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Raw, uncensored, and fiercely magnificent, Untitled from 1982 is a virtually incomparable masterwork from Jean-Michel Basquiats revolutionary body of paintings, executed in the very first month of the pivotal year of 1982. Emblazoned upon the monumental canvas, the visceral impact of the artists painted searing visage is absolute and immediate, consuming the viewers gaze in an impenetrable maelstrom of violent gesture, chromatic radiance, and pure, unbridled electric charge. The overwhelming visual dynamism of Untitled vehemently declared the arrival of the brilliant, then virtually unknown young artist into a world that would be forever transformed by his paintings. In an explosive torrent of gestural vigor, Untitled embodies the indomitable force of Basquiats creative insurgency, which, in a flourishing conflagration of word, color, and mark, sent shockwaves through downtown Manhattan in the early 1980s and inaugurated a radical return to figurative painting. Here the artists anatomically rendered skull-like headexecuted in intricate strata of kaleidoscopic oilstick, acrylic, and spraypaintis surrounded in a barrage of arresting iconography, most notably the three-pointed crown and an all-over flurry of typography. Held in the same private collection since being acquired in 1984, Untitled has not been publically exhibited since its initial unveiling in June of 1982. Shortly following its creation, Untitled was exhibited in Fast, a selection of new figurative works at Alexander F. Milliken gallery in New York.  When cited in the charged presence of Untitled, the preface to the 1982 exhibition catalogue is, to this day, profoundly resonant: The spontaneity of [Basquiats] brushstroke is not lost in the transition from city walls to canvas. The graffiti, authentic and painterly, are todays answer to the New York Schools gestural marks The evidence of the artists hand confers on the work a humanistic component. These artists share an acute awareness of the times they live in, making their work highly sensitized to objective reality. Although critical, disorienting and provocative, they address an overburdened, highly complex nervous system. (Susan L. Putterman, About Fast, in Exh. Cat., New York, Alexander F. Milliken Inc., Fast, 1982, n.p.) Irrefutably the most significant work by the artist to ever appear at auction, Untitled ranks among the ultimate paragons of the artists oeuvre, and is the commanding counterpart to Basquiats Untitled (Head) in the collection of The Broad Museum. As malevolent mirror-images, the pair of shamanistic skulls ushered in a provocative artistic shift that, in its unfiltered grit and guttural symbolism, expressed the vibrant reality of urban life with thrilling authenticity.  As an indisputable masterpiece from the singular formative year of Basquiats meteoric career, the unveiling of Untitled marks an extraordinary moment within the legacy of Contemporary Arts most mythic and revered figure. Pulsating with creative furor, Untitled is the superlative embodiment of the unprecedented new manner that emerged in Basquiats paintings as he channeled the explosive charge of his street art into the first, staggeringly intense canvases of his mature corpus. A monumental fusion of viscerally charged figuration and unbridled painterly assault, the remarkable diversity of marks woven into the impenetrable layers of Basquiats figure is a clear articulation of both the artists past, as a celebrated member of Manhattans graffiti vanguard, and of his remarkable future, as contemporary arts dazzling prodigy. In the gestural ferocity of the figure, its outline delineated in bold masterstrokes of thick black pigment, the rapidly executed scrawls of Basquiats graffiti alter-ego of the late 1970s, SAMO, is readily apparent. As SAMO, Basquiat roamed the streets of New York, emblazoning his moniker and chosen icons the three point crown and the acquisitive © upon the abandoned walls of the city. From the beginning, the celebrated SAMO was known for his unique blend of the conceptual and the visual, merging a diverse linguistic arsenal of words with enigmatic symbols and icons that, while inscrutable, were likewise unforgettable. In Untitled, Basquiat sacrifices none of the immediacy and directness of SAMO, but rather, channels the explosive marks of spray paint, oilstick, and violently wielded brush into a formal order that harnesses his emotive power within the boundaries of figuration. Describing this shift, critic Achille Bonito Oliva reflects, Now, he brought to his canvases the abstract-figurative intensity of this experience, its declarative and narrative nature, explicit and didactic vigor, and its confused and spontaneous accumulation of visual elements. (Achille Bonita Oliva, The Perennial Shadow of Art in Basquiats Brief Life, in Exh. Cat., Lugano, Museo dArte Moderna, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 2005, p. 40) Absorbing, warping, and reshaping the myriad cacophonous influences of the street, Basquiat forged an extraordinarily lucid and intelligent pictorial vernacular that, while entirely his own, typified the language of the streets with searing candor. Attempting to verbalize the indescribable relevance of Basquiats new mode, Glenn OBrien reflected, He was the once-in-a-lifetime real deal: artist as prophet. (Glenn OBrien, Greatest Hits, in Exh. Cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Nows the Time, 2015, p. 180) In the frenetic, rampant inscription of graphic forms that courses across the surface of Untitled, Basquiats illustrious draftsmanship is on glorious and full-bodied display. Traces of a crossed out tic-tac-toe grid in the upper section of the canvas are surrounded by layers of overwritten and overpainted letters, counterbalancing the prominent upper and lower case a at the bottom left of the composition. As described by Richard D. Marshall, To Basquiat, the meaning of a word was not necessarily relevant to its usage because he employed words as abstract objects that can be seen as configurations of straight and curved lines that come together to form a visual pattern. The visual and graphic impact of printed letters was sufficient enough to stand alone as an artistic expression. (Richard D. Marshall, Jean-Michel Basquiat: Speaking in Tongues, in Exh. Cat., Lugano, Museo dArte Moderna, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 2005, p. 40) Conjuring allusions to the graceful scrawls and scribbles of Cy Twomblyan artist for whom he held a deep admirationthe glimpses of Basquiats graphic forms invoke a sort of proto-handwriting: a primitive kind of expression that strives toward resolution and legibility but is suspended in a perpetual territory of formal symbolism, akin to our contemporary reading of classical mark-making. Typifying this impulse, the spiky scrawl of an upper and lower case letter A is boldly emblazoned in black oil stick at the bottom left of the canvas, as though to label this work as the beginning, the first, the immediate origin of meaning. Then, conjuring the specter of SAMO, notorious vandal/hero of the streets, Basquiat violently scratches out his illusory hieroglyphs, leaving only the suggestion of signifier in a shimmering crown around the head of his gargantuan skull. Despite the variegated hues layered into the upper portion of the canvas, the potent symbol of Basquiats notorious street tag the iconic three-pointed crown gleams though the chroma, a ghostly silhouette of raised oil stick. The intricately accreted layers evoke a graffiti-scarred wall, characterized by accretive strata that in their very build-up and lush tonal variety divulge a sense of temporal progression. Below a saturated ground of vibrant blue pigment, the shimmering signifiers of Basquiats hieroglyphic scrawls peer through, offering the elusive promise of legibility without conceding meaning. Inscribing and scrawling over, painting and scraping away, he hovers between inscription and obfuscation, building the brilliant chromatic strata of his canvas with every stroke. Following the completion of the present work in January of 1982, over the course of the year, this once-in-a-lifetime artist would receive his first solo exhibition with Annina Nosei in New York, followed quickly by Larry Gagosian in Los Angeles, Bruno Bischofberger in Zurich, and, most astoundingly, an invitation to attend the international exhibition Documenta 7 in Kassel as the youngest artist of more than 176 to present his art. Paralleling the artists spectacular rise, every expressive mark of Untitled is imbued with the insatiable artistic drive which fueled Basquiat as he began his ascent. In the coursing frenzy of jet-black veins that line the frenetically rendered skull of Untitled, Basquiats impassioned, almost compulsive desire to create is readily apparent and undeniable. Reflecting upon the artists corpus, Marc Mayer describes Basquiat as, an articulate and prolific spokesman for youth: insatiably curious, tirelessly inventive, innocently self-deprecating because of youths inadequacies, jealously guarding his independenceHis work is likely to remain for a long time as the modern picture of what it looks like to be brilliant, driven, and young. (Marc Mayer, Basquiat in History, in Exh. Cat., New York, Brooklyn Museum, Basquiat, 2005, p. 57) In its searing, talismanic rendering of a skull, Untitled heralds the imminent resurgence of figurative painting through New York in the 1980s. Forged within the crucible of the gritty downtown art scene, Basquiats artistic vernacular was at the forefront of a revolution against the reigning artistic dogmas of the preceding decade. Nowhere was more enthusiastically volatile, or more bewitched by an insuppressible ferment of cultural expression, than the creative vortex of downtown Manhattan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. OBrien conjures the atmosphere luridly, citing: If you were turning eighteen in New York City in 1978, The New Frontier had gone down in flames, but the city was still frontier. New York City was the Wild, Wild East. Shootouts. Bandits. Savages. Badlands, The greatest city in the world was broke and all broke down and it was exciting.(Glenn OBrien, Basquiat and the New York Scene, 1978-82, in Exh. Cat., Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Basquiat, 2010, p. 38) Within this cacophonous context, a new style of painting began to emerge, one that privileged the immediacy of the isolated image over narrative, and the metaphoric strength of cultural signifiers over the interpretive freedom of undiluted abstraction. Typified in the celebrated Times Square Show of 1980 and the spectacular exhibition New York/New Wave at P.S.1 in 1981, both of which featured the young, undiscovered Basquiat, 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 rubblehere, 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.)  This momentous shift is verbalized with exceptional precision in the prophetic preamble for Fast, which remarked:  The eighteen artists share a commitment to the painting process as a human, vulnerable endeavor, and to the use of recognizable imagery as a tenable tool. Finding the modernist canons of faith invalid and the realist methods of reportage insufficient, these artists use representation for expressive purposes. Although the use of figuration is not in itself new, these artists have found a viable and powerful way of using it today. (Susan L. Putterman, About Fast, in Exh. Cat., New York, Alexander F. Milliken Inc., Fast, 1982, n.p.) In its searing, almost unbearable legibility, Untitled thunderously heralds the triumphant revenge of bold symbolism into an art world that, upon Basquiats impact, would never be the same. Built up of innumerable layers of vibrant hues and coursing rivulets of pigment, Untitled is an unparalleled example of the virtuosic ability to apply, execute, shift, and render paint upon canvas that distinguished Basquiat as an undisputed master within the vanguard of young and ambitious image-makers. Exemplifying his singular command as a master colorist, Basquiat layers undiluted primary hues to spectacular effect, rapidly building up the bold figurative outlines of his composition with frenetic bravura. Describing Basquiats innate natural ability, Marc Mayer notes, "With direct and theatrically ham-fisted brushwork, he used unmixed color structurally, like a seasoned abstractionist, but in the service of a figurative and narrative agenda. Basquiat deployed his color architecturally, at times like so much tinted mortar to bind a composition, at other times like opaque plaster to embody it. Color holds his pictures together, and through it they command a room." (Marc Mayer, "Basquiat in History," in Exh. Cat., New York, Brooklyn Museum, Basquiat, 2005, p. 46) Intermingling oil-stick with spray-paint, pigment with gestural smear, in rapid succession, Basquiat builds his figure up before him, sealing the immediacy of the figure with the final addition of white to the glowering eyes. In a manner that conjures the infinite generations of graffiti on urban walls, or the peeling layers of posters papering a downtown structure, Basquiat covers his canvas in impenetrable strata of vibrant marks until every line and form of the skull is reinforced and overdrawn. In the bared teeth alone, impastoed layers of mark coalesce with hallucinogenic depth.  While the furious speed of Basquiats paint application conjures a vision of chaotic yet remarkably controlled movement, the textural depth of Untitled suggests the paintings careful and deliberate creation. Indeed, Untitled (Head), 1981, the iconic counterpart to the present work, was begun in the early months of 1981, yet unfinished for several months as Basquiat continued to stall and delay its completion. Fred Hoffmans description alludes to a vision of Basquiat conjured in the studio, similarly painting the present work: One can only speculate about the reasons for this hesitation, but several individuals close to the artistincluding myself and Annina Nosei, the artists dealer at the timesuspect that this young, unseasoned artist hesitated to complete the work because he was caught off guard, possibly even frightened, by the power and energy emanating from this unexpected image. (Fred Hoffman, The Defining Years: Notes on Five Key Works, in Ibid., p. 13) Jubilantly demonstrative of the radical creative pinnacle of Basquiats career, Untitled offers a ferocious portrait of an artist defined by explosive talent and calamitous brilliance. Ritualistically lining and relining the crude cranium, Basquiat constricts the combustive color and mark of his figure within a thrumming web of dark oil stick, alluding to an interior realm as richly textured and variegated as the canvas below. Enacting an exceptionally groundbreaking use of figuration, Untitled breaks down the dichotomy between the external and internal, revealing the cacophonous innermost aspects of psychic life with breathtaking dynamism. Visual and emotive force are fused as, turning to his canvas, Basquiat renders a figure that is raw and aggressive, a cacophonous melee of color, gesture, light, and sound held together by the unwavering confidence of the artists line. The ineffable triumph of Untitled is perhaps best reflected in the words of Ed Baynard, the curator of the only exhibition that revealed the present work to the public eye: I chose the word Fast as an umbrella title because Fast seems (to me) the opposite of apathy. Fast is passion made concrete. (Ed Baynard, cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Alexander F. Milliken Inc., Fast, 1982, n.p.) Inaugurating the beginning of Basquiats ascendancy to the highest echelons of acclaim, Untitled is an enduring triumph to the passionate, emotive force of Basquiat incomparable painterly mark. Signed, inscribed NYC and dated 82 on the reverse

  • 2017-05-18

Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)

