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Superb and rare fancy vivid blue diamond and diamond ring

Set with an oval brilliant-cut diamond weighing 10.10 carats, flanked by two pear-shaped diamonds, to the circular-cut diamond surround, gallery and hoop, mounted in 18 karat white gold. Ring size: 6¾ Accompanied by GIA report numbered 10542803, dated 24 November 1999, stating that the 10.10 carat diamond is natural, Fancy Vivid Blue Colour, Internally Flawless, inscribed with 'De Beers Millennium Jewel 4'. The GIA report was updated on 10 March 2016. __________________________ The De Beers Millennium Jewels: Exceptional Collection of 11 Important Blue Diamonds Once a while, when a special diamond makes an appearance, it is a rare discovery; however, when a unique collection of special diamonds is unveiled, it is truly a once in a millennium experience. To celebrate the Millennium in 2000, De Beers, together with The Steinmetz Group, showcased an exceptional collection of rare and valuable diamonds, De Beers Millennium Jewels, in a specially designed exhibit at London’s Millennium Dome. The exhibition that lasted throughout the year consisted of the 203.04 carat Millennium Star and eleven phenomenal blue diamonds of various shapes and weights totaling 118 carats, ranging in size from a 5.16 carat pear-shaped to a 27.64 carat heart-shaped diamond, The Heart of Eternity, each specially inscribed with a De Beers Millennium number using De Beers’ proprietary branding technique. This magnificent collection even instigated the “robbery of the millennium” when a ten-ton JCB digger broke through the wall of the Dome only to find replaced replicas of the diamonds which were replaced a day earlier in preparation of the heist. The robbers, armed with sledgehammers, guns and grenades smashed through the gem’s armored casing before being detained. As the most important collection of blue diamonds to be presented at one time, it took De Beers decades to put the collection together. Nine out of the eleven diamonds have been graded by the GIA as Fancy Vivid Blue color and two of Fancy Intense Blue color. Blue diamonds owe their color to impurities of boron, and many are modified with a grey secondary tone, or an uneven saturation with areas of colorless windowing. Very few stones have the intensity or an even saturation as these Millennium blue diamonds and it is this combination of color, saturation and brilliance that make them truly miracles of nature. Historically, blue diamonds were recovered mainly in India and Brazil, but for the last 100 years, they have been randomly and sporadically found in the Premier Mine (since renamed the Cullinan Mine) in South Africa, the source of these fine blue diamonds. Blue diamonds make up much less than 0.1 percent of all diamonds recovered at this mine, and to discover one annually of quality and size is an extremely unusual occurrence. Since its initial appearance at the Millennium Exhibition in 2000, only one of these diamonds have ever come into the open market, when Sotheby’s Hong Kong sold the “De Beers Millennium Jewel 11”, a 5.16 carat internally flawless pear-shaped fancy vivid blue diamond in April 2010. Fancy Vivid Blue Diamonds Auction Milestones Whilst a very small number of important blue diamonds were sold at auction over the last two decades, it was not until 2007 when the landmark Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong sold a 6.04 carat, internally flawless emerald-cut Fancy Vivid Blue diamond for a record price of US$1,321,495 per carat, breaking the 20-year-old record held by the famous ‘Hancock Red’, and propelling all sizable Fancy Vivid Blue diamonds to new market levels of a minimum of US$1,000,000 per carat. Since then, blue diamonds at auction have had an admirable auction track record. However, all previous prices were totally eclipsed by the Mellon Blue Diamond, renamed ‘The Zoé Diamond’ in New York, again at Sotheby’s in November 2014. Fancy vivid blue diamonds of the utmost quality and size have now reached, in a short time-span, a new phenomenal level of over $3,000,000 at US$3,348,205 per carat for the Zoé Diamond. This record stood for barely a year when the remarkable Blue Moon Diamond sold in November 2015 by Sotheby’s in Geneva for CHF48,634,000. Renamed ‘The Blue Moon of Josephine’, this exceptional blue diamond thus smashed all previous records to stand at US$4,028,941 per carat as the current world record for any gemstone at auction.

  • USAUSA
  • 2016-04-05
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World auction record price for any fancy vivid pink diamond

