictures publicly by government decree. By this point in his career, Picasso was a celebrity and financially secure. Because he did not have to worry about selling his work, the paintings that he completed during this period remained in his studio, only to be exhibited after the war. Around the time Picasso painted the tomato plant canvases he was visited by the renowned photographer Cecil Beaton. A series of photographs Beaton took of his studio at rue des Grands-Augustins, several of them showing the present work (fig. 5), gives a remarkable insight into Picasso's work during this period. Many of his admirers interpreted the artist's decision to remain in France during this period as a venerable act of patriotism. Although Picasso was not an active member of the Resistance movement like his biographer Christian Zervos, his artistic activity during the war was deemed as heroic by many of his contemporaries around the world, including Alfred Barr, the director of The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Writing of Picasso's importance in this respect, Barr noted: [Picasso] was not allowed to exhibit publicly and he made no overt gestures, but his very existence in Paris encouraged the Resistance artists, poets and intellectuals who gathered in his studio or about his cafe table. [...]  Picasso's presence [in Paris] during the occupation became of tremendous occult importance [...] his work has become a sort of banner of the Resistance Movement (quoted in Picasso and the War Years (exhibition catalogue), California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco & The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1998-99, p. 118). The genre of still-life was a significant component of Picasso's wartime production, resulting in the most fruitful and imaginative production of still-lifes since his days as a Cubist artist at the beginning of the century. To his public during this period, Picasso's wartime still-lifes were an outward sign of the artist's perseverance during the war as a resident painter in Paris. In the days leading up to the Liberation and in the midst of his painting of the tomato plant series, Picasso was visited by British and American journalists and soldiers at his studio at rue de Grands-Augustins. When asked about the historic significance of the paintings that he produced during the war years, including the present canvas, Picasso remarked: I have not painted the war because I am not the kind of painter who goes out like a photographer for something to depict. But I have no doubt that the war is in these paintings I have done. Later on perhaps the historians will find them and show that my style has changed under the war's influence. Myself, I do not know (quoted in ibid., p. 13). In 1947 the American art dealer Sam Kootz opened an exhibition of nine oils by Picasso in his New York galleries, in which the present work was included (fig. 6). Trumpeted as the first post war show of the artists work in America, it drew a huge amount of attention in the press, with articles heralding the return of Picasso with titles such as That Man is Here Again, and Picasso Puts Spice into City Galleries Work of War Year Creates Stir Displaced Noses Gone, Features Just Omitted. Kootzs exhibition was quite a coup, with other, older dealers stumped as to how he had managed to persuade Picasso to consign his paintings. Kootz had flown to Paris without an appointment the previous year, and somehow convinced him by showing him catalogues of the other avant-garde art he had previously exhibited. He was allowed to select nine oils, all of which he brought back on the plane with him. The present work was once in the collection of Stephen Carlton Clark (1882-1960), the American philanthropist, inheritor to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune and founder of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Clark and his brother Robert Sterling Clark were both art collectors, and the latter founded the eponymous museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Amassing an impressive art collection that included Van Gogh's The Night Café, Stephen Clark also served as chairman of the board of trustees of The Museum of Modern Art and the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Upon his death, he gifted the majority of his collection to several major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Yale University Art Gallery. Plant de tomates remained with the Clark family until 1976 when it was sold by his granddaughter Susan Lefferts at Sotheby Parke Bernet in New York where it was acquired by the same family that has owned it ever since. Signed Picasso (lower right); dated 6 aout 44 on the reverse

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2017-03-01

Poems to the Sea

Cy Twombly’s historic suite of twenty-four drawings, Poems to the Sea of 1959, invokes an aesthetic grandeur that is as intangible and ethereal as it is impressive and utterly irresistible. Widely exhibited internationally for almost half a century, Poems to the Sea has long been recognized as among the artist’s foremost triumphs, and is respected as a critical early touchstone for the subsequent evolution of his entire career. Executed at the beginning of a new chapter in the artist’s life, immersed in the prospect of a permanent existence in his newly adopted Italy, this revered masterpiece sits at the head of Twombly’s lifelong dialogue with the classical past, legends of the gods and the myths of ancient civilization. Permeated with the artist’s utterly inimitable, tremulous handwriting and exigent mark making, Poems to the Sea combines a transcription of immediate lived experience with a fresh reinterpretation of ancient history. Here, immersed in the Mediterranean land and seascapes, Twombly masterfully scribes an epic paean to the Sea itself, extending the spirit of Homeric and Ovidian legend yet by the means of an entirely unprecedented vocabulary. Through the late 1950s Twombly travelled more and more to Italy, developing extensive networks of friends and acquaintances there. In April 1959 he married Tatiana Franchetti at New York‘s City Hall, and was thereafter formally integrated into his new wife’s Italian family. Following their honeymoon in Cuba and Mexico, in July and August 1959 the newlywed couple rented an apartment in the coastal town of Sperlonga, a small whitewashed fishing village between Rome and Naples. The town’s origins were Saracen and the Emperor Tiberius had built his summer villa there and this proved the arena where Twombly would radically transform his artistic development. The ready access to the Mediterranean provided Twombly with a repository of classical ruin and reference, and the fabric of his immediate surroundings found its way into his art. As Nicholas Cullinan has described, “To encounter the past is to put into question the present. This sense of awe and perplexity at overlaid tenses and times and encountering places only previously known in the imagination…offered for Twombly a palimpsest of past, present and future; layered, intertwined and interpenetrating each other like archaeological strata.” (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, 2008, p. 74) In addition to this, the very meteorological conditions of his new environment evidently also suffused Twombly’s output, as detailed by Roland Barthes:  “The inimitable art of Twombly consists of having imposed the Mediterranean effect while starting from materials (scratches, smudges, smears, little color, no academic forms) which have no analogy with the great Mediterranean radiance. [He evokes a] whole life of forms, colors, and light which occurs at the frontier of the terrestrial landscape and the plains of the sea.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Cy Twombly: Paintings and Drawings 1954-1977, 1979, p. 16) Further still, Kirk Varnedoe has explained the simultaneous importance of a methodological breakthrough that occurred at this time: “That summer, during which it became evident that Tatiana was expecting their child, was immensely important for Twombly as an artist. In a notable change, he abandoned the house paint that had till then been his preferred medium, and began using oil paint from tubes, with its wholly different physical properties. Instead of flowing, this material issued forth in discrete mounds that stood off the surface with a smooth, plump integrity, and required pressure to flatten and spread…. The series of Poems to the Sea used this cool, linen white matter as an independent element of line, shape, and low relief against the drawn indications of open horizons and largely wordless writing.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, 1994, p. 31) Indeed, it becomes clear that Poems to the Sea is a work that encapsulates a transformative juncture. Executed in a single day, it represents a sudden outpouring of a new, unrestrained creativity. The twenty-four drawings expose their startlingly bleached surfaces, with overlaid accumulations of globular paint partially obscuring and revealing fugitive traces of undulant pencil lines, a proliferation of numerical progressions and occasionally identifiable words such as ‘Sappho’ the legendary ancient Greek female lyric poet from the island of Lesbos. Of course, Twombly’s art is replete with allusion to literary heritage, but there is another specific reference that is particularly germane to this groundbreaking suite of drawings. In 1957 Twombly had penned a short statement for the Italian art journal L’Esperienza moderna, which was to remain the sole published reflection on his own work until 2000, when he was interviewed by David Sylvester. He wrote “Whiteness can be the classic state of the intellect, or a neo-romantic area of remembrance – or as the symbolic whiteness of Mallarmé” (L’Esperienza moderna, 1957, p. 32, cited in Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, 2008, p. 73), and Poems to the Sea certainly conjures something of Stéphane Mallarmé’s poetry, such as his celebrated meditation on whiteness in The Swan of 1885: “All his neck will shake off this white death-agony / Inflicted by space on the bird which denies space / But not the horror of the earth where his wings are caught. / Phantom whom his pure brilliance assigns to this place.” Poems to the Sea also initiated Twombly’s use of a literary title, by which he offered to dismantle the constrictive divisions between painting and literature, drawing and writing, viewing and reading. In this respect this work anticipates other major breakthroughs such as Nine Discourses on Commudus of 1963 (Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao), Letter of Resignation of 1967, and Treatise on the Veil of 1968. Poems to the Sea stands as tangible testimony to Twombly's staggering innovation and inimitable abstract aesthetic through the work's visceral imagery, compositional economy, and graphic intelligence, traits that appear so instinctive yet seemingly arbitrary. His frantic erasures and explosive gestures - highly corporeal and savage marks – are juxtaposed against the cool palette and determined compositions, forging “a potent hybrid between the gestural painting of Abstract Expressionism and the erotic abandon of Surrealism.” (Nicholas Cullinan and Xavier F. Salomon, ‘Venus and Eros’, in Exh. Cat., London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Twombly and Poussin: Arcadian Painters, 2011, p. 113)  Despite a residual yearning to decipher these written marks as an inherently human need, Twombly's visual language has neither syntax nor logic: in the words of Pierre Restany, it is comprised of "furtive gestures, an écriture automatique," (Pierre Restany, The Revolution of the Sign, 1961) and function as a compulsory sensual and intellectual catharsis that is both universal and particular to the individual. (i), (vii) and (xxiv) signed and dated Sperlonga July 1959 on the reverse