John Richardson The Eye of the Storm: Warhol and Picasso I arrived in New York for the first time in 1959 and within a year or two I met Andy. After that I saw a great deal of him. But nobody ever got to know Andy or, for that matter, Picasso: neither ever really opened up to anybody. Andy was often asking me about Picasso. I see Andy always at the Eye of the Storm. The Eye of the Storm where there is stillness, and all around is disaster. Here was Andy at the center of all this horror: the horror of modern life. Yet Andy was unaffected. He felt this, he sensed this, but he wasn’t one of the victims of it. By virtue of being in the Eye of the Storm he could see it. And he transmitted his feelings into these amazing images. When I gave the eulogy at Andy’s funeral I stressed the fact that Andy was a Catholic who went to Mass every single day of his life. So much of his work, including the Disaster paintings, comes out of that. The whole repetition of Andy’s imagery stems from the fact that he was Catholic. He went to church, he went to confession, he had to do ten Hail Marys, twenty Ave Marias, and all this is reflected in the way his imagery is repeated again and again and again. Picasso used to claim he was an atheist, but he was the least atheistic person I’ve ever met. He was deeply spiritual. Indeed, I see Guernica as a votive painting: it is an Ex Voto. And that seems to me the link between Picasso and Warhol: this deep, spiritual approach to their work. These Disaster paintings are not Andy reveling in disaster: this is Andy sitting at the Eye of the Storm, being the one still person among disasters, death, and horror. That is the key thing that these Disaster pictures were intended to convey. And that is why to my mind they are the most moving, and the strongest of all of Andy’s imagery. From an interview with Tobias Meyer, New York, October 2013 Screening History: Andy Warhol’s Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) To stand in front of this work of art is to bear witness to events that exist beyond description: it is to be in the presence of something phenomenal. To contemplate the sheer vastness of its achievement is to enter a realm of experience rarely encountered in Art History. Enlisting the dimensions of a specific narrative to achieve a fundamental human universality, this work belongs to that rarest elite of historic masterpieces which have occasionally altered our deepest perception. Like its illustrious forbears of the epic History Painting genre, this work stands as both the most astute allegory of its era and the vital mirror to our present. Here exists something utterly essential, something that has always been and always will be integral to our human story. Here is an arena that exists both inside and outside of the present, a place where time seems suspended. It is the proposition of both a definitive end and an unending beginning. On the left there is the final instant: the permanent flash where the possibilities of existence have been extinguished. Freedom and independence lie lifeless in wreckage as definitive lament to the hopes of the future. All this is repeated over and over and each version is unique: the tragic occurrence and recurrence is never identical. Yet, however the reel of life differs, here is the moment that it is conclusively severed. The screen turns blank. On the right there is an ever-shifting silver ocean of promise: a reflection to our ever-changing current experience. The specific, unalterable finality of the past meets the abstract, permanent continuity of the present. Stories told give way to stories as yet untold. Andy Warhol created Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) in the summer of 1963, at the turn of his thirty-fifth birthday. Composed of two canvases, each over eight feet high and together spanning in excess of thirteen feet, it ranked among the most monumental and ambitious works he had ever undertaken. Indeed, there exist only three other Car Crash paintings of remotely comparable scale: Orange Car Crash 14 Times, the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Black and White Disaster #4, Kunstmuseum Basel; and Orange Car Crash, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna. It represents the zenith of the Death and Disaster corpus, a body of work that was then Warhol’s total focus, and which surely remains his most significant and enduring contribution to the course of Art History. As Heiner Bastian succinctly declared: “Whatever the many different conclusions arrived at in art-historical observations on the significance of Warhol’s work in the context of his time and his contemporaries, it is the images of disaster and death that he started to make in 1963 that Warhol the chronicler gains his credibility and Warhol the artist explains the world.” (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Andy Warhol: Retrospective, 2002, pp. 28-9) In this groundbreaking year Warhol successively produced the series that comprise this seminal canon, which today read as a roll call of almost unfathomable artistic accomplishment: Suicides, Black and White Disaster, Early Serial Disasters, Silver Electric Chairs, Red Explosion, Tunafish Disasters, Race Riots, Burning Cars, 5 Deaths and Late Disasters. Of all the paintings in this spectacular outpouring of compulsive innovation, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) is truly exceptional. It is one of only seven in the monumental, double-canvas format: in addition to the three Car Crashes mentioned above are Red Disaster, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Blue Electric Chair and Mustard Race Riot. As denoted by the corresponding titles, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) stands out from this pantheon of immense Death and Disaster works for its exceptional silver color, providing the expansive surface with a constantly adjusting, reflective quality that is absent from the single color acrylic grounds of the other paintings. The incomparable nature of Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) is further confirmed by the remarkable heritage of its provenance. Three venerated collectors have previously owned this painting: Gian Enzo Sperone, Charles Saatchi and Thomas Ammann, each of whose eminent collections famously included some of the most outstanding artworks of the Twentieth Century. Subsequently this painting has been held in the same private collection for the past quarter of a century and has been publicly exhibited only once in that time, at the Fondation Beyeler in 2000. Having been rooted in heroic tales of immigration, American history evolved over two centuries through narratives of migration and ceaseless movement. Whether by horse, stagecoach, steam train or the automobile, this vast continental expanse was traversed by countless generations in the quest for opportunity and betterment. In the Twentieth Century there came to be no more potent symbol of the freedom and independence that are such monolithic cornerstones of the American Dream than the automobile. From John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road; Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night to Nicolas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause; Chuck Berry’s Get Your Kicks on Route 66 to the Beach Boys Little Deuce Coupe; America’s love affair with the automobile became profoundly endemic to its cultural identity. When Andy Warhol created this work in 1963, forty-four percent of Americans owned a motor vehicle, nearly double the number of just twenty years before. Seven years prior in 1956, the US Congress had authorized the largest and most ambitious public works enterprise of the postwar era: a nationwide interstate highway system comprising over 40,000 miles of high-speed roadways. Fittingly Time magazine declared the highway the “true index of our culture.” (“The New Highway Network,” Time, no. 69, June 24, 1957, p. 92) And in the eighteen years between the end of the Second World War and 1963, 620,000 Americans died in automobile accidents, on average almost one hundred people per day and more than the totals of all American casualties in the First and Second World Wars combined. Looming like an ever-present, seemingly indiscriminate scythe over Middle America’s new golden age of economic prosperity and everything it stood for, the car crash had quietly become the primal, devastating threat to an entire way of life. This work's execution belongs to an extraordinary shift in this most iconic of artistic careers, during which Warhol revolutionized the terms of popular visual culture. The ideal of the seminal Death and Disaster series, which was one of the most provocative, confrontational and brilliant projects undertaken by any artist in the transformative decade of the 1960s, this canvas epitomizes the monumental themes of Warhol’s career: namely an unprecedented artistic interrogation into the agencies of mass-media, celebrity and death. With deafening resonance Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) exclaims an immediately harrowing and intensely violent scenario: the instant aftermath of a brutal car crash. Within the composition the unmistakable corporeal outline of a single body is slung across the front seats of its deformed vehicle. The metallic expanse of the vehicle's massive form accentuates the flesh-and-blood mortality of its ill-fated passenger. Intertwined with the deformed metal superstructure and jointly sprawled across the asphalt concrete is this twisted victim: man and machine having become fused together through mundane catastrophe. In more metaphorical terms, the harsh division between the gleaming automobile and the spectacularly crushed chassis is mediated by the strewn body, caught at the point between organized construction and chaotic destruction. Thus one of the great symbols of 1950s and 1960s America, a facilitator of individualism and a key signifier of social mobility, the automobile, becomes the devastating delivery system of indiscriminate fatality. As Neil Printz relates, "the car crash turns the American dream into a nightmare." (Neil Printz in Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, p. 16) Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) offers the nightmare, but also concurrently normalizes this dystopian vision of sanitized suburban brutality. Here import is incited not only by subject, but also by method, process and context. Silkscreened on spray-painted silver, the cinematic silver-screen expanse is revealed on the left through the patterned gradations of anonymous dots. In addition, Warhol faithfully reproduces the composition of the photojournalist, replicating the foreign aesthetic of a found image. The nature of this rendering is strategically impersonal. Walter Hopps succinctly describes that "Warhol took for granted the notion that the obvious deployment of traditional rendering need not be revealed or employed, thereby expunging manual bravura from his work." (Walter Hopps in Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, p. 7) Here the mechanical silk-screen dot and absence of manual bravura silence the subject, at once evoking the production of newsprint photojournalism and the unceasing everyday phenomenon that the car crash had itself become. In an interview with Gene Swenson in 1963 Warhol stated that "when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn't really have any effect." (the artist interviewed by Gene Swenson, "What is Pop Art?'', Artnews 62, November 1963, pp. 60-61) In his 1970 monograph, Rainer Crone discussed how, although the car crash photos "evoke the immediacy of the actual event... this decreases as such occurrences become more frequent." (Rainer Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, p. 29) Nevertheless, the raw power of this confrontational image remains urgently accosting, despite our immersion in supposedly desensitizing mass-media representations of violence and brutality. The tonal polarization of the silkscreen impression bleakly particularizes the mangled figure and dramatizes the finality of deathly stillness. The atrocity here is highly quotidian: it is a thoroughly everyday catastrophe, typical of what Hopps calls the "unpredictable choreography of death" amidst the "banality of everyday disasters." (Op. Cit., p. 9) Warhol, himself obsessively fixated with the fragility of existence, here scrutinizes the public face of a private disaster and questions why anonymous victims are elevated to celebrity through their unexpected encounter with death. The source was an unidentified newspaper photograph, and despite the horror of the scene before him, the photojournalist nevertheless intuitively cropped the image through the view finder to engender narrative and provide an aesthetically satisfying picture according to compositional convention. Warhol selectively accentuated lights and darks on this photograph to intensify the contrast of the reproduction on the screen when he ordered his mechanical, in order to improve its legibility as well as enhance the compositional polarization of the image. In purely formal terms, the composition is bifurcated in two by the vertical tree or telephone pole that proved the automobile’s undoing, invoking both the double take and before and after narratives in our reception. Our eye is drawn to travel side to side, up and down, and diagonally between the four principal arenas of pictorial data. Warhol's exceptional aptitude to seize the most potent images of his time defines him as the consummate twentieth-century history painter. Inasmuch as his canvas implicates our fascination with mortality and a certain voyeurism of death, as well as being sourced in the reportage of controversial contemporary events, Warhol’s masterpiece advances a heritage proposed by the likes of Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Marat, Francisco Goya’s The Third of May, Theodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. It continues this illustrious line of precedent as a defining History Painting of the Twentieth Century. On 5 July 1816 the French naval frigate Méduse ran aground off the coast of Africa, near today’s Mauritania. With insufficient capacity of lifeboats, at least 147 passengers and crew were forced onto a makeshift raft. After thirteen days’ drifting, all but fifteen of those souls perished, either by starvation, drowning, dehydration or cannibalism. When the twenty-five year-old Théodore Géricault heard of the widely-reported events he launched into an unprecedented undertaking that would culminate in one of the most celebrated paintings of all time, The Raft of the Medusa, which he finally completed in 1819. Interviewing survivors, visiting morgues and hospitals, working from severed limbs and creating a scale model of the raft, Géricault worked in isolation for eighteen months. Utterly dedicated to an uncommissioned, spectacularly controversial work that retold a highly-charged recent event, Géricault created a seminal History Painting that still thunderously resonates through its sheer evocation of unknowable human suffering and endurance. There perhaps remains no greater metaphor for, in the words of Christine Riding, “the fallacy of hope and pointless suffering, and at worst, the basic human instinct to survive, which had superseded all moral considerations and plunged civilised man into barbarism.” (Christine Riding, "The Fatal Raft: Christine Riding Looks at British Reaction to the French Tragedy at Sea Immortalised in Géricault's Masterpiece 'The Raft of the Medusa,'" History Today, February 2003) On 26 July 1937, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, German and Italian warplanes acting for Spanish Nationalist forces annihilated the village of Guernica in northern Spain, indiscriminately massacring innocent civilians with bombs and gunfire. The atrocity incited widespread outrage and having read the eyewitness account by British journalist George Steer in the French newspaper L’Humanité, Pablo Picasso, living in Paris and then Honorary Director-in-exile of the Prado Museum, conceived perhaps the most recognized artistic expression of anti-war sentiment ever to come into being, Guernica.  As memorialized by Michel Leiris, “In a rectangle black and white such as that in which ancient tragedy appeared to us, Picasso sends us our announcement of our mourning: all that we love is going to die, and that is why it was necessary to this degree that all that we love should embody itself, like the effusions of last farewell, in something unforgettably beautiful.” (Michel Leiris, Cahiers d’Art, 1937, Nos. 4-5, cited in Roland Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, 3rd Ed., Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1981 [first published 1958], p. 309) Like Géricault and Picasso before him, here Warhol created a painting for the ages, that would always speak something essential about humankind’s struggle with existence. Confronted by the tragedy of death and its incongruous by-product of celebrity, Andy Warhol nullified the news story zeitgeist through the effects of replication and multiplication, so undermining the manipulative potentiality of mass media. In keeping with his very best work, celebrity, tragedy and the absurdity of human transience inhabit every pore of this breathtaking painting, and this compelling work stands as a treatise on the emotional conditioning inherent to our culture. Scrutinizing the public face of a private disaster, it questions how anonymous victims are elevated to notoriety via the exceptional conditions of their demise, or as Thomas Crow describes, "the repetition of the crude images does draw attention to the awful banality of the accident and to the tawdry exploitation by which we come to know the misfortunes of strangers." (Thomas Crow, "Saturday Disasters: Trace and Reference in Early Warhol,” Art in America, May 1987, p. 135) The uncertain interplay between anonymous suffering and the broadcast exposure of bereavement is here locked forever into the silver and ink lamina of this masterwork. Left: signed twice and dated 63 on the overlapright: signed and dated 63 on the overlap

  • 2013-11-14


Giacometti's extraordinary Chariot is his masterpiece and ranks among the definitive achievements of 20th century art.  With its painted surface and rich, golden patina, the present sculpture is perhaps the most important bronze that the artist created. His biographer James Lord, while discussing what is considered Giacometti’s "great period" of the late 1940s and early 1950s, identified Chariot as his finest accomplishment: "There are many extraordinary sculptures of 1949 and 1950," he wrote. "Among them all, however, there is one, perhaps, more extraordinary than the others by reason of having required him to be extraordinary. It asks the beholder to be extraordinary, too" (J. Lord, Giacometti, New York, 1985, p. 304).  Chariot had a profound personal significance for Giacometti, reflecting an epiphany in his creative development. The image came to him in a memory from his Surrealist period of the late 1930s. Like other sculptures from those years, it was a product of his unconscious mind, an “automatic” image that arrived fully-formed and unmediated.  In accounts of its origin, the artist explained that Chariot derived from his souvenir of 1938 when, recuperating in Bichat hospital after an accident, he had "marveled" at nurses’ pharmacy wagons with their "tinkling" bells.  This sensory image stayed with him, and he drew several sketches that would lead ultimately to the present work.  As he explained in a letter to his dealer Pierre Matisse, “In 1947 I saw the sculpture before me as if already done, and in 1950 it was impossible not to realize it, although it was already situated for me in the past” (A. Giacometti, 1950, quoted in J. Lord, ibid., p. 306). When cast in bronze in 1950, Chariot would become a heroic emblem of Post-War renewal. Locked in place despite the large apparatus of propulsion, the figure is Giacometti's attempt to crystallize the Existentialist philosophy which dominated Post-War Paris. His charioteer exists in a state of perpetual immobility yet her strength remains intact.  She raises her arms in a commanding gesture, much like that of the gleaming sentinel in front of the tomb of King Tutankhamun.  A figure of perseverance and a beacon of hope, she stands for all eternity upon her chariot, steadfast in her mission. The spirit of victory prevails over adversity and with this glorious sculpture Giacometti made his triumphant mark on history. The genesis of the sculpture was in fact more complex than Giacometti implied. His hospital stay resulted after injuring his foot in a late-night traffic accident beside the gilded sculpture of Joan of Arc in the Place des Pyramides.  It was perhaps his remembrance of looking up at the image of the saint that inspired him to create this sculpture in gold. As Laurie Wilson points out in her biography, "gold was the substance of the magically alive mechanical servant girls of Vulcan who helped the lame smithy walk."  Wilson continues to describe Giacometti's work on this sculpture, which she likens to that of a goddess figure for the artist: "Implying movement in the charioteer cost Giacometti much effort, and he repeatedly revised the position of her arms. By raising her above the multitude, Giacometti made the woman of the Chariot into an object of worship.  She stands in direct contrast to his numerous immobile or encaged women of that year who were simultaneously enticing and threatening.... Giacometti momentarily triumphed over death with his contemporary image magic, just as ancient Egyptians believed that the shining sun triumphed every day over the darkness of night and death.... in 1950, at the height of his powers he could afford to carry out a project that secretly celebrated one of his profoundest fantasies – an apparently inanimate creature could be seen as vital" (L. Wilson, op. cit. p. 261). Scholars also note that Giacometti’s Chariot draws its formal inspiration from several art historical precedents.  Most obvious of these, according to Reinhold Hohl, is the Egyptian chariot that Giacometti saw at the Archeological Museum in Florence.  Another possible source, given his fascination with classical statuary, is the Delphic charioteer whose hands extend to hold the reigns in a manner similar to the figure in the present sculpture.  The idea of the obsolete wheel also invokes Marcel Duchamp’s famous Bicycle Wheel, which challenged the fundamental role of a utilitarian object.  But the most direct antecedent is Giacometti’s own Femme au chariot I, a 1942 sculpture of a woman standing on a small-wheeled dolly.  While the woman in that sculpture could not control her mobility, the rotating wheels of her cart could be moved by an exterior force.  For his 1950 Chariot Giacometti grossly enlarged the proportion of the wheels and precluded their motion entirely.  The woman on this chariot is going nowhere, yet she is a harbinger of times to come.  Over the following years, motionless women and aimlessly walking men became the main characters in Giacometti’s drama of humanity, and his identity as an artist became inextricably linked with these images. James Lord suggests the following interpretation in his biography on the artist: "Like a dream, the Chariot moves inward upon itself even as it seems to rush ominously forward, and in our perspective this motion signifies that the sculpture was not created by accident.  Art uses life, and the extent of the use gives the moral of the work. The Chariot leads us to look more closely than usual at this interaction. It is fascinating but frightening.  Where first there was nothing, suddenly there is everything" (J. Lord, op. cit., p. 307). The present cast of Chariot is among the rare sculptures that Giacometti painted meticulously to enhance the textural quality of the bronze, adding precise details of to the face, lips and body. This technique alludes to the polychrome empyreal funerary figures of ancient Egyptian statuary, whose timeless stance Giacometti also invokes. Only the present work and another in the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, are treated in this unique way. Perhaps inspired by the gilt of Joan of Arc, Giacometti favored an unusual golden patina for this composition. James Lord argues that this appropriate since “Chariot called for association with the metal most prized by man, the first to be worked in the pre-dawn of history, the one most often used to make or enrich the effigies of heroes, saints and deities (J. Lord, ibid., p. 306). The scale of his sculptures was an important component of Giacometti's creative vision and one that he discussed frequently with his companions.  Sculptures that were too big "infuriated" him because they relied too much on imagination rather than on existential experience.  On the other hand, he found works that were too small to be "intolerable" because they were difficult to handle and materially unsustainable.  The present work, standing about a meter and a half high, was purely a concrete object in a clearly defined space, relatable in scale to its viewer.  With its connotations of stoicism, resilience, strength, vulnerability, perseverance and stasis, it calls to mind a passage from Samuel Beckett's classic of Existentialism, Waiting for Godot: "Why are we here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come." Referring to the cast in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, curator Anne Umland has written about the significance of Chariot in relation to the Existentialist philosophy popular among intellectuals within Giacometti’s circle. “Giacometti was preoccupied with the elusiveness of contour, with the uncertain boundary between the object and the space that surrounded it. Jean-Paul Sartre influentially wrote about figures such as this as existing in some liminal state between being and nothingness. The figure's arms are tentatively outstretched; she diminishes as your eye travels up her rail thin legs to a slight swelling of the hips, to small breasts and head. No matter how close you get to her, she is always going to retreat thanks to the play of light and touch across the mottled, gnarled, knotty surface…. The pencil-thin woman is frozen in position, balanced on a platform attached to the axle of a chariot whose wheels are raised on tapered blocks. Yet her stance, with arm extended, looks unstable, raising the likelihood of sudden movement. But in which direction? Our uncertainty is heightened by the disparity in size between the figure and the huge wheels and pedestal. Looking at her, it's not clear if she's about to come toward us, or to move away. Paradoxically, the woman's reduced dimensions only add to her stature. We are drawn to her vague features. But no matter how carefully we look, we cannot quite make them out” (excerpt Chariot was cast in a bronze edition of six numbered 1/6-6/6, according to the Fondation Giacometti in Paris.  Of these six, only two bronzes, including the present work, remain in private collections.  The four other casts are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Alberto Giacometti-Stiftung, Kunsthaus, Zurich; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, MO. Inscribed with the signature A. Giacometti, with foundry mark Alexis Rudier Fondeur Paris and numbered  2/6

