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Number 12, 1950

"I approach painting in the same sense as one approaches drawing; that is, it's direct.'' Jackson Pollock interviewed by William Wright, Summer 1950, cited in Clifford Ross, ed., Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, New York, 1990, p. 144 Surging with the inimitable dynamism that has come to define Jackson Pollock’s prodigious legacy, Number 12, 1950, encapsulates the pure essence of his art. Executed in 1950, at the chronological apex of the artist’s indelibly significant career, Number 12 belongs to an elite cycle of fifteen paintings on Masonite that Pollock created in that year. He obtained the sheets of Masonite, all measuring twenty-two inches square, from his brother Sanford McCoy. Inspired by the textured surface of his new material, and how it interacted with his impassioned splatters differently from the smooth paper ground that he had previously used for works of this scale, Pollock feverishly created this series of intimately scaled masterworks. Other examples from this illustrious group today reside in the world’s most prominent museum collections, such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Number 15); the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (Number 18); the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (Number 16); and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Number 22). Focused to a point of sensational intensity, Number 12 epitomizes the chromatic vibrancy, heroic drama, and thrilling dynamism of an artist at the height of his groundbreaking prowess. The past quarter century has witnessed only an exclusive handful of Pollock’s drip paintings offered at auction, marking the occasion of this painting’s appearance for sale as a spectacularly rare and historic event that befits its status as an exquisite vestige of one of Abstract Expressionism’s most profound and momentous legacies. 1950 was a hugely significant and transformative year in Jackson Pollock’s career. In January, on the day before his thirty-eighth birthday, the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired the artist’s 1948 canvas Number 1A. In June, he was chosen by Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and Alfred Frankfurter as one of six artists to participate in an exhibition of young American painters in the U.S. Pavilion at the XXV Venice Biennale. In July, the photographer Hans Namuth asked Pollock if he could photograph him while he painted, thereby initiating a series of studio visits that resulted in the most resounding and iconic images of the artist at work on his eponymous drip paintings. And, from November to December, Pollock showed the present work alongside a selection of other 1950 masterpieces such as Lavender Mist: Number 1 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.); One: Number 31 (Museum of Modern Art, New York); and Autumn Rhythm: Number 30 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) in his fourth solo exhibition at Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, which was subsequently designated as one of the three best shows of 1950 by ARTnews. Not publically shown for nearly sixty years, Number 12 appears today as a singular memento of an historic moment when the eyes of the world looked to New York for the most revolutionary creative innovations and the forging of contemporary Art History. In this work the technically diverse layers of material accretion, accumulations of brilliant red, yellow, green, and black tempered by the shimmering aluminum paint that courses through the dense tempest of drips, deliver an all-over effect that is at once aesthetically arresting and infinitely subtle. Our sustained experience of the painting is rewarded with a sublime catharsis, as its compositional complexity continually fluctuates between the shadows of rhythmic patterns and the disorganized chaos of action painting unrestrained. Number 12 exemplifies the innovation that most defines Pollock’s achievement as embodied in the phrase “drawing into painting,” coined by William Rubin in 1967 to describe the liberation of line from figuration into abstraction. Distinctions between artistic practices did not exist for Pollock whose radical technique married paint to the freedom of draftsmanship in order to express his innermost artistic impulse. Pollock's pursuit was immediacy and the fluid union of material and creativity as one. In his mature oeuvre, neither brush nor any other tool applied paint to his support surface; instead, he placed his chosen ground on a flat surface and with his quick wrist and flowing movement dripped, splattered, and pooled paint from the can, creating complex, all-over patterns. Here, Pollock’s intensely-hued pools unite with the textured Masonite ground to imbue the work with an ever-heightened dimension of material vivacity. While the enthralling surface encourages the eye to examine its detail, the density of overlapping pigments creates a dynamism that presses outward toward the Masonite edge. However, although often considered an essentially graphic artist preoccupied with the primacy of line, the present work is also a major demonstration of Pollock’s mastery of color. Indeed, the combination of the harmony of pure color and the tensile strength of linear design positions this painting in the highest order of Pollock’s oeuvre. The skeins of material interweave to build the structure of a picture that seems almost to possess an inner life and ultimately a sense of wholeness emerges from the combination of physical abandon and aesthetic control. Enlisting a technique of chance that would subsequently influence generations of the Twentieth Century’s most prominent artists, from Francis Bacon’s famous throwing of paint, to Gerhard Richter’s entire dependence on the arbitrary squeegee spatula for his abstract paintings, Pollock faced an unprecedented dilemma in deciding the moment at which a picture arrived at its crescendo of resolution. In this respect Number 12 is yet again a definitive example of Pollock’s genius. Kirk Varnedoe has described how Pollock determined the success of a work or its arrival at its final form: "Like many other modern artists before and since, he was drawn to explore edge conditions, extreme boundaries where coherence might give onto its opposite, and where fullness of meaning and total emptiness rubbed against each other." (Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Jackson Pollock, 1998, p. 51) Number 12 exists for perpetuity in precisely such an “edge condition”: harboring a fundamental order yet poised on the very precipice of utter dissolution. Pollock proved that if art was defined by the artist, then the individual's subconscious and instincts directly influenced the technique, composition, and content of the art. He revolutionized easel painting by asserting that material and medium could fundamentally replace subject matter in painting. It is true that there were some distant precursors, such as the innovative use of collage and found objects in the works of Picasso, Braque, and Duchamp, as well as the automatism of the Surrealists and the conceptual subversions of Marcel Duchamp. Yet Pollock demonstrated unequivocally that the material was the means by which he expressed his message while working in the most traditional of mediums, oil paint.  As Varnedoe observed, " 'How?' would take over from 'What?' as the prime point of genesis. Changing his self-awareness from a search for buried icons or totems to a reliance on more pragmatic instincts about how it felt best to work, Pollock would unblock the way to a fundamentally personal, original art. And a great deal more." (Ibid., p. 48) Pollock's innovations were elemental and instinctive, born of many years of struggling with the tension between figure and ground, abstraction and representation, content and technique. Beginning in the winter of 1946-47 when Pollock first placed his canvases on the floor of his Long Island barn, he pushed the boundaries of painting beyond his earlier Surrealist and Expressionist work. Standing above the painting surface, Pollock worked from all four sides to drip, pool, and fling pigment from sticks, brushes, and other implements. From 1947 to 1951, Pollock's brush seldom touched his paintings, but his dexterity and total physicality orchestrated the fluidity, density, speed, and rhythm of his medium into an all-over composition of cohesive expressiveness. This golden period witnessed the genesis of a sublime body of work, including the present painting. As one of the most iconic figures of twentieth-century Art History, Jackson Pollock’s long shadow cast a protean myth that has almost obscured his monumental achievement in creating an independent aesthetic that revolutionized artistic practice during and after his lifetime. Yet a few works of genius such as Number 12 transport us directly to the crucible of that revolutionary enterprise, and stand as enduring testament to this master’s sheer brilliance. Signed and dated 50

