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Buste de femme au chapeau

Among the subject matter that permeates Picasso's oeuvre, it is perhaps his female portraits that prove the most powerful for their formal revolution and power of expression. Strength and vibrancy characterize Buste de femme au chapeau, with its sharp color palette, angularity and boldness of form. Dating from the end of May 1939, the present oil evokes a time of intense change and turbulence in the artists life, which was coupled with one of the most groundbreakingly-creative periods in his oeuvre.As a young man, Picassos daring, from Les Demoiselles dAvignon to analytic and synthetic Cubism, forged his reputation as one of the most audacious artists of the twentieth-century. In 1937 he was commissioned to make a large-scale work of art by the Spanish Republican government for inclusion in the 1937 Worlds Fair in Paris. The boiling turmoil of the Spanish Civil War and, some months after he received the commission, the bombing on the town of Guernica, provided the impetus for his painting of the eponymous monumental canvas, which would be exhibited alongside Joan Mirós The Reaper (Catalan Peasant in Revolt) and Alexander Calders Mercury Fountain. The dire political situation in Picassos native Spain and in the whole of Europe in the 1930s was combined with momentous disruptions in the artists personal life: For Picasso the question of modernity was acute in the 1930s and 1940s, since modernity in this period meant a personal life, a nation, a Europe and indeed a world in crisis. This period in Picassos art is marked by a succession of shattering events in his personal life that no doubt appeared to him mirrored by the disasters in the world at large. Personal events include the death of his mother in 1939; the slow breakdown of his marriage to Olga Khokhlova (they eventually separated in 1935); his ongoing secret affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter (from 1927) leading to the birth of his daughter Maya, in 1935; and new relationships with the artist and photographer Dora Maar (from 1936) and then the painter Françoise Gilot (from 1943) (Picasso, Challenging the Past (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery, London, 2009, p. 88). Picassos mother died suddenly from a fall in January of 1939. Unable to travel to Spain and living in a country facing increasing pressure from Nazi Germany, Picasso maintained relationships with both Marie-Thérèse and Dora Maar. Physically they were quite different. An athletic, statuesque blonde, Marie-Thérèse Walter was the embodiment of sensuality, and her physical presence elicited some of Picassos most visually arresting images. Maar was quite opposite in many ways. She possessed a strong, determined personality and was an artist in her own right. Where Marie-Thérèse was blonde, Maar was brunette; where Marie-Thérèse was rounded, Maar was pointy. Both of these women, so opposite in character and appearance, populated Picassos life and paintings. While many attributes of Buste de femme au chapeau point to Marie-Thérèse, including the blonde sweep of hair and the bright-yet-soft tonalities of the palette, portions of Maar are also reflected here. In contrast with his depictions of a more passive Marie-Thérèse, the present painting is one of his most animated, tactile and sculptural renderings of the young woman. Her figure is rendered with incisions into the thick paint, adding dimension to her features. Dora's presence also makes its way into this picture vis-a-vis the artist's focus on Marie-Thérèse's hat. Picasso embellishes this accessory with a blue feather and variations in the colors of its planes. While the luxe accessory may have been important to the sitter, its significance in this painting becomes clear in retrospect: for it was Dora who would be immortalized in Picasso's portraits as the wearer of stylish hats. What may have then been an important personal item for Marie-Thérèse becomes here a symbolic indicator of her status as the saintly new mother of Picasso's daughter and as the antithesis of her new rival. In fact, the picture can be read as an amalgam of both women, and evidences a Madonna/Magdalene dichotomy that manifested in Picasso's art while he was simultaneously involved with both women. The significance of the hat in Buste de femme au chapeau can also be tied to another focus of Picasso during the late 1930s. Anne Baldassari asserts that: A series of portraits dated 1937-39 amounts to a deliberate tribute to Van Gogh, whose oeuvre, lambasted by the Nazis as degenerate art, was being publicly burned in Berlin. Borrowing his attire, as well as his color scheme and expressionistic virulence, in Homme au chapeau de paille et au cornet de glace (Man in Straw Hat with an Ice-cream Cone, 1938), Picasso produces a self-portrait in Van Goghs features. Likewise, Picasso imposed the masters stylistic idiom on contemporary portraits of Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar, which display chromatic tracery and a scarified palette. Informed by the geometrical faces of the protocubism of Les Demoiselles dAvignon, the angelic features of his lovers are deformed through the deconstructive prism of a revived cubist method (Picassos Masterpieces, The Musée Picasso Paris Collection, Paris, 2014, p. 397). As is the case for many of the works now considered to be among Picassos greatest pictures, Buste de femme au chapeau remained in the artists possession until his death in 1973. It was then inherited by Maya, his daughter by Marie-Thérèse. Because Picasso was not able to divorce Olga due to the heavy financial penalties that would ensue, he was unable to marry Marie-Thérèse and kept their relationship a secret well into the 1930s. Marie-Thérèse, for her part, was mostly tolerant of the situation, with Picasso forever reassuring her that she was the primary object of his affection. Her permissive temperament, however, is alleged to have faltered upon meeting Dora. As the story goes, Picasso was painting Guernica in his studio when Marie-Thérèse met Dora for the first time. I kept on painting and they kept on arguing, Picasso told Gilot in later years. Finally Marie-Thérèse turned to me and said, Make up your mind. Which one of us goes I was satisfied with things as they were. I told them theyd have to fight it out for themselves. So they began to wrestle. Its one of my choicest memories (quoted in LAmour fou, Picasso and Marie Thérèse (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2011, pp. 47-50). Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work. Dated 27.5.39. (center right)

  • USAUSA
  • 2017-11-15
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An extremely fine and magnificent imperial falangcai 'poppy'...

Exquisitely potted with deep rounded sides resting on a straight foot and gracefully tapering to an everted rim, the immaculate white porcelain of translucent quality, the exterior delicately and meticulously painted in finely ground and blended imported enamels with a group of poppies issuing forth from dense rockwork while a single yellow butterfly flutters overhead, the continuous scene further adorned with tender yellow, pink and lavender blossoms elegantly borne on undulating stems painted in various shades of lime and fern green, each individual bloom vibrantly detailed with subtle veining and lemon-yellow speckled stamens, the yellow butterfly depicted floating above with its body and wings striped in black, the latter further accentuated with a red circular spot, all contrasting with the gnarled roughness of the punctured and craggy rocks, the reverse inscribed with a fourteen-character poem flanked by three iron-red seal marks, the interior enamelled with a young branch of finger-citron, an apple and three cherries, the base inscribed in blue enamel with a four-character mark within a double square Ethereal Beauty Regina Krahl The unassuming beauty of this outstanding falangcai bowl with its ethereal painting of poppies and its elegantly inscribed colophon would not immediately suggest that in fact it alludes to a major event of Chinas history, a story reverberating with heroism and loyalty, love and devotion, that has become romanticized in poetry and fiction. The poetic inscription below the rim can be translated: They welcome the wind, as if it could chase the sound of singing that has arisen. The night full of rain, how it causes the dancing sleeve to hang down! For the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795), who as a young man was of course trained in the Chinese Classics, these two lines, together with the flower depicted, in China also known as Yu meiren, Beauty Yu, would immediately have evoked a story related in the seminal history of early China, the Shiji, Records of the Grand Historian, written by Sima Qian (145-c.90 BC), Grand Historian at the Han court (206 BC-AD 220). One of the Biographies included in the Shiji is devoted to Xiang Yu (232-202 BC), a warlord, who fought against the Qin (221-206 BC) to reinstate the former state of Chu. Upon the fall of the Qin, he proclaimed himself Hegemon King of Western Chu and became engaged in a lengthy struggle over the hegemony of China with Liu Bang (256-195 BC), founder of the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). Although that dynasty is officially set to have begun in 206 BC, the so-called Chu-Han contention lasted until 202 BC. It ended in the battle of Gaixia (in northern Anhui), where Sima Qian records the following story (translated by Burton Watson in Cyril Birch, ed., Anthology of Chinese Literature, Harmondsworth, 1967 [1965], p. 142, with the Chinese terms here transferred into pinyin): Xiang Yus army had built a walled camp at Gaixia, but his soldiers were few and his supplies exhausted. The Han army, joined by the forces of the other leaders, surrounded them with several lines of troops. In the night Xiang Yu heard the Han armies all about him singing the songs of Chu. Has Han already conquered Chu he exclaimed in astonishment. How many men of Chu they have with them! Then he rose in the night and drank within the curtains of his tent. With him were the beautiful lady Yu, who enjoyed his favor and followed wherever he went, and his famous steed Dapple, which he always rode. Xiang Yu, filled with passionate sorrow, began to sing sadly, composing this song: My strength plucked up the hills, My might shadowed the world; But the times were against me, And Dapple runs no more; When Dapple runs no more, What then can I do Ah, Yu, my Yu, What will your fate be He sang the song several times through, and Lady Yu joined her voice with his. Tears streamed down his face, while all those about him wept and were unable to lift their eyes from the ground. Since having been recorded by Sima Qian, who goes on to relate Xiang Yus death soon after, this epic story with its romantic side-line featuring the heros consort, Lady Yu (d. 202 BC), has become a beloved popular topic of drama and romance in China and freely enriched and embellished has inspired poems, plays, Peking opera, films, TV series and video games to this day. The two lines that are inscribed on the present bowl, which refer to the songs of Chu signifying defeat, and the resulting fate of the two lovers, are taken from a longer late Ming dynasty (1368-1644) poem about poppies (Yong Yu meiren cao) by Xu Gui, that evokes Lady Yus story. In later narratives, we can read that Lady Yu responded to the Gaixia song by singing a poem herself and by performing a sword dance for her lover, giving herself the sword at the end. This tale of loyalty and moral integrity has made her a popular heroine and she is revered as one of ancient Chinas famous beauties. As poppies are believed to have grown on the spot, where she killed herself, the flower is named after her, Yu meiren, Beauty Yu. Her tomb east of Suzhou in Lingbi county, Anhui province, in the area formerly named Gaixia, remains a famous tourist attraction. The poppy flower is easy to recognize by its frilly, less than paper-thin petals, its buds enveloped by a green hull, which it sheds when they open, and a hairy stem. Flower painting had been practised in China since at least the Song dynasty (960-1279), but became a specialist genre due to the virtuosity of Yun Shouping (1633-1690), probably Chinas most famous flower painter, who introduced a new diction: his scrolls and album leaves in the boneless style (without ink outlines) revived interest in the field as a whole. His depictions also of poppies inspired many painters particularly in the Kangxi (1662-1722) and Yongzheng (1723-1735) periods, such as Wang Wu (1632-1690), Yun Bing (1670-1710), Ma Yuanyu (c. 1669-1722), Zou Yigui (1686-1772) and others, all of whom painted poppies, often in the form of album leaves representing one of the months of the year. It is surprising therefore, that this photogenic flower was so rarely depicted on porcelain. On falangcai porcelains from the Beijing enamelling workshops it was used already, but in a very different, more lush and imposing form, in the Kangxi period, with the flowers set against a purple ground; see Shen bi danqing. Lang Shining lai Hua sanbai nian tezhan/Portrayals from a Brush Divine. A Special Exhibition on the Tricentennial of Giuseppe Castigliones Arrival in China, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2015, cat. no. I-17. In the Yongzheng reign, it appears to have been used only once in the Beijing workshops, but rendered in a manner much closer to the present example. A pair of small falangcai dishes of Yongzheng mark and period, also preserved in the National Palace Museum, is similarly painted with poppies growing from behind rockwork, both unique in composition and sharing between them the same two poetic lines inscribed on our bowl, one line appearing on each; see ibid., cat. no. II-05; and Qing gongzhong falangcai ci tezhan/Special Exhibition of Ching Dynasty Enamelled Porcelains of the Imperial Ateliers, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1992, cat. no. 98 (fig. 1). Although the present bowl was clearly inspired by these two dishes, it is very differently conceived and displays its own individual painting style. On the Yongzheng prototypes, the scenes are rendered with the flowers seemingly more substantial, less emphasis being put on the weightlessness of their stems and blooms that makes them dance in the wind. On the present bowl, the flowers are admirably observed from nature and superbly painted, growing in an unruly manner, their petals wind-blown and their stalks bent in disorderly ways. Falangcai (foreign colours) porcelains painted in the imperial workshops of the Forbidden City in Beijing with enamels partly introduced from the West are among the rarest and most dazzling ceramic wares of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The fine white porcelain, potted and fired in Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province, south of the Yangzi River and then sent up to Beijing, was painted within the confines of the imperial palace, next the Emperors living quarters, before being fired once more to affix the enamels. Never before or after can porcelain painters have been exposed to similar pressure as in these tightly circumscribed workshops, where they were to meet the extreme imperial expectations while being subject to immediate scrutiny from the monarchs eyes. The whole setup was small in scale, not least for the simple reasons of space and inconvenience to ordinary palace life, and here individual artists would create individual works of art, incomparable to the mass production even of fine porcelains for the court undertaken at Jingdezhen. Every piece of porcelain produced in these workshops is unique, quality is unsurpassed and numbers, naturally, are very limited. Poppy designs were also produced at Jingdezhen, and although they are extremely beautiful, they cannot compare to the present piece. While this bowl uses a palette specially developed for it and its design is laid out in an individual manner, Jingdezhen poppy bowls are known in several virtually identical versions and are painted in the standard famille rose (fencai) palette that had been developed for painting on a larger scale; compare the pair of poppy bowls from the collection of Dr James D. Thornton, sold at Christies Hong Kong, 29th November 2017, lot 2806. During the Kangxi reign the imperial workshops in the Forbidden City resembled sophisticated laboratories more than art ateliers, where court artists, artisans and technicians explored new scientific discoveries, manufacturing methods and substances. To this end, the Emperor had welcomed foreigners to the court, mainly from Europe, to upgrade the countrys standards of scientific and technical knowledge to international levels. The Yongzheng Emperor mistrusted these foreigners right on his doorstep, and with few exceptions, expelled them from the court. One of the exceptions was granted to the Italian Jesuit painter Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), a particularly capable artist who had endeavoured to learn Chinese painting techniques and experimented with a hybrid style that combined the ingenious Chinese manner of composition with the meticulous way of detailed representation in which he had been trained in Europe. His depictions of flowers, birds and animals, clearly based on Chinese models, obviously pleased the Emperors, and although they had little effect on the development of Chinese painting in general, they decisively influenced court artisans working practically side by side with Castiglione and other Europeans inside the Forbidden City. Castigliones album Immortal Blossoms in an Everlasting Spring contains flower and bird-and-flower leaves that render the subjects in the stylish asymmetrical compositions that are quintessentially Chinese, yet with that almost excessive degree of precision that he had learned in Europe. One of these album leaves, which depicts corn poppies next to fringed irises, looks almost certain to have influenced the way the poppy flowers on this bowl were conceived in the enamelling workshops (fig. 2). A major difference in the depiction of the nature scene on this Qianlong bowl from those on the Yongzheng dishes concerns the way the motif here has been cut off at the rim, or better, enlarged beyond the space available for painting a ploy to make the motif seemingly jump out of the two-dimensional plane. Such attempts to catch the viewers attention by suggesting three-dimensionality, which were practised already in Chinese handscroll paintings on paper or silk, are today still frequently used in advertising. At Jingdezhen, this style of depiction was turned into the guozhihua style, where the design climbs over the wall and actually continues on the inside of the vessel a very different concept, which scorns the idea behind the present stratagem, namely to engage the viewer by omitting part of the design. No other pieces of Qianlong falangcai porcelain appear to exist painted with poppies, and this bowl is further unusual in showing loosely strewn fruits a variation of the sanduo, the Three Abundances on the inside. Comparable bowls with different flower motifs and accompanying poems on the outside are in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, but otherwise they are extremely rare; see the Museums exhibition catalogue, op. cit., 1992, cat. nos 57, 58 and 61, the latter with a fruiting branch also on the inside. Generally, however, bowls and dishes with such painterly decoration on the outside are undecorated on the inside, while pieces with more formal, coloured sgraffiato decoration often show painted insides; compare, for example, a pair of dishes with yellow sgraffiato grounds outside and freely strewn fruits inside, illustrated in Liao Pao Show (Liao Baoxiu), Huali cai ci: Qianlong yangcai/Stunning Decorative Porcelains from the Chien-lung Reign, exhibition catalogue, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2008, cat. no. 91.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2018-10-02
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Le matador