  • 2014-11-05

Dora Maar au chat

Dora Maar au chat is one of Picasso’s most spectacular depictions of his mistress and artistic companion (see fig. 1).   Picasso's love affair with Maar (1907-1997) was a partnership of intellectual exchange and intense passion that lasted nearly a decade, and Maar’s influence on the artist resulted in some of his most daring portraits of his career.   Among the best of them are the oils completed during the war years, when Picasso's art resonated with the drama and emotional upheaval of the era.  The luminous Dora Maar au chat  was painted in 1941, at the beginning of the Second World War in France and just as the couple's relationship was reaching its fiery climax.   This large canvas is one of the most complete and compositionally dynamic depictions from an elite group of portraits from the late 1930s and early 1940s that includes Portrait de Dora Maar dans le jardin (see fig. 2) and Dora Maar assise (see fig. 3). The story of Dora Maar’s relationship with Picasso is legendary in the history of 20th century art.  Picasso met Maar, the Surrealist photographer, in the fall of 1935 and was enchanted by the young woman’s powerful sense of self and commanding presence.  Although still involved with Marie-Thérèse Walter and still married to Olga Khokhlova at the time, Picasso became intimately involved with Maar by the end of the year, and by 1937 she had ascended to the status of the artist's primary mistress. Unlike the docile and domestic Marie-Thérèse who had given birth to their daughter Maya in 1935, Maar was an artist, spoke Picasso’s native Spanish, and shared his intellectual and political concerns.   She even assisted with the execution of the monumental Guernica and produced the only photo-documentary of the work in progress.  And as she was one of the most influential figures in his life during this time, she also became his primary model.   Looking back on the pictures that he painted of her, Picasso once admitted that Dora Maar had become for him the personification of the war.   Her image, which he reinterpreted countless times between 1937 and 1944, embodied all of the complicated and conflicting emotions of life in the midst of occupied Paris.   But what first caught Picasso's attention was Maar's transfixing beauty, which is not lost in the present picture and which  James Lord described upon meeting Maar in 1944:  "Her gaze possessed remarkable radiance but could also be very hard.  I observed that she was beautiful, with a strong, straight nose, perfect scarlet lips, the chin firm, the jaw a trifle heavy and the more forceful for being so, rich chestnut hair drawn smoothly back, and eyelashes like the furred antennae of moths" (James Lord, Picasso and Dora, New York, 1993, p. 31). More than most of the women in his life thus far, Dora Maar was Picasso's intellectual equal – a characteristic that the artist found both stimulating and challenging.  During the occupation and as tension mounted in their relationship Picasso would express his frustration by furiously abstracting her image, often portraying her in tears.   While the present portrait is undeniably appealing and might seem a departure from Picasso's more hostile depictions of his model,  it may be, in fact, one of his most brilliant and biting provocations of his Weeping Woman.  Picasso once likened Maar's allure and mercurial temperament to that of an "Afghan cat," and the cat in this picture resonates with meaning.  In the history of art, the pairing of cats and women was an allusion to feminine wiles and sexual aggression, as exemplified in Manet’s notorious portrait of Olympia (see fig. 4).  Surely this significance was not lost on Picasso, who had referenced the cat in some of his earliest and most recent compositions (see figs. 5 & 6) as symbol of women's sexual availability and animalistic nature.  Moreover, the cat's inclusion here is yet another opportunity for Picasso to impose his predilections and control on his model.  James Lord tells us that after the death of Maar's beloved pet dog, Picasso insisted on replacing the animal with a cat.  But Maar despised the creature, who was unfriendly and prone to vicious scratching.    It is interesting to consider, then, that here Picasso has paid particular attention to the sharp, talon-like nails on the figure’s long fingers. In life Maar’s well-manicured hands were one of her most beautiful and distinctive features, but here they have taken on another, more violent characteristic. When Harriet and Sidney Janis first published this picture  in a monograph on the artist in 1946, they  wrote that,  "it must be emphasized that at no time did Picasso paint any of these pictures as series" (Harriet and Sidney Janis, Picasso, The Recent Years, 1939-1946, New York, 1946. n.p.).  Considering the other portraits that he completed of her throughout the 1940s, Dora Maar au chat is a composition that Picasso never matched or attempted to revise.  Janis wrote about this picture in the context of the other portraits of Dora Maar that Picasso completed during the war, and reminded  readers that,  "it has been observed that Picasso never works directly from the model. His portraits are of persons remembered.  They portray, through the instinct and vision, through the delicately balanced co-ordination of eye, mind, hand, and heart, a new realism reaching into the deepest recesses of man's inner nature.  This is particularly true of the first group [that includes Dora Maar au chat], for all of these portrayals, psychologically intense and penetrating, become increasingly so throughout the group.  Characterized by the extreme eccentricity and psychopathic distortions of their personalities, the likenesses are visibly stamped with their traumatic scars" (ibid.). Its symbolic significance notwithstanding, the present work is a picture of great compositional ingenuity.  Dora maar au chat  was the most elaborate portrait of Dora that Picasso painted in 1941.  In other depictions of her from the Spring and early Summer of 1941, he renders her with similarly sharp nails (see fig. 7), but in no other picture from that year does he so generously embellish her image with ornamentation and color.   One of the rare, full portraits of Maar, the present work is also extraordinary for Picasso's attention to detail, right down to the polkadots on the figure's dress.   The artist has not spared one inch of the canvas from his brush, using an extraordinarily vibrant palette in his rendering of the angles of the chair and the patterning of the figure’s dress.   Although punctuated by planar elements, dots and stripes of bewildering variety constitute Dora and the chair on which she sits. Discussing the use of stripes in Picasso’s work of this period, Brigitte Léal commented : “While in portraits of  Marie- Thérèse stripes appear in a range of pastel colors that always have a summery and childlike connotation, in [the portraits] of  Dora stripes proliferate until they cover the figure and the background entirely, becoming an eloquent statement of the intensely emotional character of her image. What is one to think of the meaning of this network of concentric lines that, not content to bud prettily on her clothes, begin progressively to invade every part of her body in order to end up covering her totally with a fine tattoo that transforms her into some barbarous idol?” (Brigitte Léal, “`For Charming Dora’: Portraits of Dora Maar,” Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1996-97, p. 392 ). The most embellished and the most symbolic element of the sitter’s wardrobe in this picture is the hat, Maar’s most famous accessory and signifier of her involvement in the Surrealist movement.   Ceremoniously placed atop her head like a crown, it is festooned with colorful blossoms and outlined with a band of vibrant red.    In 1937 the critic Paul Eluard wrote about the symbolism of the hat, explaining its fetishistic importance within the Surrealist movement and shedding light on its role in Picasso’s paintings: “Among the objects tangled in the web of life, the female hat is one of those that require the most insight, the most audacity.  A head must dare to wear a crown” (quoted in Brigitte Léal, op. cit., p. 389). Larger than life, an impression enhanced by her vibrant body that cannot be confined by the boundaries of the chair, Maar looms in this picture like a pagan goddess seated on her throne.   As the artist was inspired by the beauty and charisma of his mistress, his paintings of this period focus almost exclusively on her rather than on the happenings of wartime France (see fig. 9).  Picasso’s portraits of Dora Maar are renowned as the best paintings from the late 30s and early 40s.  The artist once explained, “I have not painted the war because I am not the kind of painter who goes out like a photographer for something to depict” (quoted in Mary-Margaret Goggin, Picasso and his Art during the German Occupation: 1940-1944, Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 1985, p. 395).  However, the stress of war ultimately created a terrible strain on the artist’s relationship with Maar, and dramatic conflicts naturally arose between these two strong-willed personalities.  Not surprisingly, the portraits of Dora contain, perhaps more than any other paintings from these years, a brilliant distillation of the “terrible beauty” of the times. Brigitte Léal writes, “Their terribilità no doubt explains why the innumerable, very different portraits that Picasso did of [Dora] remain among the finest achievements 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 coinciding 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 of for the aesthetic tyranny of a sort of terrible and tragic beauty” (ibid, p. 385). The first owner of record of the present work was the Surrealist dealer Pierre Colle (see fig. 8), who had a professional relationship with both Picasso and Maar during the war years.  According to Sidney Janis, this picture was in Colle's collection in 1946.  The following year, it was lent to the Art Institute of Chicago by the famed Chicago industrialist Leigh Block, who must have acquired it between 1946-47.   Block sold the picture through the Paris-based dealer Heinz Berggruen to the present owner in 1963, where it remained for over forty years.  Although it was published in 1946 in Sidney Janis’s important monograph on Picasso’s war-years paintings, Dora Maar au chat was largely unknown to the public until now. Fig. 1, Dora Maar and Picasso in Mougins, 1937. Photographs by Roland Penrose Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Portrait de Dora Maar dans le jardin, December 10, 1938, former collection Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Saidenberg, sold: Sotheby’s, New York, November 10, 1999 Fig. 3, Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar assise, 1937, Musée Picasso, Paris Fig. 4, Edouard Manet, Olympia, oil on canvas, 1863, Musée d’Orsay, Paris Fig. 5, Pablo Picasso, Parody of Olympia, pen and ink, 1901, Private Collection Fig. 6, Pablo Picasso, Chat, bronze, 1943, Musée Picasso, Paris FIg. 7, Pablo Picasso, Femme à l'artichaut, Paris, Summer 1941, oil on canvas, Museum Ludwig, Germany Fig. 8, Pierre Colle, the first own of record of the present work, photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Fig. 9, Picasso’s studio at 7, rue des Grands-Augustins, Paris, circa 1939. Photograph by Dora Maar, Musée Picasso, Paris, Picasso Archives Signed and dated Picasso 41. (lower left)

  • 2006-05-03

No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue)