  • 2013-11-14

L'homme est en mer

Painted at Saint-Rémy in October 1889, Van Gogh’s haunting depiction of a young mother, pining for her husband away at sea, is a brilliant example of the artist’s transformative vision of a time-honoured subject. Van Gogh arrived at the asylum in Saint-Rémy in May 1889, and during the following months produced some of his most celebrated masterpieces, including The Starry Night. His work of this period is notable for the bright, shimmering palette, and the present work displays his favourite tonal contrasts used in a number of other works executed around this time (fig. 1). In L’Homme est en mer the warm yellow and ochre hues of the fire and its warm glow against the fireplace and the floor provide a dynamic contrast to the cooler blue tones of the woman’s dress and the wall behind her. The radiance of the fire is beautifully reflected on the faces of the mother and her baby, each of them absorbed in their own dream world. The evocative, rather than descriptive, title adds to the meditative, dreamy atmosphere of the composition. L’Homme est en mer is Van Gogh’s own interpretation of a work of the same title by his contemporary, the French painter Virginie Demont-Breton, which was exhibited at the Salon of 1889 and received great praise in the reviews. In October of that year, Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo, describing the present work and his reinvention of the image: ‘I’ve copied that woman with a child sitting beside a hearth by Mrs Demont–Breton, almost all violet, I’m certainly going to continue copying, it will give me a collection of my own, and when it’s sufficiently large and complete, I’ll give the whole lot to a school’ (L. Jansen, H. Luijten & N. Bakker (eds.), op. cit., letter no. 810, p. 120). Cornelia Homburg wrote about the appeal of Demont-Breton’s image to Van Gogh: ‘The woman with her baby reproduced in such a large size provided a suitable model for Van Gogh, who was always looking for opportunities to study the figure. In terms of content it is likely that the subject reminded him of his own masterpiece La Berceuse, in which motherhood was a central theme […]. In terms of color Van Gogh used his favorite contrast: the fire extended a warm golden glow illuminating the figures, while the rest of the composition was kept in violet hues’ (C. Homburg, op. cit., p. 94). Van Gogh’s paintings influenced by other artists’ work played an important role in the development of his late œuvre. Based mainly on black and white reproductions sent to him by Theo, Van Gogh’s versions are more than mere copies, for he imbued them with his own sense of colour and form, as he informed his brother: ‘And then I improvise colour on it but, being me, not completely of course, but seeking memories of their paintings – but the memory, the vague consonance of colours that are in the same sentiment, if not right – that’s my own interpretation’ (ibid., letter no. 805, p. 101). By autumn 1889, he had produced a large number of painted copies from artists like Rembrandt and Delacroix to his contemporaries Daumier and Gauguin and, most famously, twenty-one paintings after Millet (figs. 2 & 3). This tradition of studying work by other artists resonated with many avant-garde artists in the twentieth century, the most notable examples being Picasso’s interpretations of Old Masters such as Ingres’s Odalisque, Delacroix’s Les Femmes d’Alger and Velázquez’s Las Meninas. During his two-year stay in Paris from 1886 to 1888 Van Gogh was introduced to the latest developments in art and to several of the most innovative painters working in the French capital, including Signac, Seurat, Toulouse-Lautrec and Bernard. With the encouragement and company of his brother Theo, Van Gogh frequented the many cafés and taverns where he exchanged both ideas and canvases with his new circle of friends. The city also offered him several opportunities to view the critically acclaimed works of the Impressionists, whose paintings were most notably featured at their eighth and final group exhibition in 1886. Van Gogh rapidly absorbed all of the disparate artistic styles and techniques pioneered by the Parisian avant-garde, and quickly formulated his own highly distinctive pictorial language. This remarkable work is a testament to the unique and imaginative style he developed during his Paris years, and the explosive colour palette he employed for this composition is also evident in his other canvases of this era. Shortly after his arrival in Paris, in September-October 1886 Van Gogh wrote in a letter to a fellow artist Horace Mann Livens: ‘And mind my dear fellow, that Paris is Paris, there is but one Paris and however hard living may be here and if it becomes worse and harder even – the French air clears up the brain and does one good – a world of good’ (ibid., vol. 3, letter no. 569, p. 365). The artist's enthusiasm for his new surroundings was soon reflected in his work. It was during his stay in Paris that Van Gogh's art underwent a major stylistic shift, and the most important change was the diversifying of his palette and his turn towards the use of bright, contrasted colours. Writing of the effect Paris had on the artist, John Rewald commented: ‘Van Gogh was now extremely eager to put to use all the new things he had learned. Gradually he abandoned the dark and earthy colors he had used in his early work [...]. In Paris his paintings not only became chromatically lighter, their mood also brightened’ (J. Rewald, Post-Impressionism, from Van Gogh to Gauguin, New York, 1956, p. 36). The first owner on record of L’Homme est en mer was Dr Paul Gachet, the French physician who treated Van Gogh towards the end of the artist’s life at Auvers-sur-Oise. Gachet (1828-1909), who was himself an amateur painter, was a great supporter of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art and came into possession of some of Van Gogh’s most important paintings, including the well-known portrait of himself (fig. 4). The present work was later acquired by the actor Errol Flynn (1909-1959; fig. 5), who is best known for his leading-man status during Hollywood’s golden age of cinema. In 1964 the picture entered the collection of John T. Dorrance Jr. (1919-1989), the heir to the Campbell Soup fortune. Dorrance’s collection encompassed some of the most important examples of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modern works of art by artists including Monet, Cézanne, Gauguin, Matisse and Picasso. After his death the collection was sold at auction at Sotheby’s New York in 1989.

