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Untitled (Lavender and Green)

“There is a need for a whole world of torment in order for the individual to sit quietly in his rocking row-boat in mid-sea, absorbed in contemplation.” Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, translation by Francis Golffing, New York, 1956, pp. 33-34 Annus Mirabilis David Anfam With an almost uncanny rhythm, Mark Rothko’s art tended to change around the onset of each successive decade of his career, reaching a particular apex in the 1950s. Shortly after 1930 his relatively realistic approach segued to an expressionism marked by heavy figures and brushwork. Then, by the close of the 1930s, Rothko nearly stopped painting altogether. When he resumed his work in earnest in 1940, it had altered irrevocably, as semi-abstract personages and mythological themes prevailed. During the rest of the decade Rothko progressively ‘pulverized’, as he put it, even these figurative vestiges until in 1950 his indelibly memorable signature style crystallized. Dating from the third year of this many-sided and most productive decade, Untitled (Lavender and Green) represents – in its equipoise, radiant intensity and extraordinary colorism – a superb statement of Rothko’s inimitable idiom at its most assured. As such, Untitled (Lavender and Green) also benefits from a wider context. Although Rothko never altogether abandoned the tiered, luminous rectangles exemplified by this painting, in 1958 he nevertheless embarked on the first of what were to be three sets of mural commissions that would dominate his output through the 1960s. Simultaneously, those years saw a turn towards far more grave tonalities. Finally, on the brink of a new decade in 1969, Rothko formulated a series of stark black on gray compositions before his death the following February. Out of this half century of work, the early 1950s proved to be a special zenith. Rothko had found himself artistically but had not reached a point where repetitiveness might prompt him to change course, as perhaps happened with the denser paintings that appeared in 1955. Rather, the year in which Rothko created Untitled (Lavender and Green) was, by any reckoning, an annus mirabilis. Indeed, in 1952 the artist could avow: "The past is simple; the present is complex; the future is even simpler." It was as if he knew that he had reached a plateau. The nature of Rothko’s “complex” present requires explanation. Not only did Rothko execute sixteen canvases in 1952 – that is, more than one per month – but also two of them respectively belong in part to the previous and following years. By contrast, not a single painting dates from, say, 1949-50. This suggests, quite simply, that Rothko’s practice was in full flow as the 1950s began. Untitled (Black, Pink and Yellow over Orange) – which heralded 1952 – broke new ground. Its monumental dimensions were more dramatically divided, in terms of an epic confrontation of sunshine yellow and pitch blackness, than ever before on this scale. On the other hand, 1952 also witnessed one diminutive untitled canvas measuring barely two-foot in height by five-foot wide, replacing the light-dark register of the earlier composition with vibrant red/green complementaries. Between these extremes, which again indicate that Rothko was in such control of his means that he could switch effortlessly from large to small, Untitled (Lavender and Green) strikes a careful balance. Its fields – approximately as tall as an average human being – are big enough to confront and envelop the spectator, while not so grand as to be beyond our reach. Put another way, the scale of Untitled (Lavender and Green) epitomizes Rothko’s goal stated in 1951: “I would like to say something about large pictures…. The reason I paint them, however – I think it applies to other painters I know – is precisely because I want to be very intimate and human.” Rothko always claimed that his fundamental subject was the human drama. We might say that the authority of Untitled (Lavender and Green) partly lies in how its maker found an apt size for his theme. Further adding to the fecundity of 1952 as an exceptional year was Rothko’s rich range of effects. For instance, No. 8 is essentially monochromatic, exploring yellow as it ranges from the palest cream tones to a coppery orange. Its antithesis is, for instance, the nocturnal Untitled (Blue, Green and Brown), formerly in the collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon. Larger and more even in feel, the latter canvas gives the impression that its ultramarine is, despite the slender bars of three different umbers, an indomitable totality. Again, in this context Untitled (Lavender and Green) strikes a golden mean. While its brooding lower rectangle sounds a dramatic note, the indefinable purple above offers a contending warmth, supported by the neutral, light gray-blue of the ambient field, upon or within which the two rest. “Measure” was a concept that Rothko prized. Everything about Untitled (Lavender and Green) voices this semi-musical sense of just proportion. Note even the way in which the lower verdant expanse, being somewhat darker in value than the upper purple, is accordingly slightly smaller in extent. Change even the merest detail of hue or draftsmanship in paint, the image seems to say, and the whole will go awry. Lastly, it is Rothko’s ability to draw effortlessly in pigment – as though, in his words, it were “breathed” onto canvas – that distinguishes Untitled (Lavender on Green). “Drawing”, conventionally defined, may seem a misnomer for Rothko’s miraculously suffusive way with paint. Yet make no mistake: drawing is present in his multifarious touch and textures in addition to his pictorial layerings. Within 1952 these expressive possibilities ranged from paintings that look wholly alla prima and uninflected, such as the Dallas Museum of Art’s Untitled wherein the red and yellow lie flat and forthright on its surface, to others that are a polar opposite. Here, No. 10 (1952), in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum, established a beautiful limit with its kaleidoscopic array of colors brushed so lightly as to evoke – to recall a famous phrase used about the nineteenth-century English artist J. M. W. Turner’s painterly mists – “tinted steam”. Brushy in texture while still firm overall, Untitled (Lavender on Green) nimbly takes yet another tack compared to the two foregoing pictorial strategies. Accordingly, the colors cited in its (posthumous descriptive) title are actually at root the aforementioned primaries of red and green. Except that now they are fine tuned and changed to tertiaries that almost defy words in their vivid elusiveness. Likewise, a pale refulgent scrim – one of Rothko’s subtlest devices – floats within the purple and settles into a thin horizontal band above the painting’s middle like a line of repose. Completing this perceptual magnetism is the peach tint that hovers faintly between the two rectangles and seems to enhance the entire composition from below without ever adamantly coming to the surface, akin to an unmoved mover. Complex in its apparent simplicity, Untitled (Lavender and Green) quietly but compellingly holds its own and more in Rothko’s annus mirabilis. © Art Ex Ltd 2015 Signed Mark Rothko and dated 1952 on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-11-05
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Bassin aux nymphéas, les rosiers