The pear-shaped fancy vivid pink diamond of outstanding colour weighing 15.38 carats, mounted as a ring, size 51. Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a French merchant and adventurer who was best known for acquiring the 'Tavernier Blue Diamond' that he subsequently sold to Louis XIV, first made a reference to pink diamonds in the early 17th century. Tavernier mentioned a very large pink rough diamond weighing over 200 carats, shown to him by Moghuls in the Kingdom of Golconda in 1642. This diamond, named ‘The Grand Table’ and valued at 600,000 rupees at the time, is still the largest pink diamond recorded to date. The French merchant also purchased two pale pink diamonds around 1668 and drew the pictures of the stones in his travel book.Since the 17th century, the value of coloured diamonds has considerably increased. Fancy coloured diamonds are rarer than near colourless diamonds as their hues come from a disturbance during the formation process of the stone deep in the earth. For all coloured diamonds except pinks, the colour comes from trace elements that interfere during the formation of the crystal. A diamond is composed of pure carbon; it is the intrusion of another atom that causes the colour: nitrogen for yellows, boron for blues. Concerning pink diamonds, the colour is a consequence of a distortion of the crystal structure of the stone. Fancy coloured diamonds are rare in nature, but the intensity of the colour is also an important characteristic of the stone. The Gemological Institute of America grades fancy coloured diamonds as: Faint, Very Light, Light, Fancy Light, Fancy, Fancy Intense, Fancy Vivid. Fancy Vivid colours are the most sought-after. The exceptional stone offered in this auction displays a very bright and deep fancy vivid pink colour. Even in the category “Fancy Vivid”, one can find different levels of intensity; the saturation and hue of this stone are absolutely mesmerising. The current record price ever paid at auction for a pink diamond is ‘The Graff Pink’, a magnificent 24.76 carat Fancy Intense Pink diamond, which sold at Sotheby’s Geneva in November 2010 for $46.16 million. The current record price per carat for a fancy vivid pink diamond ($2,155,332) was set by a 5.00 carat diamond, sold in Hong Kong in January 2009. An Exceptional Colour “Certainly, the occurrence of any gem-quality diamond is rare, but the discovery of a pink diamond is exceedingly unusual. Of all diamonds annually submitted to GIA, no more than 3% are classified as coloured diamonds; less than 5% of those coloured diamonds are predominantly pink. The majority of pink diamonds fall within the tone and saturation ranges of Faint to Fancy – very few contain colour so vibrant as to be Fancy Vivid… In addition to Fancy Vivid colour and a remarkable weight of 15.38 carats, the Unique Pink was reported to display stunning clarity and exceedingly pure (type IIa) structure. This rare combination of superior qualities allows the Unique Pink to hold the distinction of a truly exceptional gem”. Excerpt from the GIA monograph “In one previous GIA study of 1,490 pink diamonds – of which 1,166 were type I and 324 were type II – the diamonds were found to occur in a relatively wide range of colour appearances, from “warmer” orangy pinks to “cooler” purple-pinks… The Fancy Vivid Pink designation is exceptionally rare, but particularly so for a type IIa diamond of such significant size”. Excerpt from the GIA monograph “In grading fancy-colour diamonds, the measure of the “C” representing colour far surpasses other “C’s” (clarity, cut and carat weight) in importance”. Excerpt from the GIA monograph Manufacturing the Unique Pink Diamond “Though nature granted the Unique Pink with rare colour and fine purity, it is the responsibility of man to capitalize on these qualities and bring the diamond’s innermost beauty to full display. The ultimate shape and cutting style of the Unique Pink is described as pear modified brilliant. Examination of the details of the polished form provides some insight into the gem’s growth story and enhances its visual impact. Although the precise appearance of the original rough is unknown, it was likely elongated, as crystals of that form often give way to attractive pear shapes… The Unique Pink’s pear modified brilliant cut complements its characteristic form and deepens its natural Fancy Vivid tone and saturation”. Excerpt from the GIA monograph A Type IIa Diamond “Type II diamonds are rare… and represent less than 2% of all diamonds mined. Not coincidentally, they also tend to display exceptional transparency. Type II diamonds are subdivided into two groups. Type IIa stones have no nitrogen or boron impurities (and could be considered the “most pure”)… The Unique Pink was identified as type IIa based on analysis of its infrared spectrum. No features were observed in the spectral region from approximately 1400-1000 wavenumbers, where nitrogen-related peaks are expected to occur. This observation indicates that the diamond is exceedingly chemically pure”. Excerpt from the GIA monograph “As its name suggests, the Unique Pink is a most distinctive item in the fascinating world of gemstones. It is exceptionally rare for any natural diamond to reveal Fancy Vivid pink colour, but for one of 15.38 carats to exhibit such tone and saturation is astonishing”. Excerpt from the GIA monograph "In addition to Fancy Vivid colour and a remarkable weight of 15.38 carats, the Unique Pink was reported to display stunning clarity and exceedingly pure (type IIa) structure. This rare combination of superior qualities allows the Unique Pink to hold the disctinction of a truly exceptional gem”. Excerpt from the GIA monograph

  • USAUSA
  • 2016-05-17
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Liz #3 [Early Colored Liz]