  • 2015-05-12

A large imperial portrait of consort chunhui by giuseppe castiglione

Hanging scroll, ink and colour on silk, majestically and vividly painted in precise detail with Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui seated in formal robes (chao fu) on an elaborate throne, the full-length imperial-portrait (shengrong) of the imperial consort resplendently rendered with a well-proportioned and porcelain-complexioned face, the regal yet serene expression accentuated with a powerful gaze transmitted from her almond-shaped eyes, the lips picked out with a warm ombré coral colour, flanked by a pair of earlobes adorned with three embellished double-gourd drop earrings on each side, clad in a fur-edged ceremonial costume comprising a full-length robe (chao pao) under a further full-length sleeveless vest (chao gua) with shoulder epaulettes projecting outwards from both shoulders, the vest opening down the centre along a border enclosing stylised lingzhi blooms, the garment elaborately decorated with five-clawed scaly dragons soaring sinuously amidst multi-coloured lingzhi blooms, above stylised 'shou' roundels and brightly coloured lishui diagonal stripes, all against a rich blue ground, the grandeur further highlighted with long beaded necklaces (chao zhu) of varying colours and sizes elegantly hanging over and around the figure's upper torso, all below a kerchief under a court hat (chao guan) with a black fur brim and a crown decorated with red floss silk tassels and ornamented gold phoenix, the golden-yellow rectangular throne framed on three sides with an ornate throne-back entwined with ferocious dragons sinuously writhing around the members, all supported on dragon-head cabriole legs terminating in claw-and-ball feet, the figure seated on a thick yellow-ground cushion decorated in multi-coloured threads with auspicious emblems, inscribed on the right with five characters by the Qianlong Emperor reading Chunhui Huangguifei ('Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui'), mounted on imperial yellow silk embroidered with phoenix amidst swirling clouds Discussing the 'Portrait of Consort Chunhui in Ceremonial Costume' Nie Chongzheng There exist many portrait paintings of past emperors and their consorts, as recorded in the archives of the Qing dynasty palace, from the first Qing dynasty reign of Shunzhi, until the reign of the Xuantong Emperor at the end of the dynasty. All dressed in the full official regalia of the period, they provide us with a wealth of information about these individuals and their appearances.  This is especially the case during the Qianlong period. The Qianlong Emperor lived to the ripe old age of 89, and reigned for 60 of those years, and even after abdicating in favour of his heir the Jiaqing Emperor, he still reigned supreme for a further three years. During this long reign, he frequently and consistently commissioned artists to paint portraits of him and his empress and consorts. From his youth as the heir apparent, right through his advanced age, he was painted at various stages and intervals by different artists. Not only do these provide visual testaments of the Qianlong Emperor, but they also immortalise his consorts in these portraits. In the first half of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign, the Italian painter Lang Shining (Giuseppe Castiglione) painted several portraits of the emperor and his consorts. He was born in 1688 (the 27th year of the Kangxi reign, Qing Dynasty) and was a painter at the imperial court from the 54th year of the Kangxi reign (1715) when he arrived in China, and never retired from his position, passing away in the 31st year of Qianlong’s reign (1766). His remains have been buried far from his homeland, in Beijing and still rest there today. Lang Shining played an important role in painting such imperial portraits. The works that remain allow us to appreciate the fruit of his labour, and are also noted down in the records of the imperial palace. Lang Shining received his basic artistic training in Europe and had a strong grasp of the fundamentals of portraiture. His true-to-life portraits were greatly admired by the Qianlong Emperor, and as such, resulted in his commissioning Lang Shining to paint many of these imperial portraits. Therefore, many of the portraits painted during the first half of Qianlong’s reign were by Lang Shining’s own hands. However, because most of these portraits do not bear the artist’s name or seal, it has created problems in attributing these works. This is because while it was deemed a great honour to be able to paint the portrait of the emperor or his consorts, it was, in fact, a duty to the ruler, and as such, to show due respect to the emperor and the members of the imperial family. Artists were not usually allowed to leave their mark on these portraits. In the Palace Museum, Beijing, and the National Palace Museum, Taipei, there are collections of imperial portraits, especially those portraying the imperial family in ceremonial costumes. Although the lack of an artist’s signature or seal may seem to present problems in the task of authentication, identification and attribution during the Qianlong period, the differences in techniques and styles between the European painters at the Chinese court, and the Chinese painters working in the Palace can be readily discerned by experts analysing this field and thus do not necessarily pose a problem. We now turn to the Portrait of Consort Chunhui. It is a portrait of one of the Qianlong Emperor’s consorts, which is painted in ink and colour on silk, and measures 198 by 123 cm. It does not bear any inscription or artist’s seal, and is also without any Qing official collector’s seal. However, on the right hand side of the subject matter, there is a line in calligraphic script, naming her Consort Chunhui. This is undoubtedly by the hand of the Qianlong Emperor. Information from records state that this consort was of Manchu origin, called Su Jiashi, daughter of Su Zhaonan, born in the 52nd year of the Kangxi reign (1713), and was two years younger than the Qianlong Emperor. During the Yongzheng period she was a lady-in-waiting, and soon after Qianlong ascended to the throne she was made imperial consort, and in the 2nd year of Qianlong’s reign (1737) was named Chunfei. In the 10th year of Qianglong’s reign (1745), she became Chun Guifei. In the 25th year of the Qianlong reign (1760), she was made Chun Huang Guifei. She passed away the same year at the age of 48.  Posthumously, she was awarded the title ‘Consort Chunhui’ by the Emperor. This painting is currently the only example of her in full ceremonial costume, and the inscription by the emperor, most likely written after her death, demonstrates his remembrance of his deceased consort. From this scroll, it is evident that the painter was skilled in analysing structure and perspective – the subject matter’s facial features are rendered using both light and shade, and are clear and distinct. In addition, the sides of the nose and cheeks have been painted to provide three-dimensionality, at the same time intricately depicting the flesh and tone of skin. The artist was also proficient in painting the throne and floor covering. Chunhui is also depicted on Lang Shining’s Portraits of the Qianlong Emperor, the Empress, and Eleven Imperial Consorts (fig. 1), now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. In this work, produced in the first year of Qianlong’s reign, Chunhui is fourth in the sequence (fig. 2). Comparing the two portraits of the imperial consort, it is clear that they are of the same person, save for the fact that the subject in the present portrait is slightly older than that in the group portrait; both portraits are by the same artist. As the Portraits of the Qianlong Emperor, the Empress, and Eleven Imperial Consorts is inarguably by the hand of Lang Shining, even though there is no seal on the painting, by inference, the European style and technique used in the present scroll attribute the painting to Lang Shining. As a distinctive European style can be detected, as well as taking into account the striking similarities, it is not unreasonable to attribute this work to Lang Shining. However as the lines of drapery, the throne and the carpet are painted with a more Chinese technique, it is likely that these areas were painted by Chinese students of Lang Shining, filling in the outline that he had left for them to complete. This style, however, still retains Qing official style. Similar portraits of consorts in ceremonial costume include the Portrait of Empress Xiaoxian (fig. 3) as well as the Portrait of Consort Huixian (fig. 4), both in the Palace Museum, Beijing. These are painted with similar stylistic features attention to detail and a distinct European flavour, and are therefore all attributed to Lang Shining. Naturally, during Lang Shining’s earlier years, his artistic victor allowed for his ability to use close detailing in the rendering of the subject, and he would have completed the whole painting single-handedly; in his later years, his advanced age did not allow for this, and he then focused on the main subject matter, leaving his Chinese students to fill in the outline of the clothing and the background, which gave rise to the latent inconsistencies in his portrait paintings. ___________________________________________________________ Guiseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), a native of Milan, arrived in Beijing in 1715 and served under three emperors, Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong for over 51 years. As a Jesuit missionary he entered the milieu of the imperial workshops and obtained the patronage and favour of all three emperors. He was trained by his order as a painter of religious subjects before being sent to China and became an accomplished painter. At the Chinese court he was obliged to paint under the direct supervision of the emperor. Among the three rulers he served under, the Qianlong Emperor was possibly the most demanding, supervising every aspect of the work down to the smallest detail. By adapting traditions and Chinese media, he created a unique style and developed a manner of painting that was pleasing to the imperial taste. He brought Western conventions of shading and depiction of volume and space to his courtly subject matter and became an expert in painting on silk and on paper as well as doing murals. Castiglione excelled in portrait painting, a style much in demand for ceremonial occasions and in the event of an imperial death. The Qianlong Emperor’s admiration of his portraits is apparent from comments inscribed on the hanging scrolls Spring’s Peaceful Message in the Palace Museum, Beijing, and illustrated in Yu Hui, ‘Naturalism in Qing Imperial Group Portraiture’, Orientations, vol. 26, no. 7, July/August 1995, p. 81. Yu (ibid., p. 80) translates the emperor’s comments as follows: ‘Castiglione excelled in portraying likeness, (this portrait) was painted for me in my youth’. The present painting is one of the very few extant imperial portraits that can be unequivocally attributed to Castiglione. It is very close in style and identical in its setting to Castiglione’s famous Portrait of Empress Xiaoxian in the Palace Museum, Beijing, which is illustrated in Qingdai gongting shenghuo, Hong Kong, 1985, p. 184. Another painting using the same setting, but perhaps executed by other court painters working closely together with Castiglione, and not inscribed by the Emperor like the present painting, is the Portrait of Empress Xiaoyi Chu, also in the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in the exhibition, Empresses and their Court Arts in the Forbidden City, Tokyo, 1997, cat. no. 54. Compare also a half-portrait of another imperial consort attributed to Castiglione, Portrait of Consort Huixian in the Palace Museum, also exhibited in Tokyo, 1997, ibid., cat. no. 61. The portrait of Chunhui is painted in the traditional shengrong style, a formal portrait style made for ceremonial works depicting the subject in a still pose without any facial expression. Castiglione’s brushwork gives his subject a beauty and gentility befitting a high ranking court lady. She looks young and beautiful, with a sensitive expression on her face achieved by the use of the European pictorial technique of light ‘shadowing’. Castiglione captured the inner vitality of his subject, producing a Chinese style portrait with Western influence. In the portrait, Chunhui is wearing an official Manchu court robe for winter called chao fu and a first-rank imperial consort’s winter hat called chao guan. The chao guan is heavily adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls, resembling a crown. A similar chao guan is illustrated in Gary Dickinson and Linda Wrigglesworth, Imperial Wardrobe, Berkeley, 2000, pl. 152. Sources Cécile and Michel Beurdeley, Castiglione, Peintre Jésuit à la Cour de Chine, Fribourg, 1971. Exhibition of Treasures from the Palace Museum, Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1988. Yang Boda, 'Castiglione at the Qing Court', Orientations, vol. 19, no. 11 November 1988, pp. 44-51. Zhu Jiajin, 'Castiglione's Tielu Paintings', Orientations, vol. 19, no. 11, November 1988, pp. 80-83. Wu Hung, 'Emperor's Masquerade - Costume Portraits of Yongzheng and Qianlong', Orientations, vol. 26, no. 7, July/August 1995, pp. 25-41. Yu Hui, 'Naturalism in Qing Imperial Group Portraiture', Orientations, vol. 26, no. 7, July/August 1995, pp. 42-50. Shan Guoqing, 'Gentlewoman Paintings of the Qing Palace Ateliers', Orientations, vol. 26, no. 7, July/August 1995, pp. 56-59. Empresses and their Court Arts in the Forbidden City, Sezon Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1997. Gary Dickinson and Linda Wrigglesworth, Imperial Wardrobe, Berkeley, 2000. Emperor Qianlong's Grand Cultural Enterprise, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2002. The Life of Emperor Qian Long, Macao Museum of Art, Macao, 2002.