Monet's depictions of his beloved Giverny gardens rank among the most vibrant and boldly modern paintings of his career, growing out of the artist's high Impressionism even as they herald an embrace of abstraction. A vibrant example from 1913, Bassin aux nymphéas, les rosiers represents the artist at the height of his mature style. Monet depicts here an arceaux de roses overlooking the tranquil surface of a pond with scattered clusters of waterlilies. Monet painted three oils from this precise vantage point, one of which is now housed at the Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, and the current version is the largest from the series. Monet offsets the bright, bursting roses on the garden arch with the muted, pastel answers in their reflection on the pond's surface. With jubilant brushwork, Monet captures here the boundless energy of his Giverny garden in the verdant months of summer. Monet purchased his home and surrounding gardens in 1890 and took an active role in developing them over the subsequent decades. Paul Hayes Tucker explains, "That casual performance by Monet took place by the edge of his famous water-lily pond, a site that appears so natural in photographs and paintings but was actually designed by him and built beginning in 1893. He enlarged it several times during the next seventeen years, and he and his gardeners planted all the trees, bushes, flowers, and reeds that lined its sculpted banks. To cross the lily pond, he had a Japanese-style bridge constructed, which he eventually trellised for wisteria. Monet was likewise the creator of his equally famous flower garden, which replaced a kitchen garden just outside the door to his house. With its meticulously arranged beds, laid out in strict geometric rows and filled with flowers whose color and blooming periods were artfully coordinated, the flower garden evokes a rational Western model, in clear contrast to the more mysterious and evocative Eastern orientation of the water garden"  (Paul Hayes Tucker, Claude Monet, Late Work (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, 2010, p. 22). By 1909, Monet's paintings of his Giverny garden were creating a sensation among patrons and critics. In 1909, Charles Morice wrote in response to an exhibition of recent works at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris: "These 'Paysages d'eau,' five years of studies at the edge of the same pond, miraculously synthesize all the accomplishments of Impressionism, all its errors, all its merits. One shouldn't resist this enchantment, but one must also take it into account. The omnipotence of the artist is not in question: he has done exactly what he proposed to do. But, if Delacroix had good reason to define painting as 'the art of producing illusion in the mind of the spectator by way of his eyes,' could one say that the painting of Mr. Monet accords with the terms of this definition? This painting does not aim at our mind; it stops at our eyes. This splendidly and exclusively physical art returns to the elements of matter. It has the status of a necessary reaction and bears witness always to marvelous personal gifts" (Charles Morice, "Modern Art," Mercure de France, July 16, 1909, trans. in Claude Monet: Late Work (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, 2010, p. 180).  Monet often approached his subjects at Giverny in series, a method that he had developed in his high Impressionist works and perfected in his famous series paintings of the early 1890s, such as those of haystacks, poplar trees and the facade of Rouen cathedral. Monet fascinated over the varying effects of seasonal light upon these subjects. In Giverny, subjects such as the Japanese footbridge or, as in the present work, a garden arch provided the artist with an anchor for a given series. Monet thus paid exacting attention to the details of the garden, including maintaining the pond and plants in a perfect state for painting. Elizabeth Murray writes "The water gardener would row out in the pond in a small green flat-bottomed boat to clean the entire surface.  Any moss, algae, or water grasses which grew from the bottom had to be pulled out. Monet insisted on clarity.  Next the gardener would inspect the water lilies themselves. Any yellow leaves or spent blossoms were removed.  If the plants had become dusty from vehicles passing by on the Chemin du Roy, the dirt road nearby, the gardener would take a bucket of water and rinse off the leaves and flowers, ensuring that the true colors and beauty would shine forth" (E. Murray, 'Monet as a Garden Artist,' Monet, Late Paintings of Giverny from the Musée Marmottan, New Orleans, 1995, p. 53). In 1908 Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier visited Monet at Giverny and gave a thoughtful description of Monet’s working methods for the review Fermes et Châteaux: "In this mass of intertwined verdure and foliage… the lilies spread their round leaves and dot the water with a thousand red, pink, yellow and white flowers… The Master often comes here, where the bank of the pond is bordered with thick clumps of irises. His swift, short strokes place brushloads of luminous color as he moves from one place to another, according to the hour… The canvas he visited this morning at dawn is not the same as the canvas we find him working on in the afternoon. In the morning, he records the blossoming of the flowers, and then, once they begin to close, he returns to the charms of the water itself and its shifting reflections, the dark water that trembles beneath the somnolent leaves of the water-lilies" (quoted in Daniel Wildenstein, Monet or The Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne, 2003, p. 384). The unending variety of forms and tones that the ponds provided allowed Monet to work consistently on a number of canvases at the same time. With large scale and a wide-ranged palette, Bassin aux nymphéas, les rosiers is a unique and grand statement of adoration for this artist's haven. Signed Claude Monet and dated 1913 (lower left)

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-05-05
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Deux personnages (La Lecture)

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

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2015-06-24
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Portrait de Baranowski