In the fall of 1963 Elizabeth Taylor defined what it was to be the ultimate star: a cultural phenomenon that was no longer confined to the woman alone but known to the world simply as Liz. The definitive screen icon whose legend already reverberated across the globe, she personified an entire era of style and glamour. Onscreen she had mesmerized, seduced, shocked and inspired millions in various roles as devastating femme fatale; irresistible other woman; suspicious wife; and omnipotent empress, befittingly queen of all she surveyed. At that time aged just thirty-one years old, she had already been nominated for the Best Actress Oscar four times and was famously the highest-paid female movie star of all time. Just as famously, she had amassed four highly-publicized marriages to some of the world’s most eligible, successful and famous men. Her extraordinary life, defined by polarized extremes of love and tragedy, had been played out in an epic arena for the whole world to see. At that precise moment her love life again fuelled international headlines through her sensational affair with Richard Burton, notoriously initiated on the set of the Cleopatra, then the most expensive film ever made. Her star had illuminated popular culture for two decades, and would continue to do so for more than another four. In the fall of 1963 Andy Warhol was thirty-five years old and transforming the parameters of visual culture in America. The focus of his signature silkscreen was leveled at subjects he brilliantly perceived as the most important concerns of day to day contemporary life. By appropriating the visual vernacular of consumer culture and multiplying readymade images gleaned from newspapers, magazines and advertising, he turned a mirror onto the contradictions behind quotidian existence. Above all else he was obsessed with themes of fame, celebrity and death, executing intensely multifaceted and complex works in series that continue to resound with universal relevance. His unprecedented practice re-presented how society viewed itself, simultaneously reinforcing and radically undermining the collective psychology of popular culture. He epitomized the tide of change that swept through the 1960s and, as Kynaston McShine has concisely stated, "He quite simply changed how we all see the world around us." (Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art (and traveling), Andy Warhol: Retrospective, 1996, p. 13) Thus in the summer of 1963 there could not have been a more perfect alignment of artist and subject than Warhol and Liz. Perhaps the most famous depiction of the biggest superstar by the original superstar artist, Liz#3 is a historic paradigm of Pop Art from a breath-taking moment in Art History. With devastating immediacy and efficiency, Warhol's canvas seduces our view with a stunning aesthetic and is an indisputable icon for our age. Warhol’s magnificent Liz #3, executed between October and November 1963, is one of a rare series of Elizabeth Taylor produced by the master of Pop Art on colored backgrounds. This series of jewel-toned portrait paintings represents the apotheosis of Warhol’s ground-breaking creative vision, both as the technician of the (still then) revolutionary silkscreen process and the architect of iconic visual treatises on the modern vagaries of celebrity. This luminous portrait not only captures the ironically dark essence of Twentieth Century glamour and fame, it also speaks of a time of growing fame for Warhol himself. The numerical title of Liz #3 originates from the first exhibition of this series at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, where six of the colored Liz paintings appeared in a December 1963 show fittingly titled An American Viewpoint. As with his images of Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy, Warhol’s depictions of Elizabeth Taylor display not so much his ambition to record the prose of physical likeness, but more his love affair with the drama and glamour of celebrity. For Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor was much more than just a celebrated actress. She was the survivor of a near fatal illness, a goddess of the silver screen and the grand embodiment of the trinity of mortality, celebrity and fame which so fascinated the artist. Warhol’s deep involvement with the image of Elizabeth Taylor appeared very early in his career, beginning with his Death and Disaster paintings. When Warhol was still largely painting his canvases by hand, he borrowed subject matter from the front pages of tabloids and newspapers, beginning in 1961. Warhol’s second and largest "headline’’ painting, Daily News (1962), was based on the front and back pages of a March 29, 1962 newspaper with the front page headline "Eddie Fisher Breaks Down: In Hospital Here, Liz in Rome." For Warhol, tabloid papers were either vehicles for mass disaster, rendering tragic circumstances almost mundane by their commonplace repetition, or the purveyors of celebrity and fame to an avid audience. In figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy, Warhol found the ideal subjects that combined both aspects of the mass media culture where accessibility turned private tragedy into public myth. By isolating and then serializing such images, Warhol began the practice of essentially commodifying celebrity, just as he had earlier catalogued the darker side of life with his various images of car crashes, race riots and electric chairs. This, in turn, would affect a later generation of artists, most notably Jeff Koons, whose work seems to celebrate the Warholian process of ‘commodification’. In the early 1960s, Liz Taylor had emerged from a string of successful films that signaled her complete transformation from the child star of National Velvet (1944) to the heated sex symbol of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Suddenly Last Summer (1959) and Butterfield 8 (1960). Often, Taylor’s personal life superceded her professional accomplishments as the public passionately followed her early marriages, the tragic death of her third husband Mike Todd and her role as the other woman in the break-up of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds’ marriage – all before the actress had turned 30. When Warhol painted this portrait, Taylor was 31 years, wed to her fourth husband, and about to engage her fifth. From 1950 to 1951 she had been married to the hotel heir and one of America’s most eligible bachelors, Conrad Hilton; between 1952 and 1957 to Michael Wilding, one of the most popular English screen actors of the late 1940s and early 1950s; to the entrepreneurial producer, Mike Todd from 1957 until his plane Lucky Liz crashed and he died in 1958; and Todd’s best friend and most successful pop singer of the early 1950s, Eddie Fisher from 1959 to 1964. Of course, by the time Warhol was screening his canvas in New York in the Fall of 1963, Taylor’s deeply impassioned and apparently unstoppable affair with her Cleopatra co-star Richard Burton had been internationally sensationalized through the relentless engines of mass-media, and was so globally notorious as to have been condemned by the Vatican. The union of Taylor and Burton, “the most famous movie star in the world and the man many believed to be the finest classical actor of his generation” (Mel Gussow, “A Lustrous Pinnacle of Hollywood Glamour: Elizabeth Taylor, 1932-2011,” The New York Times, March 23, 2011) immediately proved irresistible to legions of ardent devotees. A legendary chapter of Hollywood history, the passionate, tempestuous, Burton-Taylor romance defined a new register of celebrity adoration. Most tellingly for Warhol, the young voluptuous Liz had also had a dramatic brush with early death. After begrudgingly playing the prostitute role in Butterfield 8, Taylor traveled to London in 1960 with her then husband Fisher to begin filming Cleopatra. While there, the actress suffered from a near-fatal respiratory illness during which she was actually briefly pronounced dead, finally recovering after an emergency tracheotomy. While Taylor had been acknowledged by critics and Hollywood with Oscar nominations for two previous roles in the late 1950s, it was her role in Butterfield 8 that garnered the actress her first Academy Award. The sympathy engendered by her operation and illness was perceived as a factor in her award, as her scar was visibly apparent on the night of the ceremonies. This combination of glamour and tragedy appealed to Warhol’s fascination with fame and his own deep sense of morbidity, and in 1962 the personae of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor would become Warhol’s ultimate muses in establishing iconic symbols of popular culture. While his series of colored Marilyn paintings were inspired by the shocking news of Monroe’s suicide in August 1962, Warhol’s focus on Elizabeth Taylor was generated from a ten page feature on her marital history and career in the April 13, 1962 issue of Life, portraying Taylor on the cover with her new passion, Richard Burton, under the banner headline "Blazing New Page in the Legend of Liz." Warhol chose images from this article to create several works of the actress in a retrospective vein from an early photograph of her role in National Velvet to a still from the upcoming movie Cleopatra, for which the actress was receiving the unprecedented salary of one million dollars. The most arresting image Warhol used was a group photograph of Liz, her third husband Mike Todd, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds at the Epsom Downs horse race prior to the scandalous intrigue of her romance with Eddie. In October-November 1962, Warhol used this image in four paintings all titled The Men in Her Life, memorializing this period as a preamble to the red-hot intensity of the publicity machine that was thriving on her tempestuous - and extremely public - affair with Burton. While Cleopatra would become notorious for its lavish budget and protracted production over years, its reception on its release in 1963 was cool and unforgiving as opposed to the career-enhancing publicity of the Burton-Taylor scandal. In the summer of 1963, Taylor’s role as an icon of luxury, decadence, sexuality and celebrity was at its height, when Warhol chose a publicity shot of the actress in the late 1950s to match the iconic pose he was using in his silkscreen paintings of Marilyn Monroe’s studio publicity shot. As in the case of Monroe, Warhol sought to capture her physical attributes – her public mask of hair and makeup – rather than a biographical or career moment. At first, Warhol screened this image over silver backgrounds in the summer of 1963, at the same time he was screening his Silver Elvis paintings, and both series were shown at the Ferus Gallery in October 1963. However in October-November 1963, Warhol soon moved to the multi-colored backgrounds that he was using for his 20 by 16 inch Marilyn paintings of late 1962.  With his Liz portraits, Warhol inaugurated the most classic format for his modern muses – the 40 by 40 inch canvases in which his goddess is centrally placed and evenly balanced. Set against bold colors, the thirteen Colored Liz paintings command our attention and seduce our senses. The Marilyn and Jackie paintings in this format followed in the summer of 1964. Like modern-day Madonnas, the images of these three women were refined down to their basic attributes contrasted dramatically against brilliant colored backgrounds; in the case of Liz Taylor, her abundant dark hair, her brilliantly hued eyes, her perfectly arched brow and her voluptuous red lips were the signs of her immortality as a public image. From the very first moment one encounters this painting, one is seduced by the stunning mint green hue that bursts from the surface. It seeps into the sitter’s hair, displaying pyrotechnics of color and screen. Punctuating these bold passages are the shocking turquoise of her eye-shadow as well as the famous blue tones of her eyes. This strong chromatic field sets the stage upon which the star herself is realized. Warhol’s silkscreen technique, still a relatively new phenomenon to him in 1963, is beautifully executed here. There is a wonderful balance between the crisp record of the overall form, together with softer, more subtle areas of screen that shape the shadows around her nose, cheek and neck. One finds in this series of Colored Liz paintings a more confident Warhol with the silkscreen. The early experiments had been made, and now he wished to explore the various nuances this new technique presented to him. Liz #3 powerfully sums up the extraordinary contribution Warhol made to the lexis and praxis of art. An image of a film star, purloined from a publicity photograph, becomes iconic not just of the vagaries of life and death, but also of the questions of beauty, and how society embraces and nurtures such a dynamic. The aesthetic and the conceptual are thus inextricably linked, revealing Warhol’s focus on searching questions of how and why celebrity matters. Moreover, underpinning the visual and intellectual rewards we garner from Liz #3, the extraordinary technical achievement Warhol made, here perfected in the silkscreen technique, creates an astonishing work that truly broadcasts the essence of an icon.