“The progression of a painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea and between the idea and the observer… To achieve this clarity is, inevitably, to be understood” Mark Rothko, cited in The Mark Rothko Foundation: 1976-86, p.1 “Pictures must be miraculous: the instant one is completed, the intimacy between the creation and the creator is ended. He is an outsider. The picture must be for him, as for anyone experiencing it later, a revelation, an unexpected and unprecedented resolution of an eternally familiar need.” Mark Rothko, ‘The Romantics were Prompted…,” Possibilities,New York, No. 1, Winter 1947-48, p. 84 “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being." Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1962, chapter 11 The majestic summation of Mark Rothko’s legendary aesthetic language, No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue) stands as an ideal achievement of the sublime in abstract painting. This unrepeatable, inimitable masterpiece affords the privileged viewer a visual and somatic experience that is beyond comparison. The stunning aura of its brilliant red and orange surfaces is superbly countered by the intensely vivid blue rectangle towards its base; creating an alluring emanation that is impossible to reproduce in illustration. Indeed, it is almost as if this extraordinary painting is brilliantly illuminated from within: a translucent vessel of pure color and light. No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue) was the ultimate crescendo of Rothko’s first one-man exhibition in a major US museum, at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1954. The show was organized by one of the foremost champions of the avant-garde in post-war America, and the Institute’s first curator of modern painting and sculpture; the visionary Katherine Kuh. Every other work from that renowned event is now housed in a major institutional collection, except No. 6 (Yellow, White, Blue over Yellow on Gray), which broke the auction record for the artist when it was sold by Sotheby’s in 2004. In preparation for the exhibition, Kuh and Rothko corresponded extensively, originally in order to provide material for a pamphlet to accompany the show. Having visited the artist's studio in New York, her initial request for paintings specifically singled out the present work, as she wrote: "I particularly want that marvelous large red one" (letter of June 3, 1954). When Rothko provided the final list of paintings to be sent to Chicago on September 12, 1954, he included prices at which they should be sold to the public (given that he had ended his contract with the Betty Parsons Gallery in the previous Spring, it can be assumed that these were his own figures). The highest price was for No. 10, 1952-53, which, at almost ten by fourteen feet, was the largest canvas of the group by far, and which is now housed in the Museo Guggenheim in Bilbao. The second most valuable painting, as determined by the artist, was the present work, which provides resounding confirmation of the artist's very high esteem for this specific painting. Through the decades since its creation, No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue)has continued to captivate audiences as a pure icon of Rothko’s genius. It has been central to major Rothko exhibitions and was even selected as the key work for the vast announcement banner at the comprehensive retrospective at the National Gallery of Art in 1998. Among the 116 major works included in that show were many of the artist’s most iconic works, and the fact that the present painting was chosen in this way, acting as figurehead for the exhibition, further affirms its remarkable reputation. Executed at the kernel of the artist’s halcyon era, No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue) is archetypal of his very best painting and its appearance here at auction, after three decades residence in a prestigious private collection and inclusion in comprehensive major exhibitions, marks an historic moment. Following the crucial turning point of 1949-50, when Rothko resolved an abstract archetype out of the preceding multiform paintings, the artist entered what David Anfam, the editor of the Rothko catalogue raisonné, has called the anni mirabilis: the first half of the 1950s, during which the artist’s mature mode of artistic expression pioneered truly unprecedented territory. The present work is critical and integral to this spectacular outpouring of innovation and is one of just twelve canvases that Rothko created between 1950 and 1955 on a scale to exceed nine feet in height. Indeed, the scale of this painting is absolutely fundamental to the most authentic experience of Rothko’s vision, whereby we become participants in his all-encompassing canvases, rather than mere spectators. A number of other constituents of this esteemed body of paintings are today housed in the some of the most prestigious museum collections of the world such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. At the precipice of a decade during which Rothko would redefine the very essence of Abstract Art, he wrote the following words in a published statement: “A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token.” (Mark Rothko, “Statement,” Tiger’s Eye, New York, vol. 1, no. 2, December 1947, p. 44)  Rothko thus asserted a fundamental equation between the artwork and its beholder, whereby the true potential of his painting could not exist without the presence of the viewer. When Rothko asked Katherine Kuh to describe her reactions to his paintings she wrote of the ones she had seen, including the present work: "for me they have a kind of ecstasy of color which induces different but always intense moods. I am not a spectator - I am a participant." (letter July 18, 1954). Rothko’s statement that it is the experience of a painting that completes the artwork; and Kuh’s concept of becoming a participant in Rothko’s art rather than a mere spectator stand as two core tenets that make the present work a masterpiece of his oeuvre. For our experience of No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue) as participants in its stunning drama brings it to life, and may give new dimensions to our life. We do not look at this painting; we are absorbed into it. Indeed, being in its presence parallels a line of Nietzsche that had inspired Rothko since he had been a young man: “There is a need for a whole world of torment in order for the individual to sit quietly in his rocking row-boat in mid-sea, absorbed in contemplation.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, translation by Francis Golffing, New York, 1956, pp. 33-34) At over 113 inches in height, the scale of No. 1 (Royal Red and Blue) is sheer and monumental: broadcasting its allure on a greater-than human register; engulfing the viewer’s entire experience; and situating us as actors within its epic expanse. An apparent paradox typifies the artist’s ambition, declared in 1951: “I paint very large pictures…precisely because I want to be very intimate and human. To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience…However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn’t something you command.” (Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Mark Rothko: 1903-1970, 1987, p. 85)  Of course, scale is absolutely fundamental to the nature of Rothko’s work, identified as such by Clement Greenberg even in 1950:  “Broken by relatively few incidents of drawing or design, their surfaces exhale color with an enveloping effect that is enhanced by size itself. One reacts to an environment as much as to a picture hung on a wall.” (“'American-Type’ Painting” (1955) cited in Clifford Ross, Ed., Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, New York, 1990, p. 248)  Indeed, Rothko wrote to Katherine Kuh to instruct the hanging of the 1954 Chicago exhibition, of which the present work was such an important climax: “Since my pictures are large, colorful and unframed, and since museum walls are usually immense and formidable, there is the danger that the pictures relate themselves as decorative areas to the walls. This would be a distortion of their meaning, since the pictures are intimate and intense, and are the opposite of what is decorative; and have been painted in a scale of normal living rather than an institutional scale.” (Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Op. Cit., p. 58)  Indeed, describing “Rothko’s desire to envelop the spectator with art that overcame its ambient space”, David Anfam cites as example the 1955 show at the Sidney Janis Gallery that this work was also included in and where “the stature of the pictures and their siting – wedged into the spaces – is instructive. They seek to displace their environment.” (David Anfam, Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 73) Three shimmering zones of color, which are simultaneously drawn together and held apart from each other by ethereal and imperceptible boundaries, dominate the canvas. The brilliant royal blue anchors the composition and works in magisterial chromatic concert with its exact complimentary color of vivid orange that pushes towards the uppermost limits of the canvas. The central royal red strip is tonally equivalent to the luminous sea of orange above it, yet works as an elegantly sophisticated horizontal axis that our eye is drawn to, between the two larger pulsating expanses. Rothko applied paint in diverse fashions; the rectangles, or objects, being achieved either by paint being spread out from the center, or by an outline thereafter being filled in, or by strokes being applied in parallel until the form was completed. As noted by Irving Sandler, “Rothko built up his rectangular containers of color from lightly brushed, stained and blotted touches which culminate in a chromatic crescendo.” (Exh. Cat. New York, Pace Gallery, Mark Rothko: Paintings 1948-1969, 1983, p. 8)  Here chromatic resonance is attained through the meticulous aggregation of translucent veils of brushed pigment, with especially close attention paid to the spaces between forms and the edges of the canvas. Both despite of and due to their differences, the color fields equilibrate: the lure of one is immediately countered by the irresistible pull of the other as they reverberate over the fractionally paler ground. The layers of pigments concurrently hover indeterminately as three-dimensional floods of color in front of the picture plane, while also reinforcing the materiality of the painted object through their saturation of the canvas weave. Through form, surface, texture and color Rothko has struck a perennial balance that lures the viewer's constant attention. There is also a certain tension struck between the uplifting emotions conventionally evoked by warm golden hues and something implicitly more tragic. Such elemental colors harbor primal connotations of light, warmth and the Sun, but inasmuch as they invoke the Sun they also implicate the inevitable cycle of dawn and dusk, of rise and set, and their own continual demise and rebirth. Rothko once stated to David Sylvester: “Often, towards nightfall, there’s a feeling in the air of mystery, threat, frustration – all of these at once. I would like my painting to have the quality of such moments.” (in David Anfam, Op. Cit., p. 88), and with its suggestion of an unobtainable horizon and an infinite, unbreakable cycle, this work harbors something that is indescribably portentous. While much contemporary commentary cited Rothko’s oeuvre as radically dislocated from historical precedent, subsequent perspective readily posits his oeuvre an eminent historical location. From J.M.W. Turner, Caspar David Friedrich and Claude Monet to the Luminists, Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse; predecessors concerned with the pure effects of color from decades and centuries past informed the new painting Rothko initiated in mid-century New York. Perhaps foremost among these was Matisse, whose own practice had so radically redefined relationships between form and color, and as Robert Rosenblum has pointed out: “it dawned on many of Rothko’s admirers that his dense seas of color might not have existed without the example of Matisse, a point the artist himself acknowledged.” (Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Op. Cit., p. 22) 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 realisation 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 Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Op. Cit., 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 Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Op. Cit., p. 87) Signed, titled #1 and dated 1954 on the reverse

  • 2012-11-14

Untitled (New York City)

To articulate the inexplicable: this is what Cy Twombly set out to do, in paintings that consecrate the sublime visual poetry of that which cannot be written. With the obsessively systematic repetition of his Blackboard paintings, Twombly lyrically expresses both a ceaseless effort and persistent inability to depict an emotion that is quite simply beyond representation. Created in an outburst of significant invention, Twombly’s epic Untitled (New York City) from 1968 sits at the very head of the artist’s celebrated Blackboards.  Unrivaled for its scale and ambition, the artist painted an extremely limited number of other seminal Blackboard canvases that share the present work’s fully formed loops and vast format. Untitled (New York City) has remained in the same private collection for the past quarter-century, prior to which it belonged to two highly distinguished collections: the Saatchi Collection in London and the Collection of Fred Mueller, an illustrious fixture in the New York art world of the 1960s. The painting is a rare, monumental testament to the artist’s iconic drama and piercing intelligence. Evoking the richly worked surface of an archaic palimpsest, the present work confounds drawing, painting, and reading in the oblong lines that boldly proliferate across every verse. In Untitled (New York City), Twombly’s cylindrical forms reverberate within their own echo chamber, refracting into seeming infinity whilst elegantly contained within the parameters of the canvas. Twombly here investigated the definition and physical nature of a simple geometrical element in space as it erupts within the picture plane with cataclysmic graphic narrative, pulsing with an ineffable rhythm. The six magnificent horizontal bands of loops increase in volume and expressive abandon as the artist progressed down the canvas—Twombly’s lassoed lines progressively lose regularity and control, resulting in thrillingly increased drips, smears, and spatters toward the bottom of the picture. Especially against their grey ground, the oval scrawls emerge from and recede into one another in dense relief, teetering on the threshold of legibility. The painter leaves behind any didactic meaning of his intervention, abandoning the safe haven of mythological symbols and reverting to the most primal usage of the line as an almost naïve yet extremely potent transmitter of space, duration, and motion. As explained by Heiner Bastian: “Twombly tries to shatter form as well as its concomitant intellectual and narrative history in a kind of relativism, reducing it to a rationality of 'black and white' that is at the same time the structural sum of all movement." (Heiner Bastian, ed., Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume III 1966-1971, Munich, 1994, p. 23) When Leonardo da Vinci painted his whirlwinds, storms, and floods, he sought to capture a subject that could be written about but was nearly impossible to be painted. Da Vinci’s cataclysms and maelstroms were a considerable influence for Twombly’s all-engulfing abstraction, a muscular study of colossal light and shadow that in its tempestuous intensity evokes da Vinci’s sublime storms. Twombly approached the issue of movement and time within pictorial space by reconsidering artists like Leonardo, Marcel Duchamp, and the Italian Futurists, who would conceive mythology and history through abstract principles. Suzanne Delehanty described the critical moment in Twombly’s practice during which he painted the present work: “Around 1967-1968, Twombly isolated the abstraction of movement, whether at rest or in motion, and its coefficient, space-time; the passionate centrifugal motion of Galatea is transformed into the supreme poetry of movement which intrigued Leonardo throughout his life… It is as if Twombly entered Leonardo’s mind to envision the affinities between natural and human processes—to see the drawn line, like a natural phenomenon, unfold in space and time.” (Suzanne Delehanty, "The Alchemy of Mind and Hand" in Nicola del Roscio, ed., Writings on Cy Twombly, p. 68) The painting reflects the artist’s supreme introspection and affinity for draftsmanship, here magnified through an exceptional scope. With expressive clarity and sobering gravity, Untitled (New York City) exudes the ineffable vitality and cadence of the most resplendent written or musical compositions. The enigmatic plasticity of the matte paint, coupled with the operatic calligraphy orbiting the surface’s grisaille expanse, seduces in its rich, impassioned reduction. The spectacular scale of the present work amplifies the momentum of Twombly’s cyclical shapes, which unroll along a rectilinear axis with unparalleled rhythm. Twombly complied with the canvas’s perimeter, as evident by the bounded edges of each lassoed line; this nuanced formal restraint is challenged as Twombly grappled with controlling an irrepressible energy that reached a riveting crescendo in the seismographic jolts of accelerating scale and intensity along each band. The Blackboard works marked Twombly's abrupt abandonment of the richly colorful and expressive compositions from the first half of the 1960s known as Baroque Paintings, giving rise to works that would employ a visual language of pure austerity and sublimity. Renouncing the rich, Baroque style of his earlier 1960s work, in 1966 Twombly turned his focus back to the restrained monochrome works that he first embarked upon in the 1950s. However, unlike the static, semi-figurative black and white paintings of Twombly's formative years in the early 1950s, the inimitable gray works of the 1960s saw the centrifugal energy and erotic charge of Twombly's Baroque-inspired early 1960s paintings transferred into a rhythmic discourse of mood and movement. In the same year Twombly painted Untitled (New York City), he opened his first one-person museum exhibition in the United States at the Milwaukee Art Center; upon the occasion of the show, Robert-Pincus Witten praised Twombly’s heroic development: “Handwriting has become for Twombly the means of beginning again, of erasing the Baroque culmination of the painting of the early 1960s… it has been drowned in a schoolmaster’s blackboard. It has been reduced to rudimentary exercises… With it, Twombly casts down all that was grandiose in his mature style, rejecting a lush manner for simple and stringent exercises.” (Pincus-Witten cited in Nicola del Roscio, ed., Ibid., p. 216) This new series revived the artist’s career following a troubling period in the early part of the decade. In the winter of 1963, Twombly completed the painting cycle Nine Discourses on Commodus (Guggenheim Museum Bilbao), a group of nine canvases based on the murder of the Roman emperor Aurelius Commodus. The lushly impastoed yet highly esoteric paintings were shown at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in 1964; the exhibition was received by scathing critical reviews, after which Twombly severely slowed his production. The artist made only 20 canvases in 1964 and none in 1965; he returned to painting in 1966 with a series of grey-ground works from which the cycle of Blackboard paintings emerged. With 1966 paintings like Problem I, II, III (Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt) and Night Watch (Private Collection), Twombly eschewed the literary and mythological undercurrents of his earlier works in favor of pure geometry and abstracted line to advance a similar expression of temporal development and motion. Although the first of the grey-ground paintings were made in Rome in the spring of 1966 and shown in February 1967 in Turin, the artist himself noted that New York proved to be a more suitable location for them because of its relative “coolness.” Twombly spent the greater part of the years 1967 to 1970 in New York, working in studios on the Bowery and on Canal Street; Untitled (New York City) exudes a metropolitan severity and urban grit reflective of the artist’s surroundings at the time. The present work ushered in a rediscovered Americanness in Twombly’s work, reflecting the contemporary artistic discourse in marked contrast to the Europeanness of his earlier works. Minimalism had become the dominant strain in contemporary art, and it was in the mid-1960s that artists such as Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and Sol Lewitt were pioneering aesthetic developments toward a stark and austere form of art that dominated the city. In 1966, Primary Structures opened at the Jewish Museum; organized by Kynaston McShine, the exhibit was the first to group the major artists working in similar modes of production under the umbrella of Minimalism. Moreover, two years later in 1968, the Paula Cooper Gallery opened its doors with the now legendary exhibition “Benefit for The Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam,” bringing together work by 14 artists including Andre, Judd, Lewitt, and Flavin, in addition to Robert Mangold, Robert Ryman, and Bill Bollinger. Chromatically sparse and formally reductive, the grey-ground pictures demanded new modes of reading Twombly’s work with relation to the artistic developments pulsing through New York City. Kirk Varnedoe explained: “Just as those earlier pictures had represented a cooling shift away from painterly and erotic energies, these new canvases were lean and unemotional, in contrast to the baroque color and violence of the work of the early 1960s… That temporal aspect was then extended through the grey-ground works of the next few years, in the frequent imagery of analytically segmented movement… Twombly’s previous attraction to the evidence of deep, slow, ‘vertical’ time, in scarred surfaces, here is translated into a fascination for the forms of ‘lateral’ speed, forms and forces rushing by with their proliferation of marks more rationally divided than confoundingly layered.” (Kirk Varnedoe, "Inscriptions in Arcadia" in Nicola del Roscio, ed., Ibid., pp. 215-6) The rhythmic harmony and balanced composure of voluminous loops that sprawl across the surface of Untitled (New York City) recall Paul Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook and Palmer Method handwriting exercises. These are forms that insist on a progressive linear continuity but simultaneously concede to isolated bursts of irregular activity. Unlike Twombly’s earlier canvases, in which episodes of personal expression are scattered across the canvas, the artist here constricts his activity to a gestural framework—nevertheless, the lassoed bands give way to expressive subjectivity in their vigorously imprecise execution. Twombly recalled being taught to write using the Palmer method, a strict technique of teaching handwriting that required pupils to repetitively practice rote drills keeping their fingers and wrists rigid while only moving their arms. In the lattice of tiered lateral ovals scoring the canvas, Twombly’s own gestural abandon erupts from the structural balance of the composition; while more precise and mathematical than the automatism of the Surrealists or the impulse of the Abstract Expressionists, Twombly’s subjectivity seeps through what appears to be mechanical labor. Like the individual strokes of encaustic that burst forth through the predetermined grids and formats of a Jasper Johns painting, Twombly’s loops similarly bely in subtle disobedience a totally objective geometric precision. With the rigid syntax and rudimentary forms of the grey-ground paintings, Twombly appeared to deny the insouciance of personality; however, the tremulous inflections of each parabolic rise and fall inevitably give way to the signature intensity of the artist’s own hand. Varnedoe commented: “As before, Twombly courts the accusation that there is no mind involved—previously, because the manner seemed chaotically subjective, without sufficient ordering control, too episodic and too little marked by work; and now, because it seems mechanically rote and impersonal, too monotonous and too completely a matter of work. No familiar evidence of heroic spontaneity or intuited compositional judgment, nor any universal coordinate such as geometry, anchored the pictures’ claim to attention.” (Kirk Varnedoe, “Inscriptions in Arcadia” in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, 1994, p. 42) Like the work of Minimalist artists who pursued a repetitive, doggedly systematic task—such as Yayoi Kusama’s looped Infinity Nets, Sol Lewitt’s serial pencil-drawn lines on the wall, or Günther Uecker’s intricately nailed surfaces—Twombly’s painting experimented with the unplanned personal inflections that can arise from following strict conventions, a departure from ideals of purely spontaneous expression. At moments, the line is tight and dense; at others, Twombly abandoned control and his cursive energy drives off course, a high-speed choreography in which individual events of personal expression are sublimated into a greater whole of dense accumulations. Within this dichotomy lies the very brilliance of Twombly’s painting: reveling in the contradictions between the systematic and the irregular, the unruly and the cerebral, the premeditated and the intuitive, Twombly achieved a balletic complexity unsurpassed by any of his contemporaries. Twombly was conscripted to the military from November 1953 to August 1954, and during these years of service, the artist was assigned first to Camp Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, and then the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. It was here that Twombly worked as a cryptologist, studying the art of writing and solving codes. The artist often drew at night after lights out, producing a group of works that initiated his motif of ‘scribbling’ and laid the foundation for much of his subsequent work. Drawing in the dark excised the sense of reason and rationality associated with the eye; instead, Twombly liberated his graphic activity from optical control and made his hand alone responsible for form, thereby encouraging instantaneity and the unanticipated. Such techniques evolved out of Surrealism—abandoning inhibitive self-consciousness, blind composition was a method of automatism taught by leading figures like André Breton and André Masson. Around this time, Abstract Expressionist artists seized on the influence of European Modernism and adopted considerable interest in glyphs and modes of primitive communication. This attention to the symbols of archaic societies and their inherently expressive power were a natural point of departure for these New York School painters, for whom the power of simple expressive abstract signs held clear associations to their own modes of gestural abstraction at the time. Jackson Pollock’s Stenographic Figure and Adolph Gottlieb’s various pictographic structures come to mind as critical starting points for the intersection between cryptology and painting that occupied Twombly during this formative period. The artist arrived in New York in September 1950, precisely at a critical moment in the city’s development as the nucleus of the most significant artistic breakthroughs of the century. This is the year that Jackson Pollock dripped his most revered paintings, among them Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), Number 1 (Lavender Mist), and One: Number 31, 1950; Willem de Kooning had begun work on Woman I; Mark Rothko had moved away from his earlier Multiforms to develop the stacked zones of color he is best known for today; and Barnett Newman had just painted his first ‘zips’.  Enrolling in the Art Students League following two years at the Boston Museum School, Twombly’s landing in New York coincided with the height of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. His Blackboard paintings, executed 15 years later, bridged Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Pop, akin to his pioneering peers Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Together these three artists embraced, questioned, and advanced the formal and conceptual progressions enacted by the preceding generation of painters and sculptors. Twombly met Rauschenberg at the Art Students League in New York in the beginning of the 1950s, and it was Rauschenberg who suggested Twombly study at Black Mountain College. The two artists later journeyed to Europe and North Africa from fall 1952 to the spring of 1953, in part enabled by a grant Twombly received from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Upon his return to New York, and whilst sharing a Fulton Street loft with Twombly, Rauschenberg completed his body of black paintings, composing layers of newspaper and dense, glossy black paint on a two-dimensional surface. The thickly built-up surfaces reveal Rauschenberg’s preoccupation with collage, while the highly articulated inky paint evokes gestural expressionism and the monochromatic surface anticipates the advent of Minimalism. Rauschenberg said that he wanted his Black paintings to possess “complexity without their revealing anything.” Like Rauschenberg, Twombly brought the outside world into his abstract paintings by way of a highly self-aware detachment, suffusing them with his own personal brand of subjective mark-making. In undertaking the challenge of capturing movement in time and space, Twombly aligned himself to the godfather of the avant-garde, Marcel Duchamp. Like the shadows of Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, the ethereal loops multiply and overlap across the surface of the canvas. Katharina Schmidt noted: “During these years Twombly’s interests ranged beyond the Leonardo drawings mentioned and his draping studies to all those artists and movements in art at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century that sought new, more adequate forms for the representation of space and movement in a changing world. Eadweard Muybridge, Marcel Duchamp’s painting Nude Descending a Staircase II, 1912, and the formal and spatial concepts of the Russian Constructivists should all be mentioned here, as well as his investigation of the Futurists, Balla, Boccioni, and Russolo.” (Katharina Schmidt, “Way to Arcadia: Thoughts on Myth and Image in Cy Twombly’s Painting,” in Nicola del Roscio, ed., Op. Cit., p. 154) The linear sequences of layered frames in Untitled (New York City) recall the Futurist explorations into forms in motion, and its chronicling of a contemporary psychological landscape. While the Futurist principle of movement in space was centered on the rational, quasi-scientific understanding of transformation and duration, Twombly appears to have reacted to the dispersion of forms in which painstaking precision comes into contact with an energetic abandon. With all the rough, fractured rawness of street graffiti, Twombly presented an entirely novel visual language that innovatively explored both the most elementary and the most sophisticated concerns posed by the genesis of creativity. Heiner Bastian expounded on Twombly’s representation of time and spatial progression, exemplified in the geometric planes that vibrate across Untitled (New York City): “Twombly’s understanding of space had developed through his experience of form. The definition of individual forms led to the dramatic imagining of space as surveying and distance, as movement and the prism of this movement in temporal progressions and static sequences. In place of the total figure, which also takes a firm place in the movement at a given moment, there follow representations in which the figure, split into parts, becomes a dynamic configuration. From this lining up of movement sequences, Twombly moves to the problem of the permanence of pictorial impressions... Time and space blend in the idiosyncrasy of a constant Present. 'Spatial time' is fixed through the dissolution of all substantive, physical impressions. Perception, memory, and progression coincide in the darkness of the moment that is just transpiring. The attempts to render it transparent are energetically flowing lines and sweeping movements.” (Heiner Bastian cited in Katharina Schmidt, “Way to Arcadia: Thoughts on Myth and Image in Cy Twombly’s Painting,” in Nicola del Roscio, ed., Op. Cit., pp. 155-156) The surface of Untitled (New York City) evokes a graffiti-scarred wall, characterized by accretive layers that in their very build-up and lush tonal variety divulge a sense of temporal progression. Atop a lustrous silvery ground of oil-based house-paint, Twombly used a pearlescent wax crayon to impress a torrent of overlapping lassoes into the thin wet surfaces; his impressions are both positive and negative, oscillating between additive mark-making and reductive incisions tangled and together suspended in fractured continuum. In Untitled (New York City), Twombly's gestures hover between inscription and erasure—the record of his process is captured in the luscious drips of diaphanous paint that spatter and cascade from the six horizontal bands. Pentimenti punctuate the surface of his painting like a chalkboard, resulting in a constant state of flux between writing and erasure, and possessing a ripe wetness that lends it the urgency of the here and now. This graphic, primitive mode of expression is at once imbued with Twombly’s fascination by archaeological surfaces corroded over time, together with the reductive schematic economy of prehistoric art. Moreover, the scrawled spirals invoke a sort of proto-handwriting: a primitive form of expression that strives toward resolution and legibility but is suspended in a perpetual territory of formal symbolism, akin to our contemporary reading of classical mark-making. Twombly said: “Generally speaking my art has evolved out of the interest in symbols abstracted, but never the less humanistic; formal as most arts are in their archaic and classic stages, and a deeply aesthetic sense of eroded or ancient surfaces of time.” (the artist cited in Nicola del Roscio, ed. Op. Cit., p. 199) His marks, in this way, escape any fixation in time; the temporality exists within the primacy of the line, embroiled in the narrative, history, and rhythm of its own unrolling across the canvas. The development of each loop traces its own history and charts the narrative of its own realization, existing forever both in the moment that Cy Twombly applied his crayon to canvas and in each current moment that the painting speeds before the viewer’s eye. With Untitled (New York City), Twombly rendered the past as alive as the present, and makes the present ever more electric and more sensuous in every instant that we are suspended in the painting’s sublime odyssey. Signed, inscribed NYC and dated 1968 on the reverse

