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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

Deux personnages (La Lecture)

Picasso's striking portrayal of two women reading belongs to the extraordinary group of canvases inspired by Marie-Thérèse Walter, his beloved mistress during the early 1930s. Distinguished by their rich colouration, harmonic curves and sweeping arabesques, these exceptional pictures are renowned as Picasso's most euphoric, sexually-charged, fantastical and inspired compositions, and they rank among the most instantly recognizable works of 20th century art. Of all the manifestations of Picasso's exceptionally prolific career, it is during his 'Marie-Thérèse period' when his creative force was at its most powerful. Among the most evocative of these pictures is Deux personnages also known as La Lecture, created when Marie-Thérèse was firmly at the centre of Picasso's artistic and private universe. Marie-Thérèse's potent mix of physical attractiveness and sexual naivety had an intoxicating effect on Picasso. His rapturous desire for the girl gave rise to a wealth of images that have been acclaimed as the most erotic and emotionally uplifting compositions of his long career. Picasso's reverence is nowhere more apparent than in the depictions of his lover reading, sleeping or writing, the embodiment of tranquillity and physical acquiescence. Her passivity in these pictures makes her body all the more pliant to Picasso's manipulations and distortions. It must be remembered that Marie-Thérèse came into Picasso's life when the collective consciousness of the avant-garde was enthralled by Surrealism. Exaltations of amour fou and grotesque manipulations of form fanned the flames of Picasso's creative and physical desire, resulting in some of the most extraordinary interpretations of his lover. In later years, Françoise Gilot, another of Picasso's lovers and an artist herself, recognized the tantalisingly sculptural possibilities presented by Marie-Thérèse's body during this feverish period: ‘I found Marie-Thérèse fascinating to look at. I could see that she was certainly the woman who had inspired Pablo plastically more than any other. She had a very arresting face with a Grecian profile. The whole series of portraits of blonde women Pablo painted between 1927 and 1935 are almost exact replicas of her [...]. Her forms were handsomely sculptural, with a fullness of volume and a purity of line that gave her body and her face an extraordinary perfection. To the extent that nature offers ideas or stimuli to an artist, there are some forms that are closer than others to any artist's own aesthetic and thus serve as a springboard for his imagination. Marie-Thérèse brought a great deal to Pablo in the sense that her physical form demanded recognition’ (quoted in L’Amour fou, Picasso and Marie Thérèse (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2011, pp. 71-72). Picasso first saw Marie-Thérèse on the streets of Paris in 1927, when she was only seventeen years old and while he was entangled in an unhappy marriage to Olga Khokhlova. 'I was an innocent girl,' Walter remembered years later. 'I knew nothing - either of life or of Picasso... I had gone to do some shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, and Picasso saw me leaving the Metro. He simply took me by the arm and said, 'I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together' (quoted in Picasso and the Weeping Women (exhibition catalogue), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles & The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994, p. 143). The couple's relationship was kept a well-guarded secret for many years, both on account of Picasso's marriage to Olga and Marie-Thérèse's age. But the covertness of the affair only intensified Picasso's obsession with the girl, and many of his pictures, with their dramatic contrasts of light and dark, allude to their secret interludes held under cover of darkness. By the time the present work was painted in 1934, the girl who once ‘knew nothing of Picasso’ had come to define the artist and his production. Marie-Thérèse's features were readily identifiable in Picasso's painting at this point, and Robert Rosenblum wrote about the young woman's symbolic unveiling in these works: 'Marie-Thérèse, now firmly entrenched in both the city and country life of a lover twenty-eight years her senior, could at last emerge from the wings to centre stage, where she could preside as a radiant deity, in new roles that changed from Madonna to sphinx, from odalisque to earth mother. At times her master seems to worship humbly at her shrine, capturing a fixed, confrontational stare of almost supernatural power; but more often, he becomes an ecstatic voyeur, who quietly captures his beloved, reading, meditating, catnapping, or surrendering to the deepest abandon of sleep' (R. Rosenblum in Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 342). While paintings of placid female readers were a preferred theme of Pierre-Auguste Renoir (fig. 5), one of Picasso's favourite painters, the implications of sexual availability were never as highly charged as they are in the Spaniard's interpretation of this subject. The context of Marie-Thérèse reading provided Picasso with a thematic narrative by which he could accentuate her docility and passivity. In 1932, his images of the young woman with an open book suggestively placed in her lap established Marie-Thérèse as an emblem of sexual permissiveness (figs. 1 & 2). In the present work from 1934, we see Picasso's golden muse reading with another girl; the sexual innuendos, although more discreet, are nonetheless present. This picture belongs to a series completed at the end of March featuring two girls sitting together and focused on a book. The five canvases can be divided into two distinct groups, one has a lighter palette and simpler, more closely focused composition (figs. 6 & 7), whilst the other, including the present work, is richer in colouration and the figures are arranged in a defined space (fig. 8). Discussing the present work and the series to which is belongs Marilyn McCully wrote: ‘The subject of two women seated at a table reading, drawing and writing letters is one that particularily interested Picasso. Two figures in a composition imply a relationship, which can either have specific meaning or can provide a departure point for depicting contrasts or similarities in form’ (M. McCully, Picasso Harlequin 1917-1937 (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 244). Picasso's biographer Pierre Daix believed that the other figure in this picture was Marie-Thérèse's sister, Jeanne. But in his recent biography of the artist, John Richardson tells of how Jeanne's recounting of events in later years exaggerated her role in the couple's relationship, and how it was in fact Marie-Thérèse's older sister, Geneviève, who was a more frequent presence during this period. According to Richardson ‘Picasso fancied [her] and liked to have her around’ (J. Richardson, Picasso, New York, 2007, p. 326). Aside from Picasso’s personal motives, artistically Geneviève provided the artist with a striking contrast to her sister which he incorporated into the composition of the present work. Marie-Thérèse is seated on the left, her blonde hair and pale colouring depicted in pink and blue hues, with Geneviève to her right in red and green. Following the completion of the present work and its related compositions, Picasso painted a scene of Marie-Thérèse, garlanded like a classical muse and reading by candlelight, which is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This image, like the present work, alludes to her transcendent importance as a source of inspiration and solace for the artist in the midst of a bitter marriage to Olga. Indeed, Marie-Thérèse would soon take on another role in the artist's life, giving birth to his first daughter Maya in 1935. But it is in these images from the early 1930s that her creative succour and its impact on Picasso's art is at its most powerful. Signed Picasso (lower left) and dated Boisgeloup 30 mars XXXIV (along the top); dated Boisgeloup 30 mars XXXIV on the stretcher

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2015-06-24

The magna carta

The Magna Carta of 12 October 1297, issued in the name of King Edward I of England as an inspeximus by letters patent of a charter of the ninth year of Henry III, written in medieval Latin on parchment, now repaired and in places rebacked. Approx. 370 X 420 + 32mm., with margins of 10 (left), 28 (top) and 15mm. (right). The writing on ruled lines, with feint ruled vertical plumb lines for the margins. The capital E of the King's name Edwardus decorated and extending down two lines of text. Written throughout in a neat chancery-style hand, in 68 lines of text, the final line extended with a note of warranty Scowe (the name of the chancery official, John of Stowe) infilling the line to the right hand margin. Sealed sur double queue (on a fold at the foot of the document), using a parchment tag (22mm. wide) through a single slit at the foot. On the tag, an impression of the small seal of Edward I, used as the seal of absence by the regency council in England whilst the King was in Flanders 1297-8: natural wax, the central portion of the seal, broken and repaired, various details legible including the letters EDW..........., and the small lion or leopard between the King's legs on the obverse side, the King seated in majesty on a bench-like throne, carrying two rods or sceptres, one of which remains topped with a fleur-de-lys device. The reverse of the seal, and the dorse of the document inaccessible inside its modern argon-filled display cabinet. Recorded in photographs, the endorsements: Magna Carta (s.xvi/xvii); 25 E(dward) I (s.xvii) to the left on the dorse: Magna Carta 25 Ed(ward) I repeated on the right of the dorse; 1296 (?s.xvii); a nineteenth-century stamp mark of the Brudenell family motto En Grace Affie ('On grace depend') with the call number A.viii.6 written in pen at the centre and repeated in pencil at the foot of the dorse. On the outside of the fold, to the left of the seal tag, the word Buk', denoting that this was the exemplar of the charter sent into Buckinghamshire. On the fold to the right of the seal tag, the words tradatur Rogero Hodelyn de Neuport (c.1297): a unique detail, recording the proclamation of the charter within the county (see below p.XXX). In generally good to excellent condition, legible throughout save for a very few characters, but with some rubbing, damp staining and soiling. Two small and two slightly larger passages of damp damage obliterating letters along former folds on the left hand side of the document. A long vertical passage of damp staining to the right of the document reaching down to the fold, but without obliterating the text. Various smaller patches where the lettering has been rubbed or stained. A cross marked in the right hand margin (?s.xvii) next to the line of text recording the ruling that there be a single measure of grain throughout the realm. Provenance: since 1983 the property of the Perot Foundation, until recently deposited in the National Archives in Washington. Prior to 1983, certainly since the nineteenth century, probably since the seventeenth century, and perhaps since the fourteenth century, the property of the Brudenell family of Amersham Buckinghamshire and later of Deene Park Northamptonshire. In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.