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-11-11
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Le Sauvetage

The dramatic seaside rescue of Marie-Thérèse is the subject of Le Sauvetage, Picasso's vibrant canvas from November 1932.  The scene depicts the acrobatics of beach activity while the languid body of a bather is hoisted from the water.  All of the figures bear the unmistakable phenotype of Picasso’s lover Marie-Thérèse as she had come to be defined in his other legendary compositions from earlier in the year.  But for this work, created at the height of the artist's obsession with the young woman, Marie-Thérèse is omnipresent - occupying land, sea and air and playing both victim and savior in Picasso's narrative.  The present work is the most well-defined and ambitious of the series of paintings and drawings that Picasso completed on the theme at the end of 1932.  It was during these months that Marie-Therese contracted a serious illness after swimming in the Marne.  The episode was the inspiration for Picasso's series of rescue pictures, but he took considerable liberties in its retelling.  Not only does Picasso recast the scene at the beach, he embellishes it with oblique art historical references to Ingres' Bathers, Michelangelo's Pietà and Canova's Cupid and Psyche.  In his most recent biography on the artist, John Richardson discusses Picasso's approach to these compositions and how they are colored by his own fears and desires: "He transposes the accident from the icy, rat-infested river to a sunny beach, where he envisions Marie-Thérèse being saved from drowning by her sisters or alternate versions of herself.  She looks inert - maybe alive, maybe dead.  The pathos of these images is tinged with eroticism.  The drowned girls — eyes closed, head thrown back, breasts thrust up — swoons erotically in the arms of one of her alter egos, while others dive, swim and play ball, just as they did at Dinard in 1928" (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932, New York, 2007, pp. 487-88). The beach was a source of inspiration for Picasso, an environment equally conducive to erotic exploration or evocations of the ancient world.   As early as 1920, Picasso used the beach at Juan-les-Pins as a backdrop for the activities of his nudes, while at Dinard in 1922 two monumental nude goddesses ran recklessly along the beach.  The summers of 1927 and 1928, spent respectively at Cannes and Dinard, were particularly productive as the clandestine presence of the young Marie-Thérèse Walter in Picasso’s life added an erotic frisson to seaside activities.  John Richardson has described how, at Dinard in July 1928,  “Whenever possible, Picasso would escape from his wife’s sulks and the stifling atmosphere of their ugly rented house (the Villa des Roches in the Saint-Enogat quarter of Dinard) and make for the Plage de l’Ecluse in another part of the town. Marie-Thérèse would be playing ball with some of the children from her holiday home – a scene Picasso would repeatedly portray on the spot over the next few weeks, and from memory laced with fantasy over the next few years” (J. Richardson, “Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter,” Through the Eye of Picasso 1928-1934 (exhibition catalogue), William Beadleston Gallery, New York, 1985). Picasso spent the summer of 1932 at Boisgeloup with Olga, while Marie-Thérèse vacationed on the seaside with her sister.  The frustration of being away from his lover conjured memories of their happy summer together at Dinard in 1928, and he began work on a series of beach scenes that September. The scene of "the rescue" comes into being in November, during Marie-Thérèse's convalescence.  The present work, which is the largest canvas devoted to this theme, appears to be an amalgam of two compositions, one in the collection of the Musée Picasso and the other in the Fondation Beyeler.  In the former, the figures of the two women playing ball and the third reclining on the beach are monochromatic and delineated by strong black lines.  In the latter, the dramatic image of a drowned woman being rescued, inspired by the Marie-Thérèse incident, is the central focus of the canvas.  Picasso combines these two scenes of pleasure and terror in the present canvas, overlaying the lavender figures with shields of transparent color.  The heads of the swimmer emerging to take a breath and the rescued woman gasping for air almost converge at the center of the canvas, dramatizing the insecurity of life. Although the dramatic subject of this remarkable painting derived from Picasso’s most personal experiences and fears, it was also part of a discourse with his greatest rival Henri Matisse. The series of canvases to which the present work belongs was painted just a month after the publication of Matisse’s illustrations for the Poésies of Mallarmé and not long after Matisse had returned from America where he had been working on a version of La Danse for Dr. Albert Barnes.   As Yves-Alain Bois has observed: “At the time, there was much talk in Paris of the work in progress on The Dance, all the more so since Matisse was keeping it secret from absolutely everyone, save his assistant. Games and Rescue on the Beach is Picasso’s anticipative response to The Dance, given the Mallarmé book – his anticipative outbidding. His prescience in this painting is uncanny: the flat tones, the contrapposto of the figures, the syncopated rhythm, the drama (half-violence, half-pleasure) – all the elements of this turbulent picture are 'echoes' of Matisse’s Dance" (Yves-Alain Bois, Matisse and Picasso (exhibition catalogue), Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1998, p. 90). Signed Picasso (upper right)