The bullfight was, of course, immensely important to Picasso. The play of domination and subjugation, grandeur and pathos which characterises his pictures of bulls and their Cretan cousin the Minotaur, is essentially a product of that almost religious intensity of the rituals of the ring. Neil Cox & Deborah Povey, A Picasso Bestiary, London, 1995, p. 35 Painted on 23rd October 1970, the present oil is the last matador work in a series Picasso started in late September of that year, and is a culmination of a life-long obsession with the theme. Picassos first painting Le petit picador jaune, executed in Málaga in 1889-90, represents a matador on a horse in the arena, observed by the spectators behind him. At the age of eight, Picasso was taken to the bullring by his father and this experience certainly had a strong impression on the boy. Bullfighting was later to become one of his most important subjects, and he returned to it in various guises - at many stages of his career, from the sunlit corrida oils and pastels dating from 1900-01, to the Minotaur figure of his Surrealist phase and the war-time drama of Guernica. In September and October 1970, following a bullfight at Fréjus, he returned to the celebrated theme of the matador for a final time. Unlike his other depictions of the matador from this period (fig. 3), in which the figure is depicted against a plain, monochrome background, the present work is unique for combining the image of the matador with that of the arena. The lower half of the background represents the sand of the bullfighting ring, with the spectators in the upper half. Although executed in a quick manner verging on abstraction, the depiction of the audience recalls not only Picassos earlier renderings of the subject, but also that of his predecessors such as Goya and Manet, in which the bullring is characteristically divided into sections in light and shade. Sunlight and shade form the two areas of seating in the bullring []. Bullfights are staged in the afternoon, when the heat can be unbearable, and so those who can afford the seats enter by the door marked Sombra. The blacker side of the ring is the colour of the bull himself, whilst those seated in the sun are allied to the Traje de Luces, the immensely coloured and embroidered suit of lights of the Matador (Neil Cox & Deborah Povey, A Picasso Bestiary, London, 1995, p. 40). During the last years of the nineteenth century Picasso stayed in Madrid, where he copied the old masters at the Prado, and was no doubt influenced by Goyas bullfighting scenes. During his first show at Ambroise Vollards gallery in Pars in 1900 Picasso exhibited a number of his latest works, mostly pastels and drawings. Following the success of the bullfight scenes in particular, which were the first works to sell, on his return to Spain he created a number of oils painted in dazzling colours that recreate the vibrancy of Andalusian light and the violence of the bullfighting ritual. Writing one of the first reviews of Picassos art, the young critic Frederic Pujulà i Vallès commented on these works: The effect of the blinding light beating down on the rows of seats is unbelievable: so are the silhouettes of the bullfighters and the clusters of spectators in the stands (F. Pujulà i Vallès, quoted in John Richardson, A Life of Picasso, London, 1991, vol. I, p. 154). Despite leaving Spain to live in Paris in his youth, Picasso retained a sense of Spanish identity until the very end of his life. He grew up watching bullfights in Málaga, and when he wished to draw attention to his heritage, he turned to the imagery of the bullfight. The return to the subject in the present work illustrates how the ageing artist dwelt on his earliest memories and the pantheon of Old Master painters for inspiration in his late art. Personal memories become intertwined with his artistic heritage, and in this final series of matador portraits the ghost of Goya is strongly present. Picassos matadors are dressed in the style of figures from Goyas time (fig. 4) and represent a final tribute to La Corrida, the dance of life and death that symbolised the extremes of the Spanish temperament, and to the heroic figure of the matador who embodied Picassos own Andalusian machismo. The bullfight became a symbol for the most public display of violence, bravery and ability, and its attraction for the artist certainly lay in its powerful contradictions of grace and brutality, entertainment and tragedy, Eros and Thanatos and, ultimately, life and death. Neil Cox and Deborah Povey wrote: The bullfight was, of course, immensely important to Picasso. The play of domination and subjugation, grandeur and pathos which characterises his pictures of bulls and their Cretan cousin the Minotaur, is essentially a product of that almost religious intensity of the rituals of the ring (N. Cox & D. Povey, op. cit., p. 29). In the present work, however, Picasso balances the ritualistic aspect of the matador in his elaborate costume with a human dimension lacking in many of the earlier depictions. With his large, wide open eyes reminiscent of Picassos renderings of Jacqueline, the matador displays a vulnerability and a sense of mortality that reflect the artists own concerns towards the end of his life. For the elderly artist, the matador was one of a cast of characters that were a means of projecting different aspects of his own identity. In Picassos late paintings the subject always plays a part, or wears a disguise: as a painter at work or as a matador-musketeer [...]. Picassos confrontation with the human face, which makes him into the great portrait-painter of the twentieth century, brings him back to a confrontation with himself, the painter, young or old (Marie-Laure Bernadac, in Late Picasso (exhibition catalogue), The Tate Gallery, London, 1988, pp. 81-83). These portraits of the various archetypes that populated Picassos personal mythology were part of a final synthesis which merged the artists personal history with the cultural heritage of the Western artistic tradition, and developed a direct and spontaneous style that celebrated the act of artistic creation. Combining the complexity of the theme, loaded with personal and art historical references, with the freedom and spontaneity of execution, Le Matador belongs to an important series of late paintings. It was included in the exhibition of Picassos last great works, organised by Jacqueline at the Palais des Papes in Avignon shortly after the artists death in 1973. Painted in quick gestural brushstrokes and with an extraordinary sense of energy, the present work bears witness to the creative force that characterised Picasso's late years. Having gone through many phases of stylistic and technical experimentation, by this time Picasso had acquired a confidence of expression and freedom of execution that enabled him to paint monumental works, and Le Matador is a brilliant display of the virtuosity with which he combined the complex elements that had shaped his life and art. Dated 23.10.70. on the reverse

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2018-02-28
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The magna carta

The Magna Carta of 12 October 1297, issued in the name of King Edward I of England as an inspeximus by letters patent of a charter of the ninth year of Henry III, written in medieval Latin on parchment, now repaired and in places rebacked. Approx. 370 X 420 + 32mm., with margins of 10 (left), 28 (top) and 15mm. (right). The writing on ruled lines, with feint ruled vertical plumb lines for the margins. The capital E of the King's name Edwardus decorated and extending down two lines of text. Written throughout in a neat chancery-style hand, in 68 lines of text, the final line extended with a note of warranty Scowe (the name of the chancery official, John of Stowe) infilling the line to the right hand margin. Sealed sur double queue (on a fold at the foot of the document), using a parchment tag (22mm. wide) through a single slit at the foot. On the tag, an impression of the small seal of Edward I, used as the seal of absence by the regency council in England whilst the King was in Flanders 1297-8: natural wax, the central portion of the seal, broken and repaired, various details legible including the letters EDW..........., and the small lion or leopard between the King's legs on the obverse side, the King seated in majesty on a bench-like throne, carrying two rods or sceptres, one of which remains topped with a fleur-de-lys device. The reverse of the seal, and the dorse of the document inaccessible inside its modern argon-filled display cabinet. Recorded in photographs, the endorsements: Magna Carta (s.xvi/xvii); 25 E(dward) I (s.xvii) to the left on the dorse: Magna Carta 25 Ed(ward) I repeated on the right of the dorse; 1296 (?s.xvii); a nineteenth-century stamp mark of the Brudenell family motto En Grace Affie ('On grace depend') with the call number A.viii.6 written in pen at the centre and repeated in pencil at the foot of the dorse. On the outside of the fold, to the left of the seal tag, the word Buk', denoting that this was the exemplar of the charter sent into Buckinghamshire. On the fold to the right of the seal tag, the words tradatur Rogero Hodelyn de Neuport (c.1297): a unique detail, recording the proclamation of the charter within the county (see below p.XXX). In generally good to excellent condition, legible throughout save for a very few characters, but with some rubbing, damp staining and soiling. Two small and two slightly larger passages of damp damage obliterating letters along former folds on the left hand side of the document. A long vertical passage of damp staining to the right of the document reaching down to the fold, but without obliterating the text. Various smaller patches where the lettering has been rubbed or stained. A cross marked in the right hand margin (?s.xvii) next to the line of text recording the ruling that there be a single measure of grain throughout the realm. Provenance: since 1983 the property of the Perot Foundation, until recently deposited in the National Archives in Washington. Prior to 1983, certainly since the nineteenth century, probably since the seventeenth century, and perhaps since the fourteenth century, the property of the Brudenell family of Amersham Buckinghamshire and later of Deene Park Northamptonshire. In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.

  • USAUSA
  • 2007-12-18
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Poems to the Sea

Cy Twombly’s historic suite of twenty-four drawings, Poems to the Sea of 1959, invokes an aesthetic grandeur that is as intangible and ethereal as it is impressive and utterly irresistible. Widely exhibited internationally for almost half a century, Poems to the Sea has long been recognized as among the artist’s foremost triumphs, and is respected as a critical early touchstone for the subsequent evolution of his entire career. Executed at the beginning of a new chapter in the artist’s life, immersed in the prospect of a permanent existence in his newly adopted Italy, this revered masterpiece sits at the head of Twombly’s lifelong dialogue with the classical past, legends of the gods and the myths of ancient civilization. Permeated with the artist’s utterly inimitable, tremulous handwriting and exigent mark making, Poems to the Sea combines a transcription of immediate lived experience with a fresh reinterpretation of ancient history. Here, immersed in the Mediterranean land and seascapes, Twombly masterfully scribes an epic paean to the Sea itself, extending the spirit of Homeric and Ovidian legend yet by the means of an entirely unprecedented vocabulary. Through the late 1950s Twombly travelled more and more to Italy, developing extensive networks of friends and acquaintances there. In April 1959 he married Tatiana Franchetti at New York‘s City Hall, and was thereafter formally integrated into his new wife’s Italian family. Following their honeymoon in Cuba and Mexico, in July and August 1959 the newlywed couple rented an apartment in the coastal town of Sperlonga, a small whitewashed fishing village between Rome and Naples. The town’s origins were Saracen and the Emperor Tiberius had built his summer villa there and this proved the arena where Twombly would radically transform his artistic development. The ready access to the Mediterranean provided Twombly with a repository of classical ruin and reference, and the fabric of his immediate surroundings found its way into his art. As Nicholas Cullinan has described, “To encounter the past is to put into question the present. This sense of awe and perplexity at overlaid tenses and times and encountering places only previously known in the imagination…offered for Twombly a palimpsest of past, present and future; layered, intertwined and interpenetrating each other like archaeological strata.” (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, 2008, p. 74) In addition to this, the very meteorological conditions of his new environment evidently also suffused Twombly’s output, as detailed by Roland Barthes:  “The inimitable art of Twombly consists of having imposed the Mediterranean effect while starting from materials (scratches, smudges, smears, little color, no academic forms) which have no analogy with the great Mediterranean radiance. [He evokes a] whole life of forms, colors, and light which occurs at the frontier of the terrestrial landscape and the plains of the sea.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Cy Twombly: Paintings and Drawings 1954-1977, 1979, p. 16) Further still, Kirk Varnedoe has explained the simultaneous importance of a methodological breakthrough that occurred at this time: “That summer, during which it became evident that Tatiana was expecting their child, was immensely important for Twombly as an artist. In a notable change, he abandoned the house paint that had till then been his preferred medium, and began using oil paint from tubes, with its wholly different physical properties. Instead of flowing, this material issued forth in discrete mounds that stood off the surface with a smooth, plump integrity, and required pressure to flatten and spread…. The series of Poems to the Sea used this cool, linen white matter as an independent element of line, shape, and low relief against the drawn indications of open horizons and largely wordless writing.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, 1994, p. 31) Indeed, it becomes clear that Poems to the Sea is a work that encapsulates a transformative juncture. Executed in a single day, it represents a sudden outpouring of a new, unrestrained creativity. The twenty-four drawings expose their startlingly bleached surfaces, with overlaid accumulations of globular paint partially obscuring and revealing fugitive traces of undulant pencil lines, a proliferation of numerical progressions and occasionally identifiable words such as ‘Sappho’ the legendary ancient Greek female lyric poet from the island of Lesbos. Of course, Twombly’s art is replete with allusion to literary heritage, but there is another specific reference that is particularly germane to this groundbreaking suite of drawings. In 1957 Twombly had penned a short statement for the Italian art journal L’Esperienza moderna, which was to remain the sole published reflection on his own work until 2000, when he was interviewed by David Sylvester. He wrote “Whiteness can be the classic state of the intellect, or a neo-romantic area of remembrance – or as the symbolic whiteness of Mallarmé” (L’Esperienza moderna, 1957, p. 32, cited in Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, 2008, p. 73), and Poems to the Sea certainly conjures something of Stéphane Mallarmé’s poetry, such as his celebrated meditation on whiteness in The Swan of 1885: “All his neck will shake off this white death-agony / Inflicted by space on the bird which denies space / But not the horror of the earth where his wings are caught. / Phantom whom his pure brilliance assigns to this place.” Poems to the Sea also initiated Twombly’s use of a literary title, by which he offered to dismantle the constrictive divisions between painting and literature, drawing and writing, viewing and reading. In this respect this work anticipates other major breakthroughs such as Nine Discourses on Commudus of 1963 (Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao), Letter of Resignation of 1967, and Treatise on the Veil of 1968. Poems to the Sea stands as tangible testimony to Twombly's staggering innovation and inimitable abstract aesthetic through the work's visceral imagery, compositional economy, and graphic intelligence, traits that appear so instinctive yet seemingly arbitrary. His frantic erasures and explosive gestures - highly corporeal and savage marks – are juxtaposed against the cool palette and determined compositions, forging “a potent hybrid between the gestural painting of Abstract Expressionism and the erotic abandon of Surrealism.” (Nicholas Cullinan and Xavier F. Salomon, ‘Venus and Eros’, in Exh. Cat., London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Twombly and Poussin: Arcadian Painters, 2011, p. 113)  Despite a residual yearning to decipher these written marks as an inherently human need, Twombly's visual language has neither syntax nor logic: in the words of Pierre Restany, it is comprised of "furtive gestures, an écriture automatique," (Pierre Restany, The Revolution of the Sign, 1961) and function as a compulsory sensual and intellectual catharsis that is both universal and particular to the individual. (i), (vii) and (xxiv) signed and dated Sperlonga July 1959 on the reverse