  • 2015-11-12

La Gommeuse

Picasso's extraordinary La Gommeuse is among the rare and coveted pictures created during the artist's Blue Period (1901-1904). The painting dates from the second half of 1901, following Picasso's widely-praised exhibition at Vollard's gallery that June and amidst the sobering aftermath of his friend Casagemas' suicide earlier in the year. Just shy of 20, the artist was sharing an apartment in Paris with his Catalan anarchist friend Pere Mañach, and the two young men immersed themselves in the debauchery of the Parisian demi-monde.  This dizzying mixture of professional success and personal tragedy, along with the carnal pleasures of youth and the inexorable sadness of mortality, brought Picasso's creative genius to a climax. Central to this artistic narrative is La Gommeuse, a gorgeous cabaret performer whose very body defines the perverse beauty of the age.  Portrayed in an absynthian haze of sexual ennui, she is both temptation and downfall incarnate, a high priestess of melancholy and a siren of joie de vivre. In recent correspondence with Sotheby's, curator and Picasso historian Marilyn McCully has provided her interpretation of the picture, in which she states that it features an entertainer posed in front of a painting in Picasso's studio.  Art historians have also suggested that the composition depicts a cabaret perform in front of a stage, where a dancer appears to be swirling a floral skirt.  McCully has expanded on her analysis as follows: "The painting known as La Gommeuse represents a pivotal moment in Picasso’s artistic development in 1901, the year in which he had his first major exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery in Paris (24 June-14 July 1901). That show had featured more than sixty paintings and drawings, which reflected the young Spaniard’s immediate response to recent French art. The major influence was Toulouse Lautrec, both in subject matter – café scenes, prostitutes and dance halls – and, to some extent, technique, but Picasso’s subsequent focus on isolated figures and restricted, subdued palettes in his new works emphasized his own exploration of the theme of loneliness and his interest in formal experimentation. The depictions of syphilitic prostitutes and poverty-stricken mothers in his Blue Period of late 1901-1902 was in many ways anticipated in La Gommeuse and works related to it. Here the nude, who is placed at the left in the foreground, is enclosed with a strong defining outline to emphasize her self-containment within the composition. Her body, with its ochre and greenish hues, is set against a flat background divided between light and dark, in a way that is reminiscent of a similar formal device used by Gauguin to give emphasis to frontal figures. The slumped position of La Gommeuse, where her head obscures her neck and joins her rounded shoulders, is characteristic of a group of compositions by Picasso in which women, usually seated at café tables, are depicted alone. These “sisters” of La Gommeuse, painted from the late summer to the autumn of 1901– such as Woman with a chignon (Fogg Art Museum) – are, however, always dressed. And while these women often seem to have been of a generic, French type, La Gommeuse appears to have been based on a specific model. The woman’s black wavy hair, black curved eyebrows, straight nose, and downturned mouth are noticeably different from the others, whose red or dark hair is piled on their heads. The title La Gommeuse was probably given to this composition when it was exhibited, and the woman portrayed was presumably an entertainer. Around 1900 the word ‘gommeuse’ was popularly associated with sexily dressed – or underdressed – café-concert singers and with their songs. We know that in 1901 Picasso drew from life a number of such performers, including the celebrated singer Polaire, for the Paris journal Frou Frou, which published his drawings between February and September 1901.  Polaire, who is easily identified by her wavy black hair and diminutive features and often wore plunging necklines and even patterned scarves around her neck, may have been the inspiration if not the real model for this composition. Around the turn of the century, when Polaire was performing in Paris, she was referred to as “la gommeuse épileptique” because of the way her body shook as she shifted her feet from one side to the other during her songs. Picasso painted La Gommeuse in his atelier on the Boulevard de Clichy, and the painting on the wall behind the figure defines the setting as the artist’s studio, where the woman may actually have posed. In the painting on the wall we only see the lower part of what appears to be a large, predominantly blue canvas with a figure wearing a gauzy dress and red stockings, surrounded by loosely painted, bright colors – evoking another composition that Picasso had done earlier in the summer of 1901, Nude with red stockings (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons). The caricatural composition on the reverse of La Gommeuse bears the inscription “Recuerdo a Mañach en el día de su santo” – which reveals that the canvas was intended as a gift to Pere Mañach on his Saint’s Day (29 June), and this allows the completion of the canvas to be dated with accuracy. Pere Mañach, who shared the Boulevard de Clichy studio with the artist, was a Catalan who lived in Paris and worked as a runner for several dealers, scouting out new artists from Spain. He had been responsible for finding buyers for Picasso’s works in 1900 and had put him under contract when the artist returned to his native country at the end of that year. It was Mañach who organized for the artist to show at Vollard’s in the following summer, and Picasso’s bold portrait of his friend (National Gallery of Art, Washington) was one of the featured works in the Vollard show. In contrast to the rather conventional pose of Picasso’s formal portrait of Mañach, the painting on the reverse of La Gommeuse shows the moustached dealer wearing a turban, which is painted with yellow and red stripes, perhaps alluding to the Catalan flag.  Mañach’s nude body is adorned with necklaces, and the awkward posture suggests that he has assumed a sexual, if not Kamasutra-like pose. Picasso shows him urinating in an imaginary landscape, which is dotted with lotus flowers and unexplained symbols.  If, as we assume from the inscription, La Gommeuse was a gift to Mañach on 29 June 1901, the latter must have sold or given the canvas to Vollard at a later date" (Marilyn McCully, "La Gommeuse," in correspondence with Sotheby's, October 2015). Picasso's emasculation of Mañach here is not without significance, evidencing the whimsical spirit of the young Spaniard at a particularly vulnerable moment of his life.  Picasso's reasons for poking fun at Mañach's are not made explicit, but his outrageously wicked rendering of the man speaks volumes about the ribald exchanges that must have transpired between them.  Perhaps it is no surprise that Mañach did not retain this picture and it ended up with the more successful dealer Ambroise Vollard, probably sometime after 1906.  In later years, it came into the possession of the young New York dealer Lucien Demotte, who sold it to Josef von Sternberg (1894-1949), one of the most acclaimed Hollywood film directors of the 1930s.  Sternberg is best remembered as the director of the 1930 film "The Blue Angel," in which Marlene Dietrich made her screen debut as the louche caberet performer Lola Lola.  It seems that Sternberg acquired this work about one year after the release of "The Blue Angel," so the subject of La Gommeuse would have held great significance for the director.  In 1949 Sternberg sold this picture, along with over one hundred other objects from his collection of fine art, at Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York.  It was later acquired by Jacques Sarlie, a Dutch-born financier based in New York, who had befriended Picasso after the war and amassed a large collection of the artist's work from every period.  Sarlie sold this picture at Sotheby's in London in 1960, at which point it was acquired by a dealer for a private collection.  The picture was later offered for sale at Sotheby's in 1984, when it was purchased by William I. Koch, who has kept it in his private collection for the last 30 years. Having lived with this picture for three decades, Mr. Koch has interpreted  La Gommeuse to be slumped on a banquette or divan in the same fatigued posture of so many of Degas' ballet dancers post-performance. Her sad, contemplative expression and physical exhaustion inspire the viewer to think about what her life must have been like that evening. The verso of the picture, however, presents a whimsical character depicting Manach’s head on a woman’s body leaping like a dancer. The paradoxes presented by this dual composition will no doubt continue to intrigue generations to come. Sotheby's would like to thank Marilyn McCully for contributing to the catalogue essay of the present lot. Signed Picasso (upper left); inscribed Recuerdo a Mañach en el día de su santo and fully painted on the reverse

