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Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta

Monumental in narrative scope and expressive scale, Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta thunderously embodies the structural tenets of the academic genre of History Painting articulated through Jean-Michel Basquiat’s iconic vernacular. A certifiably unrivalled tour-de-force of Basquiat’s output, the present work was included in many of the artist’s most important travelling retrospectives, including at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1992-93, the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1996, and the Brooklyn Museum in 2005-6. The painting extends majestically across a frieze of five panels, emulating classical ideals of pictorial storytelling akin to the architectural organization of the Elgin marbles or a Renaissance altarpiece, while its luscious painterly surface evokes the impassioned gestural brushwork of Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning. Beyond the complexity of its unnerving formal harmony lies a multivalent chronicle of African-American history, archetypal of Basquiat’s exploration into the psychology of the collective diaspora. Just as the most significant History Paintings depicted rapt moments of intense unrest, Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta records the historical struggles permeating Basquiat’s African-American roots, communicated through the particular lens of his own biography. Drawing from an encyclopedic breadth of iconographic inspirations such as literature, music, science and anatomy, the present work possesses an intricate multiplicity that instantly arrests but rewards persistent re-evaluation. Belonging to a very small number of intensely compelling multi-paneled paintings executed in 1983—the year of Basquiat’s twenty-third birthday—Undiscovered  Genius of the Mississippi Delta distinguishes itself for its unabashed ambition. The work is constructed from five separate panels of canvas pulled over protruding, exposed wooden stretcher beams. Both the leftmost panel and the center panel are fastened to their adjoining canvases by naked unpainted door-hinges bolted to the top and bottom edges of their stretchers. While the entire painting possesses a magnificent pictorial cohesion, each of the five canvases retains a singular resonance characteristic of Basquiat’s most breathtaking compositions. The present work is a consummate example of many of the most important themes and subjects that were of primary concern to Basquiat throughout his career. Racial histories figure into the equation most prominently through Basquiat’s citation of Mark Twain, the eminent American author whose Adventures of Huckleberry Finn follows the young Huck as he travels along the Mississippi River. Written twenty years after the abolishment of slavery, the novel was set decades earlier in order to expose the climate of moral confusion surrounding the racial injustices of the time. Twain’s groundbreaking novel is considered a scathing satire of the attitude toward racism; his controversial writing in the dialect of the period, a patois littered with slurs, is evocative of Basquiat’s characteristic adoption of a primitive iconographic lexicon of scrawled letters and elementary forms in order to fully embody the subject that he probes. As is emblematic of Basquiat’s most multifaceted paintings, text saturates every surface of the canvas, but here it uniquely adopts a syncopated rhythm in the cadence of its repetition. The title of the work when spoken out loud irrefutably pulses to the ticking of a metronome, while the words “Mississippi,” “Mark Twain,” and “Negroes,” each repeated row after row, induce the sonic beating of a drum. As Francesco Pellizzi observed, “His use of words, however, belongs more to the oral traditions of Afro-American cultures—the ecstatic invocations of Voodoo worshipers; the inflamed and inflaming spiritual rhetoric of Baptist preachers with their rousing, recurring, rhythmic juxtapositions of ethical, cosmological, and practical tenets; and, of course, now, black rap…” (Francesco Pellizzi in Exh. Cat., New York, Vrej Baghoomian Inc., Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1989, p. 16) The auditory quality of Basquiat’s painting catapults the work deeper within the fabric of the African-American narrative, aligning it within spoken histories passed down from generation to generation, while uniquely blending in a rhythmic quality reminiscent of the music that figures significantly into many of Basquiat’s paintings. Basquiat, after all, was a musician and a DJ, and incorporated his reverence for certain jazz heroes such as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis into his pictorial lexicon. Rousing connotations of self-portraiture are inherent in the very title of the painting, suggesting Basquiat’s recognition of his own rising fame coincident with his ancestral roots. Whether or not his lineage is traceable back to the antebellum South, it is a fundamental component of Basquiat’s cognitive construction of the self that he has risen up from the shackles of slavery to find liberation in the canvas. The artist utilized the mechanism of repetition to empty words of their meaning, seemingly beating the words “Mississippi” and “Negroes” over and over again until he overpowered their painful resonance; we can see here a potent visualization of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of the “death drive,” a compulsion to repeat traumas until their inordinate repetition discharges them of all psychic energy and renders them overcome. In striving to paint such a magnanimous portrait of slavery in the deep American South—memories that haunt the collective black consciousness—Basquiat passionately hammers out the history in paint until it is abandoned of authority and can no longer be a traumatic force upon him. Basquiat’s most powerful images present young black heroic figures that assert their strength, independence and liberation, exploring what it means to be black in modern-day America; here, he notably seems to posit himself within the narrative of the canvas. At the uppermost left, “Fig 23” is boxed in next to a portrait of a head resembling Basquiat. Having just turned 23, Basquiat appears to announce himself at the prologue of the painting, positioned just above the title. Merely a “Fig,” the artist conceives himself as statistic—a symbol within a greater trajectory of history. In the center panel, a graphically striking anatomical deconstruction of a head dismantled into its constituent parts, peers through a viewfinder toward the rest of the panels—a hovering presence that suggestively locates the entire image’s narrative as seen through his perspective. Moreover, Basquiat visually juxtaposed the two black human heads with a cow’s head, a rat, and two udders, graphically equating man with animal meat through anatomical associations. Basquiat’s fascination with anatomical drawing originated in his childhood, when after being hit by a car at the age of seven, he spent a month recovering in hospital. His mother gave him a copy of Grays Anatomy, an anecdotal genesis that informs Basquiat’s most ravishing, diagrammatically incisive pictures. While Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta tempts its viewers to uncover a precise linear narrative, Basquiat’s all-over complexity renders this endeavor futile. The panels cannot be read in a direct progression from left to right, but rather, they merge in a barrage of rich pictorial data that together cohere as one. As Marc Mayer wrote of the enigmatic iconography of Basquiat’s pictures, “Basquiat speaks articulately while dodging the full impact of clarity like a matador. We can read his pictures without strenuous effort—the words, the images, the colors, and the construction—but we cannot quite fathom the point that they belabor… To enjoy them, we are not meant to analyze these pictures too carefully. Quantifying the encyclopedic breadth of his research certainly results in an interesting inventory, but the sum cannot adequately explain his pictures, which requires an effort outside the purview of iconography… This elaboration of the work’s indeterminacy—and not the uncooked technique that came to him without a struggle—is Basquiat’s equivalent of Picasso’s and Matisse’s studied ‘primitivism,’ and at which he worked just as hard, given its thorough consistency. That is, he painted a calculated incoherence, calibrating the mystery of what such apparently meaning-laden pictures might ultimately mean.” (Marc Mayer, “Basquiat in History,” in Exh. Cat., New York, Brooklyn Museum (and travelling), Jean-Michel Basquiat, 2005, p. 50) Chief among Basquiat’s influences were the Abstract Expressionists, whose illustrious spell is discernible in the thick swaths of radiant yellows, blues, whites and browns swooping vigorously across the panels of the present work. Basquiat built up the surface in multiple layers of pigment, visible in the variegated colors and scratched out textual inscriptions that peek through vast overlying swaths of paint. Possessing a sophisticated knowledge of art history, Basquiat infused his painting with a defined instinctual understanding of the language of abstraction. Forceful painterly strokes are deployed with an assured command. The artist’s brute force of application, and corresponding layering of paint and line through brush, collage and oil stick, confers a remarkably paroxysmal yet deliberate compositional clarity amidst a terrain of exuberant formalism. There is no spatial recession or perspectival logic to the composition. Rather, imbued with the frantic exertion and the poured, dripping aesthetic of Jackson Pollock; the exuberant colorism and dramatic painterly gesture of Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline; combined with the integration of text and blackboard-like surfaces of Cy Twombly, Basquiat’s grasp and deployment of twentieth-century American art history reverberates through the painting. Born to Puerto Rican and Haitian parents, and raised in Brooklyn, Basquiat drew from his manifold ancestral background and racial identity to forge a body of work acutely conscious of his contribution to the meta-narrative of an almost exclusively white Western art history. Basquiat aligned himself stylistically with Picasso, whose Guernica is a History Painting of the highest order and for whom primitivism was an antidote to the conservatism of the academies. Basquiat found in primitivism a correlative mode for expressing an overtly contemporary angst tied to his own black identity, embodying his projected “blackness” while subverting these very identity constructions by emulating Western conventions of painting. Kellie Jones wrote, “…there is no question that Jean-Michel Basquiat, though he sometimes chose to obscure the fact, knew how to ‘paint Western art,’ and was a formidable part of that tradition… His skill was also in his energetic articulations of the ‘neological construction of a black paradigm,’ as outlined by [Gerardo] Mosquera… However, Basquiat’s mischievous, complex, neologistic side, with regard to the fashioning of modernity and the influence and effluence of black culture, is often elided by critics and viewers—lost in translation… Certain related history paintings, such as Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta, are also fairly easily digestible forms of black culture. Through the lens of multiculturalism, these scenes visually signify blackness, are already overdetermined, and as self-contained, U.S. black history can be assigned to ‘the margins of modernism’ as hermetically sealed dioramas of, dare I write it, ‘the other'.” (Kellie Jones, “Lost in Translation: Jean-Michel in the (Re)Mix” in Ibid, p. 166) Sophisticated, confident and radiating a conviction of artistic vision, the vivacious iconographic power of Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta is a sheer testament to the thriving talent of a young and brilliant artistic spirit who, by 1983, had truly secured his position at the vanguard of an artistic consciousness. The present work solidified Basquiat as a figure who dashed effortlessly between art historical precedents in order to create a wholly individual painting deeply suffused with personal history, memory and emotion. He redefined the genre of History Painting by brazenly inserting himself at its center, inexplicably painting a picture that animates the annals of oral tradition through his own inimitable perspective. Titled

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-05-13
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Nude Sunbathing