To do any work, I must have a living person, I must be able to see him opposite me. Amedeo Modigliani [Modiglianis] paintings are consistently characterised by great tenderness. Such feelings inform this portrait. Graham Beal in Steven Hooper (ed.), Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, New Haven & London, 1997, vol. I, , p. 220 Portrait de Baranowski is a wonderfully elegant and poignant composition that powerfully synthesises all those characteristic traits which Modigliani developed in his post-1916 portraits: the geometric simplification of the human form, the S-shaped curve of the body inscribed by a flowing melodic line, the elongated neck and face with almond, vacant eyes that render the sitter with an enigmatic and impenetrable mood, and the stylised, accentuated line of the nose and the pursed, small mouth with sensuous lips. The portrait, which was one of the thirty-nine paintings exhibited at the 1930 Venice Biennale in a special one-man show dedicated to Modigliani, shows a young man with fragile good looks, well-dressed in a casual manner, seated at a table with a pensive, introspective air. The artists own striking presence, his innate sense of elegance and his profound knowledge of poetry had made a strong impression on all who came across him when he first arrived in Paris. It is possible that Modigliani, increasingly burdened by illness, may have recognised in the figure of the youthful Baranowski the image of his earlier self. Marc Restellini wrote about the present work and its sitter: The painter Pierre-Edouard Baranowski, known as Bara, was a member of the Parisian Polish colony. A habitué of the Montparnasse cafés in the 1920s, he presumably met Modigliani through the latters friend and dealer, Léopold Zborowski, or perhaps through Moïse Kisling. This is the only known portrait of Baranowski, who, between 1920 and 1929, frequently exhibited at the Salon dAutomne, the Salon des Tuileries and the Salon des Indépendants, showing flower paintings, still lifes and landscapes. The model, with his androgynous grace, occupies the entire space of the painting. The almost Mannerist preciousness of his pose down-turned face, just a hint of a smile, left hand hanging limply and à lartiste haircut is tempered by the rigour of the colours: the black of the jacket and cravate, the light blue of the eyes and of the background, the dark blue of the trousers, and finally, the pallor of Baranowskis skin, further emphasized by the white of his shirt (M. Restellini in Modigliani, The Melancholy Angel (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 320). By the time the present work was painted, Montparnasse - where Modigliani had been living since 1909 - had earned a reputation as the home of avant-garde artistic life and the centre of cosmopolitan, bohemian culture in Paris. The Café de la Rotonde in particular, situated on the Boulevard de Montparnasse, had become a regular meeting place for Modigliani and his fellow artists including Chaïm Soutine, Pablo Picasso, Max Jacob, André Salmon, Diego Rivera and Fernand Léger. Modigliani portrayed a number of figures that formed his social and artistic circle, creating a kind of visual history of Parisian Left Bank culture during the early twentieth century. The present work is a quintessential example of Modiglianis role as a chronicler of the vie bohème of Montparnasse, and it was probably executed before the artists departure for the south of France in March 1918. The sitters gentle youthful looks inspired Modigliani to create one of his most outstanding portraits, combining the characteristics of an individual with the lyricism of a poetic ideal. By 1918 Modigliani was thirty-four: his health and looks were destroyed by heavy drinking and drug taking. Many of those who sat for him during the last two years of his life were young, unknown and of very modest origins, their faces marked by what the writer Ilya Ehrenburg has called a hunted tenderness. Among all those young faces, Baranowski reveals an unusually strong sense of identification between the painter and his subject. Graham Beal wrote about the present work: The fact that this depiction of the Polish émigré Baranowski has, on occasion, been referred to as The Poet, when the sitter was not a poet at all, can be construed as testimony to the character of the image itself: a study in gentle and languid melancholy. The basic form of the sitter comprises an S, here reversed, a configuration that Modigliani had used to achieve a rather different effect in the caryatid drawings []. In this work the supple linear quality is augmented by dappled brush strokes. Unusual for Modigliani, this more painterly treatment may, as one critic noted, well reflect a renewed interest on the artists part in Picasso and Braques monumental cubist figures of the period (G. Beal in Steven Hooper (ed.), op. cit., p. 220). This mannerist style that characterised Modiglianis painting is partly derived from the artists fascination with the Old Masters of his native Italy. As Werner Schmalenbach wrote: Historical associations impose themselves: echoes not only of the fifteenth-century Mannerism of Sandro Botticelli but of the classic sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mannerism of Pontormo, Parmigianino and perhaps also El Greco. [] Modigliani had a sound knowledge of Italian art, and we must assume that he was well aware of all this, however direct or indirect the actual influence (W. Schmalenbach, Modigliani, Munich, 1980, p. 42). Summarising Modiglianis achievement as a portrait painter, James Thrall Soby has written: In his intensity of individual characterisation, Modigliani holds a fairly solitary place in his epoch. One senses in his finest pictures a unique and forceful impact from the sitter, an atmosphere of special circumstance, not to recur. But he was far from being a simple realist. On the contrary, he solved repeatedly one of modern portraitures most difficult problems: how to express objective truth in terms of the artists private compulsion. The vigour of his style burns away over-localised fact. Indeed, his figures at times have the fascination of ventriloquists dummies. They are believable and wholly in character, yet they would be limp and unimaginable without his guiding animation (James Thrall Soby, Modigliani: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1951, p.10). The first owner of Portrait de Baranowski was Léopold Zborowski, who became Modiglianis dealer after the end of the artists relationship with Paul Gauillaume, and later to Guillaume himself. Zborowski, who had arrived in Paris in 1913, was introduced to Modigliani probably in 1915 by Moïse Kisling, who lived in the same building. Although he did not open a gallery until 1926, Zborowski began to deal in art from his apartment, installing Modigliani in one of the rooms and providing him with models and materials. In 1937 the present work was acquired by Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury, the celebrated collectors of books, British and European art as well as Chinese and African sculpture. Containing notable works by artists including Degas, Picasso, Giacometti, Bacon and Moore, their collection is today housed in the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, designed by the architect Norman Foster. This work has been requested for the exhibition Modigliani to be held at Tate Modern, London from November 2017 to April 2018. Signed Modigliani (lower left)

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2017-03-01
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Petite danseuse de quatorze ans