  • HKGSonderverwaltungszone Hongkong
  • 2015-10-07

No. 6/Sienna, Orange on Wine

To encounter the magisterial No. 6/Sienna, Orange on Wine is to be embraced by the full force of Mark Rothko’s evocation of the sublime. In accordance with the most authentic experience of Rothko’s vision, we cease to perceive this work as a dialogue between medium and support, and instead become wholly submerged within its utterly captivating compositional dynamism, chromatic intensity, and sheer scale. The artist famously stated, in what is perhaps the definitive text declaring the philosophical underpinnings to his oeuvre, “I think of my pictures as dramas; the shapes in the pictures are the performers… They are organisms with volition and a passion for self-assertion” (Mark Rothko, “The Romantics Were Prompted,” first published in Possibilities, no. 1, 1947). Indeed, our experience of No. 6/Sienna, Orange and Wine as participants in its stunning drama brings it to life, and may give new dimension to our lives. We do not look at this painting; we are absorbed into it. Being in its presence parallels a line of Nietzsche that had inspired Rothko since he had been a young man: “There is a need for a whole world of torment in order for the individual to sit quietly in his rocking row-boat in mid-sea, absorbed in contemplation” (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, translation by Francis Golffing, New York, 1956, pp. 33-34).The bars of rich, sumptuous dark hues concurrently imply a limitless abyss while the fiery orange toward the bottom surges forward, a dynamic optical experience resulting in a vibrancy that places the work at the pinnacle of the artist’s oeuvre. A sensation of rich, somatic absorption that is unparalleled by any other artist’s work, No. 6/Sienna, Orange on Wine causes us to sink deeper into our own minds. As Dore Ashton eloquently wrote: “The interior realm was where Rothko wished to or perhaps could only live, and what he hoped to express. The ‘theater of the mind,’ as Mallarmé called it, was immensely dramatic for Rothko. His darkness at the end did allude to the light of the theater in which, when the lights are gradually dimmed, expectation mounts urgently” (Dore Ashton, About Rothko, New York, 1983, p. 189). Through his technique of layering thin washes of paint one over the other, often allowing colors from initial layers to show through the subsequent coats of pigment, Rothko’s painting seems to conceal a hidden light source emanating from its very core. Twinkling through and around the elegant planes of color, the present work achieves an incandescent dimensionality that is reminiscent of Rembrandt or Caravaggio’s divine virtuosity for rendering natural light in flat oil paint. Michael Butor wrote of this series of Rothko’s works that “one of the most remarkable of Rothko’s triumphs is to have made a kind of black light shine” (Ibid., p. 189). Indeed, it is almost as if this extraordinary painting is brilliantly illuminated from within: a translucent vessel of pure color and light. It is well documented that Rothko was fixated with the literary work of Friedrich Nietzsche, above all the German philosopher's seminal opus The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, written in 1872. Nietzsche’s ideas of how the tension between Apollonian and Dionysian forces dictates the terms of human drama were important to the advancement of Rothko's color fields. Indeed, Rothko’s vast tableaux have often been discussed in the lexicon of the immediate and saturating effects of music. David Sylvester’s review of the 1961 Whitechapel Gallery exhibition in London provides an apt response to the present work in these terms: “These paintings begin and end with an intense and utterly direct expression of feeling through the interaction of colored areas of a certain size. They are the complete fulfillment of Van Gogh’s notion of using color to convey man’s passions. They are the realization of what abstract artists have dreamed for 50 years of doing – making painting as inherently expressive as music. More than this: for not even with music…does isolated emotion touch the nervous system so directly” (in New Statesman, 20 October 1961 cited in exhibition catalogue, London, The Tate Gallery, Mark Rothko: 1903-1970, 1987, p. 36). Excepting a letter to Art News in 1957, from 1949 onwards Rothko ceased publishing statements about his work, anxious that his writings might be interpreted as instructive or didactic and could thereby interfere with the pure import of the paintings themselves. However, in 1958 he gave a talk at the Pratt Institute to repudiate his critics and to deny any perceived association between his art and self-expression. He insisted instead that his corpus was not concerned with notions of self but rather with the entire human drama. While he drew a distinction between figurative and abstract art, he nevertheless outlined an underlying adherence to the portrayal of human experience. Discussing the “artist’s eternal interest in the human figure,” Rothko examined the common bond of figurative painters throughout art history: “they have painted one character in all their work. What is indicated here is that the artist’s real model is an ideal which embraces all of human drama rather than the appearance of a particular individual. Today the artist is no longer constrained by the limitation that all of man’s experience is expressed by his outward appearance. Freed from the need of describing a particular person, the possibilities are endless. The whole of man’s experience becomes his model, and in that sense it can be said that all of art is a portrait of an idea” (lecture given at the Pratt Institute 1958, cited in exhibition cataloge, London, The Tate Gallery, Ibid., p. 87). Teeming with the sheer genius of its creator’s inimitable evocation of the sublime, No. 6/Sienna, Orange on Wine is the singular summation of Mark Rothko’s fundamental artistic ambition as elucidated in his definitive Pratt Institute talk. A veritable treatise on the absolute limits of abstraction, the present work, in truth, involves both spirit and nature, and instills in us a profound sense of the spiritual whilst evincing Rothko’s abject faith in the critical role the artist plays in attaining the highest realm to which man could aspire: “For art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness” (Mark Rothko, “Personal Statement,” in Miguel López-Remiro, ed., Writings on Art, Mark Rothko, New Haven, 2006, p. 45). Signed Mark Rothko and dated 1962 and titled Sienna Orange on Wine and inscribed #6 on the reverse

  • 2015-11-05

'the sky blue diamond'superb fancy vivid blue diamond ring, cartier

Set with a square-cut fancy vivid blue diamond weighing 8.01 carats, the geometric mount set with brilliant-cut and baguette diamonds, size 51, signed Cartier, numbered, French assay and maker's marks. Blue is the colour of trust, honesty, loyalty, reliability and responsibility. This idealistic colour inspires higher ideals, and evokes peace and tranquillity. In nature, it is the colour of water and sky. The colour sky blue, particularly, emanates calm, serenity, spirituality and infinity, and refers to the heavens and what is above. Blue is one of the primary colours and has been used by many artists as a strong component of their works. Even in the decorative arts, this colour is omnipresent. The porcelain manufacture of Sèvres is so famous for its production of blue objects that Sèvres porcelain has become synonymous with the colour: le bleu de Sèvres. Wedgewood also used the combination of blue and white to make its distinctive creations. In fine art, the great Old Master painters demonstrated their talents with their depiction of nature, recreating the delicate and fine aspects of a landscape, selecting just the right colour for the skin on portraits, and using the perfect hue for the subject in a still life. The reproduction of sky has always been one of the artists’ favourite subjects. The skies of John Constable are widely renowned and highly sought after. Many of Monet’s works feature great swathes of blue sky. During the same period, Matisse was using a warm blue to realise his Nudes. Later, Yves Klein took this colour almost as his signature and these days the term ‘Klein blue’ is commonly used. Contemporary artists are still fascinated by this colour and the reproduction of the sky, like Edward Ruscha, with his Mirror Image Level, which will be offered in the Contemporary Art auction in November. Wassily Kandinsky, in his essay Du spirituel dans l'art, assures: “Blue is a celestial colour, evoking a deep calm… The deeper the blue becomes, the more strongly it calls man towards the infinite, awakening in him a desire for the pure and, finally, for the supernatural”. Blue attracts and fascinates people and there is no exception when this colour occurs in a diamond. Fancy Vivid Blue diamonds have a beauty that is incomparable to that of any other gem. They are greatly admired and eagerly sought after by collectors and connoisseurs. Considering that the blue colour in stones is often not evenly spread, and on occasion entirely absent, the encapsulating of a beautiful pure even blue colour is truly a professional challenge for the diamond cutter. He will spend months studying the proportions of the rough in order to guarantee the greatest standards of proportionality, colour and beauty, and to bring out this captivating colour, making fancy vivid blue one of the nature’s rarest endowments of colour in diamonds. Ever since Jean-Baptiste Tavernier sold the French Blue to Louis XIV in 1669, the world has been mesmerised by the rarity of blue diamonds. Reminiscent of the hues of the azure sea, blue diamonds owe their colouration to the trace element boron. Although other rare coloured diamonds, such as pink and red, are found in India, Brazil and Australia, blue diamonds are primarily recovered from the Cullinan mine in South Africa. Their colour may range from a pale blue to a light sky blue to a dark blue. The more intense colours, fancy vivid, are considered the rarest and most desirable. In recent years, Sotheby’s has handled some of the most notable blue diamonds at auction and holds the world auction record price per carat for any diamond and gemstone with the ‘Blue Moon of Josephine’, a 12.03 Fancy Vivid Blue diamond, sold in November 2015 in Geneva for more than USD 4 million per carat.