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2014-02-05

Abstraktes Bild

A spectacular torrent of brilliant red coursing horizontally across a perfectly square canvas, Abstraktes Bild ranks among the most intense and pristinely resolved examples of Gerhard Richter’s hallowed corpus of abstract painting. Like a river of liquid fire flowing across a mountainside, this painting continually adjusts our perception as we focus in and out of its illuminated yet limitless depths. The expanse is replete with the most vivid scarlet hue, form and texture: a stunning chromatic symphony achieved by the world’s greatest living painter. Streaked and smeared tides of once-semi-liquid material have been fixed on the surface; the shadows of their former malleability caught in a perpetually-dynamic stasis. Staccato ridges, crests and peaks of impasto punctuate this underlying fluidity creating a powerful sensation of distance. This painting sits at the chronological apex of the period when the artist’s creation of monumental essays in abstraction reached new heights and the long, hard-edged spatula became the central instrument of Richter’s technical practice. Indeed, the sum of Richter’s tireless process of addition and subtraction becomes a record of time itself within the paint strata: the innumerable layers of application and eradication have left their traces behind to accumulate and forge a portrait of temporal genesis. 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 Rothko’s exuberance of transformative color, Pollock’s instigation of autonomous composition, and de Kooning’s transferal of the figural to the abstract, Richter’s abstraction is ultimately without comparison. His prodigious artistic output has earned unparalleled international acclaim, and over the course of a fifty-year career his work has been honored with numerous retrospectives by the most prestigious institutions. In the past five years alone there have been seventy-six major solo exhibitions of Richter’s work held in over twenty countries around the world, from the United States to Japan, Brazil to Switzerland, and Mexico to South Korea. In recent years these have famously included shows at the Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern, the National Portrait Gallery, the Musée du Louvre and Centre Georges Pompidou in addition to many others. Benjamin Buchloh has identified a perennial relationship between absence and content in Richter’s abstract paintings, so that any evocation of nothingness or the void is immediately counteracted by unrelenting complexity and turbulence: "the ability of colour to generate this emotional, spiritual quality is presented and at the same time negated at all points, surely it's always cancelling itself out. With so many combinations, so many permutational relationships there can't be any harmonious chromatic order, or composition either, because there are no ordered relations left either in the colour system or the spatial system." (Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Ibid., pp. 23-24) Within its sheer excess of layering and dynamic compositional facture, this painting emits an extraordinary wealth of enigmatic yet recognizable evocation. The incessant erasure and denial of formal resolution induces a reading of phenomenal forms associated with those found in nature. Readily evoking natural phenomena, this work derives at least part of its effect from a spontaneous naturalism. Where Richter’s Photo Paintings fall away into abstraction, the Abstrakte Bilder return us, if only elusively, to a reading of figuration. Richter's technique affords an element of chance that is necessary to facilitate the artistic ideology of the abstract works. As the artist has explained, "I want to end up with a picture that I haven't planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture... I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things I can think out for myself." (the artist interviewed in 1990 in Hubertus Butin and Stefan Gronert, eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2004: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern-Ruit 2004, p. 36) With the repeated synthesis of chance being a defining trait of its execution, the painterly triumph of the present work becomes independent of the artist and acquires its own inimitable and autonomous individuality. Indeed, Richter’s creation necessitated a conscious suspension of the artist’s artistic will and assertion of judgment. Over a protracted period of execution, the painting underwent multiple variations in which each new sweeping accretion of paint brought new juxtapositions that were reworked until the optimum threshold of harmonious articulation was achieved. Within this process, grounds of arresting pigment were applied only to be effaced and drawn out by large track-like strokes. Although spontaneous in their lyrical grandeur, these overlaid marks were in fact cerebrally labored. Yet Richter holds no presuppositions in the devising of his abstract paintings: in his own words it is by “letting a thing come, rather than creating it – no assertions, constructions, formulations, inventions, ideologies” that Richter looks “to gain access to all that is genuine, richer, more alive: to what is beyond my understanding.” (Gerhard Richter, ‘Notes 1985’ in Hans-Ulrich Obrist ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, Writings 1962-1993, p. 119) Indeed, as formulated by Birgit Pelzer, Richter’s abstract works prove that which cannot be articulated: “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) Gerhard Richter's artistic contribution is internationally considered within the highest tier of our era, his inimitably diverse canon evidencing more than five decades of philosophical enquiry into the core natures of perception and cognition. Indeed, with its poignant critical reflections and groundbreaking advancements, it is undeniable that his output has opened up a wealth of possibilities for the future course of art history. Since the early 1960s he has engaged manifold genres of painting, delving into and pushing the boundaries of theoretical and aesthetic levels of understanding whilst exploring and challenging the fundamentals of their development. However, his extraordinary odyssey into the realm of abstract painting is often regarded as the culmination of his artistic and conceptual enquiries into the foundations of visual understanding. After decades of exploring the role of painting in relation to competing visual cultures; film and photography and even painting itself, the emergence of the Abstraktes Bild stands as the crowning achievement of his oeuvre. As Benjamin H. D. Buchloh has highlighted, and as there can be absolutely no doubt, Richter's position within the canon of abstraction is one of “incontrovertible centrality.” (Exh. Cat., Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Gerhard Richter: Large Abstracts, 2009, p. 9) Signed, dated 1991 and numbered 747-4 on the reverse