  • 2007-12-18

The Blue Unconscious

“You can hear the life in the grass, hear it growing. Next thing there’s a dry spell…and the life is gone. Put your ear to it then and all you hear is the wind.” The artist as cited by Julien Levy in Ellen G. Landau, Jackson Pollock, New York, 1989, p. 159 Pollock’s stature as a heroic figure in the world of mid-twentieth century art and cultural history is inescapable and transformative. As the immediate precursors of the final breakthrough to his epochal “drip” technique in 1947, paintings such as The Blue Unconscious of late 1946 are definitive and eloquent proclamations of Pollock’s bold assault on painterly norms. In scale, composition, palette and gesture, The Blue Unconscious and its fellow paintings of the late 1940s ushered in an entire new world of aesthetic concerns in 20th century art. Pollock paved the way for radical explorations into the limitless possibilities of modern abstract art. Previously owned by the Belgian collector, Philippe Dotrement, and residing in the current private collection since 1965, The Blue Unconscious is the largest of the seven paintings in Pollock’s “Sounds in the Grass” series of 1946 which internalize his profound response to the landscape of his new home in Long Island.  It is one of only two works  from the series still in private hands:  three of the series are in the Peggy Guggenheim, Foundation, Venice, while two are in the Tel Aviv Museum and one, Shimmering Substance, was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1968. When The Blue Unconscious was painted in Summer 1946, Pollock’s tenure with Peggy Guggenheim (1943-1947) was approaching its culmination, and the paintings he created for his final exhibition there in January 1947, are an aggressive departure from his earlier work and signal the final chapter in his gradual surrender to non-figurative abstraction. In The Blue Unconscious, his potent images, all-over composition and aggressive painterly technique gave visual expression to a watershed era of reinvention that was stirring in all forms of culture in the late 1930s and 1940s. Young questing minds grappled with new theories, burning to break with the past and create new orders of thought and expression. In his field of painting, Pollock was at the forefront of New York Abstract Expressionism, the historic movement that both celebrated and then surpassed the earlier advances of European and American Modernism. The Blue Unconscious embodies Pollock’s search for an organic integration of both imagery with abstraction as well as emotive impulse with technique. By 1946, Pollock had mastered the muscular and invigorating painterliness inherent to his work, while imagery, vibrant color and energetic physicality press the boundaries of this monumental 8 x 5 ½ foot canvas. With the dazzling confidence and bravura of works such as The Blue Unconscious, Pollock became the first American to gain public, media and critical recognition as a modern master on par with the Europeans, skyrocketing to a position of fame that grew to mythic proportions throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s. The famous Life magazine article in August 1949, with the title “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” heralded not only Pollock’s personal acclaim as an artist, but his role as the standard bearer for American art on the international stage. Although Pollock was not alone in his desire to fuse the challenges of Modernist art into an individual artistic identity, none other than his fellow giant, Willem de Kooning, acknowledged Pollock’s role when he stated, ``Pollock broke the ice.’’ The association of Pollock and Peggy Guggenheim was the engine behind this rise in prominence, and as such was essential to the history of contemporary art. Leaving Europe and its troubles, Guggenheim moved to New York where she would realize her dream of a museum for her growing collection of European modern art which she had shipped from France in 1941 and continued to augment on her arrival to New York. Guggenheim’s first thoughts – a revival of an idea she first proposed in London – were of a showcase for the European avant-garde that were the focus of her social life and collection. Many of these émigré artists continued to flock to her home as the unofficial salon of Surrealism in America, and her circle of advisers for her museum gallery – to be called Art of This Century –- were primarily European: her husband Max Ernst, his son Jimmy Ernst, André Breton and the avant-garde architect Frederick Kiesler. Once a suitable double loft space was found on West 57th Street, Kiesler designed – with Peggy’s full endorsement – a radical re-imaging of an art space, to “break down the physical and mental barriers which separate people from the art they live with.” (Jacqueline Bogard Weld, Peggy: the Wayward Guggenheim, New York, 1986, p. 285) Paintings were taken out of their frames and suspended out from walls on sawed-off baseball bats, wires and movable stands. The walls themselves provided no traditional vantage point as they bowed and curved. Kiesler’s system of pulsating lights would be abandoned as impractical, but his turquoise floors, multi-purpose furniture and “kinetic” wheel devices for displaying multiple works were the delight of the opening night crowd on October 20, 1942. Peggy had extravagantly announced her presence in the New York art world, declaring her gallery “a research laboratory for new ideas”, yet Alexander Calder was one of only two American artists represented in Guggenheim’s modernist collection. The art enthusiast Howard Putzel was the sole American in her inner circle, but that circle was changing rapidly as Ernst began an adulterous affair with artist Dorothea Tanning and Breton’s relationship with Peggy also soured. Soon James Johnson Sweeney, curator of the Museum of Modern Art, supplanted Breton, and he joined Putzel and the painter Matta in encouraging Guggenheim to turn her attention to American art and Jackson Pollock in particular. She held a Spring salon in 1943 for young artists to submit work to a jury of both Americans and Europeans, and Piet Mondrian’s comment on viewing Pollock’s Stenographic Figure - that “this is the most interesting work I’ve seen so far in America” - was the ultimate endorsement in Peggy’s eyes. Through the duration of her gallery and despite tensions in the relationship, Pollock would be her central focus and her main protégée. For his part, the relationship meant that Pollock could at long last make a modest living as a painter with a contract for a $150 monthly stipend advanced toward the sale of his paintings; an unprecedented arrangement for a young American artist. Guggenheim offered him a one-man show in November 1943, and the paintings hung in the so-called "Daylight Gallery" that faced the street and included Peggy's desk.  Thus, Pollock would be the first American artist to have a show at Art of This Century. By the time Peggy closed the gallery in Spring 1947, Pollock would be fully acknowledged as the leading American painter of the post-war period and The Blue Unconscious would take its place among the paintings in his highly regarded last show at the gallery in January 1947. The November 1943 exhibition was the first in-depth public showing of Pollock’s volcanic and instinctive talent. He painted with a raw power that confounded, dared and aroused viewers, most potently as he moved onto larger canvases over 50 inches in 1942. In that year, Pollock painted only three works on canvas and they were highlights of the 1943 exhibition. All three now hang in prestigious public collections:  The Moon Woman (Peggy Guggenheim Foundation, Venice), Male and Female (Philadelphia Museum of Art), and Stenographic Figure (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). James Johnson Sweeney wrote the text for the exhibition’s brochure and praised Pollock’s work as “lavish, explosive”, while he also lamented the cautious nature of many young painters, “who tend to be too careful of opinion. Too often the dish is allowed to chill in the serving. What we need is more young men who paint from inner impulsion without an ear to what the critic or spectator may feel… Among young painters, Jackson Pollock offers unusual promise in his exuberance, independence, and native sensibility. If he continues to exploit these qualities with the courage and confidence he has shown so far, he will fulfill that promise”. (Exh. Cat., New York, Art of this Century, First Exhibition: Jackson Pollock, Paintings and Drawings, November 9-27, 1943) Arguably, Pollock did fulfill his promise with the expansive Mural that was commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim, also in 1943, for the entry to her home, which she later gifted to the University of Iowa Museum of Art in 1951. Painted in a fifteen hour session, Pollock’s figurations stampede across the canvas, with curves and swirls from edge to edge, as it fills a span of nearly 8 x 20 feet. Hints of the drip technique and the vigorous edge-to-edge composition of the paint strokes bear tantalizing proof of the other masterworks to follow. Painted seven years prior to Willem de Kooning’s monumental 81 x 100 inch Excavation from 1950, Mural shares affinities with the fractured figurations of his fellow artist’s later masterpiece and Pollock’s paintings of 1946 that were exhibited in January 1947 alongside Mural were cited by critics as fulfilling the promise of his paintings of 1943. The Moon Woman and other subsequent paintings such as Pasiphaë of 1943 (Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) all give ample visual testimony to the critical influence of Surrealism and Cubism in Pollock’s development, as acknowledged by both the artist and critics alike. In a text written by Pollock for the February 1944 issue of Arts & Architecture, he referenced the European artists who had immigrated to New York during the previous decade: “They bring with them an understanding of the problem of modern painting. I am particularly impressed with their concept of the source of art being the unconscious. The idea interests me more than these specific painters, for the two artists I admire most, Picasso and Miró, are still abroad.”  (“Jackson Pollock”, Arts & Architecture [Los Angeles] 61, no. 2, p.14) In the 1930s and early 1940s, Pollock struggled heroically toward such an inner vision, combining the subconscious content of Surrealism with the formal structure of Analytic Cubism. Along with other American artists, Pollock sought to express the turmoil of modern times through symbols of the most eternal and universal nature. Surrealism’s emotive content and organic figuration were tools to liberate an artist’s psyche, and the title of The Blue Unconscious is a concise and elegiac confirmation of Pollock’s belief in the creative richness that could be sourced from an artist’s own nature. Primitive and tortured creatures abound in his psycho-analytical drawings of the 1930s as well as the early abstract canvases such as The Moon Woman and Male and Female (1942). Also, many of his paintings from 1942 to 1946 have a distinct mythological and ritualistic character as evidenced by titles from this period such as The She-Wolf (1943, The Museum of Modern Art, New York), The Guardians of the Secret (1943, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) and Totem Lesson II (1945, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra).  The male and female forms, often at the edges of the canvas like sentinels at the gates, were one of his most powerful motifs in the 1940s, but Pollock’s goal – achieved in the Sounds in the Grass series of 1946 –  was to “veil” his imagery in order to universalize and abstract his concept. Paintings of the early 1940s such as Mural and Pasiphaë of 1943, There were Seven in Eight (1945, The Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Troubled Queen (c. 1945, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) display the black calligraphic tracery, jagged edges, vivid color and agitated brushwork that would persist in the 1940s, but they are more densely composed. Pollock’s Surrealist images are presented in the shallow, tilted and unspecific space of the Cubist picture plane and filled to brimming with compacted energy.  In May 1938, Picasso’s monumental Guernica and its preparatory sketches were shown at the Valentine Gallery on 57th Street. Pollock repeatedly visited this show, often sketching, and his profound admiration for the Spanish master is evident throughout the 1940s and integrated most persuasively in the latter half of the decade.  Just as Picasso’s figures in his contemporaneous The Charnel House (1944-1945, The Museum of Modern Art, New York) writhe in sinuous rhythms while pressed to the picture plane, Pollock’s fragmented sentinels, eyes and limbs oscillate and pulsate within the geometric framework and the shallow Cubist space of The Blue Unconscious. The bravura technique and confident composition of this 1946 painting was a beacon toward Pollock’s imminent progression to the all-over drip technique, and both were occasioned by the liberating change of venue in Pollock’s life. By the time of Pollock’s second one-man show at Art of This Century in 1945, the critic Clement Greenberg had become a true champion of Pollock’s work, commenting that the recent exhibition “establishes him, in my opinion, as the strongest painter of his generation and perhaps the greatest to emerge since Miró.” (Clement Greenberg, “Art”, The Nation 160, April 7, 1945, no. 14, pp. 396-398)  Pollock, who had begun his relationship and creative partnership with the painter Lee Krasner in Winter 1941, must have been gratified by such favor, but the pressures and activity of the New York art world were wearing. So in October and November of 1945, Pollock and Krasner married and moved to Springs, East Hampton, Long Island. When he held his fourth and final one-man exhibition at Art of This Century, the show would include the monumental Mural of 1943 and the two groups of works painted in the first glorious year at Springs: the Accabonac Creek series named for the waterway that could be seen from Pollock’s Long Island property and the Sounds in the Grass series which includes The Blue Unconscious. Lee Krasner and Pollock’s friends all noted his affinity to the return to the countryside. The wide vista of the ocean and dunes reminded him of the expansive Western landscapes of his youth, and his wife commented on the pleasure he took in strolling along the shore and sitting with her on their porch for countless hours. As Ellen Landau observed, “eastern Long Island became an integral part of Jackson Pollock’s consciousness; specifically attracted to this horizontality and the concomitant feeling of open space, he extrapolated from these a new sense of freedom and potential.” (Ellen G. Landau, Jackson Pollock, New York, 1989, p. 161) The dealer Julien Levy recounted comments by Pollock that are immensely important in relation to the Sounds of the Grass series. “These words of his stay with me …’You can hear the life in the grass, hear it growing. Next thing there’s a dry spell…and the life is gone. Put your ear to it then and all you hear is the wind’.” (Ibid., p. 159) In the beginning, Pollock stopped working during the harsh winter of 1945-1946 but when warm weather returned, he set up a makeshift studio in their upstairs bedroom. The Accabonac Creek series was painted in these cramped quarters, yet one can sense the vibrant inspiration of nature in the exuberant color palette of works in this series such as The Water Bull and The Key.  There is a kindred spirit here of Wassily Kandinsky as both artists use color to express their interior experience; moreover color is largely independent of form and each hue is given equal value in the Fauvist tradition of the early Twentieth Century. Pollock was again painting in a large scale and The Key, measuring (59 x 84 inches) was mounted on a curtain strainer and painted while on the floor. By mid-summer, Pollock had relocated the barn on their property and repurposed it as a studio, thus moving out into the land and commencing the period of greatest inspiration and fame in his oeuvre. Guggenheim had announced that she was closing Art of This Century in Spring 1947 and returning to Europe.  Although Pollock had just exhibited there in April 1946, he prevailed upon her to give him one final show in the only open spot on her schedule – January 1947. He launched into a creative and productive frenzy in a desire to create a strong group of works to populate the exhibition and ensure the progress of his career. The Blue Unconscious and the other six paintings of the Sounds in the Grass series were the first paintings completed in the barn studio that would later witness the choreography of dripping paint of such works as Lavender Mist: Number 1, 1950. Beginning with The Blue Unconscious, this series is progressively less figurative than the Accabonac Creek paintings with richer paint handling and more all-over compositions until any imagery is completely “veiled” and Pollock’s signature style – his true voice as an artist – emerges. The Sounds in the Grass canvases are triumphant examples of Pollock’s complete melding of figuration and painterly abstraction, with early "all-over" compositions of swooping and colorful brushwork. His figures become less discernible in The Blue Unconscious, their shapes so abstracted as to be almost as mysterious as the symbols surrounding them. In the subsequent Sounds in the Grass paintings, imagery is even more fractured into densely composed expressive strokes than The Blue Unconscious but they retain the same sense of liberation, primal energy and audacity that link Pollock to the surroundings of water, marshland, and expansive sea and sky reflected in their titles. Croaking Moment, Eyes in the Heat, The Dancers and Earthworms are all evocative of nature or figuration but perhaps Something of the Past, Shimmering Substance and The Blue Unconscious are the most poetic and soulful. The thickly applied colors of The Blue Unconscious are scored with Pollock’s deep, agitated and bold strokes that so uniquely activate the surface of his paintings. The color palette of The Blue Unconscious is distinctive in the Sounds of Grass series and shares a kinship with The Water Bull and other Accabonac Creek works, yet it is even lighter and airier. In his review of the January 1947 show Clement Greenberg would comment on Pollock’s move away from darker palette choices toward “the higher scales, the alizarins, cream-whites, cerulean blues, pinks, and sharp greens.” (Clement Greenberg, “Art”, The Nation 164, no. 5, Feb. 1, 1947, pp. 137-39)  Ellen Landau and others have drawn strong parallels between Pollock and Matisse at this juncture: “rather more immediately brought to mind are the mixed technique of ‘broken touch’ pre-Fauve works of Matisse. Underlining the parallel is the fact that these, too, were a response to new surroundings; in the years 1905 and 1906 Matisse had left Paris for the south of France, whose light and color beguiled him, inspiring change in his work. ..Both artists applied bright pigments freely and sketchily in fluid areas that would probably make little or no coherent sense without the intermittent broken outlines that tie the composition together. Incorporation of the white of the canvas as a ‘color’ of equal value…causes these new works by Pollock to seem buoyant, expansive, and spacious again characteristics of the style of Matisse.” (Ibid., p. 163) The Blue Unconscious is the largest of the works in the Sounds in the Grass series, and in its monumentality, one can feel how physicality abounds in Pollock’s thickly applied and gestural brushwork. In the dexterity of movement from wrist to arm to body, the medium of painting had found its master, and Pollock painted with a sure confidence in the fluidity of the paint – always striving toward an orchestration of its quantity, density, speed and rhythm into a completely cohesive unity of composition and expressiveness.  When his canvases moved to the floor of his Long Island barn studio in late 1946 and 1947, the exuberance, daring and sheer painterly verve that coursed through paintings such as 1943’s Mural and 1946’s The Blue Unconscious gave birth to the landmark enamel drip paintings that followed. Signed and dated 46