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  • 2013-11-14
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The Blue Unconscious

“You can hear the life in the grass, hear it growing. Next thing there’s a dry spell…and the life is gone. Put your ear to it then and all you hear is the wind.” The artist as cited by Julien Levy in Ellen G. Landau, Jackson Pollock, New York, 1989, p. 159 Pollock’s stature as a heroic figure in the world of mid-twentieth century art and cultural history is inescapable and transformative. As the immediate precursors of the final breakthrough to his epochal “drip” technique in 1947, paintings such as The Blue Unconscious of late 1946 are definitive and eloquent proclamations of Pollock’s bold assault on painterly norms. In scale, composition, palette and gesture, The Blue Unconscious and its fellow paintings of the late 1940s ushered in an entire new world of aesthetic concerns in 20th century art. Pollock paved the way for radical explorations into the limitless possibilities of modern abstract art. Previously owned by the Belgian collector, Philippe Dotrement, and residing in the current private collection since 1965, The Blue Unconscious is the largest of the seven paintings in Pollock’s “Sounds in the Grass” series of 1946 which internalize his profound response to the landscape of his new home in Long Island.  It is one of only two works  from the series still in private hands:  three of the series are in the Peggy Guggenheim, Foundation, Venice, while two are in the Tel Aviv Museum and one, Shimmering Substance, was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1968. When The Blue Unconscious was painted in Summer 1946, Pollock’s tenure with Peggy Guggenheim (1943-1947) was approaching its culmination, and the paintings he created for his final exhibition there in January 1947, are an aggressive departure from his earlier work and signal the final chapter in his gradual surrender to non-figurative abstraction. In The Blue Unconscious, his potent images, all-over composition and aggressive painterly technique gave visual expression to a watershed era of reinvention that was stirring in all forms of culture in the late 1930s and 1940s. Young questing minds grappled with new theories, burning to break with the past and create new orders of thought and expression. In his field of painting, Pollock was at the forefront of New York Abstract Expressionism, the historic movement that both celebrated and then surpassed the earlier advances of European and American Modernism. The Blue Unconscious embodies Pollock’s search for an organic integration of both imagery with abstraction as well as emotive impulse with technique. By 1946, Pollock had mastered the muscular and invigorating painterliness inherent to his work, while imagery, vibrant color and energetic physicality press the boundaries of this monumental 8 x 5 ½ foot canvas. With the dazzling confidence and bravura of works such as The Blue Unconscious, Pollock became the first American to gain public, media and critical recognition as a modern master on par with the Europeans, skyrocketing to a position of fame that grew to mythic proportions throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s. The famous Life magazine article in August 1949, with the title “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” heralded not only Pollock’s personal acclaim as an artist, but his role as the standard bearer for American art on the international stage. Although Pollock was not alone in his desire to fuse the challenges of Modernist art into an individual artistic identity, none other than his fellow giant, Willem de Kooning, acknowledged Pollock’s role when he stated, ``Pollock broke the ice.’’ The association of Pollock and Peggy Guggenheim was the engine behind this rise in prominence, and as such was essential to the history of contemporary art. Leaving Europe and its troubles, Guggenheim moved to New York where she would realize her dream of a museum for her growing collection of European modern art which she had shipped from France in 1941 and continued to augment on her arrival to New York. Guggenheim’s first thoughts – a revival of an idea she first proposed in London – were of a showcase for the European avant-garde that were the focus of her social life and collection. Many of these émigré artists continued to flock to her home as the unofficial salon of Surrealism in America, and her circle of advisers for her museum gallery – to be called Art of This Century –- were primarily European: her husband Max Ernst, his son Jimmy Ernst, André Breton and the avant-garde architect Frederick Kiesler. Once a suitable double loft space was found on West 57th Street, Kiesler designed – with Peggy’s full endorsement – a radical re-imaging of an art space, to “break down the physical and mental barriers which separate people from the art they live with.” (Jacqueline Bogard Weld, Peggy: the Wayward Guggenheim, New York, 1986, p. 285) Paintings were taken out of their frames and suspended out from walls on sawed-off baseball bats, wires and movable stands. The walls themselves provided no traditional vantage point as they bowed and curved. Kiesler’s system of pulsating lights would be abandoned as impractical, but his turquoise floors, multi-purpose furniture and “kinetic” wheel devices for displaying multiple works were the delight of the opening night crowd on October 20, 1942. Peggy had extravagantly announced her presence in the New York art world, declaring her gallery “a research laboratory for new ideas”, yet Alexander Calder was one of only two American artists represented in Guggenheim’s modernist collection. The art enthusiast Howard Putzel was the sole American in her inner circle, but that circle was changing rapidly as Ernst began an adulterous affair with artist Dorothea Tanning and Breton’s relationship with Peggy also soured. Soon James Johnson Sweeney, curator of the Museum of Modern Art, supplanted Breton, and he joined Putzel and the painter Matta in encouraging Guggenheim to turn her attention to American art and Jackson Pollock in particular. She held a Spring salon in 1943 for young artists to submit work to a jury of both Americans and Europeans, and Piet Mondrian’s comment on viewing Pollock’s Stenographic Figure - that “this is the most interesting work I’ve seen so far in America” - was the ultimate endorsement in Peggy’s eyes. Through the duration of her gallery and despite tensions in the relationship, Pollock would be her central focus and her main protégée. For his part, the relationship meant that Pollock could at long last make a modest living as a painter with a contract for a $150 monthly stipend advanced toward the sale of his paintings; an unprecedented arrangement for a young American artist. Guggenheim offered him a one-man show in November 1943, and the paintings hung in the so-called "Daylight Gallery" that faced the street and included Peggy's desk.  Thus, Pollock would be the first American artist to have a show at Art of This Century. By the time Peggy closed the gallery in Spring 1947, Pollock would be fully acknowledged as the leading American painter of the post-war period and The Blue Unconscious would take its place among the paintings in his highly regarded last show at the gallery in January 1947. The November 1943 exhibition was the first in-depth public showing of Pollock’s volcanic and instinctive talent. He painted with a raw power that confounded, dared and aroused viewers, most potently as he moved onto larger canvases over 50 inches in 1942. In that year, Pollock painted only three works on canvas and they were highlights of the 1943 exhibition. All three now hang in prestigious public collections:  The Moon Woman (Peggy Guggenheim Foundation, Venice), Male and Female (Philadelphia Museum of Art), and Stenographic Figure (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). James Johnson Sweeney wrote the text for the exhibition’s brochure and praised Pollock’s work as “lavish, explosive”, while he also lamented the cautious nature of many young painters, “who tend to be too careful of opinion. Too often the dish is allowed to chill in the serving. What we need is more young men who paint from inner impulsion without an ear to what the critic or spectator may feel… Among young painters, Jackson Pollock offers unusual promise in his exuberance, independence, and native sensibility. If he continues to exploit these qualities with the courage and confidence he has shown so far, he will fulfill that promise”. (Exh. Cat., New York, Art of this Century, First Exhibition: Jackson Pollock, Paintings and Drawings, November 9-27, 1943) Arguably, Pollock did fulfill his promise with the expansive Mural that was commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim, also in 1943, for the entry to her home, which she later gifted to the University of Iowa Museum of Art in 1951. Painted in a fifteen hour session, Pollock’s figurations stampede across the canvas, with curves and swirls from edge to edge, as it fills a span of nearly 8 x 20 feet. Hints of the drip technique and the vigorous edge-to-edge composition of the paint strokes bear tantalizing proof of the other masterworks to follow. Painted seven years prior to Willem de Kooning’s monumental 81 x 100 inch Excavation from 1950, Mural shares affinities with the fractured figurations of his fellow artist’s later masterpiece and Pollock’s paintings of 1946 that were exhibited in January 1947 alongside Mural were cited by critics as fulfilling the promise of his paintings of 1943. The Moon Woman and other subsequent paintings such as Pasiphaë of 1943 (Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) all give ample visual testimony to the critical influence of Surrealism and Cubism in Pollock’s development, as acknowledged by both the artist and critics alike. In a text written by Pollock for the February 1944 issue of Arts & Architecture, he referenced the European artists who had immigrated to New York during the previous decade: “They bring with them an understanding of the problem of modern painting. I am particularly impressed with their concept of the source of art being the unconscious. The idea interests me more than these specific painters, for the two artists I admire most, Picasso and Miró, are still abroad.”  (“Jackson Pollock”, Arts & Architecture [Los Angeles] 61, no. 2, p.14) In the 1930s and early 1940s, Pollock struggled heroically toward such an inner vision, combining the subconscious content of Surrealism with the formal structure of Analytic Cubism. Along with other American artists, Pollock sought to express the turmoil of modern times through symbols of the most eternal and universal nature. Surrealism’s emotive content and organic figuration were tools to liberate an artist’s psyche, and the title of The Blue Unconscious is a concise and elegiac confirmation of Pollock’s belief in the creative richness that could be sourced from an artist’s own nature. Primitive and tortured creatures abound in his psycho-analytical drawings of the 1930s as well as the early abstract canvases such as The Moon Woman and Male and Female (1942). Also, many of his paintings from 1942 to 1946 have a distinct mythological and ritualistic character as evidenced by titles from this period such as The She-Wolf (1943, The Museum of Modern Art, New York), The Guardians of the Secret (1943, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) and Totem Lesson II (1945, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra).  The male and female forms, often at the edges of the canvas like sentinels at the gates, were one of his most powerful motifs in the 1940s, but Pollock’s goal – achieved in the Sounds in the Grass series of 1946 –  was to “veil” his imagery in order to universalize and abstract his concept. Paintings of the early 1940s such as Mural and Pasiphaë of 1943, There were Seven in Eight (1945, The Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Troubled Queen (c. 1945, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) display the black calligraphic tracery, jagged edges, vivid color and agitated brushwork that would persist in the 1940s, but they are more densely composed. Pollock’s Surrealist images are presented in the shallow, tilted and unspecific space of the Cubist picture plane and filled to brimming with compacted energy.  In May 1938, Picasso’s monumental Guernica and its preparatory sketches were shown at the Valentine Gallery on 57th Street. Pollock repeatedly visited this show, often sketching, and his profound admiration for the Spanish master is evident throughout the 1940s and integrated most persuasively in the latter half of the decade.  Just as Picasso’s figures in his contemporaneous The Charnel House (1944-1945, The Museum of Modern Art, New York) writhe in sinuous rhythms while pressed to the picture plane, Pollock’s fragmented sentinels, eyes and limbs oscillate and pulsate within the geometric framework and the shallow Cubist space of The Blue Unconscious. The bravura technique and confident composition of this 1946 painting was a beacon toward Pollock’s imminent progression to the all-over drip technique, and both were occasioned by the liberating change of venue in Pollock’s life. By the time of Pollock’s second one-man show at Art of This Century in 1945, the critic Clement Greenberg had become a true champion of Pollock’s work, commenting that the recent exhibition “establishes him, in my opinion, as the strongest painter of his generation and perhaps the greatest to emerge since Miró.” (Clement Greenberg, “Art”, The Nation 160, April 7, 1945, no. 14, pp. 396-398)  Pollock, who had begun his relationship and creative partnership with the painter Lee Krasner in Winter 1941, must have been gratified by such favor, but the pressures and activity of the New York art world were wearing. So in October and November of 1945, Pollock and Krasner married and moved to Springs, East Hampton, Long Island. When he held his fourth and final one-man exhibition at Art of This Century, the show would include the monumental Mural of 1943 and the two groups of works painted in the first glorious year at Springs: the Accabonac Creek series named for the waterway that could be seen from Pollock’s Long Island property and the Sounds in the Grass series which includes The Blue Unconscious. Lee Krasner and Pollock’s friends all noted his affinity to the return to the countryside. The wide vista of the ocean and dunes reminded him of the expansive Western landscapes of his youth, and his wife commented on the pleasure he took in strolling along the shore and sitting with her on their porch for countless hours. As Ellen Landau observed, “eastern Long Island became an integral part of Jackson Pollock’s consciousness; specifically attracted to this horizontality and the concomitant feeling of open space, he extrapolated from these a new sense of freedom and potential.” (Ellen G. Landau, Jackson Pollock, New York, 1989, p. 161) The dealer Julien Levy recounted comments by Pollock that are immensely important in relation to the Sounds of the Grass series. “These words of his stay with me …’You can hear the life in the grass, hear it growing. Next thing there’s a dry spell…and the life is gone. Put your ear to it then and all you hear is the wind’.” (Ibid., p. 159) In the beginning, Pollock stopped working during the harsh winter of 1945-1946 but when warm weather returned, he set up a makeshift studio in their upstairs bedroom. The Accabonac Creek series was painted in these cramped quarters, yet one can sense the vibrant inspiration of nature in the exuberant color palette of works in this series such as The Water Bull and The Key.  There is a kindred spirit here of Wassily Kandinsky as both artists use color to express their interior experience; moreover color is largely independent of form and each hue is given equal value in the Fauvist tradition of the early Twentieth Century. Pollock was again painting in a large scale and The Key, measuring (59 x 84 inches) was mounted on a curtain strainer and painted while on the floor. By mid-summer, Pollock had relocated the barn on their property and repurposed it as a studio, thus moving out into the land and commencing the period of greatest inspiration and fame in his oeuvre. Guggenheim had announced that she was closing Art of This Century in Spring 1947 and returning to Europe.  Although Pollock had just exhibited there in April 1946, he prevailed upon her to give him one final show in the only open spot on her schedule – January 1947. He launched into a creative and productive frenzy in a desire to create a strong group of works to populate the exhibition and ensure the progress of his career. The Blue Unconscious and the other six paintings of the Sounds in the Grass series were the first paintings completed in the barn studio that would later witness the choreography of dripping paint of such works as Lavender Mist: Number 1, 1950. Beginning with The Blue Unconscious, this series is progressively less figurative than the Accabonac Creek paintings with richer paint handling and more all-over compositions until any imagery is completely “veiled” and Pollock’s signature style – his true voice as an artist – emerges. The Sounds in the Grass canvases are triumphant examples of Pollock’s complete melding of figuration and painterly abstraction, with early "all-over" compositions of swooping and colorful brushwork. His figures become less discernible in The Blue Unconscious, their shapes so abstracted as to be almost as mysterious as the symbols surrounding them. In the subsequent Sounds in the Grass paintings, imagery is even more fractured into densely composed expressive strokes than The Blue Unconscious but they retain the same sense of liberation, primal energy and audacity that link Pollock to the surroundings of water, marshland, and expansive sea and sky reflected in their titles. Croaking Moment, Eyes in the Heat, The Dancers and Earthworms are all evocative of nature or figuration but perhaps Something of the Past, Shimmering Substance and The Blue Unconscious are the most poetic and soulful. The thickly applied colors of The Blue Unconscious are scored with Pollock’s deep, agitated and bold strokes that so uniquely activate the surface of his paintings. The color palette of The Blue Unconscious is distinctive in the Sounds of Grass series and shares a kinship with The Water Bull and other Accabonac Creek works, yet it is even lighter and airier. In his review of the January 1947 show Clement Greenberg would comment on Pollock’s move away from darker palette choices toward “the higher scales, the alizarins, cream-whites, cerulean blues, pinks, and sharp greens.” (Clement Greenberg, “Art”, The Nation 164, no. 5, Feb. 1, 1947, pp. 137-39)  Ellen Landau and others have drawn strong parallels between Pollock and Matisse at this juncture: “rather more immediately brought to mind are the mixed technique of ‘broken touch’ pre-Fauve works of Matisse. Underlining the parallel is the fact that these, too, were a response to new surroundings; in the years 1905 and 1906 Matisse had left Paris for the south of France, whose light and color beguiled him, inspiring change in his work. ..Both artists applied bright pigments freely and sketchily in fluid areas that would probably make little or no coherent sense without the intermittent broken outlines that tie the composition together. Incorporation of the white of the canvas as a ‘color’ of equal value…causes these new works by Pollock to seem buoyant, expansive, and spacious again characteristics of the style of Matisse.” (Ibid., p. 163) The Blue Unconscious is the largest of the works in the Sounds in the Grass series, and in its monumentality, one can feel how physicality abounds in Pollock’s thickly applied and gestural brushwork. In the dexterity of movement from wrist to arm to body, the medium of painting had found its master, and Pollock painted with a sure confidence in the fluidity of the paint – always striving toward an orchestration of its quantity, density, speed and rhythm into a completely cohesive unity of composition and expressiveness.  When his canvases moved to the floor of his Long Island barn studio in late 1946 and 1947, the exuberance, daring and sheer painterly verve that coursed through paintings such as 1943’s Mural and 1946’s The Blue Unconscious gave birth to the landmark enamel drip paintings that followed. Signed and dated 46