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2016-11-16

Femme nue assise

In the early days of January 1965, Picasso executed a series of large canvases on the theme of a seated female nude. The present work is one of the first from this series completed at Notre-Dame-de-Vie, the home that he shared with Jacqueline in Mougins. Painted in quick succession, these works bear witness to the extraordinary energy and creative urge that characterised Picassos late years. Having gone through many phases of stylistic and technical experimentation, by this time Picasso had acquired a confidence and freedom that enabled him to paint monumental works in quick, spontaneous brush-strokes. He was able to isolate those elements of his subject that fascinated and preoccupied him, namely the symbols of erotic desire and threat embodied in the female nude, elements present since his early career.   The motif of a nude figure seated in an armchair occurred repeatedly throughout Picassos career. While varying in style and depicting different women that marked each period of the artists life, these nudes always served as a vehicle of expressing the palpable sexual tension between the painter and his model. From the soft, voluptuous curves of Marie-Thérèse Walter, to the fragmented, near-abstract nudes of his Surrealist works, and the geometrical rendering of his later years, Picassos seated nudes have a monumental, sculptural presence, and are invariably depicted with a powerful sense of psychological drama stemming from the tension between the invisible artist and his sitter. Although the figure of the painter is not portrayed within the composition, his persona is very much present in this work. Picassos concerns regarding the act of painting and the role of the artist, explored in the series of works on the theme of artist and model, carried onto his series of seated nudes, including Femme nue assise. The monumental nude in this composition, looming large on her throne like a pagan goddess, is not isolated in her own world. Her significance is in her relationship with her creator at the same time as with the viewer a tantalising relationship of attraction and menace. In his discussion of Picassos late works, David Sylvester links them to his early masterpiece, Demoiselles dAvignon, both distinguished by the raw vitality which they have as their central underlying theme: The resemblance of figures in the Demoiselles and in late Picasso to masked tribal dancers is as crucial as their scale in giving them a threatening force. It is irrelevant whether or not particular faces or bodies are based on particular tribal models: what matters is the air these personages have of coming from a world more primitive, possibly more cannibalistic and certainly more elemental than ours. Despite the rich assortment of allusions to paintings in the Renaissance tradition, the treatment of space rejects that tradition in favour of an earlier one, the flat unperspectival space of, say, medieval Catalan frescoes []. At twenty five, Picassos raw vitality was already being enriched by the beginnings of an encyclopaedic awareness of art; at ninety, his encyclopaedic awareness of art was still being enlivened by a raw vitality (D. Sylvester, Late Picasso. Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, Prints 1953-1972 (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 144). In various periods of his work, Picassos art was closely related to his personal life, and the women depicted in his paintings were always influenced by Picassos female companions at the time. In Femme nue assise, the female figure is inspired by Jacqueline, the last love of his life, whom Picasso married in 1961, and although she is not a direct likeness of Jacqueline, with her large eyes and sharp profile, she bears the features with which Picasso usually portrayed his last muse. The essence of Jacqueline, who rarely posed as his model, is always present in his portraits of the period. As demonstrated in the present work, Picasso often depicted Jacqueline in an angular, fragmented manner, a stylistic device invented in his portraits of Dora Maar (fig. 3), but the roots of which go back to his cubist experiments with multiple view-points. Whilst borrowing elements from his own artistic past, Picasso here created an image with a force and freedom he only achieved in the last decade of his career. Signed Picasso (lower left); dated 3.1.65  5.I  8 on the reverse

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2017-03-01

An Extraordinary Ruby and Diamond Ring

AN EXTRAORDINARY RUBY AND DIAMOND RING Set with a cushion-shaped ruby, weighing approximately 15.04 carats, within a cushion-shaped diamond surround, to the pavé-set circular-cut diamond three quarter-hoop, mounted in gold, ring size 5½ Accompanied by premium report no. 80282 dated 12 February 2013 from the SSEF Swiss Gemmological Institute stating that the ruby is of Burma (Myanmar) origin, with no indications of heating and the colour of this ruby may also be called 'pigeon blood red' in the trade; also accompanied by an appendix stating that the ruby possesses extraordinary characteristics and merits special mention and appreciation. The ruby shows an impressive size and weigh, combined with a vivid red colour and an attractive cutting style. The inclusions found by microscopic inspection represent the hallmarks of classical ruby mines in the Mogok valley in Burma (Myanmar), well known for its wealth in gems since historic times. Its vivid and saturated red colour, poetically referred to as 'pigeon blood red', is due to a combination of well-balanced trace elements in this stone, characteristic for the finest rubies from Mogok. A natural ruby from Burma of this size and quality is very rare and thus can be considered an exceptional treasure Report no. 13020031 dated 12 February 2013 from the Gübelin GemLab stating that the ruby is of Burma (Myanmar) origin, with no indications of heating and this colour variety may also be called “pigeon’s blood red” in the trade; also accompanied by an appendix stating that the ruby possesses a combination of outstanding characteristics. It displays a homogeneous and richly saturated colour, which typifies the finest of these gems. The depth of colour, combined with a high clarity and brilliance, all contribute to the beauty of the gem. Such a combination of characteristics is very rare in Burmese rubies of this size US$10,000,000-15,000,000