  • 2013-05-13

Ph - 21

"I want the spectator to be reassured that something that he values within himself has been touched and found a kind of correspondence.” The artist cited in Dean Sobel and David Anfam, Clyfford Still: The Artist’s Museum, New York, 2012, p. 101 "...these surging open canvases bear witness to a new optimism, to an escalating power.’’ Katherine Kuh in Exh. Cat., Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Clyfford Still: Thirty-three Paintings in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1966, p. 11 Clyfford Still’s significant place at the forefront of the art history of the Twentieth Century is unquestioned, and his role in the birth of Abstract Expressionism and the New York School is freshly chronicled and celebrated by the 2012 opening of the magnificent Clyfford Still Museum in Denver. While scholarly dissertations have long focused on Still’s cataclysmic influence in both New York and California in the vital years of the 1940s and 1950s, the sheer breadth and depth of his entire output is fully on display in the eponymous museum. While Still purposely removed himself from the commercial gallery world in 1961, his creative journey continued full force in the quiet countryside of Maryland. Paintings such as PH-21 from 1962 demonstrate the artist’s intent was to more intimately commune with his artistic practice, and a new sense of exuberance, sweep and power in his canvases speaks of the confidence and liberation of the mature artist in his prime. PH-21 with its floating forms of color, jaggedly defined by Still’s masterful paint applications, amply testifies that Still may have left the stage but his creative spirit continued to speak. In his essay for the 1990 exhibition of Still’s work at the Mary Boone Gallery, Ben Heller eloquently and concisely summarized the essential qualities of Still’s work that allowed him to be among the first to create paintings free of depiction, narrative and symbolism. “Color, surface, edge, scale, shape, verticality, pressure, tension, relaxation, movement, grandeur – these are the painter’s tools. To speak of them as subjects for paintings is but a way to draw attention to Still’s ingenious and highly personal manipulations of these tools, to his fusion of technique, image and power, the means by which he acts upon our feelings, the essence of his mystery and greatness.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Mary Boone Gallery, Clyfford Still: Dark Hues/Close Values, 1990, n. p.)  PH-21 is quintessential Clyfford Still in its palette of blue, white, reds, yellow and black, and in its expressive brushwork, all combining to convey Still’s unique genius in creating compositions that exude a sense of the living spirit. From Still’s earliest explorations into Surrealist-tinged abstraction of the late 1930s/early 1940s to the landmark abstract creations of the late 1940s and ending with the majesty of the paintings of the 1960s and 1970s, each seminal stage in Still’s inspiring career is wrapped in a story of location and movement. Still’s innovative style developed during two decades of simultaneous association with New York City and the California Bay area at mid-century, as he alternated between the two coasts.  While Still’s first one-man museum show was at the Museum of Art in San Francisco in 1943, he would also show at the legendary Manhattan galleries of the period in the late 1940s, championed by his friends Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. Rothko had joined Peggy Guggenheim’s ground-breaking gallery, Art of This Century (1942-1947) in Fall 1943, just a short time after meeting Still in Berkeley. When Still began a year-long stay in New York in 1945, Rothko introduced the artist and dealer, and Still’s first one-man New York exhibition opened at Art of This Century in February 1946. Rothko wrote the introduction to the catalogue, extolling Still’s radical and revelatory work, and Still joined the group of avant-garde artists whose career was launched or furthered by Guggenheim, including Jackson Pollock.  Barnett Newman’s participation in the artistic program at Betty Parson’s Gallery was critical to Still’s transition to her gallery in 1947, when Guggenheim closed Art of This Century to return to Europe. It is fitting therefore that these two artists bear the closest affinity to Still’s own concepts and beliefs about art. Unlike Pollock, David Smith or Willem de Kooning, the pursuit of the sublime was a common goal for Newman, Still and Rothko. All three were passionately adamant about the environment in which their work should be viewed and stressed the value of experiencing their art in a plenitude of canvases that could co-relate with one another. The two fellow artists were therefore well placed to sense Still’s growing disaffection with the New York gallery world that encompassed salesmanship, public and critical response, as well as the commitment of fellow artists. Newman organized exhibitions and wrote texts for the Betty Parsons Gallery, and was overseeing Still’s 1950 exhibition there, prompting a letter from Rothko in Paris on April 6th of that year which reveals their awareness of Still’s sensitivity. “I realize this must be the day that you are working on Clyff’s canvases. And so I send my many thanks and my hopes that Clyff will get something he wants out of the show [April 7-May 6], or at least not be bruised too deeply.”  (Miguel López-Remiro, ed., Writings on Art: Mark Rothko, New Haven and London, 2006, p. 66)  Although Still had moved to New York City in 1951, he gradually withdrew from participation in commercial galleries around the time of his inclusion in Dorothy Miller’s influential 15 Americans show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1952. Still’s interactions with the New York art world – and even his fellow artists – became complicated and strained, as Still fought to maintain his purist vision of art as a faith, unalloyed by commercial concerns or outside critical analysis. Soon after his 1959 retrospective organized at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, in which the artist had selected the works for inclusion, Still departed for a summer teaching position in Colorado and subsequently moved with his wife Patricia to Westminster, Maryland in 1961. In December 1963, a letter from Still to the critic Kenneth Sawyer appeared in Artforum which expressed the artist’s reaction to a 1959 article by Sawyer entitled “The Importance of a Wall: Galleries.”  After a long letter that amounted to a diatribe against commercialism that indicted dealers and artists alike, Still ended with a summation that characterizes his move to the rolling hills of the Maryland countryside. “It has always been my hope to create a free place or area of life where an idea can transcend politics, ambition and commerce. It will perhaps always remain a hope.  But I must believe that somewhere there may be an exception…The truth is usually hard and sometimes bitter, but if man is to live, it must live. ’’ (Excerpted from Exh. Cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Clyfford Still, 1979, p. 54) The Stills settled on a twenty-two acre farm in Westminster, northwest of Baltimore, Maryland. The artist set up his studio in the spacious barn and was to paint there for the remainder of his life, even after the Stills moved to another home in the neighboring town of New Windsor. As Dean Sobel, director of the Clyfford Still Museum, has noted: “[Still’s] work underwent many significant changes during this period. .. .The paintings of the 1960s and 1970s are marked by a lighter palette and touch, and what could be described as an openness and economy of imagery. While Still began to exploit the qualities of bare canvas in the late 1940s, his use of emptiness and void as expressive devices reached its fullest potential in these late paintings….thereby implanting a sense of ethereality into his previously densely painted fields.” (Dean Sobel and David Anfam, Clyfford Still: The Artist’s Museum, New York, 2012, pp. 29-30)  A comparison between PH-23 (1944-1945), PH-945 (1946) and the present work, PH-21 (1962) illustrates this trajectory: the 1944-45 painting incorporated unpainted canvas yet Still’s vertical painterly forms remain unified, grounded and centralized in the center of the composition, while the bare canvas of PH-21 fully inhabits the composition, playing the same role as the painted color forms; all harmoniously relate spatially and chromatically with one another and equally extend beyond the outer boundaries of the painting. PH-945 from the following year of 1946 is a more indicative example of the “densely painted fields” of the artist’s great paintings of the late 1940s, yet here Still employed white paint rather than bare canvas to open up the composition. This practice was noted by Katherine Kuh in her essay for the catalogue of Still’s 1979-1980 show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art: “In [Still's]work white is no less important than black. Sometimes a canvas is painted white; or, in reverse, bare canvas is allowed to interact with painted areas. In neither case, whether covered with pigment or left partly exposed, does any work by Still depend on a conventional background. All elements are interrelated and share equal validity. Breaking accepted rules, the artist forces normally receding colors to advance and advancing colors to recede…..” (Exh. Cat.,  New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Clyfford Still, 1979-1980, p. 12) His palette and manipulation of color values was a crucial element of Still’s work; PH-21 consists of his favored colors of reds, black, blue, yellow and white, all expertly balanced in brilliant hues co-existing with the creamy void of the bare canvas. Through color and its application with a palette knife, Still embodied the “actors” of his drama through edge, surface, luminosity, texture and expression.  As Ben Heller wrote:  “I suggest that our primary response to Still is emotional,…We feel, react to, and are stirred by the maelstrom of forces Still assembled. …But of course the most immediate of all our responses is to color. Color is broad, flat; it fills and flows. It is mystical, intense, direct. Where line is descriptive, analytical, intellectual and rational, color, like music is sensory, the carrier of emotion, the key access to the source of our feelings and instincts….” (Exh. Cat., New York, Mary Boone Gallery, Ibid., n. p.) Katherine Kuh, a writer on art and the influential curator at the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1950s, had visited Still’s studio in Westminster and wrote intimately and movingly of the painter’s work of this period. Kuh contributed a forward to the catalogue for the 1966 Albright-Knox Art Gallery exhibition celebrating Clyfford Still’s 1964 gift of thirty-one paintings to the museum (ranging in date from 1937 to 1963). As Still had retreated to Maryland, the public sightings and awareness of his later work such as PH-21 came at careful intervals orchestrated by the artist, who emerged from time to time to collaborate with museums on an exhibition or negotiate a sale of more than 40 works to the Marlborough-Gerson Gallery for a selling exhibition in 1969. Kuh’s excitement at viewing the artist’s work of the early 1960s is palpable in her 1966 text: “To visit Still’s studio in Maryland and see his chronological progression is to recognize uncompromising growth…Here in comparative isolation, his work has noticeably changed. The recent paintings, vast in scale and totally liberated from any fixed focus, sweep upward with frank exuberance. Measured and disciplined as always, these surging open canvases bear witness to a new optimism, to an escalating power.’’ (Exh. Cat., Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Clyfford Still: Thirty-three Paintings in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1966, p. 11) Visually, PH-21 from 1962 embodies Kuh’s words with the brilliance of palette, balance of hues and forms, and spirit of life that it so strongly conveys to the viewer. Here, we encounter the Still who broke all rules and boldly created his own type of art, unique even in the company of other revolutionary stylists such as Pollock, Rothko and Newman. Yet, the painter of PH-21 also displays confidence and wisdom earned over the years, particularly in his relocation to Maryland. More than a decade later, Kuh also wrote the catalogue essay for the 1979-1980 exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York which proved to be the final retrospective in the artist’s lifetime and resulted in the donation of ten paintings to the museum by Mrs. Patricia Still in 1986.  In a fittingly elegiac tone, Kuh wrote “Repeatedly one returns to [Still’s] late works which are freer, surer, more open and electrifying than anything this artist has done before. Like certain painters of the past – I think immediately of Titian, Turner, Degas, Monet and Cézanne – he becomes increasingly daring as he grows older. Now nothing is static; everything flows or floats in a majestic interplay.” (Exh. Cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ibid., p. 12) Such tributes can be applied to Still’s fellow artists of the 1940s-1950s who were also extending their significant oeuvres into the 1960s and beyond. While their days of friendship were past, an aesthetic kinship can be seen in viewing Barnett Newman’s masterpieces, such as White Fire II from 1960 and The Stations of the Cross works from 1958-1966, created in the final decade before his death in 1970.  Like Still, de Kooning had a creative rebirth in his move to Easthampton in the 1960s and his paintings of the 1970s, such as Untitled III from 1975, are visual statements on his revitalized love for the properties of paint and the optical joys of color and light. For Still, of course, any sense of fulfillment, pride or confidence on the part of the artist toward his own work was only part of his goal and vision as an artist. Clyfford Still’s aesthetic creed saw art as crucial to man’s ability to live in the modern world, and each viewer’s individual creative communion with paintings such as PH-21 was as essential to his art as the painter’s act of creation. Still’s credo, as it applied to the viewer and to his conception of the role of the artist, is perhaps best summed up in his own words, “I want the spectator to be reassured that something that he values within himself has been touched and found a kind of correspondence. That being alive, having the courage, not just to be different but to go your own way, accepting responsibility for what you do best, has value, is worth the labor.” (Excerpted in Dean Sobel and David Anfam, Ibid., p. 101) Signed and dated Clyfford 1962; signed Clyfford, numbered PH-21, dated 1962 twice and inscribed Westminster on the reverse

