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Femme assise sur une chaise

This magnificent painting is one of Picasso's daring depictions of his lover, Dora Maar. Picasso’s portraits of Dora Maar, a talented artist and photographer closely associated with the Surrealist movement, are amongst the most penetrating images of his entire oeuvre. Balanced on the edge of Surrealist representation, they tread the fine line between naturalism and abstraction to depict a high level of psychological drama between artist and model. Picasso met Dora Maar in 1936, and although he was still married to Olga Khokhlova and having an illicit affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, he began an intense relationship with her: Maar's image soon appeared in the artist's oeuvre, and over the next eight years she became his lover, companion and principal source of inspiration. Mature and intelligent, Dora Maar was a far more intense companion than the pliant Marie-Thérèse, whose passive, golden beauty had dominated Picasso’s work of the previous decade. Dora Maar’s highly emotional character influenced some of Picasso’s most intensely felt images, almost overpowering at times but always redeemed by technical bravura. Dora charmed Picasso with her fluent Spanish and austere beauty, but more than anything else it was her face that obsessed the artist. Her most striking features, powerfully rendered in the present composition, were her thick mantle of rich black hair- which she kept long for the artist – and her dazzling soulful eyes, which she strongly accented with heavy mascara. Picasso declared that for him Dora, depicted seated in this three-quarter length portrait, had a “Kafkaesque” personality, and as a result he often portrayed her enclosed in a room, or trapped by the chair in which she is sitting. Dora aesthetically stimulated Picasso in a way that no other woman ever managed, and her features caused him to invent his famed “double portrait” device: in the present work the sitter’s face is painted in profile, yet with both eyes, ears and nostrils fully visible. Because it merges several concepts, the double profile is a fascinating development of Picasso’s pictorial evolution, stemming from the circulating viewpoint he had used in his cubist works. The artist would continue to explore this technique in his portraits until 1943. Over the years Picasso spent with Dora Maar, the artist subjected her visage to a myriad of contortions, giving the impression of a tempestuous relationship. However, unlike the tortured renderings of a large number of her portraits, the present canvas is imbued with a lighter spirit, evoked by a soft palette and a decorative hat. It is, though, Picasso's choice of pinks and purples, a palate reminiscent of his renderings of Marie-Thérèse Walter betray the vulnerability the artist may have recognized in his fierce lover and recalls Picasso’s comment: “For me [Dora Maar] is the weeping woman. For years I have painted her in tortured forms, not through sadism, and not with pleasure either; just obeying a vision that forced itself on me. It was the deep reality, not the superficial one” (quoted in Françoise Gilot, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 122.) In a recent survey of portraits of Dora Maar, Brigitte Léal wrote that these works “remain among the finest achievement of his art, at a time when he was engaged in a sort of third path, verging on Surrealist representation while rejecting strict representation and, naturally, abstraction. Today, more than ever, the fascination that the image of this admirable, but suffering and alienated face exerts on us incontestably ensues from its conceding with our modern consciousness of the body in its threefold dimension of precariousness, ambiguity and monstrosity. There is no doubt that by signing these portraits, Picasso tolled the final bell for the reign of ideal beauty and opened the way for the aesthetic tyranny of a sort of terrible and tragic beauty, the fruit of our contemporary history.” Brigitte Léal continues: “… Dora Maar is the perfect prototype of the surrealist Egeria, capricious and eccentric, a direct descendant of the Baudelarian idol who is accomplishing a kind of duty, when she devotes herself to appearing magical and supernatural. The most provocative emblem of her somewhat flashy elegance is the little over-ornate hat that Picasso places on her head […] In its preciousness and fetishistic vocation, the feminine hat was, like the glove, an erotic accessory highly prized by the Surrealists” (ibid., pp. 387-389). As was the case for many of his favorite pictures, the present work remained with Picasso until his death in 1973.  It was then sold by his heirs through Pace Wildenstein to Gianni Versace, the larger-than-life Italian fashion designer and cultural icon, who died tragically from an assassin's bullet in the summer of 1997.  This picture, which had adorned Versace's home in New York, was one of the first of many masterworks from Versace's collection to be sold at Sotheby's, where it was purchased by Mr. Taubman in 1999. Dated 7.5.38. (lower right)

  • 2015-11-05

1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Lungo Spider by Touring

180 bhp, 2905 cc DOHC inline eight-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams and dual Roots-type superchargers, four-speed manual transmission, double-wishbone independent front suspension with coil springs over dampers, swing axle rear suspension with radius arms, transverse semi-elliptical leaf spring, and hydraulic friction dampers, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 118.1 in. Offered from the Sam & Emily Mann Collection The Italian equivalent of the Bugatti Atlantic; the ultimate Italian sports car of its generation One of approximately 12 extant Touring Spiders Documented by marque authority Simon Moore in The Immortal 2.9: Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance award-winning restoration by U.K. 2.9 expert Tony Merrick The first “Immortal 2.9” to be offered at public auction this century extraordinary adj. 1) very unusual; very different from what is normal or ordinary 2) extremely good or impressive What, in the mid-1930s, passed for a sports car? The wealthy buyer’s options were few and far between. MGs were exciting, true, but small, inexpensive, and rough around the edges. Mercedes-Benz 540 Ks and Duesenbergs were fast but massive, and not particularly storehouses of new technology. Bugatti, certainly, qualified, with its nimble if unorthodox chassis engineering and potent, when supercharged, overhead-cam engines. Above all of these was the Alfa Romeo 8C 2900, whose lineage is part of a consistent and logical evolution stretching back to the 1920s, to the competition-oriented P3s, and the overwhelming race victories achieved in the early to mid-1930s by the 8C 2300s. The 8C 2900 was not a mere sports car, but the most advanced, modern, and compelling sports car that money could buy. To the gentleman who was accustomed to watching the workings of his Swiss watch or mastering the intricacies of his yacht’s sails, it was a symphony. Each wheel carried independent suspension; its Vittorio Jano-designed straight-eight engine was two alloy banks of four cylinders, with not only dual overhead camshafts, but two Roots-type superchargers, as well. As exciting and dramatic as the 2.9 chassis itself was, they benefitted from the addition of some of the most sensuous and well-balanced coachwork of the pre-war era. Foremost among the handful of mostly Italian coachbuilders whose works graced the 2.9 chassis was Milan’s own Carrozzeria Touring, whose patent for Superleggera construction happily coincided with the birth of Alfa Romeo’s masterpiece. The Superleggera method, based upon lessons learned from Frenchman Charles Weymann’s fabric-paneled coachwork, utilized an inner framework of pencil-thin, hollow steel tubes, wrapped in outer panels of aluminum, with fabric used in-between as a buffer against electrolysis. Unlike previous lightweight construction methods, Touring’s new idea allowed for a virtually featherweight structure that could be curved to suit the wind. Tales are rife of Touring engineers running prototype bodies on the road, with strips of felt attached; photographers would capture images of the cars at speed, and the body lines would be adjusted to suit the curves of the “stream lines.” Some of Touring’s best early Superleggera bodies were built on the 2.9 chassis, both the long-wheelbase Lungo and short-wheelbase Corto variants. Regardless of the length, the bodies were nearly perfect in their curvaceous proportions and most notably, their steeply raked windscreen and grille, with rear wheels often shaded by fitted spats, long flowing pontoon front fenders, and a rear end that appeared tucked between the fenders, visually exaggerating the great powerful length of the nose. Touring’s usual attention to detail resulted in small sparkles of polished chrome here and there, like sterling silver displayed on black velvet. One of the fortunate circumstances of the 8C 2900 is that every known chassis has been scrupulously studied and researched by a knowledgeable historian, Simon Moore. Mr. Moore has known almost all of the surviving examples and their owners through the decades and has compiled his research in The Immortal 2.9: Alfa Romeo 8C 2900, first published in 1986 and revised with his latest findings in 2008; needless to say these books, along with his work on the 8C 2300s, are considered vital to any dedicated connoisseur’s library. His attention to accuracy and detail has pieced together the stories of many surviving cars, not least among them that which is offered here. LAS CARRERAS DE UN 2.9 Moore’s latest research indicates that the known history of this car starts in 1949. According to the Brazilian newspaper Folha da Manha (now Folha de Sao Paulo) for 15 February 1949, an amateur driver in Sao Paulo called Mario Tavares Leite imported an 8C 2900B to Brazil from Italy. The poor photo in that paper shows the front of a Touring Spider. He raced his new acquisition at Interlagos, in the sports car class, and won a race there, on 31 July 1949. He won again at the II Premio Cronica Esportiva Paulista meeting at Interlagos on 30 April 1950, after which the car disappeared. In an article on Brazilian racer Camillo Christofaro in a now-defunct Brazilian magazine, Motor, for 3 September 1986, he states: “Em 1958 Camillo pegou um Alfa Romeo de passeio, encurtou o chassi e fez um carro grand prix, equipou com motor Corvette (...)” or, roughly translated, that Camillo took an Alfa Romeo touring car, shortened its chassis, put a Corvette engine in it, and made a racing car. It seems probable, therefore, that this was the single-seater Mecanica Nacional car raced by Christofaro after he had bought both a Tipo 308 and the 8C 2900B from his uncle, Chico Landi. The chassis was part of a hoard of parts that came from Brazil in late 1972, which was acquired by David Llewelyn. Meanwhile, in Argentina, another long chassis 8C 2900B, also with Touring Spider coachwork, was acquired by Carlos Menditeguy of Argentina. In 1953, the car was sold to a Buenos Aires racer, German Pesce, and his partner Iantorno. The two men modified the car by removing the body and installing cycle-fendered racing coachwork, and the complete original body was set aside save for the radiator grille and surround, which were incorporated into the new racing body. The complete original Touring coachwork was sold to Juan Giacchio, owner of a body shop in the Buenos Aires suburb of Palermo. Giacchio retained the body until his passing in 1986, and at that time it was offered by his widow to Ed Jurist of the Vintage Car Store. Hector Mendizabal, the well-known Argentinean broker of the period, confirmed that it was from an 8C 2900B Lungo chassis, Touring body number 2027, the color a light silver blue with red leather—and it was missing the grille. Correspondence from both individuals during that period indicated an association with chassis 412041. MEANWHILE, IN EUROPE During this same period, as often happens, pieces of a puzzle began to fall together elsewhere. In 1983, David Black acquired the modified 8C 2900 rolling chassis, which was still complete with authentic 8C 2900 suspension and transaxle, from David Llewellyn; the frame had its engine bearers (and thus the chassis number) cut away to accommodate the Corvette V-8, although a correct frame number, 432042, in the proper Alfa Romeo typeface, was still present. Moore recalls in The Immortal 2.9 his recollection of seeing the frame a decade earlier in 1973: “I was completely convinced that this was a genuine Alfa Romeo frame.” Following Black’s death, the car passed to Jan Bruijn in 1993. Guido Haschke of Switzerland subsequently acquired the rolling chassis and, at the same time, acquired the original, remarkably well-preserved Touring Spider body from Italian collector Count Vittorio Zanon di Valgiurata. The body, in the same light silver blue and missing its radiator grille and surround, was without doubt the Menditeguy Touring Spider, body number 2027, which is pictured in Moore’s book, while still in Buenos Aires. The following year, 1994, Sam Mann was alerted to the availability of the project and contacted Alfa Romeo restorer Tony Merrick, a gentleman who carries the same prestige in 2.9 restorations as Simon Moore does in documenting their past, to inspect the car and advise as to its authenticity. Merrick, who has had 10 to 12 of these fabled cars through his workshop, found the components to be authentic, and with his advice, Sam opted to purchase the car and engage Merrick to perform the restoration. Through the sleuthing of Moore and Merrick, a complete original 8C 2900B engine, number 422042, was acquired, thus securing the last of the necessary components for a proper and authentic restoration. It is a reality understood by those in racing circles that these high-performance Alfa Romeos and many other similar cars were simply tools used on a track, and such is the nature of competition racing that as technology and rules evolved, so did the cars, which often led multiple lives. That these truly rare components from a model with such a miniscule production run survived to be united by a dedicated enthusiast is nothing short of remarkable. It is worthy of note that during the subsequent restoration, the original body number, 2027, was located on numerous panels. Interestingly, 2026 appears on the glove box door, indicating that the two sequential bodies were being built at the same time, and someone put the wrong glove box door in this car! During the restoration, when Merrick placed the body on the re-lengthened chassis, he found that the holes on the top of the frame lined up exactly with the holes in the inner fender liner panels. According to Merrick, who has fully disassembled at least six of these cars, the holes were not made to a drawing or template but were drilled freehand by the Touring workmen during assembly so that a series of screws would hold it all together. This construction method would have created a unique “fingerprint,” thus indicating that the body could have somehow been original to this chassis. Merrick recently confirmed he still holds this belief, given his understanding of the construction of these cars on a more forensic level. To summarize, since no hard evidence exists to confirm the true sequence of events, it remains possible that the Menditeguy Alfa traveled to Brazil from Argentina in the mid- to late-1950s, sans Touring body, where it was then further modified and raced with the Chevrolet V-8, only to be reunited with its original Touring coachwork some four decades later. Mr. Merrick had completed the restoration of the chassis, drivetrain, and body by late 1997, with the exception of paintwork, which was performed – in its current lustrous black – upon arrival back in the United States. At that time, Sam opted to add the chromed stone guards on the rear fenders, and the flashing on the rear of the front fenders, authentic design elements which he had admired on another 2.9 Touring Spider. The car was subsequently debuted at the 1999 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it was awarded 2nd in Class and the Gwenn Graham Trophy for Most Elegant Convertible. More recently, this year it was deemed the Most Elegant Car at the Cavallino Classic Sports Sunday at the Mar-a-Lago Club. Since joining the Mann’s stateside stable, noted twin cam specialist Phil Reilly has handled all maintenance, repair, and tuning work. Most recently, Sam has been able to acquire the rare and valuable fuel pumps specific to the 8C 2900, which will be included with the sale for installation by the next owner. Perhaps the most persuasive testament to the quality of the restoration and its subsequent expert care, and the effortless drivability of the 8C 2900, is the fact that the Manns have spent over 12,000 miles behind the wheel, including seven 8C Alfa Tours between 1999 and 2013, in addition to the Copperstate 1000, the Colorado Grand, the California Mille, and the California Classic Rally. IMMORTAL AND EXTRAORDINARY Only approximately 32 2.9 chassis were made; the survivors are the most sought-after European sports cars of their generation, none more so than those bodied by Touring. Of the extant examples of the 8C 2900, it is believed that only 12 are Touring Spiders, seven of which are on the long chassis. They can be justifiably referred to as “Italy’s version of the Bugatti Atlantic,” as, like the Bugatti Type 57SC of fame, they combined the best engineering and styling of their generation in one advanced, sensuous, undeniably thrilling package. Ownership of this car for the last two decades has certainly been thrilling for Sam and Emily Mann, who describe the car as “a pleasure to drive way beyond its years.” He fondly recalls “loping along” behind fellow 2.9-owner John Mozart on one of the fabled 8C tours: “My left foot was resting on the handbrake and my right arm was resting on the door sill, and we were just comfortably flying right along. My speedometer cable had broken and I didn’t know how fast we were going along a 10-mile stretch until John told me when we stopped later on: 105 miles an hour.” Sam is still astonished at the way this car combines so many important facets in equal measure: high performance, a convertible top (and a disappearing one, at that), a huge compartment for luggage along with a compartment for tools, a spare tire, and supplies. “Most supercars today don’t have a place for glasses or a jacket, and here in 1939, you have a car that has substantial performance along with convenience and elegance for a weekend drive – or to cross Europe.” Then as now, buying one places its owner in the foremost echelon of automotive enthusiasts. With the majority of these cars in significant long-term collections, acquiring one has, until this point, required not only significant financial resources, but more importantly, being in the right place at the right time. The 2.9 is, yes, “immortal,” as it was described by Automobile Quarterly, made famous by Simon Moore, and preserved through the care, experience, and attention to detail of restorers like Tony Merrick. It remains simply extraordinary – in every sense of the word. Chassis no. 412041 Engine no. 422042 Body no. 2027