  • HKGSonderverwaltungszone Hongkong
  • 2015-12-01

A sublime blue and white 'palace' bowl mark and period of chenghua

The acme of this revered type and a most delicate feast for the senses, elegantly potted with smooth rounded sides barely flaring at the rim, finely painted in muted washes of cobalt-blue accented with sharp outlines of a deeper hue, the exterior with a musk-mallow scroll undulating gently around the sides issuing four luscious blooms with tender flaring petals, interspersed with star-shaped leaves, their edges characteristically serrated, each bloom with a leaf daintily tucked and partially concealed behind, the meander of alternating flowers and leaves unpredictably syncopated with the sudden burst of a bud and its two leaves, as though permeated with life, all between double lines at the rim and foot, the interior with a central medallion enclosing a single stylised flower head within a double circle, encircled by a musk-mallow meander similar to that on the exterior barring some refined mutation, all beneath a double-line border, the body thinly veiled in a most sensual unctuous glaze The Cunliffe Musk-Mallow Palace Bowl Regina Krahl The porcelains of the Chenghua period (1465-87) can be considered the epitome of the unceasing efforts of the Jingdezhen potters at the imperial kilns to prove their originality in design and their outstanding craftsmanship. They represent the peak of material refinement and artistry, and are among the most idiosyncratic and distinct creations in terms of their decorative style. In all these respects the present bowl is an archetypal example. It would be difficult to find a piece of Chenghua blue-and-white that better embodies the special appeal of that period. The porcelain stone and glaze used for Chenghua imperial porcelains are arguably the finest ever achieved at Jingdezhen. The sensual pleasure of the touch of a Chenghua porcelain vessel is unmatched by porcelains of any other period, and the smooth, pleasing surface texture of the present bowl is unrivalled in its tactility. The ‘softness’ of the hard material can be gleaned even from a photograph. After a beginning where the Xuande period still supplied the main inspiration, the potters of the Chenghua reign arrived at their own distinctive style towards the latter part of the period. Palace bowls were made for only a few years towards the end of the Chenghua reign – opinions still vary between late 1470s to early 1480s, or just the 1480s. Unlike the crisp and glossy glazes of the best Xuande wares, those of the Chenghua reign are more muted, covering the blue design with a most delicate veil. The cobalt pigment is much more even than it was in the Xuande period, without any 'heaping and piling'. The attractive delicate tone seen on the present bowl is one of the trademarks of Chenghua blue-and-white. After decades of importing cobalt from the Middle East to achieve a deep and intense colour, native cobalt was deliberately chosen in the Chenghua reign – either on its own or in combination with imported pigment – to create a very different effect. The decoration is of a striking artlessness and immediacy, again in a deliberate move away from earlier models, focusing special attention on the material. With such new goals and high specifications at the imperial workshops, it is not surprising that Chenghua porcelains are extremely rare, in fact, the rarest Chinese Imperial porcelains. Liu Xinyuan graphically describes the volume of fragments recovered from the site of the Ming Imperial kilns, where the Chenghua (AD 1465 – 1487) fragments equal less than half those unearthed from the Xuande stratum (AD 1426 – 1435), even though the latter period was so much shorter (Liu Xinyuan 'Reconstructing Chenghua Porcelain from Historical Records', The Emperor's Broken China: Reconstructing Chenghua Porcelain, exhibition catalogue, Sotheby's London, 1995, p. 11). The scarcity of sherds at the kiln site is mirrored by the rarity of surviving examples. Of those by far the greatest number is preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, and in Museums in mainland China. Of the remaining examples most are today in museum collections. Only some two dozen Chenghua pieces of any type are recorded to be in private hands (see Julian Thompson's 'List of Patterns of Chenghua Porcelain in Collections Worldwide', ibid., pp. 116-129). What is generally known as 'palace bowls' are bowls of fine proportion, painted in underglaze blue with a flower or fruit design of apparent simplicity. Bowls with flower scroll decoration were of course also made in the Yongle (AD 1403 – 1424) and Xuande periods, but those of the Chenghua reign are unique in the deliberate irregularity introduced to a seemingly regular pattern. In the present design, blooms basically alternate with leaves, but on the inside one sprig of leaves appears behind a bloom rather than beside it, and on the outside an added bud similarly interrupts the regular rhythm. The stems therefore do not undulate in a predictable manner, but deliberately break up any symmetry. It is this slight deviation from the orderly arrangement – a daring and unique concept for imperial works of art, where any individual touch was generally shunned and machine-like precision and perfection were required – that makes this and other palace bowl designs vibrate, as if pervaded with some quiet motion. In this respect Chenghua palace bowls like the present example are quite unlike any earlier or later imperial designs. The musk-mallow design with its combination of softly rounded, multi-lobed flower petals and contrasting pointed, serrated finger-like leaves is perhaps the most spectacular design among the various palace bowl patterns, many of which have a plain inside. Only three other patterns exist of palace bowls painted both inside and out, one showing scrolling lotus stems, one lily scrolls (figs. 1 and 2), and one a gardenia scroll outside and a mixed flower scroll inside. The musk mallow is easy to identify through the classic botanical literature. It was used already on some Yongle vessels, but extremely rarely, for example, on a ewer in Topkapi Saray, Istanbul, illustrated in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul, ed. John Ayers, London, 1986, vol. 2, no. 617, and an identical one sold in these rooms, 30th October 2002, lot 271. The depiction of the flower at that period was very different, lacking the clear distinction between darker outlines and paler washes, as well as the white rims of the petals seen on the present bowl. The present pattern exists in two slightly different variations, one with the scrolling leaf stems on the inside crossing, as in the present case, the other with the stems not crossing. The central flower-head is also derived from flower-scroll bowls of the Xuande period, see Mingdai Xuande guanyao jinghua tezhan tulu/Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsüan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 61. Although the present flower is six-petalled, others exist with seven petals, again displaying the peculiar Chenghua tendency towards diversity. The Cunliffe musk-mallow bowl is one of only two bowls of this design still remaining in private hands, while eleven examples are in museum collection, six of them in Asia and five in Europe; none are preserved in mainland China or in the United States. Beside this piece only three such bowls have ever been offered at auction, one for the last time in 1951, another in 1973 and the third in 2009. Examples of this design have been recovered in fragments from the waste heaps of the Ming Imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, and one reconstructed example was included in the exhibition The Emperor's Broken China: Reconstructing Chenghua Porcelain, Sotheby's London, 1995, cat. no. 69. Companion pieces in Asia are four bowls preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, recorded in the Museum's porcelain catalogue Gugong ciqi lu, part II: Ming, vol. 1, Taipei, 1962, p. 214, three of which have been published with illustrations, two in the Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Ch'eng-hua Porcelain Ware, 1465–1487, Taipei, 2003, cat. nos. 33 and 34; the third in the exhibition catalogue Ming Chenghua ciqi tezhan [Special exhibition of Ming Chenghua porcelain], Taipei, 1976, no. 80. One bowl from the collections of Lindsay Hay and R.E.R. Luff, later in the Ataka collection and now in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, sold in our London rooms in 1946 and 1973, was included in the Museum's exhibition Imperial Porcelain: Recent Discoveries of Jingdezhen Ware, Osaka, 1995, pl. 229; another bowl from the collections of C.M. Woodbridge and Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Bernat, now in the Umezawa Kinenkan, Tokyo, sold in our London rooms 8th May 1951, lot 62, formed part of the Special Exhibition of Chinese Ceramics, Tokyo, 1994, pl. 263; and one sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 20 March 1990, lot 523, and 27th April 1997, lot 73, and at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 7th October 2006, lot 908, and 8th October 2009, lot 1692, is illustrated in Li Zhengzhong and Zhu Yuping, Taoci yanjiu jianshang congshu, 3: Zhongguo qinghua ci [Series on ceramics research and connoisseurship, 3: Chinese blue-and-white porcelain], Taipei, 1993, fig. 101. In Europe, a pair of bowls of this design from the collection of Axel and Nora Lundgren is in the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm, see Jan Wirgin, Ming Porcelain in the Collection of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities. Hongwu to Chenghua, Stockholm, 1991, cat. no. 35; two similar bowls are also in the British Museum, London, one, from the collection of Sir Percival David, was included in the exhibition Flawless Porcelains: Imperial Ceramics from the Reign of the Chenghua Emperor, Percival David Foundation, London, 1995, cat. no. 1; the other from the collection of Mrs. Winnifred Roberts, given in memory of A.D. Brankston, is published in Jessica Harrison-Hall, Catalogue of Late Yuan and Ming Ceramics in the British Museum, London, 2001, no. 6:4; and a similar bowl in the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, in the Netherlands, is illustrated in Daisy Lion-Goldschmidt, Ming Porcelain, London, 1978, pl. 66. Chenghua porcelain remained greatly treasured throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties. Ts'ai Ho-pi relates many anecdotes recorded in the historical literature attesting to the value and esteem of Chenghua wares in later periods (Ts'ai Ho-pi, 'Chenghua Porcelain in Historical Context', Sotheby's London, 1995, op.cit., pp. 16 ff.). The rulers most interested in collecting ancient ceramics, the Wanli (r. AD 1573 – 1620) and Yongzheng (r. AD 1723 – 1735) Emperors both had copies commissioned from the Imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, the former with his own reign marks, the latter with a spurious Chenghua mark. A bowl of this design of Wanli mark and period in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, was included in the Museum's 1976 exhibition together with an original piece, op.cit., cat. no. 79; a Qing copy in the Percival David Foundation, is illustrated in Oriental Ceramics. The World's Great Collections, vol. 6, Tokyo, New York and San Francisco, 1982, no. 252. The present bowl was one of three Chenghua palace bowls in the collection of Lord Cunliffe. The Rt. Hon. Rolf, 2nd Baron Cunliffe of Headley (1899-1963) was one of the most important collectors of Chinese art – ceramics of all periods as well as archaic bronzes, jades and snuff bottles. According to Roy Davids and Dominic Jellinek, Provenance, London, 2011, pp. 132-3, Bluett & Sons prepared a valuation of his collection after his death, which comprised some 600 items. He had acquired all three palace bowls together from Peter Boode in 1947 for a total of £ 475. Boode, an important dealer in East Asian art, had arrived in the Far East in 1913, had sourced many Chinese art works in the early Republican period and opened a gallery in Mount Street, London, in 1934, which closed around 1949. At Bluett’s selling exhibition in 1971 the present bowl was prized at £ 25,000. At Sotheby’s ten years later it sold for HK $ 4,070,000. The other two Cunliffe palace bowls were a pair, both of the lily pattern; one of them was sold in these rooms, 20th May 1980, lot 39 (fig. 1); the other was sold at Bonhams London, 11th November 2002, lot 67 (fig. 2), where the original Boode invoice was illustrated in the catalogue, and is now in the Xiling collection, illustrated in Regina Krahl, Xiling Collection, n.p., 2011, p. 40, no. 16.