Technically ambitious and highly innovative, Petite danseuse de quatorze ans represents the pinnacle of Degas’ achievements as a sculptor. The only sculpture exhibited during the artist’s lifetime, it was originally intended to be shown at the Fifth Impressionist Exhibition of 1880 and was included in the catalogue, but Degas, not satisfied that it was finished declined to send it and only the empty vitrine arrived. The following year, however, Degas was sufficiently pleased with his figure to include it in the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition. The wax original that caused so much comment at the time is now in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Using an armature probably made of wire for the body and hemp for the arms and hands, Degas worked in modelling wax and then proceeded to dress the figure in clothing made of real fabrics, using cream coloured grosgrain silk faille for the bodice, tulle and gauze for the tutu, fabric slippers and a satin ribbon to tie the hair. The model was Marie van Goethem, who celebrated her fourteenth birthday in June 1879. The daughter of a Belgian laundress and tailor, Marie and her sisters Antoinette and Louise-Josephine were ballet students at the Opéra. These young girls, the 'rats' of the Opéra – as they were known at the time – the raw material from which the stars were formed, were of particular interest to Degas at this time. During the 1880s Marie became well known as an artist's model and a habitué of the artist-frequented Brasserie des Martyrs, the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes and the popular café Le Rat Mort. The most ambitious of Degas's surviving sculptures, the Petite danseuse de quatorze ans, unlike the rest of his three-dimensional œuvre, was preceded by numerous studies and drawings in which Degas experimented with the positioning of his model. These initial studies show the degree of preparation that Degas undertook before embarking on the sculpture, studying his young model from all angles as he attempted to capture the exactness of her physiognomy. Among the sheets are full-length studies of Marie nude and dressed (fig. 1) in a pose close to that chosen for the sculpture and Degas' exhaustive study of his young model was further supplemented by studies of the head and arms and of the legs and feet. As Michael Pantazzi has observed these studies are 'absolutely assured. In almost every instance, the layout on the sheet is unusually careful. The paper used, sometimes green or pink, appears to be from the same stock that served for Portraits in a Frieze and six of the nine sheets are very large. How the artist himself regarded them may be inferred from the fact that he sold three of the larger sheets to collectors he knew – Jacques Doucet, Roger Marx and Louisine Havemeyer' (M. Pantazzi, 'The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer', in Degas (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1989, p. 345). In addition to the works on paper, Degas executed a preparatory nude study of the figure in wax, roughly three-quarters the size of the exhibited work, subsequently cast in bronze (fig. 3). When it was first seen by audiences at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition Petite danseuse de quatorze ans excited considerable comment, being at once proclaimed for its modernity and chastised for its perceived vulgarity. Jules Claretie was charmed by the insouciance of the figure, writing in La Vie à Paris in 1881 he referred to 'a dancer in wax of a strangely attractive, disturbing, and unique naturalism, which recalls with a very Parisian and polished note the Realism of Spanish polychrome sculpture’ (J. Claretie quoted in The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886 (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C., 1986, p. 362). Nina de Villars wrote, ‘I experienced before this statuette one of the most violent artistic impressions of my life’, and gave a retort to contemporary detractors, ‘the artist should reassure himself: the work not understood today will perhaps one day be regarded respectfully in a museum as the first work of a new art’ (N. de Villars quoted in ibid., p. 362). Others were shocked by the realism of the work and Degas’ unconventional use of materials. Paul Mantz wrote in Le Temps, 23rd April 1881: 'The piece is finished and let us acknowledge right away that the result is nearly terrifying... The unhappy child is standing, wearing a cheap gauze dress, a blue ribbon at the waist, her feet in supple shoes which make the first exercises of elementary choreography easier. She is working. Back arched and already a little tired, she stretches her arms around her. Formidable because she is thoughtless, with bestial effrontery she moves her face forward, or rather her little muzzle – and this work is completely correct because this poor little girl is the beginning of a rat… Degas is no doubt a moralist; he perhaps knows things about the dancers of the future that we do not. He gathered from the espaliers of the theatre a precociously depraved flower, and he shows her to us withered before her time’ (P. Mantz quoted in ibid., p. 362). The wax sculpture of the little dancer was not the only work by Degas to be exhibited at the 1881 Impressionist exhibition; other works that Degas exhibited – particularly profile studies of young criminals (see lot 33) – present an interesting view of contemporary France. As Douglas W. Druick and Peter Zegers have observed, 'Degas's portraits, like the trial, stripped away the attractive veneer of the popular theatre and the café concert to reveal their more sinister underside as a breeding ground for vice. The portraits thus underlined similar tensions in The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, which appeared halfway through the exhibition's run […]. The perceptive young Gustave Geffroy regarded them as the work of a young 'philosopher' captivated by the tensions between the “deceptive exterior and the underside of Parisian life”. Even the less sympathetic Mantz conceded that they embodied an “instructive ugliness” that could be regarded as the “intellectual result” of Realism in the hands of a “moralist” [...]. The 1881 group exhibition constituted the high-water mark of Degas's Realism’ (D. W. Druick & P. Zegers, 'Scientific Realism: 1873-1881', in Degas (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., pp. 209-211). It was this contemporary realism that made Petite danseuse de quatorze ans such a compelling work. Rather than showing the graceful poise and elegance of the finished performance, this sculpture belongs with the works in which Degas focused on capturing moments that revealed the relentless work that dominated the lives of his young subjects (fig. 5). Richard Kendall described the potency of Degas’ work: ‘What is overwhelmingly evident is that, from its inception, Degas chose to engage with one of the most resonant images of his day, an image that was seen by his peers to link high art with the gutter and to provoke anxiety as much as approval. More versed than we in these social semphores, Degas’s audiences were either thrilled by its novelty or exasperated by its awkwardness, whilst none seemed indifferent to the sculpture’s presence. Those accustomed to the sparkling elegance of Garnier’s auditorium were perplexed by the elevation of a mere ‘rat’ … to such prominence, while the ‘adepts’ of the new art … were thrilled by its audacity. Experts in the dance were able to concede the ‘singular exactitude’ of the work, while those expecting titillation were thwarted at every turn by the indifferent expression of the dancer’s pinched features or by the lack of voluptuousness in her young body. And for established followers of Degas’s art, here was another challenge: a colored, three-dimensional object by a painter they knew well leading them from the familiar illusions of pictorial space to the treacherous pseudo-realities of sculpture’ (R. Kendall, in Degas and the Little Dancer (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 24). The history of the casting of the Petite danseuse de quatorze ans is more complicated than that of the other seventy-three bronzes. Its unique position in Degas' sculptural œuvre was already apparent in 1903 when Louisine Havemeyer first considered purchasing the original wax. The sale did not go through and the work was not cast in bronze but from references in Degas' correspondence and from other sources it is apparent that he was actively considering the advantages and disadvantages of making bronze casts from his fragile waxes. Mrs Havemeyer made a second attempt to purchase the wax sculpture following Degas' death in 1918 but failed yet again as a result of complications arising from the division of Degas' estate. She was successful four years later, however, in purchasing the first bronze cast that is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York as part of the complete set of Degas bronzes donated by Mrs Havemeyer in 1929. As is the case with the other models, the casting took place over a number of years but unlike the smaller sculptures which theoretically were to be cast in an edition of twenty-two (twenty for sale, one for the founder Hébrard and one for the Degas heirs), the numbering is less consistent. Some of the casts were set onto wooden bases into which the artist's signature was burned and to which the Hébrard foundry mark and identifying letter of the cast were affixed, while other casts were unlettered. In their catalogue raisonné published in 2002, Joseph S. Czestochowski and Anne Pingeot have identified and located 29 casts, of which there are 27 in bronze and 2 in plaster, plus the Modèle bronze and the original wax. For a more detailed discussion of the circumstances of the creation and casting of this bronze see Martine Kahane (et. al.), ‘Enquête sur la Petite Danseuse de quatorze ans de Degas’, op. cit.; and Degas and the Little Dancer (exhibition catalogue), Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, 1998. Inscribed Degas, numbered HER and stamped with the foundry mark A.A. HÉBRARD CIRE PERDUE (on the base)

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2015-06-24
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Sous les peupliers