  • 2016-08-19

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


AN EXCEPTIONAL EGYPTIAN PAINTED LIMESTONE STATUE FOR THE INSPECTOR OF THE SCRIBES SEKHEMKA OLD KINGDOM, DYNASTY 5, CIRCA 2400-2300 B.C. Depicted seated, wearing a tight-fitting wig with rows of carefully-cut curls, his expressive face beautifully carved with subtly modelled brows, his eyes looking slightly downward, with a short nose and a softly modelled mouth, the slightly smiling lips outlined by a raised vermillion line, wearing a short pleated kilt with a knotted belt and a pleated tab angled above, holding a partially unrolled papyrus scroll on his lap with a hieroglyphic inscription listing twenty-two varied offerings, his powerful bare chest with clearly indicated collar bones, muscular arms and strong legs, his hands finely detailed, a hieroglyphic inscription on the seat reading: “Inspector of the scribes of the house of the master of largess, one revered before the great god, Sekhemka”; to his right, his wife in much smaller scale kneeling, her left leg bent elegantly beneath her right, her left arm tenderly embracing Sekhemka’s right leg, wearing a tight-fitting ankle-length dress, the accompanying inscription reading: “The one concerned with the affairs of the king, one revered before the great god, Sitmeret”; to his left a young man sculpted in raised relief, most probably his son, with an inscription reading: “Scribe of the master of largess, Seshemnefer”; the three sides of the cubic seat sculpted in shallow raised relief with a ceremonial procession of male offering bearers bringing a duck, geese, a calf, lotus flowers, unguent and incense 29 ½ in. (75 cm.) high; 12 ¼ in. (31.2 cm.) wide; 17 3/8 in. (44.1 cm.) deep

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2014-07-10

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

Odalisque au fauteuil noir

A joyous assembly of pattern and colour, Matisse’s Odalisque au fauteuil noir was painted in Nice at the beginning of 1942. The reappearance of the artist’s favourite subject - the odalisque - marked his return to health and artistic productivity. The composition is a vision of luxurious comfort, enhanced by the use of arabesques and generously proportioned black lines which underscore the vigorous application of colour. At the time he painted the present work, Matisse was living in Nice with his model and muse Lydia Delectorskaya. The artist had moved into the Hôtel Régina in Nice in October 1939, returning to the grand rooms which had become both his home and studio in the south of France.  The outbreak of war in 1939 had compounded the already mounting problems in Matisse’s life. His marriage to Amélie was finally at an end after years of estrangement, and the presence of Lydia strained his relationships with other members of his family and friends. The spectre of German invasion forced Matisse and Lydia out of Paris and into a period of artistic limbo. He was also beset by a slew of health problems. However, by May he was safely ensconced in his studios back at the Hôtel Régina, and was determined to paint. Amidst the exotic splendours of tropical plants, cacti and the incessant stream of bird-song issuing from his aviary, Matisse executed a series of brilliantly coloured paintings and sensuous drawings of women and still-lifes which were to be his final great accomplishments before he devoted himself to the cut-outs. Alfred Barr described his early 1940s work as demonstrating a 'complete synthesis after fifty years of study and ceaseless research in which academic, impressionist, quasi-primitive, arbitrarily abstract and comparatively realistic styles were all put to the test' (A.H. Barr, Jr., Matisse: His Art and His Public, New York, 1951, p. 237). As he wrote to his friend, the painter Albert Marquet in 1942: ‘My terrible operation has completely rejuvenated and made a philosopher of me. I had so completely prepared for my exit from life, that it seems to me that I am in a second life’ (quoted in Henri Matisse: Paper Cut-Outs, (exhibition catalogue), St. Louis Art Museum, 1977, p. 43). Indeed it was this chance at a second life which spurred him on to paint with such determination amidst such difficult circumstances. Matisse admitted to Gotthard Jedlicka: ‘What I did before this illness, before this operation, always has the feeling of too much effort; before this, I always lived with my belt tightened. What I created afterwards represents me myself: free and detached’ (quoted in ibid., p. 43). Discussing Matisse's female portraits of this period, John Elderfield wrote: 'his model is shown in decorative costumes - a striped Persian coat, a Rumanian blouse - and the decorativeness and the very construction of a costume and of a painting are offered as analogous. What developed were groups of paintings showing his model in similar or different poses, costumes, and settings: a sequence of themes and variations that gained in mystery and intensity as it unfolded' (J. Elderfield in Henri Matisse, A Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1992-93, p. 357). As well as paying a great attention to his sitters' garments Matisse constantly rearranged the pieces of furniture, decorative objects and plants in his studio, tirelessly experimenting with his favourite theme and inventing new decorative combinations and painterly solutions. Throughout his life, Matisse approached clothing and textiles with the keen eye of a collector. Costumes of all descriptions could be found in numerous chests about his house and studio. From Romanian peasant clothing to ball gowns, Matisse’s appetite for clothing was enormous. He commissioned the celebrated designer Paul Poiret’s sister to make dresses for his wife and daughter, and on one occasion in 1938, he spent a day in the area around the rue de la Boëtie in Paris buying several items of haute couture at the spring sales. By the time he moved to his new apartment in the old Hotel Régina in Cimiez in 1939, his collection of costumes required a whole room to store them. Describing Matisse’s passion for exotic dress, Hilary Spurling has noted: ‘Moroccan jackets, robes, blouses, boleros, caps and scarves, from which his models could be kitted out in outfits distantly descended - like Bakst's ballet, and a whole series of films using Nice locations in the 1920s as a substitute for the mysterious East - from the French painterly tradition of orientalisation’ (H. Spurling, Matisse: His Art and his Textiles (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005, p. 29). Through Matisse and his great rival Picasso, Orientalist themes - once so popular in the latter half of the nineteenth century - underwent a great revival and modernisation. Matisse had initially started to explore Orientalism in the 1920s in Nice (fig. 1), transforming the exotic odalisque into one of the most recognisable emblems of eroticism in Modern art. His extravagantly dressed models indicated his interest in fabric and embroidery as much as his desire to create images evocative of the Orient. Picasso’s own engagement with the subject would happen later in the mid-1950s (fig. 2), and his work was as much influenced by Delacroix and Ingres as by the recently deceased Matisse. Françoise Gilot, writing in 1964 about Picasso’s Orientalist paintings, commented on Matisse’s own work: '[Matisse] has always been a frequent visitor to the Louvre, where he had copied the masters during his early years of soul searching... He went back to the large galleries where Delacroix's major works were displayed [including] Les femmes d'Alger... Matisse studied Delacroix's achievements, from the rhythmical arabesques of his compositions to his bold colour contrasts, with passion' (F. Gilot, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 169). In a letter to André Rouveyre on 17th January 1942, Matisse wrote about Odalisque au fauteuil noir: 'I have also begun an important canvas of ma petite princesse de rêve'. This term of endearment referred to Nézy (fig. 4), the sitter in the present work. Nézy-Hamidé Chawkat was the great granddaughter of the last Sultan of Turkey, Abdul Hamid, who went to live in Nice with her grandmother after the proclamation of the Turkish Republic. The Princess Nézy, as she was known, was spotted in the street by Matisse in 1940 and, as Hilary Spurling recounts: ‘[Matisse] asked if he might paint her, requesting formal permission from her grandmother like a suitor applying for her hand’ (H. Spurling, Matisse the Master, London, 2005, p. 410). Nézy would attend Matisse’s sittings accompanied by a chaperone and was for nearly two years his favourite model. Her striking dark looks contrasted with those of the blonde Lydia, and together they provided the essential harmony behind works such as Deux jeune filles, robe jaune, robe écossaise (fig. 3). Nézy was also the model for a vast outpouring of drawings now known as ‘Themes and Variations’, some of which captured her personality wonderfully and others which bore fewer of her own characteristics and more of Matisse’s increasingly abstract ideals (fig. 5). Discussing the pictures Nézy sat for, with particular reference to the celebrated Le Rêve (fig. 6), Spurling writes: ‘The princess herself (who reminded Matisse of the attendant on the right in Ingrès’ Turkish Bath [fig. 7]) emerges from his drawings as a natural flirt, languorous, pert and seductive, with delicate Oriental features and a cloud of wavy dark hair, wearing a rose or a twisted rope of silk scarves or a smart spotted veil. There was something subtle, indefinable, even ethereal about Nézy, and Matisse captured it in Le Rêve’ (ibid., p. 411). Her time in Matisse’s studio came to an end when she left Nice in the summer of 1942 to get married, and her role as his prime model was temporarily taken by her friends Carla Avogardo and Simone Vincent. Signed Henri Matisse and dated 1/42 (lower left)