A radiant vision of exquisite beauty and devastating allure, Roy Lichtenstein’s Nude Sunbathing unequivocally embodies the very essence of confident and unadulterated female sensuality. From the sultry gaze of her half-lidded blue eyes to the languorous arch of her slender back, the idle motion of cascading blonde curls to the coquettish pout of her scarlet mouth, every inch of Lichtenstein’s breathtaking bombshell is imbued with a magnetic charisma that completely and utterly seduces the viewer. A resounding testament to the visual dynamism of Lichtenstein’s bold signature style, Nude Sunbathing constitutes the ultimate crystallization of the artist’s enduring engagement with the quintessential heroine of his inimitable oeuvre; freed from the narrative constraints of her previous embodiments, Lichtenstein’s nude revels in the enjoyment of her own peerless form. Executed in 1995, the present work is a masterpiece from Lichtenstein’s celebrated late Nudes, the first series the artist undertook following his acclaimed retrospective in 1993 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and, ultimately, the last major body of work before the artist’s death in 1997. Testifying to the incontrovertible allure of the monumental paintings, this limited series is distributed amongst the world’s most renowned public and private collections; the present work, held in the same private collection since the year following its execution and never before offered for public sale, numbers amongst the finest examples of the Nudes ever to appear at auction. The intimately close-cut tableau of Nude Sunbathing brings Lichtenstein’s seductress bewitchingly close to the viewer, her sensuous curves filling the frame with a confidence and self-possessed sexuality unrivaled in other examples. Presented against the radiantly prismatic abstract backdrop of Lichtenstein’s trademark Ben-Day dots, Nude Sunbathing, the only example from the series to be rendered in an emboldened red-on-red palette, relishes her status as the singular focus of the viewer’s adoring gaze. Her languid pose, one hand leisurely raised to gently toy with lustrous blonde locks, enacts a bold and unapologetic invocation of such canonical nudes as Matisse’s Draped Nude and Titian’s Venus of Urbino, effortlessly invoking centuries of art historical legacy with captivating aplomb. In Nude Sunbathing, Lichtenstein enters a final, dazzling confrontation with the weighty mantle of his artistic predecessors: with the daring provocation of Manet’s Olympia, the exquisite loveliness of Botticelli’s Venus, and the radical stylistic innovation of Ingres’s La Grande Odalisque, Nude Sunbathing is a magnificent example of Lichtenstein’s ultimate contribution to Contemporary art. A beguiling mixture of iconic familiarity and inaccessible perfection, Nude Sunbathing marks Lichtenstein’s ultimate and final reunion with his signature blondes. These peerless idols of femininity, gleaned from the pages of comic books and advertisements, appear in Lichtenstein’s oeuvre as early as Girl with Ball of 1961, held in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York; over the course of the 1960s, Lichtenstein’s heroines appeared in a number of disparate narratives and guises, ranging from the distressed damsel of Drowning Girl to the domestic temptress of Girl in Bath.  Undisputed icons of postwar American art, Lichtenstein’s Girls exemplify the explicit tension at the very core of the artist’s practice: an irreconcilable distinction between the quotidian imagery of popular culture and the refined cultural paradigm of fine art. Remarking upon the significance of these women within the artist’s oeuvre, his wife, Dorothy Lichtenstein, comments, "I think that he was portraying his idea of the dream girl." (Dorothy Lichtenstein in conversation with Jeff Koons in Exh. Cat, New York, Gagosian Gallery, Lichtenstein: Girls, 2008, p. 15) In the late 1970s, Lichtenstein’s archetypal female underwent a radical stylistic transformation, departing from her role as the heroine of fictional and comic narrative to be reintroduced in a fantastical Surrealist dreamscape of compositional fragmentation and abstracted symbolism. Following the Surrealist paintings, Lichtenstein did not revive his signature subject matter until the mid-1990s when, following his major 1993 retrospective, the artist embarked upon his celebrated late Nudes. In her essay on the Nudes in the recent Lichtenstein retrospective co-organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and the Tate Modern, London, scholar Sheena Wagstaff refers to the Nudes as “monumental celebrations of domesticated eroticism,” further noting, “Lichtenstein hit upon deliberately provocative subject matter in his Nudes… their undeniable frisson of pictorial eroticism both problematizes a compositional architecture's integrity and highlights Lichtenstein's supreme mastery of form, distilled over a lifetime of pursuing technical perfection.” (Sheena Wagstaff, "Late Nudes," in Exh. Cat., Art Institute of Chicago, Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, 2012, pp. 95, 97) As in his iconic paintings of the 1960s, the pose and delightful physique of the stunning blonde in the present work is drawn from popular culture; in this case, Lichtenstein culled his inspiration from the DC Comic Heart Throbs, in which our beauty lounges, her bedroom eyes seductively fluttering, as she reflects, “Danny likes me…I can tell….He likes me for me…but he doesn’t know I can be beautiful." In Nude Sunbathing, as in the other paradigmatic examples from the Nudes, Lichtenstein confronts his heroine in her final, conclusive iteration; stripped bare of the trappings of narrative drama or stylistic rendering, the artist’s dream girl appears in her purest and undiluted form, her alluring and sensual contours rendered with boldly unhindered erotic charge. While women have always featured prominently within the artist’s quintessential Pop lexicon, Lichtenstein returned to his signature subject matter—the female form—in the Nudes with a new, more powerful syntax. Wagstaff notes, “In the Nudes, not only did Lichtenstein alter the equation in the compositional tension between motif and formal concerns, but also, crucially, he seized upon a new pictorial language. He deduced and acknowledged the nude as a form through which a new syntax could emerge by means of an understated narrative that implies a relationship between the artist-creator and the nude—a contemporary rendition of the Pygmalion-artist conjuring a plausible painterly version of his Galatean muse. Both the artistic and the perceptual tension between form and content, most especially in those paintings that intensified this balance through a mirroring device, were to occupy Lichtenstein in the last years of his life.” (Ibid., 95) Unlike the earlier women, embroiled in romantic trysts or histrionic exploits, Nude Sunbathing does not offer an explicit storyline; instead, the only suggestion of narrative is held in the suggestive glimmer and implied sexuality of her heavily lidded eyes, which gaze at something—or someone—beyond the viewer’s field of vision. Remarking upon the elusive allure of the Nudes, Edward Said notes, “Lichtenstein’s Nudes signal the tension between what is represented and what isn’t represented, between the articulate and the silent.” (Edward W. Said, On Late Style: Music, and Literature against the Grain, 2006, p. xix) Moreover, in their unapologetic celebration of the female form, Lichtenstein’s Nudes capture a more contemporary and more provocative characterization of femininity. Critic Avis Berman comments, "The 1990s Nudes take pleasure in their own company, without the slightest hint of needing or missing a man. They are not paralyzed by their emotions. In contrast to Lichtenstein's original romance-comic pictures, this world flourishes exuberantly without men or engagement rings or kisses." (Exh. Cat., Vienna, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Roy Lichtenstein: Classic of the New, 2005, p. 143) Indeed, as she languidly reclines, gently toying with a thick, lustrous lock of blonde hair, the nude of the present work is utterly unconcerned by the viewer’s voyeuristic gaze upon the sensuous curves of her body; confident in the profound power of her allure, Nude Sunbathing accepts her rightful place within the timeless canon of nudes throughout art history. In his late focus upon the larger-than-life Nudes, which dominated his considerable creative faculties in the final years of his career, Lichtenstein paid homage to the iconic subject matter of two of his greatest mentors: Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. For both of these artists, the nude operated as the original signifier of desire, codified and distilled into the sinuous contours of the idealized female form. Recalling the profound influence these artists enacted upon Lichtenstein, Dorothy Lichtenstein notes, “He grew up studying [the Venus de Milo], but I think he felt more challenged by what we would call the early Modernists – Picasso, Cézanne, and Matisse. He felt that they had restructured painting and they were actually part of his time. He grew up in New York, and so these were really the first works he saw in the Museum of Modern Art.” (Dorothy Lichtenstein in conversation with Jeff Koons in Exh. Cat, New York, Gagosian Gallery, Lichtenstein: Girls, 2008, p. 11) Throughout his career, these giants of Modernism remained touchstones for Lichtenstein, their investigation of the aesthetic quandaries of modern art—namely  the relationship between subject and artist, the temporal nature of reality, and the formal functions of line, light, and color—mirrored within his own oeuvre.  In particular, Lichtenstein’s late Nudes trace a markedly similar trajectory to the remarkable creative vigor of Picasso’s artistic experimentation of the late 1920s and early 1930s; in these years, the so-called Marie-Thérèse era, Picasso, inspired and enlivened by the beauty and vitality of his youthful mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, embarked upon a series of formally inventive and powerfully volumetric paintings, sculptures, and etchings of his beloved’s voluptuous form. While Lichtenstein revisited Picasso’s oeuvre with increasing verve in the years following the latter’s death in 1973, the 1990s Nudes represent the crowning achievement and final culmination of the aesthetic engagement between the two.  The exhibitions Picasso and the Weeping Women: Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar, organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1994, and Picasso and Portraiture, mounted by the Museum of Modern Art in early 1996, further contributed to Lichtenstein’s focus upon the Modern master’s renderings of the female form in the mid-1990s.  Indeed, although the figural source for Nude Sunbathing is characteristically pulled from the fantasy realm of comic books, her languid pose is startlingly reminiscent of Picasso’s 1932 rendering of Marie-Thérèse in Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, while her cascading drapery, formally complementing and accentuating the silhouette of her slim thighs and abdomen, powerfully evokes Henri Matisse’s Draped Nude of 1936. Lichtenstein’s invocation of these canonical nudes of Modernism in the present work is, however, delightfully problematized by her affinity with the glorified pin-up bombshells of American popular media. Absorbing and advancing the cause of his artistic predecessors, Nude Sunbathing is Lichtenstein’s Pop answer to a decade long dialogue with the iconic nudes of the Twentieth Century. Lichtenstein’s arresting use of his trademark Ben-Day dots in Nude Sunbathing, echoed in other decisive examples of the late Nudes,  profoundly intensifies the artist’s already potent visual vernacular.  Addressing the formal brilliance of the Nudes, Sheena Wagstaff reflects, "By the 1990s, [Lichtenstein] had discovered a new way to render color plane and contour, filtered through his profound understanding of mutual influence—an artistic process of call-and-response that defined the innovations of both  Picasso and Matisse in the 1930s in holding the pictorial framework in tension.” (Sheena Wagstaff, "Late Nudes," in Exh. Cat., Art Institute of Chicago, Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, 2012, p. 98) Describing the artistic impulse which prompted him to embark upon the late Nudes, Lichtenstein explains, “With my nudes, I wanted to mix artistic conventions that you would think incompatible, namely chiaroscuro and local color, and see what happened. I’d seen something similar in Léger’s work. My nudes are part light and shade, and so are the backgrounds, with dots to indicate the shade. The dots are also graduated from large to small, which usually suggests modeling in people’s minds, but that’s not what you get with these figures.” (Roy Lichtenstein, quoted in Michael Kimmelmann, Portraits: Talking with Artists at the Met, the Modern, the Louvre, and Elsewhere, New York, 1998, p. 89) Lichtenstein’s remarkable employment of the Ben-Day dots in Nude Sunbathing achieves the suggestion of chiaroscuro, long used by artists to evoke the volumetric modeling of three-dimensional subjects, while simultaneously evoking the artist’s iconic Pop lexicon. Cascading across the alabaster flesh of his lounging subject, the scarlet Ben-Day dots expand and contract with meticulous precision, intensifying to bold rows across one slender shoulder before fading to bright pinpricks along the curves of her torso. The modeled treatment of the Ben-Day dots upon the nude strikes a stark contrast with the uniformed red pattern of the background, further highlighting the appearance of illuminating rays upon her naked form. Reflecting upon Lichtenstein’s remarkable use of the Ben-Day dots in the Nudes, Harry Coplans remarks, “In this daring return to the human figure, Lichtenstein employed the dots to depict the flush—not the blush—of female flesh.” He continues, “But wait: the waves of dots exceed the outlines of the figures, continuing into other objects or into the background. The figure has been overtaken, abducted. Dots course through the scene and settle here or there, their action difficult to understand, obscuring bodies and crossing boundaries, like a cataract in the sense of both waterfall and obstruction of vision. As these dots, following their own formal and psychic logic, spread beyond the body, they escape narrative and depiction to become identified instead with the surface of the painting, the plane where the subject and object, artist/beholder and model, would meet, the intersubjective space of the blush.” (Harry Cooper, “On the Dot,” in Exh. Cat., Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago (and travelling), Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, 2012, p. 33) While the entirety of Lichtenstein’s output is marked by an economy of means, the radical pictorial language of the late Nudes was unprecedented.  Speaking in the year the present work was painted, Lichtenstein remarked, “I’m trying to make paintings like giant musical chords, with a polyphony of colors that is nuts but works…It’s tough to make a painting succeed in terms of color and drawing within the constraints I insist on for myself.” (Roy Lichtenstein quoted in Michael Kimmelmann, “At the Met with: Roy Lichtenstein; Disciple of Color and Line, Master of Irony,” New York Times, March 31, 1995, p. C27) Showcasing his remarkable technical virtuosity, Lichtenstein creates a striking and complex composition from the limited vernacular of patterned dots and saturated splashes of prismatic primary colors, constrained and defined by the bold contours of his thick black outlines. By highlighting his figure within a tightly cropped frame, Lichtenstein further imbues his painting with a heightened intensity and emphatic force; as John Coplans suggested, “This paring away of the unessential led Lichtenstein to a sharper confrontation with the outside world, to a wider range and sharper focus in his use of stereotype… It is not that Lichtenstein avoids painting the whole figure because it is too complex but, rather, that the whole figure is too specific, too anecdotal for his purpose. Too much detail weakens the focus and the power of the image to immediately and recognizably signal the desired content. Thus, Lichtenstein crops away until he gets to the irreducible minimum and compresses into the format the exact cliché he desires to expose. Lichtenstein’s technique is similar to his imagery: He reduces his form and color to the simplest possible elements in order to make an extremely complex statement. In short, he uses a reductive imagery and a reductive technique for their sign-carrying potential.” (John Coplans, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1972, p. 23) Set against an abstract background of pure pattern, Nude Sunbathing is amongst the most emphatic articulations of Lichtenstein’s emphasis upon style and form in the late Nudes; unlike other examples from the series, which contextualize and domesticate the Nudes within lush interiors and playful narratives, the present work commits itself, utterly and entirely, to the celebration of line, color, and light in the beautiful form of the central figure. Achieving a sensational juxtaposition of prosaic popular imagery with the exalted dominion of fine art, Nude Sunbathing is amongst the most succinct and compelling embodiments of Lichtenstein’s unique artistic project. More than any other artist of his generation, Lichtenstein instinctively understood the phenomenal potential of popular imagery and endeavored to realign the cipher of that imagery to unveil verities behind the ever-proliferating pictorial panorama of contemporary culture in Twentieth-Century America. By invoking the impersonal artifice of mass-produced visuals in his meticulously rendered Ben-Day dots, Lichtenstein’s oeuvre enlists and effectively subverts the expectations of his audience, offering us a brilliantly executed masterwork disguised as the everyday visual matter of contemporary popular culture. In the final years of his career, Lichtenstein further heightened the stakes of his aesthetic endeavor, harnessing the familiar iconicity of mainstream media to depict art history’s ultimate symbol for formal perfection, from antiquity to the present. The annals of art history virtually overflow with examples of seminal nudes, from the cherished marble proportions of Praxitales’s Aphrodite of Knidos, to the frank eroticism of Titian’s Venus of Urbino, to the radical innovation of Picasso’s Demoiselles d'Avignon; in each, the artist offered a purified, conclusive embodiment of his unique aesthetic treatise. There is a profound eloquence to the Nudes, as Lichtenstein’s last significant body of work; Wagstaff notes, “In its powerful iconicity, the nude as an evocative embodiment of the creative process itself is reticulated through serial reiteration of the subject matter. It is the discovery and convulsive act of formal genesis—and Lichtenstein’s symbolic transfiguration of pictorial skin and gristle—that signals its real pictorial metamorphosis, and thus become the means of simultaneously overcoming yet emphasizing its narrative associations. Lichtenstein’s Nudes, created in the last four years of his life, are a profoundly innovative and active meditation upon the relationship of creation and perception.” (Sheena Wagstaff, "Late Nudes," in Exh. Cat., Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago (and travelling), Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, 2012, p. 103-104) Signed and dated 95 on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2017-05-18
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Venice, The Grand Canal, looking North-East from Palazzo Balbi to