  • 2015-11-06

L'Allée des Alyscamps

A majestic allée at the peak of its autumnal splendor is the subject of Van Gogh's magnificent L'Allée des Alyscamps, his Arles-period painting from November 1, 1888.  This was the very moment in Van Gogh's career when his most legendary expressions of great beauty and exuberance were captured on canvas.  Works such as Sunflowers, Self-Portrait, L'Arlesienne, the Night Café, The Sower and the postman Monsieur Roulin were all brilliantly realized with unparalleled creative force during this period, and the unrestrained passion of this artistic genius was at its apotheosis.  For two months during the fall of 1888 Van Gogh painted in the company of his close friend Paul Gauguin, who had come to the south of France for a shared artistic experiment known as the Studio of the South.  The artists would set up their easels side-by-side or back-to-back, tackling what are now some of the most famous subjects of their careers.  Their first shared experience to this end was a series of views of lovers strolling through Alyscamps, the ancient "Elysian Fields" just outside the walls of the city.  With its lush scenery, historic importance and romantic undertones the location was an irresistible starting point, resulting in four major oils by Van Gogh and two by Gauguin.  Over the passing weeks conflicts increasingly arose between the two artists, with the simmering tension ultimately resulting in Van Gogh's violent breakdown at the end of the year.  But the present work, created during those exciting first days of their time together, presents the glorious product of Van Gogh's ambitious undertaking.The scene depicted here is the central thoroughfare of the Alyscamps, one of the most famous Roman burial grounds in all of Europe.  During the prime of Caesar's reign Arles was an important imperial outpost, boasting a stately amphitheater modeled after the Colosseum.  Alyscamps was central to city life, as it served as the great necropolis for the nobility of the empire and would later be a coveted Christian burial ground throughout Middle Ages.  Over the centuries Alyscamps was pillaged by the locals for building materials, souvenirs and museum displays, and the shaded ruins became an ideal setting for lovers' rendez-vous.  Much romanticized by 19th century Romantic writers, Alyscamps was well-known to artists during Van Gogh's time, and his choice to paint here would have been a foregone conclusion for any artist spending time in Arles. In Van Gogh's depiction here, the ruins of  Romanesque sarcophagi are visible down the tree-lined promenade known as the Allée des Tombeaux, now a popular lovers' lane and parade ground for fashionable and single Arlesiennes of questionable virtue. ""The street girl is as much a lady as any other and looks as virginal as a Juno," Gauguin marveled after his first day on site.  Aside from its historic importance and illicit allure, Alyscamps offered an accessible place for tourists and locals to experience the tranquility and beauty of the Provençale countryside.  On October 29th, both artists completed views of the grounds, with Gauguin focusing on three women walking alongside the canal with the bell tower of the 12th century church of St. Honorat in the background.  Van Gogh, however, situated himself in the middle of the allée, painting the smokestacks of the railway workshop across the canal on the left and the archway of the church in the distance, while the ruins of ancient crypts flank a solitary couple taking a romantic stroll.  Two days later, on the Feast of All Saints', the artists returned to the allée, depicting the colorful foliage in all of its splendor.   Gauguin positioned his easel at the end of the promenade at the portico of the church, and Van Gogh looked down the dramatic allée towards the direction of Saint-Accurse chapel to paint the present picture. L'allée des Alyscamps presents a more formal schematization and vastly grander perspective than did the one Van Gogh had painted two days earlier. While slightly larger in size, this second composition presents a vertical alignment of trees that creates an illusion of profound depth and frames the sky so that it appears to be a giant funnel lifting into the heavens.  All Saints' Day would have been a popular one to stroll through the  grounds of the sacred cemetery, Van Gogh captures the visitors as they walk from the church.  Figures appear in motion down the great expanse of the promenade, with the rhythm of their gate reverberating in the colored patches along the pathway.  In a letter to Bernard written on November 2, the artist described his Alyscamps picture as a "study of the whole avenue, entirely yellow." Van Gogh described the support on which he painted to be "burlap," but recent scholarship suggests that it is actually rough jute.  He and Gauguin had purchased this material in bulk and primed themselves, and Van Gogh used it for the first time for this picture.   Both artists were fascinated by the visual effect that the coarse surface lent to their compositions, and they exploited this property differently in their works.  Whereas Gauguin painted with thinner layers of paint that allowed the texture of the weave to appear more clearly, Van Gogh applied his paint impulsively and with thick slashes, building up the surface texture dramatically in areas and allowing colors to blend more fluidly. But these different approaches to painting on jute became a point of debate, sowing the seeds for future conflicts between the two artists.  Writing to Émile Bernard in mid-November, Gauguin alluded to his lack of compatibility with his partner, taking issue with the very manner by which he paints: "In general, Vincent and I agree on very few topics, and especially not on painting...  He appreciates the hazards of thick paint as Monticelli uses it, whereas I detest any form of tampering by brushwork" (R. Brettell, op. cit., p. 113).  Van Gogh criticized Gauguin's highly controlled painterly style, which he believed was at the expense of authentic creative expression.  "Aren't we seeking intensity of thought rather than tranquility of touch?" he lamented.  "Under the conditions of working spontaneously, on the spot, and given the character of it, is a calm, well-regulated touch always possible?  Goodness gracious - as little, it seems to me, as during an assault in a fencing match (quoted in D. Silverman, op.cit., p.206)."  This last quip was apparently a thinly-veiled attack on Gauguin, who prided himself at being an accomplished fencer and was a believer that "the head, always the head" should prevail in painting.  Van Gogh, however, prided himself on the frenetic pace of his execution, and the slow and meticulous pace of his companion, who often completed his paintings within the studio, were antithetical to this approach.  In due time, the artists' ideological differences would send them on different courses, with Gauguin deciding to leave France for the South Pacific. The anxiety caused by Gauguin's scheduled departure, among other things, prompted Van Gogh to commit the legendary act of self-mutilation that December, which sent him to the hospital in Saint-Remy for a period of recovery.  But the present picture, created at the "honeymoon" phase of the Arles period, evidences the joyous expressive power that Van Gogh possessed at the beginning of this most important collaboration. In the days following his completion of the present composition, Van Gogh would go on to paint two other depictions of jute of Alyscamps, but in horizontal format. These pictures, both entitled Falling Leaves, would hang in Gauguin's room at the quarters the two men shared at the Yellow House and signified their important collaboration.  The present work, however remained with Mme Marie Ginoux, the beloved innkeeper at the Yellow House and the model for L'Arlesienne.  The picture then came into possession of Henri Laget, the editor of a journal called Provence artistique.  Laget sold this picture, as well as several others left with Mme Ginoux, to Ambroise Vollard.  Isaac (Jack) Aghion, the husband of Marguerite Bernheim, acquired the picture, presumably from Vollard, by 1901 and was sold at his Estate sale in 1918, when it was presumably purchased by his in-laws at Galerie Bernheim Jeune. Paul Vallotton, the art dealer and brother of the Nabis artist Felix Vallotton later acquired the picture for his private collection, and then it was acquired by Hans Mettler (1876-1945) and remained with his family until it was sold at auction in 1985.