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2015-02-03

Liz #1 (Early Colored Liz)

Andy Warhol’s magnificent Liz #1 (Early Colored Liz), executed between October and November 1963, is one of a rare series of Elizabeth Taylor produced by the master of Pop Art on colored backgrounds. This series of jewel-toned portrait paintings represents the apotheosis of Warhol’s ground-breaking creative vision, both as the technician of the (still then) revolutionary silkscreen process and the architect of iconic visual treatises on the modern vagaries of celebrity. This luminous portrait not only captures the ironically dark essence of Twentieth Century glamour and fame, it also speaks of a time of growing fame for Warhol himself. The numerical title of Liz #1 originates from the first exhibition of this series at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, where six of the colored Liz paintings appeared in a December 1963 show fittingly titled An American Viewpoint. Most importantly, it resided for several decades in the illustrious Sonnabend Collection, along with Liz #5 (Early Colored Liz) and Four Marilyns of 1962, both on turquoise grounds, among many other masterpieces of Pop Art. Ileana Sonnabend and her former husband Leo Castelli each held important exhibitions for Warhol in the months following the creation of Liz #1 - the Death and Disaster paintings at Galerie Sonnabend in Paris in January and the Flower paintings in New York at the Castelli Gallery in November - December 1964. As with his images of Marilyn Monroe or Jacqueline Kennedy, Warhol’s depictions of Elizabeth Taylor display not so much his ambition to record the prose of physical likeness, but more his love affair with the drama and glamour of celebrity. For Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor was much more than just a celebrated actress. She was the survivor of a near fatal illness, a goddess of the silver screen and the grand embodiment of the trinity of mortality, celebrity and fame which so fascinated the artist. Warhol’s deep involvement with the image of Elizabeth Taylor appeared very early in his career, beginning with his Death and Disaster paintings. When Warhol was still largely painting his canvases by hand, he borrowed subject matter from the front pages of tabloids and newspapers, beginning in 1961. Warhol’s second and largest "headline’’ painting, Daily News (1962), was based on the front and back pages of a March 29, 1962 newspaper with the front page headline "Eddie Fisher Breaks Down: In Hospital Here, Liz in Rome." For Warhol, tabloid papers were either vehicles for mass disaster, rendering tragic circumstances almost mundane by their commonplace repetition, or the purveyors of celebrity and fame to an avid audience. In figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy, Warhol found the ideal subjects that combined both aspects of the mass media culture where accessibility turned private tragedy into public myth. By isolating and then serializing such images, Warhol began the practice of essentially commodifying celebrity, just as he had earlier catalogued the darker side of life with his various images of car crashes, race riots and electric chairs. This, in turn, would affect a later generation of artists, most notably Jeff Koons, whose work seems to celebrate the Warholian process of ‘commodification’. In the early 1960s, Liz Taylor had emerged from a string of successful films that signaled her complete transformation from the child star of National Velvet (1944) to the heated sex symbol of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Suddenly Last Summer (1959) and Butterfield 8 (1960). Often, Taylor’s personal life superceded her professional accomplishments as the public passionately followed her early marriages, the tragic death of her third husband Mike Todd and her role as the other woman in the break-up of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds’ marriage – all before the actress had turned 30. Most tellingly for Warhol, the young voluptuous woman had a dramatic brush with early death. After begrudgingly playing the prostitute role in Butterfield 8, Taylor traveled to London in 1960 with her then husband Fisher to begin filming Cleopatra. While there, the actress suffered from a near-fatal respiratory illness during which she was actually briefly pronounced dead, finally recovering after an emergency tracheotomy. While Taylor had been acknowledged by critics and Hollywood with Oscar nominations for two previous roles in the late 1950s, it was her role in Butterfield 8 that garnered the actress her first Academy Award. The sympathy engendered by her operation and illness was perceived as a factor in her award, as her scar was visibly apparent on the night of the ceremonies. This combination of glamour and tragedy appealed to Warhol’s fascination with fame and his own deep sense of morbidity, and in 1962 the personae of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor would become Warhol’s ultimate muses in establishing iconic symbols of popular culture. While his series of colored Marilyn paintings were inspired by the shocking news of Monroe’s suicide in August 1962, Warhol’s focus on Elizabeth Taylor was generated from a ten page feature on her marital history and career in the April 13, 1962 issue of Life, portraying Taylor on the cover with her new passion, Richard Burton, under the banner headline "Blazing New Page in the Legend of Liz." Warhol chose images from this article to create several works of the actress in a retrospective vein from an early photograph of her role in National Velvet to a still from the upcoming movie Cleopatra, for which the actress was receiving the unprecedented salary of one million dollars. The most arresting image Warhol used was a group photograph of Liz, her third husband Mike Todd, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds at the Epsom Downs horse race prior to the scandalous intrigue of her romance with Eddie. In October-November 1962, Warhol used this image in four paintings all titled The Men in Her Life, memorializing this period as a preamble to the red-hot intensity of the publicity machine that was thriving on her tempestuous - and extremely public - affair with Burton. While Cleopatra would become notorious for its lavish budget and protracted production over years, its reception on its release in 1963 was cool and unforgiving as opposed to the career-enhancing publicity of the Burton-Taylor scandal. In the summer of 1963, Taylor’s role as an icon of luxury, decadence, sexuality and celebrity was at its height, when Warhol chose a publicity shot of the actress in the late 1950s to match the iconic pose he was using in his silkscreen paintings of Marilyn Monroe’s studio publicity shot. As in the case of Monroe, Warhol sought to capture her physical attributes – her public mask of hair and makeup – rather than a biographical or career moment. At first, Warhol screened this image over silver backgrounds in the summer of 1963, at the same time he was screening his Silver Elvis paintings, and both series were shown at the Ferus Gallery in October 1963. However in October-November 1963, Warhol soon moved to the multi-colored backgrounds that he was using for his 20 by 16 inch Marilyn paintings of late 1962.  With his Liz portraits, Warhol inaugurated the most classic format for his modern muses – the 40 by 40 inch canvases in which his goddess is centrally placed and evenly balanced. Set against bold colors, the thirteen Colored Liz paintings command our attention and seduce our senses. The Marilyn and Jackie paintings in this format followed in the summer of 1964. Like modern-day Madonnas, the images of these three women were refined down to their basic attributes contrasted dramatically against brilliant colored backgrounds; in the case of Liz Taylor, her abundant dark hair, her brilliantly hued eyes, her perfectly arched brow and her voluptuous red lips were the signs of her immortality as a public image. From the very first moment one encounters this painting, one is seduced by the bright, electrified yellow hue that bursts from the surface. It seeps into the sitter’s hair, displaying pyrotechnics of color and screen. Punctuating these bold passages are the shocking turquoise of her eye-shadow as well as the famous blue tones of her eyes. This strong chromatic field sets the stage upon which the star herself is realized. Warhol’s silkscreen technique, still a relatively new phenomenon to him in 1963, is beautifully executed here. There is a wonderful balance between the crisp record of the overall form, together with softer, more subtle areas of screen that shape the shadows around her nose, cheek and neck. One finds in this series of Colored Liz paintings a more confident Warhol with the silkscreen. The early experiments had been made, and now he wished to explore the various nuances this new technique presented to him. Liz #1 powerfully sums up the extraordinary contribution Warhol made to the lexis and praxis of art. An image of a film star, purloined from a publicity photograph, becomes iconic not just of the vagaries of life and death, but also of the questions of beauty, and how society embraces and nurtures such a dynamic. The aesthetic and the conceptual are thus inextricably linked, revealing Warhol’s focus on searching questions of how and why celebrity matters. Moreover, underpinning the visual and intellectual rewards we garner from Liz #1, the extraordinary technical achievement Warhol made, here perfected in the silkscreen technique, creates an astonishing work that truly broadcasts the essence of an icon. Signed on the stretcher