  • USAUSA
  • 2013-05-13
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Ph - 21

"I want the spectator to be reassured that something that he values within himself has been touched and found a kind of correspondence.” The artist cited in Dean Sobel and David Anfam, Clyfford Still: The Artist’s Museum, New York, 2012, p. 101 "...these surging open canvases bear witness to a new optimism, to an escalating power.’’ Katherine Kuh in Exh. Cat., Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Clyfford Still: Thirty-three Paintings in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1966, p. 11 Clyfford Still’s significant place at the forefront of the art history of the Twentieth Century is unquestioned, and his role in the birth of Abstract Expressionism and the New York School is freshly chronicled and celebrated by the 2012 opening of the magnificent Clyfford Still Museum in Denver. While scholarly dissertations have long focused on Still’s cataclysmic influence in both New York and California in the vital years of the 1940s and 1950s, the sheer breadth and depth of his entire output is fully on display in the eponymous museum. While Still purposely removed himself from the commercial gallery world in 1961, his creative journey continued full force in the quiet countryside of Maryland. Paintings such as PH-21 from 1962 demonstrate the artist’s intent was to more intimately commune with his artistic practice, and a new sense of exuberance, sweep and power in his canvases speaks of the confidence and liberation of the mature artist in his prime. PH-21 with its floating forms of color, jaggedly defined by Still’s masterful paint applications, amply testifies that Still may have left the stage but his creative spirit continued to speak. In his essay for the 1990 exhibition of Still’s work at the Mary Boone Gallery, Ben Heller eloquently and concisely summarized the essential qualities of Still’s work that allowed him to be among the first to create paintings free of depiction, narrative and symbolism. “Color, surface, edge, scale, shape, verticality, pressure, tension, relaxation, movement, grandeur – these are the painter’s tools. To speak of them as subjects for paintings is but a way to draw attention to Still’s ingenious and highly personal manipulations of these tools, to his fusion of technique, image and power, the means by which he acts upon our feelings, the essence of his mystery and greatness.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Mary Boone Gallery, Clyfford Still: Dark Hues/Close Values, 1990, n. p.)  PH-21 is quintessential Clyfford Still in its palette of blue, white, reds, yellow and black, and in its expressive brushwork, all combining to convey Still’s unique genius in creating compositions that exude a sense of the living spirit. From Still’s earliest explorations into Surrealist-tinged abstraction of the late 1930s/early 1940s to the landmark abstract creations of the late 1940s and ending with the majesty of the paintings of the 1960s and 1970s, each seminal stage in Still’s inspiring career is wrapped in a story of location and movement. Still’s innovative style developed during two decades of simultaneous association with New York City and the California Bay area at mid-century, as he alternated between the two coasts.  While Still’s first one-man museum show was at the Museum of Art in San Francisco in 1943, he would also show at the legendary Manhattan galleries of the period in the late 1940s, championed by his friends Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. Rothko had joined Peggy Guggenheim’s ground-breaking gallery, Art of This Century (1942-1947) in Fall 1943, just a short time after meeting Still in Berkeley. When Still began a year-long stay in New York in 1945, Rothko introduced the artist and dealer, and Still’s first one-man New York exhibition opened at Art of This Century in February 1946. Rothko wrote the introduction to the catalogue, extolling Still’s radical and revelatory work, and Still joined the group of avant-garde artists whose career was launched or furthered by Guggenheim, including Jackson Pollock.  Barnett Newman’s participation in the artistic program at Betty Parson’s Gallery was critical to Still’s transition to her gallery in 1947, when Guggenheim closed Art of This Century to return to Europe. It is fitting therefore that these two artists bear the closest affinity to Still’s own concepts and beliefs about art. Unlike Pollock, David Smith or Willem de Kooning, the pursuit of the sublime was a common goal for Newman, Still and Rothko. All three were passionately adamant about the environment in which their work should be viewed and stressed the value of experiencing their art in a plenitude of canvases that could co-relate with one another. The two fellow artists were therefore well placed to sense Still’s growing disaffection with the New York gallery world that encompassed salesmanship, public and critical response, as well as the commitment of fellow artists. Newman organized exhibitions and wrote texts for the Betty Parsons Gallery, and was overseeing Still’s 1950 exhibition there, prompting a letter from Rothko in Paris on April 6th of that year which reveals their awareness of Still’s sensitivity. “I realize this must be the day that you are working on Clyff’s canvases. And so I send my many thanks and my hopes that Clyff will get something he wants out of the show [April 7-May 6], or at least not be bruised too deeply.”  (Miguel López-Remiro, ed., Writings on Art: Mark Rothko, New Haven and London, 2006, p. 66)  Although Still had moved to New York City in 1951, he gradually withdrew from participation in commercial galleries around the time of his inclusion in Dorothy Miller’s influential 15 Americans show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1952. Still’s interactions with the New York art world – and even his fellow artists – became complicated and strained, as Still fought to maintain his purist vision of art as a faith, unalloyed by commercial concerns or outside critical analysis. Soon after his 1959 retrospective organized at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, in which the artist had selected the works for inclusion, Still departed for a summer teaching position in Colorado and subsequently moved with his wife Patricia to Westminster, Maryland in 1961. In December 1963, a letter from Still to the critic Kenneth Sawyer appeared in Artforum which expressed the artist’s reaction to a 1959 article by Sawyer entitled “The Importance of a Wall: Galleries.”  After a long letter that amounted to a diatribe against commercialism that indicted dealers and artists alike, Still ended with a summation that characterizes his move to the rolling hills of the Maryland countryside. “It has always been my hope to create a free place or area of life where an idea can transcend politics, ambition and commerce. It will perhaps always remain a hope.  But I must believe that somewhere there may be an exception…The truth is usually hard and sometimes bitter, but if man is to live, it must live. ’’ (Excerpted from Exh. Cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Clyfford Still, 1979, p. 54) The Stills settled on a twenty-two acre farm in Westminster, northwest of Baltimore, Maryland. The artist set up his studio in the spacious barn and was to paint there for the remainder of his life, even after the Stills moved to another home in the neighboring town of New Windsor. As Dean Sobel, director of the Clyfford Still Museum, has noted: “[Still’s] work underwent many significant changes during this period. .. .The paintings of the 1960s and 1970s are marked by a lighter palette and touch, and what could be described as an openness and economy of imagery. While Still began to exploit the qualities of bare canvas in the late 1940s, his use of emptiness and void as expressive devices reached its fullest potential in these late paintings….thereby implanting a sense of ethereality into his previously densely painted fields.” (Dean Sobel and David Anfam, Clyfford Still: The Artist’s Museum, New York, 2012, pp. 29-30)  A comparison between PH-23 (1944-1945), PH-945 (1946) and the present work, PH-21 (1962) illustrates this trajectory: the 1944-45 painting incorporated unpainted canvas yet Still’s vertical painterly forms remain unified, grounded and centralized in the center of the composition, while the bare canvas of PH-21 fully inhabits the composition, playing the same role as the painted color forms; all harmoniously relate spatially and chromatically with one another and equally extend beyond the outer boundaries of the painting. PH-945 from the following year of 1946 is a more indicative example of the “densely painted fields” of the artist’s great paintings of the late 1940s, yet here Still employed white paint rather than bare canvas to open up the composition. This practice was noted by Katherine Kuh in her essay for the catalogue of Still’s 1979-1980 show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art: “In [Still's]work white is no less important than black. Sometimes a canvas is painted white; or, in reverse, bare canvas is allowed to interact with painted areas. In neither case, whether covered with pigment or left partly exposed, does any work by Still depend on a conventional background. All elements are interrelated and share equal validity. Breaking accepted rules, the artist forces normally receding colors to advance and advancing colors to recede…..” (Exh. Cat.,  New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Clyfford Still, 1979-1980, p. 12) His palette and manipulation of color values was a crucial element of Still’s work; PH-21 consists of his favored colors of reds, black, blue, yellow and white, all expertly balanced in brilliant hues co-existing with the creamy void of the bare canvas. Through color and its application with a palette knife, Still embodied the “actors” of his drama through edge, surface, luminosity, texture and expression.  As Ben Heller wrote:  “I suggest that our primary response to Still is emotional,…We feel, react to, and are stirred by the maelstrom of forces Still assembled. …But of course the most immediate of all our responses is to color. Color is broad, flat; it fills and flows. It is mystical, intense, direct. Where line is descriptive, analytical, intellectual and rational, color, like music is sensory, the carrier of emotion, the key access to the source of our feelings and instincts….” (Exh. Cat., New York, Mary Boone Gallery, Ibid., n. p.) Katherine Kuh, a writer on art and the influential curator at the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1950s, had visited Still’s studio in Westminster and wrote intimately and movingly of the painter’s work of this period. Kuh contributed a forward to the catalogue for the 1966 Albright-Knox Art Gallery exhibition celebrating Clyfford Still’s 1964 gift of thirty-one paintings to the museum (ranging in date from 1937 to 1963). As Still had retreated to Maryland, the public sightings and awareness of his later work such as PH-21 came at careful intervals orchestrated by the artist, who emerged from time to time to collaborate with museums on an exhibition or negotiate a sale of more than 40 works to the Marlborough-Gerson Gallery for a selling exhibition in 1969. Kuh’s excitement at viewing the artist’s work of the early 1960s is palpable in her 1966 text: “To visit Still’s studio in Maryland and see his chronological progression is to recognize uncompromising growth…Here in comparative isolation, his work has noticeably changed. The recent paintings, vast in scale and totally liberated from any fixed focus, sweep upward with frank exuberance. Measured and disciplined as always, these surging open canvases bear witness to a new optimism, to an escalating power.’’ (Exh. Cat., Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Clyfford Still: Thirty-three Paintings in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1966, p. 11) Visually, PH-21 from 1962 embodies Kuh’s words with the brilliance of palette, balance of hues and forms, and spirit of life that it so strongly conveys to the viewer. Here, we encounter the Still who broke all rules and boldly created his own type of art, unique even in the company of other revolutionary stylists such as Pollock, Rothko and Newman. Yet, the painter of PH-21 also displays confidence and wisdom earned over the years, particularly in his relocation to Maryland. More than a decade later, Kuh also wrote the catalogue essay for the 1979-1980 exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York which proved to be the final retrospective in the artist’s lifetime and resulted in the donation of ten paintings to the museum by Mrs. Patricia Still in 1986.  In a fittingly elegiac tone, Kuh wrote “Repeatedly one returns to [Still’s] late works which are freer, surer, more open and electrifying than anything this artist has done before. Like certain painters of the past – I think immediately of Titian, Turner, Degas, Monet and Cézanne – he becomes increasingly daring as he grows older. Now nothing is static; everything flows or floats in a majestic interplay.” (Exh. Cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ibid., p. 12) Such tributes can be applied to Still’s fellow artists of the 1940s-1950s who were also extending their significant oeuvres into the 1960s and beyond. While their days of friendship were past, an aesthetic kinship can be seen in viewing Barnett Newman’s masterpieces, such as White Fire II from 1960 and The Stations of the Cross works from 1958-1966, created in the final decade before his death in 1970.  Like Still, de Kooning had a creative rebirth in his move to Easthampton in the 1960s and his paintings of the 1970s, such as Untitled III from 1975, are visual statements on his revitalized love for the properties of paint and the optical joys of color and light. For Still, of course, any sense of fulfillment, pride or confidence on the part of the artist toward his own work was only part of his goal and vision as an artist. Clyfford Still’s aesthetic creed saw art as crucial to man’s ability to live in the modern world, and each viewer’s individual creative communion with paintings such as PH-21 was as essential to his art as the painter’s act of creation. Still’s credo, as it applied to the viewer and to his conception of the role of the artist, is perhaps best summed up in his own words, “I want the spectator to be reassured that something that he values within himself has been touched and found a kind of correspondence. That being alive, having the courage, not just to be different but to go your own way, accepting responsibility for what you do best, has value, is worth the labor.” (Excerpted in Dean Sobel and David Anfam, Ibid., p. 101) Signed and dated Clyfford 1962; signed Clyfford, numbered PH-21, dated 1962 twice and inscribed Westminster on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2013-05-13
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The Archduke Joseph Diamond