  • 2013-05-13

The Last Supper

Signed in Chinese and Pinyin and dated 2001, framed The Last Supper The Annunciation of a New Age “All along I wanted to find an artistic voice that belonged solely to me, without being affected by any great masters.” Zeng Fanzhi is an artist whose renown is unparalleled in the world of Chinese contemporary art. Beginning with an artistic career in 1991 with Western mediums, Zeng Fanzhi’s journey has stretched past two decades; transitioning from his earlier role as a young novice studying Western Expressionism, to culminating in quintessentially Chinese renderings. He has exhibited extensively abroad, including at a solo exhibition at London’s Gagosian Gallery at the end of last year, and is looking forward to a large-scale retrospective show at Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris at the end of this year, all of which are indications to his status as an artist whose heritage, while expressed in Western mediums, comes through in highlighting an individual Chinese flare. Zeng’s celebrated Mask series, which began in 1994, explored the plight of the modern city-dweller; serving as a valid portrayal of a decade’s worth of economic growth, exploring the quandaries and anxieties of the Chinese adapting to such urbanisation at the time. Stylistically, these works exude an air of Western Expressionism, and are sprinkled with the essences of British artists Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud; yet they are undeniably based on Zeng’s own personal memories, steeped in distinct Chinese symbols, a unique blend which has paved the way in allowing the Mask series to become one of the artist’s most recognisable and popular works. Within this series is the 2001 piece, The Last Supper, the largest work within the Mask series itself. Through deconstructing Leonardo's masterpiece, the work ultimately presents to us the existential condition of the Chinese people during the period when China entered the world market, and the absurdity within the destruction and rebuilding of a society. Measuring four metres long by two metres and twenty centimetres high, the work is stretched onto one single, vast canvas, and is a product of the artist’s most mature period; a pinnacle in the history of Chinese  contemporary art. The original work is also amongst one of the most important pieces in Baron and Baroness Guy and Myriam Ullens de Schooten’s private collection. The present The Last Supper is derived from its Italian Renaissance counterpart, the masterpiece crafted by the illustrious Leonardo da Vinci. The Last Supper by Leonardo, hailed as one of the most important artists of the Renaissance, is considered the inception of the entire Renaissance period. Leonardo, who is an artist deeply revered by Zeng himself, was also the first artist he was ever truly fond of. Many artists have sought inspiration from this piece so steeped in mystery; giving way to countless reproductions and renditions. The original The Last Supper is located on the north wall of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie’s refectory in Milan, and measures nearly nine metres in length. It depicts the narrative of Christ’s last supper with his twelve disciples, before his arrest by Roman soldiers. The piece captures the moment Jesus predicts his traitor, and encapsulates the shock on his apostles’ faces upon hearing this; while we glimpse Judas’ frenzy in great contrast to the benevolent Christ. Created in 2001, Zeng Fanzhi’s The Last Supper substitutes its prototype’s religious figures with mask-wearing Young Pioneers, while they dine on watermelons and don red scarves. The artist especially invited a group of youths to serve as models for the piece. After taking an individual shot of every posture, he would further render red scarves and service stripes above the compositional framework. On the other hand, the fierce calligraphic brushwork behind was inspired by famous scriptures often seen inside classrooms. The reinterpretation of a traditional religious setting into a classroom at once points to not only the dynamic of space in the work but also the overall notion of absurdity. The present piece is imbued with metaphors scrutinising Chinese economic growth; the red scarves representing Communist ideals and a symbol of “Collectivism”, while a golden-tie-wearing “Judas” is nestled in this cluster. To Zeng, this signified a departure from Communist ideals, commenting, “The golden tie represents money and Western capitalism, and China only started wearing these ties after the mid-1980s.” In this way, to wear a tie thus unwittingly symbolised a transformation in Chinese society. This is an intricate parallel to the 1990s, when China was in the midst of a fierce transformation period where enterprises moved away from collective ideals and turned towards the mode of individual entrepreneurship. Through this process, some immediately stood out among others with their skills and abilities, acquired greater wealth, and finally left behind the so-called collective lifestyle. For the artist, these people are the ones who have disrupted the already established direction of the society. Through using the image of Jesus, the artist in this work references to the leader of China when faced with the impact of an eventual “betrayal” of his people, predicting, “One of us here will go onto the path of capitalism.” This person is precisely the figure with the golden yellow tie. The acute red hues of the watermelon not only represent the Chinese nation, but also, similar to the Meat and Hospital series, refers to motifs of violence and desire. According to the drawing, the artist originally wanted to portray the setting of the work in the Great Hall of the People, where emblems of the Chinese Communist Party adorned the ceiling of the hall with several large red flags behind the figures. In the end, the artist decided to replace the scene with the classroom setting, which exceptionally expresses a much more profound approach in exploring the meaning of times. Zeng’s The Last Supper, with its air of splendour, has captured the societal and economic changes in China in the 90s, while at the same time documenting the ways in which the Chinese society faces the eventual arrival of capitalism, making it an immensely representative work within the realm of Chinese contemporary art. The Last Supper showcases an extremely mature and refined technique, as Zeng situates Western Expressionism within a heavily Chinese realm. The artist reveals, “All along I wanted to find an artistic voice that belonged solely to me, without being affected by any great masters.” Fittingly, Zeng returned to a traditional Chinese culture at the end of the 1990s, paying especial attention to Song dynasty paintings. During a period of exploration that would span over a decade, Zeng oscillated between Abstract paintings and Figurative renderings, before eventually arriving at an amalgamation of East and West, thus forging his own artistic path, emanating wave upon wave of the miao wu characteristic of Chinese shanshui works. All of which are great feats indeed, considering how this artistic expedition began in a much simpler time and place, with a Wuhan teenager’s sole desire to one day create. Youth, Expression, Desire Looking back towards the Hospital and Meat series from Zeng Fanzhi’s early Wuhan period, we are still undeniably captivated by the compelling images of the works. Born in 1964 in Wuhan, Hubei, Zeng had early on developed a very strong sense of individuality. In his twenties, the young artist had attracted critical attention with his graduation thesis project. Heavily influenced by Western Expressionism, the use of exaggerated figural proportions and striking visual contrasts by the artist effectively dramatised the suppressed emotions and anxieties of the Chinese people under the political pressures of the 1990s. Zeng’s early career is a true testament to reflect the artist’s insistence on creating his own artistic style under and against the collective norm. His failure to earn the red scarf as a Young Pioneer and isolation in school, combined with his introspective character, had fostered a subconscious resistance against social organisations on a whole. Zeng instead insisted on his own individual identity and distanced himself from others in his age group, especially after high school. Memory inspired him artistically, and his experience with the Young Pioneers has continued to affect his work. As the critic Karen Smith observed, “The Hospital and Meat series are naked expressions of his anxieties, emotional injuries, and sense of failure. His painting style originates from his internal turmoil.” After high school, Zeng Fanzhi had no interest in continuing a conventional education. Rather, he learned to draw and sketch at the local Youth Culture Palace at night. He visited Beijing several times to see exhibitions by Robert Rauschenberg, Zao Wou-ki and other masters, which inspired the young Zeng Fanzhi to apply to art school later. However when he finally gained admission to the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts, he was dissatisfied with its strict requirements and conservative pedagogical approach. “Before I went to art school, I would explore all possible creative means to achieve the effects I wanted, but in school new techniques were censured.” The institute largely followed the tenets of Soviet Socialist Realism, whose formulaic nature and lack of emotional investment were disparate from Zeng Fanzhi’s sensibilities. He soon rejected its instruction and pursued his own path. Zeng had always been most interested in Western modern art. German Expressionism, like Max Beckmann’s work (Fig. 4), especially inspired him. “I was interested in expressing an individual’s attitude and thoughts, and tried to do so in unmediated responses. My goal was to convey the individual’s expressions, emotions, thoughts, and my own feelings about him or her. I could capture these things and represent them in painting in a few hours, but not within the confinements of the classroom.” The pursuit of personal emotional expression was a necessary component of the artist’s search for artistic individuality. Zeng Fanzhi chose eyes—the windows to the soul—to express his subjects’ emotions and to emblematise his personal pictorial idiom. The haunting eyes in his later Mask series can already be seen in his few early works, such as the highly expressionistic Dusk Number One from 1990. Here a man is prostrate in the middle of the composition, with closed eyes and a painful expression, while another man in a mask stands with an umbrella on the right. The second man’s disproportionately large eyes are staring spiritedly at the viewer, prefiguring Zeng’s later Mask series. What truly distinguished Zeng Fanzhi as an artist was his triptych Hospital series of the early 1990s, the most important works in his early career. He exhibited the first triptych in his graduation exhibition at the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts. The work caught the eye of the critic Li Xianting, who invited him to participate in the then upcoming “China’s New Art Post-1989” exhibition. The second triptych was exhibited at the 1992 Guangzhou Biennial to well acclaim by national critics. Hospital Triptych No. 1 (Fig. 1) is composed of three hospital scenes. The left panel depicts a waiting room, with patients standing on the left and a row of patients seated on the right, with their gazes revealing their anxiety. The central panel shows an operating room where masked doctors holding knives are gazing intently at a patient and about to operate on him. It is unclear whether the patient, lying immobile on his back, will be saved or slaughtered. The rightmost panel depicts the interior of a hospital ward, with patients sleeping on two rows of iron-framed beds. A naked patient is seemingly convulsing in pain, providing a stark contrast with the smiling doctor in the foreground. These scenes are based on the Wuhan No. 11 Hospital near Zeng Fanzhi’s home. He was inspired by the hospital’s atmosphere and took many photographs there. He saw in the patients’ fragility and suffering the general existential conditions of the modern Chinese. “Every day I saw patients standing in line waiting to be seen. Every day I saw emergencies and desperate treatments. Suddenly I thought: here is the feeling I want to paint.” By depicting suffering of the flesh and soul, Zeng was able to paint in a fully expressionistic manner and release all his suppressed emotions. In Hospital Triptych No.1 Zeng has graduated from simple imitation of expressionism to developing his own unique style. “At last, when I painted the hands and heads in Hospital, I found the appropriate feeling. In the last panel I moved the brush in a reverse direction, and achieved the feeling I wanted.” Using the triptych format common in Western religious art, he sought to create a sense of dramatic tragedy and meditate on human suffering, sin, and absolution. Hospital Triptych No.1 opened new expressive possibilities for Zeng Fanzhi. In his subsequent Meat series, he took meat stalls as his subjects—metaphors like the hospital scenes. In Meat (Fig. 2), a representative work of this series, Zeng paints a bare-chested man standing in front of many pig carcasses in similar colours and technique, thus suggesting a connection or even conflation between the two. If human bodies are to be bought and sold like pork in China, what about souls? The Meat series also influenced Zeng’s subsequent development. Whereas Hospital Triptych No.1 is painted primarily in brown tones, Hospital Triptych No.2, painted in 1992 and exhibited at the Guangzhou Biennale of the same year, has a new blood-red palette. Hospital Triptych No.2 has the same format and dimensions as the first work, but is technically more sophisticated. The three panels are all compositions of healthcare workers and patients. Inspired by Michelangelo’s Pieta, the central panel poses a female nurse and a patient as the Virgin and Christ, further heightening the solemnity and piety inherent in the triptych format. An eloquent testament to the existential struggles between suffering and salvation, this important early work won an award of excellence at the Guangzhou Biennale, which gave the artist important encouragement. The Hospital and Meat series together constitute two major creative endeavours by Zeng Fanzhi in his early career and testify to his profound explorations of the human condition. It is in the next year, when Zeng Fanzhi moved from Wuhan to Beijing, that ultimately inspired the creation of the Masks series, earning the artist worldwide renown. Era of Masquerade The fateful move to Beijing was inevitable; it was in this flourishing art centre where Zeng Fanzhi believed his art would gain recognition from a wider audience. Tracing the hidden psychological distress of the Chinese population in the 1990s when China underwent series of rapid economic and social advancement, unbeknownst to Zeng at the time, Mask series would ultimately become the most significant body of works ever created in the history of contemporary Chinese art. The portraits of ominous masked figures not only unravel the pervasive sense of doubt and uncertainty underlying the seemingly celebratory moment in China’s history, but also document Zeng Fanzhi’s own inner struggle in understanding the convoluted modern world. Unlike artists of his time who rely on the mere power of formulaic symbols, the artist’s relentless pursuit of excelling his own artistic style has contributed to the dramatic aesthetics shift in the series, breaking away from the predominantly Expressionist features in his Meat and Hospital series. It is also through the Mask series that the artist truly heightened his own stylistic framework of the portraiture form, gaining recognition from scholars and critics across the international art front. The fast changing living condition and new social environment in the metropolis, especially the false dynamic between city dwellers, immediately daunted upon the artist at first sight. “Friends whom I can share feelings with were terribly few. Our interactions seemed too much a mere deed of socialising.” Zeng instead began to search for a thematic language that could appropriately express the feelings of isolation, confusion, and upset. What came through were series of portraits of stoic masked figures. “With masks,” Zeng explained, “people keep a certain distance from each other, closing the path of really knowing another. When everybody is hiding their true selves and desires, what they show to us is in fact nothing but a mask.” In the early works from 1994, the forceful Expressionistic brushwork from the Hospital series remained in the rendering of the isolated masked figures. However, as if attempting to disguise this layer of turmoil beneath, the artist would smoothen the surface of the paint with the palette knife, hiding away any lingering emotional traces. The number of figures on the canvas was limited to merely one or two. While they appear to go about their everyday lives, with some even showing affectionate gestures to each other, the undeniable presence of the mask so tightly clasped onto their faces boldly defies and shatters any notion of truth and sincerity. Furthermore, the huge protruding hands, hollowed eyes, and bloody skin tone are clear signs of betrayal to the almost perfect persona donned by these figures. In a way, the hollowness of the enlarged eyes strangely captures the awkward and expressionless ethos in other Western portraiture works such as Lucian Freud’s Portrait of John Minton (Fig. 16), in which a close up shot of Freud’s friend and painter John Minton is depicted. The prominent facial structure showcased through the shadows and lines in Freud’s work are suggestively re-interpreted in the scrawny hands of the figures in Zeng’s works. The expressive brushwork also resembles the powerful contours found in Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne (1966) by Francis Bacon. However, within this parallel, the heavy societal implications through the process within Zeng Fanzhi’s work have arguably far transcended the legacy set by the two visionary painters. “The scraper was able to remove the exciting strokes, entirely, and leave the calmness, hiding the excitement inside. I didn’t change the hand because I believe there are things in the world that can’t be really changed.” The Mask series is in essence a portrait of irony and paradox that exist within the mind and soul of every city inhabitant. The aesthetics transition is also a timely witness to the rapid modernisation of the Chinese society. When examined closely, the masks in the very early works are identical lifeless masquerades similar to cold crafted commodity. In Mask Series No. 1 (Fig. 3) from 1994, a man in the painting is seen holding onto a brown animal mask. The mask is clearly rendered as a separate entity from the figure, suggesting the incongruent notions of ennui and mischievousness in modern society. The alienated features of the mask also echo the primitive appearance of the African mask in Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (Fig. 9) from 1907. While Picasso’s piece explored the notion of Primitivism that was considered outside of the Eurocentric hemisphere, the peculiarity of the animal mask here instead questions the ideal of the norm within society. “No one appears in society without a mask. Or is this perhaps just the awkwardness of modern people?” Throughout the series, these stoic masks would take on and embody various expressions from smiling to screaming, fitting seamlessly with the facial contours of hidden figure behind. From the mid to late 1990s, the outlines and costumes of the figures have become more refined in technique. The accompanying backdrops also became more eclectic, often rendered in bright hues such as pink, yellow, and blue, or into elaborate settings. Such a prime example can be seen in Mask Series No. 6 (1995) (Fig. 5), an especially sentimental piece to feature a lone masked boy standing amidst a flower garden. Behind him we witness a plane flying across the vast blue sky, leaving behind a stream of white diagonal smoke. The stylistic vibe of the flowers and the plane, symbols of prosperity and technological advance respectively, have departed into delicate shades and lines, creating an inherent detachment between the boy and his surroundings. Together with the drop of the two tears, this would serve as a direct antithesis to the red scarf and arm band adorned on the boy and the nationalistic ideal of the country. In the beginning of the millennium period, the composition and aesthetics subtly and gradually gravitate towards an increasingly abstract pictorial interest. The mature and magnificent work The Last Supper is certainly the epitome of this period’s creation. As can be seen in Mask Series (2001) (Fig. 8), where a lone masked figure is standing atop a grand landscape in a meticulously rendered black outfit. The extreme attention to details is shown through the reflection of the brimming background on the coat. At the same time, the skyline is no longer in one tone, but rather swims between shades of purple, black, and white, softly alluding to the buoyant hues within Mark Rothko’s paintings as exemplified in Blue and Grey from 1962 (Fig. 12). While Rothko stresses on the sense of the unknown and intimacy between human and nature, Zeng utilised this as a departure point in questioning the ephemeral virtue of human survival. At the same time, the composition and brushwork from the Mask series in this period would slowly move towards the abstract realm. This fluidity in the painterly surface as seen from Mask series (2001) has moved away from the earliest body of works, and as we will see later, contributing heavily to the increasingly abstract landscape works in the post-Mask series period. The ten year long journey in the Mask series has documented an important stage within Zeng Fanzhi’s career. From the initial struggle in understanding the meaning of individuality in the modern world, to breaking away from the barrier of self-doubt and misunderstanding, each work in the series is a piece to the puzzle that together form the complete facet of both the artist’s mental and artistic development. As Li Xianting noted on his works from the later period, “Zeng Fanzhi’s figures have learned to relax.” Boundless Landscapes At the turn of the millennium, Zeng’s canvases swelled to incorporate vast landscapes. His exhibitions would also look beyond the boundaries of China, starting with a Parisian exhibition in 2002 at the Pierre Cardin Centre. In transitioning into what would eventually become known as his Landscape works, Zeng consolidated his by-then well-known Expressionist inclinations with new, indiscriminately Chinese undertones. These works combine many elements of classical Chinese works, such as landscape drawings (shanshui hua) and the tradition of scroll paintings (shoujuan hua).  And yet, while looking into the past, the artist also tirelessly developed and perfected his own techniques, including the “wet-on-wet” method. Most notably, this period is characterised by Zeng’s complete trust in his own intuition and skill, as seen in stunning pieces of work that feature instances of miao wu (“marvellous revelation”) and luan bi; as stroke upon stroke is yet another reminder of the artist’s craft. In the early 2000s, Zeng produced a series of portraits that depicted figures covered in marks. Beginning with the We series, one sees the artist leaving behind his masks in favour of such circular loops. The figures in Zeng’s pieces were now veiled by loops and scours. This shift represented a vital transitional stage that looked both backward to and forward from his Mask pieces. In an attempt to grow apart from this identity of being merely the “Mask Artist”, Zeng went through a vital yet short transitional period of experimentation, first identifiable by faces that were covered in dizzying loops. This short series, which spanned a period of only two years, between 2002 to 2004, included works such as I from 2004 (Fig. 10), where a barely distinguishable face stares out from the canvas. In such works, Zeng left a minimal amount of features, as the spiral strokes obliterated all remnants of clear features. By using this technique, Zeng systematically erased any trace of individuality. This intermediate period was also filled with the experimentation of Zeng’s later “wet-on-wet” technique. In pieces such as The Composition of Fan No. 2 from 2002 (Fig. 14), the artist would use his palette knife to drag wet paint into the form of a fan, while vague outlines of Chinese calligraphy is semi-concealed in the background of this object. This is a heavy evocation of Zeng’s later preoccupation with Chinese culture, which he would begin to incorporate into canvases in the form of backgrounds of calligraphy. For instance, these calligraphic jottings peek through in the 2000 A Series No. 1 (Fig. 13), where included amongst red mountains are wisps of Chinese characters. Such calligraphy is remnants of Zeng’s childhood memories, where he grew up in classrooms adorned with political slogans. This time period also saw the emergence of works such as Zeng’s Great Men series that relays  characters in an abstract manner, as if alluding to the people rather than depicting them outright. While still working with the smearing and scraping techniques from his older works, the artist developed the aforementioned “wet-on-wet” technique in conjunction to this, which involves dragging paint, while still wet, to form more strokes. This method also involved layering paint upon paint, creating heavily tactile works that boasted both weight and depth. Just as this internal shift was taking place, Zeng suffered an injury to his right hand in 2002, which prompted the artist to begin experimenting with his opposite hand. Eventually this would result in the artist’s ambidextrous abilities, where two paint brushes in either hand would be used to paint simultaneously on canvases. Strangely and also rather fittingly, Zeng also developed a technique of painting with two brushes in one hand. While the former was governed by habit, training and control, the latter was left to intuition and chance. This method, also known as Zeng’s luanbi technique was poised between the conscious and subconscious; as the artist’s pieces took on a freer, more unbridled feeling. The real pinnacle of the artist’s expansion however was the years 2003 to 2004, when Zeng’s many experimentations so far would give way to a grounded technique; where abstract lines transitioned into order and control. According to art critic Lü Peng, it was truly during this time that the artist decided to look inwards, towards traditional Chinese shanshui hua. Shanshui hua, which is literally “mountain and water paintings”, is a quintessentially Chinese form of landscape painting. Executed in ink and water, traditional landscape paintings were symbolic of man’s connection to nature as well as the cosmos at large. As can first be seen from his Sky series, various individuals—from children to important figures such as Mao—would find themselves against blushing skies of pinks and reds, which would later evolve into cobalt blues and speckled greys. As the artist reveals, “The inspiration (for the Sky series) came from my childhood; merely looking up at it would ignite in me a wondrous imagination. The skies would stay by our sides as we walked down the roads, and until now, I can still hear the sounds it made; still smell its scent.” Zeng’s childhood thus finds echoes of itself in such works. Directly following this time, between the years of 2004 and 2008, Zeng entered the most mature movement of his artistic direction with the development of guohua, which is the contemporary name given to the traditional style of Chinese painting, literally meaning “national painting” or “country painting” in order to emphasise its opposition to Western works. The 2012-2013 “Zeng Fanzhi” show at the Gagosian in London further established Zeng’s alignment with traditional Chinese works. One can find aspects in the artist’s works, from the backgrounds of the paintings, the usage of shui mo and light-handed flicks of gongbi, seen in the concentrated clusters of strokes on his characters’ faces. Zeng was also especially intrigued by the use of lines in Tang Dynasty works, which were filled with emotion and texture. This use of contours predates its Western equivalents, and is particularly evocative of an Eastern spirit that Zeng was keen to express in his own works. One such set of examples can be seen in Zeng’s delicate interpretations of Western great masters. Starting with literally drawing his heroes, such as Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, and in so doing, appropriating renowned masters into his works, Zeng is aligning himself with an art history that he has irrefutably become part of. The care with which the artist reproduces renowned works can be seen in Zeng’s wispy furs of Albrecht Dürer’s Field Rabbit, or even the feathery beard of Head Study of an Old Man (Fig. 18), or perhaps yet, the veiny folds of Praying Hands, all of which were reproduced just last year by Zeng. Most peculiarly however, in spite of the oil medium that these great Western works are produced with, one senses the influence of not Expressionism or Abstract paintings, but rather, of guohua. By way of conclusion, one turns to the sense of tranquillity that now populates Zeng’s works. Drawn with a miao wu influence, Zeng’s works are freer, less trapped, and in spite of the seemingly desolate landscapes that inhabit his works, there is an undeniable sense of hope, glimmering beyond the pines and branches that veil his pieces. Zeng’s renown has not ceased growing, much like how his reputation has not diminished in the least since his Mask series, as can perhaps be seen from his upcoming exhibition in October of this year, at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, one of the most famous exhibition locations in the world. His works, which exhibit a shift from desolation to hope is indicative of a new movement for the artist; a new venture into newer, calmer lands where heaviness gives way to lightness, where a union of the two worlds that are central to Zeng’s art—East and West—is forged.