  • 2014-11-11

1956 Aston Martin DBR1

The first of five DBR1s Winner of the 1959 Nürburgring 1000 KM; sister to the 1959 Le Mans winner Raced by Roy Salvadori, Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham, and Carroll Shelby, among others Fitted with correct reproduction engine for racing, offered with the original Maintained by Aston Martin specialists R.S. Williams The most important model in Aston Martin history Accelerating hard in third gear to 6,700 rpm, the DBR1 closes fast on the tight but sweeping right-hander ahead. Faithfully following the undulating asphalt cutting through the mountainside, the Aston chases by the straight-six’s raucous notes ricocheting off the craggy rock face, grip from the hot Dunlop racers is tenacious, wrote leading Aston Martin author and historian Paul Chudecki in 2014. Down into second for the cambered left/right that follows, rapidly climbing the sinuous roads from Saanen into the Swiss Alps, the twitching tail requires a touch of opposite lock before we’re hard on the throttle for the next short straight. Marvelling at its sublime handling and sheer pace, I can’t help but ponder the outcome had Aston’s most successful racer entered the Mille Miglia with its not dissimilar roads; Stirling Moss had been over one minute faster in the DBR1 over a lap of the 1958 Targa Florio than he had been in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR three years earlier, when the combination famously won the Mille Miglia at record speed . . . The DBR1, of course, was the ultimate result of David Brown’s dream in 1949 to win Le Mans, one finally culminating a decade later in that elusive Sarthe victory. Following its DB2 competition entries Aston had produced the DB3, its first purpose-built sports-racing car, with the LB6 engine’s 2,580 cc latterly increased to 2,922 cc, but success was limited. Though the DB3S, its successor, was highly competitive, its improved VB6 engine’s capacity limit remained 3.0 liters and by 1955 240 bhp represented maximum development. Against much more powerful, 3.5–4.5 liter, Ferraris, Jaguars, and Maseratis, its comparative power deficit was a perpetual problem, and the exceptional performances with this engine show just how effective were Aston’s chassis. To address the deficit a new Lagonda – essentially an enlarged DB3S – appeared for 1954 with an Eberhorst-designed 4.5-liter V-12; alas the crankcase design was ultimately too weak and it was abandoned, its considerable potential un-realized, after the fast but fragile two versions failed to finish Le Mans in either 1954 or 1955. Immediately after the latter, work began on an all-new lighter, faster, though still 3.0-liter, Aston under new race car design chief Ted Cutting. Using a perimeter-type, small-tube spaceframe chassis, the DBR1’s front transverse torsion bar suspension remained much as for the DB3/DB3S but the rear was all-new, with longitudinal (against transverse) torsion bars, trailing links, and Watt linkage rather than central-slide-located de Dion axle. Notably, the S430 four-speed box was replaced by a CG537, a semi-dry sump, five-speed transaxle, and cast-iron rather than forged-steel Girlings had light alloy calipers (a first in racing). Cutting also designed the sensuous body – for 1956 with slightly more bulbous wing contours and second-generation DB3S-style radiator intake, unlike the more flowing lines of all 1957 onwards DBR1s – formed in ultra-light 20/22 gauge alloy. Derived from the VB6 but with little or no common components, the DBR1’s RB6, 2,922-cc engine’s bottom end was substantially redesigned – initially with four main bearings – including a lighter alloy crankcase to cope with the planned power increase; the camshaft drive also changed, from chain to gear-driven. Originally, the 60-degree, twin-plug DB3S head was used which, with triple 45DCO carburetors, increased power over the VB6 to 252 bhp at 6,000 rpm; by 1958 all RB6s had 95-degree heads, with larger valves and triple 45DCOs/50DCOs, increasing power to 242 bhp/255 bhp at 6,000 rpm. Thus equipped the DBR1 boasted a roadholding-enhancing four-inch lower center of gravity than the DB3S. An Achilles heel would soon appear, however, the transaxle proving particularly troublesome. For 1956, under Le Mans sports prototype regulations stipulating a maximum 2.5-liter capacity and 28-gallon fuel tank, it was mated to a 2,493-cc RB6 engine (RDP5053/1) with 212 bhp at 7,000 rpm – an output influenced by having to average 10.8 mpg. On its 24 Hours debut, DBR1/1 ran well for 20 hours until running its bearings; 2nd place at both the British Empire Trophy and Easter Goodwood meetings followed early in 1957. In May that year, back to 3.0 liters, it was joined by DBR1/2 at Spa, the Aston’s potential amply demonstrated by Tony Brooks’ easy win in DBR1/2 with Roy Salvadori 2nd in DBR1/1. Soon after, Brooks/Noel Cunningham-Reid led the Nürburgring 1000 KM from flag to finish in DBR1/2 with Salvadori/Les Leston in DBR1/1 6th; hopes were thus high for Le Mans but Brooks, running 2nd with Cunningham-Reid in DBR1/2, crashed trying to engage gear and Salvadori/Leston retired DBR1/1 with a fractured oil pipe. Then Salvadori finished 2nd in the British GP support race and Brooks won again in DBR1/2 at the Belgian GP, that year for sports cars, with Salvadori in DBR1/1 4th. Given 3.0 liters was the engine’s maximum capacity, it was manna from heaven when 1958 regulations decreed a 3,000-cc limit. For Sebring’s 12 Hours, though, the gearbox gremlins struck again, DBR1/2 retiring after Moss had set a new lap record; Salvadori/Carroll Shelby in DBR1/1 went out with a cracked chassis. Better fortune returned at Nürburgring when Moss, sharing DBR1/3 with Jack Brabham, who did just eight laps, drove superbly to win by four minutes; Shelby/Salvadori in DBR1/1 again suffered gearbox failure, while 4th-placed Brooks/Stuart Lewis-Evans in DBR1/2 were forced off the road; Moss had also retired with gearbox failure in that Targa Florio, again after breaking the lap record. Another bitter pill to swallow followed at Le Mans; one DBR/1 retired with another broken gearbox, another crashed, and the third retired with engine failure while leading. Back home, Goodwood provided a fillip when Moss/Brooks won the Tourist Trophy in DBR1/2, with Salvadori/Brabham second in DBR1/1 and Shelby/Lewis-Evans third in DBR1/3. It was another dominant, excellent result, but it wasn’t Le Mans. After nine years fighting to win the French classic, Aston decided it would be the DBR1’s sole 1959 event. That soon changed when DBR1/1 – as all DBR1s, now with 2,992-cc, seven main bearings for greater reliability, and 50DCO Webers, realizing up to 268-bhp – ran at Sebring for Salvadori/Shelby; a change rued when clutch failure caused early retirement. Then Moss persuaded Aston to enter the Nürburgring 1000 KM, convinced he could repeat his 1958 win; using DBR1/1 he did, even more spectacularly, breaking the lap record 16 times in one of his greatest drives, with Jack Fairman driving only eight laps. It would be DBR1/1’s last works race entry. At Goodwood’s Tourist Trophy it would, however, serve as a practice car, where Aston Martin clinched the 1959 World Sportscar Championship, a feat only made possible by DBR1/1’s Nürburgring triumph. Following Aston Martin’s withdrawal from competition in August 1959, DBR1/1 would twice race for Essex Racing Stables in the Nürburgring 1000 KM, with Jim Clark/Bruce McLaren retiring from fourth in 1961 when a con-rod failed at 500 KM and McLaren/Tony Maggs finishing 4th in 1962, at the end of which Aston sold (with 2,992-cc engine, RB6/300/3) DBR1/1 to the Hon. John Dawnay – later the 11th Viscount Downe and long-time Aston Martin Owners Club president – and his brother the Hon. James Dawnay. Allocated its first road registration of 299 EXV on 5 October 1962 (with which it has recently been reunited), both raced the car until the latter crashed at Silverstone in 1963, sustaining bad front body damage. Returned to the Feltham Works, the removed body was saved from being scrapped nearly a year later and the car taken to Aston specialist RS Williams. After laying untouched for 12 years it moved, in 1976, to Aston enthusiast/race entrant Geoffrey Marsh who, having made a body buck from DBR1/2 which he was rebuilding, had a new front section fabricated and the remaining body refurbished; the mechanical components and engine were also rebuilt. Once finished, DBR1/1 returned in 1980 to RSW for race preparation. Subsequently, driven by Mike Salmon, it took many victories/podiums