This painting, which has been inaccessable to scholars since 1940, is the most significant Canaletto rediscovery for more than a decade and has a particularly distinguished provenance, only recently identified. The view is taken from the Palazzo Foscari on the sharp bend in the Grand Canal, known as the Volta de Canal, roughly equidistant from its entrance onto the Bacino di San Marco and the Rialto Bridge. Looking North-East from there the whole of the longest straight stretch of the canal is visible, as far as the Rialto Bridge, part of which is shown in the far distance, with the roof and dome of the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo beyond. Apart from being a particularly well balanced composition, and one in which water occupies the full breadth of the canvas, the view has the relatively unusual distinction of being observable, even from some height above the water, from the vantage point of the Palazzo Foscari. The foreground is dominated by the façade on the left of the Palazzo Balbi, built in 1582-90 to the designs of Alessandro Vittoria. A macchina erected next to the Palazzo Balbi was the focal point of the annual regatta (gondola race), from it the winners receiving their flags and prizes. The view is consequently known above all as the setting for depictions of regattas, including no fewer than three by Luca Carlevarijs, two showing The Regatta on the Grand Canal in Honour of Frederick IV, King of Denmark, 4 March 1709 (Nationalhistoriske Museum på Frederiksborg Hillerød, Denmark; and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, the latter dated 1711; A. Rizzi, Luca Carlevarijs, Venice 1967, reproduced plates V, 35-7 and 39-40) and a third, smaller and showing a different regatta, in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg (ibid., reproduced plate 41). The first of these would certainly have been known to Canaletto from Giuseppe Baroni’s engraving of it, published in Domenico Lovisa’s Il Gran Teatro di Venezia of 1717 (ibid., reproduced plate 38). It is also the setting for all of Canaletto’s paintings of regattas, in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen, at Woburn Abbey, in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, in the National Gallery, London, and in a German private collection (Constable, see Literature, nos. 347-51). The view was already a favourite subject of Canaletto long before he began painting festivals in the early 1730s. His earliest depiction of it is probably the large version presumably executed for Johann Wenzel von Liechtenstein and now in the Museo del Settecento Veneziano, Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice (Constable, op. cit., no. 210; Kowalczyk, see Literature, 2001, pp. 138-9, no. 50, reproduced in colour, where dated to 1723). That was probably followed by the version in the Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston upon Hull, probably of circa 1724 (Constable, op. cit., no. 214; Kowalczyk, op. cit., 2005, pp. 56-9, no. 6, reproduced in colour), and by that in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden (1726?; Constable, op. cit., no. 211; catalogue of the exhibition Masterpieces from Dresden, London, Royal Academy of Arts, 15 March - 8 June 2003, pp. 84-7, no. 25, reproduced in colour). Further variants are in the Uffizi, Florence (inscribed on the reverse with the date 1728; Constable, op. cit., no. 213; Kowalczyk, op. cit., 2001, pp. 190-1, no. 70, reproduced in colour; Kowalczyk, op. cit., 2005, pp. 78-81, no. 12, reproduced in colour) and in the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo (late 1720s; Constable, op. cit., no. 212). A sketch in pen and brown ink in the collection of the Courtauld Institute, London, shows the palazzi on the right (ibid., no. 589; Kowalczyk, op. cit., 2001, p. 69, no. 21, reproduced in colour, where connected with the Ca’ Rezzonico painting and dated to circa 1723). The only other version painted after 1730 is the small canvas among the set of twenty-four in the collection of the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey (Constable, op. cit., no. 215). A presumably incomplete series of payments for those was made between February 1733 and April 1736 (ibid., 1989 ed., I, p. xlii, note 27). Although only part of the façade of the Palazzo Balbi is shown, and the palazzi on the right are raised in height, the viewpoint of the Woburn version is almost identical to that adopted for this painting, and the general disposition of the boats is similar. Like the early version in the Ferens Art Gallery this painting, which may be dated to circa 1733 on stylistic grounds, shows the whole of the façade of the Palazzo Balbi, although here the number of arched openings at its centre is corrected from five to three. While it may slightly precede the Woburn version in date, it must have been considered by Canaletto his ‘definitive’ statement on the subject, to which he was never to return. Constable’s assessment of this painting as a replica of the very close version of the same size formerly owned by Sir George Leon (his no. 216) is possibly the most surprising error of judgement in the whole of his catalogue, and was recognised as such by Links (in conversation with Charles Beddington before his death in 1997) although the correction given in his last publication (loc. cit., 1998) is very muted. That painting, now the property of an Italian private collector, has been offered on the market regularly over the last two decades and was exhibited in Barcelona and Madrid in 2001 (see Succi, loc. cit.), on which occasion it was published as a copy by Charles Beddington (C. Beddington, "Review of Canaletto: Una Venècia imaginària, ed. D. Succi and A. Delneri", in The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXLIV, no. 1186, January 2002, p. 34). This painting was formerly accompanied by a pendant showing The Bucintoro returning to the Molo on Ascension Day (Constable, op. cit., vol. I, reproduced plate 64; vol. II, no. 340), which remained with it until its sale by Ader Tajan at the Hôtel George V, Paris, 15 December 1993, lot 13, for FF. 66,000,000 (fig. 1).  On all three occasions that this painting has been exhibited it has been accompanied by the pendant, which was no. 89 in the 1844 exhibition, described as the ‘Marriage of the Doge of Venice’, and no. 68 in the 1861 exhibition, described as the ‘Doge marrying the Adriatic’. The pairing of the two subjects is unusual, the sobriety of this painting contrasting with the gaiety of the pendant. Thus, although this painting is described in the sources only as ‘A View in Venice’ there can be no uncertainty about the identification of the pair. Furthermore, a pair of copies, measuring 72.5 by 91.5 cm. and thought to have been acquired from Dudley Tooth in 1953 as ‘William James’, is currently on the London art market. Although the provenance of this painting and its pendant from the late-eighteenth century has long been known, it is only within the last decade that the remarkable early history of the paintings has been rediscovered.  It was Sir Oliver Millar who first noticed the references to the paintings in the 1736 manuscript catalogue of paintings at 10 Downing Street (see under Literature) and in the 1751 sale, and this information was published by Links, loc. cit., 1998.  The manuscript catalogue of 1736, which is bound into Horace Walpole’s own copy of his Aedes Walponianae, 1752, in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York (PML 7586), describes the two pictures ‘in the Parlour’: no. 125, ‘The Doge of Venice in His Barge, with Gondola’s & Masqueraders. Canaletti. 2-9 1/2 x 4-5 3/4’, and no. 126, ‘A View of Venice. Canaletti. 2-9 1/2 x 4-5 3/4’ (fig. 2).  In the manuscript copy of the 1751 sale, the present picture appears as lot 64, ‘A View in Venice Cannaletti (Raymond for Gideon) 36-15-6’, whilst its pendant appears as the subsequent lot, ‘the Doge marrying the Sea, it’s Companion Ditto (Ditto for Ditto) 34-13-.’ The 1736 reference is of particular significance as it is the earliest record of Canaletto paintings hanging in an English house. It is also of the greatest interest in establishing their first owner as no less a figure than Sir Robert Walpole (fig. 3), whose name had not previously featured in the literature on the artist, although he also owned Two Views of Venice by ‘Canaletti’ listed as nos. 359 and 360 in the 1736 catalogue, as hanging in the Parlour at Orford House in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea (A Capital Collection …, p. 449), but no further details are given and the paintings have not been identified. Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first ‘prime’ minister, who was created Earl of Orford on his fall from power in 1742, was one of the greatest patrons and collectors of his day. Houghton Hall was built for him in 1722-35 to the designs of Colen Campbell and William Kent, and he commissioned from Paul de Lamerie the 'Walpole Salver' (Victoria & Albert Museum, London). He began to collect paintings in the 1720s, and his inventory of 1736 lists 154 at 10 Downing Street, 120 at Houghton, 78 in Chelsea and 66 at 16 Grosvenor Street, Mayfair. These included major works by Poussin, Claude Lorrain, Pietro da Cortona, Carlo Maratti, Guido Reni, Salvator Rosa, Murillo, Adam Elsheimer, Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Jan van Huysum, Jacob Jordaens and Frans Snyders, and particularly fine groups of paintings by Rubens and Van Dyck, including fourteen full-length Wharton family portraits by the latter. Walpole left substantial debts, as a result of which his collection was largely dispersed by auction sales in 1748 and 1751 and, above all, by the private sale in 1779 of the Houghton collection to Catherine II, Empress of Russia, as a result of which most of his more important possessions are now in the Hermitage (see A Capital Collection ..., passim). Walpole was unquestionably the first owner of the paintings by Canaletto, although how he acquired them is not known. He never visited Italy, but it may be relevant that his son Edward, who was charged with buying works of art for his collection, was in Venice between January 1730 and January 1731 (ibid., p. 309). They hung at 10 Downing Street (fig. 4), the eastern part of which was acquired by the crown in 1732 and offered by George II to Walpole as a personal gift; Walpole would only accept it for his office as First Lord of the Treasury and vacated it on his resignation in 1742, since when it has been the official residence of the Prime Minister. The original picture-hanging plans made by Isaac Ware still survive and, together with the 1736 inventory, allow for an accurate reconstruction of arrangement of pictures at Downing Street.  This picture and its pendant hung on either side of the fireplace in the ‘Northeast corner room’, also known as the ‘First-floor Parlour’ (fig. 5).  This room included other pairs of pictures: two oils by Francesco Solimena; The Exposition of King Cyrus and Orpheus described as Castiglione but now attributed to Antonio Maria Vassallo (see A Capital Collection, pp. 178-180, nos. 85 and 86); and A Kitchen piece by David Teniers the Younger (op. cit., pp. 242-3, no. 139) paired with Cook at a Kitchen Table with Dead Game by Paul de Vos (op. cit., p. 246, no. 144).  As Andrew Moore has observed, ‘The effect of these paintings in the rooms at Downing Street was quite stunning and it was here that the collection acquired its early reputation’ (op. cit., p. 24).  The prominent display of this painting and its pendant there provides important support for Professor Bruce Redford’s theories about prominent Whigs commissioning Venetian views in order to emphasize the political parallels between the two states (see B. Redford, Venice and the Grand Tour, New Haven and London 1996, pp. 60-3). While the transitions of ownership are unusually complex, this painting and its pendant have been moved remarkably few times. This, and the fact that this painting has been sold publicly only once (in 1751), helps to account for its exceptional state of preservation. The buyer at the 1751 sale was the stockbroker Sampson Gideon, one of the most successful Jews of his generation in England. Gideon was a major subscriber to government funds and a financial adviser to the brothers Henry Pelham, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Thomas Pelham, 1st Duke of Newcastle. By the mid-1740s he had also become a valued adviser on financial matters to Sir Robert Walpole, who sought his counsel about floating loans for the Spanish War. Unwilling to give up his faith, his son was made a baronet in 1759 at the age of thirteen, and Baron Eardley in 1789, in recognition of his father’s services. Gideon acquired Belvedere, near Erith in Kent (fig. 6), on the death of Lord Baltimore in 1751 and shortly afterwards added a Great Room attributed to Isaac Ware. His collection was small but exceptional, as the Dodsleys observed in 1761: ‘The collection, though not numerous, is very valuable, it containing none but pieces which are originals by the greatest masters, and some of them very capital’ (Dodsley, op. cit., p. 271). Those included Rubens’ Deborah Kip, Wife of Sir Balthasar Gerbier, and her Children, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Murillo’s Immaculate Conception now at Melbourne (U. Hoff, European Paintings before 1800 in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1995, pp. 198-9) and Flight into Egypt now in the Detroit Institute of Arts (exhibited Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682): Paintings from American Collections, 2002, pp. 116-17, no. 3), and two gallery interiors by Teniers, one of which is now at Raby Castle (exhibited Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, The Treasure Houses of Britain, 1985-6, pp. 362-3, no. 291). There was also a Portrait of Snyders and his wife and child by ‘Long Jan’, also bought for Gideon by Raymond at the Walpole sale in 1751 [Second day (June 15), lot 66]. The pair of paintings by Canaletto hung in the Long Parlour, where they were seen and described by the Dodsleys (loc. cit.): ‘View of Venice’ and ‘Ditto, with the Doge marrying the sea Its companion’ Height 2 feet 9 inc. Breadth 4 Feet 6 inc. [Painted by] Canaletti’; these descriptions are repeated by Martyn, loc. cit. They were to remain at Belvedere until 1860, Mrs Philip Lybbe Powys recording in her diary in 1771 having seen ‘two views of Venice by Canaletti’ (see Climenson, loc. cit.) shortly before the remodelling of the house by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart for Sir Sampson Gideon, later Baron Eardley, in circa 1775. Belvedere was visited early in the next century by Edward Wedlake Brayley, who noted (loc. cit.): ‘the collection of pictures evince a very judicious choice: among them is a view of Venice, and its companion, with the ceremony of the Doge marrying the Sea, by Canaletti …’ before going on to mention paintings attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, Giorgione, Holbein and Rembrandt. By the time of the 1856 catalogue of Pictures at Belvedere the two paintings by Canaletto were in the Dining Room, where they were the only framed paintings, the remainder of the decoration of the room being by (or attributed to) Antonio Zucchi and Angelica Kauffman. This painting hung on the left of the chimneypiece, the pendant on the right (They may have been moved here shortly after the remodelling of circa 1775, judging from an annotation, probably in an eighteenth-century hand, in the copy of Dodsley in the library of the National Gallery, London, which records ‘now in the dining Parlour’). They were not among the twenty-one paintings from Belvedere consigned by Sir Culling Eardley for sale at Christie’s on 30 June 1860, nor were they among the ten paintings apparently consigned under the name of Sir Culling Eardley for sale at Christie’s on 6 June 1868, lots 73-82. Along with other paintings from Belvedere (including unsold lots from the 1860 sale) they were moved in 1860 to Bedwell Park, near Hatfield, Hertfordshire. Belvedere was purchased in 1865 as a home by the Royal Alfred Merchant Seamen’s Institution, which it remained until its demolition in 1957. Bedwell, the paintings’ new home, was a late seventeenth century house which had been bought by Sir Culling Smith, 1st Bt., in 1807 and to which significant additions were made in circa 1840 and 1860, presumably in part to accommodate these new embellishments. There the pair of paintings by Canaletto remained until their sale to Agnew’s in 1930. Their whereabouts following their sale by Agnew’s have hitherto been unknown. There is no question, however, that this is the painting reproduced by Moschini in 1954, loc. cit., as in the collection of Mario Crespi, Milan, nor indeed that the pendant is the painting reproduced by him as fig. 114 and colour plate 16 as in the same collection. If one allows that both paintings could have been mistakenly described as measuring 76 by 120 cm. in the catalogue of the Lausanne exhibition of 1947 (of which both bear printed labels on the backs of the frames, but with the numbers 125 C and 125 D rather than the 101 and 102 of the catalogue) then it should be assumed that Constable’s no. 215(a) and 215(b) are both this painting. We are grateful to Charles Beddington for providing this catalogue entry.