  • 2013-11-14

Composition with Red, Blue and Grey

Composition with Red, Blue and Grey is a highly important painting from a seminal period in Mondrian’s career, during which he laid down the pioneering strictures of Neo-Plasticism. Painted in 1927, it is a superb example of the artist's unique style that evolved through his resolute pursuit of a purified aesthetic vision. His project, to liberate painting from the domination of sensory perception and articulate universal principles that would give a new spiritual dimension to art, would become a template for both the aesthetic and the ideals of Modernism. Mondrian’s return from the Netherlands to his studio in Paris in 1919 marked the beginning of a period of intense activity devoted to developing the style that would dominate his work of the 1920s. The return to an urban environment was a crucial influence, as the artist himself commented: ‘In the metropolis, beauty expresses itself more mathematically; therefore it is the place out of which the mathematically artistic temperament of the future must develop, the place out of which the New Style must emerge’ (P. Mondrian quoted in Hans L. C. Jaffé, Piet Mondrian, London, 1970, p. 40). Whilst the outlines of Neo-Plasticism had been articulated two years earlier with the publication of De Stijl, an aesthetic manifesto created in collaboration with Theo van Doesburg, it was in his austere Parisian studio that Mondrian developed Plastic compositions using a completely abstract, geometric pictorial language (figs. 1, 2 & 5). From 1920 onwards Mondrian confined his pictorial lexicon to planes of pure primary colour, planes of non-colour and black lines, abandoning the modular grid and colour gradations which characterised his works from 1918-19. Over the next decade the artist sought to refine this new vocabulary to the highest degree of balance and economy. Mondrian created several series of similar works, with each new canvas featuring minor variations in the precise shades of the primary colours, the thickness of the black lines, and the size and shape of the geometrical grids that delineate his compositions. Each work is a unique attempt to express a principle of equilibrium borne out of opposing elements that was the essence of Neo-Plasticism. In 1926 Mondrian published ‘General Principles of Neo-Plasticism’ in a special issue of the periodical Vouloir, stating that ‘the Plastic means must be the rectangular plane or prism in primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) and in noncolor (white, black and gray)’ (P. Mondrian, ‘General Principles of Neo-Plasticism’, in Vouloir, 1926, quoted in Harry Holtzman & Martin S. James (eds.), The New Art – The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian, Boston, 1986, p. 214). Executed in the following year, Composition with Red, Blue and Grey is a quintessential example of these principles, combining two of the three primary colours with a soft grey tone as well as with black outlines. Shortly after its execution, the present work, together with some twenty other recent works, was shown at a one-day exhibition held on 12th March 1927, organised by De Klomp, a new association of Dutch painters living in Paris. This show was followed by another in April at the Librarie L’Esthétique in which Mondrian was only able to exhibit a few of the paintings, including the present work, which he had lent to the earlier exhibition (fig. 4). Having focused on a series of lozenge-shaped canvases in 1925 and 1926, executed in response to the work of Theo van Doesburg, in 1927 Mondrian returned to using square and rectangular formats, producing a group of oils, including the present work, centred around the idea of the dominant white or grey shape, with smaller squares and rectangles in primary colours placed along the edges of the composition. Mondrian’s paintings of this period are among the purest and most balanced of his career. Despite being at the vanguard of modernism, Mondrian’s Dutch background and Puritan upbringing were formative influences on his ideas and work. Brought up in a strict Calvinist household, Mondrian’s aversion to the attractions of sensory perception, attachment to strict discipline and technique and wish to depict a universal reality beneath the phenomenal world are all rooted in the Dutch Calvinist tradition. A religious impulse was at the core of his art, and underlay the utopian direction of his social theory; as he comments in De Stijl, ‘Art, although an end in itself, is, like religion, a means by which the universal may be revealed, that is to say, plastically contemplated’ (P. Mondrian quoted in Hans L. C. Jaffé, Piet Mondrian, London, 1970, p. 54). It is this concern with revealing the universal principles beneath surface reality that link him to the Dutch tradition of Vermeer, Heda and van der Heyden, artists whose work is united by a serene sense of compositional balance and spatial order. Mondrian infused this religiously inspired Dutch aesthetic with a radical, modernist fervour. The experience of the First World War convinced him that mankind needed to outgrow the wasteful disparities of individualism towards a new universal harmony. This social vision was based on the notion that subjectivity and materialism led to the social disequilibrium that underpinned the cataclysmic events of 1914-18. His art is a messianic vision based on the conviction that ‘a feeling for beauty freed from matter could regenerate this materialist society’ (P. Mondrian quoted in ibid., p. 55). The austere geometry of his compositions constitutes a blueprint for a new society: ‘The pure plastic vision should set up a new society just as in art it set forth new plasticism. This will be a society based on the equation of the material and the spiritual, a society composed of balanced relationships’ (P. Mondrian, 'Natural Reality and Abstract Reality', 1919-1920, reprinted in Michel Seuphor, Piet Mondrian. Life and Work, New York, 1956, p. 322). This work can therefore be seen as a step on Mondrian’s dialectical pilgrimage towards a modernist utopia. The first owner of the present work was Harry Holtzman, the artist and co-founder of the American Abstract Artists Group. Holtzman’s own form of abstract art was deeply indebted to Mondrian’s Purist style. Upon seeing some of A. E. Gallatin’s collection at the Museum of Living Art in New York, which included two of Mondrian’s works, Holtzman became convinced of the importance of meeting the artist. In 1934 he travelled to France and introduced himself to Mondrian at his studio in the rue de Départ. The pair became great friends and it was Holtzman in 1940 who arranged for Mondrian to escape the Blitz of London and emigrate to America where he remained for the rest of his life. In New York, Holtzman introduced Mondrian to jazz, and in particular, music in the so-called ‘boogie-woogie’ style. Harry Cooper has noted that ‘without Harry Holtzman, there might have been no boogie-woogie’ paintings, and there would probably be no transatlantic works either’ (H. Cooper in Mondrian: The Transatlantic Paintings (exhibition catalogue), Harvard University Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2001, p. 15). Furthermore, at the time of his death the childless artist was without an heir and chose Holtzman as the guardian of his legacy. Cooper comments: ‘With the help of Fritz Glarner, Holtzman diligently documented and filmed Mondrian’s studio after his death in 1944. This act of preservation reflected Holtzman’s understanding that Mondrian’s studio décor – the coloured rectangles that he had pinned to the wall, the homemade furniture, the placement of Victory Boogie Woogie – was an integral aspect of his art (ibid., p. 15). Composition with Red, Blue and Grey remained with Holtzman for nearly fifteen years before it was acquired by the father of the present owner through Galerie Beyeler in 1959. Signed P.M. and dated 27 (lower left); signed P. Mondrian on a piece of the original stretcher affixed to the stretcher and inscribed Haut N: II on the original turnover edge

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2014-06-23


Skizze fur sintflut ii (sketch for deluge ii)

The brilliantly colored canvases from Kandinsky’s Munich period present an ecstatic beauty that is rarely expressed in painting (see fig. 1).  In Skizze für Sintflut II (Sketch for Deluge II), created in 1912 at the height of his involvement with the avant-garde Expressionist group, Der Blaue Reiter, Kandinsky floods the surface of his canvas with opaque and translucent colors.  Amorphous forms appear to explode, overlap, and evaporate beyond the boundaries of the picture plane, alluding to the constant flux of energy and entropy at play in the universe. The goal of Kandinsky’s art of this period, in the painter’s own words, was “to awaken as yet nameless feelings of a finer nature.”  It is with these grand canvases, pulsating with color, that the artist attempted to create a new aesthetic experience for the 20th century.   Skizze für Sintflut II (Sketch for Deluge II) is one of the first canvases that established the artist’s signature style among the avant-garde in Europe.  As is the case for the present work, most of the paintings that Kandinsky completed during this important period of his career made highly abstracted references to the material world.   The titles of these works, while somewhat descriptive like The Last Judgment or Autumn, generally denote the spirit of the picture rather than assign a narrative to it.  The title of present work refers to a flood, but nowhere in this composition is there any distinguishable symbol of such an event.  The world “Sintflut,” or deluge, is more of an allusion to the movement of the composition, with its free-flow of line and color.  Earlier in the year Kandinsky painted another work, known as Sintflut I (see fig. 2), which also demonstrates a similar compositional abstraction and freedom of expression.   Skizze für Sintflut II ( Sketch for Deluge II), created in the summer, is the artist’s final composition in oil on this theme from that year.  In his Handlist III, Kandinsky added “Sketch” to the title of this picture, perhaps intending to execute another canvas.  There is no known final version for the painting, but a related watercolor exists and is now in a private collection (see fig. 3). The theme of the Deluge had interested the artist in 1911, when he painted another work of this title on glass (see fig. 4).  That composition was much more figurative than either of the two Deluge pictures of 1912.  By 1913, Kandinsky had reworked the 1911 composition into a more abstract painting on canvas, which he called Composition VI (see fig. 5).   The lessons of the previous year, including his experience painting Deluge I and Skizze für sintflut II ( Sketch of Deluge II), had revealed to him the true beauty of total abstraction.  In 1913, Kandinsky wrote about his approach to the Deluge theme and his realization that it was the emotion, not the event, that he aimed to convey in these pictures: “So it is that all these elements, even those that contradict one another, inwardly attain total equilibrium, in such a way that no single element gains the upper hand, while the original motif out of which the picture came into being (the Deluge) is dissolved and transformed into an internal, purely pictorial independent, and objective existence.  Nothing could be more misleading than to dub this picture the representation of an event.  What thus appears a mighty collapse in objective terms is, when one isolates its sound, a living paean of praise, the hymn of that new creation that follows upon the destruction of the world” (quoted in Jelena Hahl-Koch, Kandinsky, Brussels, 1993, p. 205). This transformative realization manifested in Kandinsky’s art in 1911 coincided with his involvement with the artistic group known as Der Blaue Reiter (see fig. 6).  Founded by Kandinsky and Franz Marc in 1911, this group of painters, which included Franz Marc, Alexei Jawlensky, and Gabriele Münter, emphasized the importance of abstraction and the primacy of color as a means of expression in art.  The paintings that Kandinsky and his fellow painters completed with Der Blaue Reiter in Munich between 1911 and 1913 called for the renunciation of the representational in art and the adoption of a purely expressive aesthetic.  Although some of his initial work, including his cover for Der Blaue Reiter Almanac (see fig. 7), incorporated vestiges of the iconography of his native Russia, Kandinsky’s compositions became increasingly abstract and mystical in nature as the group developed.  His devotion to the mystical or spiritual underpinnings of his art set him apart from his colleagues within Der Blaue Reiter, eventually leading to the group’s demise.  By the time the present work was completed, Kandinsky’s paintings were heavily reliant upon the impact of color. Kandinsky’s palette had long been influenced by the vibrant folk art of Russia, but as he developed his aesthetic in Munich, the reasoning behind his color choices was based more on philosophy than on nostalgia.  The color theory that Kandinsky developed in the 1910s was an all-encompassing philosophy that proposed a link between emotional well-being and different tones and hues of the spectrum. Expanding on the teachings of the 19th century chemist and color theorist, Michel Eugène Chevreul, Kandinsky explained the impact of color on the senses with his own quasi-scientific justifications.   Color, he believed, was the elicitor of emotional and even physical reactions.  The year that he completed this picture, Kandinsky wrote the treatise, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, in which he discussed the synesthetic effect of color.  He described how the eye’s response to color can elicit sensations from the other parts of the body, claiming that different shades of red, for example, “can enliven the heart,” while blue “can lead to temporary paralysis.”  Rarely in his text does Kandinsky provide a source for these rather questionable physiological findings, but his passion for and his belief in the power of color is well-noted.  At the end of his text, he offers this poetic synopsis: “In general, color is the means of exerting direct influence upon the soul.  Color is the keyboard.  The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano, with its many strings” (Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual In Art, 1912, excerpts reprinted Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, Art in Theory, 1900-1990, An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Oxford, 1993, pp. 93-94) Kandinsky’s reference to music reveals another driving force behind his aesthetic.  At the time he completed this work, the artist was very much affected by the music of the Austro-Hungarian composer, Arnold Schönberg, whose concert Kandinsky had attended in Munich in 1911.  Kandinsky channeled his enthusiasm for music into his painting, rendering on canvas a range of visual harmonies and dissonances not unlike those heard in an avant-garde symphony.  Many of his works, such as Composition, Improvisation 28 (Rudern) (see fig. 8) and Impression III (Concert) (see fig. 9), have titles that are similar to those of musical compositions, and Kandinsky intended to make connections between the art forms in as many ways as possible.  For him, painting, like music, offered a transcendent experience that moved its audience with sensations of profound beauty.   He would frequently use musical and visual qualifiers interchangeably in his descriptions of his art, enabling him to express the powerful, multi-sensual experience he attempted to convey in his paintings.  Take, for example, the following text, which can be applied to the present work:  "Yellow is disquieting to the spectator, pricking him, revealing the nature of the power expressed in this colour, which has an effect on our sensibilities at once impudent and importunate. This property of yellow affects us like the shrill sound of a trumpet played louder and louder, or the sound of a high pitched fanfare. Black has an inner sound of an eternal silence without future, without hope. Black is externally the most toneless colour, against which all other colours sound stronger and more precise" (ibid.). With Deluge II, it is as if Kandinsky has invited us to visualize the music of an orchestra, as it swells to a mighty crescendo and crashes down in a flood of instrumental harmonies.    Given this assessment of the power of the yellow, it is not surprising that the artist has picked this color for this picture.   Filling his canvas with “the shrill sound of a trumpet player,” Kandinsky releases a symphonic explosion of yellows, as well as reds, oranges, and bold blues.  The effect is at once “disquieting,” as the artist had stated, and enlivening, perhaps eliciting from the viewer the adrenaline rush one might experience when listening to the rich and booming sounds of a horn ensemble. To say that Kandinsky’s primary aesthetic emphasis was on color only begins to acknowledge his obsession with this characteristic of his art.  His writings on color from this period and from his teachings at the Bauhaus in the 1920s read like religious exaltations.  Thomas Messer has noted that for Kandinsky, “painting was always above all ‘spiritual’ (geistig), that is, an attempt to render insights and awareness transcending the commonly descriptive as well as the explicitly logical.  Aware in his Russian soul of the deep layers of mystery that underlie all forms of overt knowledge, Kandinsky favored the internal over the external, the symbolic over the factual and the essential over the phenomenological.  Like many philosophers and poets before him, he looked for what Goethe termed ‘das was die Welt im Innersten zusammenhält [sic]’ (‘that which made up the world in its innermost being’) and, as a painter, strove for images capable of expressing such aspirations.  He keenly felt the interrelationship of thought in the various creative media and saw music as the spiritual, nonobjective art form par excellence.  This sense of underlying kinship among disciplines extended in Kandinsky’s mind beyond the arts to sciences, to philosophy and psychology, and beyond these to the occult theories of theosophy and anthroposophy.  In all of these, the basically sober and rational Kandinsky sought a world view that would not be limited to casual, eternal and temporal dimensions” (Thomas Messer, introduction to Vivian Endicott Barnett, Kandinsky at the Guggenheim, New York, 1983, pp. 10-11). Fig. 1, The artist in front of one of his Expressionist paintings, circa June 1913. Fig. 2, Wassily Kandinsky, Sintflut I (Deluge I), 1912, oil on canvas, Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld Fig. 3, Wassily Kandinsky, Entwurf zu ‘Skizze für Sintflut II’, Summer 1912, watercolor, Private Collection Fig. 4, Wassily Kandinsky, Sintflut (Deluge), 1911, painting on glass, location unknown Fig. 5, Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VI, 1913, oil on canvas, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg Fig. 6, The artist in Munich, surrounded by the Russian imagery that inspired him, July 1911 Fig. 7, Wassily Kandinsky, Final Study for the Cover of the Blaue Reiter Almanac, 1911, India ink, watercolor, and pencil, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich Fig. 8, Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation 28 (Rudern), 1912, oil on canvas, The Guggenheim Museum, New York Fig. 9, Wassily Kandinsky, Impression III (Concert), 1911, oil on canvas, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich Signed and dated Kandinsky 1912 (lower left)