in Lloyds and Scottish Historic Championship/AMOC races during the early ’80s – including winning outright the 1982 Lloyds & Scottish Historic Car Championship – after which appearances comprised shows and concours d’elegances. In 2000 (two years before the Viscount Downe’s death, when his wife Diana, the Viscountess Downe, was elected AMOC president, a position she retains), it was sold to America-based John McCaw. The current owner acquired DBR1/1 from McCaw in January 2009. As his intention was to enter the Goodwood Revival, and deemed its original engine, RB6/300/3 (which comes with the car), too precious to risk racing, R.S. Williams produced another race unit with new cylinder block and heads, facilitated by Geoffrey Marsh already having produced castings for his DBR4. Since 2010 DBR1/1 has been successfully raced at Goodwood by Brian Redman, while in 2013 Sir Stirling Moss drove it during Aston’s centenary celebrations at Nürburgring. Inside the cockpit everything is just as in period, from the bucket seats – well-padded and adequately comfortable for a purpose-built racer – trimmed in the correct tweed cloth (like the right-hand chassis rail next to one’s knee) to the smallest dashboard detail; notably, the owner commissioned former AML employee/motoring journalist Michael Bowler, with the late Ted Cutting’s help, to produce a comprehensive report of DBR1 dashboard variations to ascertain the correct layout. Engaging first gear, via the canted gear-lever and short travel clutch, and pulling away the exhaust emits a loud and suggestive growl, the twin-cam urging one to let it rev. Now producing 301 bhp at 6,500 rpm (redline 6,800), the 2,992-cc engine feels much more a race unit than the 240-bhp DB3S’ similar capacity VB6. ‘Peakier,’ it is not happy pulling below 3,500 on anything more than a trailing throttle – torque builds from 208 foot-pounds at 3,500 to 243 foot-pounds at 6,500, with a 250 foot-pound maximum at 6,000 – meaning one has to consciously keep revs no lower than 3,500–4,000, otherwise the race plugs can foul badly (taking a decent stretch of road to clean them). Floor the throttle then – and what sheer music the roar of that straight-six is, crisp and loud and exuding a tone that only a thoroughbred racing engine can – and the Aston is instantly and viscerally alive, with power rapidly rising from 200 bhp at 4,500 rpm, realizing tremendous acceleration with no let-up before the road dictates lifting-off for the next corner. Free from the trappings of race suit and helmet with arms bare, driving gloves, and sunglasses to protect my eyes, the whole experience is wonderfully raw, as every mechanical note of the RB6 registers in tandem with the bellowing open exhaust little more than an arm’s length away below the passenger door. There’s no heater, of course, and the October weather’s not overly warm, but with the engine’s heat filling the cockpit’s nether regions, it’s of no concern. Dropping down a little from the mountains we’ve now reached the owner’s favorite road for “exercising” his cars, a perfectly surfaced 11 miles incorporating long, sweeping corners, hairpins, and rapid rising and dropping switchbacks. Here the DBR1 is in its element, even more so than DB3S/9, which I’d recently driven on the same route. Taking turns at speed, via the perfectly geared rack and pinion, the sensitive steering is notably more precise, though a tad heavier than ‘3S/9, and it accordingly turns-in better and very quickly, with good self-centring enabling one to easily steer the car on the throttle – all no doubt enhanced by the DBR1’s longer wheelbase. One can almost sense the chassis thinking, and while its edginess doesn’t provide quite the instant confidence of the 3S’s ladder-frame, the R1’s spaceframe is equally informative in relating its brief, similarly signaling its limitations. Nor is the gear-change, in its metal H-pattern gate, difficult once one masters the right balance of double-declutching/engine rpm. Like its predecessor, how quickly ground is covered is down to the confidence the chassis inspires, which exponentially increases with every mile; one can sense the rear Dunlops obediently following the fronts, like a carriage following the locomotive pulling it along rails. Push harder and oversteer will prevail, but chassis feedback is so good that when the rear wheels start to slip those rails, there’s always enough warning to react with throttle and steering inputs; understeer is minimal and oversteer never excessive. With its high-geared steering and surprisingly good lock for a racer, mountain hairpins present little problem though first gear is essential to keep the engine on cam’ to maintain pace, while an indulgent oversteer-inducing dose of throttle facilitates the tighter ones. Although the race rubber will naturally track surface changes the DBR1 with the power on inevitably gets thrown about by undulations and uneven cambers, requiring a firm grip on the wood-rim wheel; comfort is nevertheless amazing for a race car – as is the astonishingly good ride given the constant surface changes. All of which is abetted by consistently impressive and powerful braking, with no thought as to the all-round discs’ competence when braking hard and late. Aware that the Aston’s resounding blare has drawn some local boys in blue’s attention, we make a lengthy stop for still photography. Thankfully, they are nowhere to be seen on our return, as I recall, back in 1996, track-testing DBR1/2 on Silverstone’s old GP circuit, how it could be set up into the most satisfying sequence of high-speed four-wheel drifts. Good in slow corners the DBR1 is really in its element in high-speed bends, responding swiftly to sudden direction changes and the most sensitive of inputs, the combination imparting a feeling of fantastic fluidity. No wonder drivers loved the DBR1’s roadholding and handling, and why it could win despite a power deficit compared to the opposition. Glorious engine apart, this Aston’s overriding asset remains its “chuckability.” My drive – and what a rare privilege to be let loose on such open and inviting roads for almost two hours of sheer driving pleasure – suggests that not only did genius Ted Cutting design a consummate racing car, but also one that could double as a highly effective road-going racer; more than capable, especially in Moss’ hands, of vanquishing all on the Mille Miglia (though its rawness, peaky race engine and barking exhaust would probably preclude its use as a practical road car). Coming from the finest of all Aston Martin collections, owned by a fastidious perfectionist, DBR1/1 is not only the best presented of the five DBR1s produced, it is also without question the most correct down to the smallest of details, inside and out. With its impeccable provenance and enviable racing record, during which this Aston Martin was driven by some of the greatest names in motor racing, DBR1/1, the first of the line and an integral team player to the end, crucial to that 1959 World Sportscar Championship victory, remains an ultimate icon of Aston Martin racing history. Arguably the most important Aston Martin ever built, DBR1/1’s significance cannot be overstated. DATEEVENTDRIVERSRESULTJuly 28–29, 1956Le Mans 24 HoursTony Brooks, Reg ParnellRetiredApril 6, 1957British Empire Trophy, Oulton ParkRoy Salvadori2ndApril 22, 1957BARC Easter Meeting, GoodwoodRoy Salvadori2ndMay 12, 1957Sports Car Race, Spa-FrancorchampsRoy Salvadori2ndMay 26, 1957Nürburgring 1000 KMRoy Salvadori, Les Leston6th, Team PrizeJune 22–23, 195724 Hours of Le MansRoy Salvadori, Les LestonRetiredJuly 20, 1957British Grand Prix Sports Car Race, AintreeRoy Salvadori2nd, Fastest LapAugust 25, 1957Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-FrancorchampsRoy Salvadori4th, Team PrizeSeptember 14, 1957International Daily Express Meeting Sports Car Race, SilverstoneStuart Lewis-Evans6th, Team PrizeMarch 22, 195812 Hours of SebringRoy Salvadori, Carrol ShelbyRetiredJune 1, 1958Nürburgring 1000 KMRoy Salvadori, Carrol ShelbyRetired June 21–22, 195824 Hours of Le MansRoy Salvadori, Stuart Lewis-EvansRetiredSeptember 13, 1958RAC Tourist Trophy, GoodwoodRoy Salvadori, Jack Brabham2ndMarch 21, 195912 Hours of SebringRoy Salvadori, Carrol ShelbyRetiredJune 7, 1959Nürburgring 1000 KMStirling Moss, Jack Fairman1stSeptember 5, 1959RAC Tourist Trophy, GoodwoodPractice CarAddendum Please note that an import duty of 2.5% of the purchase price is payable on this lot if the buyer is a resident of the United States. Chassis no. DBR1/1 Engine no. RB6/300/3