THE ARCHDUKE JOSEPH DIAMOND The unmounted cushion-shaped diamond weighing approximately 76.02 carats, in purple leather fitted box Accompanied by report no. 5151001770 dated 14 September 2012 from the GIA Gemological Institute of America stating that the diamond is D colour, Internally Flawless clarity; a letter indicating that the diamond is Type IIa; a GIA monograph and a letter dated 1 October 2012 stating that 'to date the Archduke Joseph Diamond is the largest D-color, Internally Flawless diamond we have graded from the historic Golconda region'. Letter dated 12 June 2007 from the GIA Gemological Institute of America stating that 'upon examination, prior to and after re-cutting, we can confirm that the 76.02 carat diamond was cut from the diamond known as the 'Archduke Joseph Diamond'' Report no. 12090150 dated 26 September 2012 from the Gübelin GemLab stating that the diamond is D colour, Internally Flawless clarity, and a Note indicating that the diamond is Type IIa; also with an Appendix stating that the diamond is 'blessed with a purity of colour and high degree of transparency, which are particular to the world's finest natural type IIa diamond (the purest type in terms of chemistry). Diamonds of this type and size, displaying such a superior quality as well as an antique cutting style, are extremely rare and will unequivocally evoke references to the historic term of 'Golconda''

  • CHESwitzerland
  • 2012-11-13
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Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection

Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection By Aleksandra Shatskikh At the famous 0.10: Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings in Petrograd in December 1915, Kazimir Malevich exhibited 39 paintings, marking the emergence of innovative Russian painting into the world of international avant-garde art. Malevich created a new terminological definition for his canvases, the suprematism of painting, which was soon shortened to one word: Suprematism. In Malevichs opinion, these suprematist works showed the absolute power and domination, or the supremacy, of color in painting. Their subjects were devoid of any resemblance to objects or phenomena that were present in the real world.  Indeed, another definition favored by Malevich was , or subject-less art, which is normally translated into English as abstract art.  The vehicles of color in Malevichs extraordinary paintings were basic geometric shapes: squares, trapezoids, rectangles, and stripes. The intensity of their coloration testified to the power of the energetic force of the particular color. Malevich painted his constructions of colored shapes on a white background: for him, the color white marked the infinite whiteness of the universe, which he termed the white cosmic abyss. Malevich created his first abstract composition at the end of May 1915. The creation of his Black Square on June 8th 1915 (Julian calendar, June 21st in Gregorian calendar) crystallized the burgeoning prospect of an unprecedented breakthrough in art. By this time, Malevich, who lived in Moscow, had established strong business contacts with the young Ivan Puni (1892-1956), a wealthy St Petersburger who enthusiastically financed the activities of left-wing painters. In March 1915, the Tramway V: First Futuristic Exhibition of Paintings, sponsored by Puni and curated by Malevich, took place in Petrograd. The exhibition caused a scandal in society, which was exactly what the radicals were trying to achieve. The next exhibition curated by Malevich and sponsored by Puni was scheduled for the end of 1915. Having ventured into pure abstraction, Malevich instantly realized the scale of the discovery he had made. Nothing in Europe could match the radicalism of his new paintings. The dream of Russian artists to surpass the innovation of their European counterparts had become a reality. Malevich was aware that the potential of this new artistic system should be presented and established not in two or three works, but in a vast group of paintings. For nearly six months, from June to early December 1915, Malevich created Suprematist paintings for the upcoming exhibition. It is interesting to note that the first compositions of geometric elements that emerged before Black Square were complex, multi-component constructions. Malevichs innovative drawings, from which he frequently planned and developed the subjects of his future paintings, testify to this. Having chosen a particular subject for translation into the medium of painting, Malevich thought out the dimensions of the future work and, having put dimensions in vershki in the margins (the old Russian form of measurement, 1 vershok = 4.445 cm), ordered the stretcher and canvas. In Malevichs collection there is a drawing which is connected to a picture of a larger size. In the margins the artist put the following dimensions: 18 by 30 vershki (80 by 134 cm). The dimensions of this drawing reveal a horizontal orientation and thus attest to the early time of its creation at the end of May or beginning of June 1915. Malevich would soon turn away from such a horizontal emphasis in his works: for Malevich the horizon was a symbol of gravitys enslavement of creativity which prevented the weightless floating of objects in space. The painting based on the preparatory drawing has a vertical orientation, and is clearly visible in the photo from Malevichs first solo exhibition in Moscow in 1919-1920. After being taken to an exhibition in Berlin in 1927, the work remained in the West, and, like all of Malevichs large canvases, has not survived. Besides crystallizing the development of pure non-objectivity, Black Square marked another powerful breakthrough for Malevich. As is well known, the simple quadrangular figure was superimposed on top of a complex color arrangement, covering it with its form. It was as if Black Square rid suprematism of verbosity, revealing within it those qualities which, over the course of many decades, would become the fundamental characteristics of an influential, global artistic trend: minimalism. The Russian avant-garde forged this revolutionary path independently in 1915, and from complex, multi-component compositions, strict, minimalist canvases emerged. They depict either a single mono-figure, such as a square, circle, elongated rectangle, or cruciform planes, or a construction made out of two or three elements. For the 0.10 exhibition, Malevich created a number of minimalist canvases using visual motifs singled out from complex, multi-component compositions. From the preparatory drawing and photograph of the aforementioned, unpreserved work, it is clear that some of its visual elements were given their own, individual paintings (the circle, rectangle, the rectangle with the triangle cut into it, the two cruciform, intersecting planes etc). The subject of Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection (the name is not Malevichs) was also based on one of the themes of both the preparatory drawing and the lost canvas: the trapezoid with the two longitudinal stripes across the bottom. Suprematism has been and is still inevitably compared to neoplasticism, a movement founded by Piet Mondrian a year later in 1916. Malevich himself reflected on their similarities, for example, their use of geometric elements, their clarity of construction, and sonority of color, as well as their fundamental differences. The Russian avant-garde stressed that neoplasticism was a static visual system based on an ancient post-and-beam system of horizontal and vertical divisions, whereas suprematism was concerned with the relentless movement and great dynamics which dominated the universe. The representation of this intense dynamism was Malevichs ultimate objective. He developed the entire system of suprematism from the dynamic transformations of the Black Square. As is well known, Malevich subsequently noted that the conscious rotation of the black square around a central point would ultimately produce the shape of a circle, the second primary form of Suprematism. The third fundamental form was the cruciform planes. Under the influence of force, the Black Square seemed to divide in half along its longitudinal axis. When one of the newly formed planes moved 90° in relation to the other, it formed the figure of the cruciform planes (later "Black Cross" for short). Analyzing his discoveries, Malevich developed this theory later, but the problem of the dynamics and the dynamic transformations of geometric elements was at the center of his attention from the very beginning of the emergence of suprematism. Correct rectangular figures, it would seem, inevitably had to be symmetrical; that is, balanced and static. Stativity was fundamentally at odds with Malevichs aspirations, and with his characteristic determination he overcame this contradiction by persistently experimenting with the rectangular form. Dynamic tension destroyed regular forms and turned squares and rectangles into trapezoids. Having grouped together a whole cycle of drawings marked on the reverse with a letter X, Malevich stressed his main idea: on the envelope in which the drawings were gathered, he wrote: "Deformation of the square into an incorrect 4-triangle. 12 drawings.  X" (an envelope with this inscription currently resides in the collection of N. M. Suetina, St. Petersburg). Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection demonstrates the fundamental characteristic of Suprematism: here the figure of the trapezium - the sides of which seem to give in to the influence and pressure of the dense white background - speaks to the dynamism that prevails in Malevich's non-objectivity. In the Suprematist paintings of 1915, their expressive texture attracts attention: Malevich later abandoned textural painting, believing it to be too material for the spiritual nature of Suprematism. The busy relief texture of Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection therefore indicates that the work was executed in 1915. Another striking particularity of the painting is its use of color. Malevich built the composition on the basis of the contrast between a hot, saturated yellow and a deep blue; that is, he used the sonorous contrast of complementary colors from the fundamental primary colors (blue, yellow and red). In the photograph of the 0.10 exhibition, only 21 canvases out of the original 39 are visible - the others are not in the frame. However, it is well-known that Malevich brought all the pictures he had completed by that time to the exhibition. Some of the works were still damp, and the corners were therefore so that the works would not stain each other. The visual particularities of Suprematist Composition with Plane in Projection undoubtedly testify to the early date of the works execution in 1915, and allow us to confidently assert that the picture was exhibited at the 0.10: Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings. Aleksandra Shatskikh, PhD is an art historian. Her book Black Square: Malevich and the Origin of Suprematism was published in 2012.