  • HKGSonderverwaltungszone Hongkong
  • 2013-10-05

The Archduke Joseph Diamond

THE ARCHDUKE JOSEPH DIAMOND The unmounted cushion-shaped diamond weighing approximately 76.02 carats, in purple leather fitted box Accompanied by report no. 5151001770 dated 14 September 2012 from the GIA Gemological Institute of America stating that the diamond is D colour, Internally Flawless clarity; a letter indicating that the diamond is Type IIa; a GIA monograph and a letter dated 1 October 2012 stating that 'to date the Archduke Joseph Diamond is the largest D-color, Internally Flawless diamond we have graded from the historic Golconda region'. Letter dated 12 June 2007 from the GIA Gemological Institute of America stating that 'upon examination, prior to and after re-cutting, we can confirm that the 76.02 carat diamond was cut from the diamond known as the 'Archduke Joseph Diamond'' Report no. 12090150 dated 26 September 2012 from the Gübelin GemLab stating that the diamond is D colour, Internally Flawless clarity, and a Note indicating that the diamond is Type IIa; also with an Appendix stating that the diamond is 'blessed with a purity of colour and high degree of transparency, which are particular to the world's finest natural type IIa diamond (the purest type in terms of chemistry). Diamonds of this type and size, displaying such a superior quality as well as an antique cutting style, are extremely rare and will unequivocally evoke references to the historic term of 'Golconda''

  • CHESchweiz
  • 2012-11-13

Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection

Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection By Aleksandra Shatskikh At the famous 0.10: Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings in Petrograd in December 1915, Kazimir Malevich exhibited 39 paintings, marking the emergence of innovative Russian painting into the world of international avant-garde art. Malevich created a new terminological definition for his canvases, the suprematism of painting, which was soon shortened to one word: Suprematism. In Malevichs opinion, these suprematist works showed the absolute power and domination, or the supremacy, of color in painting. Their subjects were devoid of any resemblance to objects or phenomena that were present in the real world.  Indeed, another definition favored by Malevich was , or subject-less art, which is normally translated into English as abstract art.  The vehicles of color in Malevichs extraordinary paintings were basic geometric shapes: squares, trapezoids, rectangles, and stripes. The intensity of their coloration testified to the power of the energetic force of the particular color. Malevich painted his constructions of colored shapes on a white background: for him, the color white marked the infinite whiteness of the universe, which he termed the white cosmic abyss. Malevich created his first abstract composition at the end of May 1915. The creation of his Black Square on June 8th 1915 (Julian calendar, June 21st in Gregorian calendar) crystallized the burgeoning prospect of an unprecedented breakthrough in art. By this time, Malevich, who lived in Moscow, had established strong business contacts with the young Ivan Puni (1892-1956), a wealthy St Petersburger who enthusiastically financed the activities of left-wing painters. In March 1915, the Tramway V: First Futuristic Exhibition of Paintings, sponsored by Puni and curated by Malevich, took place in Petrograd. The exhibition caused a scandal in society, which was exactly what the radicals were trying to achieve. The next exhibition curated by Malevich and sponsored by Puni was scheduled for the end of 1915. Having ventured into pure abstraction, Malevich instantly realized the scale of the discovery he had made. Nothing in Europe could match the radicalism of his new paintings. The dream of Russian artists to surpass the innovation of their European counterparts had become a reality. Malevich was aware that the potential of this new artistic system should be presented and established not in two or three works, but in a vast group of paintings. For nearly six months, from June to early December 1915, Malevich created Suprematist paintings for the upcoming exhibition. It is interesting to note that the first compositions of geometric elements that emerged before Black Square were complex, multi-component constructions. Malevichs innovative drawings, from which he frequently planned and developed the subjects of his future paintings, testify to this. Having chosen a particular subject for translation into the medium of painting, Malevich thought out the dimensions of the future work and, having put dimensions in vershki in the margins (the old Russian form of measurement, 1 vershok = 4.445 cm), ordered the stretcher and canvas. In Malevichs collection there is a drawing which is connected to a picture of a larger size. In the margins the artist put the following dimensions: 18 by 30 vershki (80 by 134 cm). The dimensions of this drawing reveal a horizontal orientation and thus attest to the early time of its creation at the end of May or beginning of June 1915. Malevich would soon turn away from such a horizontal emphasis in his works: for Malevich the horizon was a symbol of gravitys enslavement of creativity which prevented the weightless floating of objects in space. The painting based on the preparatory drawing has a vertical orientation, and is clearly visible in the photo from Malevichs first solo exhibition in Moscow in 1919-1920. After being taken to an exhibition in Berlin in 1927, the work remained in the West, and, like all of Malevichs large canvases, has not survived. Besides crystallizing the development of pure non-objectivity, Black Square marked another powerful breakthrough for Malevich. As is well known, the simple quadrangular figure was superimposed on top of a complex color arrangement, covering it with its form. It was as if Black Square rid suprematism of verbosity, revealing within it those qualities which, over the course of many decades, would become the fundamental characteristics of an influential, global artistic trend: minimalism. The Russian avant-garde forged this revolutionary path independently in 1915, and from complex, multi-component compositions, strict, minimalist canvases emerged. They depict either a single mono-figure, such as a square, circle, elongated rectangle, or cruciform planes, or a construction made out of two or three elements. For the 0.10 exhibition, Malevich created a number of minimalist canvases using visual motifs singled out from complex, multi-component compositions. From the preparatory drawing and photograph of the aforementioned, unpreserved work, it is clear that some of its visual elements were given their own, individual paintings (the circle, rectangle, the rectangle with the triangle cut into it, the two cruciform, intersecting planes etc). The subject of Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection (the name is not Malevichs) was also based on one of the themes of both the preparatory drawing and the lost canvas: the trapezoid with the two longitudinal stripes across the bottom. Suprematism has been and is still inevitably compared to neoplasticism, a movement founded by Piet Mondrian a year later in 1916. Malevich himself reflected on their similarities, for example, their use of geometric elements, their clarity of construction, and sonority of color, as well as their fundamental differences. The Russian avant-garde stressed that neoplasticism was a static visual system based on an ancient post-and-beam system of horizontal and vertical divisions, whereas suprematism was concerned with the relentless movement and great dynamics which dominated the universe. The representation of this intense dynamism was Malevichs ultimate objective. He developed the entire system of suprematism from the dynamic transformations of the Black Square. As is well known, Malevich subsequently noted that the conscious rotation of the black square around a central point would ultimately produce the shape of a circle, the second primary form of Suprematism. The third fundamental form was the cruciform planes. Under the influence of force, the Black Square seemed to divide in half along its longitudinal axis. When one of the newly formed planes moved 90° in relation to the other, it formed the figure of the cruciform planes (later "Black Cross" for short). Analyzing his discoveries, Malevich developed this theory later, but the problem of the dynamics and the dynamic transformations of geometric elements was at the center of his attention from the very beginning of the emergence of suprematism. Correct rectangular figures, it would seem, inevitably had to be symmetrical; that is, balanced and static. Stativity was fundamentally at odds with Malevichs aspirations, and with his characteristic determination he overcame this contradiction by persistently experimenting with the rectangular form. Dynamic tension destroyed regular forms and turned squares and rectangles into trapezoids. Having grouped together a whole cycle of drawings marked on the reverse with a letter X, Malevich stressed his main idea: on the envelope in which the drawings were gathered, he wrote: "Deformation of the square into an incorrect 4-triangle. 12 drawings.  X" (an envelope with this inscription currently resides in the collection of N. M. Suetina, St. Petersburg). Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection demonstrates the fundamental characteristic of Suprematism: here the figure of the trapezium - the sides of which seem to give in to the influence and pressure of the dense white background - speaks to the dynamism that prevails in Malevich's non-objectivity. In the Suprematist paintings of 1915, their expressive texture attracts attention: Malevich later abandoned textural painting, believing it to be too material for the spiritual nature of Suprematism. The busy relief texture of Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection therefore indicates that the work was executed in 1915. Another striking particularity of the painting is its use of color. Malevich built the composition on the basis of the contrast between a hot, saturated yellow and a deep blue; that is, he used the sonorous contrast of complementary colors from the fundamental primary colors (blue, yellow and red). In the photograph of the 0.10 exhibition, only 21 canvases out of the original 39 are visible - the others are not in the frame. However, it is well-known that Malevich brought all the pictures he had completed by that time to the exhibition. Some of the works were still damp, and the corners were therefore so that the works would not stain each other. The visual particularities of Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection undoubtedly testify to the early date of the works execution in 1915, and allow us to confidently assert that the picture was exhibited at the 0.10: Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings. Aleksandra Shatskikh, PhD is an art historian. Her book Black Square: Malevich and the Origin of Suprematism was published in 2012.