Monet’s Sous les Peupliers is amongst the finest evocations of the French countryside the artist committed to canvas during the 1880s. Its extraordinarily rich surface, composed using spontaneous brushwork and areas of thickly applied paint, exemplifies the technical virtuosity Monet had achieved by the end of the decade. The idyllic agrarian subject matter of this work encapsulates the central focus of Monet’s œuvre towards the end of the 19th Century; he divorced himself from painting urban scenes and the banlieue of Paris and devoted himself fully to his beloved countryside, with it majestic avenues of poplar trees, canals and wheat fields. Painted in 1887, the present work was executed during a period of respite from extensive travelling. The previous year Monet undertook painting campaigns to Holland and Brittany, but had also finally established a permanent studio at Giverny, which he had rented since 1883. The surrounding fields and meadows of the district became the focus of much of his output whilst at home and, unusually, contain a number of figures identifiable as members of his extended family. The idyllic rural compositions Monet executed in the Eure offer a vision of pastoral contentment; the fecundity of France and its vibrant seasons are benevolently portrayed in the Impressionist style. However, they also present a contrast to the more spectacular and unusual sights that Monet strove to paint further abroad.  Paul Hayes Tucker has speculated that by travelling throughout France in the 1880s Monet was attempting to decentralise Impressionism which for the most part had been based in Paris. ‘When queried in 1880 about his defection [from the Impressionists], he asserted, 'I am still an Impressionist and will always remain one.' Unlike his some of his former colleagues such as Pissarro who experimented with the pointillist techniques of the Post-Impressionists, Monet staunchly maintained that belief. Indeed, he put it into practice in an unprecedented way, traveling extensively during the decade to paint some of the most spectacular and varied sites in all of France, from the black, ocean-pounded coast of Belle Isle in the Atlantic south of Brittany to the verdant shores of Antibes on the Mediterranean. The places he chose had dramatically different geological formations, weather conditions, lighting effects, and temperature ranges. They also possessed strikingly different moods, mythologies, associations, and appeals” (P. H. Tucker, Monet in the '90s. The Series Paintings, New Haven & London, 1989, pp. 18-19). The present work is closely related to a small group of canvases painted during the summer of 1887 (W. 1131-1135).  In his biography of Monet’s life, Charles Stuckey quotes Monet, stating that during July and August he worked on “figures out-of-doors the way I understand them, done like landscapes. It is an old dream that plagues me and I would love to carry it to realisation one time” (the artist quoted in Claude Monet: 1840-1926 (exhibition catalogue), The Art Institute of Chicago, 1995, p. 215). Stuckey suggests that the impetus for painting figures might have come from seeing Berthe Morisot figure studies. One of the works Monet executed, Dans le Marais de Giverny, Suzanne lisant et Blach poignant (now in the Los Angeles Museum of Art), shares the intimate, domestic scope of Morisot’s work. Whilst the present work and its counterpart, Soleil les Poupliers, effet de soleil (Staatsgalerie Stuttgart), present a panoramic view of the fields at Les Essarts with the figures as part of the landscape itself. This area in the commune of Limetz, nestled between the two branches of the river Epte (a tributary of the Seine) became a favourite painting spot and recurs throughout his work of the following decade, most notably in the Meules and Peupliers series. The first owners of the present work were Potter and Bertha Palmer of Chicago, whose vast collection of contemporary art reflected their recently acquired fortune. Between 1891 and 1893 Mr and Mrs Potter Palmer acquired thirty-three paintings by Monet from Durand-Ruel. In The Ultimate Trophy Philip Hook wrote about this extraordinary couple: ‘Mr Potter Palmer was the richest man in Chicago. He was a property developer who built hotels […]. At home in the Palmer residence there was a vast Louis XVI salon and all sorts of glamorous accoutrements. Mrs Potter Palmer was the unchallenged queen of Chicago social life. Advised by Mary Cassatt, Mrs Potter Palmer went to visit Monet in Giverny in 1891 and bought a painting from him. Many more followed. […] The Potter Palmer collection ended up in The Art Institute of Chicago and is the main reason why that museum is so rich in Impressionism’ (P. Hook, The Ultimate Trophy: How the Impressionist Painting Conquered the World, London, 2010, p. 74-75). The present work was included in the Palmer’s generous gift to the Art Institute and remained in the museum’s possession until it was sold in 1944. Sous les Peupliers has remained in the United States ever since and is a remarkable testament to the pioneering tastes of the American collectors who supported Impressionism from its infancy. Signed Claude Monet and dated 87 (lower left)

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-11-05
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A young woman seated at the virginals