  • USAUSA
  • 2017-05-16
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Red House

Peter Doig oil on canvas Painted in 1995-1996. “We’ve all experienced the sensation of light dropping and producing strange natural effects, and I think in a way I am using these natural phenomena and amplifying them through the materiality of paint and the activity of painting.” – Peter Doig“I am always interested in what we miss when we try to focus on what we see.” – Peter DoigPainted between 1995 and 1996, Red House captures the breakthrough moment in Peter Doig’s artistic development when the thick impasto of his early 1990s paintings thawed to reveal diaphanous miasmas of translucent color. Created in the immediate aftermath of his Turner Prize nomination in 1994 which propelled him to international recognition in the art world, Red House meditates on many of the same formal concerns as his masterpiece Ski Jacket, 1994, Tate, London, which was included in this pivotal exhibition. Both paintings find their precedent in Blotter, 1993, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Though these paintings marked a fundamental shift in Doig’s handling of paint, the core tenets of his practice, namely that of the slippage between reality, imagination, and memory, still remain the nexus from which his formal concerns orbit. Red House was featured in the artist’s seminal 1998 solo exhibition Peter Doig: Blizzard Seventy-Seven, which traveled from the Kunsthalle Kiel, to the Kunsthalle Nuremberg, and finally to the Whitechapel Gallery London – the same institution that featured his work when he won the Whitechapel Artist Prize in 1991. Other works featured in the 1998 exhibition that, like the present one, illustrate the crucial inflection point in Doig’s oeuvre included Boiler House, 1994, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Ski Jacket, 1994, Tate Modern, London; Pine House (Room for Rent), 1994; Bird House, 1995, Kunsthalle zu Kiel; Camp Forestia, 1996; Figure in Mountain Landscape, 1997-98, Pinchuk Art Center, Kiev.In Red House, Doig sets a striking red house against an ethereal, expansive twilight sky built up from a rich kaleidoscope of intricately veiled layers of colors. The scene slips in and out of focus, with otherworldly, spectral-like figures dissolving into the chromatic landscape. Shards of bare birch trees interrupt the composition, their ice-encrusted trunks, conveyed through delicate washes of blue glaze that branch out into lacey webs against the speckled sky. Doig creates tension in the image by juxtaposing the enveloping glow built up from thinned down pigment against the impastoed blobs and stippled splashes of paint that operate to at once convey a sense of depth, and to reiterate the very nature of the medium. Doig revels in these dichotomies that his painterly style elicits, noting "I am always interested in what we miss when we try to focus on what we see" (Peter Doig, quoted in Harald Fricke, "Drifter: An Interview with Peter Doig”, db artmag, 2004, online).This statement seems to find its purest articulation in the thin trunk that starkly cleaves the composition through its vertical axis. The tree acts as a line of demarcation for what Doig calls the “peripheral or marginal sites, places where the urban world meets the natural world. Where the urban elements almost become, literally, abstract devices” (Peter Doig, quoted in Adrian Searle, Peter Doig, London, 2007, p. 139). Art critic Judith Flanders made note of this formal device in speaking of Red House when it was exhibited at the artists’ solo exhibition at the Tate Modern, London, in 2008, noting, “Red House (1995/6) is virtually the first image in this show where a house is part of a neighborhood, not isolated and damply brooding. But it too is estranged, distanced by a series of shadowy figures in the lane, some talking together, some alone, but all looking like grand opera assassins, held in place by a dead, leafless silver birch that rips the canvas into two. More frequently, it is water that divides the canvas, or a wall, or both” (Judith Flanders, “Peter Doig Revisited”, in The Times Literary Supplement, March 14, 2008, online). Not only does this compositional device recall Barnett Newman’s “zip” paintings, which influenced Doig in his formative years, it also succeeds in creating that peripheral space where two independent spaces can co-exist within a single composition. This notion of multiple, co-existing spaces is further heightened by the doublings within the landscape, particularly within the reflections within the lake to the lower left of the house. Mirroring and reflection are key compositional devices deployed by the artist during this period and can be found in the diptych, Ski Jacket and Pink Mountain, 1996, formerly in the Bailey Collection, Toronto. Cabins, Snows, Reflections Red House is absolutely distinct within the artist’s oeuvre for fusing nearly all of the key motifs from this period into one unified composition: snow, forests, cabins and reflections. The notion of man’s relation to landscape was one deeply rooted in Doig’s childhood, having grown up in Canada from the age of seven, and one that he found art historical resonance with in the landscapes of Tom Thomsom and other members of the Canadian Group of Seven. It was upon moving to London from Canada in the early 1990s that these motifs began to figure prominently in Doig’s pictures as he mined magazine advertisements, photographs and childhood memories for archetypical, almost clichéd, images of the Canadian spirit. As Doig pointed out, however, “So many of these paintings are of Canada, but in a way I want it to be a more imaginary place – a place that’s somehow a wilderness” (Peter Doig, quoted in Robert Schiff, “Incidents”, in Peter Doig, exh. cat., Tate, London, 2008, p. 11).Created concurrently to Doig’s celebrated Cabin series, 1991-1998, the present work in particular speaks to the symbolic role of architectural structures within Doig’s oeuvre in the 1990s. In Red House, the Breughel-like blizzards that came to define the paintings from the early 1990s have here given way to single snowflakes that twinkle poetically as though remnants of a storm, clearing to bring a red house into sharp focus at twilight. While still recalling Doig’s continued interest in themes evocative of Canada, the work presents the viewer with a more ambiguous scene exploring themes of the human experience, whereby the red house comes to stand in for a multitude of emotional states from homeliness and nostalgia to solitude and isolation. Red House speaks to Doig’s desire at the time to create pictures he described as "homely", a concept innately linked to the uncomplicated comfort of home, but also evocative of the Freudian notion of the uncanny. The uncanny translates to “unheimlich” in German, conjuring in its semantic overlap to “heimlich” (secret) and “Heim” (home) a range of complex associations.Speaking of the development of the architecture in his practice, Doig explained, “I have made relatively few straight landscapes that didn’t have any architecture, and I always wanted a landscape to be humanized by a person or a building, at least something that suggests habitation…I started by painting a cabin, and then I moved up the line. I became more interested in what buildings represent. How in a very modest structure, did someone decide to place the windows? Often they seemed to be anthropomorphized” (Peter Doig, quoted in Adrian Searle, Peter Doig, London, 2007, p. 16). In many ways, Doig essentially presents us with his own re-interpretation of Edvard Munch’s Red Virginia Creeper, 1898-1900. In 1994, a year prior to starting the present work, Doig notably included Munch’s painting in his “Top Ten House Painters”, a list prompted by Matthew Higgs’ exhibition Imprint 93 Project at the Cabinet Gallery in London. The parallels to Munch’s painting are striking – it is as though we are seeing the same red house from a more distant vantage point through the haze of snow. The vertical form of a barren tree that disrupts the horizontality of the landscape format in Munch’s Red Virginia Creeper here serves Doig a composition device to make the poles of the urban and the landscape clear. In some ways, it functions as a similar disruption to the landscape scene as Casper David Friedrich’s strategy of including a “Rückenfigur”, i.e. a person seen from behind. At the same time, the explicit sense of isolation, alienation and angst of Munch’s distraught figure gives way to a more subtle, yet just as existential, nostalgic yearning. While much is made of the notion of slippage that is engendered in Doig’s paintings, it is in this period that we begin to see the artist converge his geographical displacement into single compositions. From his memories of the wintery wildlands of Canada to the verdant tropics of Trinidad, Doig begins to conceive a surreally unified palette that is representative of both. As our eye moves up toward the horizon and beyond, the sky becomes a swirling auras borealis, with velvety expanses of blue and green opening up into fiery splashes of orange and yellow, a palette that presages Doig’s sun-drenched expanses found in his Canoes and works envisioning Trinidad over the succeeded decade. Indeed, though bathed in frosted winter light, the brighter tonalities found in Red House anticipate the more vibrant stains of color that would come to define his later Trinidadian works. As Doig crucially explained, “People have confused my paintings with being just about my own memories. Of course, we cannot escape these. But I am more interested in the idea of memory” (Peter Doig, quoted in quoted in Robert Schiff, “Incidents”, in Peter Doig, exh. cat., Tate, London, 2008, p. 21).ABSTRACTION: A DIALOGUE BETWEEN MEMORY AND MEDIUMFor Doig, who draws extensively upon his own experiences of displacement and geographic relocation, the material properties of paint serve to approximate the foggy, inarticulate sensation of remembering. Indeed, both paint and memories are pliable; they can blur, fade, dissipate, liquefy, merge and efface. The distortions captured in the blue-grey areas of the foreground also illustrate Doig’s ability to explore notions of memory and slippage through his very handling of media. Although Red House is resolutely figurative, the image is built up from a plethora of painterly techniques and processes that ultimately engender an overall sense of abstraction. Around this period, Doig began to thin his oil paint with turpentine, resulting in translucent layers of gauzy pigment that would coalesce in seductively complex surface that recalls Francis Bacon’s early canvases. “Oil paint has a kind of melting quality, really, and I love the way that even when it’s dry it’s not really fixed’, he explains. ‘Or it doesn’t seem to be fixed. The colors continue to meld together, and react with each other … Painters use oil paint kind of as a form of magic or alchemy … how it takes on a different character when it goes bad, and the way that certain colors produce different kinds of dryness’ (Peter Doig, quoted in Peter Doig: No Foreign Lands, exh. cat., Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, 2013, p. 193).The light, translucent layers of paint used to build up the magnificent sky, landscape and figures in Red House, create a translucent backdrop with a back-lit glow reminiscent of the theater from which to situate his cabin. It is this translucent quality that Doig evokes Impressionist art historical references such as Claude Monet and Pierre Bonnard and gives credence to his own aim of “[capturing] the space that is behind the eyes. It’s as if you were lying in bed trying hard to remember what something looked like. And Bonnard managed to paint that strange state. It is not a photographic space at all. It is a memory space, but one which is based on reality” (Peter Doig, quoted in Adrian Searle eds., Peter Doig, London, 2007, p. 142). In so doing, Doig draws on a host of art historical references from the expressionist and meditative imagery of Edward Hopper and Edvard Munch to Impressionist Claude Monet and Pierre Bonnard.In Red Cabin, Doig expands upon his dialogue with art history in his evocation of the transcendental color fields of Abstract Expressionism. Doig’s expressive use of color and evocative handling of paint blurs the boundaries between reality, imagination and memory. As we peer beneath the frosted surface of the painting, a psychedelic array of colors bleeds across the picture plane: a veritable aurora borealis, evoking both the hallowed glow of twilight and the chromatic splendor of dusk. Of his use of color, Doig has explained, “I often use heightened colors to create a sense of the experience or mood or feeling of being there, but it’s not a scientific process…I think the paintings always refer back to a reality that we all have experience of…We’ve all experienced the sensation of light dropping and producing strange natural effects, and I think in a way I am using these natural phenomena and amplifying them through the materiality of paint and the activity of painting” (Peter Doig, quoted in Adrian Searl, Peter Doig, London, 2007, p. 132). With Red House, Doig has powerfully coalesced the personal—memory and feeling—with the formal—art history and painterly pursuits. In doing so, he brings to the fore an image that exists on the knife’s edge of figuration and abstraction, memory and texture. Through his mastery of the medium, Doig succeeds in producing a scene which is at once familiar and surreal, ethereal and grounded. Existing in this “other space” where reality, memory and imagination are one, Doig succeeds in welcoming us into a space that is seemingly engendered from our very own mind’s eye, but is assuredly from his own.

  • USAUSA
  • 2017-11-16
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Past Times