  • 2004-11-04

La Séance du matin

Resplendent with the morning light of the Mediterranean, The stunning Séance du matin captures the daily routine of the artist's studio in the south of France.  The model for this picture was Henriette Darricarrère, Matisse's studio assistant whose own interest in painting he encouraged by offering her lessons during their working time together.  The scene depicts Henriette at work on her own painting, but the focus, of course, is on Matisse's composition here. The picture boasts all of the key elements of the Nice-period paintings, with its colorful patterning and gleeming white highlights. Clear and brilliant daylight streams through the window, casting shadows on the floor around the furniture.  What is particularly extraordinary here is Matisse's bold and deliberate interplay of vertical and horizontal lines, which he most prominently exploits by juxtaposing the sitter's striped dress against the louvered window shutter.  While in the companion work La Séance de trois heures, now in the collection of New York's Metropolitan Museum, Matisse depicts a nude model alongside the studious painter, the present composition features the painter alone, absorbed in her own work.   Matisse completed the canvas at his studio at Place Charles-Félix in Nice, where Henriette posed for him under a variety of pretexts, including playing the piano or violin, reading, playing checkers and painting at an easel.  In most of these compositions Matisse positions his model against the large French window, either partially-shuttered, curtained or completely unobstructed, in order to explore the properties of light and its interplay with the objects and occupants of the studio.   Light in this picture has a clear physical presence and affects everything that crosses its path.  In her essay on Matisse's use of windows, Shirley Neilsen Blum has noted that "although he sought to represent an overall illumination in his work, it was not that of the momentary effects of sunlight so loved by the Impressionists.  Whether as an undefined slice of colour or as an iridescence seeming to radiate from the canvas itself, Matisse represented light through the intensity of his palette and through splinters of exposed white canvas.  The reoccuring primed surface enhanced both the sense of illumination arising from within the painting and the two dimensionality of the subject"  (S. Neilsen Blum, Henri Matisse, Rooms with a View, London, 2010, p. 14). "Expression, for me, does not reside in passions bursting from a human face or manifest by violent movement," Matisse once explained. "The entire arrangement of my picture is expressive:  the place occupied by the figures, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, all of that has its share.  Composition is the art of arranging in a decorative manner the diverse elements at the painters' command to express his feelings"  (Henri Matisse, quoted in op. cit., p. 107).  We can see that in the present work, Matisse strategically arranged the composition to maximize the visual dynamism of the scene.  The outline of each object in the room is overlapped by another, and through this interweaving of imagery Matisse has created a seamlessness to the composition and linked disparate elements.  Interior and exterior space are united through the window, and the beauty of the outside world is integrated with the man-made splendor of the artist's studio. For Matisse, like Johannes Vermeer, the window played a key role in his paintings, both as a source of light and as a link to the greater world beyond it.  "Instead of suggesting escape," Blum explains in her essay, "Matisse's windows look out on subjects that speak to beauty of creation - perhaps a garden, a landscape, a great cathedral, an expanse of water, a lively tree.  Although they repeatedly join two worlds, those of man and nature, Matisse insisted that the interior and the exterior - the room and its view - made up a single unified whole.  Rather than an enticement to the outer world, the windows return the viewer to the interior scene, a process sometimes aided by a figure that unexpectedly looks towards the viewer as opposed to outward to the view.  Such windows enrich the mood and moderate the static confinement implicit in a closed room"  (ibid., p. 13). In 1924, the same year that Matisse painted the present composition, Henriette developed terrible stage fright and gave up her musical pursuits.  She focused her artistic attention instead on painting, and eventually her work was accepted into the Salon des Indépendants in Paris.  The present work commemorates Henriette's first serious efforts at this new calling, and it has gone on to become one of Matisse's most beloved canvases from this period.  We know from the Bernheim-Jeune archive that the present painting remained with Matisse until at least July 1925.  Not long after that it was sent to New York to the Valentine Dudensing Gallery, where the artist's son Pierre was getting his start as an art dealer before forming his own gallery in 1931. The picture next came into the possession of Stephen C. Clark, the American newspaper publisher and founder of the baseball hall of fame in Cooperstown, New York.  Having inherited much of his wealth as an heir to the Singer Sewing Machine Company, Clark was best know for his exceptional collection. Upon his death in 1960, Clark bequeathed several of his pictures to his alma mater Yale University and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Among these works were Cézanne's The Card Players and Seurat's The Circus Sideshow.  Clark's highly avant-garde taste for bold and expressive color was evidenced by his ownership of Van Gogh's The Night Café, now at the Yale University Art Gallery, and also by the present work, which he acquired directly from Valentine Dudensing at some point between 1926 and 1931. Signed Henri Matisse (lower right)

  • 2014-05-07

Les Arceaux de roses, Giverny

Dazzling in its use of color and exploration of the properties of reflection, Les Arceaux de roses, Giverny is one of only five canvases painted by Claude Monet between the summer of 1912 and 1914. Three of these paintings, including the present work, focus on trellises covered in Roses, set on the boat landing on the south side of Monets water garden. The present work is a stunning symphony of richly applied and worked pigment and by far the most energetic in the series. The other two works painted during this period, both entitled La Maison de lartiste à Giverny, depict a view of Monets house and gardens in the immediate vicinity of his front door.Writing about these two groups, Paul Hayes Tucker states: Despite certain resemblances to those earlier works, each of these new groups is quite distinctive. The various forms of foliage in the views of the house, for example, surge and swirl as if competing for prominence in the scene while the house peers into the fray from behind the tangled brushwork like an inquisitive though somewhat fearful spectator. The vitality of the bushes and trees in these two pictures is repeated in the flower-wrapped pergolas and the far bank in the water-garden paintings, although the intensity of the views of the house is slightly reduced here because of the smaller size and the distance of the fauna. These three new pond paintings are meditative, mysterious and expansive, commensurate with their Eastern inflection (Monet in the 20th Century (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London & Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1998-99, p. 58). By 1890, Monet had become financially successful enough to buy the house and large garden at Giverny, which he had rented since 1883. With enormous vigor and determination, he swiftly set about transforming the gardens and creating a large pond, in which waterlilies gradually matured. Once the garden was designed according to the artists vision, it offered a boundless source of inspiration, and provided the major themes that dominated the last three decades of Monets career. Towards the end of his life, he told a visitor to his studio: "It took me some time to understand my water lilies. I planted them purely for pleasure; I grew them with no thought of painting them. A landscape takes more than a day to get under your skin. And then, all at once I had the revelation how wonderful my pond was and reached for my palette. Ive hardly had any other subject since that moment" (quoted in Claude Monet (exhibition catalogue), Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, 1996, p. 146). Once discovered, the subject of waterlilies offered a wealth of inspiration that Monet went on to explore for several decades. His carefully designed garden presented the artist with a micro-cosmos in which he could observe and paint the changes in weather, season and time of day, as well as the ever-changing colors and patterns. John House wrote: The water garden in a sense bypassed Monets long searches of earlier years for a suitable subject to paint. Designed and constantly supervised by the artist himself, and tended by several gardeners, it offered him a motif that was at the same time natural and at his own command - nature re-designed by a temperament. Once again Monet stressed that his real subject when he painted was the light and weather (J. House, Monet: Nature into Art, Newhaven, 1986, p. 31). Monet often approached his subjects at Giverny in series, a method that he had developed in his high Impressionist works and perfected in his famous series paintings of the early 1890s, such as those of haystacks, poplar trees and the façade of Rouen cathedral. Monet fascinated over the varying effects of seasonal light upon these subjects. In Giverny, subjects such as the Japanese footbridge or, as in the present work, a garden arch provided the artist with an anchor for a given series. Monet thus paid exacting attention to the details of the garden, including maintaining the pond and plants in a perfect state for painting. Elizabeth Murray writes, "The water gardener would row out in the pond in a small green flat-bottomed boat to clean the entire surface. Any moss, algae, or water grasses which grew from the bottom had to be pulled out. Monet insisted on clarity. Next the gardener would inspect the water lilies themselves. Any yellow leaves or spent blossoms were removed. If the plants had become dusty from vehicles passing by on the Chemin du Roy, the dirt road nearby, the gardener would take a bucket of water and rinse off the leaves and flowers, ensuring that the true colors and beauty would shine forth" (E. Murray, Monet, Late Paintings of Giverny from the Musée Marmottan, New Orleans, 1995, p. 53). In 1908 Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier visited Monet at Giverny and gave a thoughtful description of Monets working methods for the review Fermes et Châteaux: "In this mass of intertwined verdure and foliage the lilies spread their round leaves and dot the water with a thousand red, pink, yellow and white flowers The Master often comes here, where the bank of the pond is bordered with thick clumps of irises. His swift, short strokes place brushloads of luminous color as he moves from one place to another, according to the hour The canvas he visited this morning at dawn is not the same as the canvas we find him working on in the afternoon. In the morning, he records the blossoming of the flowers, and then, once they begin to close, he returns to the charms of the water itself and its shifting reflections, the dark water that trembles beneath the somnolent leaves of the water-lilies" (quoted in D. Wildenstein, Monet or The Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne, 2003, p. 384). The unending variety of forms and tones that the ponds provided allowed Monet to work consistently on a number of canvases at the same time. With large scale and a wide-ranged palette, Les Arceaux de roses, Giverny is a unique and grand statement of adoration for this artist's haven. Distinct from his earlier, pre-1910 depictions of his garden at Giverny, these later compositions are remarkably daring. The brushstrokes are heavily laden and equally applied across the surface of the canvas. This painterly technique brings the eye to the surface of the canvas and contends with the illusions of a receding space and a differentiation between the physical properties of the water, foliage and structure. Signed Claude Monet (lower left)