This picture was painted by Johannes Vermeer in about 1670.  It is the last original composition by Vermeer left in private hands, the first to be offered at auction since 1921, and the first to be sold by any means since 1955.  Inaccessible to scholars except through old photographs, the picture was for many years either dismissed or ignored completely, but, following recent extensive examination and analysis and also some light cleaning and restoration, its authenticity is now no longer disputed by any of the leading scholars of Vermeer, nor by any of a wide circle of scholars of 17th-century Dutch painting who have had the opportunity to study it at first hand. Ever since his rediscovery in the 1860s by the French art historian Thoré-Bürger, Vermeer has had a unique and somewhat mysterious position in the history of 17th-century Dutch art.  Unquestionably a genius, with a gift for the creation of contemplative mood and serene atmosphere that few if any have equalled, his works and style nonetheless had relatively little influence on his contemporaries.  Although some of his paintings always retained their correct attributions, others did not, as his name became more or less entirely forgotten not long after his death. Part of the reason for the lack of any lasting influence must have been that Vermeer, as has been so well described in recent scholarly and popular literature, worked in a very personal way, and seems to have had no pupils to whom these methods could have been passed on.  While another artist could, perhaps, have imitated Vermeer’s general approach to composition without actually training with him, the specific effects of colour and lighting that ultimately define his style and his genius were largely the result of the precise mixtures and combinations of pigments and grounds that the artist applied to his canvases, allied with a particular gift for infinitely subtle modulations in tone.  Maybe these techniques could never have been passed on to others, but in any case such a thing could only ever have been possible through a traditional, direct apprenticeship in Vermeer’s studio.  It has, however, been agreed since the earliest days of Vermeer scholarship that he had no such apprentices or pupils:  not only is there no documentary record of any such arrangement (apprenticeships had to be registered with the local painters’ guild), but there is also no body of surviving work, painted using Vermeer’s techniques and pigment combinations, but not actually by him, which would be the necessary result of his having had pupils. A second factor contributing to Vermeer’s eclipse in the 18th- and earlier 19th-century literature of art must surely have been the sheer rarity of his works.  Most modern scholars agree that there exist a mere 36 surviving works by Vermeer, and that while he must have painted a few other pictures that are now lost, the paintings that are known today nonetheless constitute the great majority of his entire output as an artist.  Already by the 18th century, these 36 paintings were dispersed through Germany, France, Italy and England as well as Holland, so there were simply too few works by the artist available to earlier scholars of Dutch art for them to form a view of his style. Once Thoré-Bürger had identified and defined Vermeer’s style in his ground-breaking publications in the Gazette des Beaux-Arts of 1866, the corpus of the artist’s paintings did, however, very rapidly coalesce, and although the early works continued to be debated even after the Second World War, by the early 20th century all the characteristic, original works of Vermeer’s maturity that are known today had already entered the literature.  No previously unknown work of this type by Vermeer has been discovered in the past century, and it is therefore all the more significant that following a programme of research lasting more than 10 years, a panel of leading international scholars and conservators has now concluded that the present painting of A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals is indeed an autograph work by Vermeer, dating from around 1670.  Although this painting has been long recorded in the literature, the confirmation of its previously disputed attribution represents an immensely important addition to the oeuvre of the mysterious Delft master. The painting represents a musical theme familiar from several of Vermeer’s larger paintings, in particular the two in the National Gallery, London (figs. 1 and 2).  It shows a young woman, three-quarters length, seated on a chair of rich blue velvet, her hands extended towards the keyboard of the virginals, a variant of the same instrument shown in one of the National Gallery’s paintings (see figs. 9 and 10).  She is dressed in a yellow woollen shawl above a white satin dress or skirt, with pearls around her neck and an arrangement of red and white ribbons in her hair.  As in Vermeer’s other small canvases, the figure and instrument are set against a plain wall, without any other compositional elements such as windows, curtains or background paintings;  yet despite this, the artist has created a highly convincing and atmospheric impression of space and depth, thanks to the depiction of minute irregularities and holes in the plaster of the wall, and the presence of a delicate, unified light, which comes, as in most of Vermeer’s interiors, from the top left of the composition. Very few paintings by Vermeer have been seen on the market since the 19th century, when the great majority of the artist’s known works were acquired either by the museums where they now reside, or by the collectors who subsequently gave them to those museums.  During the last century, only one has ever been offered at auction (The Little Street, now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, in 1921), and even including sales through dealers hardly a dozen works by Vermeer have been sold in that time.   No other characteristic painting by the artist has changed hands since the 1950s, and A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals is the only such work that still remains in private hands. Provenance It is possible, though far from certain, that this was one of the group of  21 pictures by Vermeer owned by the Delft bookseller and printer Jacob Dissius, who had inherited them from his father-in-law, Pieter van Ruijven, the man who seems to have been Vermeer’s most important patron.  Dissius’ paintings were sold in Amsterdam on 16 May 1696.  Unfortunately, the catalogue of this sale does not give the dimensions of the pictures, only a brief description of the subject of each, but in many cases this is still enough to identify the pictures that are known today, and some useful information can, therefore, be deduced from the prices realised by each painting.  These ranged from the 200 guilders paid for the famous View of Delft (The Hague, Mauritshuis) down to 17 guilders paid for each of two unidentifiable “tronies” (a term used in the 17th century for a small painting of a single figure, shown head-and-shoulders, in an exotic or historical costume).  After the View of Delft, the next two most expensive pictures were the Milkmaid (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum) which made 175 guilders, and the Woman Weighing Gold (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 155 guilders).  In the middle range of prices were pictures such as The Music Lesson (London, The Royal Collection, 80 guilders), the Concert (currently missing from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston), which made 73 guilders, and the Woman writing a letter (Washington, National Gallery of Art, 63 guilders).  One picture, lot 37 in the catalogue, is described as Een Speelende Juffrouw op de Clavecimbael (A Woman playing the Virginals).  In terms of subject, this could either have been the picture now under discussion or one of the two now in the National Gallery, London, and the price it fetched, 42 guilders and 10 stuivers, does not help in clarifying which it actually was, since this seems a very low price for a major work such as one of the London pictures, but also perhaps rather high for a picture as small as this one. Another early sale reference can be linked with rather more certainty to the present picture.  Lot 93 in the Amsterdam sale of the collection of Wessel Ryers, on 21 September 1814, was described as a painting on panel by Vermeer of a young woman playing a clavichord, 10 inches by 8 inches.  Other errors in the description of supports in this catalogue suggest that the fact the picture is described as being on panel rather than canvas should not be taken too seriously, and the dimensions given suggest very strongly that the picture sold must have been the present work, rather than one of the National Gallery pictures or a further, lost representation of the same subject. The whereabouts of the present picture has, however, been securely documented since 1904, when it was published in the preliminary catalogue by Dr. Wilhelm Bode of the collection of Alfred Beit, a South African-born diamond magnate who was one of the few European-based collectors to rival the great early 20th-century art acquisitions of Americans such as Frick and Mellon.  Beit, the majority of whose collections were eventually given to the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, owned many great Dutch pictures of the 17th century, including another Vermeer, the Lady Writing a Letter, though when and where he acquired either of his Vermeers is not now known. When Beit died, the picture passed to his brother, Otto Beit, and then the latter’s son, Sir Alfred Beit, who eventually, in 1960, placed the picture on consignment with a London dealer.  There it was seen by Baron Frédéric Rolin of Brussels, at the time a dealer in tribal art, who was also an occasional collector of Old Masters.  Rolin fell in love with the picture, and even though he was aware that the attribution to Vermeer had by then been questioned, he acquired the little painting, in the time-honoured fashion of collectors who fall in love with a work of art, by giving in exchange four others from his collection, paintings by Klee, Signac, Bonnard and Riopelle. Baron Rolin died in 2002, and the painting is now offered for sale by his heirs. Earlier Critical History During the initial decades following its first publication in 1904, the picture was universally accepted and published as an autograph work by Vermeer.  In the period before and during the Second World War, it was unanimously recognised by scholars, including Wilhelm Bode, Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, A.B. de Vries, Eduard Plietzsch and Ludwig Goldscheider.  Then, following the dramatic events of the affair of the Van Meegeren forgeries of Vermeer, De Vries, the Director of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and the recognised leading scholar on Vermeer, expressed doubts about the authenticity of the picture, doubts which he published in 1948, in the second edition of his book.  Despite the fact that not long after this De Vries changed his mind again, in favour of the painting, and wrote several letters saying that if his book were to go into a third edition he would unequivocally rehabilitate the picture, the seeds of doubt were sown.  