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-05-07
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Mousquetaire à la pipe

Rendered in the vibrant red and gold colors of the Spanish flag, Picasso’s glorious Mousquetaire à la pipe is a sensational example of a theme that defined the last years of his life. The iconography of the musketeer was indicative of Picasso's self-awareness in the years before his death. Gone from his paintings were the veiled references to the artist as the victorious gladiator or centaur, as these characters did not reflect the artist's failing stamina and lost youth. The vainglorious musketeer was believed to be a more appropriate incarnation, offering a spectrum of interpretations that occupied the artist until the end of his life.   Picasso's work on this theme began in the mid-1960s with a series of engravings and works on paper that explored this figure, and, later, a variety of canvases of the musketeer, festooned in colorful regalia and brandishing a symbol of his virility - a pipe, instrument, weapon, or even a paintbrush.   For the present composition, Picasso has rendered his musketeer as a pipe smoker – a motif that dated back to some of the artist’s composition from the early 20th century. As Picasso developed this series during the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the musketeer became a multi-dimensional figure, exhibiting a range of personalities including card players, musicians and pipe smokers, illustrating his adventures as a bon vivant. In the work under discussion, completed in 1969 and only a few years before the artist's death, the musketeer has become an amalgamation of defining symbols. Unlike earlier versions of this subject in which the artist is careful to render the likeness of the figure through costume and presentation, the present work is identifiable as part of the musketeer series only by particular attributes. Nevertheless, the figure is unquestionably a man of stature, depicted here in the dignified manner of classical portraiture. For Picasso, the musketeer signified the golden age of painting, and allowed him to escape the limitations of contemporary subject matter and explore the spirit of a past age. Here was a character who embodied the courtly mannerisms of the Renaissance gentleman, and Picasso's rendering of this image was also his tribute to the work of two painters he had adored throughout his life - Velasquez and Rembrandt. Picasso had devoted a large portion of his production throughout the 1960s to the reinterpretation of the old masters, an experience in which he reaffirmed his connection to some of the greatest painters in the history of art. The musketeer series was a continuation of this interest and began, according to his wife Jacqueline Roque, "when Picasso started to study Rembrandt," but his appreciation of other great figures of the Renaissance, including Shakespeare, also influenced the appearance of these characters. Picasso seldom depicted himself directly, choosing instead to have thematic characters personify him. The smoking figure in the present work was yet another incarnation of the artist and revealed his particular preoccupations during these final years of his life: "The Pipe Smokers - a favorite theme of Picasso's that goes back to Cubism - afforded him one way of assuaging his frustration. 'Age has forced us to abandon [smoking],' he said to Brassaï, 'but the desire remains. It's the same with love.' For Picasso man was no longer a godlike sculptor at the height of his maturity, nor was he the monstrous Minotaur, symbol of duality; he was a fictitious character, a carnival puppet whose identity and truth lay in masks and signs. Malraux accurately compared these figures to the flat and emblematic personages of the tarot. It was not without humor that Picasso created these characters, whose amorous adventures he chronicled in his etchings. Imagine painting musketeers in 1970! They were ornamental figures whose clothes were a pretext both for the blaze of blood red and golden yellow and for the resurgence of a newly found Spanishness" (Brigitte Léal, Christine Piot and Marie-Laure Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, p. 457-58). Signed Picasso (upper left); dated 5.3.69 II on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2013-11-07
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Jeanne hébuterne (devant une porte)