  • 2017-08-19

A young woman seated at the virginals

This picture was painted by Johannes Vermeer in about 1670.  It is the last original composition by Vermeer left in private hands, the first to be offered at auction since 1921, and the first to be sold by any means since 1955.  Inaccessible to scholars except through old photographs, the picture was for many years either dismissed or ignored completely, but, following recent extensive examination and analysis and also some light cleaning and restoration, its authenticity is now no longer disputed by any of the leading scholars of Vermeer, nor by any of a wide circle of scholars of 17th-century Dutch painting who have had the opportunity to study it at first hand. Ever since his rediscovery in the 1860s by the French art historian Thoré-Bürger, Vermeer has had a unique and somewhat mysterious position in the history of 17th-century Dutch art.  Unquestionably a genius, with a gift for the creation of contemplative mood and serene atmosphere that few if any have equalled, his works and style nonetheless had relatively little influence on his contemporaries.  Although some of his paintings always retained their correct attributions, others did not, as his name became more or less entirely forgotten not long after his death. Part of the reason for the lack of any lasting influence must have been that Vermeer, as has been so well described in recent scholarly and popular literature, worked in a very personal way, and seems to have had no pupils to whom these methods could have been passed on.  While another artist could, perhaps, have imitated Vermeer’s general approach to composition without actually training with him, the specific effects of colour and lighting that ultimately define his style and his genius were largely the result of the precise mixtures and combinations of pigments and grounds that the artist applied to his canvases, allied with a particular gift for infinitely subtle modulations in tone.  Maybe these techniques could never have been passed on to others, but in any case such a thing could only ever have been possible through a traditional, direct apprenticeship in Vermeer’s studio.  It has, however, been agreed since the earliest days of Vermeer scholarship that he had no such apprentices or pupils:  not only is there no documentary record of any such arrangement (apprenticeships had to be registered with the local painters’ guild), but there is also no body of surviving work, painted using Vermeer’s techniques and pigment combinations, but not actually by him, which would be the necessary result of his having had pupils. A second factor contributing to Vermeer’s eclipse in the 18th- and earlier 19th-century literature of art must surely have been the sheer rarity of his works.  Most modern scholars agree that there exist a mere 36 surviving works by Vermeer, and that while he must have painted a few other pictures that are now lost, the paintings that are known today nonetheless constitute the great majority of his entire output as an artist.  Already by the 18th century, these 36 paintings were dispersed through Germany, France, Italy and England as well as Holland, so there were simply too few works by the artist available to earlier scholars of Dutch art for them to form a view of his style. Once Thoré-Bürger had identified and defined Vermeer’s style in his ground-breaking publications in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts of 1866, the corpus of the artist’s paintings did, however, very rapidly coalesce, and although the early works continued to be debated even after the Second World War, by the early 20th century all the characteristic, original works of Vermeer’s maturity that are known today had already entered the literature.  No previously unknown work of this type by Vermeer has been discovered in the past century, and it is therefore all the more significant that following a programme of research lasting more than 10 years, a panel of leading international scholars and conservators has now concluded that the present painting of A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals is indeed an autograph work by Vermeer, dating from around 1670.  Although this painting has been long recorded in the literature, the confirmation of its previously disputed attribution represents an immensely important addition to the oeuvre of the mysterious Delft master. The painting represents a musical theme familiar from several of Vermeer’s larger paintings, in particular the two in the National Gallery, London (figs. 1 and 2).  It shows a young woman, three-quarters length, seated on a chair of rich blue velvet, her hands extended towards the keyboard of the virginals, a variant of the same instrument shown in one of the National Gallery’s paintings (see figs. 9 and 10).  She is dressed in a yellow woollen shawl above a white satin dress or skirt, with pearls around her neck and an arrangement of red and white ribbons in her hair.  As in Vermeer’s other small canvases, the figure and instrument are set against a plain wall, without any other compositional elements such as windows, curtains or background paintings;  yet despite this, the artist has created a highly convincing and atmospheric impression of space and depth, thanks to the depiction of minute irregularities and holes in the plaster of the wall, and the presence of a delicate, unified light, which comes, as in most of Vermeer’s interiors, from the top left of the composition. Very few paintings by Vermeer have been seen on the market since the 19th century, when the great majority of the artist’s known works were acquired either by the museums where they now reside, or by the collectors who subsequently gave them to those museums.  During the last century, only one has ever been offered at auction (The Little Street, now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, in 1921), and even including sales through dealers hardly a dozen works by Vermeer have been sold in that time.   No other characteristic painting by the artist has changed hands since the 1950s, and A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals is the only such work that still remains in private hands. Provenance It is possible, though far from certain, that this was one of the group of  21 pictures by Vermeer owned by the Delft bookseller and printer Jacob Dissius, who had inherited them from his father-in-law, Pieter van Ruijven, the man who seems to have been Vermeer’s most important patron.  Dissius’ paintings were sold in Amsterdam on 16 May 1696.  Unfortunately, the catalogue of this sale does not give the dimensions of the pictures, only a brief description of the subject of each, but in many cases this is still enough to identify the pictures that are known today, and some useful information can, therefore, be deduced from the prices realised by each painting.  These ranged from the 200 guilders paid for the famous View of Delft (The Hague, Mauritshuis) down to 17 guilders paid for each of two unidentifiable “tronies” (a term used in the 17th century for a small painting of a single figure, shown head-and-shoulders, in an exotic or historical costume).  After the View of Delft, the next two most expensive pictures were the Milkmaid (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum) which made 175 guilders, and the Woman Weighing Gold (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 155 guilders).  In the middle range of prices were pictures such as The Music Lesson (London, The Royal Collection, 80 guilders), the Concert (currently missing from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston), which made 73 guilders, and the Woman writing a letter (Washington, National Gallery of Art, 63 guilders).  One picture, lot 37 in the catalogue, is described as Een Speelende Juffrouw op de Clavecimbael (A Woman playing the Virginals).  In terms of subject, this could either have been the picture now under discussion or one of the two now in the National Gallery, London, and the price it fetched, 42 guilders and 10 stuivers, does not help in clarifying which it actually was, since this seems a very low price for a major work such as one of the London pictures, but also perhaps rather high for a picture as small as this one. Another early sale reference can be linked with rather more certainty to the present picture.  Lot 93 in the Amsterdam sale of the collection of Wessel Ryers, on 21 September 1814, was described as a painting on panel by Vermeer of a young woman playing a clavichord, 10 inches by 8 inches.  Other errors in the description of supports in this catalogue suggest that the fact the picture is described as being on panel rather than canvas should not be taken too seriously, and the dimensions given suggest very strongly that the picture sold must have been the present work, rather than one of the National Gallery pictures or a further, lost representation of the same subject. The whereabouts of the present picture has, however, been securely documented since 1904, when it was published in the preliminary catalogue by Dr. Wilhelm Bode of the collection of Alfred Beit, a South African-born diamond magnate who was one of the few European-based collectors to rival the great early 20th-century art acquisitions of Americans such as Frick and Mellon.  Beit, the majority of whose collections were eventually given to the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, owned many great Dutch pictures of the 17th century, including another Vermeer, the Lady Writing a Letter, though when and where he acquired either of his Vermeers is not now known. When Beit died, the picture passed to his brother, Otto Beit, and then the latter’s son, Sir Alfred Beit, who eventually, in 1960, placed the picture on consignment with a London dealer.  There it was seen by Baron Frédéric Rolin of Brussels, at the time a dealer in tribal art, who was also an occasional collector of Old Masters.  Rolin fell in love with the picture, and even though he was aware that the attribution to Vermeer had by then been questioned, he acquired the little painting, in the time-honoured fashion of collectors who fall in love with a work of art, by giving in exchange four others from his collection, paintings by Klee, Signac, Bonnard and Riopelle. Baron Rolin died in 2002, and the painting is now offered for sale by his heirs. Earlier Critical History During the initial decades following its first publication in 1904, the picture was universally accepted and published as an autograph work by Vermeer.  