I had never seen a grand, epic narrative painting with black figures in it, and thats the kind of painting I became interested in makingpictures in the grand manner. [The artist cited in Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, 2016, p. 37] A masterpiece of unparalleled formal rigor and graphic grandeur, Past Times is the definitive embodiment of Kerry James Marshalls revolutionary painterly practice. Executed in 1997, the magnificent panorama of Past Times thunderously declares the arrival of Marshalls mature artistic project: the utter and indisputable mastery of traditional art historical modes to counter the glaring absence of the black figure within the canon of Western painting. Emphatically testifying to Marshalls virtuosic painterly abilities, Past Times marks the decisive moment at which the artist confronts the canon upon its own rigorous terms, boldly usurping the grand artistic gesture of past movements to assert the primacy and presence of an African American narrative within the larger legacy of contemporary American painting. Following the creation of Past Times, Marshall would go on to produce an extraordinary body of work which, in its celebratory and unapologetic depiction of black subjects within a wide range of pictorial traditions, presents a radical and long-awaited counter-narrative to the canon. Further illustrating the significance of this painting within Marshalls oeuvre, Past Times was amongst the most critically and publically lauded works featured in the artists celebrated exhibition Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, the major mid-career survey co-organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2016-2017. Hung beside other pivotal masterworks from the artists oeuvre, the panoramic vista of Past Times testifies to Marshalls status, both as virtuosic renegade of canonical reform, and as one of the greatest history painters of our time In their serene pursuit of activities typically assigned to affluent white suburbia golfing, boating, lawn gamesthe figures of Past Times suggest the ultimate picture of American leisure. In the foreground of the painting, the figures of a woman and two children stand and lounge upon a cheery red and white checked blanket, while behind, a man completes his golf swing with a satisfying white zing! of motion, sending the ball flying towards the speedboat and water-skier in the middle distance with apparent unconcern. Encircling the three central figures, a scattering of overturned golf clubs, abandoned croquet balls, and upended stereos reinforce the suggestion of nonchalant affluence even the Rottweiler, calmly curled on a corner of the picnic blanket, is at peace in this suburban idyll. Barely noticeable within this sun-drenched setting of blue skies and lush foliage, the far-off silhouettes of the Sears Tower, White Sox Stadium, and the Stateway Gardens housing projects upon the horizon subtly invoke the city of Chicago, where the artist lives and works; further locating the viewer in the area surrounding the Midwestern metropolis, the saturated azure depths of the lake suggest the vast network of lakes and reservoirs which dot wealthy suburbs of the Chicago area. Drifting from the upturned stereos on the picnic blanket, an undulating Motown melody from The Temptations croons It was just my imagination running away with me, while Snoop Doggs ritualistic mantra Got my mind on my money and my money on my mind escapes its counterpart to frame the figure of the boy; without interrupting the idyll of Marshalls scene, these fragments indicate African American musical movements that were subverted and appropriated by white suburbia, reminding the viewer of the urgent issues of authorship and identity which lie at the core of the present work. Unfurling above this sublime scene, a partially legible banner reads Who playsall of heart and.skill / Will also work with heart and will, ironically invoking the age-old promise of leisurely prosperity through hard work long-suggested by the so-called American Dream, and long withheld for innumerable black Americans. In their elegant nonchalance, the figures of Marshalls pastoral vista invoke the sun-dappled picnickers of Claude Monets Luncheon on the Grass, or the playful strummers of Titians The Pastoral Concert; in Past Times, Marshall radically reverses the narrative, magnificently and unequivocally rendering black figures within the grand tradition of the pastoral landscape. Presenting a mix of lounging and standing figures and animals beside a glimmering expanse of water, Past Times is particularly evocative of Georges Seurats expansive A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, a painting held in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, a museum Marshall visited innumerable times. In a satirical nod to his post-modern predecessor, several clusters of perfect, palm-sized pastel circles dot Marshalls scene, Seurats pointillism and primary colors reduced to little more than decorative flourish. Describing his art historical points of reference, Marshall explains, My model for them was the genre of pastoral painting that extends from Giorgiones Tempest to Edouard Manets Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe. The inhabitants of pastoral paintings are usually engaged in some very leisurely activity: lounging on the lawn, picnicking, enjoying each others company, listening to music." (The artist cited in Terri Sultan, Kerry James Marshall, New York, 2000, p. 120) The leisurely bucolic imagery of Past Times is particularly evocative of the tradition of the Fête galante; popularized in the French Rococo by such paintings as Watteaus The Embarkation for the Island of Cythera of 1717, the term refers to paintings showing aristocrats freed from the confinement of court roles and etiquette to freely gambol in sumptuous Arcadian settings. Although Marshall has replaced Watteaus pink roses with abstracted yellow daubs, his satins with ribbons of duct tape, and his tumbling cherubs with swooping bluebirds, within their suburban idyll, the African American men, women, and children of Past Times have likewise shed the roles traditionally prescribed to them in favor of one long withheld. Within the chromatic theatrics of this panoramic backdrop, the deliberate and dramatic darkness of Marshalls figures casts the abysmal exclusion of black bodies from canonical art history into radical relief. In her essay for the 2016 Mastry catalogue, scholar Helen Molesworth remarks, Blackness is not presented by Marshall as an afterthought or as a form of special pleading; it is offered as a radical presence that shows how the very notions of beauty and truth that paintings and museums hold to be self-evident are premised on exclusions that are ethically, philosophically, and aesthetically untenable. (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, 2016, p. 37) When questioned about the uncompromising blackness of his figures, the artist himself remarked, Extreme blackness plus grace equals power. I see the figures as emblematic; Im reducing complex variations of tone to rhetorical dimension: blackness. (The artist cited in Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, 2016, p. 59) Offset by the crisp outlines of their white sporting attire, there is indeed an indisputable grace to the stark, monochrome elegance of these lounging figures. Intricately rendered yet utterly unreadable, the three central figures meet the viewers gaze, acknowledging the viewers presence with a stately, self-possessed calm reminiscent of Velazquezs Las Meninas or Manets Le Déjeuner sur lherbe; in their stoic stares, Marshall presents a radical rejoinder to Grant Woods iconic American Gothic, another work familiar from the artists frequent visits to the Art Institute. At once daring and evasive, the figures seem to question our presence and validity within the pictorial narrative as much as the viewer could question theirs. Citing Past Times as a superb example of Marshalls innovative exploration of black figuration, scholar Lanka Tatterstall remarks, Marshall has painted these figures in a way that is profoundly flat. Their gazes appear alternately determined, stoic, or slightly annoyed at the interruption of the viewers presence, as if their idyll has just been punctured.what resonates most strongly is the sense of the face as a marker of a void, a gap between desire and historical reality. The figures appear as placeholders for an imaginary past that perhaps did not really take place. (Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, 2016, pp. 60-61) The abstracted yellow daubs and feathery forms which decorate the picture plane emphasize the atmosphere of surrealism, continually reiterating its status as a painting: that is, an illusion. Painted in 1997, the present work marks the triumphant culmination of the artists celebrated Garden Project, a series of paintings investigating the daily life of African Americans living in urban housing projects through the canonical frame of pastoral landscape painting. Widely regarded as the artists first, triumphant artistic breakthrough, the majority of the Garden Project paintings are held the collections of such museums as the Denver Art Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, amongst others. Inaugurated in 1994, the first five works in the series took as their explicit subject low-income housing projects in Chicago and Los Angeles which bore the word Garden in their names, emphasizing the bittersweet disparity between those flowery titles and the grim reality of the urbanized welfare state. In these lush, vibrant paintings, Marshall reimagines the inner-city projects as pastoral, Arcadian idylls, deftly appropriating the visual vernacular of canonical art history for piercing socio-political critique. Embracing the florid and fecund style of the Rococo, dripping rosettes of colorful pigment and lavish collage elements festoon the picture plane, effectively deploying the irreverent, decorative spirit of the late Baroque as a strategy for establishing the black figure within a grand art historical tradition. The emotive mix of fantasy and dread evoked by these bewitching paintings is likewise informed by personal experience: following his familys cross-country move from Alabama to Los Angeles in the early 1960s, Marshall lived in the Nickerson Gardens housing project of Watts neighborhood, which appears as the subject of the Garden Project painting Watts, 1963. Marshall describes, They had to do with the futility of trying to beautify large, institutional housing complexes that had been built by the federal government, originally as part of a Utopian idea of providing affordable housing to a growing populationThey ended up becoming the opposite of what their names suggested. He continues, Not in spite of their present deterioration, the people who live in the projects live lives far richer and more complex than is suggested by the popular image in the American cultural mindThere is a huge gap between the pastoral names of these places and what they actually are, but the world of the people who inhabit the projects is still filled with incredible hope and possibility.  (The artist cited in Terrie Sultan, Kerry James Marshall, New York, 2000, pp. 119-120) Initiated during a time of nation-wide scrutiny and debate surrounding inner-city public housing, the Garden Project paintings vividly illustrate the astonishing deterioration of the initiative in the 1990s: following the resignation of the entire board of the Chicago Housing Authority the nations second-largest housing agencyin May of 1995, the organization was forcibly taken over by the national Department of Housing and Urban Development,  prompting Secretary of the Department of Housing Henry Cisneros to condemn Chicago as home to the largest troubled public housing in the nation. (Don Terry, Chicago Housing Authority to be Taken Over by U.S., The New York Times, May 28, 1995, n.p.) Simultaneously spare and ornate, ideal and ironic, these paintings operate in the grand, time-honored tradition of the artist as chronicler of social truths, serving as poignant testament to the conflict between promised Utopias and dystopic realities which defines the grim history of welfare housing legislation in American cities. When first exhibited in 1997, the Garden Project series appeared with undeniable graphic charge; one viewer remarks, Marshall realized a series of large-scale canvases, whose inclusion in Catharine Davids celebrated Documenta X, organized in the German city of Kassel in 1997, confirmed his global stature as one of the leading painters of his generation. These pictures were the Garden Project series. (Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, 2016, pp. 50-51) Between 1995 and 1997, Marshall would paint another three monumental canvases which, in their virtuosic appropriation of pastoral landscape techniques to render idyllic scenes of African American surburbia, take the first five Garden Project paintings as their point of thematic and stylistic departure; the last of these, Past Times marks both the culmination of this grand cycle and the inauguration of a new, extraordinary era in the artists celebrated oeuvre. Remarking upon the significance of Past Times, Marshall reflects, I saw [Past Times] as performing closure for a particular way of working in the suburban paintings (such as Bang and Our Town), the Lost Boys paintings, the Garden Project paintings; works in which I was layering techniques drawn from a modernist tradition onto a classical modelall of those gestural marks and collage elements. (The artist cited in Terrie Sultan, Kerry James Marshall, New York, 2000, pp. 119-120) With the conclusion of the Garden Project, the ubiquitous, flowerlike blotches and ribbons of paint which decorate the surfaces of the Garden Project paintings abruptly vanish from Marshalls artistic repertoire. As the final painting in the cycle, this transition is already apparent in the present work: when compared with the dripping rosettes and intricately layered picture planes of the preceding seven paintings, the composition of Past Times is dramatically purified, the dense tapestry of deliberate smears and spills pulled to the side to reveal an exquisite clarity. Of this shift, Marshall comments: Past Times was the last big pastoral painting that I felt I could honestly do in that style without simply repeating past successes. I could see that the challenge of that painting was coming to an end. (Ibid., p. 120) In Past Times, Marshall achieves that which he set out to do at the start of the Garden Project series, and that which he continues to strive for in his practice: the non-negotiable assertion of the black figure within canonical modes of painting. Surveying the viewer from their suburban idyll, the searing figures of Past Times leave no doubt that they belong within the pastoral tradition which surrounds them, hung beside like masterworks of American painting in museums worldwide. Having demonstrated his indisputable mastery, Marshall can continue on, confronting and dismantling other canonical narratives built upon principles of exclusion, prejudice, and invisibility; describing the tireless impetus behind his practice, the artist remarks, The urgency that drives you, that propels you into the studio every day, should be the desire to see figures as yet unrealized. If this is where your heart is, integrity will not be an issue. (The artist cited in Charles Gaines, Kerry James Marshall, New York, 2017, p. 128) Signed and dated '97

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  • 2018-05-16
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New york. 1941/boogie woogie. 1941-42

“For Men of the City, the city must be sublimated in the painting – the whole [of] city life must reflect in it.”   Mondrian wrote these words while he was living in New York in 1942, around the same time that he completed this striking composition.  The present picture brilliantly exemplifies this statement, as it embodies the dynamic energy and structural sophistication of the modern metropolis (see fig. 1).  During the years that Mondrian lived in New York (1940-1944), he began only six new paintings and completed only three of them:  New York/ Boogie Woogie, 1941-42 (the present work);  New York City, 1942 (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, see fig. 2), New York City 1 (incomplete; Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf); New York City 2 (incomplete, Private Collection); Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York, see fig. 3), and Victory Boogie Woogie, 1942-44 (incomplete, Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, see fig. 4).  Other pictures that he worked on during these years were compositions that he had begun in Paris or London and brought with him when he immigrated to the United States in October 1940.  Unlike his earlier canvases, these later paintings were inspired, from start to finish, by the sights and sounds of New York City.  Mondrian was enraptured by the lure of Manhattan, its urban landscape unlike anything he had ever experienced in Europe. The linearity of the skyline and the grid of its streets created an environment that seemed to be a living example of Mondrian’s theories of Neo-Plasticism that he promoted in the 1920s and 1930s, and the neon signs of Times Square and the pulsing rhythm of New York jazz enlivened the spirit of his paintings during these years.  Working in New York until his death in 1944, Mondrian produced canvases that demonstrated a fresher and more developed application of his original aesthetic.  These paintings are considered the most innovative works of his career and ultimately came to define urban modernism in the 20th century.   New York/ Boogie Woogie, which is the first canvas that he started and finished in New York and the first of his legendary Boogie-Woogie series, led this revolution of style. Mondrian began this picture at the beginning of 1941 and continued working on it intermittently until 1942.  It was not uncommon for him to work in stages on his compositions, sometimes calling a work finished and then returning to it at a later date to add structural elements.  In the beginning of 1941, Mondrian exhibited the present work, then titled New York and only composed of black lines, at the Riverside Museum.  When New York went unsold at that exhibition, he decided to revise the composition over the course of the next year.  His friend, Carl Holty, described what happened: “…He had one picture that was shown at the Riverside Museum in one of the abstract artist shows.  And it had a hollow center, a white rectangle, there were two sets of bars around it.  And, oh, my, this was the last word.  Well, nothing happened.  It didn’t get sold.  It came back to the studio.  I came there one day, and I noticed that he had cut this plane down with another plane.  And I said, ‘What happened here, Piet?’  And he looked at me as though it was my fault and said, ‘It was empty as hell.  Anybody could see that.’  So this was intermediate, the introduction of these small planes that sort of framed the hollow center, you know, the old Oriental idea of bringing the empty space to light by what you do around it had already hit him” (reprinted in Joop M. Joosten, Piet Mondrian, Catalogue Raisonné of the Work of 1911-1944, Toronto, 1998, p. 403). Photographs from October 1941 feature the artist at his studio on 56th Street with this picture before he completely finished his revisions (see figs. 5 & 6), the point in the history of the picture now referred to as the “first state.”  By now, Mondrian had added three red lines – two horizontals at the top and bottom, and one vertical intersecting them on the left edge.  The composition was later enhanced with the yellow, blue and red color bars along the edges, and the finished work made its debut in this “second” state when it was exhibited at the Valentine-Dudensing Gallery in 1942.  This painting, which was re-titled Boogie-Woogie for the exhibition, finally sold in March to Mary E. Johnston of Cincinnati, who had visited the Valentine-Dudensing Gallery with Mondrian’s friend, Charmion von Wiegand.  In his correspondence to von Wiegand after the sale, Mondrian expressed his disappointment about receiving only $400 for the picture, but seemed pleased that “the Boogie-Woogie was sold” (quoted in Yve-Alain Bois, Angelica Z. Rudenstine, Joop Joosten, Hans Janssen, Piet Mondrian (exhibition catalogue), New York, 1995, illustrated p. 289). “Boogie Woogie” refers to the improvisational, syncopated piano music that originated among African-American musicians and became popular in New York jazz clubs during World War II.  On his first night in New York City, Mondrian heard this music, and, as he later remarked to Sidney Janis, he decided to “put a little ‘boogie woogie’ into his pictures.”  These resulting pictures, with their flashes of color and the rhythmic arrangement of lines, became known as Mondrian’s Boogie Woogie paintings, and the present work is the pioneer of this now iconic series. The history of the painting accounts for its dual title, New York/ Boogie Woogie, and the recently published catalogue raisonné on the artist has titled this work accordingly.   Several Mondrian historians, such as E.A. Carmean Jr., continued to refer to this work as New York due to the original title written on the stretcher.  Carmean writes,   “A painting which well typifies Mondrian’s style soon after his arrival in Manhattan is the appropriately entitled New York.  This large, nearly square canvas is constructed around a central rectangle…  Around the perimeter of the work on three sides are the freely positioned unbordered color elements in red, yellow and blue which were developed at this time.  Inserted between structure and frame they give a new staccato pace to the composition, while also acting as a secondary border.  Significantly, Mondrian does not use here any of the large color areas from his earlier paintings; rather color is now kept at the approximate scale of the linear structure which it supplements and supports.  The greatest change in New York is in this structure itself, for in the composition Mondrian reintroduces colored lines; in New York we find continuous red lines as well as black.  Inflection of the pictorial surface which had previously been the result of double (or triple) black lines is now caused directly by a colored structure” (E.A. Carmean, Jr., Mondrian: The Diamond Compositions (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1979, pp. 57-58). After Mondrian escaped war-torn Europe and moved to New York, he found himself in the center of a metropolis that was thriving with creative talent.  Other artist émigrés, such as Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, and André Breton were now all living in New York, and their presence in the city marked the beginning of the transatlantic shift of the avant-garde that would redefine the city as the artistic capital of the world for the next several decades.   A significant factor in New York’s emergence as a cultural capital was the influence and reception of Mondrian’s pictures among young artists.   Carmean tells us that, “In spite of the difficulties caused by the war, Mondrian appears to have been happy in New York, perhaps more so than at any time in his life.  In addition to his friendship with Harry Holtzman – who had helped him escape to America – Mondrian became the colleague of several other, younger abstract painters, such as Charmion von Wiegand, Fritz Glarner and Carl Holty.  New York was host to many major European artists at the time – Ernst, Léger, and Masson for example  – and Mondrian was regarded by the younger American artists as equal in stature to these masters (recognition that he did not have in Paris).  There was considerable interest in his work; two one-man exhibitions were held at the Valentine Dudensing Gallery in 1942 and 1943 respectively and he was able to write and publish new essays” (ibid.). The paintings that Mondrian executed in New York were much more intricately designed, colorful, and optically engaging than his earlier works.  One of the notable innovations of these pictures is the artist’s use of tape, which he applied directly to his canvases and then painted over in oil.  The technique was employed to its greatest extent in Mondrian’s last picture, Victory Boogie Woogie, which remained incomplete at the artist’s death in 1944 (see fig. 7).  These pictures, however, expand on the Neo-Plastic theories that Mondrian had first developed in the 1920s, when he called for simplifying art to the point of pure abstraction.  With his paintings, composed of harmonious intersections of lines and pure planes, Mondrian attempted to  “complement society not as propaganda or as applied art but by its plastic expression alone.  To understand this, it is necessary to know what this pure art involved, to know that it is a genuine and living expression of the universal equilibrium” (Harry Holtzman and Martin D. James, eds., The New Art – The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian, Boston, 1986, p. 278). As the first painting that he began in the United States and one of only three that he actually finished, New York/ Boogie Woogie is an outstanding New World manifestation of Mondrian's career-long artistic pursuit. Fig. 1, Aerial view of Manhattan in the 1940s Fig. 2, Piet Mondrian, New York City, 1942, oil on canvas, Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris Fig. 3, Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York Fig. 4, Piet Mondrian, Victory Boogie Woogie, 1942-43, oil and paper on canvas, Gemeentemuseum, The Hague Fig. 5, The artist in his 353 East 56th Street studio, with the present work in its first state on the left, Fall 1941 Fig. 6, The artist in his 353 East 56th Street studio, with the present work in its first state on the left, Fall 1941 Fig. 7, The artist’s 15 East 59th Street studio after his death in 1944. Victory Boogie Woogie, which remained unfinished, sits on the easel on the right Signed with the initials PM (lower left) and dated 41-42 (lower right); signed, dated, and titled Piet Mondrian, 1941-42, New York on the stretcher