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2005-07-07
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Tête de femme

Instantly recognisable as a portrait of Picasso’s celebrated muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, this serene, elegant and radiant composition belongs to the extraordinary group of canvases depicting the artist’s beloved mistress who marked his art of the early 1930s. The present painting is one of the most geometrically complex renderings of Marie-Thérèse, depicted as a bust on a pedestal and reminiscent of the large plaster sculptures of her that he created several years earlier (fig. 1). Picasso completed this canvas at the height of the Surrealist movement in 1935, when Freudian psycho-sexual symbolism played a defining role in the imagery of the avant-garde. But Picasso's composition here, with the deconstructed appearance of the pedestal and the bust, is a decidedly forthright example of the artist's individualism.  Tête de femme is constructed with the sharp, linear elements that were defining features of Picasso's early Cubist compositions, yet the colours are unlike any that Picasso had ever used before - pulsating red, shrill orange and yellow, and soothing marine tones of green and blue. One of the more unexpected elements of the composition is the thickly-painted latticework, reminiscent of Picasso’s chair caning collages from the early century (fig. 3), as well as his still-lifes from the 1920s. Indeed, more than any other model, Marie-Thérèse inspired Picasso's creative genius, and her very image conjured a creative synthesis of the most radical aspects of Picasso's production. What distinguishes this work is the way in which Picasso was able to incorporate elements from various different parts of his own career – most notably the voluminous treatment characteristic of his plastic work, the grid-like background reminiscent of his ground-breaking collages, and the geometric distortions of the figure’s body and facial features borrowed from the Cubist canon. With their rich colouration and their soft yet pronounced curves, Picasso's Marie-Thérèse pictures are renowned as being amongst his most inspired compositions, ranging in mood from dreamy to euphoric. In fact, of all the manifestations of Picasso's exceptionally prolific career, it is during the period dominated by Marie-Thérèse that his creative force was at its most powerful. Among the most significant of these paintings is Tête de femme, created when Marie-Thérèse was firmly at the centre of Picasso's emotional and artistic universe. The work’s unusually vibrant palette is similar to the one he used for his allegorical depictions of Marie-Thérèse reading or drawing, such as Deux femmes (fig. 4), executed several weeks earlier. By the time he painted the present composition, Picasso’s focus on new aesthetic and personal concerns were apparent. In March 1935 Marie-Thérèse was in the early stages of pregnancy with their daughter Maya, who would be born in September, and the composition bears specific references to the young woman’s state, from the swell of her breasts rising in the foreground to the crescent moon - symbol of the Roman fertility goddess Diana - that shadows her face. The simple yet bold outline of the breasts and the green latticework in the background also forecast the linear direction of Picasso’s work in the weeks to come. ‘You have an interesting face. I would like to do a portrait of you. I feel we are going to do great things together.’ It was with these words that Picasso began his almost decade long seduction of Marie-Thérèse, the young woman who would forever be remembered as the artist’s golden muse. His rapturous desire for the girl gave rise to a wealth of images that have been acclaimed as the most erotic and emotionally uplifting compositions of his long career. Picasso's reverence is nowhere more apparent than in the depictions of his lover reading, sleeping or writing, the embodiment of tranquillity and physical acquiescence (fig. 5). In the present composition, however, his model is not engaged in any such activity. Instead, her elegant bust, seemingly looking into the distance, is depicted in its purest form – as a work of art to be revered by its creator and spectator alike. Françoise Gilot, Picasso's companion from a later period of his life, recognised the tantalisingly sculptural possibilities presented by Marie-Thérèse's body during this feverish period: ‘I found Marie-Thérèse fascinating to look at. I could see that she was certainly the woman who had inspired Pablo plastically more than any other. She had a very arresting face with a Grecian profile. The whole series of portraits of blonde women Pablo painted between 1927 and 1935 are almost exact replicas of her... Her forms were handsomely sculptural, with a fullness of volume and a purity of line that gave her body and her face an extraordinary perfection. To the extent that nature offers ideas or stimuli to an artist, there are some forms that are closer than other to any artist's own aesthetic and thus serve as a springboard for his imagination. Marie-Thérèse brought a great deal to Pablo in the sense that her physical form demanded recognition’ (F. Gilot, quoted in L’Amour fou, Picasso and Marie-Thérèse (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2011, pp. 71-72). Picasso first saw Marie-Thérèse on the streets of Paris in 1927, when she was only seventeen years old and while he was entangled in an unhappy marriage to Olga Khokhlova. ‘I was an innocent girl,’ Walter remembered years later. ‘I knew nothing - either of life or of Picasso... I had gone to do some shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, and Picasso saw me leaving the Metro. He simply took me by the arm and said, 'I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together”’ (quoted in Picasso and the Weeping Women (exhibition catalogue), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles & The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994, p. 143). The couple's relationship was kept a well-guarded secret for many years, both on account of Picasso's marriage to Olga and Marie-Thérèse's considerably young age. But the covertness of the affair only intensified Picasso's obsession with the girl, and many of his pictures, with their dramatic contrasts of light and dark, allude to their secret interludes held under cover of darkness. Soon after learning of Marie-Thérèse’s pregnancy on Christmas Eve 1934, Picasso promised to file for a divorce from Olga, and his lawyers told him that he needed to separate from his lover during the proceedings. Picasso was devastated by this forced separation during this intimate moment in their relationship. In the spring of 1935, he dramatically reduced his work on painting for nearly a year and instead devoted himself to poetry. Tête de femme, a rare oil created during this tumultuous time, is a testament to Marie-Thérèse’s transcendent importance as a source of inspiration and solace for the artist. Indeed, Marie-Thérèse would soon take on another role in the artist's life, giving birth to his first daughter Maya in September 1935. But it is in this image from earlier that year that her inspirational force and its impact on Picasso's art were at their most dramatic. Signed Picasso (lower left)

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2016-02-03
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Nymphéas