  • HKGSonderverwaltungszone Hongkong
  • 2013-10-08

Three Studies for a Self-Portrait

Self-portraiture has played a role of unparalleled importance in the work of Francis Bacon. More so than any artist since Rembrandt, Bacon’s implacable self-portrayals weave an autobiographic thread through the exigent vicissitudes of an extraordinarily dramatic life. Lived with the deepest commitment to brutally seizing the vulnerable, vital and violent conditions of human existence in both his work and day-to-day being, Francis Bacon was an artist for whom the searing reality of life itself was the purpose. Nowhere is this more forcefully evident than in the haunting opus of Self-Portraiture. Executed in the artist’s eighth decade at the age of 71, Three Studies for a Self-Portrait, richly surmises a life’s worth of retrospect locked within an emphatically urgent scrutiny of Bacon’s iconic features. Belonging to a corpus of eleven triptych self-portrayals in Bacon’s standard 14 by 12inch format, the present triptych counts among the ten executed following the death of Bacon’s closest companion, George Dyer. The profound trauma of this event would precipitate an onslaught of searing self-analyses executed across the extant years of Bacon’s life. Painted in 1980, nine years following Dyer’s suicide, these three portraits collectively embody among the most elegiac in this intimate and somewhat commemorative triptych format. The sequence of effervescent works exude muted melancholia accented with the violent facture of Bacon’s inimitably physical painterly assault. Herein, these works utterly encapsulate the strength of burning sensation and direct emotion telescoped in Bacon’s astounding corpus of portrait heads. A series and format first settled upon in 1961 and sustained in practice until the very end, these extraordinary portraits form the very staple of Bacon’s mature practice, acting as the primary locus for the “brutality of fact” and most immediate site for loosening the “valves of sensation” so frequently spoken of by the artist. Professing profound reflection accompanying the artist’s entry into old age, Three Studies for a Self-Portrait significantly preserves one of the very final depictions of Bacon's likeness in this unflinching, intimate and crucial format. Following the 1979 Three Studies for a Self-Portrait residing in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and directly preceding the very last small Self-Portrait sequence from 1984 belonging to the Honolulu Museum of Art, this work hauntingly eulogizes the penultimate occasion of Bacon's searing and intimate self-analysis in his favourite format: the triptych. These human-scaled portrait heads are translucent, air-like apparitions of an ephemeral spirit dissolving into the black ether of the void. Enshrouded in shadow and ethereally effervescent, de-formulation and re-formulation of likeness moves from one image to the next; in series as though caught in the flash of a photo booth, these fully frontal and in profile depictions glow like votive icons of an artist who himself is an icon of his age. Suited in a white collar like an echo of the anguished early portraits of anonymous male sitters from the 1950s, this ethereal triptych represents one of the most quintessential translations of Bacon’s legendary likeness. Resembling a distorted and existential mirror image of the artist’s own psyche, the three portraits compound the immediacy and unsurpassed power of the small studies. As William Fever has explained: “‘Studies’ or exercises though they are, these small paintings are central to Bacon’s art. The scale of a bathroom mirror-image makes them one-to-one, and when they are paired, or grouped in threes, the differences animate them. No rooms, no thrones, no perfunctory landscape settings are needed. Without context or posture, the heads have nothing to do but look, sometimes at one another, and wait” (William Feaver, ‘That’s It’, Exhibition Catalogue, London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Francis Bacon 1909 – 1992 Small Portrait Studies, 1993, p. 6). These works exude the nervousness of existence so cherished a part of Bacon’s artistic vision. Exuding endurance, suffering and involuntary mannerisms, the artist’s likeness emerges from underneath the surface of the paint. In Three Studies for a Self-Portrait, we witness Bacon pushing the boundaries of representation to their limits, deriving a new vocabulary of amorphous, inscrutable forms that, despite their ostensible abstraction, render with unequivocal certainty the instantly legible physiognomy of the artist with outstanding and somewhat surprising tranquillity. Charged with unparalleled melancholic beauty and framed within abyssal black grounds, these portraits combine masterfully scumbled, scraped and diffused handling of paint with arresting intensity and consummate psychological depth. Powerfully evincing Bacon’s essential artistic aim, the present triptych fulfils a compelling visual counterpart to the artist’s own desire for his work: “I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail, leaving a trail of human presence and memory trace of past events, as the snail leaves its slime” (the artist, cited in: David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 33). Vaporous, ghost-like, yet dramatic physiognomies emerge out of an abyssal black ground; amorphous forms trail a presence through each image, leaving the viewer as vividly witness to some lingering apparition. In full consciousness of the waning years Bacon here paints himself in the dim-light of inexorable transience. Four years after the creation of this work Bacon mentioned to David Sylvester: “Life is all we have. I mean we are here for a moment” (the artist, cited in: Ibid., p. 231). Where the small portrait heads translate this eschatological communion most powerfully, it is Bacon’s own self-portraiture that punctuates the most exceptional moments of his oeuvre. With particular reference to the present work, Michael Peppiatt explicates: “…he was never more brilliant, more incisive or more ferocious when it came to depicting himself. In this he helped revive a genre, and Bacon’s Self-Portraits can now be seen as among the most pictorially inventive and psychologically revealing portraits of the Twentieth Century” (Michael Peppiatt in: Exhibition Catalogue, Rome, Galleria Borghese, Caravaggio Bacon, 2009-10, p. 210). In his authoritative monograph on the artist, John Russell pointedly outlines the central importance of Bacon’s small portrait format: "The single head, fourteen inches by twelve, was from 1961 onwards the scene of some of Bacon's most ferocious investigations. Just as a gunshot sometimes leaves an after-echo or parallel report, so these small concentrated heads carry their ghosts within them" (John Russell, Francis Bacon, London 1993, p. 99). Russell’s descriptive conjuring of spirits and ghosts here pinpoints the powerfully enduring impact of the small portrait heads. Initiated in 1961, the very first triptych in this format was painted directly in response to the death of Pater Lacy, the object of Bacon’s first major love affair. A former RAF pilot with a self-destructive nature prone to furious outbursts, Lacy embodied a magnetic force for Bacon whose finely-tuned and receptive proclivity for the violence of existence drove all aspects of his life. By the mid-1950s Lacy had ended the tempestuous relationship and moved to Tangier, where he began to slowly and surely drink himself into oblivion. Upon hearing of his death the grief-stricken Bacon painted Lacy’s emanation as a commemorative act of resuscitation and atonement. Three Studies for a Portrait (1961) powerfully lays bare the harrowing introspective quality intrinsic to the intimately scaled triptychs: struggling to the surface of the outer panels, Bacon’s phantasmal memory of Lacy is here comingled and conjoined with the artist’s own self-portrait, present in the central canvas. As noted by Peppiatt: “For Bacon, Lacy himself had become part of the artist’s own myth of guilt and retribution. He could recapture him at his most vital by foreseeing the death that would dissolve his appearance” (Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: An Anatomy of an Enigma, London 2008, p. 236). Significantly, it was this event in Bacon’s life that precipitated the production of his first acknowledged Self-Portraits. That tragedy forcefully induced a mode of self-reflection in Bacon’s work was made emphatically clear following the second and most profound tragedy to beset Bacon’s life: the death of George Dyer. Ten years following Lacy’s demise and on the eve of Bacon’s Retrospective opening at the Grand Palais in Paris 1971, George Dyer - Bacon’s companion, lover and principle artistic subject since 1964 - was found dead. Marred by progressive alcoholism, suicidal desperation and a waning sense of purpose in the Bacon’s shadow, Dyer’s eight-year relationship with the artist was as fractured as it was passionate. A compelling force in life, in death Dyer’s absent-presence took on the weight of Bacon’s loss and melancholic regret; a profound grief that resonates throughout Bacon’s post-1971 opus and specifically the elegiac last paintings of himself. Echoing the posthumous depictions of Peter Lacy, where the late paintings of Dyer represent ruminations on his lost companion, they simultaneously represent deeply introverted self-reflections. What’s more, the constancy and significance of Dyer’s appearance in Bacon’s late oeuvre is surpassed only by the wealth of Self-Portraits, which from 1971 onwards, greatly increased in number. Bacon’s searching and intensely haunting self-images at once exorcise accusatory demons whilst offering deeply mournful inquiries in the face of profound bereavement: today the suite of heart-rending self-images executed during the last two decades of Bacon’s life stand among his very best works. These harrowing epic eulogies powerfully speak of the intense loss and guilt that remained with Bacon until his death. When asked by Sylvester in 1979 why there are so many self-portraits, Bacon explained: “People have been dying around me like flies and I’ve had nobody else to paint but myself… I loathe my own face and I’ve done self-portraits because I’ve had nothing else to do” (the artist, cited in: David Sylvester, Op. cit., p. 129). Anathema to such a postulation, Bacon's purported reluctance to paint his own image is largely trivialising. The artist very rarely painted from life and did not require the presence of sitters to translate a likeness in paint, instead relying upon memory and the detritus of photographs and books famously strewn across his South Kensington studio as aesthetic triggers. Alongside the countless photographs of his friends Bacon commissioned from John Deakin, hundreds of photos of himself taken over the years, comprised a core visual compost for his pictorial imagination. While the intensity of Bacon’s Self-Portrait practice undoubtedly deepened following the death of George Dyer, throughout his life Bacon maintained an abiding fascination with his own appearance. A wearer of make-up and keen subject of the photographers lens Bacon had learned the nuances of re-invention and self-presentation from a young age, spending hours scrutinising and tracing the particularities of his own appearance in the mirror. Such a reading of the mirror image is extraordinarily present in the almost 1 to 1 scale of Three Studies for a Self-Portrait. “This is how we see what we feel like in the morning”, describes William Feaver, “examining the image in the mirror that corresponds so remotely with the sense we have of ourselves. This is the face that gets worse (more ‘lived in’) over the years, the face that betrays. These heads are what we are stuck with: unsentimentally ours. Bacon dealt with his… knowing that the best he could do was to effect a phantom, a rasping whoosh of characteristics” (William Feaver, Op. cit., p. 6). Though evoking in effigy a residual and unrelenting guilt over George Dyer’s death, Bacon's self-reference and proliferation of self-portraiture during this period somewhat confirms a statement made to Sylvester in 1975: "One always has greater involvement with oneself than with anybody else. No matter how much you may believe that you're in love with somebody else, your love of somebody else is your love of yourself" (the artist, cited in: David Sylvester, Op. cit., p. 241). Where for Bacon the act of painting is tantamount to a divulging of the self into the physical matter of paint, the presence of the artist’s own features within many paintings based on Dyer, Lacy or other members of his social circle simultaneously represents a form of psychological transference and an act theatrical artistic licence. That Bacon would translate his own features into portrayals of Dyer amongst others in his close circle of friends, both male and female, is not only testament to his pluralistic technique of working from visual ephemera and memory, but also to a compulsion that can be traced back to the seventeenth-century masterpieces of Caravaggio. For an illumination of the present work, it is the theatrical way in which Caravaggio pioneered the contemporaneously non-existent genre of Self-Portraiture by gratuitously transfiguring into his work autobiographical narrative that chimes with Bacon. Self-Portrait as Bacchus (1593) and David with the Head of Goliath (1610) both purport such an autobiographical reading; whether it be an expression of illness, poverty and existential distress in the artist as Bacchus, or as persecutor and persecuted for which Caravaggio is both David and Goliath, scholars have identified the artist’s own physiognomy as surreptitiously present throughout his oeuvre. That Caravaggio would cast himself as the grotesque beheaded Goliath and as the youthful victor David speaks very much to the fugitive lifestyle undertaken after killing a man in Rome in 1606. Though far from casting himself in biblical character or mythological role, Bacon’s own beheaded likeness in Three Studies for a Self-Portrait conflates young with old, life and death in much the same self-analytical way as Caravaggio. This juxtaposition was explicitly brought to the fore when the present work was shown as part of the 2009 exhibition, Caravaggio Bacon, held within the theatrical Baroque environs of the Galleria Borghese in Rome. Alongside other major paintings from Bacon’s canon, Three Studies for a Self-Portrait was set in visual dialogue with Caravaggio’s most iconic works. Taken down from the chapels of Rome’s churches and borrowed from the most prestigious of collections, the bold and dramatic conflation of Caravaggio with Bacon revealed a parity of violent tension and relishing of bloody corporeality between artists separated by over 300 years. Plunged into penetrating blackness, both Caravaggio and Bacon share the theatricality of vision that stages human tragedy and violence as temporally dislocated, dissolving into and emerging from, the shadow-light. Though he never openly cited Caravaggio as an influence, instead privileging his Caravaggisti predecessor Velazquez, Bacon’s erudition and pluralistic absorption of Art History’s vicissitudes far from discounts a comparison. Claudio Strinati outlines the pivotal confluence between the two artists: “Bacon and Caravaggio are artists who conceived of and used painting to possess the image, as if they both thought of figurative art as a parallel, perfect world, unable to be touched by the risk of change or decay, both of which distinctive of the real world” (Claudio Strinati, ‘Bacon and Caravaggio: The Occasion for an Encounter’, Exhibition Catalogue, Rome, Galleria Borghese, Caravaggio Bacon, 2009-10, p. 48). Where Caravaggio’s theatrical lighting and penchant for dramatic mise-en-scene prefigures the filmic aesthetic of modern day cinema, Bacon’s own cinematic inclination for distributing images in threes voices simultaneity of effect. As Bacon commented in interview with Sylvester, it was this filmic deployment of images that he felt worked best: “I know the things I really like doing are the triptychs. They are the things I like doing most, and I think this may be related to the thought I’ve sometimes had of making a film. I like the juxtaposition of the images separated on three different canvases. So far as my work has any quality, I often feel perhaps it is the triptychs that have the best quality” (the artist, cited in: David Sylvester, Op. cit., p. 232). As uniquely brought to the fore in Three Studies for a Self-Portrait, that Bacon and Caravaggio shared a theatrical temperament and a lifetime fraught with pathos and tragedy is reflected in a confluence of violent immediacy between two entirely singular artistic voices utterly without parallel. By 1980, the cumulative impact of Bacon’s changing visage clearly seemed to have compounded an assertion of mortality and a desire to indelibly inscribe his own likeness within the eternal grand arc of Art History. Ancestor to Caravaggio’s pioneering of the genre perfected by revered masters from Rembrandt to Picasso, Bacon was driven by an incessant compulsion to forge an artistic legacy for the experience of his time. As a genre, Self-Portraiture purportedly reveals the private side of a public profession; nowhere can this be understood with such forthright candour than in Bacon’s oeuvre as viewed in the light of Rembrandt’s influence. Rembrandt was the very touchstone of Bacon’s inventiveness in these small scale canvases; the endless variety and successive permutations of his own visage, which meld into almost abstract dissolving matter towards the end of his life cast Rembrandt’s late Self-Portraits as a striking parallel to, and even art historical blue-print for, the present work. Bacon believed Rembrandt’s Self-Portraits to be “formally the most extraordinary paintings. He altered painting in a way by the method by which he dealt with himself and perhaps he felt freer to deal with himself in this totally liberal way” (Ibid., p. 241). When viewed close up the Rembrandt’s heads seemingly disband into a mass of non-representational marks that were doubtless an inspiration to Bacon’s own savage expressivity. In Bacon’s description of the Aix-en-Provence Self-Portrait with Beret (1659), it is almost as though he is describing the very nuances, subtleties and techniques employed in the execution of Three Studies for a Self-Portrait: “… if you think of the great Rembrandt self-portrait in Aix-en-Provence, for instance, and if you analyse it, you will see that there are hardly any sockets to the eyes, that it is almost completely anti-illustrational. I think that the mystery of fact is conveyed by an image being made out of non-rational marks… what can happen sometimes, as it happened in this Rembrandt self-portrait in Aix-en-Provence, is that there is a coagulation of non-representational marks which have led to making up this very great image. Well, of course, only part of this is accidental. Behind all that is Rembrandt’s profound sensibility, which was able to hold onto one irrational mark rather than onto another” (the artist, cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Marlborough Gallery, Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings, 1967, p. 28). Plunged into Caravaggesque tenebrism and built from one irrational mark scraped, daubed and smeared on top of the other, the diffused brilliance and shadow-like delicacy of Bacon’s Three Studies appear nervously held together by a masterful translation of pure sensation in paint. Like Rembrandt tallying his aged, lined and weary features with a congruent painterly treatment of disbanded corporeality, in the present work the vaporous dissolution of Bacon’s likeness tempers exigent facture with an intense yet reposed response to the concrete fact of mortality. A portrayal so quintessentially synonymous with Bacon’s own distinctive character yet far beyond mere caricature, Three Studies for a Self-Portrait truly counts as a masterpiece of Bacon’s intimately scaled triptychs. As though witness to the artist’s mirror image reflected back at us, in these incredible works we are hauntingly reminded of Bacon’s emphatic quotation of Jean Cocteau: “every day in the mirror I watch death at work”. Startlingly powerful in execution and psychological affect, these works resemble a remarkably lyrical antecedent to Michel Leiris’ magnificent word-portrait of Bacon. Three years following the execution of this triptych the preeminent man of letters and close friend to Bacon poetically penned: “… Bacon’s canvases, at once so effervescent and so controlled, provide, for the spectator who looks at them as a whole and grasps them in their diversity, a striking image of this unique contemporary artist in all his complexity” (Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon, New York 1983, p. 43). Each: signed, titled and dated 1980 on the reverse