  • 2017-11-15


Signed, titled and dated 1975 on the reverseoil on canvas35.5 by 30.5cm. Signed, titled and dated 1975 on the reverse Over and above any other theme or major development in Francis Bacon’s work of the 1970s, it was self-portraiture that utterly dominated the decade. Spearheading the magnificent Figure and Form collection are two self-portraits which represent the absolute zenith of Francis Bacon’s most significant and enduring body of work. Self Portrait and Three Studies for Self Portrait are unparalleled within the intimately scaled self-portraits.Fixed against two electrifying blue grounds, they exude conceptual brilliance and, above all, painterly genius; the combination of an Impressionistic colour palette, layers of Letraset, grazes of corduroy fabric, and exigent mark making awards these paintings unequivocal masterpiece status. These powerful images stand alongside those by Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Picasso whose formidable self-portraits rank among the most iconic paintings within the history of art. To appreciate them is to understand something of the collector’s insatiable appetite for masterpieces by Bacon. Indeed at the time of purchasing Three Studies for Self-Portrait (1980) the owner proudly remarked: “Although we already had a little self-portrait as well as a big self-portrait [Self-Portrait from 1978 sold at Sotheby’s in 2007], it excited us just as much to buy this triptych: as we would thus have three self-portrait paintings all in different formats”. This enthusiasm extended to the purchase of Self-Portrait (1975): “I am particularly excited about this purchase as I consider this Self-Portrait as an absolute masterpiece. It is my favourite!”. Dated 1975 and 1980 respectively, and never before exhibited in public, these magnificent works narrate the latter half of this most extraordinary decade for Francis Bacon.Today considered the most introspective and inwardly scrutinising of his career, Bacon’s 1970s production is characterised by the searing self-images that emerged following the sudden death of Bacon’s former lover, George Dyer, in 1971. Bacon never truly relinquished the guilt and responsibility he felt in fuelling Dyer’s tragic juggernaut of a life, and the suite of ‘black triptychs’ painted between 1971 and 1973 offer exorcising lamentation over his death. In tandem with these works, Bacon’s self-portrait practice proliferated and became increasingly complex. Within these often mournful paintings the artist appears as a modern day allegory for melancholia leaning on a washbasin, with facial features violently mutilated, or with his wristwatch prominently insisting upon life’s transience. Whether heroically scaled or intimately proportioned, the self-portraits echo Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray: where Bacon’s grief was stoically concealed from life, the canvas became the face of his suffering and pain. Although the major work of Bacon’s mourning had come to an end with the black triptychs, the spirit of George Dyer and practice of self-portraiture endured, fed by an ever-increasing number of friends whom Bacon lost. Not long after George Dyer in 1971, the artist’s Soho companion and Vogue photographer John Deakin passed away, followed by the Colony Room’s famous matriarch, Muriel Belcher in 1979, and in 1980 Bacon’s decisive link to the French intelligentsia, Sonia Orwell, died after a long battle with cancer. Indeed, the ever proliferating sequence of bereavements famously led Bacon to proclaim: “I’ve done a lot of self-portraits, really because people have been dying around me like flies and I’ve had nobody else to paint but myself” (Francis Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester, 1975 in: ibid., p. 129). By the decade’s midpoint however, the opening of a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, his growing success in Paris, and the increasing prominence of two younger men in his life, Peter Beard and John Edwards, ushered in a tonal change that signalled the beginnings of a late style. Chronologically, the first of the two works is a dramatic 14 by 12 inch single canvas from 1975. Framed by a thickly applied deep purple ground, Bacon’s three-quarter-turn profile is articulated in an auroral palette of green blending into purple and pink; pastel tones that are interwoven and offset by corduroy swipes of orange, and alabaster accents of white that work to illuminate the entire painting. In evidence is the artist’s distinctive forelock of hair, those inimitable diagonal brushmarks which the esteemed French poet, and friend of Bacon’s, Michel Leiris described as “a reckless comma staunchly inscribed across his brow” (Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon Full Face and in Profile, New York 1983, p. 12). The artist’s mackintosh – a wardrobe staple evident in self-portraits of 1969, 1970 and 1976, alongside countless photographs of the artist – is here overlaid with fragments of illegible Letraset, a pictorial “sampling” that first appeared in Studies of the Human Body of 1970 (Martin Harrison, In Camera – Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, London 2005, p. 190). Significantly, this painting marks the only instance of its use across the entire pantheon of small portrait heads. Typically employed to enhance the suggestion of discarded newspaper sheets in his larger canvases – perhaps a reference to the chaos of his studio or the powerfully atmospheric descriptions of T.S. Eliot – the presence of Letraset seems to function in a more abstract manner in this painting. Untied to any representational form, it is a superimposition that appears to operate on a formal level to fix, or pin down, the effervescence of Bacon’s brushwork. Its broken typography clearly echoes the collages of Synthetic Cubism, while Martin Harrison suggests the influence of Marcel Duchamp, Tristan Tzara and Max Ernst’s non-linear typographical montages, as well as the ‘cut-up’ technique developed by the Beat Generation’s Brion Gysin and Williams Burroughs (Ibid.). Indeed for Bacon, words were as powerful as images – if not more so. He read extensively and returned endlessly to the phrases and passages in Aeschylus, James Joyce, Yeats, Proust and T.S. Eliot that unlocked ‘the valves of sensation’ most powerfully. Where these influences fed most directly into his large triptychs, in its unique formal echo of the fragmentation and compression that Bacon prized in Eliot’s work, Self-Portrait of 1975 emphasises the importance of literature and poetry for breeding images in his imagination. This painting also narrates a phase of Bacon’s life in which he strengthened his ties to the Parisian art world. On the one hand Bacon relished the unvarnished company of his Soho drinking clique, whilst on the other there was a great need for refuge amongst intellectual peers. Sonia Orwell – the widow of George Orwell – played a significant role in this regard, and during the many soirées held at her house on Gloucester Road during the 1960s, Bacon encountered a number of leading lights from the Parisian avant-garde. These connections meant a great deal to an artist for whom Paris remained the epicentre of the artistic world: home to the birth of Modernism, it was in Paris at the end of the 1920s that Bacon, inspired by a Picasso exhibition, first nurtured his ambitions to become a painter. Amongst le tout Paris of the arts and letters it was his friendship with the writer Michel Leiris that proved most influential. At first daunted by Bacon's work, Leiris’ enthusiasm was crucially piqued by the small portrait studies. Thereafter not only did Leiris bring about top-level recognition of the artist’s work in France, it was he who would pen the introduction to the feted retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971 and thus herald Bacon’s entry into the cultural pantheon of Paris (Michael Peppaitt, ibid., p. 287). Many aspects of Self-Portrait – it’s chromatic subtly and luminous brilliance (a quality shared with the magnificent Portrait of Michel Leiris from 1976), the prominence of Letraset and its literary connotations – anchor it to the increasingly extended periods Bacon spent living and working in Paris during the mid-1970s. No doubt driven by a masochistic impulse to inhabit his guilt more intensely, Bacon was drawn back to the site of Dyer’s suicide, to the very hotel in which he had died only 48 hours prior to the opening of his Grand Palais retrospective. Paris, the very centre of Bacon’s artistic aspirations, was thus forever cast under the tragic and fantastical shadow of Dyer’s demise. With the length of his stay increasing each time, Bacon’s need to paint demanded a proper place in which to work, and in 1974 he took up a studio in the Marais district at 14 rue de Birague. Indeed, owing to the absence of exhibition history at Marlborough during this year, it is very possible that it was here, and not the famous 7 Reece Mews, in which Self-Portrait was executed. Contra to the fallacy that he could only work amongst the chaos of his West London studio, Bacon very successfully painted in a number of different locations throughout his career; from Eric Hall’s cottage in Petersfield and then Monte Carlo in the 1940s, through to Tangier in the 1950s. His working conditions however were particular, and over the years he unsuccessfully tried numerous other spaces in London, from the house in Roland Gardens off the Old Brompton Road which he deemed too grand and therefore castrative, to the purchase in 1970 of the house in Limehouse on Narrow Street which was duly sold in the 1980s. Herein, the studio in Paris proved most conducive and became the artist’s second home until the end of his life. With one large room at the top and a kitchen on the lower level, the Parisian studio possessed the same creative portent and atmosphere as the claustrophic environs of the now famous 7 Reece Mews; as explained to David Sylvester: “I am very influenced by places – by the atmosphere of a room, you know. And I just knew from the very moment that I came here [Reece Mews] that I would be able to work here. And I felt the same thing about the place in Paris. It’s only one room, but I knew from the moment I went into it that it was a place I could work in” (Francis Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester, 1989 in: David Sylvester, op. cit., pp. 189-90). Bacon’s increasing success and growing legendary status in Paris, fuelled by his ease at work at 14 rue de Birague and set in stone by his wildly successful show in 1977 at Galerie Claude Bernard, truly characterise the period: many of the mid-to-late 1970s works exude a curious mix of the intellectually stimulating and exhilarating ambience of Paris with the melancholic introspection that typifies the decade. Although a sense of captured movement is readily apparent in the 1975 Self-Portrait, Bacon’s features remain remarkably intact. This painting does not possess the carved tangle of physiognomic forms or time weariness evident in self-portraits from the immediate years post George Dyer, instead, it emanates youthfulness. Alert and smooth-skinned, Bacon’s painted face belies the age of its author. Michael Peppiatt explains: “… Bacon continued to take great care of his appearance as he grew older, dyeing his hair subtle shades of reddish brown and applying liberal amounts of ‘pancake’ makeup to his face, even though it had not become deeply lined” (Michael Peppiatt, op. cit., p. 364). Bacon was obsessed with his physical appearance and those of others, and was increasingly pre-occupied with the effect of time on the body: “I’ve always liked bodies that function perfectly… But of course old age cancels those things out. There it is… ‘la vieillesse est horrible et sans reméde’ – old age is ghastly and incurable” (Francis Bacon quoted in: Michael Peppiatt, op. cit., p. 354). This sense of rejecting the ravages of time is notably apparent in the second Bacon from Figure and Form, Three Studies for Self-Portrait of 1980. Executed across three canvases – Bacon’s preferred format – this triptych presents a succession of self-images in almost identical three-quarter turn profiles. Having typically chosen to portray his subject in full face and in profile, like a police record from left to right, this triptych is remarkable for its repetitious insistence. Painted on a scumbled pastel blue backdrop, with each likeness framed by a black border, these images evoke a classical portrait bust or life mask, in which refined and subtly differing features appear unmarred by age. The evidence of the artist’s characteristic nose and forelock make this ineffably Bacon, however, it is apt to note the physical implication of two younger men at this point in his life. In 1980 the only other portraits painted in this format were of Peter Beard and John Edwards – a fact that also rings true for 1975, during which Peter Beard first entered Bacon’s canon and was the only other subject to appear in a 14 by 12inch study. The present triptych thus appears as a fantastical distortion of the self in which the influence of other younger physiognomies seems to intermingle and mutate into Bacon’s own. Peter Beard, an American photographer with model good looks, became friends with Bacon in the mid-1960s. His photographs of African wildlife, particularly aerial shots of animal carcasses, greatly intrigued Bacon; however it wasn’t until some ten years into their friendship that Bacon deigned to paint his likeness. No doubt at Bacon’s behest, Beard took a number of photographs of himself that were found among the detritus of 7 Reece Mews after the artist’s death. In a manner that echoes George Dyer in his underpants, Beard, with athletic physique on show, appears at ease in front of the camera. Close up shots of his face reveal his classic good looks, a trait that Bacon very much admired in a model: “I’m glad to say that two people, very good looking, have turned up, both of whom I’ve known in the past. They’re both good subjects. I loathe my own face, and I’ve done self-portraits because I’ve had nobody else to do… I like painting good-looking people because I like good bone structure” (Francis Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester, 1975 in: op. cit., pp. 129-30). Intriguingly it is the very same year in which Bacon begins painting Beard – 1975 – that the artist’s own self-portraiture takes on a decisively youthful and less distortive mien. The other ‘good-looking’ person mentioned by Bacon is undoubtedly John Edwards. Bacon came to know Edwards during his time spent drinking in East London pubs, and towards the mid-1970s they became firm friends. A ruggedly good-looking Eastender, Edwards undoubtedly reminded Bacon of Dyer whose working class roots and frankness had always appealed to his taste for unadorned reality. Unlike the intensely sexual nature of Dyer and Bacon’s relationship, the Bacon/Edwards dynamic was built on a paternal compassion that would last until the very end of the artist’s life. Indeed, it was Edwards who became Bacon’s sole heir after his death in 1992. The security of this quasi-familial companionship had a dramatically palliative effect on Bacon’s work, and the pictures of the 1980s are increasingly typified by, to quote Peppiatt, “an eery sense of calm” (Michael Peppiatt, op cit., p. 355). In this regard Three Studies for Self-Portrait chimes very much with a pendent triptych, and Bacon’s very first portrait, of John Edwards executed in the same year. Possessing the same pastel background and youthful brow as the Edwards triptych, Bacon’s sequence of self-images are remarkably tranquil; offset only by the scumbled background, vigorous smudging swipes of ribbed pink paint and darkening orange shadows that creep across his pallid complexion. With his eyes downcast and apparently shut, these floating heads appear as disembodied apparitions that echo the deathly emanation of his William Blake life masks of 1955. Aged 71 by this point, Bacon was increasingly haunted by the inevitability of death above all else, frequently drawing attention to his age with such expressions as: “What’s unpleasant when you get to my age is that you know for certain you won’t live much longer”; or, “My life’s nearly over and all the people I’ve been fond of are dead” (Francis Bacon quoted in: Michael Peppiatt, op. cit., p. 358). In 1979 and 1980, the respective loss of Muriel Belcher and Sonia Orwell, proved a substantial blow and fuelled the artist’s ever prescient and intimate grasp of death’s finality – a quality increasingly reflected in the spare and unceremonious self-portraits of his final years. The pale blue ground framed by abyssal black invokes Bacon’s fascination with reflections and divisive use of mirrors in his work. Imbued with metaphorical portent and often presenting the viewer with illogical reflections, these mirrors are widely indicated by a blue ground in works such as Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror (1976). In Three Studies for Self-Portrait, that Bacon is conceivably looking at his own reflection in a mirror on the wall is possible. Where he would undoubtedly have used photographs to recreate his own likeness in paint, he would also have studied his own reflection in the mirror. Thus in a league with his art historical forebears, particularly Velázquez (whom he held in the highest esteem) and others whose self-images play upon the concept of reflection in paint, Bacon presents a painting of a picture formed within a mirror. As a visual manifestation that combines his conceptual genius with a profound sentience with the inevitability of death, this piece, and more widely the entire pantheon of his self-portraits, profoundly echoes Bacon’s favourite maxim by Jean Cocteau: ‘Each day in the mirror I watch death at work’.