Painted in 1919, the present work is one of Modigliani’s most monumental portraits, and the last depiction of his wife and muse, Jeanne Hébuterne.  This work was executed shortly before the couple’s premature death within two days of each other early in the following year.  Jeanne was born on April 6, 1898 and was just 19 when she met Modigliani in the summer of 1917 (see fig. 1), while studying at the Académie Colarossi. For the next three years, she would be his constant companion and source of inspiration, and the artist was to immortalize her image in a number of portraits. Although Jeanne was an artist herself, she committed suicide at the age of only 22 and she remains known primarily through Modigliani’s portraits of her. By the time he started depicting Jeanne, the artist had developed his mature style, and the portraits of her, painted during the last three years of his life, are among his most refined and accomplished works.   Having developed and refined style and technique, Modigliani confidently imbued his portraits of Jeanne with an emotional and psychological dimension unique within his work, as described by Claude Roy: “In most pictures of Jeanne we find a very discreet, deliberately subdued color orchestration […] in the softness of the colors, the fragile delicacy of the tones and the exquisite discretion with which relationships between the picture elements are stated, we cannot fail to sense the expression of a love no less discreet than ecstatic. Modigliani is speaking here almost in a whisper; he murmurs his painting as a lover murmurs endearments in the ear of his beloved. And the light bathing the picture is the light of adoration” (Claude Roy, Modigliani, New York, 1958, pp. 112-13). While the present portrait is one of his boldest in scale and execution, the softness that Roy described is present in the gently curved figure of the sitter. In 1919, when this work was executed, Jeanne was pregnant with their second child.  The physical and emotional connotations of her state are beautifully captured in the contrast between the full shape of her skirt, and the elongated, delicate features of her face and upper body. This elegant three-quarter length portrait synthesizes the bold stylistic traits which Modigliani developed in his post-1916 portraits: the geometric simplification of the female form; the S-shaped curve of her body; the elongated neck; the head tilted to one side with almond shaped eyes that prevent the viewer from communicating with the sitter, enveloping her in an enigmatic and impenetrable mood; the stylized, accentuated line of her nose; and the pursed, small mouth with sensuous lips (see figs. 2 and 3). This neo-mannerist style that characterised Modigliani’s painting is partly derived from the artist’s fascination with the Old Masters of his native Italy (see fig. 4). 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. One work often mentioned in connection with Modigliani’s late portraits of women is Parmigianino’s Madonna dal collo lungo; Pontormo’s St. Anne Alterpiece is equally relevant. 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” (Werner Schmalenbach, Modigliani, Munich, 1980, p. 42). Apart from these historical influences, Modigliani was acutely aware of the artistic developments of his own time. Although he never completely subscribed to the syntax of Cubism, he adopted some of its stylistic devices, such as the geometric simplification and break-up of forms, and was close to the sculptors Ossip Zadkine and Jacques Lipchitz, both of whom were strongly influenced by Cubism. Even more important, perhaps, was his relationship with Brancusi, whom he met in 1909. Brancusi not only encouraged him to carve directly in stone, causing him to virtually abandon painting for several years, but also gave the most convincing demonstration of how influences from the widest possible range of sources – tribal, archaic, Asian and African – could be transformed into a personal idiom of the greatest originality. Although Modigliani never developed a style as close to abstraction and as far removed from the world of natural appearances as that of Brancusi, he was strongly influenced by Brancusi’s simplified forms, reducing his sitters’ faces to a few highly stylised features (see fig. 4). What distinguishes Modigliani’s portraits is the balance between his unique mannerism and stylization on one hand, and a naturalism and interest in the personality and psychology of his sitters on the other. The first owner of this work was Leopold Zborowski, who became Modigliani’s dealer after the collapse of the artist’s relationship with Paul Gauillaume. Zborowski, who had arrived in Paris in 1913, was introduced to Modigliani 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, where he installed Modigliani in one of the rooms and provided him with models and materials.  After Zborowski had it, this picture belonged to the Baixeras family, relatively unknown yet important collectors of Modigliani's work who lived in Paris during the 1920s. It was then acquired by Stefa and Leon Brillouin, who exhibited it in the early 1940s after they moved to the United States at the beginning of the war.  The first time that it was reproduced was in 1944 on the cover of a pamphlet accompanying an exhibition held at the American British Art Center in New York. In that publication, Lionello Venturi wrote the following of this picture: "The 'Portrait of Mrs. Hebuterne,' the wife of Modigliani, has never been published. It is a masterpiece, in the painter's last style, when he not only had definitely mastered his linear values, but knew how to construct space around his figure, thus creating a new balance and a new reality out of his abstract forms and colors. This painting unquestionably adds to our knowledge of Modigliani's art" (Lionello Venturi, Amedeo Modigliani, (exhibition catalogue), The American British Art Center, New York, 1944). Fig. 1, Photograph, Jeanne Hébuterne dressed as a Russian on the occassion of the Carnival of 1917 in Paris Fig. 2, Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne, 1918, oil on canvas, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California Fig. 3, Amedeo Modigliani, Jeanne Hébuterne in Yellow Jumper, 1919, oil on canvas, Kurashiki (Japan), Ohara Museum of Art Fig. 4, Sandro Botticelli, La nascita de Venere (detail), 1484-86, tempera on canvas, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence Fig. 5, Amedeo Modigliani, Head, 1911-12, sandstone, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Chester Dale Collection Signed Modigliani (upper right)

  • USAUSA
  • 2004-11-04
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World auction record for a white diamond

An unmounted oval brilliant-cut diamond weighing 118.28 carats. Accompanied by GIA report numbered 2155581489, dated 21 August 2013, stating that the 118.28 carat diamond is D colour, Flawless clarity, with Excellent Polish and Symmetry; also accompanied by diamond type classification report stating that the diamond is determined to be a Type IIa diamond. Type IIa diamonds are the most chemically pure type of diamond and often have exceptional optical transparency. Also accompanied by a letter stating that the 118.28 carat diamond "is the largest Oval Shaped D colour, Flawless or Internally Flawless diamond we have graded as of the date of this letter and the report issued." _________________________ A WONDER OF NATURE Diamonds are one of Nature’s most wonderous gifts. Transformed from carbon under immense pressure and unbelievable heat, diamonds represent the mystery of creation, but through Man, by cutting and polishing, it becomes an amazing object of beauty and allure. Throughout history and the centuries past, diamonds have been the folklore of Kings and Queens, countries and wars. Whilst in contemporary times, diamonds are readily available to the world at large, Nature’s largest and most perfect endowments are as before only available to a select few. Large flawless diamonds are the paragon of white diamonds. Rarer still are D/Flawless Type IIA diamonds. These are the most chemically pure type of diamonds and have exceptional optical transparency. Extraordinarily limpid, they have been compared to pools of crystal waters or drops of frozen ice. First identified as originating from the famed Golconda region of India, Type IIA diamonds are now recovered in all major diamond producing regions. Two famous examples of Type IIA diamonds are the Cullinan I and the Koh-i-Noor, both part of the British Crown Jewels. MAN & NATURE Discovered in 2011 from the deep mines in Southern Africa, the 299 carat rough of this oval diamond is one of the largest and most beautiful diamond rough found in recent years. Carefully and meticulously worked over months, step by step, through the skills and artistries of the best diamond master cutters and polishers to guarantee the greatest standards of proportionality and beauty, man was able to transform Nature’s rough endowment into a mesmerizing object of enthralling beauty. The Perfection and Harmony of Nature and Man together is aptly exemplified by the magic of these alluring diamonds, one of the hardest and most precious materials known to mankind. 100 CARAT D/IF DIAMONDS AT AUCTION The magic of the carat number “100” makes for an auction legend. The appearance of a 100 carat D-Flawless diamond is always an international newsworthy event. Only very few D-Flawless or Internally Flawless diamonds have appeared and sold at auction over the decades, and Sotheby’s Geneva has had the privilege of selling three of these important stones over the years: - The Mouawad Splendour, modified pear-shape, 101.84 carats, sold for CHF15,950,000 (US$125,295 per carat), Sotheby’s Geneva, 1990 - The Star of Happiness, rectangular-shape, 100.36 carats, sold for CHF17,823,500 (US$118,397 per carat), Sotheby’s Geneva, 1993 - The Star of the Season, pear-shape, 100.10 carats, sold for CHF19,858,500 (US$165,322 per carat), Sotheby’s Geneva, 1995 - The Winston Legacy, pear-shape, 101.73 carats, sold for CHF25,883,750 (US$262,917 per carat), Christies Geneva, 2013 This highly important oval diamond at 118.28 carats, is the largest D-Flawless diamond ever to be offered for sale at auction and the largest oval D-Flawless diamond in the world as graded by the GIA. Sotheby’s Hong Kong is honoured to be offering this spectacular diamond for auction in October 2013, as we celebrate 40 years in Asia.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2013-10-07
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Le fils du concierge