In the event, no third edition of De Vries’ book was published, and the relative inaccessibility of the picture, particularly after its sale from the Beit collection in 1960, meant that subsequent scholars of Vermeer were inclined to relegate it to the margins of the artist’s work.  A few, including Lawrence Gowing (1970) and Christopher Wright (1976) continued to accept it, but others, for the most part basing their assessments on poor old photographs, dismissed it, in an increasingly perfunctory way.  Only during the last decade, since the picture was brought back into contact with the scholarly community, has it been examined seriously, and in the light of modern research and technology. The first steps in the research programme In 1993, Sotheby's was approached by Baron Rolin, with a request to undertake new research on the painting.  It was agreed that a useful first step would be to compare the painting with the two larger representations of similar subjects in the National Gallery, London.  The National Gallery generously agreed to remove their pictures from display and take them to the conservation laboratory, to enable the pictures to be compared under microscopes.  Opinions on that day were divided:  the conservators present (including David Bomford and Ashok Roy) unanimously felt that the three pictures they were looking at under the microscopes were all by the same hand, but the art-historians were less positive, saying that the stylistic and compositional differences between the pictures left the attribution of the small Rolin painting far from confirmed. After this mixed reception, it was eventually decided that no further clarification would be achieved without a detailed scientific analysis of the painting, to establish once and for all its physical composition:  was it or was it not a genuine 17th-century painting, and if so, precisely what materials and techniques had been used in its making?  To this end, a complete scientific study was begun in 1995 by Libby Sheldon of University College London, in collaboration with her colleague Catherine Hassall, and in 1997 Nicola Costaras of the Victoria and Albert Museum joined this team, bringing with her a considerable technical knowledge of Vermeer’s work.  This investigation demonstrated not only that the picture was unquestionably 17th-century, but also that its technical composition was entirely consistent with Vermeer’s known working methods.  In particular, the composition of the ground layers was found to be entirely comparable with other works by the artist, and the pigments used were also appropriate. The pigments In terms of determining the authenticity of the picture, the most significant pigments found during the scientific analysis were lead-tin yellow, green earth and ultramarine. Lead-tin yellow, which is here used throughout the yellow shawl, was very widely employed from the Middle Ages until the end of the 17th century, but became obsolete thereafter, and was replaced by other yellows such as yellow ochre and Naples yellow.  Indeed, knowledge of this pigment was rapidly forgotten, and it was not until 1941 that a scientist discovered that there was a tin component in this typical 17th-century yellow which distinguished it from other, later lead-based yellows. The fact that lead-tin yellow was the pigment used for the yellows in this picture immediately proves that it is at the very least a 17th-century painting and not, as some have suggested, a later imitation of Vermeer’s style. The pigment green earth was also found in the picture, used in the flesh tones.  This pigment seems to have been used only very rarely by 17th-century Dutch artists, but is regularly found in the flesh tones in Vermeer’s works.  Otherwise, the use of green earth seems to have been limited to the Utrecht school.  It is interesting to note in this context that Vermeer’s mother-in-law, Maria Thins, was in fact distantly related to Abraham Bloemaert, and herself possessed a significant collection of paintings by various Utrecht artists. Libby Sheldon’s most important discovery as regards the pigments used in this painting relates, however, to by far the most expensive pigment available to a 17th-century Dutch artist, namely ultramarine.  Made from ground lapis lazuli, this pigment was used to create blues of remarkable richness and depth, but on account of its great cost was only rarely used by artists of the period, and then only very sparingly, and in a very conspicuous way.  Vermeer, however, used this pigment very extensively, not only for the small areas of rich deep blue that are so characteristic of his paintings, but also incorporating it, invisibly, in the creamy tones of his background walls.  The subliminal enriching effect of this invisible use of the pigment is hard to quantify, but clearly Vermeer believed it was necessary to achieve the effects he desired;  and this specific extravagance is something that has never yet been found outside the work of Vermeer.  In the present picture, ultramarine is used in precisely this way, not only in the blue velvet chair back (fig. 3), but also, invisibly to the naked eye, throughout the background wall (fig. 4). The canvas and priming An immediately striking feature of the canvas used in this painting is that, although it is small in size, the weave of the fabric is relatively coarse;  usually, when 17th-century artists made small canvas paintings, they used canvases made of much finer fabric, with a much higher thread-count per centimetre.  The relatively rough canvas seen here is, however, exactly the same as that used by Vermeer in his only other canvas painting on this scale, the Lacemaker, in the Louvre (fig. 5).  The similarities between the canvases of these two paintings do not stop there.  Normally, canvases of this period show a significant difference in the thread count in each direction, creating a clear distinction between the “warp” and the “weft”, but in both these paintings the thread count in each direction is almost identical (12 threads per centimetre in each direction), which is extremely unusual in 17th-century Dutch painting.  Furthermore, the minor irregularities in the weave of the fabric, which are always present in canvases and can be clearly seen on X-rays, show such similarities in pattern that it is almost certain that both canvases were cut from the very same bolt of cloth (fig. 6).  What is more, the priming layers in each painting are also remarkably similar.  Although many Dutch grounds, and particularly Delft grounds, appear similar in colour and texture to the naked eye, they do in fact vary significantly when cross-sections are analysed under the microscope, in terms both of the combinations of pigments that are present, and also of the microscopic sizes of the particles of each pigment, which are the result of the process of grinding the pigments in the artist’s or canvas-merchant’s workshop.  The ground in this picture contains precisely the same combination of pigments as do those of several of Vermeer’s other paintings (notably the two National Gallery London paintings, and the Lacemaker), and the particle sizes are absolutely the same as in the Lacemaker, which means that both canvases must have been grounded at exactly the same time. Other technical features Sheldon’s study also revealed other significant facts, most importantly the presence in the picture of the characteristic pin-hole that is found in many of Vermeer’s pictures, at the vanishing-point of his perspectival scheme.  She also found evidence, visible in the X-rays, of compositional changes that had been made to the picture, most notably in the yellow shawl.  Originally it seems that the artist planned that the skirt would extend rather higher than it now does, and that the shawl would be consequently shorter;  there is evidence that the initial blocking in of the folds of the skirt extend under the lower part of the present yellow shawl (fig. 7).  In this lower area of the shawl, Sheldon also found two different layers of the same lead-tin yellow pigment, distinct, but with so little separation between them that they must have been applied within at the most a very few years of each other.  The twin questions of whether the reworkings and revisions in the yellow shawl were made by the artist of the rest of the picture, and whether these changes were made as artistic revisions or to correct technical or condition problems could not be answered by this type of technical analysis, but Sheldon’s description of the physical construction of this part of the painting is highly important, because this lower section of the yellow shawl is the area that has been the focus of much of the negative criticism of the picture’s overall appearance.  Although it should be noted that the yellow areas in Vermeer’s other paintings are often those in which there are the greatest problems as regards condition, there is no question that this is the most problematic part of the present painting.  The structure of folds and shadows in the lower areas of the yellow shawl is not handled in a manner typical of Vermeer, and although careful study of the draperies in the artist’s other paintings does reveal a fairly wide range of different techniques, it seems possible that this part of the painting was to some extent reworked by another hand, either because the original glazes that defined the shadows in the drapery were damaged, or because this area remained to some extent unfinished.  Lastly, Sheldon’s study also revealed that although the great majority of the picture surface was in fact very well preserved, there were nonetheless many tiny later retouchings, perhaps 19th-century in origin, which clearly had a significant effect on the painting’s overall visual appearance. The second phase of the research programme Following the initial confirmation that on a technical level the painting was completely consistent with Vermeer’s work, other side-by-side comparisons were made in New York in late 2000, after which Walter Liedtke requested the loan of the painting as a last-minute, ex-catalogue addition to his exhibition, Vermeer and the Delft School, which was due to open in New York a couple of months later, in March 2001.   There, and subsequently also at the National Gallery, London, the picture was hung together with the National Gallery paintings and others, and the question of its attribution and authenticity was once again much discussed.  The general conclusion from this debate was that the condition of the yellow shawl and the presence of the various later retouchings were together affecting the overall visual impression given by the picture to the extent that no firm conclusions about its attribution could be reached.  It was therefore decided that a careful cleaning and restoration, coupled with further research and investigation, should be undertaken, and to this end an ad hoc committee was formed to oversee the whole project.  