  • 2017-05-16

New york. 1941/boogie woogie. 1941-42

“For Men of the City, the city must be sublimated in the painting – the whole [of] city life must reflect in it.”   Mondrian wrote these words while he was living in New York in 1942, around the same time that he completed this striking composition.  The present picture brilliantly exemplifies this statement, as it embodies the dynamic energy and structural sophistication of the modern metropolis (see fig. 1).  During the years that Mondrian lived in New York (1940-1944), he began only six new paintings and completed only three of them:  New York/ Boogie Woogie, 1941-42 (the present work);  New York City, 1942 (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, see fig. 2), New York City 1 (incomplete; Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf); New York City 2 (incomplete, Private Collection); Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York, see fig. 3), and Victory Boogie Woogie, 1942-44 (incomplete, Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, see fig. 4).  Other pictures that he worked on during these years were compositions that he had begun in Paris or London and brought with him when he immigrated to the United States in October 1940.  Unlike his earlier canvases, these later paintings were inspired, from start to finish, by the sights and sounds of New York City.  Mondrian was enraptured by the lure of Manhattan, its urban landscape unlike anything he had ever experienced in Europe. The linearity of the skyline and the grid of its streets created an environment that seemed to be a living example of Mondrian’s theories of Neo-Plasticism that he promoted in the 1920s and 1930s, and the neon signs of Times Square and the pulsing rhythm of New York jazz enlivened the spirit of his paintings during these years.  Working in New York until his death in 1944, Mondrian produced canvases that demonstrated a fresher and more developed application of his original aesthetic.  These paintings are considered the most innovative works of his career and ultimately came to define urban modernism in the 20th century.   New York/ Boogie Woogie, which is the first canvas that he started and finished in New York and the first of his legendary Boogie-Woogie series, led this revolution of style. Mondrian began this picture at the beginning of 1941 and continued working on it intermittently until 1942.  It was not uncommon for him to work in stages on his compositions, sometimes calling a work finished and then returning to it at a later date to add structural elements.  In the beginning of 1941, Mondrian exhibited the present work, then titled New York and only composed of black lines, at the Riverside Museum.  When New York went unsold at that exhibition, he decided to revise the composition over the course of the next year.  His friend, Carl Holty, described what happened: “…He had one picture that was shown at the Riverside Museum in one of the abstract artist shows.  And it had a hollow center, a white rectangle, there were two sets of bars around it.  And, oh, my, this was the last word.  Well, nothing happened.  It didn’t get sold.  It came back to the studio.  I came there one day, and I noticed that he had cut this plane down with another plane.  And I said, ‘What happened here, Piet?’  And he looked at me as though it was my fault and said, ‘It was empty as hell.  Anybody could see that.’  So this was intermediate, the introduction of these small planes that sort of framed the hollow center, you know, the old Oriental idea of bringing the empty space to light by what you do around it had already hit him” (reprinted in Joop M. Joosten, Piet Mondrian, Catalogue Raisonné of the Work of 1911-1944, Toronto, 1998, p. 403). Photographs from October 1941 feature the artist at his studio on 56th Street with this picture before he completely finished his revisions (see figs. 5 & 6), the point in the history of the picture now referred to as the “first state.”  By now, Mondrian had added three red lines – two horizontals at the top and bottom, and one vertical intersecting them on the left edge.  The composition was later enhanced with the yellow, blue and red color bars along the edges, and the finished work made its debut in this “second” state when it was exhibited at the Valentine-Dudensing Gallery in 1942.  This painting, which was re-titled Boogie-Woogie for the exhibition, finally sold in March to Mary E. Johnston of Cincinnati, who had visited the Valentine-Dudensing Gallery with Mondrian’s friend, Charmion von Wiegand.  In his correspondence to von Wiegand after the sale, Mondrian expressed his disappointment about receiving only $400 for the picture, but seemed pleased that “the Boogie-Woogie was sold” (quoted in Yve-Alain Bois, Angelica Z. Rudenstine, Joop Joosten, Hans Janssen, Piet Mondrian (exhibition catalogue), New York, 1995, illustrated p. 289). “Boogie Woogie” refers to the improvisational, syncopated piano music that originated among African-American musicians and became popular in New York jazz clubs during World War II.  On his first night in New York City, Mondrian heard this music, and, as he later remarked to Sidney Janis, he decided to “put a little ‘boogie woogie’ into his pictures.”  These resulting pictures, with their flashes of color and the rhythmic arrangement of lines, became known as Mondrian’s Boogie Woogie paintings, and the present work is the pioneer of this now iconic series. The history of the painting accounts for its dual title, New York/ Boogie Woogie, and the recently published catalogue raisonné on the artist has titled this work accordingly.   Several Mondrian historians, such as E.A. Carmean Jr., continued to refer to this work as New York due to the original title written on the stretcher.  Carmean writes,   “A painting which well typifies Mondrian’s style soon after his arrival in Manhattan is the appropriately entitled New York.  This large, nearly square canvas is constructed around a central rectangle…  Around the perimeter of the work on three sides are the freely positioned unbordered color elements in red, yellow and blue which were developed at this time.  Inserted between structure and frame they give a new staccato pace to the composition, while also acting as a secondary border.  Significantly, Mondrian does not use here any of the large color areas from his earlier paintings; rather color is now kept at the approximate scale of the linear structure which it supplements and supports.  The greatest change in New York is in this structure itself, for in the composition Mondrian reintroduces colored lines; in New York we find continuous red lines as well as black.  Inflection of the pictorial surface which had previously been the result of double (or triple) black lines is now caused directly by a colored structure” (E.A. Carmean, Jr., Mondrian: The Diamond Compositions (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1979, pp. 57-58). After Mondrian escaped war-torn Europe and moved to New York, he found himself in the center of a metropolis that was thriving with creative talent.  Other artist émigrés, such as Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, and André Breton were now all living in New York, and their presence in the city marked the beginning of the transatlantic shift of the avant-garde that would redefine the city as the artistic capital of the world for the next several decades.   A significant factor in New York’s emergence as a cultural capital was the influence and reception of Mondrian’s pictures among young artists.   Carmean tells us that, “In spite of the difficulties caused by the war, Mondrian appears to have been happy in New York, perhaps more so than at any time in his life.  In addition to his friendship with Harry Holtzman – who had helped him escape to America – Mondrian became the colleague of several other, younger abstract painters, such as Charmion von Wiegand, Fritz Glarner and Carl Holty.  New York was host to many major European artists at the time – Ernst, Léger, and Masson for example  – and Mondrian was regarded by the younger American artists as equal in stature to these masters (recognition that he did not have in Paris).  There was considerable interest in his work; two one-man exhibitions were held at the Valentine Dudensing Gallery in 1942 and 1943 respectively and he was able to write and publish new essays” (ibid.). The paintings that Mondrian executed in New York were much more intricately designed, colorful, and optically engaging than his earlier works.  One of the notable innovations of these pictures is the artist’s use of tape, which he applied directly to his canvases and then painted over in oil.  The technique was employed to its greatest extent in Mondrian’s last picture, Victory Boogie Woogie, which remained incomplete at the artist’s death in 1944 (see fig. 7).  These pictures, however, expand on the Neo-Plastic theories that Mondrian had first developed in the 1920s, when he called for simplifying art to the point of pure abstraction.  With his paintings, composed of harmonious intersections of lines and pure planes, Mondrian attempted to  “complement society not as propaganda or as applied art but by its plastic expression alone.  To understand this, it is necessary to know what this pure art involved, to know that it is a genuine and living expression of the universal equilibrium” (Harry Holtzman and Martin D. James, eds., The New Art – The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian, Boston, 1986, p. 278). As the first painting that he began in the United States and one of only three that he actually finished, New York/ Boogie Woogie is an outstanding New World manifestation of Mondrian's career-long artistic pursuit. Fig. 1, Aerial view of Manhattan in the 1940s Fig. 2, Piet Mondrian, New York City, 1942, oil on canvas, Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris Fig. 3, Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York Fig. 4, Piet Mondrian, Victory Boogie Woogie, 1942-43, oil and paper on canvas, Gemeentemuseum, The Hague Fig. 5, The artist in his 353 East 56th Street studio, with the present work in its first state on the left, Fall 1941 Fig. 6, The artist in his 353 East 56th Street studio, with the present work in its first state on the left, Fall 1941 Fig. 7, The artist’s 15 East 59th Street studio after his death in 1944. Victory Boogie Woogie, which remained unfinished, sits on the easel on the right Signed with the initials PM (lower left) and dated 41-42 (lower right); signed, dated, and titled Piet Mondrian, 1941-42, New York on the stretcher