Modigliani painted Le fils du concierge, one of his most significant and accomplished male portraits, while living on the French Riviera at the end of the First World War.  In April of 1918, the artist and his companion Jeanne Hébuterne left Paris for the southern coast to live through the remaining years of the war in relative safety. After spending years immersed in the bohemian circles of Paris with its avant-garde painters and wealthy patrons as the subjects of his portraiture, Modigliani now turned to the simple peasant workers and children of the Midi. The artist had a profound reaction to these new models, and the portraits from this period are distinct within his oeuvre (see figs. 2 and 3).   Just as alluring as many of his compositions of adult women, this arresting image of the son of a local concierge is one of the most transfixing in all of the artist’s portraits. As Werner Schmalenbach writes, “It was precisely at this time that Modigliani became the painter of simple, unknown, nameless people. He painted portraits of ordinary men and women: a gardener, an apprentice, a young peasant, a chambermaid, a woman druggist, and occasionally a child – people from a social background other and ‘lower’ than his own. This sprang not from any hankering after social comment but from an intense interest… they convey a reticent but forcefully expressed inner sympathy, and they achieve great poignancy” (Werner Schmalenbach, Amedeo Modigliani, Paintings, Sculptures, Drawings, Munich, 1990, p. 43). Though he spent these final years of his life distant from the active scene of Paris, Modigliani was acutely aware of the artistic developments taking place. Many of his fellow artists and friends, such as Picasso, Brancusi and Soutine, were shifting from realistic depiction to the edges of abstraction (see fig. 4). Though able to explore these new styles and techniques, Modigliani preferred to discover the possibilities of interpretation within a more naturalistic approach to depiction. Something he undoubtedly shared with the other avant-garde artists, however, was a reverence for the important legacy of Cézanne. In much of his portraiture, Cézanne employed broad brushstrokes that simplified his subject while simultaneously deepening the breadth of expression (see fig. 5). As he painted Le fils du concierge, Modigliani adopted a similar approach to the interpretation of his subject, imbuing simple and broad strokes with emotional profundity. What distinguishes Modigliani’s portraits is a delicate balance between a unique interpretation of artistic legacies and trends on the one hand and a naturalism and interest in the personality and psychology of his sitters on the other. James Thrall Soby writes that Modigliani “… was far from being simply a realist. On the contrary, he solved repeatedly one of modern portraiture’s most difficult problems: how to express objective truth in terms of the artist’s private compulsion. The vigor of his style burns away over-localized fact… [his portraits] are believable and wholly in character, yet they would be limp and unimaginable without his guiding animation” (Modigliani: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture, (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1951, p. 10). This unmatched ability for emotional expression through portraiture renders Le fils du concierge a remarkably personal and intimate depiction. The palette of soft colors confers a feeling of tranquility on the painting, while the eyes of the sitter convey an ineffable sense of melancholy.  On the subject of Modigiliani’s portraits from his time in Cagnes, Lionello Venturi writes, “At this time, Modigliani’s attitude toward and depiction of his models became calmer and more peaceful. The apprentice, the porter’s son, the maid in Cagnes, little Maria, the two girls in Paris, all enter Modigliani’s pictorial world with a sad dignity. Their interior vision, captured in a private dream, accentuates their solitude and at the same time enshrines their morality with a poetic halo. Their status in life is certainly not a happy one, but they possess nobility and moral values. They are the most convincing witnesses of the beauty and goodness of mankind” (Amedeo Modigliani, (exhibition catalogue), Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne, 1981, p. 89). In its early history, the present work belonged to Léopold Zborowski, who became Modigliani’s dealer after the end of the artist’s contract with Paul Guillaume. Zborowski, who arrived in Paris in 1913, was introduced to Modigliani 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 own apartment. This portrait was subsequently in the collection of Modigliani’s great patron, Roger Dutilleul (see fig. 6). As one of the first significant collectors of 20th century avant-garde art, Dutilleul played an essential role in supporting the creative development of some of the most daring artists in Paris. He served as patron to Léger, Picasso, Braque and, perhaps most prominently, Modigliani. His perspicacity and discriminating taste were renowned during the early decades of the 1900’s, and his eye for recognizing artistic talent rivaled that of the greatest collectors of his day. FIGURE 1  The artist in his studio FIGURE 2   Amedeo Modigliani, Garçon à la veste bleu, 1918, oil on canvas, sold: Sotheby’s, London, June 21, 2004, lot 6 FIGURE 3   Amedeo Modigliani, Jeune homme roux, 1919, oil on canvas, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris FIGURE 4   Chaim Soutine, L’idiot du village, 1919, oil on canvas, Musée Calvet, Avignon FIGURE 5   Paul Cézanne, L’Enfant au chapeau de paille, 1902-04, oil on canvas, Los Angeles County Museum of Art FIGURE 6   Amedeo Modigliani, Roger Dutilleul, 1918, oil on canvas, Private Collection Signed modigliani (upper right)

  • USAUSA
  • 2006-11-07
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Danaë