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  • 2004-11-04
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Big Electric Chair

“I never understood why when you died you didn’t just vanish and everything could just keep going the way it was, only you just wouldn’t be there.” Andy Warhol, America, 1985, p. 126 Nowhere else in Andy Warhol’s prodigious output does he more affectingly capture the metaphysical terror of living in the Technicolor Sixties than in Big Electric Chair. For the artist who singlehandedly defined the intense prismatic palette of Pop art, Big Electric Chair from 1967-1968 embodies the most daring and sophisticated deployment of color across all of Warhol’s most critically lauded Death and Disaster paintings. Exceptionally rare, it is one of only fourteen large-format depictions of the subject, of which the majority reside in major international collections such as the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, and the Menil Collection in Houston. The present work is the sole Big Electric Chair that saw Warhol divide the canvas into three discrete fields of uniform color and silkscreen the surface twice—once in a dark purple and subsequently in a velvet green. The paintings that Warhol previously executed in 1963 and 1965 depicting the same electric chair were strictly black-ink silkscreens on monochromatic grounds, either on much smaller canvases or serially repeated in the same image. Emphasizing its inimitable singularity, not only were the Big Electric Chairs the largest isolated iterations of the subject, but none aside from the present work saw Warhol segment the image into more than two oblique zones of color. Its polychromatic, high-key tonality without doubt renders it the most compositionally complex of all Electric Chairs. A delirium of Fauvist colors spill across the tripartite surface, juxtaposing the vacant sobriety of the image with a vertiginous ecstasy of chromatic drama. The sequence of cobalt blue, acid-green and violet is paradigmatic of Warhol’s most powerful treatment of color, magnifying the nightmare of the image and its potent resonance. The 1967 Big Electric Chairs are further distinguished from earlier examples by their heightened immediacy—Warhol cropped the original source photograph to foreground the electric chair and eliminate the atmospheric emptiness of the background, pressing the chair closer to the viewer. Unlike any of Warhol’s other Death and Disaster paintings, the present work positions us within the center of its horror, implicating us as both spectators and potential victims. Meanwhile, Warhol’s doubling of the silkscreen within the same image creates a distinct off-register effect that haunts the picture, a heightened contouring that the artist attempted with only four of the fourteen Big Electric Chairs. The image portentously buzzes, a blurry irradiation whose shadows provide a sense of three-dimensional space to invite the viewer into its reality, emphasized by the cord spiraling toward us at the bottom left of the canvas. Much of the scholarship surrounding the Electric Chairs points to the potentiality of the image and the chair’s ominous invitation. However, the aggressive instantaneity of the present work’s color palette seems to transport us into the present moment of electrocution, metaphorically vibrating with the terrifying flash of death at the instant of its arrival. Invented at the end of the Nineteenth Century by Harold P. Brown and Arthur Kennelly, employees of Thomas Edison, the electric chair was the United States’ answer to finding a method of capital punishment to replace hanging. Strapped firmly to a wooden chair and attached to numerous electrodes, the condemned would be subjected to a rapid sequence of alternating currents—cycles varying in voltage and duration surged through their body, inducing fatal damage to the internal organs until the heart stopped and they could be pronounced dead. In its linear geometric progression, Big Electric Chair’s three skewed bands of color chromatically simulate the sequential detonation of the alternating current—each strip presses against the next, a tectonic whirl of color that pictorially renders the pulsing terror of the precise, serial jolts of electricity. This staggering effect exemplifies Warhol’s ability to operate within the palette of Pop, but expand the potential of color beyond the stasis of attraction toward a uniquely expressive sensation of motion. The virulent chromatic brutality impels the viewer to realize their own moral distance from the image, emphasizing and unveiling our desensitization to media violence. In a rare interview with Gene Swenson published by Art News in November 1963, Warhol said, “It was Christmas or Labor Day—a holiday—and every time you turned on the radio they said something like ‘4 million are going to die.’ That started it. But when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have any effect.” (the artist cited in Art News, November 1963) Initiated in 1962 at Henry Geldzahler’s encouragement to put aside representations of consumer culture and engage with more serious subject matter, Warhol’s Death and Disaster series propelled the artist beyond celebrity toward critical gravitas. It was around this time, immediately following Marilyn Monroe’s tragic suicide in August 1962, that Warhol also began silkscreening images of the iconic leading lady. Rendering her visage in a panoply of electric Pop hues hauntingly mummified her celebrity, a shocking dissonance between death and exuberant excess that is echoed in Big Electric Chair. Douglas Fogle wrote, “Our fascination with the beauty and glamour of celebrities seems to have an inevitable flip side, which is our deep-seated obsession with tragedy and death.” (Douglas Fogle, “Spectators at Our Own Deaths” in Exh. Cat., Minneapolis, Walker Art Center (and travelling), Supernova: Stars, Deaths, and Disasters 1962-1964, 2006, p. 13) It is precisely this leitmotif of the uncanny juxtaposition between intoxicating bubblegum pop and mortality that permeates Warhol’s best pictures. Just as Warhol challenged our threatening voyeuristic impulses with his subversive depictions of celebrity, Big Electric Chair interrogates the moral psychoses of the mass media, as the candy-colored panorama of the canvas appealingly invokes the public’s voracious consumption of death on-screen. Warhol used as his source for the original silkscreen a photograph of the chair at Sing Sing penitentiary in Ossining, New York, an industrial vehicle of ritual killing that executed 614 individuals between 1891 and 1963. This photograph was published by the press on June 19, 1953—the day that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were put to death at Sing Sing after being convicted of spying for the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, allegedly smuggling information to the Russians pertaining to the atomic bomb. Warhol’s source photograph demonstrates death as it is propped up for the public’s viewing, our alternating emotional index oscillating between fear and an insatiable fervor, reminiscent of the crowds that would gather for public hangings. Big Electric Chair’s phantasmagoria of color calls to mind the painting of Francis Bacon, whose most riveting canvases amalgamate the carnal horrors of disfigurement and profound psychological unrest with harrowingly bright hues. Michel Leiris wrote that Bacon’s paintings convey a modern mental state previously referred to as “le mal du siècle—the ardent awareness of being a presence permeable to all the charms of a world not notable, however, for its kindness, and the icy uncertainty that we are no more than this, have no real power, and are what we are only for a ridiculously limited time… he cannot do other than show the appalling dark side of life, which is the reverse of its bright surface.” (Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon: Full Face and In Profile, 1983, pp. 45-6) If Bacon’s colors served not only to inflate the surreal unease of his pictures, but expose the harlequin masking the macabre lurking beneath, Warhol instrumentally deploys a similarly brazen spectrum to highlight the existential malaise of living in the media-saturated climate of 1960s America. Among the car crashes, suicides, and race riots, Neil Printz declared, “The Electric Chair, with its near-frontality and unchanging recurrence, is the most iconic of Warhol’s Death and Disaster images.” (Neil Printz in Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1989, p. 16) A uniquely American industrial invention capable of mechanizing death, the electric chair encompasses Warhol’s overarching enthrallment with the relationship between technological reproducibility and mortality. Emulating the raw power of the Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) from 1963, Big Electric Chair sees man become the orchestrator of his own demise through his invention of this killing machine—Warhol spins a circuitous parable of birth and death that marks a particular moment in American history, yet is timeless in the unsettling dread that it bares derived from our very own making. In keeping with his very best work, celebrity, tragedy and the absurdity of human transience inhabit every pore of this breathtaking painting, a treatise on the emotional conditioning of our time.

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  • 2014-05-13
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L'Éternel Printemps

Carved from a single block of marble at the turn of the century, Rodin's stunning Éternel printemps ranks among the artist's most skillful renderings of this passionate subject.  This sculpture, which is adorned with a floral motif on the base, is believed to be the fifth of ten known carvings of the subject in marble, and was singled out in Frederick Lawton's 1906 biography on the artist as the most beautiful of them all.   Other marbles from this series belong in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest (1901); the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (1906); The Museum of Decorative Arts, Buenos Aires (1907); the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1906-07) and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen (1907-1910).   Éternel Printemps was one of Rodin's most celebrated sculptures of the 1880s. The theme of embracing lovers preoccupied Rodin and calls to mind the story of Paolo and Francesca, Dante's mythical paramours who were condemned to spend eternity locked in a maelstrom of passion. For the figure of the woman Rodin used the highly sensual Torse d'Adèle, 1882, which was named after the model who posed for the sculptor. This form was first used to the left of the tympanum of the Gates of Hell and again later in La Chute d'un Ange, but it gained its greatest fame when it was united with the figure of the youthful male in the present work. When Rodin received a commission for the first of the marble versions in 1896, it became apparent that the outstretched left arm and right leg of the male figure, extending freely into space in the first state, would have to be modified. Consequently the base was enlarged to provide support for the leg and arm. The present marble is the second variation of the original conception of this figure. Animated by the dazzling play of light on the surface and the sweeping upward movement of the man, the figures seem ready to take flight. As Ionel Jianou and Cécile Goldscheider have noted: "Rodin is an artist who can see and dares to express in all sincerity what he has seen. He discovers the enchantment of light and its resources, the vibration and intimate movement of surfaces and planes, the throb of passion that animates form. He uses 'highlights, heavy shadows, paleness, quivering, vaporous half-tones, and transitions so finely shaded that they seem to dissolve into air', giving his sculpture 'the radiance of living flesh'" (I. Jianou & C. Goldscheider, op. cit., p. 19). From dealing with love in an allegorical way, Rodin began treating it in more human terms. As evident in the present work, there is a marked increase in the eroticism of his art and a corresponding growth in the daring movement of the poses which could be a reflection of the artist's studio practice allowing the models to move freely and independently. Rodin himself proclaimed: "Sculpture does not need to be original, what it needs is life. [...] I used to think that movement was the chief thing in sculpture and in all I did it was what I tried to attain. [...] Grief, joy, thoughts – in our art all becomes action" (quoted in I. Jianou & C. Goldscheider, ibid., pp. 19-20). The first owner of this marble was the German diplomat Hellmuth Lucius von Stoedten (1869-1934), who commissioned this sculpture from the artist's studio. Baron von Stoedten was a friend of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, whose appreciation of Rodin manifested in his series of essays entitled Rodin et son oeuvre (1903).  Baron von Stoedten was posted in Paris at the turn of the century, when his taste for art lead to the acquisition of this fine marble.  Work on the marble commenced in 1901, with Rodin and his associates Raynaud and Barthélemy modifying the composition from November 1901 until September 1902.  On July 25, 1903, Baron von Lucius wrote to Rodin, inquiring whether "the magnificent Printemps" was ready, and Rodin confirmed its completion that August.  The work would be installed on a neo-gothic credenza in the Baron's apartment later that year.  The marble remained with the Baron for the rest of his life, and was then inherited by his daughter upon his death in 1934. Inscribed with the signature Rodin

  • USAUSA
  • 2016-05-09
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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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