Monet's famous lily pond in his garden at Giverny provided the subject matter for most of his major later works, paintings whose significance in the development of modern art is now fully recognised. The theme of waterlilies, that became not only Monet's most celebrated series of paintings, but possibly one of the most iconic images of Impressionism, dominated the artist's work over several decades, recording the changes in his style and his constant pictorial innovations. The present example, which dates from 1904, is a powerful testament to Monet's enduring vision and creativity in his mature years. By 1890, Monet had become financially successful enough to buy the house with a large garden at Giverny, which he had rented since 1883. With great vigour and determination, he swiftly set about transforming the gardens and creating a large pond, in which waterlilies gradually matured (figs. 1 & 2). Once the garden was designed according to the artist's vision, it offered a boundless source of inspiration, and provided the major themes that dominated the last three decades of Monet's career. Towards the end of his life, he told a visitor to his studio: 'It took me some time to understand my water lilies. I planted them purely for pleasure; I grew them with no thought of painting them. A landscape takes more than a day to get under your skin. And then, all at once I had the revelation - how wonderful my pond was - and reached for my palette. I've hardly had any other subject since that moment' (quoted in Stephan Koja, Claude Monet (exhibition catalogue), Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, 1996, p. 146). Once discovered, the subject of waterlilies offered a wealth of inspiration that Monet went on to explore for several decades. His carefully designed garden presented the artist with a micro-cosmos in which he could observe and paint the changes in weather, season and time of day, as well as the ever-changing colours and patterns. John House wrote: 'The water garden in a sense bypassed Monet's long searches of earlier years for a suitable subject to paint. Designed and constantly supervised by the artist himself, and tended by several gardeners, it offered him a motif that was at the same time natural and at his own command - nature re-designed by a temperament. Once again Monet stressed that his real subject when he painted was the light and weather' (J. House, Monet: Nature into Art, Newhaven, 1986, p. 31). In the present work, Monet's primary interest is in depicting the effects of light on the surface of the pond and on the waterlilies themselves and the play of shadows and modulations of light that the weather creates. Moving towards an increasingly abstract treatment of space, Monet focused almost entirely on the water surface. He reduced the horizon to a small patch of blue pigment in the upper left corner of the composition, thus minimising the illusion of depth and perspective. The sky and the trees, placed outside the scope of the canvas, are present through their reflection in the water. The surface of the canvas thus becomes a two-dimensional pattern, acquiring a spatial continuity in which all parts of the composition are treated with equal importance. The elimination of the horizon line led Monet towards a transition from the horizontal format (fig. 3) to the square canvases (figs. 4 & 5), that he started using in the year the present work was executed. In 1914, Monet began to conceive of his Grandes décorations (fig. 3), a sequence of monumental paintings of the gardens that would take his depictions of the waterlily pond in a dramatic new direction. The artist envisaged an environment in which the viewer would be completely surrounded by the paintings. He wrote: 'The temptation came to me to use this water-lily theme for the decoration of a drawing room: carried along the length of the walls, enveloping the entire interior with its unity, it would produce the illusion of an endless whole, of a watery surface with no horizon and no shore; nerves exhausted by work would relax there, following the restful example of those still waters, [...] a refuge of peaceful meditation in the middle of a flowering aquarium' (quoted in Claude Roger-Marx, 'Les Nymphéas de Monet', in Le Cri de Paris, Paris, 23rd May 1909). In the later part of his career, it was Monet's intention to depict atmosphere and colour rather than to record a specific scene; working towards this goal, he reached a level of abstraction that was to play a profound role on the development of later twentieth century art. Signed Claude Monet and dated 1904 (lower right)

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2007-06-19
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  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2010-11-29
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Le Palais ducal

Monet’s spectacular view of the Palazzo Ducale on the Grand Canal belongs to the extraordinary series he completed in the fall of 1908 in Venice.  Painted from the south-east vantage of a floating pontoon, the scene depicts the Palace, with its Byzantine fenestrations adorning the façade, alongside the Ponte della Paglia and the prison building on the right.   To the left of the palace is the entrance to Saint Mark’s square, and the silhouette of the bell tower and can be seen in the open space.  Through a Renaisannce-inspired sfumato technique Monet conjures the briny mist of the Adriatic, and the oblique pontoon and moorings convey the lulling motion of its current.  This picture marks one of the rare instances that Monet painted from the vantage of a gondola, capturing fleeting light that colored this dramatic scene.  Monet arrived with his wife Alice on October 1st at the invitation of Mary Young Hunter, a wealthy American who had been introduced to the couple by John Singer Sargent.   Although he had been reluctant to leave behind the motifs of his Giverny garden that had all but consumed his work, he could not resist the opportunity to see the architectural splendors of the lagoon city and the new and formidable challenges that it would present.  At first, the visual splendor of the city astounded him, and he feared that he was too old and ill-equipped to capture its pageantry.  His creative paralysis subsided by October 7, and he commenced  the most successful series campaigns of his career.  In his study of Monet's work and the Mediterranean, Joachim Pissarro has given a detailed account of Monet's working schedule while he was in Venice:  “After so much procrastination, Monet soon adopted a rigorous schedule in Venice. Alice’s description of his work day establishes that from the very inception of his Venetian campaign, Monet organized his time and conceived of the seriality of his work very differently from his previous projects. In Venice, Monet divided his daily schedule into periods of approximately two hours, undertaken at the same time every day and on the same given motif. Unlike his usual methods of charting the changes of time and light as the course of the day would progress, here Monet was interested in painting his different motifs under exactly the same conditions. One could say that he had a fixed appointment with his motifs at the same time each day. The implication of this decision is very simple; for Monet in Venice, time was not to be one of the factors of variations for his motifs. Rather, it was the 'air', or what he called 'the envelope' - the surrounding atmospheric conditions, the famous Venetian haze - that became the principal factor of variation with these motifs” (J. Pissarro, ibid., p. 50). Monet stayed for the first two weeks of his sojourn as Hunter’s guest at the Palazzo Barbaro, which belonged to a relation of Sargent - Mrs Daniel Sargent Curtis.  He then relocated to the Grand Hotel Britannia on the northern bank of the Grand Canal, where he remained until his departure on December 7.  From his balcony at the Palazzo Barbaro he could see directly across to the Palazzo da Mula, Palazzo Dario and the Palazzo Contarini, but the Britannia offered even more spectacular views.  From this vantage he had clear views of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore and Palazzo Ducale, the city’s most famous landmark, which had featured in the immortal works of Titian and Canaletto.  While several of Monet’s depictions of the Palazzo depict it from the southwest, the present canvas depicts the palace from the north, offering a dramatic view of the Lions of Piazza San Marco in the distance.  What is so remarkable about this painting is the abrupt depiction of the pontoon in the foreground, which heightens the perspectival drama of the composition. Discussing the Venetian paintings of 1908 Gustave Geffroy attempted to define the approach Monet took to his depictions of the city, in particular making a study of the artist’s repeated portrayal of certain motifs: “It is no longer the minutely detailed approach to Venice that the old masters saw in its new and robust beauty, nor the decadent picturesque Venice of the 18th century painters; it is a Venice glimpsed simultaneously from the freshest and most knowledgeable perspective, one which adorns the ancient stones with the eternal and changing finery of the hours of the day." Monet’s Venetian canvases transported Geffroy:"in front of this Venice in which the ten century old setting takes on a melancholic and mysterious aspect under the luminous veils which envelop it. The lapping water ebbs and flows, passing back and forth around the palazzo, as if to dissolve these vestiges of history… The magnificence of nature only reigns supreme in those parts of the landscape from which the bustling city of pleasure can be seen from far enough away that one can believe in the fantasy of the lifeless city lying in the sun” (G. Geffroy, Claude Monet, sa vie, son temps, son oeuvre, Paris, 1924, pp. 318 & 320). Similar to his canvases of the Thames, Monet’s Venetian paintings continued to explore how light reflected off a wide stretch of water dissolves and liquefies the solid, uneven surfaces of brick and mortar. In Venice, however, the closeness of the buildings to the water's edge led him to explore more abstract compositions accentuating the interplay between the rhythms of the ornate façades, with their arched openings and horizontal divisions, and the rhythmic expanse of water. This innovative approach was perhaps encouraged by Monet’s appreciation of the special importance Venice held for his artistic forebears. George Shackelford and MaryAnne Stevens argue: "Venice offered Monet contact with a specifically resonant artistic tradition and with aesthetic options that invited him to extend the artistic concerns with which he had been engaged since the early 1890s to depict the dominant tonality of the air that lies between the subject and the artist/viewer (the envelope) and the reflection of subject and light on water, Monet drew upon such predecessors in Venice as Turner and Whistler, and the achievements of his London series" (G.M.T. Shackelford & M. Stevens, Monet in the 20th Century (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 178). The glorious canvases that Turner produced in the early 1840s, such as The Dogana, San Giorgio, Citella, from the Steps of the Europa, present a Venice which is transfigured by light. It is a light that has a form and presence more accurately recorded in the waters of the lagoon than falling on the city itself. Matisse is recorded to have noted: "it seemed to me that Turner must have been the link between the academic tradition and impressionism" (quoted in Turner, Whistler, Monet (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 203) and he divined a special connection between Turner’s works and Monet’s. Writing in the catalogue for the Turner, Whistler, Monet exhibition Katherin Lochnan pinpoints the Venice pictures as the culmination of Monet’s discourse with those two painters: "These beautiful and poetic works are portals through which the viewer can enter a world of memories, reveries and dreams. Fearing that they might constitute the final chapter in his artistic evolution, Monet sounded in them the last notes of his artistic dialogue with Turner and Whistler that had been central to his artistic development" (K. Lochnan in ibid. p. 35). During the course of his stay Monet painted thirty-seven canvases of Venetian subjects, which depicted views of the Grand Canal, San Giorgio Maggiore, the Rio della Salute; the Palazzos Dario, Mula, Contarini and the Doges’ Palace. On December 19, 1908, a few days after Monet’s return to Paris, Bernheim-Jeune acquired twenty-eight of the thirty-seven views of Venice, although Monet kept the pictures in his studio until 1912 to add their finishing touches. After the death of Alice in 1911, Monet finally agreed on a date for the exhibition at Bernheim-Jeune.  Claude Monet Venise opened on May 28, 1912 and was greeted with significant critical acclaim, not least by Paul Signac who viewed the Venetian canvases as one of Monet’s greatest achievements. Writing to Monet he states: “When I looked at your Venice paintings with their admirable interpretation of the motifs I know so well, I experienced a deep emotion, as strong as the one I felt in 1879 when confronted by your train stations, your streets hung with flags, your trees in bloom, a moment that was decisive for my future career. And these Venetian pictures are stronger still, where everything supports the expression of your vision, where no detail undermines the emotional impact, where you have attained the selflessness advocated by Delacroix.  I admire them as the highest manifestations of your art” (P. Signac quoted in Turner, Whistler, Monet (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 207). The present work is one of the pictures that may have been sold through Bernheim-Jeune, based on inscriptions written on the stretcher of the canvas. We know definitively that the picture was in the collection of Dr. Hans Wendland in 1924, when he sold it to Galerie Thannhauser in Berlin. Wendland had lived in Paris before World War I, and it is possible that he acquired the painting before moving to Berlin during the war. Thannhauser then sold the picture in 1926 to Erich Goeritz, the Berlin-based textile manufacture and one of the most important Jewish collectors of the Weimar Republic.  The picture then came into the possession of  Jakob Goldschmidt, from whom it was confiscated by the National Socialists in 1941.  Later that year it was sold at auction by Hans Lange, where it was purchased by Dr. Albert Vögler.  In 1954  Goldschmidt, who had relocated to New York, reclaimed the picture from Völger’s heirs through successful litigation in Hamburg.  Since that time, the picture has remained in the Goldschmidt family and has never been exhibited in public until the present day. Signed Claude Monet and dated 1908 (lower left)

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  • 2015-05-05
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Cubi xxviii