In the period before and during the Second World War, it was unanimously recognised by scholars, including Wilhelm Bode, Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, A.B. de Vries, Eduard Plietzsch and Ludwig Goldscheider.  Then, following the dramatic events of the affair of the Van Meegeren forgeries of Vermeer, De Vries, the Director of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and the recognised leading scholar on Vermeer, expressed doubts about the authenticity of the picture, doubts which he published in 1948, in the second edition of his book.  Despite the fact that not long after this De Vries changed his mind again, in favour of the painting, and wrote several letters saying that if his book were to go into a third edition he would unequivocally rehabilitate the picture, the seeds of doubt were sown.  In the event, no third edition of De Vries’ book was published, and the relative inaccessibility of the picture, particularly after its sale from the Beit collection in 1960, meant that subsequent scholars of Vermeer were inclined to relegate it to the margins of the artist’s work.  A few, including Lawrence Gowing (1970) and Christopher Wright (1976) continued to accept it, but others, for the most part basing their assessments on poor old photographs, dismissed it, in an increasingly perfunctory way.  Only during the last decade, since the picture was brought back into contact with the scholarly community, has it been examined seriously, and in the light of modern research and technology. The first steps in the research programme In 1993, Sotheby's was approached by Baron Rolin, with a request to undertake new research on the painting.  It was agreed that a useful first step would be to compare the painting with the two larger representations of similar subjects in the National Gallery, London.  The National Gallery generously agreed to remove their pictures from display and take them to the conservation laboratory, to enable the pictures to be compared under microscopes.  Opinions on that day were divided:  the conservators present (including David Bomford and Ashok Roy) unanimously felt that the three pictures they were looking at under the microscopes were all by the same hand, but the art-historians were less positive, saying that the stylistic and compositional differences between the pictures left the attribution of the small Rolin painting far from confirmed. After this mixed reception, it was eventually decided that no further clarification would be achieved without a detailed scientific analysis of the painting, to establish once and for all its physical composition:  was it or was it not a genuine 17th-century painting, and if so, precisely what materials and techniques had been used in its making?  To this end, a complete scientific study was begun in 1995 by Libby Sheldon of University College London, in collaboration with her colleague Catherine Hassall, and in 1997 Nicola Costaras of the Victoria and Albert Museum joined this team, bringing with her a considerable technical knowledge of Vermeer’s work.  This investigation demonstrated not only that the picture was unquestionably 17th-century, but also that its technical composition was entirely consistent with Vermeer’s known working methods.  In particular, the composition of the ground layers was found to be entirely comparable with other works by the artist, and the pigments used were also appropriate. The pigments In terms of determining the authenticity of the picture, the most significant pigments found during the scientific analysis were lead-tin yellow, green earth and ultramarine. Lead-tin yellow, which is here used throughout the yellow shawl, was very widely employed from the Middle Ages until the end of the 17th century, but became obsolete thereafter, and was replaced by other yellows such as yellow ochre and Naples yellow.  Indeed, knowledge of this pigment was rapidly forgotten, and it was not until 1941 that a scientist discovered that there was a tin component in this typical 17th-century yellow which distinguished it from other, later lead-based yellows. The fact that lead-tin yellow was the pigment used for the yellows in this picture immediately proves that it is at the very least a 17th-century painting and not, as some have suggested, a later imitation of Vermeer’s style. The pigment green earth was also found in the picture, used in the flesh tones.  This pigment seems to have been used only very rarely by 17th-century Dutch artists, but is regularly found in the flesh tones in Vermeer’s works.  Otherwise, the use of green earth seems to have been limited to the Utrecht school.  It is interesting to note in this context that Vermeer’s mother-in-law, Maria Thins, was in fact distantly related to Abraham Bloemaert, and herself possessed a significant collection of paintings by various Utrecht artists. Libby Sheldon’s most important discovery as regards the pigments used in this painting relates, however, to by far the most expensive pigment available to a 17th-century Dutch artist, namely ultramarine.  Made from ground lapis lazuli, this pigment was used to create blues of remarkable richness and depth, but on account of its great cost was only rarely used by artists of the period, and then only very sparingly, and in a very conspicuous way.  Vermeer, however, used this pigment very extensively, not only for the small areas of rich deep blue that are so characteristic of his paintings, but also incorporating it, invisibly, in the creamy tones of his background walls.  The subliminal enriching effect of this invisible use of the pigment is hard to quantify, but clearly Vermeer believed it was necessary to achieve the effects he desired;  and this specific extravagance is something that has never yet been found outside the work of Vermeer.  In the present picture, ultramarine is used in precisely this way, not only in the blue velvet chair back (fig. 3), but also, invisibly to the naked eye, throughout the background wall (fig. 4). The canvas and priming An immediately striking feature of the canvas used in this painting is that, although it is small in size, the weave of the fabric is relatively coarse;  usually, when 17th-century artists made small canvas paintings, they used canvases made of much finer fabric, with a much higher thread-count per centimetre.  The relatively rough canvas seen here is, however, exactly the same as that used by Vermeer in his only other canvas painting on this scale, the Lacemaker, in the Louvre (fig. 5).  The similarities between the canvases of these two paintings do not stop there.  Normally, canvases of this period show a significant difference in the thread count in each direction, creating a clear distinction between the “warp” and the “weft”, but in both these paintings the thread count in each direction is almost identical (12 threads per centimetre in each direction), which is extremely unusual in 17th-century Dutch painting.  Furthermore, the minor irregularities in the weave of the fabric, which are always present in canvases and can be clearly seen on X-rays, show such similarities in pattern that it is almost certain that both canvases were cut from the very same bolt of cloth (fig. 6).  What is more, the priming layers in each painting are also remarkably similar.  Although many Dutch grounds, and particularly Delft grounds, appear similar in colour and texture to the naked eye, they do in fact vary significantly when cross-sections are analysed under the microscope, in terms both of the combinations of pigments that are present, and also of the microscopic sizes of the particles of each pigment, which are the result of the process of grinding the pigments in the artist’s or canvas-merchant’s workshop.  The ground in this picture contains precisely the same combination of pigments as do those of several of Vermeer’s other paintings (notably the two National Gallery London paintings, and the Lacemaker), and the particle sizes are absolutely the same as in the Lacemaker, which means that both canvases must have been grounded at exactly the same time. Other technical features Sheldon’s study also revealed other significant facts, most importantly the presence in the picture of the characteristic pin-hole that is found in many of Vermeer’s pictures, at the vanishing-point of his perspectival scheme.  She also found evidence, visible in the X-rays, of compositional changes that had been made to the picture, most notably in the yellow shawl.  Originally it seems that the artist planned that the skirt would extend rather higher than it now does, and that the shawl would be consequently shorter;  there is evidence that the initial blocking in of the folds of the skirt extend under the lower part of the present yellow shawl (fig. 7).  In this lower area of the shawl, Sheldon also found two different layers of the same lead-tin yellow pigment, distinct, but with so little separation between them that they must have been applied within at the most a very few years of each other.  The twin questions of whether the reworkings and revisions in the yellow shawl were made by the artist of the rest of the picture, and whether these changes were made as artistic revisions or to correct technical or condition problems could not be answered by this type of technical analysis, but Sheldon’s description of the physical construction of this part of the painting is highly important, because this lower section of the yellow shawl is the area that has been the focus of much of the negative criticism of the picture’s overall appearance.  Although it should be noted that the yellow areas in Vermeer’s other paintings are often those in which there are the greatest problems as regards condition, there is no question that this is the most problematic part of the present painting.  The structure of folds and shadows in the lower areas of the yellow shawl is not handled in a manner typical of Vermeer, and although careful study of the draperies in the artist’s other paintings does reveal a fairly wide range of different techniques, it seems possible that this part of the painting was to some extent reworked by another hand, either because the original glazes that defined the shadows in the drapery were damaged, or because this area remained to some extent unfinished.  