  • 2004-11-04

Pregnant Girl

"A painter must think of everything he sees as being there entirely for his own use and pleasure... the picture is all he feels about, all he thinks worth preserving of it, all he invests it with... The aura given out by a person or object is as much a part of them as their flesh"Lucian Freud, 'Some Thoughts on Painting', Encounter, Vol. III, No. 1, 1954, p. 24. Beautiful, sensuous, and full of emotive depth Pregnant Girl is an astonishing and defining image in Freud’s œuvre. Depicting his lover of the time, Bernadine Coverley, asleep and pregnant with their first daughter Bella, Freud has captured the delicate poise of her turned head, sumptuous curves of her body and thick dark hair, through a virtuosity of looping, arching brush-strokes to deliver a painting full of impulse, fullness of form and exacting honesty. In this entrancing portrait, Freud captures an intensely private moment, and in doing so he succeeds in grasping the pure essence of humanity, a feat which lies at the core of his greater oeuvre – achieved through a meticulous observation of the most important people in his life. She appears vulnerable, in her recumbent pose she is exposed, naked, her gaze drifts away from the painter, head tilted to one side, eyes shut, dreaming. She does not confront the viewer, or the artist, rather we confront her in an intimate moment of privacy. She exudes the femininity and the natural serenity of an expectant mother; she is at once a modern ‘Madonna and Child’ and ‘Sleeping Venus’. In this painting Freud has echoed the great artists throughout art history, from Titian to Picasso, in interpreting these classical themes, and delivers a breath-taking image of beauty, desire, femininity, fertility and birth. In Pregnant Girl, Freud achieves the intangible character that he first described in 1954: “The picture in order to move us must never merely remind us of life, but must acquire a life of its own, precisely in order to reflect life” (Lucian Freud quoted in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Britain, Lucian Freud, 2002 p. 15). Pregnant Girl has been presented at every major point of Freud’s exhibition history, from his first major retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, London (1974), through one of the most important survey exhibitions, which travelled during 1987-88 between museums in Washington D.C., Paris, London and Berlin, to the more recent celebrations at Tate Britain (2003), the National Portrait Gallery (2012), and the Kunsthistoriches in Vienna (2013-14). As such we bear witness to one of the most important and well-regarded works not only in Freud’s oeuvre, but moreover within the entire representation of the nude in the Twentieth Century. Pregnant Girl is a masterwork that pushes the envelope of figurative painting and presents an entirely revolutionary, penetrating portrait of human psychology and conveys an emotion that speaks directly to the viewer. Executed in 1960-61 Pregnant Girl extols a sublime display of Freud's painterly control: the facetted planes of colour shift through a tonal spectrum to lend form while a flurry of brushstrokes forge a physical topography that describes the body's shape and the pallor of delicate flesh. Indeed, as is perfectly characteristic of Freud's working practice of this time, the material of paint becomes inextricable from its subject, an equation reached only following a frustration with the method and technique of his earlier realist style of the 1950s. As Freud elucidates, it was his relationship with fellow painter Francis Bacon which helped prompt a new direction in style; “When people went on about my technique and how it related to the German old masters I have to say it was sickening. Especially when they went on about technique. I think that Francis’ way of painting freely helped me feel more daring” (Lucian Freud quoted in: ‘A Late-Night conversation with Lucian Freud’, Sebastian Smee, Freud at Work, London 2006, p. 18). The paintings that Freud made in the early 1960s are unlike anything that he had previously done. Highly expressive, they represent a radical departure from his realist style. They have a startling new impetus, and an almost sculptural quality based on a more developed awareness of both volume and contrast. He exchanged his fine sable brushes for larger ones made of hogs' hair, and taught himself to work standing up: “It wasn’t that I was abandoning something dear to me,” he said, “more that I wanted to develop something unknown to me” (Lucian Freud quoted in: Robert Hughes, Lucian Freud, Paintings, London 1989, p. 18). As the handling of paint became looser and more dense, so each moment of contact with the canvas became more loaded and less governable. As broadcast in the present work this bolder, more visceral brushwork feels perfectly suited to Bernadine’s dark flowing locks of raven hair. In the paintings Freud embarked on in the 1960s, he looked to convey the landscape and structure of his sitters’ faces, endowing them with a strong physical presence and greater visual movement. The change in method imbued Freud with a more ambitious approach to scale and composition, clearly evident in this painting, as Lawrence Gowing states: “The scale (in every sense) of the 1960s pictures represented an expansion of the physical meaning of paint that painting was in urgent, crying need of” (Lawrence Gowing, Lucian Freud, London 1982, p. 150). Freud’s portrayal of Bernadine is executed on a scale yet to be seen for a single-head portrait. The scale and composition of Pregnant Girl shaped much of Freud’s work over the next decade, evident in further masterpieces such as Red Haired Man on a Chair (1962-63), Man’s Head (Self Portrait I) (1963) in the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester and Reflection with Two Children (Self-Portrait) (1965) in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Critics responded positively to the radical transition in Freud’s approach to painting. Robert Hughes acknowledged a greater agility and freedom of drawing, suggesting that these portraits owed something to Freud’s fascination with Frans Hals, an artist he had once described as fated always to look modern, to the point of coarseness. Bernadine Coverley was only 16 when she met Freud, who himself was thirty-seven, in London’s Soho in 1959. In Pregnant Girl we see Freud paint his lover at an early stage in their relationship; reclining on the omnipresent green sofa in the long and narrow room in his studio in Delamere Terrace, West London. She was just 17 when she fell pregnant with their first child Bella. Freud and Coverley never lived together, nor did they marry, but they remained close throughout the years. Despite Coverley moving to Marrakech with her daughters Bella and Esther following the break-up of the relationship, Esther remembered that they remained on good terms, “Dad always spoke admiringly of her. And they’d often see each other at Bella’s [fashion] shows or my first nights when I was an actress. They were both interested in hearing about each other, and talked very little about the past and what their relationship was like. But that’s how they were” (Esther Freud quoted in: Geordie Grieg, Breakfast with Lucian, London 2013, p. 220). Although he was not altogether present in Bella and Esther’s early years, Freud was extremely close with his two daughters, painting both of them several times, including Baby on a Green Sofa (1961), a painting of Bella as a baby resting on the same green sofa on which her mother was portrayed. Freud’s portraiture is restricted solely to those closest to him and his everyday life in places he is familiar with. Indeed, he has said that “I work from people that interest me, and that I care about and think about, in rooms that I live and know” (Lucian Freud quoted in: John Russell, Lucian Freud, London 1974, p. 13). It is, however, the portraits of his family members which make up the most significant proportion of these works, and are arguably the most intimate and revealing. He consistently painted, drew, and etched his children and loved ones throughout his life, noting that “People are driven toward making works of art, not by familiarity with the process by which this is done, but by the necessity to communicate their feeling about the object of their choice with such intensity that the feelings become infectious” (Lucian Freud, ‘Some Thoughts on Painting’, Encounter, Vol. III, No. 1, p. 23). As a result Pregnant Girl reveals an extraordinary familial intimacy between lover, mother, and daughter. In the dream-like state of his lover, Freud presents an alluring scene of serenity, calm, and desire. It was Picasso who once said “When a man watches a woman asleep, he tries to understand” and Freud’s relationship with the sitter is one that is at once professional, intimate, personal, and exploitative, examining and exploring her figure for the manifold aesthetic considerations of her naked torso while she sleeps (Pablo Picasso quoted in: John Richardson, A Life of Picasso, New York 1991, Vol. I, p. 317). There are arguably no images from the artist’s sixty-year career that are more gripping or evocative of the exactitude of mankind than his portraits of the single naked female figure. With extraordinary attention and great resolve, the present work navigates the slender contours of Bernadine Coverley's body through luxurious yet economical patterns of richly applied pigment that evoke the expressive potential of the human form.  Commenting on Freud’s 1988 retrospective, the revered critic Robert Hughes exclaimed: “It is unlikely that any painter since Picasso has made his figuring of the naked human body such an intense and unsettling experience for the viewer as Lucian Freud. Certainly no realist artist, working within the boundaries of likeness (and one may note that ‘Naked Portrait’ is a recurrent phrase in Freud’s titles) has done so” (Robert Hughes, op. cit, p. 19). Speaking about the incentives behind his nudes, Freud confessed: “All portraits are difficult for me. But a nude presents different challenges. When someone is naked, there is in effect nothing to be hidden. You are stripped of your costume, as it were. Not everyone wants to be that honest about themselves. That means I feel an obligation to be equally honest in how I represent their honesty. It’s a matter of responsibility. I’m not trying to be a philosopher. I’m more of a realist. I’m just trying to see and understand the people that make up my life” (Lucian Freud quoted in: Phoebe Hoban, Lucian Freud: Eyes Wide Open, Seattle 2014, p. 100). Freud’s Pregnant Girl evades a sense of voyeurism, although the artist categorically insisted that his relationship with sitters was one of unique mutual intimacy rather than eroticism, even if many sitters were also his lovers: “No one is idealized in Freud’s world, and he seems to have been fearless in regard to the knotty politics of gender. He understood that he was a male painter with a male viewpoint, and it would simplify things to say that his female nudes follow the modernist tradition of the odalisque. Sometimes they do, but they also rephrase it in some complicated ways. If the male gaze is implicitly ‘sexual’, many of Freud’s nudes could be considered outlandish… Freud puts his nude subjects front and centre, and with an honesty that can be startling” (Michael Auping, ‘Freud From America’ in: Exh. Cat., London, National Portrait Gallery, (and travelling), Lucian Freud: Portraits, 2012, p. 51). Pregnant Girl not only embodies Freud’s own desire to capture the quality of flesh in oil paint, but also exemplifies the artist’s contribution to the grand trajectory of depicting both the nude and the notion of fertility in Western tradition. In 1960 and 1961, the year that the present work was painted, Freud notably travelled to Holland and France to see paintings by the Old Masters who critically informed his attention to an intensification of reality and a forensic curiosity surrounding the landscape of the figure. Freud spent days with the Goyas at Castres, the Ingres’ at Montauban, and the Courbets at Montpellier. Categorically engrossed with art history, the influences that Freud drew from these antecedents are epitomised in the present work – a canvas that demonstrates the supreme capacity for paint to inhabit the subtle idiosyncrasies and variations of the human body. Reclining in a position that recalls a myriad of historical nudes, from Titian’s Venus Sleeping and Courbet’s Femme Nu Couchée to Picasso's Le Rêve, Freud’s Pregnant Girl undeniably paints contemporary life in the tradition of such master artists whose images probed the existential conditions of modernity. One may discern not only the influence of painters in her elegant and poised form but also in the pallid tone of her skin, the contours of which capture the reflections of light within the enclaves of her clavicles to create a chiaroscuro effect, reminiscent of the masterful marble renderings of Bernini or Canova. Freud noted that his aim in painting was “to try and move the senses by giving an intensification of reality. Whether this can be achieved depends on how intensely the painter understands and feels for the person of his choice” (Lucian Freud, ‘Some Thoughts on Painting’, op. cit, p. 23). Throughout his renowned career Freud lived and practiced by this maxim, translating his physical circumstances, experiences, and relationships into compositions that communicate universal truths of human psychology and emotion. His corpus is replete with canvases that capture within their borders instances of intense intimacy and privacy; his work reads as a dedicated and minute study of personal human moments. There is no question that his most arresting and evocative images are born from his most intimate relationships, and Pregnant Girl is an exemplary example of this defining characteristic of Freud’s art.

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2016-02-10

By Twos

By Twos of 1949 is a moving and quintessential example of Barnett Newman’s inimitable contribution to the canon of American art during the critical years after the Second World War. In 1948, Newman painted Onement I, the canvas in which he felt he achieved the radical aesthetic breakthrough that he and his contemporaries each fervently believed was the higher purpose of the artist in the modern era.  Here, Newman’s signature motif – the vertical 'zip' – emerged and with a celebratory burst of energy, the next two years were the most productive of his career. In 1949, he painted eighteen canvases, the largest number he would ever produce in one year and a clear indication of the momentous creative epiphany experienced by Newman at this critical time. Yet, fully eleven of these works now reside in museum collections, including a rich trove of four to be found in New York City: the Museum of Modern Art in New York purchased Abraham in 1959 where it was later joined by Onement III, while the Metropolitan Museum of Art received Concord in 1968 and The Promise was gifted to the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2000. Washington, D. C. also has deep holdings with Yellow Painting and Dionysus at the National Gallery of Art and Covenant at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The sumptuous Be I is to be found at the Menil Collection in Houston, while the itinerary of the remaining 1949 paintings in museums include the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in Ohio, the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Nebraska and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. By Twos was included in the artist’s second one-man show at Betty Parsons Gallery in 1951, as well as the 1959 show at French and Company in New York, which was curated by Clement Greenberg and served to reinvigorate Newman’s career among a new generation of artists in the 1960s and 1970s such as Donald Judd, Carl Andre and Frank Stella. By Twos was purchased from the artist by Lawrence Rubin following the 1959 show and subsequently remained for many years in the renowned collection of E. J. Power in London, who loaned it to the 1972 Tate Gallery retrospective that served as a memorial tribute to Newman. By Twos has remained in the current private collection since 1997 and presents an exceptionally rare opportunity to acquire one of the few 1949 paintings still in private hands. As Newman recounted in an interview about Onement I, “I actually lived with that painting for almost a year trying to understand it. I realized that I’d made a statement which was affecting me and which was, I suppose the beginning of my present life, because from then on I had to give up any relation to nature as seen.” (Interview with David Sylvester on March 3, 1967 as cited in John P. O’Neill, ed., Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1990, p. 255) With these words, Newman concisely articulated his commitment to pure painting as a totality of transcendence, devoid of subject matter. Newman’s iconic and revolutionary 'zip' served as a vertical signifier of the human presence and a visual portal to the ineffable sources of inspiration that profoundly inform the artist’s oeuvre. The titles of Newman’s early paintings – Genesis-The Break and The Beginning from 1946, and Covenant and The Promise of 1949  –  exhibit a close affinity for the Old Testament, while By Twos is also a reference to the animal pairs who survived the Flood in Noah’s Ark, perhaps an elegiac reference to the recent tragic history of the European Jews. While Newman’s Jewish heritage gives a rich context for these titles, his intent was not spiritual in the religious sense. He equated the act of genesis to an artist’s creation of a sublime work of art, and in turn, sought to instill in the viewer an existential sense of awe and wonderment for the miracle of existence.  By Twos, in its sumptuous elucidation of Newman’s skill in composition, technique and color, as well as its symbiotic relationship to the sister paintings of 1949, memorializes Newman’s achievement of these aspirations.  The demarcation of the 'zip', in its placement, vertical format and complementary hue of light blue, serves both a temporal and spatial purpose in the personalized experience of this masterpiece of Newman’s aesthetic. As noted by Harold Rosenberg, the 'zip' aptly “takes its meaning from being experienced as an undifferentiated whole, thus functioning as a ‘space vehicle’ for the idea of singularity. Oneness itself in Newman’s terms is an exalted ‘subject matter’.” (Harold Rosenberg, Barnett Newman, New York, 1978, pp. 59-60) As an agent of such inner coherence and unity, the 'zip' of By Twos is also the avatar of identity and universality, brought memorably to life in the sculptures of the 'zip' form, such as Here I (To Marcia) of 1950/1962, so named when the collector Marcia Weisman prevailed upon Newman to cast a 1962 bronze based on his 1950 plaster and wood construction. In terms of sculptural affinities, one thinks of Alberto Giacometti’s elongated and abstracted figures which were first shown in New York in February 1948. Newman acknowledged a sympathetic response to the “new things, with no form, no texture, but somehow filled” with a succinct “I took my hat off to him.” (cited in Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Barnett Newman, 1972, p. 36) Yet even more than Giacometti, Newman abandoned any substantive reference to representational figuration and sought instead to convey a noncorporeal state of being and communion that is more resonant with the elegant geometry and formal power of Constantin Brancusi’s paean to infinity, Endless Column of 1938. The placement and interrelationships of the 'zip' in Newman’s 1949 paintings exhibit the subtlety with which the artist refined his parameters, particularly in terms of the modernist elements of color and spatial rhythms. Although critics would initially deride Newman’s work as too simplistic, he in fact employed almost a “secret symmetry,” a phrase adopted by Thomas B. Hess in the catalogue for the artist’s 1971 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1949, Newman continued the use of a single vertical 'zip' as the central divider of his monochromatic grounds originated in the Onement paintings, but he also experimented with two or more 'zips', both vertically and horizontally, in differing situated proportions and optical import. In paintings such as Concord, By Twos and Abraham, the paired lines can be seen either as edges that define a central 'zip' formed of the same color as the ground, or they can be seen as separate dual 'zips', vibrating toward and away from each other as they float above an expanse of uninterrupted ground color.  In By Twos, Newman complicates this reading further by altering the sheen and texture of the black pigment both between and outside the blue lines, thus increasing the sense of a black 'zip' subtly separated by blue from the outer sections of black ground. As the viewer negotiates a canvas that can be visually read in two contradictory ways, this duality of composition may also be an interesting play on the title By Twos. Abraham and By Twos are even more complex spatially, since the central band or 'zip' no longer bisects the canvas evenly, but is now at center and off center simultaneously. As seen in By Twos, the far left edge or 'zip' is the vertical that splits the canvas in two, so our eye clearly registers a thin blue dividing line that leaves the left half an uninterrupted expanse of velvety black. However, if the dual blue lines are read as edges delineating a single black 'zip', its proportion and optical weight now pulls the balance of the painting toward the right and away from the concept of two evenly divided halves. As Hess noted in discussing By Twos and the black-on-black Abraham: “By widening the zip until it almost becomes a section of the ground, both its edges become independently important – thus further disguising the secret symmetrical action.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Barnett Newman, 1971, p. 59) By Twos revels in the poetry of Newman’s primal 'zip' which lies at the core of his ambition to create paintings free of objects, dogma, precedence or referential subject matter. Along with other heroic artists of the mid-Twentieth Century, Newman wanted to regenerate art and society through the invention of new forms of expression that could capture the ineffable essence of existence.  In Newman’s devotion to a restrained color palette and reductive use of demarcation with his sparsely employed 'zips', his paintings were deemed provocative and shocking when they appeared at mid-century, but the aura of quietude and penetrating sophistication of By Twos is eloquent testimony to the far-reaching import of Newman’s corpus. In company with Brancusi’s Endless Column and  Malevich’s Suprematist manifesto of 1915, Newman’s eloquent and elemental `zip' and his deft tonal chromatics were a legacy of vast import to the birth of Minimalism concurrent with the reappearance of By Twos in Newman’s 1959 exhibition. Signed with initials; signed, titled and dated 1949 on the reverse