"I polished [the sculptures] in such a way that on a dull day, they take on the dull blue, or the color of the sky in the afternoon sun, the glow, golden like the rays, the colors of nature …. They are colored by the sky and surroundings, the green or blue of water.’’ David Smith in an interview with Thomas B. Hess, June 1964 David Smith embodied an independence of spirit that characterized many of the American artists who emerged at the midpoint of the 20th Century. Smith combined a refusal to choose one convention or form above another with a forceful determination to achieve a singular vision and artistic identity. The sculptor created one of the most consistently confident and individualistic bodies of work from the mid-century, establishing a new kind of sculptural invention that used innovative techniques and material to express a fusion of abstraction and figuration. Combining modern technologies and materials derived from machinery and industry, Smith conveyed volume through an innate genius for organizing negative and positive space. Smith also possessed a love for landscape and Surrealist lyricism that brought a vibrantly poetic linear element to the overt Cubist solidity of his art. The Cubi series is the culmination of Smith’s sculptural alchemy, in which welded metal becomes a composition of elegant yet weighty and volumetric presence, created around open spaces rather than carved from solid form like traditional stone or wood sculpture. Smith’s genius for balancing void and solid, form and content, crude material and poetic spirit is the hallmark of his Cubi masterpieces. Created from 1961 until his untimely death in 1965, Smith’s Cubi sculptures are a cohesive group – of which Cubi XXVIII was the last – whose sleek geometry of boxes and columns allowed Smith to experiment with real rather than implied volume, exploring all its permutations. This spectacular group of sculptures is not only the culmination of Smith’s illustrious career; they are acknowledged masterpieces of American art that constitute one of the most radical developments in modern sculpture. The importance of the Cubis is confirmed by the fact that twenty-one of the Cubis have entered museum collections, many within just a few years of the artist’s death. The linear genius of Smith’s earlier work of the 1940s and 1950s was a form of drawing in space, while literal volume was largely abandoned. With the work of the 1960s, including the Cubis, Zigs, Wagons and Circles, Smith celebrated form and mass in three-dimensional space, as he accepted the challenge of creating monumental sculptures that could inhabit the rolling vista of the hills surrounding his studio in Bolton Landing. The 1960s were a time of creative ingenuity and interplay among simultaneous series, unparalleled in Smith’s oeuvre, and the flow of ideas freely informed one series with the innovations of the other.  As the artist’s daughter, Candida Smith described his process, "Again and again he referred to his `work stream’; each work of art being as a vessel filled from the stream while never wholly separate. I understand his term to mean the flow of his identity made physically manifest – the process by which images and ideas from decades or days before inform a work in progress or yet to be made."  (Candida N. Smith, The Fields of David Smith, New York, 1999, p. 17)  This particularly fecund period was informed by the artist’s visit to Spoleto, Italy to participate in the Festival of Two Worlds in 1962. Working in five abandoned factories in Voltri, Smith made a prodigious amount of sculpture during his short stay of thirty days, incorporating found objects and scraps of metal from his surroundings into works that were displayed throughout the city. As Candida Smith recalls, "My father returned home that summer invigorated and jubilant. …It was after his return from Italy that the fields began to burgeon at an amazing rate. It was as if the creative explosion and the resulting enormous installation in Spoleto ignited a fire that did not burn out. The Voltri-Boltons were made along with the painted circle pieces, Primo Pianos, Zigs and Cubis.’’ (Ibid., p. 30-32) As a mature work in the series, Cubi XXVIII embodies the many influences of these various series of the early 1960s. The more figurative element of the earlier Sentinels is evident in the rectangular "torso’’ atop one of the columnar sides of the composition of Cubi XXVIII. The painted brushwork on the surface of the Circles is mirrored in the polished arcs and swirls that play across the stainless steel, bringing a bursting vitality to elements such as the central diamond shape of Cubi XXVIII. But it is perhaps the series of Zigs that are most closely related to the mature compositions of the Cubi series such as Cubi XXVIII. The Zigs are unequivocally three-dimensional and towering structures, consisting of strongly differentiated interplays of convex and concave planes. Smith’s similar concentration on the volumetric potentialities of the Cubis is demonstrated by the photograph taken by Dan Budnik of cardboard models Smith used to explore geometric variations and compositions. In the Zigs, the surfaces are painted, often in combinations of strongly vibrant colors such as red, yellow or blue, that accentuate a composition’s disparate parts, and at other times with a more unifying tone of brown or black as in Zig III. The overall rough, brushy strokes and the monochrome palette of Zig III is deliberately at odds with the complicated, angular structure of the sculpture, a marked difference to the Cubis in which shape and surface treatment are perfectly congruent. In creating outdoor sculptures, Smith had concerns about the durability of his materials and surface treatments, and through much experimentation with various techniques and materials, stainless steel became Smith’s preferred medium. Stainless steel is more resistant to the elements than standard steel or iron, but for many years, Smith could not afford large quantities of this more expensive material. However, increased critical acclaim and commercial success that began with a 1957 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, freed Smith to liberally utilize stainless steel, beginning with the Sentinel series (1957-1961) and ending with the Cubis (1961 to 1965).  The reflective qualities of the polished surface created an optical synthesis of the plastic form with the pictorial composition. "Smith…was enthralled by the idea of surfaces that would change as the light of day changed, and so, in a sense, they are the final development of his lifelong preoccupation with the possibilities of color in sculpture. But the burnished, light-diffusing surface of Smith’s stainless steel sculptures serve both to focus attention on those surfaces and to make them seem insubstantial. We have seen the handwriting of the burnishing before – in…the Zigs for example – but here the skin of paint, which often seemed at odds with the structure of the work, has been replaced by an optical dazzle that appears to be an inherent property of the material itself’’ (Karen Wilkin, David Smith, New York, 1984, pp. 85-86)  In Cubi XXVIII and its related works, Smith fully exploited the sheer beauty of his material. These brilliantly polished surfaces reflect light in expressionistic swirls which seem to be both within the steel as well as on it, creating a sculpture of monumental scale which appears to be filled with air and light. As each work of the 1960s was completed, Smith would carefully choose its location on the north or south field on the rolling property that ran from his house to his studio. Smith’s fields were a nascent sculpture 'farm’, a formidable display of artistic creativity proclaiming itself amidst a landscape of age-worn mountains, open sky and tree-filled vistas. As his friend and fellow artist, Robert Motherwell commented, "When I saw that David places his work against the mountains and sky, the impulse was plain, an ineffable desire to see his humanness, related to exterior reality, to nature at least if not man, for the marvel of the felt scale that exists between a true work and the immovable world, the relation that makes both human.’’ (Robert Motherwell, Art in America, January-February 1966, p. 37)  Cubi XXVIII was centrally placed in the south field, at a right angle that allowed the viewer to look through its portal shape from both the deck of the house and the deck of the studio, almost as a window from one view to the other. Cubi XXVIII was one of three sculptures in this series which Smith loosely referred to as "gates’’ or "arches’’, with Cubi XXIV and Cubi XXVII being the other two. Zig III is cited as a precedent for these three works with its post and lintel framework and somewhat open center. Horizontals top strong verticals in the three "gate’’ Cubis and this structure emphasizes the architectonic essence of Smith’s work and increases the monumentality of their presence. Cylinders and the canted central square invigorate the post and lintel framework of Cubi XXVIII, calling to mind Candida Smith’s comment on the "arches’’ and "gates’’.  While any literal referencing to Smith’s subject matter can be problematic or too simplistic, there is a poetic resonance to this composition as a final legacy for David Smith’s oeuvre. As Candida Smith wrote, "The Cubi 'gates’ are open portals designating a picture plane of imbued space waiting for us to enter and be transformed’’ (Ibid., p. 25) CUBI SERIES BY DAVID SMITH Cubi I Detroit Institute of Art Acquired in 1966 from the estate of the artist Cubi II Collection of Candida and Rebecca Smith Cubi III Mrs. Beatrice Gersh, Beverly Hills Partial and promised donation to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Cubi IV Milwaukee Art Museum Acquired in 1977, gift of Mrs. Harry Lynne Bradley Cubi V Private Collection Cubi VI Israel Museum, Jerusalem Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Meshulam Riklis (Judith Stevn-Riklis) to American Friends of the Israel Museum Cubi VII Art Institute of Chicago Acquired in 1964 from the estate of the artist Cubi VIII The Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas Acquired in 1969 from the estate of the artist Cubi IX Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi X Museum of Modern Art, New York Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XI Private Collection Cubi XII Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C. Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XIII Princeton University, New Jersey Acquired in 1969 from the estate of the artist Cubi XIV St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri Acquired in 1979 from Philip M. Stern, Washington, D. C. Cubi XV San Diego Museum, California Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XVI Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XVII Museum of Fine Art, Dallas Acquired in 1965 from the estate of the artist Cubi XVIII Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XIX The Tate Gallery, London Acquired in 1966 from the estate of the artist Cubi XX Wight Art Gallery of the University of California, Los Angeles Acquired in 1967, gift of Mrs. Donald Bright Capen Cubi XXI Lipman Family Foundation Cubi XXII Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven Acquired in 1968 from the estate of the artist Cubi XXIII Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles Acquired in 1967 from the estate of the artist Cubi XXIV Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Acquired in 1967 from the estate of the artist Cubi XXV Jane Lang Davis, Medina, Washington Cubi XXVI National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C. Acquired in 1978, gift of Mr. Philip M. Stern, Washington, D. C. Cubi XXVII Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Acquired in 1967 from the estate of the artist Cubi XXVIII the present work Signed, titled, dated 5-5-1965 and inscribed gate 3

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  • 2005-11-09
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Number 17, 1949