  • 2015-05-05

Juin-Octobre 1985

Transcendence and the Sublime Juin-Octobre 1985 In the annals of the history of art, it is those who have triumphed in forging and defining an iconic style that are inducted into the rarefied league of artistic masters. To have achieved such success yet continue to challenge oneself, pushing past previous heights, requires a quality that goes beyond talent, courage, and perseverance: it requires a profound wisdom. It is this wisdom that opens the door for one to create something that endures through the ages. Many artists belonging to the era of modern art have devoted the prime of their lives to creating these enduring masterpieces, often designed for public display, as a way of leaving something to posterity, to close ones life and career with a grand finale. Matisse, for example, during his artistic prime, designed the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence; Rothko created the paintings that hang on the walls of the Rothko Chapel in Houston; Tsuguharu Foujita designed and painted the frescoes for the French chapel, Our Lady Queen of Peace. Each of these endeavours was inspired by religious themes, and from these themes, the artists harnessed an energy and intensity that elevated the works to the realm of the spiritual. By the 1950s and 60s, Zao Wou-Kis paintings from his Oracle-Bone Period (1954-1959) and Hurricane Period (1959-1972) had already been inducted into the permanent collections of important museums and institutions in Europe and the Americas, establishing Zao Wou-Ki as the first Asian master to attain such levels of international renown. But Zao Wou-Ki had his eyes set on something higher. He continued to strive, breaking through the boundaries of his previous limits, and by the 1970s, the artist had embarked upon the Infinite Period, a brilliant era that would accompany him for decades. This Infinite Period marked his arrival at the highest summit. The paintings express the divinity of the universe, brushing up against the apex of human civilization. By the 1980s, this achievement had firmly established Zao Wou-Kis now-indisputable status as an international master. With great pride and honour at this Evening Sale, Sothebys presents the single largest oil painting created by Zao Wou-Ki during his lifetime, Juin-Octobre 1985 (Lot 1004). This triptych of extraordinary size was commissioned by renowned architect I.M. Pei for the Raffles City complex in Singapore. The painting is a singular accomplishment, a prodigious effort by the artist to express his ideas and essence at full capacity, with great artistic power and boldness. During his entire career, Zao Wou-Ki created no more than twenty large-scale triptychs. The offering of this singular masterpiece at Sothebys Evening Sale marks a grand achievement in East Asian auction history. Rewriting Asian Art History in the 1980s As it was in the West, the 1950s to 1970s was a period of emergence and intense vying among different schools of thought in the post-war Asian art world. But avant-garde artists from China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia had their gazes fixed upon Europe and North America; entry into the Western art world was the ultimate goal and marker of accomplishment. By the 1970s and 80s, alongside the rapid rise of Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore, Mainland China also started on its important journey of reform and opening up. Overnight, the entire East Asian economy was roaring forward, and finally, after thirty years of leaning toward the West, a monumental change was occurring among the Asian post-war artists. They were turning back towards the East, a trend that was becoming the new mainstream. As an artist who had already established a reputation for himself in the West, Zao Wou-Kis own return to his motherland was deeply symbolically significant. In 1981, Zao Wou-Ki held a large solo exhibition at the Galeries nationales du Grand Palais in Paris, and exhibiting at the same time was the equally renowned Russian-French abstract master Nicolas de Staël. This was an event that signified the Western art worlds high regard of Zao Wou-Ki, and served as the consummate conclusion to this stage of the artists Western journey. Following the Galeries nationales du Grand Palais exhibition, the artist immediately embarked upon a rotating exhibition in East Asia, launching at the Fukoka Art Museum in Japan, and continuing onward to the Tokyo Nihonbashi Art Gallery, the Fukui Prefectural Museum, the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, and the Museum of Modern Art in Kamakura. He followed with solo exhibitions at the Hong Kong Arts Centre and the National Museum Art Gallery in Singapore. In 1983, Zao Wou-Ki held exhibitions on both sides of the strait, at the National Museum of History in Taipei as well as the National Museum of Fine Arts in Beijing and the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou (formerly the National School of Fine Art). In May of 1985, Zao Wou-Kis three-week art lectures at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts marked the first time an overseas artist had been invited to teach a workshop in Mainland China since the countrys reform and opening up. Students were selected from all across China, and included Shang Yang, who later became the Associate President of the Hubei Arts Academy, as well as Xu Jiang, the current President of the China Academy of Art. The workshop was highly influential for the development of Mainland Chinese art in the 1980s. It also produced the only extant Zao Wou-Ki instructional text, The Lecture Notes of Zao Wou-Ki in China. Soon after this historic series of lectures, Juin-Octobre 1985 was created. A Crown for the Lion City The dimensions of Juin-Octobre 1985 are highly unusual, the painting created through a commission by I.M. Pei. Both Zao Wou-Ki and I.M. Pei were born to large families during the Republic of China, and both had fathers who were successful bankers Zao Wou-Kis father Zhao Hansheng was a Managing Director at the headquarters of Shanghai Commercial and Saving Bank , and I.M. Peis father Pei Zuyi was the President of the Central Bank of the Republic of China as well as one of the founders of the Bank of China. Both of Chinese descent, these two international masters first met in 1952 at the Galerie Pierre Loeb in Paris, and established an immediate camaraderie. Zao Wou-Ki reunited with I.M. Pei and his wife in 1964 during his travels to New York. As I.M. Peis career as an architect gained momentum and success, he began commissioning Zao Wou-Ki to create paintings for the walls of his building projects. In 1979, when I.M. Pei took on the construction of the Fragrant Hill Hotel in Beijing, he commissioned the artist to create a set of quadriptych ink panels for a central location in the main hall of the hotel. In 1980, after more than a decade since the project was first proposed, I.M. Pei was given the reins to design Singapores Raffles City. Ground was broken next to the Raffles Hotel at the location of the original Raffles College. Six years later, the architectural complex was completed, becoming a Singaporean landmark. But shortly prior to its completion, in May of 1985, I.M. Pei had invited Zao Wou-Ki to tour the premises, and commissioned the artist to create a large panel painting for the grand lobby of the main building. The painting would be displayed alongside works by Ellsworth Kelly and Kenneth Nolan, and together, these three paintings would become Singapores most important public contemporary art collection. Following careful deliberation, Zao Wou-Ki settled on a triptych measuring 2.8 x 10 meters, and immediately after completing his three weeks of lectures at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, Zao Wou-Ki returned to France and devoted himself to the painting, working tirelessly for five months. Juin-Octobre 1985 was finally completed and unveiled to the world in October of the same year. It was first exhibited at the Galerie de France, which at the time was managing the artist. On the day of the opening, Zao Wou-Ki released another edition of a large artist monograph, first published in 1978 and edited by his friend Jean Leymarie, but this time with Juin-Octobre 1985 featured on the covers. In 1986, after the exhibition closed, Juin-Octobre 1985 was officially moved to Raffles City and put on public display. All the way until 2005, when the painting was relocated during a significant reconstruction, Juin-Octobre 1985 remained at Raffles City, open for public viewing, serving as the brilliant crown in the architectural landscape of the Lion City. The Majestic Epic of the Triptych Within Zao Wou-Kis oeuvre, the large-scale triptych occupies a special position. In the forty years from 1966 to 2006, the artist completed twenty large-scale triptychs, eight of which were created after 2000. Among these twenty large-scale pieces, three have been inducted into museum collections, and seven are in the care of the Zao Wou-Ki Foundation, leaving only ten in the hands of private collectors. Because the triptychs span the artists Hurricane and Infinite periods, they serve as a connecting thread, offering a new angle from which to interpret Zao Wou-Kis work, and illuminating the elements of constancy in the artists artistic pursuits across different periods. The path that led to Zao Wou-Kis eventual use of the triptych format began with his creation of large-scale single-panel paintings. Large-scale canvases were favoured by the abstract expressionists, who Zao Wou-Ki had encountered while living in New York. These tall and wide panels allowed the artists a greater degree of freedom and unrestrained expression. After returning to Paris, Zao Wou-Ki also began painting on large-scale canvases. The artists later adoption of the triptych format, however, was not simply another expansion of creative space. Within the Western tradition since the Renaissance, the triptych has been closely tied to religious themes in painting, and carries with it an aura of deep solemnity and divinity. And in fact, examining the dimensions of Juin-Octobre 1985, one discovers that the widths of the three panels are not entirely equal. The centre canvas is 280 x 400 cm, while the left and right panels are 280 x 300 cm. This arrangement reveals the artists clear intention in invoking the religious paintings from the Renaissance. Correspondingly, within traditional East Asian painting, large-scale pieces often appear in the format of several joined or separate panels, together expressing an atmosphere of grandeur and magnificence. In a gesture to both Eastern and Western traditions, then, Zao Wou-Kis triptychs often express sentiments of respect and homage. This is apparent in many of the artists painting, including Hommage à André Malraux 01.04.76 (now in the collection of the Hakone Open-Air Museum in Japan), dedicated to the artists friend and French Minister of Culture; Hommage à Claude Monet, février-juin 91, in honour of the founder of French Impressionism; Hommage à mon ami Henri Michaux avril 1999-août 2000, for his friend and French poet laureate; Hommage à mon ami Jean-Paul Ripolle Histoire de deux érables canadiens, 21.06.2003, for the Canadian and fellow abstract painter; Hommage à Françoise, 21.10.2003, painted for his wife; and Le Temple des Hans, 2005,  created in honour of the Han dynasty. It was an attitude of devotion and respect that Zao Wou-Ki brought to the triptych. Beginning in the 1980s, the artist began receiving invitations for solo exhibitions at important museums, as well as more commissions. In 1980, for example, Zao Wou-Ki had solo exhibitions at the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Carleroi in Belgium and the Musée dHistoire et dArt in Luxembourg. Both exhibits featured large-scale oil paintings. In the same year, Zao Wou-Ki designed a large-scale mosaic for the Honoré de Balzac grammar school in Mitry-Mory, built by architect Roger Taillibert. Later, in October, Zao Wou-Ki was appointed as professor of mural painting at the Parisian École nationale supérieure des art décoratifs, a post he held until 1984. In 1981, Zao Wou-Ki travelled extensively around China, encountering the majestic and romantic ancient Yungang grottoes and frescoes in the province of Shanxi. The reverence and longing for the deities expressed by these ancient large-scale creations left a deep impression on Zao Wou-Ki. The artist fervently studied the mural form for the next five years, even purchasing a studio space in the French countryside of Loiret, larger than the one on Paris Rue Jonquoy, so that he could create large-scale paintings. Each of these creations were a step in the preparation toward creating Juin-Octobre 1985. Boundless Mystery: Manifesting the Spirit of the Universe Juin-Octobre 1985 possesses the trademark characteristics of Zao Wou-Kis Infinite Period. As Yann Hendgen, Art Director of the Zao Wou-Ki Foundation, explains in an essay for Sothebys Hong Kong 40th Anniversary Evening Sale: From the beginning of the 1980s, Zao Wou-Ki was then able to give free rein to his desire to create large-scale painted polytychs; a new workshop, public commissions, and an enthusiastic public for the introduction of such monumental compositions. Such large works also communicate a decisive turn in Zao Wou-Kis work: his gradual rediscovery of China (15.01.82 Triptych and Its Role Among the Large-Scale Paintings by Zao Wou-Ki). The paramount characteristic of the Infinite Period is a compositional departure from using a central axis, in which the visual weight is distributed along a vertical or horizontal dividing line. The artists change in composition is not merely a visual one, however, but a significant shift rooted deeply in artistic and human philosophy. During the Hurricane Period, Zao Wou-Kis career and romantic life were carrying on smoothly. His mood was one of contentment; his body was strong. As the artistic described himself, during this period, he approached the canvas wielding his bold ambition, as though the canvas were an oppositional force, and he were fighting against [it]. Thus, his use of the central-axis in the paintings from the period demonstrates a strong sense of individualism. It is a scene in which the dominant individual conquers space in every direction, constructing a new world. This was the overriding creative spirit. But in 1972, this formidable energy of domination came to a halt the artists wife, May Zao, had passed away. After a period of deep contemplation and reconsideration, the artist began creating paintings that displayed a striking open composition, in which the perimeters of the canvas are reinforced, and more space is given to the centre. This new composition revealed a sudden opening-up, an enlightenment in the artists soul, a liberated state of non-self. The artist had departed from his previous perspective of man conquering nature, toward a belief in the oneness of nature and humanity. This foundational shift in ideology formed the basis for the Infinite Period. The Western tradition of painting derives from a single-point perspective, originating philosophically from Western civilizations individual-centred way of viewing and conceptualizing. The tradition of Chinese paintings scattered perspective, however, comes from Taoism, the belief that all things in the universe are one. The Western tradition places its faith in man being made in the image of a Christian God, whereas the Eastern interpretation of god, informed by Taoism, is our omnipresent and all-encompassing nature. The most profound value of the Infinite Period, then, is the manifestation of Eastern philosophys belief in nature as god, within which there exists a continuous cycle of life and death. It is this endless cycle that is the permanent law of the universe. The ultimate essence of the universe is that of oneness. Juin-Octobre 1985, an epic of abstraction, is a grand expression of this idea. Primordial Mist, Roaming as One with the Universe In a 2001 special interview with Phoenix Television, Zao Wou-Ki explained that painting is a slow creation of a world. This philosophy is manifested with brilliant perfection in Juin-Octobre 1985. Making use of the capacious size of the panels, the artist has taken the lateral scroll of Chinese painting and expanded it, creating an abstract space that seemingly expresses a concrete realness. Standing in front of the painting, the viewers gaze naturally departs from viewing in a point-to-point manner, and instead allows ones eyes to freely roam across the canvas. In this way, the viewers perspective is in constant change, as though immersed in a scattered perspective arrangement, journeying across the spectacular world created by the artist. The arrangement continues without end, with flowing light driving the changes and shifts in colour, representing the boundless, infinite, ever-flourishing universe. When creating the painting, Zao Wou-Ki released his drive to conquer, but rather allowed his spirit to linger contently within the painting, achieving an even more prodigious aura of freedom and ease. Throughout the painting, his use of colour and brush technique is also dynamic, dancing and adapting with natural ease. At the beginning of the Infinite Period, the artist was drawn to the empty space emphasized in Chinese ink-wash paintings. This translated into the use of white tones in his oil paintings in the 1970s, which by the 1980s, had become all the more brilliant and richly expressive. During this time, the artist had returned to the soil of his motherland, encountering again the landscape and surroundings he had been away from for a long time, and once again, they nourished his mind and body. The verdigris green and ultramarine colours that appeared in his earlier works are in Juin-Octobre 1985 melded in with softer, lighter tones. His oil colours are further diluted, heightening the appearance of translucence. The pearlescent, clear light, along with a ravishing violet, soft orange, and bright yellow intersect in meticulous concert.  The exquisite and ethereal splashes and spatters of paint replace the brittle lines; sharp edges are concealed, further amplifying an aura of vitality and spirituality. Every inch is imbued with the breath and vigour of the universe. Blue is a colour that Zao Wou-Ki used in all of his stylistic periods. He once explained that his understanding of the colour originated from his earliest days in Paris. He was at a museum, and encountered a painting of the Virgin Mary and Jesus by Giotto, the Early Renaissance master. The classic painting depicts the Virgin Mary wrapped in a blue robe, the image holy, sublime, and pure. The use of blue in all of Zao Wou-Kis periods has been executed with great richness. Up until the 1980s, Zao Wou-Kis use of blue often manifested in its deeper shades, the blue of grapes, gentle and exquisite, with a sheen of translucence. Applied with varying pressures and speed, it splattered and flowed, coalescing into a crystalline and mysterious space. In Juin-Octobre 1985, the blue manifests in a shade closer to purple jade, and in its various permutations of rich and light, dry and wet, it becomes void and substance, emptiness and fullness, linking together all the exquisite complementary colours that reverberate across the canvas. In tracing the painting back to its Eastern roots, it is important to note that after many years apart, Zao Wou-Ki reunited with the Zhang Daqian, a great master of Chinese painting, in Taipei in 1981. The inspiration behind Zhang Daqians iconic splashed-color landscapes came from the Western abstract paintings of the 1960s. These landscapes established a revolutionary new style for traditional Chinese painting. This example of invoking traditional Chinese painting techniques and artistic concepts was perhaps an inspiration for Zao Wou-Ki. He, also, could return to tradition. To examine the paintings Western roots, one looks to the colour philosophy of the Impressionists. The romantic and enchanting blue-purple tones are the result of developments in optical science during the mid-19th century, and, in Monets later years, they became the poetic images of his lily pond, seen through his fading vision. These subtle threads to the past resonated with Zao Wou-Ki, who boldly applied these blue-purple tones across the canvas. Later, this colour was also the basis of the triptych completed in 1991, titled Hommage à Claude Monet, février-juin 91. The Artists Prime, the Key to the Summit Juin-Octobre 1985 symbolizes the beginning of Zao Wou-Kis late-career work. By the time of the opening ceremony of Raffles City, the artist had already been commissioned to create the poster for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. In 1993, the artist received the Commandeur de lOrdre de la Légion from French President François Mitterrand, as well as an honorary doctorate from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. In 1994, he was awarded with Japans Praemium Imperiale. Shortly after, in 1996, the artist held a large-scale retrospective exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, titled Infinite Image and Space. The following year, Zao Wou-Ki accompanied French President Jacques Chirac on a visit to China, where he confirmed three retrospective exhibitions in honour of sixty years of painting. They were to be held in Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou between 1998 and 1999. In 2002, Zao Wou-Ki was inducted as a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, the highest honour of his lifetime. The following year, he held a large-scale solo exhibition at Paris Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume. The number of visitors to the exhibition exceeded 135,000 people. Since then, across all the arenas of academia, culture, and the market, the artists prodigious reputation has proven unshakeable. Zao Wou-Kis accomplishment of artistic flourishing over thirty years late in his career, among all of the artists of the world, is a rare one indeed. And Juin-Octobre 1985 can be said to be the beginning of this glorious chapter. Signed in Chinese and Pinyin; signed in Pinyin, titled and dated Juin-Octobre 1985 on the reverse

  • HKGSonderverwaltungszone Hongkong
  • 2018-09-30

Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter)

Picassos portraits of women his muses represent the most consistently innovative and expressive body of work in twentieth century art. From the cubist portraits of Fernande Olivier or neo-classical depictions of Olga Khokhlova, to the acclaimed 1930s paintings of Marie-Thérèse and the final great works depicting Jacqueline Roque, the women of Picassos life are the fulcrum of his creative genius. The formal experimentation and emotional intensity that characterise his most celebrated portraits of women are embodied in Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter). The artists lover is shown in profile but with her features presented frontally in the style that he had pioneered in his earlier portraits of Marie-Thérèse. He employs a bold, primary palette and an emphatic handling of paint that mark this work out from the depictions of the early 1930s and chart Picassos evolving relationship with his muse. Indeed, whilst the figure in Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) is unmistakably that of Marie-Thérèse, elements of the portrait are suggestive of the increasingly dominant presence of Picassos new lover Dora Maar. Picasso had first met Maar at the Café des Deux Magots early in 1936. Over the following months he was seduced by her striking looks, quick intelligence and sense of independence and she became his principal mistress later that year. Her presence in his life further complicated an already complex situation and Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) belongs to a series of works which Picasso appears to have used as a means for exploring his feelings for the two women. These personal disruptions were mirrored by the wider political unrest in the artists native Spain. As Neil Cox observed: For Picasso the question of modernity was acute in the 1930s and 1940s, since modernity in this period meant a personal life, a nation, a Europe and indeed a world in crisis. This period in Picassos art is marked by a succession of shattering events in his personal life that no doubt appeared to him mirrored by the disasters in the world at large []. Personal events include the death of his mother in 1939; the slow breakdown of his marriage to Olga Khokhlova (they eventually separated in 1935); his ongoing secret affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter (from 1927) leading to the birth of his daughter Maya, in 1935; and new relationships with the artist and photographer Dora Maar (from 1936) and then the painter Françoise Gilot (from 1943) (N. Cox in Picasso, Challenging the Past (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery, London, 2009, p. 88). Picassos response to this turmoil was to work, painting both the great masterpiece of his career, Guernica (fig. 7), and a series of female portraits that are among his most complex and adventurous. At the beginning of 1937 he embarked on his great work for the Spanish Pavilion at the Exposition Internationale; over the following months he worked on ideas for the composition, but it was not until the bombing of the small town of Guernica in Basque Spain that his fully-formed concept for the work was consolidated. It was at this point that the figure of a woman mourning her child began to appear in the preparatory sketches. This figure would inspire one of Picassos most renowned series of female portraits; his work on the weeping women continued long after Guernica had been completed and was one of the major achievements of that year. The Weeping Women have habitually been linked with Maar; they incorporate many of her features and as the woman who documented the creation of Guernica she is naturally associated with the series of female portraits that were born out of that seminal work. However, Palau i Fabre suggests that weeping women were actually the continuation of a pre-existing subject; that Picasso had devoted almost all of his activity as a painter to woman, her troubles, her sadness, her loneliness. And, in the course of the past ten years, life had led him to depict two women crying. People speak of Dora Maar but too often forget that Marie-Thérèse has also been seen very often, and earlier, as a weeping woman (J. Palau i Fabre, op. cit., p. 328). He also argues the case for the present work belonging to a smaller group of Marie-Thérèse portraits in which she is entirely reduced to inner tears, showing A resigned sadness, and nonetheless suffused with love (ibid., p. 349). The link between the weeping women and concurrent portraits of Marie-Thérèse is particularly apparent in Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter). There is a remarkable congruence between the weeping woman he painted on the 26th October of that year (fig. 8) and the small group of portraits that he painted on the 4th December that include the present work. It is almost possible to track the slow transition from Maar to Marie-Thérèse in these works. In the October painting the woman has the long dark hair, the angularity and the thick eyelashes of Maar. In one of the December paintings (fig. 4) she retains the long hair of Maar but in the other two she has shifted to embody the younger woman. The choice of beret in these latter two is a significant indicator it was the hat Picasso associated with Marie-Thérèse from his earliest depictions of her. Yet the three women all wear the same fur-trimmed jacket and Picasso uses similar lattice patterns and a tonally cohesive palette to create a dialogue between the paintings. The three December works also show Picasso experimenting with the device of presenting the main subject of the painting with a silhouetted other emerging from behind. Picasso had used a shadowy-half-silhouette as way of indicating a doubleness or conflict previously in the 1929 painting Buste de femme et autoportrait in which he depicted his then wife Olga against the unmistakeable outline of his own features. This was some two years after he had first met Marie-Thérèse and his relationship with Olga was disintegrating rapidly; the distorted features, teeth and vicious tongue of the female figure are symptomatic of the frustration and growing antipathy Picasso felt towards his wife but the inclusion of his own adumbral profile also hints at a continuing interdependence, or even a pervasive dominance on his part. In a similar way, the shadowy profile that indicates Maar in the present work and others from this period suggests her omnipresence in his life at this stage and perhaps for Marie-Thérèse had similarly ominous implications. After all, as Picasso told John Richardson: It must be painful for a girl to see in a painting that she is on the way out (J. Richardson, Picasso and LAmour Fou, in New York Review of Books, no. 20, 19th December 1985, p. 68). There is certainly a contrast with the Marie-Thérèse paintings of the early 1930s (figs. 1 & 2); embodiments of new love, these works have a nascent sensuality that has all but vanished by the end of the decade. Where Marie-Thérèse was once characterised by voluptuous curves and a sleepy suggestiveness, by 1937 she has matured. Still imbued with an innocence and freshness particularly in comparison to the more vulpine sexuality of Maar she is also now a woman where before she was a girl; she is mother to his child, and with that domesticity and responsibility there is a discernible difference in Picassos treatment of her as artistic subject. As Judi Freeman observes: By 1936 Picassos depictions of Walter had shifted from being dual explorations of her personality and sensuality to straightforward recordings of her character (J. Freeman, Picasso and the Weeping Women (exhibition catalogue), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1994, p. 166). However, as this suggests and as we see in the present work Marie-Thérèse continued to be of central importance to Picasso. Although Maar might have been foremost in his affections, this was partly because she represented a change; as an educated, established artist in her own right, she provided an irresistible contrast to Marie-Thérèse and by 1937 she must have had the additional attraction that her political engagement paralleled Picassos own concerns and involvement with wider political causes. Yet Marie-Thérèse was still the mother of Picassos child and the artist continued to see and paint her regularly. The relationship between the two women was understandably fraught. According to Françoise Gilot, Picasso later recalled an occasion when he working on Guernica with Maar and Marie-Thérèse arrived unexpectedly at the studio, challenging Maar: I kept on painting and they kept on arguing. Finally Marie-Thérèse turned to me and said, Make up your mind. Which one of us goes It was a hard decision to make. I liked them both, for different reasons: Marie-Thérèse because she was sweet and gentle and did whatever I wanted her to, and Dora because she was intelligent. I decided I had no interest in making a decision. I was satisfied with things as they were. I told them theyd have to fight it out for themselves. So they began to wrestle. Its one of my choicest memories (quoted in ibid., p. 177). Yet whilst this particular anecdote casts Marie-Thérèse as the jealous wife to Maars more sophisticated mistress, the rivalry ran both ways. Maar later recalled travelling to the house at Tremblay where Picasso had installed Marie-Thérèse and Maya and waiting outside, torturing herself by imagining them together as a family. It was a complex ménage and Picassos own feelings were evidently unresolved. He often referred to his work as acting as a diary of sorts and that was evidently one of the motivations in painting Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter). A vividly realised portrait, it combines his two central muses during this critical period, and achieves the remarkable in encompassing the complexities of real life and revealing simultaneously the artists contrary emotions. In doing this, Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) also reveals the centrality of the woman-muse in Picassos art. Over history artists have often turned to the women in their life as subjects, but these women have not always been muses. To be a muse is to be essential to the creative and intellectual processes of the artist. Picassos engagement with the women in his life facilitated his exploration of the world and his pursuit of the formal innovations for which he is so acclaimed. In using his muses in this way from the very beginning, he established a pattern. The same interdependence can be found in contemporaries as diverse as Amedeo Modigliani and Salvador Dalí, but also in a subsequent generation, perhaps most notably in Andy Warhols appropriation of Marilyn (fig. 10) or Jackie Kennedy to explore ideas of celebrity. It is a specifically modern treatment of the muse and as such might be considered among Picassos most significant contributions to twentieth century art. The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Claude Picasso. Dated 4 D 37 (upper right)