  • 2013-11-14

Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio

“The infinite, the inconceivable chaos, the end of figuration, nothingness.” Lucio Fontana quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1999-2000, p. 198. In 1961 Yuri Gagarin changed the course of history when he travelled into space; two years later, Fontana announced the end of art as he knew it. This seminal moment in the history of mankind was the catalyst for Fontana’s greatest achievement, La Fine di Dio, a body of work that simultaneously heralded the end of an era and the dawn of a new one. Pregnant with potential yet eviscerated from the inside-out, these canvases represent the first artworks for an age that found itself thrust into the physical reality of the infinite abyss: Space. With this series – comprising a total of thirty-eight colossal ovoid canvases executed between 1963 and 1964 – Fontana achieved the ultimate manifestation of his life’s work. The mastermind behind Spatlialism poured all of his theorising, all of his achievements, and all of his innovation into the cratered topography of these human-scaled egg-shaped canvases. They are the culmination of a life dedicated to pioneering a new artistic format philosophically attuned to the rapid advancement of human intelligence; one that transcends pre-existing notions of what art is. Indeed, with these canvases Fontana posited the furthest most point of artistic expression for the Modern age. Marking a point of no return, they form an event horizon beyond which it is impossible to venture. Conjuring the endless self-similar constellations that populate the blank vacuum of space, Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio (63 FD 22) is aggressive, unrelenting, and commanding. More than just a painting, it is a multi-dimensional work of art that shatters the very definition of oil on canvas. Standing before it we are confronted with violently punched, stabbed, gashed, gouged and viscerally hacked welts of encrusted canvas that have been saturated with slick black oil. Its surface is lunar, and akin to the dark side of the moon, is ravaged yet ebullient in its organic beauty. The slender graffiti border etched into the painting’s thick black sheen confines the panorama of epic cavities within; limited to the outer reaches of its curving perimeter these punctures embody galactic black holes that pull celestial objects into their deathly orbit. Within the series at large, this painting is one of only two created in slick black paint; where the other, (63 FD 7), possesses a more lyrical calm and measured distribution of the squarchi, the present work is replete with violent material facture. In its magnetic and muscular intensity this painting is unmatched across the entire astral corpus of egg-canvases and rightly deserves veneration alongside the numerous Fine di Dio today on view in some of the most significant museum collections across the globe: namely, Fondazione Prada, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and the Centre Pompidou. Having resided for many decades in the esteemed Janlet Collection, Belgium, this immaculate painting possesses an impeccable history. Exhibited only a handful of times since its inception, Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio is a perfect manifestation of Fontana’s most profound contribution to the history of art. Spanning a chromatic spectrum that symbolically invokes human flesh (pink), the planet earth (green), lunar dust (works coated in coloured ‘lustrini’ or glitter), and finally the non-colour of the abyss itself (black), the Fine di Dio are primal, elemental works, works that compress a holistic intimation of the beginning and the end within their curving expanses. The first Fine di Dio to be exhibited were a group of eight entirely green and pink canvases made in the winter of 1963. They were shown at the Gimpel Hanover Galerie in Zurich and deploy a more measured facture in contrast to those created later that year. Indeed, as evinced by the present work, the increasing aggression and full compositional resolution of these later canvases more fully conveys the radical ‘breakthrough’ and cosmic birth at the conceptual and physical core of these astonishing Spatialist inventions. Herein, Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio delivers the most fundamental expression of this truly earth-shattering dialogue. A canvas of deepest black – the achromatic visual register of space’s vacuum – mysteriously pock-marked with artillery-like holes that betray the trace of its creator’s fists and fingers, this imposing painting reflects the threatening mystery of space itself, an entity proven by the Twentieth-Century’s brightest intellects to be as volatile and chaotic as Fontana’s ravaged pictorial fields. In this regard, the present work can be viewed as the most absolute pictorial articulation of the universe in its enigmatic and chaotic entirety. Fontana was profoundly influenced by the dramatic developments in science that punctuated his lifetime. In this regard, the Fine di Dio can be understood as his ultimate response to the promethean ascent of mankind. Charting a course starting in his childhood, some of the most significant advances in human history took place in front of Fontana’s very eyes: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (1916); the splitting of the Atom by Ernest Rutherford (1919); Georges Lemaître’s Big Bang theory (1931); J. Robert Oppenheimer’s theorising on black holes (1939); the discovery of nuclear fission by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann (1938); the launch of Sputnik by the USSR (1957); the first manned journey into space (Yuri Gagarin in 1961); and man’s first spacewalk (Aleksey Leonov in 1965), are but a select number of the radical innovations and catastrophic scientific discoveries that fuelled Fontana’s aesthetic genius. For him, scientific innovation of the Twentieth Century had liberated humanity from the constraints of an established order, one tied to the materiality of earthly existence and farcical ideologies. Instead, upon the discovery of man’s utter insignificance in the face of space’s infinity, Fontana looked to regenerate the plastic arts to encompass the harsh and threatening reality of the void. In 1916, when Fontana was 17 years old, Albert Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity, and in so doing permanently transformed modern science’s conception of space, time, and gravity. According to Einstein, matter causes space to curve; he also posited that gravity, in opposition to Newton’s law, is not a force, but is instead a curved field sculpted by the presence of mass. Paired with cosmologist (and Catholic priest) Georges Lemaître’s proposal of the expansion of the universe from an initial point in 1931, Einstein’s theorising of spacetime conceived a model of the universe that today takes the form of a three-dimensional ovoid. That Lemaître famously described his Big Bang theory in a scientific paper as “the Cosmic Egg exploding at the moment of creation” does much to underline the perspicacity of Fontana’s extraordinary egg-shaped canvases. With these remarkable developments in cosmology and physics, man’s first steps into the unknown began to take on a truly tangible reality towards the mid Twentieth-Century. Thus for Fontana – and somewhat indebted to the aspirational legacy of Futurism – the will to aesthetically respond to the scientific took on a marked urgency. The artist officially laid out these ideas as early as the First Spatialist Manifesto of 1947: “We refuse to think of science and art as two distinct phenomena… Artists anticipate scientific deeds, scientific deeds always provoke artistic deeds” (Lucio Fontana, ‘Primo Manifesto dello Spazialismo (First Spatialist Manifesto)’, 1947 in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1999-2000, p. 185). In 1961, man’s first journey into the vacuum of space ignited an ambition to create a conceptually challenging body of work imbued with the very same spirit of cosmic exploration, reflective of man’s position on the brink of an infinitely large (and expanding) universe. Working in parallel with the scientific labour behind man’s first cosmic steps, Fontana toiled for more than a decade on his Spatialist theories before arriving at the Fine di Dio. Universally designated under the umbrella title Concetto Spaziale, this prolific abstract oeuvre developed through a sequence of evolving corpuses: the Buchi (Holes), Pietre (Stones), Gessi (Chalks), Inchiostri (Inks), Olii (Oils), Tagli (Cuts), Nature (Natures) and finally the Metalli (Metals). Of foundational import at the forefront of this list is Fontana’s discovery of the hole in 1949. Indeed the buchi represent the point of departure from which the entirety of Fontana’s theorising on the dimensionality of space takes off: “Einstein’s discovery of the cosmos is the infinite dimension without end. And so here we have: foreground, middleground and background… to go further what do I have to do?... I make holes, infinity passes through them, light passes through them, there is no need to paint” (Lucio Fontana quoted in: Carla Lonzi, Autorittrato, Bari 1969, pp. 169-71). By radically penetrating the very surface of the canvas – the field of an entire history of aesthetics and pictorial invention – Fontana radically surpassed any concession to reflecting life in art and instead invited its reality to inhabit the very essence of his work. Expanding on this premise, Fontana ventured beyond his perforation of the canvas and first implored the precise economy of the razor-blade’s cut, or tagli, in 1958. Entitled Concetto Spaziale, Attese (Spatial Concept, Expectations) the tagli are not only meditative by name, they exude an innate lyrical calm that invokes a silent and resonating glimpse of the fourth-dimensional void beyond their slender cuts. Leaving no trace of the artist’s hand, these works fully realised Fontana’s ambition to create a painting of real space, using real space. With the onset of the Olii two years later however, a dramatic shift is apparent in the artist’s mind-set. Combining the pinprick perforations of the buchi with the forceful downwards-drag of the tagli, the Olii contain visceral and distinctly sculptural apertures within canvases thickly impasted with oil paint. Wound-like and gaping, these painful-looking gashes induce a biological reading that addresses the viewer’s own bodily experience. Concurrently, the increasing prevelance of the very real physical conditions of space conjured a new host of troublesome and painful realities in Fontana’s imagination, not least for the astronauts who endured these extremes at the hands of scientific discovery. As time and experience has proven, the biological impact of zero gravity provokes a number of health issues for astronauts, including extreme radiation exposure, motion sickness, and loss of muscle and bone mass, whilst extreme confinement and solitude takes its own psychological toll. In December of 1962, Fontana explained the increasing violence of his own work in these very terms: “They represent the pain of man in space. The pain of the astronaut, squashed, compressed, with instruments sticking out of his skin, is different from ours… He who flies in space is a new type of man, with new sensations, not least painful ones” (Lucio Fontana quoted in: ibid., p. 197). For Fontana, it was this rumination on the human endurance of space’s torment that changed the tone of his practice. Working through the Olii and their powerfully somatic impact, La Fine di Dio hone in on the agony of cosmic man and confront the embodied human experience of the viewer on a more profound and holistic scale. Each towering 178cm high these paintings impart an extraordinary corporeal viewing encounter; not only do they replicate Fontana’s own stature, they also echo the height of the average viewer. Moulded into a giant egg – an organic shape that suggests our own biological origin – the appearance of these canvases is remarkably human. Indeed, the traumatic evidence of bruised punches and stabbing finger holes in the present work’s surface is further evidence of the distinctly corporeal aspect of these astral bodies. Nonetheless, it is through the very shape of these canvases and their visceral trace of human impact that the Fine di Dio draw their enigmatic and macrocosmic power. Replete with craters, pocks, and holes rent through by the artist’s bare hands, these works – and particularly the present Fine di Dio – immediately call to mind a moonscape ravaged over millions of years by the onslaught of meteorite collisions. Significantly, with these works, Fontana had truly begun to fulfil the premonition he laid out in the 'First Spatialist Manifesto' (1947) that “artists anticipate scientific deeds” (Ibid., p. 46). As curator Sarah Whitfield has noted, the Fine di Dio arrived a good twelve months before Ranger 7 sent back the first photographs of the scarred and eviscerated dark side of the moon (Ibid.). Whitfield’s list of intimations stretches even further when comparing the tactile darkness of space with the abyssal blackness of the present work: its midnight schema of circular punctures cast lunar shadows whilst the frayed and glutinous edges of these ruptures suggest “vast extremes of temperature in space between frozen landscapes and surfaces hot enough to melt lead” (Ibid.). Ultimately the encapsulation of the viewer’s body within these paintings operates to bring the realisation of space’s violence and “atrocious unnerving silence” into sharp and immediate focus (Lucio Fontana quoted in: Ibid., p. 36). Within the present work, the serene surface of slick black paint and balance of the composition – in which celestial forms appear to dance and orbit – is counteracted by the ferocious life-force that ruptures the canvas’ surface, as though echoing the very formation of immeasurable galaxies. It is this very internal disruption however that offsets a reading of embodied homogeneity within these organic and corporal egg-shaped forms. As further explicated by art historian Anthony White: “Instead of the pregnant fullness of perfect form, the canvas reflects a body that appears broken and hollow… Thus the theory of nothingness, which was central to the conception of the Nature sculptures, is also at the heart of the End of God series… Contemplating the nothingness within these oval paintings, one is shocked into a stark awareness of the object’s, and by extension, the body’s physical morbidity” (Anthony White, Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2011, p. 260). With the advent of space exploration, Fontana prophesised that mankind, overcome by the immensity of space, would no longer recognise himself in figurative painting; in accord, he declared the need for a new artistic language entirely removed from verisimilitude and more radical than the aims of modernist abstraction. “Now in space there is no longer any measurement” explained Fontana, “Now you see infinity… in the Milky Way, now there are billions and billions… The sense of measurement and of time no longer exists… and so, here is the void, man is reduced to nothing. By this I do not mean that man, reduced to nothing, destroys himself, he becomes a simple being like a plant, like a flower, and as such he is pure, man will be perfect” (Lucio Fontana, ‘Interview with Carla Lonzi’, Milan 10 October 1967, in: Exhibition Catalogue, Milan, Amadeo Porro Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Lucio Fontana: Seidici sculture 1937-1967, 2008, p. 34). With this series Fontana renounces all that is earthly and thus proclaims ‘The End of God’: a title as grandiloquent as the philosophical portent behind this most profound body of work. Through the Fine di Dio Fontana confronted over a century’s worth of philosophy that had announced mankind’s outgrowth of religion and yet knowingly employed a symbol with two millennia’s worth of Christian association. In art history the egg is the principal shorthand for Christ’s resurrection and more generally signifies fertility, hope, regeneration, and the cycle of life. From the graphic sign of femininity in Egyptian hieroglyphs to its symbolic depiction by canonical artists such as Hieronymus Bosch, Piero della Francesca, Diego Velázquez, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, and Constantin Brancusi, imagery of the ovum has long delivered variously esoteric semiotic interpretations associated with the origin of the world (a metaphor further reiterated by Georges Lemaître when he proposed that the universe began with an exploding cosmic egg). Intriguingly, from this symbolic perspective, the egg also represents a zero: the ovoid outline of its numerical sign encircles an absence, a vacuum, a nothing. In corroboration with the contemporaneous work of his ZERO artist counterparts, Fontana proposed a symbolic end in a shape that fundamentally contains a nothingness. Fontana’s conception of the ‘End of God’ is thus a double sided negation and affirmation that in its heralding of man’s new cosmic dimension and a new beginning for artistic expression, signals the expiration of an old order. By announcing the end, the Fine de Dio fundamentally propose a reformed conception of ‘God’ for the cosmic age and astral ascent of mankind. Indeed, with a fecund promise of a new aesthetic beginning also comes the seed of art’s demise: “In 500 years’ time people will not talk of art... art will be like going to see a curiosity… Today man is on earth and these are all things that man has done while on earth, but do you think man will have time to produce art while travelling through the universe? He will travel through space and discover marvellous things, things so beautiful that things here – like art, will seem worthless… Man must free himself completely from the earth, only then will the direction that he will take in the future become clear. I believe in man’s intelligence – it is the only thing in which I believe, more so than in God, for me God is man’s intelligence – I am convinced that the man of the future will have a completely new world” (Lucio Fontana in conversation with Tommaso Trini, 19 June 1968, in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1988, p. 36). Heretical in title yet far from atheistic, these extraordinary paintings leave behind the earthly, and in tandem with the astronauts’ first steps into the abyss, herald a new era for mankind that although threatening in its nihilistic portent is nonetheless optimistic. Condensed within the cratered topography of this painting’s monochrome surface resides the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega of existence. At its very core Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio proposes a new model for mankind – no longer the earth-bound man of material possessions, but man as a cosmic being on the brink of the unknowable void. La Fine di Dio posits what no art work had done before; it articulates the genesis of a new form of expression reflective of the astral age. Signed; titled on the stretcher; signed on the reverse

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2015-10-15