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2013-02-12

Danseuses en blanc

In this sparklingly fresh work in pastel, Degas captures a group of four dancers in mid-flight as they step out from the wings. Their arms and legs extended in arabesque, their black neck ribbons, colorful headdresses and frothy white tutus are caught in the bright glow of the footlights. Before them stretches a broad expanse of empty stage and at the rear painted scenery flats vaguely suggest a landscape setting. Only rarely did Degas depict actual performances and here he gives us no precise information about the ballet or the dancers - their faces are hidden from view and no figure is seen in its entirety. However, the single dancer in a closely related pastel Dance on pointe: The Star, circa 1878 (The Norton Simon Art Foundation, Pasadena) has been identified as Melina Darde who posed for Degas on a number of occasions [1]. Degas is known above all as the artist of the ballet.  No other artist has explored the subject so consistently and in in such depth. As many of his drawings reveal, Degas had a detailed knowledge of ballet technique acquired during many hours sitting, sketchbook in hand, in dance classes and rehearsals. We will probably never fully understand exactly what drove this lifelong obsession with the subject. He once claimed that he painted dancers because he liked the pretty costumes and depicting movement. Certainly, he was fascinated by the human figure in motion and in the ballet he found a particularly sophisticated and rarefied range of movements. The Opéra was central to Degas’s life. He went all the time to see performances at the old rue Le Peletier opera house in the 9th arrondissement and, after it burned to the ground, at the splendid Palais Garnier, the glittering crown at the top of the Avenue de l’Opéra that opened in 1875.  Like many upper-class Parisians of his day, Degas had a subscription at the Paris Opera. As an abonné, he became a member of an elite, all-male club that enjoyed special privileges such as the free run of the theater including the backstage areas, its maze of corridors, dressing rooms, dance classes, rehearsal studios, corridors and the foyer de dance or green room where the ballerinas would mingle with the often predatory abonnés. The milieu of the dance and the Opéra was a thoroughly modern subject and was thus completely in tune with the avant-garde Impressionist group’s programme to jettison the past and focus on the everyday life of their own time.  But unlike other members of the group, for example Monet and Pissarro who were primarily interested in landscape, Degas preferred artifice to nature and the urban spectacle to the countryside.  He loved the effect of artificial, nocturnal light that he found not only in the theatre but also in Paris’s more plebeian cabarets and the café-concerts. The striking immediacy that Degas achieves in Dancers in White is in large part due to the highly unusual angle of vision. Instead of the conventional approach of looking straight on to the stage from the auditorium that we might expect from a theatrical subject, he invites us to share with him the view from the wings at the moment when the dancers enter the stage. The resulting dramatic cropping and overlapping of the figures produces an almost cinematic truth to the moment. Yet, although it has the freshness of direct observation, we know that this seeming spontaneity was an illusion and the result of long reflection, careful preparation and the analysis of a pose through the numerous drawings made in his studio.  Degas also found inspiration on the example of earlier and different art forms, not in the realm of high art but in the popular journalistic illustration of the previous generation, in the caricatures of such brilliant graphic artists as Honoré Daumier (1808-79) who in his lithographs, which were extensively represented in Degas’s personal collection, played with the notion with on-stage and off-stage. And the bird’s eye view and cropped figures in the Japanese ukiyo-e prints by artists such as Hokusai (1760-1849) and Hiroshige (1797-1858) that were so admired by Degas and his contemporaries, provided refreshing alternatives to the single-point perspective idea of composition that had prevailed since the Renaissance. The quest for unusual viewpoints – looking down on the stage from a box or frequently the view from the wings – recurs consistently in Degas’s highly innovative ballet scenes of the late 1870s and early 1880s. Breaking with all conventional notions of composition, these novel and daring pictorial structures allowed Degas to conflate the glamour of the performance on stage with vignettes of the more prosaic world behind the scenes.  In the Metropolitan Museum’s The Rehearsal of the Ballet on the Stage, probably 1874, Degas gets below the surface of theatrical artifice.  A group of dancers rehearse under the director of the ballet master – quite possibly the formidable Monsieur Pluque – while others lean against the flats, yawn and stretch in those offbeat moments that Degas captures with such acuity. Sometimes it is the magic of the performance on stage that predominates as in The Star (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) one of his most famous pastels in which the prima ballerina is caught, center stage, in a flood of brilliant light while behind in the wings we glimpse the dancers waiting for their cue and the black-suited figure of an abonné observing the scene. Or in The Green Dancer, circa 1880 (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid) the plunging viewpoint, presumably from a box, transforms the dancers into whirling pinwheels of dazzling colour.  And even in his last works, we find Degas still investigating the motif of dancers in the wings as in Four Dancers, circa 1899 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) where he presents them as a tight-knit group of intertwining figures Much of the magic of Dancers in White derives from the powdery pastel medium. Degas began to work extensively in pastel in the 1870s and in the next decade it would become his principal medium. Popular in the eighteenth century (Degas was a great admirer of the eighteenth-century pastel portraitist Quentin de la Tour), it enjoyed something of a revival in the late nineteenth century. Pissarro and Monet, for example, both use pastel to add color to drawings, but Degas use of the technique was on an entirely different level.  In it, he found a perfect fusion of color and drawing. In his late pastels he used bold, even violent hues, but here the touch is lighter, the colors soft and shimmering. Degas has used a variety of strokes to achieve different textural effects: smudged and rubbed chalky white pastel to capture the diaphanous tutus lightly scattered with sparkling gold sequences, cross hatching for the play of light over the dancers backs and legs and the loosely sketched scenery, while vivid dabs of bright red, yellow, white and black define the floral headdresses. Dancers in White has a fascinating history. Like The Rehearsal of the Ballet on the Stage, it was once in the great Havemeyer collection assembled in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by the sugar millionaire Harry Osborne Havemeyer and his wife Louisine. On Louisine’s death in 1929, a vast number of works were bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum including thirty-five paintings in addition to prints and the complete set of seventy sculptures by Degas. After meeting the American painter Mary Cassatt in Paris, Louisine, then aged about twenty-two, bought Degas’s Ballet Rehearsal, circa 1876 that Cassatt had pointed out to her probably on a visit to a color shop like Père Tanguy’s in Montmartre. This gouache and pastel over monotype is now in the Nelson Atkins Museum, Kansas City. This was Louisine’s first acquisition and as she later explained in Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector: ‘It was so new and strange to me! I scarce knew how to appreciate it, or whether I liked it or not, for I believe it takes special brain cells to understand Degas.’[2] She added ‘Five hundred francs was a large sum for me to spend in those days and represented many little economies and even some privations.’[3] It is not surprising then that a few years later the Havemeyers should buy the virtually contemporary Dancers in White ‘another [pastel] from Cottier and Company…several ballet girls in a row – vue de dos – also in white and with red flowers’.[4] Like Ballet Rehearsal, Dancers in White encapsulates Degas’s unique vision of the strange poetry and the pure enchantment of the dance. [1] See Jill De Vonyar and Richard Kendall, Degas and the Dance (exhibition catalogue), The Detroit Institute of Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003, pp. 208-210. [2] Louisine W. Havemeyer, Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector, New York, 1961, p. 249. [3] Ibid., p. 250. [4] Ibid., p. 259. Sotheby's would like to thank Dr. Ann Dumas, Curator, Royal Academy of Arts, for writing the catalogue essay for this lot. Sotheby's would also like to thank Prof. Theodore Reff for his assistance with the cataloguing of this lot. Signed Degas (upper right)