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2015-07-01


Immediately identifiable as a major work from this twentieth-century master’s legendary oeuvre, Willem de Kooning’s Abstraction of the late 1940s belongs to a critical juncture in de Kooning's career and is, without question, one of the most serene works by the artist from this halcyon period. This sublime masterpiece is the exquisitely resolved summation of de Kooning’s faculty to transmogrify traces of the naturalistic domain into the abstract realm through an utterly seductive painterly economy. Here we witness a fully realized interplay of linear elegance, automatic gesture and sumptuous color. With its biomorphic central form, it exclaims a powerful sense of surrealist dislocation with a tremendous urgency that is at once both graphic and painterly. Tearing down the superficial veil of mere representation, de Kooning offers a new kind of experience: one that is not hindered by a preordained response, but is governed by the viewer’s entirely subjective interpretation. This makes the present painting available in an endlessly unique way, so sophisticated is its conflation of raw abstract energy and the suggestions of potential figural motifs. Abstraction offers its viewer an archaeological survey of the creative strata that accumulated to form de Kooning’s extraordinary aesthetic, and narrates the sweeping arc of his painterly practice at this critical juncture in his career. Through the layers it is evident that the ground was laid in with intensely luminous blocks of red, blue, yellow and green, like a kaleidoscopic cubist collage, before an overall cohesion was introduced through sweeping strokes of earthen ochers and highly graphic flecks of shiny blacks. In turn this composition was succeeded by the broad swathes of creamy whites that define the central shapes, the forms of which were given partial explication via inky black incisions and emphatic flourishes of tertiary pinks. Indeed, the fluidity of enamel paint was perfectly suited to the lyrical and cadenced rhythm of his wrist, and the sinuous black lines that dripped from his brush provide both the scaffolding and the movement for this composition. Throughout this virtuoso display of innovation, de Kooning never veers from the central concern of creating an abstract language rooted in the semiotic implication of figurative motifs, resulting in landscapes, limbs and eyes all approaching resolution, though remaining just beyond easy recognition. In sum the result is a spectacularly vigorous and vibrant painting that powerfully conveys the artist's indebtedness to inherited precedents such as Cubism and Surrealism, while also firmly establishing him as a leading painter of gestural abstractions. The contextual chronology surrounding the present work’s creation spans momentous events in the New York art world and in de Kooning’s life and his work. The late 1940s was a culmination of creative ferment in post-war New York and de Kooning was at the center of an artistic community that changed the course of Modern Art. Together with Jackson Pollock's drip paintings, de Kooning's 1940s paintings catapulted the burgeoning school of Abstract Expressionism to the forefront of the art world. In April 1948 de Kooning’s first one-man show opened at the Charles Egan Gallery in New York. In preparation for the show, Egan had written to Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the inaugural director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, appraising de Kooning in the following terms: “The inner critique of this man is of a rare kind and in my opinion, he is creating the most important paintings of our time.” Following the exhibition, which consisted mostly of black and white gestural abstractions, the critic Renée Arb noted in her review, "there is a constant tension as space envelops and then releases these ambiguous forms.  Indeed, his subject seems to be the crucial intensity of the creative process itself, which de Kooning has translated into a new and purely pictorial medium."  (Renée Arb, "Spotlight on de Kooning," Art News, 47 April 1948)  As later attested by his wife Elaine, de Kooning considered this assessment of his art as prophetic, and it is certainly deeply prescient of the serene Abstraction. This was also a time of increasing recognition for the artist: in October, the Museum of Modern Art purchased the predominantly black and viscerally rhythmic Painting, 1948, and in November Mailbox, 1948, was selected for the Whitney Annual. This second painting, though smaller than the present work, closely shares with Abstraction a certain pale palette, fluid lyricism and the disjointed contrast between gracefully arcing forms and an underlying architectonic structure imbued with vibrant hue. Abstraction also bears close parity to the indescribably sophisticated Asheville, which was acquired by The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., in 1952. Elaine de Kooning recalled that he spent the entire summer of 1948 on this one painting, during the period that he was teaching at Black Mountain College, near Asheville in North Carolina. His preceding cycle of black and white paintings had been largely composed by de Kooning cutting up figural drawings and reordering the fragments into abstract compositions. However, with keynote works such as Asheville and the aptly titled Abstraction from the present collection, the artist advanced his language of abstraction into color. Through the entire period of the late 1940s and early 1950s de Kooning never abandoned the figure as inspiration and constant reference point, and the human form would merge into and out of de Kooning’s abstract work throughout his long and fruitful career. While de Kooning’s earlier Women paintings of the early 1940s had disappeared into his energetic collaging of abstract forms in works such as Painting and Asheville in 1948, de Kooning’s vehement and ardent female muse would come crashing to the fore again with Woman I (1950-52), emblematic of his second series of Women that began to emerge in 1948. The evolution of figurative and abstract dialects thus coexisted: while Woman, 1948 carries a black and white abstraction on its reverse, other abstract canvases have figure studies on the back. Hence the advancement of de Kooning’s inimitable abstract dialect during this period and the genesis of the present work are inextricably linked to the Women series. Following the prototype of Asheville of the previous year, the abstract compositions he developed during subsequent months came to be dominated by shades of whites rather than the blacks that had been so prevalent. By the Spring of 1949, de Kooning realized the monumental masterpiece Attic, today housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At almost seven feet wide, this herculean canvas was clearly a self-conscious bid for a consummately heroic artwork. Despite affording an all-encompassing impression of deconstructed form, the composition contains multiple, overlapping and variegated figural motifs, in ways akin to the essential dichotomy at the heart of Abstraction. Abstraction was also executed shortly after the first major post-war showing of Picasso's paintings in New York at the Kootz gallery in 1947, and strong formal comparison may be drawn between Abstraction and masterpieces by Picasso such as Woman Crying with a Handkerchief of 1937. De Kooning was reluctant to be affiliated solely with the New York school of Action Painters or to define Abstract Expressionist painting as a school; however, he insisted on his respect for Cubism: "of all movements I like Cubism most. It had that wonderful unsure atmosphere of reflection – a poetic frame where something could be possible, where an artist could practice intuition. It didn't want to get rid of what went before. Instead it added something to it. The parts I can appreciate in other movements came out of Cubism." (Willem de Kooning in The Museum of Modern Art Bulletin, 18, no. 3, Spring 1951, p. 7) In the winter of 1934 Pablo Picasso famously wrote: “There is no abstract art. One must always begin with something. Afterwards one can remove all semblance of reality; there is no longer any danger as the idea of the object has left an indelible imprint. It is the object which aroused the artist, stimulated his ideas and set off his emotions. These ideas and emotions will be imprisoned in his work for good.” (Richard Friedenthal, Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, London, 1963, pp. 256 - 57)  In spite of this statement, however, it is perhaps ironic that among his many phenomenal achievements, Picasso’s art always remained fundamentally figurative, and that a fuller manifestation of this 1934 statement finally reached an undeniable zenith through the art of Willem de Kooning and his astonishing paintings such as Abstraction. Signed