Lastly, Sheldon’s study also revealed that although the great majority of the picture surface was in fact very well preserved, there were nonetheless many tiny later retouchings, perhaps 19th-century in origin, which clearly had a significant effect on the painting’s overall visual appearance. The second phase of the research programme Following the initial confirmation that on a technical level the painting was completely consistent with Vermeer’s work, other side-by-side comparisons were made in New York in late 2000, after which Walter Liedtke requested the loan of the painting as a last-minute, ex-catalogue addition to his exhibition, Vermeer and the Delft School, which was due to open in New York a couple of months later, in March 2001.   There, and subsequently also at the National Gallery, London, the picture was hung together with the National Gallery paintings and others, and the question of its attribution and authenticity was once again much discussed.  The general conclusion from this debate was that the condition of the yellow shawl and the presence of the various later retouchings were together affecting the overall visual impression given by the picture to the extent that no firm conclusions about its attribution could be reached.  It was therefore decided that a careful cleaning and restoration, coupled with further research and investigation, should be undertaken, and to this end an ad hoc committee was formed to oversee the whole project.  The committee members were: Martin Bijl (former Head of Paintings Conservation, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) Frits Duparc (Director, Mauritshuis, The Hague) Gregory Rubinstein (Sotheby’s) Libby Sheldon (University College London Paintings Analysis) Jørgen Wadum (Head of Paintings Conservation, Mauritshuis, The Hague) Arie Wallert (Head of Paintings Conservation, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) Ernst van der Wetering (Head of Rembrandt Research Project) Marieke de Winkel (Costume Expert, Rembrandt Research Project) Under the guidance of this committee, the painting was lightly cleaned and restored by Martin Bijl in 2002-3;  the results of this restoration and the findings of the further research conducted by the committee members as part of the project are to be published in a collective group of articles in Oud Holland in the near future.  Without pre-empting totally the contents of this forthcoming publication, the following are some of the main conclusions reached by the committee: Many of the reservations that have been voiced about the picture over the years have resulted from the negative visual effects of later restorations, which though seemingly minor, had far-reaching visual effects.  Following the removal of these restorations (fig. 8), it has been possible to see much more clearly the artist’s original construction of space and lighting, and this has led the committee members to conclude unanimously that the artist in question was Vermeer. After detailed comparison with draperies in all Vermeer’s other pictures, it was agreed that the handling of folds and shadows in the lower part of the yellow shawl is untypical of the artist.  Given that there are also two distinct layers of lead-tin yellow in this area, it must be concluded that this part of the picture was brought to completion after the rest of the composition, perhaps as much as a few years later.  The committee members were, however, not able to conclude unanimously whether this later finishing within the yellow shawl was the result of damage in that area or because it had simply remained unfinished, or whether the final surface of this part of the yellow shawl was in fact painted by Vermeer himself at the end of his life, or by another hand. The Rolin painting can be linked much more closely than was previously understood to the Lacemaker in the Louvre (fig. 5), a painting that is precisely the same size as this, and is the artist’s only other canvas painting on this small a scale.  Much more than this, the research of the committee has revealed that the canvas on which these two pictures were painted, which has a highly distinctive pattern of threads, almost certainly originated from the very same bolt of cloth, and that the two canvases were grounded using precisely the same combination of pigments. In terms of dating the picture, Marieke de Winkel has concluded that on the grounds of costume and hairstyle, the picture must date from within a year either side of 1670, from the same time as the Louvre Lacemaker, and from slightly before the paintings in the National Gallery, London. Martin Bijl’s restoration of the picture in fact involved relatively little physical intervention.  His chief tasks were the removal of the later retouchings, and a small amount of almost microscopic retouching of losses.  Yet the transformation that this very minor intervention has brought to the overall appearance of the picture has been striking, and all those who have seen it both before and after restoration have agreed that it is only now that the picture conveys in a powerful and convincing way the sense of the figure’s presence in a three-dimensional space, set in front of a tangible background wall from which she is convincingly separated.   The cool, serene lighting so typical of Vermeer has also only now fully reappeared;  for those who have now seen the painting again, the re-emergence of this characteristic work by the most atmospheric and distinctive master of 17th-century Holland is a most astonishing and moving event. Relationship with other paintings by Vermeer Clearly, the subject of this painting suggests a relationship with the two Vermeer paintings of women playing similar instruments, in the National Gallery, London, which are generally dated around 1673-5.  Indeed, the instrument seen here may well be the very same one as in the London Young Woman Seated at the Virginals (figs. 9 and 10). The conception of the picture is, however, rather different, in that the space within which the figure and instrument are placed is far less specifically defined, without the floors, curtains, background pictures and windows seen in the London paintings.  The National Gallery paintings are, however, both very much larger in scale than this, and the setting of a single figure against only a plain background wall is entirely characteristic of Vermeer’s approach to a small, single-figure composition, as is clear not only from the Louvre Lacemaker but also from earlier paintings such as the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring in the Mauritshuis, The Hague.  In Vermeer’s other works on this scale the figure is usually larger in relation to the picture space and placed closer to the picture plane than here, but this unique compositional approach cannot be used as an argument to contest the attribution as at least half a dozen of the artist’s 36 surviving paintings have no obvious compositional parallels in his other works. As regards the dating of the picture, the most significant information is that provided by Marieke de Winkel, costume expert for the Rembrandt Research Project, who has established, on the basis of research using a wide range of sources including contemporary letters, prints, paintings and doll’s houses, that the hair-style and arrangement of hair-ribbons seen in this picture were fashionable only for a couple of years at the most, around 1670.  The combination of hair pulled back into a bun with ringlets hanging down on each side and a mix of thin red and white ribbons in the hair (fig. 13) soon gave way in popular fashion to the style seen in the two London paintings, where the hair is still drawn back into a bun, but with numerous small decorative curls around the hairline and no ringlets or other embellishments (figs. 15 and 16).  The Louvre Lacemaker, which is generally dated around 1670 on stylistic grounds, shows very much the same hairstyle (fig. 14) as that seen here, and this, together with the technical evidence linking the two pictures, suggests very strongly that the present painting of A Young Woman seated at the Virginals should also be dated to around 1670, making it Vermeer’s first exploration of the theme that was to provide the subject for his two famous paintings in the National Gallery. This proposed chronology also seems plausible in relation to another painting by Vermeer with a musical subject, the Guitar Player, in the Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House, London (fig. 11).  Rather more animated in mood than the three very contemplative pictures of women at the keyboards, the Kenwood painting, which is generally dated circa 1672, shows a young woman with a hairstyle similar to that seen in both the Rolin picture and the Lacemaker, but rather looser and less formal and without any decorative ribbons, which seems to have been the route taken by fashions of the day immediately before the emergence of the style seen in the two National Gallery paintings.  There are also striking similarities between the features of the sitters in the Rolin and Kenwood pictures, and the fact that the latter clearly shows a slightly older girl suggests that Vermeer may well have used the same model for both paintings.  The extent to which Vermeer based his female figures on members of his own household and the specific identities of the various people depicted have not been widely discussed in the art-historical literature, but there has been much speculation elsewhere that the artist’s daughters were the models for a number of paintings. Tracy Chevalier, Simon Jenkins and others have argued that the girl seen in the two National Gallery paintings was Vermeer’s eldest daughter, Maria, while the Kenwood picture and the present work, and possibly also the Louvre Lacemaker (though the features in that painting are hidden) show her younger sister, Elizabeth.  Any such identification remains, of course, speculative, but our understanding of Vermeer’s laborious working method does make it likely that he would have used his children as his models, and the facial similarities between the young women in certain pictures lend much credence to these theories. Whether or not this painting of a Young Woman Seated at the Virginals depicts one of the artist’s own daughters, the fact that it is now, after half a century, once again accepted as an autograph work by Vermeer represents an extremely important addition to our understanding of his artistic development.  Like the Lacemaker, this is a strikingly intimate and direct representation of a domestic activity, in which the picture space is defined not by walls or by background details, but by light alone.  But it is also the painting in which Vermeer explored for the first time a subject that was to provide him with the inspiration for two of the greatest productions of his final years.

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2004-07-07

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