  • 2015-11-05

An iconic, highly attractive, and historically important stainless

Rolex When an original Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona is offered for sale, collectors take notice. To own one is a dream for so many. This absolutely fresh to the market watch is the “Paul Newman” Daytona after which all others came second. Likely purchased in 1968, Joanne Woodward chose this reference 6239 fitted with an ‘exotic’ dial, as a gift for Paul Newman as his passion for motorsport was just beginning. Throughout his lifetime, Mr. Newman was seen wearing several generations of Daytona models. This is the first and only ‘exotic’ dial Daytona he wore, making it the ultimate Rolex Daytona wristwatch. This wristwatch has been worn by Paul Newman lovingly over the years, but also well preserved by the consignor, James Cox. The case retains its original proportions, lines, and edges, and in our view, has never been polished. The wonderful, “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME” engraving on the case back is perfectly crisp and completely intact.Likely to have been originally purchased at Tiffany & Co. in New York, an inventory number possibly engraved by the luxury retailer is found on the underside of the left lug. The dial has developed a creamy, warm patina that is consistent with its age. The luminous hour markers have also aged charismatically along with the luminous hands – all completely original and intact. It comes accompanied with a signed letter written by Paul Newman’s daughter, Nell Newman, documenting its provenance and her support of its sale. The Daytona is a model that will forever be associated with Paul Newman, made famous by him thanks to this very timepiece. The present lot therefore presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own one of the most mythical, most important, and most recognizable watches of the 20th century. It’s now being sold for the first time since leaving the inner circle of the Newman family, nearly 50 years after its purchase by Joanne Woodward. We are thrilled to offer it here, with a portion of the proceeds going to The Nell Newman Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation, in support of Paul Newman’s philanthropic values. Its impeccable provenance, incredible “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME” engraving from Joanne Woodward, and wonderful original condition make Paul Newman’s “Paul Newman” Daytona one of the world’s most precious – and most priceless – timepieces. Ever.

  • 2017-10-26

Rélief éponge bleu (RE 51)

Ever since its legendary exhibition in Iris Clert’s ‘forest of sponges’ exhibition in Paris in 1959, Yves Klein’s exquisite Rélief éponge bleu (RE 51) has represented the pinnacle of the artist’s creative innovation. It is perfectly archetypal of the artist’s legendary Rélief éponge corpus and embodies an artistic event beyond mere painting or sculpture; epitomizing the act of Klein’s genius. It was first owned by Lucio Fontana, the Italian luminary who is without question one of the pre-eminent, most revered pioneers of twentieth century abstraction. Fontana, in an expression representative of his extreme admiration of Klein, owned five works by Klein, each from Klein’s most significant, distinct series. Both the visual effect and physical presence of RE 51 are magnificently unique and impossible to reproduce adequately. The powdery, velvet blue surface continually evolves according to the play of light across the spectacularly articulated surface. While the sponges and pebbles afford a beautiful compositional structure, their arrangement also reinforces the effect of the monochrome. Indeed, the sheer power of the IKB pigment unifies the whole work to such a degree that the exact topography of the surface is not always discernible and the spellbinding blue intermittently overcomes silhouette and contour. The labyrinths of minute spaces within the sponges create multifaceted schemas of light and shadow and the extraordinary potency of Klein’s blue seems to fill these void matrices with a coloristic energy independent of the physical forms. Thus while the sponge bodies loom towards us, the myriad recesses draw our world into the infinity of Klein’s blue epoch. Klein’s meteoric career—ended barely before it had truly begun—was devoted to a relentless search for an immaterial world beyond our own. To this end he developed modes of expression that fused together a sweeping array of profoundly held interests in aesthetics, nature and mysticism. Among these artistic dialects the Rélief éponges issue the most effective manifestation of the complex mysteries that filled the artist’s life. Forging the kernel of Klein’s epoch of immateriality, these unreal masterworks deliver the crescendo promised by the IKB, gold and rose Monochromes; and bring to life the enigmatic shadows of the Anthropométries. While the Monochromes invite the viewer into Klein’s world, this Rélief éponge advances out into the world of the viewer; whereas the Anthropométries narrate the trace of transient human presence, RE 51 absorbs ancient creatures into the depths of its fathomless and immaterial blue. Although it may be indicative of some alien planetary landscape or the deepest ocean bed, the topography of RE 51 encapsulates the artist’s pure concept of an ethereal and intangible state. Having first observed the powerful chromatic effect of pure powdered pigment while in an art supply shop in London in 1949, through the 1950s Klein experimented with various fusions of asphalt, plaster, cement, sand, tar and other materials that he acquired from Edouard Adam, a chemicals and art supplies retailer in Montparnasse. From these trials he developed the legendary International Klein Blue, a synthetic medium that included the transparent binder Rhodopas M 60 A, which preserved the pigment as if it were still pure powder. It was also in Adam's shop where Klein discovered sponges in 1956, sourced from Greece and Tunisia, which the artist first used to apply paint to his surface before being struck by the extraordinary aesthetic of soaking them in IKB. As aquatic animals, sponges have evolved over hundreds of millions of years into bodies of maximum surface area and exceptional absorption qualities in order to extract food and oxygen as efficiently as possible from the constant flow of water passing through them. As a living being the shape of a sponge changes, but extracted from its life-support of plankton-filled seawater it is frozen in its final, ultimate form. In the present work these outstanding features of natural selection are profusely drenched in Klein’s blue, resulting in an organic architecture of immeasurable chromatic depth. From his earliest experiments with monochromes Klein was gripped by sculptural possibilities: curved edges emphasized dimensions beyond the flat rectilinear canvas and in his first IKB exhibitions the works were projected away from the hanging wall so as to be suspended in space. This exploration into the prospects of hanging sculpture finds its apogee in the Rélief éponge corpus where the three-dimensional elements project forward into the space of the viewer. Klein was fascinated by the work of Gaston Bachelard, the French philosopher of Air and Dreams, and by the Zen philosophy of spiritual and physical harmony that he first encountered during his training as a judo-ka in Yokohama in 1952. Indeed, the placement of the sponges in RE 51 surely drew upon Klein’s memory of the Zen gardens he had visited in Kyoto. In the Ryoan temple garden there are five groups of stones placed within a rectangle of raked gravel, presenting an order that appears entirely natural as if the stones had grown in place. The fact that the sponge reliefs incorporated actual elements of nature reinforces the parallel with the gardens of Kyoto. Yves Klein’s artistic contribution to contemporary culture is most frequently described as visionary, and the scope of his artistic innovations was utterly without precedent. The works he left behind are testament to a genius that perceived things others could not. RE 51 expedites the artist’s career-long investigation into how to communicate these concepts through artistic means, and because his language is so utterly unlike any other and precipitates a unique response in each individual spectator, this profoundly engaging and immensely beautiful work will always transcend and surpass our expectations of what art can achieve. Signed and dated 59 on the reverse

  • 2014-05-13

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