THREE PRIMARY TEXTS ON JACKSON POLLOCK from the Betty Parsons Gallery records and personal papers, circa 1920-1991, bulk 1946-1983. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution Betty Parsons on Jackson Pollock, circa 1949 I loved his looks. There was a vitality, an enormous physical presence. He was medium height but he looked taller. You could not forget his face. A very attractive man, ---oh very. He was always sad. He made you feel sad; even when he was happy he made you feel like crying. There was a desperation about him; there was something desperate. When he wasn’t drinking he was shy, he could hardly speak. And when he was drinking he wanted to fight. He cussed a lot, used every 4-letter word in the book. You felt he wanted to hit you; I would run away. His whole rhythm was either sensitive or very wild. You never quite knew whether he was going to kiss your hand or throw something at you. The first time I went out to see him at Springs, Barney (Barnett Newman) brought me; we were planning Jack’s first show. After dinner we all sat on the floor, drawing with some Japanese pens. He broke three pens in a row. His first drawings were sensitive, then he went wild. He became hostile, you know. Next morning he was absolutely fine. I had met him around New York since 1945. One day in ’47 he telephoned me and said he wanted a show in my gallery. I gave him a show the next season. In all the time he was with me he was never drunk either during the show or during the hanging. At Sidney Janis’s it was different, once they waited for him until 4 in the morning to hang a show. Another year he telephoned me and asked me to give Lee a show of her paintings. I said I never show husbands and wives, but he insisted. He was charming with Lee when he was sober; she ruled the nest. But when he was drunk he ruled the nest. Lee always protected his business interests. Business ideas bored him, though he was fairly wise about them. He was either bored or terrified of society. He thought most women were terrible bores. He needed aggressive women to break through his shyness. He liked very few artists. He liked Newman, he liked Bradley Tomlin. He thought artists were either awful or terrible – it had entirely to do with their work. He thought he was the greatest painter ever, but at the same time he wondered. Painting was what he had to do. But he had a lot of the negative in him. He was apt to say, ‘It won’t work – it’ll never work.’ When he got in those terrible negative states, he would drink. He associated the female with the negative principle. The conflict showed clearly in ‘The She Wolf’ (1943). Inside himself there was a jungle. Some kind of jungle because during his life he was never fulfilled – never – in anything. Of course this didn’t diminish his power as a painter. His conflicts were all in his life, not in his work. He was a questioning man. He would ask endless questions. He wanted to know what I thought about the world, about life. He thought I was such a jaded creature because I’d travelled, he wanted to know what the outside world was like, Europe, Asia. He was also extremely intrigued with the inner world – what is it all about. He had a sense of mystery. His religiousness was in those terms – a sense of the rhythm of the universe, of the big order – like the Oriental philosophies. He sensed rhythm rather than order, like the Orientals rather than the Westerners. He had Indian friends, a dancer and his wife, (Mr. and Mrs. N. Vashti) with whom he talked at length and who influenced him greatly. His most passionate interest after painting was baseball. He adored baseball and talked about it often. He also loved poetry and meeting poets. He often talked about Joyce. He loved architecture and talked a lot about that too. He adored animals. He had two dogs and an old crow – he had tamed an old crow. He had that kind of overall feeling about the nature – about the cosmic – the power of it all – how scary it is. I could never relax with Jack. He certainly was pursued by devils. Life is an endless question mark, but most of us find a resolution – he never did. But I loved him dearly. The thing about Pollock is that he was completely unmotivated – he was absolutely pure. From my Journal – Sept. 25, 1949 – A week-end in Easthampton Evelyn Segal In the late afternoon we drove to the Jackson Pollocks, who live in a simple farm house (circa late 19th cent.) – a farm house which was being transformed and converted by the needs and tastes of the two painters: Jackson Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner. We had only just arrived, having been greeted warmly by “Lee” as Hattie called Mrs. P., when Mr. Clement Greenberg arrived with his guests: Robert Motherwell, the Peter Scotts and a Miss Blumberg. Mrs. Pollock served drinks. I noticed a table with a handsome mosaic top and learned that Mrs. Pollock had made it. (She, too, is a fine painter) Then Mr. Pollock appeared; he consented tacitly to our seeing his paintings. We trooped to a barn. On the floor were huge canvases on which he had been working. There were many cans on the splattered floor – splatter of the duco, silverpaint, white lead, oils of various hue, et al, which he had used to make those mazes of linear space which some regard as chaos and with which he has caused such a “sensation.” We looked hard and silently, Mr. Motherwell, Mrs. Greenberg, Mr. and Mrs. Scott. One felt the strength of those paintings but moreover the serious violent effort toward a goal and significant statement. I am not certain just what I believe about them at this point, whether it is the materials themselves which have inherent strength and give them the power they appear to have or whether Mr. Pollock is an innovator in the application of his knowledge, experience and creative capacity – I do not know. The canvases are the size of murals. There is consistent color key, and suggestion of planned form (but not form in terms of definite, natural or usual shapes) – an orderly jungle of planes – linear planes, which created vast space and movement. There are depth and seriousness in the feelings which are evoked but few usual plastic images, the absence of which extends rather than limits the scope of meaning to the spectator. I saw many of the paintings flat on the floor from where he works which made it difficult to see them in the conventional way. I remember wide lines of black and silver paint with splattered frayed edges in many of the lines, but those splatters made for forms which became planes. Some had the texture and surface of enamels. They are bold! The principle of freedom, experiment and courage is evinced. Perhaps unconsciously – subjectively they are propelled by despair and anger and even exasperation. But assimilated experience and knowledge have facilitated these directions. Mr. Motherwell looked silently, as we did, all of us. He walked toward a painting, started to say something and then restrained himself, finally saying, “Oh well – one shouldn’t ask a question about something a painter is still working on.” There were simple non-natural forms cut in a masonite panel on which he was painting, which made for definite recesses since they had actually been cut in like a linoleum block. The paint had been continued, sparingly onto the recessed parts, not obscuring the forms which had been cut there, but rather making again for planes – and ultimately space, the Masonite itself providing another color and texture. When asked later by Peter and Bob and Hattie and Jon what I said – what anyone had said – I reported that little had been said rightfully. A few technical questions had been asked and Mr. Pollock answered very succinctly. I mentioned the subtle differences in color key in each painting. That was the only definite, sincere statement I could make at the time… or would under the circumstances. Everyone thanked Mr. Pollock. There were some “They’re terrifics” and Mrs. Scott obviously avoided the issue (most understandable) by saying, “Oh dear, it’s just too much to absorb in one afternoon.” I think Mr. Pollock is sincere. There is power there. Whether or not he believes that these are ultimate realizations of his aims, I do not know, but I am inclined to doubt it. These paintings are not to be dismissed. The experimentation, daring, evidences of originality and intense creative effort are there. Pollock’s paintings could be architectural accessories, and hung well and naturally on walls of contemporary architecture. They are not tender or romantic but neither are steel and concrete and plastics, or the materials used in contemporary structures. The paintings are personal but not intimate, and not familiar. BEAUTY -- AND JACKSON POLLOCK, TOO By Eli Siegel, December 1955 Thoughts about a phrase from the Critical Writing of Stuart Preston on Jackson Pollock, New York Times, December 4, 1955 No use looking for “beauty”… 1. There is a contemporaneous distrust of the word ‘beauty’ which it is well to look into. 2. There is a feeling prevalent that while the word beauty might have been all right with the Greeks or in the Eighteenth Century or with the Pre-Raphaelites, we are beyond this; we are too tough for this, too modern. 3. It is felt that the unconscious working on, say, bits of paper, or a heap of broken brick or dishes in a sink, will get to art, perhaps, that is not beautiful as past art has been; even so, there is no reason why one can’t or shouldn’t take broken brick as a subject, or scraps of paper: art really doesn’t mind, nor beauty, either. 4. The unconscious when it is completely unrestrained, untrammeled is opposed by critics to the idea of beauty, if not to that of impact, or of power, or of the elemental. 5. However, the aesthetic unconscious, if looked into, goes just as much for beauty in the primary, continuing, and still fresh sense of the conscious does. 6. The unconscious, as artistic, goes after unrestraint, but unrestraint as accurate; and when unrestraint is accurate, the effect on mind is still that of beauty. 7. No matter how unrestrained, elemental, untrammeled, without ‘forethought’ Jackson Pollock is, or anyone else – if his work is successful, there is in this work power and calm, intensity and rightness, unrestraint and accuracy – and these, felt at once, make for beauty. 8. Because beauty has taken new forms, used material foreign to Veronese, Gainsborough, Ingres, Ryder, there is a disposition on the part of critics like Stuart Preston to think the word beauty is no longer alive and electrical. 9. It is alive; it stands for life at its liveliest, at the most free and the most true. 10. For example, the question comes up: What makes Jackson Pollock’s unrestrained unconscious, ‘elemental and largely subconscious promptings,’ better than somebody else’ unrestrained unconscious and ‘subconscious promptings’? 11. For everybody has an unconscious – very often unrestrained – and everybody has ‘subconscious promptings.’ 12. The question for Mr. Preston and others is: What makes the unconscious or subconscious of Mr. Pollock, and the working without ‘forethought’ of Mr. Pollock, better, more artistic, more commendable in result than similar things of the mind in so, so many others? 13. It is the presence of some rightness, fitness, structure, purpose, composition, design or whatever you wish to call it in Mr. Pollock – at least if you see his work as art, that is what you see in it besides the ‘subconscious,’ the ‘promptings,’ the ‘elemental.’ 14. If Mr. Pollock’s unconscious is artistically successful, it is because there is a logic in it, a rightness or knowingness; words of Mr. Preston himself, like ‘apparently aimless’ imply some such thing – just look at the apparently! 15. So we have spontaneity, elementalness, freedom, ardor in Mr. Pollock, and rightness, accuracy, logic, design, effect, too. 16. Spontaneity and rightness, intensity and accuracy are what we find in Delacroix, Bosch, Turner, Van Gogh, and – yes, Piero della Francesca. 17. Spontaneity and rightness seen in a work of art, make one feel it has form. 18. Form is a word still synonymous with beauty. 19. Beauty can be regarded as the apprehended presence of individual impetus and universal rightness, of unconscious and conscious – and at its bet, the apprehended presence of the utmost spontaneity with the utmost truthfulness, rightness. 20. However, unrestrained Mr. Pollock’s unconscious is, it is going after design. 21. Otherwise, as was said (and it cannot be said too often) Mr. Pollock’s ‘abandonment of forethought’ would be like the lack of ‘forethought’ we find anywhere, with people not particularly artistic – and there is a mighty lot of ‘subconscious promptings’ in family squabbles, in sick rooms, in dull tavern brawls, in financial controversies. 22. People live differently today, but life goes on: the word life is as good as ever. 23. People go after beauty differently (for example, Jackson Pollock), but beauty is still around; the word beauty is as good as ever. 24. Mr. Preston is his effort to be desperately contemporary, has forgot to be deeply, vitally continuous – has forgot to be elemental in the very best sense. Signed and dated 49

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  • 2015-11-12
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A B, St. James

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

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2016-11-18
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Group with Parasols (A Siesta)

Group with Parasols (A Siesta) is an aesthetically progressive and celebrated example of Sargent’s highly personal subject pictures inspired by his travels to the Alps.  Richard Ormond writes “there are few more dazzling tours de force by Sargent than Group with Parasols [A Siesta]” (Sargent Abroad: Figures and Landscapes, New York, 1997, p. 80).  Beginning in 1900, Sargent passed his holidays painting and traveling on the continent, often dividing his time between the Swiss Alps during the hot summer months and Italian cities such as Venice, Florence and Rome during the fall.  During this period, Sargent took as his models selected traveling companions and close family members, causing Mary Newbold Patterson Hale, Sargent’s second cousin, to refer to these paintings and watercolors as his “painted diaries.” This notion of a “painted diary” brilliantly conveys the very personal nature of Sargent’s relationship to his subjects and captures the underlying emotion that sets these pictures apart from much of his other work.  At the core of these paintings and studies is a startling intimacy that is casually seductive in both of its off-handedness and directness. Set free from the demands of portrait commissions, Sargent’s travels and summer interludes became increasingly important as a source of creative inspiration.  Preferring to paint the picturesque European scenery and his intimate group of friends and relatives to society portraiture with its sometimes stifling parameters, Sargent stopped accepting portrait commissions altogether by 1909.   During these Alpine tours, Sargent was often accompanied by his unmarried sister Emily, his sister Violet Ormond and her children and other Sargent family friends.  The 1905 trip to Giomein included Peter Harrison, his brother Leonard “Ginx” Harrison, Alma Strettell (Peter’s wife), Dos Palmer (Peter’s mistress), Polly Barnard and Lillian Mellor.  Sargent routinely spent the days in the countryside painting under the shade of large white umbrellas and in the evenings, enjoyed music, chess and reading with his entourage.  Sargent’s group frequently modeled for him on his sketching expeditions, and he enjoyed painting them in their idle moments of repose.  Mr. Ormond notes, “Sargent’s pictures of sleeping and resting figures, which are such a feature of his Alpine output over a ten year period, conjure up an imaginary world of luxuriant ease and passive indolence.  They are not a record of how the Sargent party spent their time in the mountains (active expeditions were the order of the day), but a deliberately invented world of dreamy reverie” (John Singer Sargent, Princeton, New Jersey, 1998, p. 244). Group with Parasols (A Siesta) is a beautiful example of the ‘world of dreamy reverie’ and is evocative of the newfound intimacy in Sargent’s work.  The painting captures the Harrison brothers Peter and Ginx, Dos Palmer and Lillian Mellor enjoying a mid-afternoon slumber amid the grassy hills of the region.   The closeness of the figures, the fluid intertwining of limbs and the juxtaposition of male and female represents an unusual familiarity between the sexes that would have challenged Victorian convention.  Mr. Ormond writes, “There is a deliberate contrast between the two sides of the composition, softly rounded contours and delicate materials for the women, angular knees, elbows and creased trousers for the men.  At the same time the rhythm of the curving bodies, arms, and heads unites the figures in a tightly interlocking group” (John Singer Sargent, p. 244).  Ilene Susan Fort notes that the Alpine Pictures “display contradictions in time, gender orientation, and degree of sexuality that can be understood only within the social context of the age.  Sargent was a personality not only aesthetically progressive but also socially bohemian; his opinions and taste were sometimes at odds with, and too modern for, the strictest Victorian society” (Sargent in Italy, Princeton, New Jersey, 2003, p. 142). The intimacy of the subjects is further emphasized by the essentially closed composition in which the surrounding landscape is closely cropped and bordered. Ms. Fort observes, “Sargent placed his models in an intimate and virtually anonymous outdoor environment, thereby creating the notion of a ‘landscape interior.’  He repeatedly depicted a small forest glade that marked the boundaries of his personal domain.  By cropping and deleting horizons, Sargent made the landscape appear to be pushed forward, parallel to the picture plane.  His models exist in this limited space with no suggestion of a world beyond the painted scene” (Sargent in Italy, p. 148).  The intimate subject and setting of Group with Parasols (A Siesta) was revisited in several watercolors of the period, including the strikingly similar Siesta, also of 1905 (figure 1) and Simplon Pass: The Green Parasol (figure 2). A strong component of the unusual visual effects the painting produces lies in Sargent’s treatment of the picture's surface, its heavy application and active handling of paint create a richly patterned composition punctuated by highlights of dappled light and sunlit passages.  Mr. Ormond writes, “The brushwork has a dynamic energy and a life of its own so that the picture could be read as blocks of colour or patterns of light and dark, independent of the forms which they describe.  This is where the modernity of Sargent’s vision lies, in the suppression of detail, and in the concentration on surface texture and expressive brushstroke” (Richard Ormond, John Singer Sargent, p. 244). Ms. Fort writes, “The Alpine paintings sit outside Sargent’s usual work, evincing neither the painterly academism of his portraits nor the full Impressionism of his landscape and figure paintings created in Broadway, England…The Alpine works as a whole do evince a new, more progressive boldness, particularly in design, that demonstrates a daring level of experimentation.”  (Sargent in Italy, p. 141)  Group with Parasols (A Siesta) is at once the artistic embodiment of Sargent’s daring  style, conjuring the pictorial effects of light and shadow for which he is so well known, and a uniquely compelling and intimate look into the artist’s inner circle. Inscribed to my friend Ginx and signed John S. Sargent, l.r.