The committee members were: Martin Bijl (former Head of Paintings Conservation, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) Frits Duparc (Director, Mauritshuis, The Hague) Gregory Rubinstein (Sotheby’s) Libby Sheldon (University College London Paintings Analysis) Jørgen Wadum (Head of Paintings Conservation, Mauritshuis, The Hague) Arie Wallert (Head of Paintings Conservation, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) Ernst van der Wetering (Head of Rembrandt Research Project) Marieke de Winkel (Costume Expert, Rembrandt Research Project) Under the guidance of this committee, the painting was lightly cleaned and restored by Martin Bijl in 2002-3;  the results of this restoration and the findings of the further research conducted by the committee members as part of the project are to be published in a collective group of articles in Oud Holland in the near future.  Without pre-empting totally the contents of this forthcoming publication, the following are some of the main conclusions reached by the committee: Many of the reservations that have been voiced about the picture over the years have resulted from the negative visual effects of later restorations, which though seemingly minor, had far-reaching visual effects.  Following the removal of these restorations (fig. 8), it has been possible to see much more clearly the artist’s original construction of space and lighting, and this has led the committee members to conclude unanimously that the artist in question was Vermeer. After detailed comparison with draperies in all Vermeer’s other pictures, it was agreed that the handling of folds and shadows in the lower part of the yellow shawl is untypical of the artist.  Given that there are also two distinct layers of lead-tin yellow in this area, it must be concluded that this part of the picture was brought to completion after the rest of the composition, perhaps as much as a few years later.  The committee members were, however, not able to conclude unanimously whether this later finishing within the yellow shawl was the result of damage in that area or because it had simply remained unfinished, or whether the final surface of this part of the yellow shawl was in fact painted by Vermeer himself at the end of his life, or by another hand. The Rolin painting can be linked much more closely than was previously understood to the Lacemaker in the Louvre (fig. 5), a painting that is precisely the same size as this, and is the artist’s only other canvas painting on this small a scale.  Much more than this, the research of the committee has revealed that the canvas on which these two pictures were painted, which has a highly distinctive pattern of threads, almost certainly originated from the very same bolt of cloth, and that the two canvases were grounded using precisely the same combination of pigments. In terms of dating the picture, Marieke de Winkel has concluded that on the grounds of costume and hairstyle, the picture must date from within a year either side of 1670, from the same time as the Louvre Lacemaker, and from slightly before the paintings in the National Gallery, London. Martin Bijl’s restoration of the picture in fact involved relatively little physical intervention.  His chief tasks were the removal of the later retouchings, and a small amount of almost microscopic retouching of losses.  Yet the transformation that this very minor intervention has brought to the overall appearance of the picture has been striking, and all those who have seen it both before and after restoration have agreed that it is only now that the picture conveys in a powerful and convincing way the sense of the figure’s presence in a three-dimensional space, set in front of a tangible background wall from which she is convincingly separated.   The cool, serene lighting so typical of Vermeer has also only now fully reappeared;  for those who have now seen the painting again, the re-emergence of this characteristic work by the most atmospheric and distinctive master of 17th-century Holland is a most astonishing and moving event. Relationship with other paintings by Vermeer Clearly, the subject of this painting suggests a relationship with the two Vermeer paintings of women playing similar instruments, in the National Gallery, London, which are generally dated around 1673-5.  Indeed, the instrument seen here may well be the very same one as in the London Young Woman Seated at the Virginals (figs. 9 and 10). The conception of the picture is, however, rather different, in that the space within which the figure and instrument are placed is far less specifically defined, without the floors, curtains, background pictures and windows seen in the London paintings.  The National Gallery paintings are, however, both very much larger in scale than this, and the setting of a single figure against only a plain background wall is entirely characteristic of Vermeer’s approach to a small, single-figure composition, as is clear not only from the Louvre Lacemaker but also from earlier paintings such as the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring in the Mauritshuis, The Hague.  In Vermeer’s other works on this scale the figure is usually larger in relation to the picture space and placed closer to the picture plane than here, but this unique compositional approach cannot be used as an argument to contest the attribution as at least half a dozen of the artist’s 36 surviving paintings have no obvious compositional parallels in his other works. As regards the dating of the picture, the most significant information is that provided by Marieke de Winkel, costume expert for the Rembrandt Research Project, who has established, on the basis of research using a wide range of sources including contemporary letters, prints, paintings and doll’s houses, that the hair-style and arrangement of hair-ribbons seen in this picture were fashionable only for a couple of years at the most, around 1670.  The combination of hair pulled back into a bun with ringlets hanging down on each side and a mix of thin red and white ribbons in the hair (fig. 13) soon gave way in popular fashion to the style seen in the two London paintings, where the hair is still drawn back into a bun, but with numerous small decorative curls around the hairline and no ringlets or other embellishments (figs. 15 and 16).  The Louvre Lacemaker, which is generally dated around 1670 on stylistic grounds, shows very much the same hairstyle (fig. 14) as that seen here, and this, together with the technical evidence linking the two pictures, suggests very strongly that the present painting of A Young Woman seated at the Virginals should also be dated to around 1670, making it Vermeer’s first exploration of the theme that was to provide the subject for his two famous paintings in the National Gallery. This proposed chronology also seems plausible in relation to another painting by Vermeer with a musical subject, the Guitar Player, in the Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House, London (fig. 11).  Rather more animated in mood than the three very contemplative pictures of women at the keyboards, the Kenwood painting, which is generally dated circa 1672, shows a young woman with a hairstyle similar to that seen in both the Rolin picture and the Lacemaker, but rather looser and less formal and without any decorative ribbons, which seems to have been the route taken by fashions of the day immediately before the emergence of the style seen in the two National Gallery paintings.  There are also striking similarities between the features of the sitters in the Rolin and Kenwood pictures, and the fact that the latter clearly shows a slightly older girl suggests that Vermeer may well have used the same model for both paintings.  The extent to which Vermeer based his female figures on members of his own household and the specific identities of the various people depicted have not been widely discussed in the art-historical literature, but there has been much speculation elsewhere that the artist’s daughters were the models for a number of paintings. Tracy Chevalier, Simon Jenkins and others have argued that the girl seen in the two National Gallery paintings was Vermeer’s eldest daughter, Maria, while the Kenwood picture and the present work, and possibly also the Louvre Lacemaker (though the features in that painting are hidden) show her younger sister, Elizabeth.  Any such identification remains, of course, speculative, but our understanding of Vermeer’s laborious working method does make it likely that he would have used his children as his models, and the facial similarities between the young women in certain pictures lend much credence to these theories. Whether or not this painting of a Young Woman Seated at the Virginals depicts one of the artist’s own daughters, the fact that it is now, after half a century, once again accepted as an autograph work by Vermeer represents an extremely important addition to our understanding of his artistic development.  Like the Lacemaker, this is a strikingly intimate and direct representation of a domestic activity, in which the picture space is defined not by walls or by background details, but by light alone.  But it is also the painting in which Vermeer explored for the first time a subject that was to provide him with the inspiration for two of the greatest productions of his final years.

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2004-07-07
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Femme assise sur une chaise

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

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-11-05
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1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Lungo Spider by Touring

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

  • USAUSA
  • 2016-08-19
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Pregnant Girl

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

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2016-02-10
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AN EXCEPTIONAL EGYPTIAN PAINTED LIMESTONE STATUE FOR THE INSPECTOR OF THE SCRIBES SEKHEMKA

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

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2014-07-10
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By Twos

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

  • USAUSA
  • 2013-11-14
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Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio

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

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2015-10-15
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Odalisque au fauteuil noir

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

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2015-02-03
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Liz #1 (Early Colored Liz)

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

  • USAUSA
  • 2013-11-14
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Composition with Red, Blue and Grey

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

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2014-06-23
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Skizze fur sintflut ii (sketch for deluge ii)

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

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  • 2004-11-04
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La Séance du matin

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

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  • 2014-05-07
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