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2018-02-28

Nature morte, Vase aux marguerites et coquelicots

Teeming with visual drama and emotion, Van Gogh's richly-colored bouquet of wildflowers exemplifies the creative genius of the artist at the culmination of his career.  Depicting a bounty of sensory splendor from the fields of Auvers, this important picture captures the artist at the height of his mania and only weeks before his tragic end.  It was during this period that Van Gogh painted the most powerful pictures of his career, including his legendary Portrait of Dr. Paul Gachet and Wheat Fields with Crows.  An expressive masterwork, Nature morte, Vase aux marguerites et coquelicots transcends the boundaries of its genre and offers an insightful psychological profile. The present composition was painted in mid-June 1890 in Auvers-sur Oise, the town where the artist settled following his release from the asylum at St-Rémy in May 1890. "Auvers is very beautiful, among other things a lot of old thatched roofs, which are getting rare...really it is profoundly beautiful, it is the real country, characteristic and picturesque" (Letter 635).  Renting a small room at the Auberge Ravoux, he lacked a proper studio, which compelled him to go elsewhere to paint. He spent his days setting up his easel in the fields to paint the lush countryside, or visiting his physician, Dr. Paul Gachet.  The artist described his new living situation with enthusiasm, especially the close kinship he felt with the "rather eccentric"  art collector, Dr. Gachet, who offered him a quiet environment in which he could work.  As he told Theo in one of his first letters after meeting the doctor in late May, Gachet's house was filled with black antiques as well as Impressionist paintings including " two fine flower pieces by Cézanne."   Van Gogh found Gachet's environment so inviting that he pledged to "... gladly, very gladly, do a bit of brushwork here" (LT635).  Over the coming weeks, Van Gogh would paint his celebrated portrait of Dr. Gachet, along with several views of his flower garden and members of his family. The present work was painted at Gachet's house and probably came into his possession upon completion.   Van Gogh was inspired by the many objects that Gachet collected, including one particular Cézanne still-life that hung on Gachet's wall.  In that picture, the rounded edge of the table top and general arrangement can be likened to that of the present work.  On June 4, he told Theo that despite the clutter of the Gachet's accomodations, "there is always something for arranging flowers in or for a still life.   I did these studies for him to show him that if it is not a case for which he is paid in money, we will still compensate him for what he does for us."  The present work was one of the few works that Van Gogh sold or traded during his lifetime, and it was possibly given to Gachet in exchange for treatment.  Looking at this picture, we can imagine the artist traipsing through the fields on his way to Gachet's, gathering up armfuls of poppies, daisies, cornflowers and sheaves of wheat to squeeze into one of the modest vases in Gachet's antique-filled house. Indeed, several days later, the artist began work on the present composition as well as another painting, featuring the same earthenware vase.  Writing on June 16, he explained "At the moment I am working on two studies, one a bunch of wild plants, thistles, ears of wheat and sprays of different kinds of leaves -- the one almost red, the other bright green, the third turning yellow" (letter no. 642).   While his description most certainly applies to Still life, Vase with Field Flowers and Thistle (F. 763), the catalogue raisonné identifies the present work as being painted contemporaneously on June 16-17.  In comparison with the more reserved and academic still-lifes that he had completed in Paris in the mid-1880s, the present work evidences the dramatic shift in the artist's painterly style, now characterized by nfrenetic energy. "I am working a good deal and quickly these days," the artist wrote June 13,"in do doing, I seek to express the desperately swift passing away of things in modern life" (Letter W23). As noted in a recent biography of the artist, Van Gogh was flooded by anxiety in Auvers, and his agitation surely spilled over onto even his most optimistic canvases:  "It was a beautiful, alluring vision -- as much as paint and works could make it.  But real life for Vincent in Auvers was anything but idyllic.  He had arrived in May holding on to the thinnest thread:  terrified by the possiblity of another attack, still racked with guilt over the money diverted from Theo's new family, haunted by the stacks of unsold paintings in Paris.  He poured his despair into a letter so bleak that he didn't dare to mail it:  'I am far from having reached any kind of tranquility...  I feel a failure ... a lot that I accept and that I will not change ....  The prospect grows darker, I see no happy future at all'" (Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith, Van Gogh, The Life, New York, 2011, p. 838).  It is under this black cloud of despair, using flowers from the same fields in which he would attempt to take his own life only weeks later, that the artist painted this extraordinary composition. It is probable that Gachet either sold or faciliated the sale of this painting to Gaston Alexandre Camentron, the collector of Impressionist pictures, who eventually sold the picture to Paul Cassirer in 1911.  The picture remained with a series of private collectors in Germay until the mid-1920s, when it made its way to London and eventually across the Atlantic, where it was one of the first pictures by the artist to be sold in the United States.  In 1928, it was sold by the Knoedler Gallery in New York in 1928 to A. Conger Goodyear. Known as one of the principal founders of the Museum of Modern Art, Goodyear kept this work in his family's private collection.  It was eventually gifted by the Goodyear family in part to the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, where it was on display to the public for over thirty years.

  • 2014-11-05

Bauerngarten (Blumengarten)

Painted in 1907 during the golden period of Klimts career, Bauerngarten is a masterpiece of Viennese fin-de-siècle art. This remarkable landscape is rooted in the natural world yet simultaneously reaches towards the symbolic, decorative avant-garde. It is this synthesis of natural beauty and harmonious regularity which lends the work its profoundly moving quality. During the summer months, from 1900 onwards, Klimt travelled out of Vienna to Litzlberg on the Attersee with his friends and family to relax and paint. In the rustic garden of the Mayr-Hof Klimt found inspiration for the present work, with its informal profusion of poppies, daisies, zinnia and roses, and transformed it into a shimmering array of colour. Celebrated since its very first exhibition in Vienna in 1908 Kunstschau, Bauerngarten is regarded as one of the artists finest landscapes. The exhibition caused a sensation, with critics claiming that Klimt had endowed his works with an almost mystical quality, and declaring him a master landscape painter. Writing a review of the show Josef August Lux stated: The flower meadows are even more beautiful since Klimt has painted them; the artist gives us an eye with which to see the radiant glory of their colours. We never learn to seize nature in her magical beauty other than through art, which always renews her appearance (J.A. Lux quoted in Gustav Klimt: Modernism in the Making (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 115). The 1908 exhibition came at an important time for Klimt, having left the Secession in 1905 taking with him an eponymously named splinter group, and he had not had a public showing of his work for three years. The Kunstschau was a comprehensive exhibition of avant-garde Viennese art in rooms designed by Josef Hoffmann, and Klimt was given a room to himself in which were hung sixteen pictures including Bauerngarten. In his opening address at the Kunstschau he declared: We have not been idle - on the contrary - perhaps just because we have been freed from worries about exhibitions, we have worked all the more assiduously and intensely on the on the development of our ideas (the artist quoted in Christian M. Nebehay, op. cit., 2007, p. 169). Though publically known from the outset of his career for his allegorical compositions and female portraits, in the 1890s and afterwards landscape painting became an increasingly important outlet for Klimts creativity eventually accounting for nearly a quarter of his uvre. The development of his landscape style mirrored and motivated the technical changes found in his figure paintings - initially employing both Impressionist and Pointillist techniques (fig. 1), and latterly engaging in more expressive brushwork and colour. These stylistic changes also reflected his intellectual concerns - at the turn of the century he painted en plein air like his Impressionist contemporaries in France which endowed his early work with a level of naturalistic fidelity. However, as Johannes Dobai explains: Klimt, unlike the Impressionists, was not fascinated by a form of art which represented, ultimately, the perfection of naturalism, and hence the artistic apogee of an empirically positivist view of the world. Instead Klimts inner passion was for making his understanding more real focusing on what constituted the essence of things behind their mere physical appearance []. The development of his treatment of the picture surface reveals that Klimt must have been well acquainted with the techniques of Impressionism and Pointillism, although he did not set pure colours next to one another. He graded his colours in a way which bears comparison to Monet and Seurat, although his Klimts work is more refined the artist wished to create a mood painting (J. Dobai, Gustav Klimt, Landscapes, London, 1988, pp. 12-15). In the mid-1910s this changed and working primarily inside his studio he pioneered a decorative intensity and symbolism of his own devising, and which was to become his greatest contribution to the history of art. This shift was in part inspired by a major exhibition of paintings by Van Gogh at the Galerie Miethke in Vienna which Klimt visited and greatly admired (fig. 3). Seeing Van Gogh's ability to render brilliantly coloured landscapes using pure paint and few traditional techniques emboldened Klimt and he began using much thicker brushwork. These works reached their zenith in the flower paintings of 1905-1908 (figs. 4 & 5) wherein, as Frank Whtiford explains: His paintings are faithful to what he saw, yet at the same time they go beyond it. They use design and texture, pattern and colour, in order to make the transitory permanent, to arrest the fleeting, to transform and fix a world that is constantly changing and decaying into an immutable paradise (F. Whitford, Klimt, London, 1990, p. 184). The square-canvas format chosen by Klimt for the present work heightens its visual impact and creates a marked difference to traditional landscape painting. Klimt started to use this type of support exclusively for landscapes in 1899, with the format used to impart two specific effects; the symmetry denies the dominance of either horizontal or vertical elements in the picture, thus containing the scene with a tighter efficience, and secondly the square increases the sense that these are objects for contemplation - they emanate atmosphere. Significantly Claude Monet had started to use the square format in 1898 until 1916 to depict his waterlily ponds at Giverny (fig. 6). Monet was attempting to increase the impact of the surface of his paintings; the square negated the traditional emphasis on perspective and gave his daring brushwork a stable support upon which to play. Both Klimt and Monet used this technical innovation to make a break from the accepted form of landscape art. Frank Whitford has suggested that one particular characteristic of Klimts landscapes was that the majority have an extremely high horizon line, or lack one altogether, so that their subjects, whether flower beds, woods or meadows, seem to unfurl before the eye from top to bottom of the canvas, more like tapestries or rugs than paintings (ibid., p. 184). The unconventional composition of the Bauerngarten is also key to its visual and symbolic potency. Discussing the present work, Johannes Dobai wrote: In Flower Garden the basic motif is a kind of floral pyramid; the triangular shape - which tends to have a condensing effect - contains an abundance of flowers and leaves, all of varying size, colour, luminosity and characteristics; it contains a 'multiplicity in simplicity'. The positioning of these elements follows the 'rule' of uncultivated, untamed nature - accident and agglomeration. Just as the seeds are carried away at the whim of the wind, so the blossoms grow in distorted clusters, although occasionally there is as rigorous a geometry about them as there is about the square of the painting itself. Bottom right, for instance, there is a group comprising four flowers; three of them lie horizontally at equal distance from one another, while above the third flower on the right there floats a fourth of the same species. In other clusters there is a similar dialectical interplay between geometry and disorder. Now and again within the pyramid individual flowers appear, almost like surprise special effects, in this firework display of summer heat (J. Dobai, Gustav Klimt Landscapes, Boston, 1988, p. 19). The triangular arrangement of the uppermost flowers enrobed by poppies and zinnias bears some striking visual similarities to that of several figurative paintings that were executed during the same period. This direct comparison can provoke certain allegorical readings of the work, as well as offering a more human interpretation of its floral display. As Thomas Zaunschirm has written about Bauerngarten: The flowers are composed in an almost anthropomorphic manner on what is still a flickering green surface of obsessive detail (T. Zaunschirm quoted in A. Weidinger (ed.), op. cit., 2007, p. 285). Furthermore, Johannes Dobai believed that the locus of Klimt's thematic material is the erotic, which branches into its sexual and biological aspects. The predilection toward the erotic can be noted both in figural compositions and in landscape (J. Dobai, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, New York, 1965, pp. 23-24). During the years 1905-1908 Klimt painted some of his most celebrated and innovative figurative works, including Der Kuss, Der Hoffnung II (fig. 9) and his golden portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (fig. 1). The compositions of these major works all reference the bejewelled studies of flowers worked on during the summer months, and their dazzling intensity is mainly derived not from his use of gold and silver pigments, but their sections of superb brushwork depicting brightly coloured flowers. Richard Muther was one of the earliest critics to identify the close connection between Klimts landscape paintings and the golden figurative works, writing: In addition to the feeling for form, there is an amazing sense for the voluptuous atmosphere power of colours... A miserable nature, a nature working in the service of man, a sedate nature, peaty bogs and steaming fields were never painted by Klimt. In his work, even the lake is not threatening or gloomy. It resembles a beautiful womans silk gown, shimmering and flirtatiously sparkling with blue, grass green, and violet tones (R. Muther, quoted in Gustav Klimt Landscapes (exhibition catalogue), op. cit. p. 68). This sentiment is particularly prescient considering Klimts close friendship with the fashion designer Emilie Flöge, with whom he had an intense personal and artistic relationship and with whom every year he spent holidays in the Salzkammergut countryside. Intriguingly Klimt also designed dresses for Emilie, many of which were decorated with stylised flower patterns enabling life to imitate his art. The present work was acquired by the Národní Galerie in Prague in 1910 where it remained until 1968. It was first exhibited in Prague at the Deutsch-Böhmischer Kunstlerbund in 1910, where it received a great deal of praise and attention, including the reviewer in the Prager Tagblatt, who praised this gloriously luminous country meadow that, like the sky in summer, glitters with hundreds of stars (quoted in T. Natter (ed.), op. cit., p. 603). Signed Gustav Klimt (lower right)

  • GBRGroßbritannien
  • 2017-03-01

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Kunst, Malerei und Grafik

Kunstauktionen mit Gemälden aus früheren Zeiten bis zur Gegenwart sind zusammen mit Zeichnungen, Lithografien, Radierungen, Collagen, Postern und Filmplakaten in dieser Kategorie gesammelt. Sie finden Kunst in jeder Preisklasse und haben die Chance, bei Auktionen Kunstwerke von weltbekannten Namen, aber auch Werke von weniger bekannten Künstlern zu finden.