  • USAUSA
  • 2004-12-01
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Grande figure

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

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2017-06-21
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Eisberg

With a monolithic shard of forbidding ice at its compositional heart and a perfectly balanced atmospheric spectrum of arctic hues, Gerhard Richters Eisberg is the ultimate example of the artists painterly re-examination of the landscape genre for the photographic age. The mesmeric beauty of the mist-enshrouded frozen seascape is paralleled by the extraordinary dexterity of its painterly execution: the arctic atmosphere emanates luminescence without betraying a specific source or direction of light. The result is a hypnotic twilight, neither dawn nor dusk but rather a glowing semi-lightness entirely characteristic of the polar latitudes. In the present work, Richter has employed dramatic films of hazy turquoise and soft greys in delicate sfumato to create an enthralling, symphonic whole. Within Richters canon of landscape paintings, Eisberg is the largest of only three paintings on the subject, one of which is held in the prestigious collection of Doris and Donald Fisher that is promised to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Readily evocative of the romantic and sublime landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich and the atmospheric light effects of J. M. W. Turner, the present work instantly conjures an encompassing transhistorical field of references, whilst remaining resolutely contemporary through a photorealist execution. When speaking of why he chose to paint landscapes, Richter pronounced: I felt like painting something beautiful (Gerhard Richter cited in: Dietmar Elger, Ed., Gerhard Richter: Landscapes, Ostfildern-Ruit 1998, p. 12). As though glowing from within, Eisberg is a masterful example of Richters extraordinary capacity to capture light and its changing effects. In so doing, the present work is immediately redolent of the empirical studies of the Impressionists such as Claude Monet, who laboriously studied nature and its ever changing appearance. Monets primary concern had been the sensation of colour and its properties and these technical innovations underwrote his highly advanced theoretical approach. As Monet noted, "for me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life - the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value" (Claude Monet cited in: Richard Friedenthal, Letters of the Great Artists from Blake to Pollock, London 1963, n.p.). Indeed, the same can be said for Eisberg, where the exceptionally rendered surrounding arctic light utterly vivifies the atmosphere and so perfectly captures the changing light of day. Following Richters infamous 1971 exhibition with Blinky Palermo at Heiner Friedrichs Gallery and the subsequent annulment of his arrangement with the dealer in 1972, the artist decided to leave Dusseldorf for a ten day cruise through the icy straits of Greenland. The main aim of the trip was to experience and photographically record the deserted arctic landscape; as Richter noted, I see countless landscapes, photograph barely 1 in 100,000, and paint barely 1 in 100 of those that I photograph. I am therefore seeking something quite specific; from this I conclude that I know what I want (Ibid., p. 19). What Richter specifically sought from this particular arctic expedition was to take photos in the mode of Caspar David Friedrich's The Wreck of Hope. The whole thing was a project" (Gerhard Richter cited in: Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago and London 2009, p. 202). Painted in Dresden in 1823-24, Friedrich's canonical work, which is actually entitled The Sea of Ice and today resides in the Kunsthalle Hamburg, envisages William Edward Parry's ship Griper trapped in the ice as it charted the then unprecedented Northwest Passage in 1820. When Friedrich was ice-skating aged just 13 he was saved from drowning by his younger brother Christoph, but in doing so Christoph tragically drowned in the icy water before the artists eyes. It can be hardly denied, therefore, that Friedrich's The Sea of Ice must be seen in relation to this traumatic experience. As if in homage, biographical import is also richly prevalent in Richters own magnificent reworking of Freidrich's Romantic sublime. Indeed, Richter's biographer and art historian, Dietmar Elger, describes this as the primary catalyst for the creation of Eisberg. Discussing Friedrich's The Sea of Ice, he has argued: "What Richter saw reflected in the painting, however, was his own state of mind", explaining that at the time Richter's marriage was in crisis: "the photographs he took in Greenland were visual analogues for his own failed hopes. He was exhausted by the struggle to find his own way as a husband and father, and felt that his dream of domestic happiness had, as a consequence, been wrecked" (Dietmar Elger, Ibid., p. 203). Furthermore, Richter himself has recently admitted that the isolation of his polar exodus provided a psychological retreat from his life in Dusseldorf: "The project was also an excuse for getting away... Trouble in my marriage was reaching a climax. Going into the ice could be interpreted as longing for a place where one feels safe just so long as there is no life, only ice" (Gerhard Richter cited in: ibid.). Eventually, Richter's marriage to Ema collapsed and they divorced in 1981. With Richter embarking work on the present series only one year later, as Elger has posited, Eisberg and its attendant sister works may have been created in an attempt "to work through his unfulfilled hope for familial happiness and to take final stock a difficult period in his life" (Ibid., p. 208). This psychobiographical framework underlines the prevalence of Richter's personal situation for the creation of Eisberg. Furthermore, the iceberg itself takes on metaphorical significance in representing Richter's own psychical state. In nature, icebergs are physical fragments that have broken away from a glacier or ice shelf; isolated as a consequence of stress and rupture, they are destined to drift aimlessly until the point of their inevitable dissolution back into the liquid state of water. Indeed, the present work can thus be viewed within the thematic arc of what Mark Godfrey terms Richter's "Damaged Landscapes", encompassing both the physical properties of destruction, such as his aerial views of bombed cities and stormy seas; as well as an emotional charge that speaks to both the trauma of the post-war period and of a wilderness period that the artist has described as: "that time I lost the ground under my feet" (Mark Godfrey cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Gerhard Richter: Panorama, 2011-12, p. 73). However, to solely examine this masterpiece through the lens of the artist's biography would be a severe injustice to the major artistic advancements it also represents in the genre of post-modern landscape painting. Paintings with a landscape motif have played a central role in the artists practice for over 35 years, a practice that he begun in 1963 with works such as Schloss Neuschwanstein (Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, Germany) and another portraying the Alster in Hamburg at night. No other subject has fascinated the artist so extensively nor occupied him over such a long period, yet the total number of landscape paintings is relatively low, making them comparatively rare in his oeuvre. Their underlying significance derives much more from their overriding importance within the body of Richters work and in the consistency with which he uses them to inform other motifs particularly his iconic Abstrakte Bilder. In the present work Richter directly alludes the nineteenth-century tradition of Romantic painting, and yet his interest supersedes a simple or nostalgic yearning for spiritual transcendence via awe-induced reverence of nature. In this vein, art historian and curator Robert Storr has differentiated Richter's work from that of Caspar David Friedrich by noting: "[Richter's] pictures are as beautiful as their natural subjects and beautiful as painted artefacts, but they withhold any invitation to empathy. Whereas romantic paintings generally meet viewers halfway usually by means of a surrogate figure in the landscape that intensifies their associations and emotions while offering to lift them out of themselves Richter's paintings of this type are indifferent to the viewer's needs, acknowledging by that pointed indifference that the viewer and his or her needs exist. Thus they portray natural phenomena without symbolic amplification" (Robert Storr cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting, 2002, p. 53). In this regard, curator Hubertus Butin views Richters notion of Nature as a socially domesticated place and his investigation into medially conveyed perception as quite distinct from the transcendental, loaded understanding of Nature found amongst German Romantics: Richters landscape paintings do not go back to any religious understanding of Nature, for him the physical space occupied by Nature is not a manifestation and a revelation of the transcendental (Hubertus Butin, The Un-Romantic Romanticism of Gerhard Richter, in: Exh. Cat., Edinburgh, Royal Scottish Academy (and travelling), The Romantic Spirit in German Art 1790-1990, 1994, p. 462). Instead, by employing the sublime visual language forged in Friedrichs pantheistic view and passing it through a mechanical photographic document, Richter systematically de-romanticises the sublime landscape genre and empties it of human emotion. Following the irreconcilable events precipitated in the first half of the Twentieth Century, Richter confronts the impossibility of continuity: by invoking the Romantic tradition directly, Richter looked to make visible the caesura separating his age from Friedrichs (Ibid., p. 80). In 1973 Richter acknowledged this strategy: A painting by Caspar David Friedrich is not a thing of the past. What is past is only the set of circumstances that allowed it to be painted: specific ideologies, for example. Beyond that, if it is good, it concerns us transcending ideology as art that we ostensibly defend (perceive, show, make). Therefore, today, we can paint as Caspar David Friedrich did (Gerhard Richter, Letter to Jean-Christophe Ammann, February 1973, in: Hans Ulrich Obrist, Ed., The Daily Practice of Painting, London 1995, p. 81). Where his landscape paintings may first appear anachronistic and incommensurate with contemporary practices of high-art, Richters detachment and evacuation of sentiment via the serial and mechanical  infusing his work with the vicissitudes of recent history ensures a legitimate form of landscape painting that is also intensely beautiful. In Richters oeuvre the landscapes are motivated by the dream of a classical order and a pristine world by nostalgia in other words the anachronism in them takes on a subversive and contemporary quality (Gerhard Richter cited in: op. cit., Ostfildern-Ruit 1998, p. 21). In Eisberg Richter has accurately recorded the visual information of a photograph, thus bypassing the vagaries of subjective interpretation and adhering to his maxim that: "The photograph is the most perfect picture. It does not change; it is absolute, and therefore autonomous, unconditional, devoid of style. Both in its way of informing, and in what it informs of, it is my source" (Gerhard Richter, 'Notes, 1964-1965', The Daily Practice of Painting: Writings and Interviews 1962-1993, London 1995, p. 31). Where Romanticism prescribed an ontological philosophy concerning imagination and emotion, with a marked appreciation for external nature, photography captures a transient moment with "no style, no concept, no judgement" (Gerhard Richter cited in: Peter Sager, 'Mit der Farbe denken', Zeitmagazin 49, 28 November 1986, p. 33). Indeed, Roald Nasgaard has described how Richter's employment of photographs "rescued him from the burden of inherited tradition, and from the alternative traps of the prevailing aesthetics and ideologies around him" (Roald Nasgaard cited in: Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988-89, p. 40). Dependent upon aperture exposure and shutter speed, the photograph is correlated to a finite length of time: as propounded by Storr: "Conceptually, Roland Barthes' definition of the photographic condition as "the that has been" of experiential reality is once again germane. These vistas never were and never will be there for us; they were there for the artist just as long as it took to snap the picture and are only available to him now through the combination of that imperfect documentation and his equally imperfect memory" (Robert Storr cited in: op. cit., p. 67). Moreover, as in the case of Eisberg, Richter has magnified the imagery of a postcard-sized photograph to a metre and a halfs width of canvas, thereby expanding the visual information to create a vision not quite consonant with actual ocular experience and positing vital queries about the realities of visual perception and cognition. Perfectly summarising the intriguing paradoxes inherent within the present work, in 1986 Richter observed; of course, my landscapes are not only beautiful or nostalgic, with a Romantic or classical suggestion of lost paradises, but above all untruthful (even if I did not always find a way of showing it) and by untruthful I mean glorifying the way we look at Nature Nature, which in all its forms is always against us, because it knows no meaning, no pity, no sympathy, because it knows nothing and is absolutely mindless; the total antithesis of ourselves, absolutely inhuman (Gerhard Richter cited in: op. cit., Ostfildern-Ruit 1998, p. 30). Utterly glorifying the mesmeric, inhuman beauty of Nature in its most uncompromising wild state, Eisberg innovatively foregrounds history and artistic inheritance within the complex debate for paintings legitimacy in the later Twentieth Century. The National Gallery, Prague, has requested that this work be included in the artist's first retrospective in the Czech Republic, due to open in April 2017. Signed, dated 1982 and incorrectly numbered 496-1 on the reverse; titled on the stretcher

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2017-03-08
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