  • 2012-11-14


I wanted to paint like the Lower East Side and what is was like to live there Jean-Michel Basquiat, cited in: Exh. Cat., London, The Barbican Centre, Boom for Real: Jean-Michel Basquiat, 2017, p. 21. The traditional substructure of Basquiats art is Abstract Expressionism. He piles up rich palimpsests of paint over black grounds or snazzy oranges that are structured with architectonic solidity there is never any sense that Basquiat is faking. William Wilson, N.Y. Subway Graffiti: All About of L.A., Los Angeles Times, 16 April 1982. 1982 was Jean-Michel Basquiats Annus Mirabilis. Within the space of a year from the moment his work as SAMO© was prominently showcased in the legendary P.S. 1 show New York / New Wave in February 1981 through to his first solo exhibition as Jean-Michel Basquiat with Annina Nosei in March 1982 he had gone from underground street lyricist to the doyen of the New York art scene. Exhibited at the Larry Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles only one month after his Nosei debut, Untitled is a masterpiece from this singularly formative year in Basquiats meteoric career.  Only exhibited once since its Gagosian unveiling in 1982 at Tony Shafrazis Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition in 1998 this painting makes it auction debut having remained in the same New York collection for twenty years. At once reminiscent of the graffiti of New Yorks subway; beholden to the art historical influence of Cy Twombly; evoking the collages and linguistic play of Dada; and channelling a fierce socio-political contemporary angst, this painting belongs among the most striking and powerful of Basquiats single head paintings of 1981-82. It joins a pantheon that includes the Broad Museums Untitled (1981) and the current auction record, Untitled (1982), in showcasing this artists brilliance as a painter of raw and uncensored postmodernity. In a review of the fabled Gagosian show printed in the Los Angeles Times on 16th April 1982, journalist William Wilson wrote: The traditional substructure of Basquiats art is Abstract Expressionism. He piles up rich palimpsests of paint over black grounds or snazzy oranges that are structured with architectonic solidity there is never any sense that Basquiat is faking (William Wilson, N.Y. Subway Graffiti: All About of L.A., Los Angeles Times, 16 April 1982). Wilsons mention of palimpsests, black grounds and snazzy oranges immediately conjures the present work. Painted over a viscerally layered bed of black paint and Xerox collage, a looming neon orange skull dominates the composition. Outlined in free-flowing black spray paint and accented with fervently applied gold acrylic, this head fiercely bears its teeth and stares through scarified wide eyes. As part of this show, Untitled was exhibited alongside seven other momentous paintings: Black Tar and Feathers, Two Heads on Gold, Loin, Untitled (Black Skull), Untitled (Yellow Tar and Black Feathers), the monumental Untitled (L.A. Painting) and the LA MOCA picture, Six Crimee, all created in 1982. The show was an immediate sell-out and today it is remembered as one of Basquiats most successful exhibitions.  In the biography, Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art, Phoebe Hoban describes the opening night: the opening was a huge affair. The cream of the L.A. collectors, dealers and even a few celebrities showed up The show was completely sold out. Eli Broad, Thomas Ammann, and Scott Spiegel snapped up all the paintings (Phoebe Hoban, Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art, London 1998 (2015 edition), pp. 131-32). In the same paragraph Hoban also recounts the words of a contemporary critic who responded enthusiastically to the show: Basquiats works are direct and furious reflections of a decadent, sadistic society. Calligraphic markings, puerile stick figures, symbols of angels and devils, black men and white men, teeth-bared, wearing crowns, carrying scales of justice. Robotoid eyes roll to the back to show that the brains are fried, there is no hope. There seems to be almost no distillation or interpretation. It is as if the city itself crawled on these canvases and stomped around (Ibid., p. 132). In Untitled, a ferocious street-wise attitude radiates from every inch of the canvas surface. Intoxicating aerosol fumes, wheat-pasted posters, discarded flyers and street detritus, this painting speaks the urban vernacular of a city electrified by a new lease of creativity, of which the citys booming graffiti culture played a vital role. Basquiat first came to the attention of the New York art scene in 1978 as part of a graffiti double act with his City-As-School classmate, Al Diaz. Based on a character Basquiat had invented SAMO, an abbreviation of the phrase, same old shit the pair furiously spray painted the city with poetic maxims and staccato aphorisms that spoke out against commercial culture and the art world; phrases such as, SAMO© AS AN END TO PIN-HEAD EXCUSES; SAMO© FOR THE SO-CALLED AVANT-GARDE; SAMO© AS AN END 2 NINE-2-FIVE NONSENSE WASTIN YOUR LIFE 2 MAKE ENDS MEET TO GO HOME AT NIGHT TO YOUR COLOUR T.V. As a means of speaking out against prescribed cultural normativity, the SAMO© writings were part of an increasing tumult of spray-painted words and imaginative lettering that had flooded the city streets and subway cars, in part owing to the economic situation of a city that could not afford to keep its public facilities graffiti-free. By the late 1970s, such was the creative ferment of this underground movement that the graffiti writers had begun to veer into the territory of the art world. In his essay SAMO©s New York, Glenn OBrien describes the impetus of graffiti as being about individuals in a mass culture documenting their existence. The city landscape was marked with corporate names and logos but lacked any testimony to the existence of individuals and of their personalities, OBrien continues, The graffiti world was an expression of the individual spirit that made New York culture and so it was a natural partner of the hip-hop scene, of the new music happening downtown of the spirit of all-out art that inspired the time (Glenn OBrien, SAMO©s New York, in: Exh., Cat., London, Barbican Centre, Basquiat: Boom for Real, 2017, pp.102-03). Belonging to this cultural moment of underground public art best epitomised by Fab 5 Freddy, Rammelzee and Keith Haring the SAMO© writings nonetheless stood apart from the movement owing to their greater emphasis on concept driven word-play over graphic sensibility. Thought to have been the work of a much older and disenfranchised conceptual artist Basquiat was barely nineteen at the time the identities behind SAMO© were finally revealed in an article for Village Voice in December 1979. While this sounded the death-knell for the Basquiat/Al Diaz collaboration, Basquiat continued to use SAMO©s notoriety as a marketing tool and springboard for his nascent career as a painter. Right through to the summer of 1981 and the moment of his first solo exhibition at Galleria Mazzoli in Modena, Basquiat was signing his paintings and exhibiting his work as SAMO©; it was not until he acquired official representation by Annina Nosei later that year that he finally dropped the moniker. Though having made the transition from street to studio, Basquiat nonetheless brought the street with him: where his graffiti operated as high art, Basquiats high art captured the urban space of the city. Indeed, works such as Untitled indefatigably substantiate the young artists ambition to paint like the Lower East Side and what is was like to live there (Jean-Michel Basquiat, cited in: Eleanor Nairne, The Performance of Jean-Michel Basquiat, in: Ibid., p. 21). Utterly attuned to his contemporary moment, Basquiat channelled his experience as a gifted but restless young man of tripartite heritage (his mother was Puerto Rican and his father was Haitian and African-American) who lived and breathed the cultural crucible of New York City. In this manner Basquiat was a breakthrough talent; he forged an oeuvre devoted to an expression of marginalised subjectivity that was entirely reflective of the burgeoning creative milieu of the downtown scene during the late 1970s and early 1980s. At the forefront of a backlash against the dry and dogmatic conceptual modalities of the previous generation (Judd, Sol LeWitt, Ryman, etc.), Basquiat became the poster boy for a new band of figurative painters who had come of age in a city that was dangerous, broke, and crumbling. Glenn OBrien vividly conjures the atmosphere of the city: It wasnt long after the Daily News headline For to City: Drop Dead, and not long before the New York Post headline Headless Boy in Topless Bar. New York was dangerous and partly deserted. It was dirty, multi-ethnic, half in ruins, all broke down but it was very alive with young people who came here to get away from whatever benighted turf they were from, the places they didnt fit, where they couldnt be themselves. They came here to become who they were and would be (Glenn OBrien, Greatest Hits, in: Exh. Cat., Ontario, Art Gallery of Ontario, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Nows The Time, 2015 p. 175). Emerging from a city in ruins, a new style of painting privileged the immediacy of the isolated image over narrative, and the metaphoric strength of cultural signifiers over the interpretive freedom of undiluted abstraction. Typified by the ramshackle brilliance of the Times Square Show of 1980 and the zeitgeist defining New York/New Wave at P.S. 1 in 1981 (both of which featured an undiscovered Basquiat exhibited under the pseudonym of SAMO©), the rehabilitation of figuration sent reverberations throughout the artistic community. In his 1981 review of New York/New Wave, OBrien boldly proclaimed: This is a tidal wave of art, about to reduce the entire art world to limp rubble here, art is based on life, not on art. The public might like it (Glenn OBrien, cited in: Glenn OBrien, New York, New Wave, Artforum, March 2003, n.p.). In its searing confrontational legibility, Untitled thunderously heralds the triumphant revenge of bold symbolism upon an art world that, following Basquiats impact, would never be the same. Following the cityscape paintings of 1981 for which anything and everything was used as support from canvas and paper to walls, refrigerators, radiators, and clothing in 1982 Basquiat almost exclusively worked on canvases that were frequently dominated by a depiction of the singular skull-like head. As gallerist and friend to Basquiat, Fred Hoffman has written: At the outset of 1982, Jean-Michel Basquiat created unique and haunting images of the male head These figures are unsettling, leaving the viewer with the feeling that they exist in another realm. Peering out into our space, they are oracles conveying a message from another dimension. For some, Basquiats heads read more as masks, not the features of living human beings. The facial features have been rendered in a reductive, stylized way, reminiscent of Picassos cubist style (Fred Hoffman, The Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, New York 2017, p. 79). The head in Untitled is not an individuated head, it is a deaths head a symbolic skull, a warning: the toxicological skull and cross-bones on a poisonous warning label as rendered in bright Day-Glo orange and streaming black spray paint. Symbolically, this painting  calls to mind the ritualistic display of sacrificial skulls as in the ancient Aztec tzompantli (skull racks) and the funerary masks of ancient cultures, particularly the red triangular nose and wide round eyes of the mosaic skull of Tezcatlipoca the Aztec god of the nocturnal sky and an embodiment of change through conflict. This notion of change through conflict is a thread that runs throughout Basquiats oeuvre. Like a call to arms, his work challenged (and continues to do so) the whitewashed art historical canon of the West to introduce disenfranchised and marginalised voices into the contemporary discourse. Wielding signs and symbols drawn from all aspects of visual culture whether from the city streets of New York, comic books and television, the talismans of ancient cultures, the events of recent history, the vanitas tradition of Dutch Old Master painting or the revered painterly movements of modernism he put forth a new type of unadorned subjectivity that was militant, unapologetic, and hard hitting; an affirmation of the artists oft repeated riposte to Henry Geldzahler in 1983: its about 80 percent anger (Jean-Michel Basquiat in conversation with Henry Geldzahler, Art From Subways to SoHo, 1983, reprinted in: Tony Shafrazi, Ed., Jean-Michel Basquiat, New York 1999, p. 51). Basquiat squared up to the history of racism, colonialism and slavery, and much of the work produced in 1982 channelled this important narrative. He canonised his heroes and crowned them with halos (boxers Cassius Clay and Jack Johnson, the baseball player Hank Aaron, and Jazz musician Charlie Parker); he took on slavery and police brutality (Untitled (Tar and Feathers), 1982, and La Hara, 1981); and confronted the modern-day exploitation of talented black athletes and musicians (Obnoxious Liberals, 1982). His paintings violently cast out demons and offer a kind of redemption through exorcism and affirmation; of the latter, the three pointed crown is Basquiats shorthand for a long overdue ennoblement of black subjectivity in western art. Herein, the brilliance of Basquiats abilities as an artist was his gift for visualising these imperative but challenging discourses in an aesthetic vocabulary that simultaneously comprehended, absorbed, and transcended the triumphs and pitfalls of Western art history and popular culture. As summated by anthropologist Francesco Pellizzi in his essay, Black and White All Over, Basquiat was, in that sense, an innovator: he summed up two whole (white) artistic generations while introducing a racially and culturally marginal blackness into the mainstream of Western art. It was in the precarious balance between being the latest important representative of a great white tradition and the first to make a significant black contribution to it, in this tension between an end and a beginning, that Basquiat conducted his meteoric career (Franceso Pellizzi, Black and White All Over, in: Exh. Cat., Ontario, op. cit., pp. 193-94). Extolling the aesthetic confidence of Abstract Expressionism, the treatment of colour and line in Untitled is simultaneously swift and assured. In this respect, the locus of compositional power, belongs to Basquiats deaths head.  The skulls apertures reveal a stratum of spray paint, acrylic and oil stick: black over orange over ochre over red over blue. A stratum that is palimpsest-like and archaeological the graffiti of ancient civilisations meets Modernism meets the raw and angry streets of New York. Indeed, the arrival of Basquiat released shockwaves that rippled through the very fabric of contemporary culture. Like Edvard Munchs The Scream, Basquiats Untitled is a primal scream that is at once timeless and urgent. Signed and dated 82 on the reverse

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2018-06-26

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