Orazio Gentileschi’s majestic Danaë is one of the finest masterpieces of the Italian seventeenth century and the most important Baroque painting to come to the market in living memory. Commissioned in 1621 by the nobleman Giovanni Antonio Sauli for his palazzo in Genoa, the painting remained in the family until the twentieth century. The Sauli series was amongst the most important commissions Orazio received, and includes a Penitent Magdalene (fig. 1), in a New York private collection, and a Lot and his Daughters (fig. 2), in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.1 The sensuality and splendor of the Danaë draw together the Caravaggesque naturalism prevalent in early seventeenth-century Italy with the refinement and color which mark the mature style of Gentileschi, one of the most elegant and individual figures of the Italian Baroque.As Cupid pulls back the luxuriant dark green curtain, allowing Jupiter to enter in the guise of a shower of gold, Danaë lies on her bed awaiting her fate in an expanse of white and gold which is punctuated by a red mattress, and we too are invited to peer into the narrative of eroticism and seduction. The artist’s restraint and grace, however, mean the scene does not spill into the vulgar and Orazio’s Danaë, the lower half of her body turned away from the approaching gold, remains a chaste figure accepting of her inescapable destiny. This is quite unlike Titian’s sexual and consenting Danaë in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, which Orazio would have known from his time in Rome when it hung in the Palazzo Farnese.2 Gentileschi seamlessly blends the movement and dynamism of the falling gold coins and ribbons with the serenity of Danaë's sculptural physicality and classical appeal. The diagonal line formed by the curtain which Cupid holds aloft parallels both the coins and Danaë’s arm, accentuating the speed of the gold’s penetration into the scene. Gentileschi’s picture could also be considered one of the highpoints of early seventeenth-century still-life painting since it is a meticulously observed study of light, surface and color. The various different textures of gold, the sheen of the fabrics, ranging from the gold bedcover to the cool white linen, the deep crimson mattress, the gilt bed and the artichoke-shaped bed knobs are of the very highest order. So too is the enticing transparent veil that covers Danaë’s modesty – in stark contrast to Cupid’s genitals, which are very deliberately exposed. Perhaps even more remarkable is the extraordinary skill and success in the description of the dramatis personae themselves: Danaë’s alluring pearly flesh; the effortless weight of her elbow on the pillow; the careful portrayal of the delicate feathers of Cupid’s wings; the plunging gold coins and spiraling ribbons that bear images of Jupiter and of his symbol, the thunderbolt. The subject Greek mythology, adapted and recounted in Latin in the verses of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, relates that the beautiful Danaë was locked away in a bronze tower by her father, King Acrisius of Argos. Disappointed that he and his wife Eurydice had not produced a male heir, Acrisius consulted an oracle, who informed him, unexpectedly, that his daughter’s son would kill him. In order to keep her childless, therefore, the king banished Danaë to a tower, away from the reach of men. While no mortal could gain access to Danaë, her imprisonment was no obstacle to Jupiter and his insatiable desire for young maidens. Transforming himself into a shower of golden rain, Jupiter lay with Danaë and impregnated her, conceiving the boy who would become the hero Perseus, famed for killing the Medusa and for rescuing Andromeda. When Perseus was born Acrisius threw both mother and son out to sea in a wooden chest, but Poseidon, the sea god, calmed the choppy waters and saved them. Later in life Perseus would indeed kill Acrisius, thereby affirming the inescapability of fate. While the subject matter was at times clearly employed as a morally acceptable vehicle for portraying and celebrating the female nude, in much the same way as the theme of Susanna and the Elders was employed, it also presented an opportunity to explore a complex and multi-layered theme. The figure of Danaë, somewhat counter-intuitively, had been taken as an emblem of moral chastity, and since Perseus’ conception only took place through divine intervention, the Church was not slow in appropriating the theme as a prefiguration of the Annunciation. The potential similarities with the Christian Annunciation must surely end there: even though Gentileschi places the tale of Danaë in a framework of sensuality rather than covetousness, his depiction of the nude does not shy away from celebrating the overtly erotic aspects of the story. The tale must also, on some level, be a cautionary though thinly veiled allegory; even locked away in a tower, Danaë, representative of all mankind, not just women, is helpless to resist the lure of money. Orazio and Caravaggio Orazio Gentileschi was born in Pisa in 1563, the son of Giovanni Battista di Bartolomeo Lomi, a Florentine goldsmith. As late as 1593, when the artist would have been 30, he is recorded as receiving payment for the design of medals for the feast of Saint Peter, so it is likely that he intended to follow in his father’s footsteps professionally to some degree. By his late 30s, however, Orazio seems to have been committed to painting, as his destroyed altarpiece from 1596 in the church of San Paolo fuori le Mura in Rome, would suggest. Once he became an established artist, however, his success was impressive. During his lifetime Orazio was probably the most successful of all Caravaggio’s associates, and certainly the most internationally patronized. His travels, in fact, did much to spread knowledge of Caravaggio’s style overseas and made him one of the most peripatetic painters of the century. His career took him to Florence, the Marches, Rome, Genoa, Paris and London, where he became court painter to Charles I in 1626, and where he was to remain until his death some thirteen years later. Although eight years older than Caravaggio, Orazio was still a relatively under-developed artist by the time he came into contact with his revolutionary tenebrist style. He very much belonged to a previous generation of artists whose point of reference would have been the work of the Carracci family, and whose artistic formation was rooted in the sixteenth century. Indeed, the inspiration for the present composition is the painting of the same subject, variously ascribed to Annibale Carracci, Francesco Albani and Domenichino, which was formerly in Bridgewater House but destroyed during the Second World War (fig. 3).3 A preparatory drawing for the Bridgewater painting, certainly by Annibale Carracci, is in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle.4 As Carracci and his busy workshop were active in Rome, Orazio would likely have come across the composition there, be it via the painting or the drawing, and perhaps made a study of it for use at a later date. The immediate maturing of Orazio’s style, not to mention career acceleration, owed much to his association with his younger acquaintance Caravaggio, and can be seen as a defining period of his life. The two artists probably met in Rome around 1600, shortly after Caravaggio’s ground-breaking canvases, depicting the story of the Evangelist Matthew, were first shown in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.5 It is at times difficult for a modern audience to appreciate quite how powerful and extraordinary Caravaggio’s canvases appeared when they were unveiled, and what an impact they made on his peers. Orazio was certainly awe-struck, but the little we know for certain of the two artists’ interaction is limited to the transcripts of the lawsuit for defamation which another artist, Giovanni Baglione, brought against Caravaggio and Gentileschi in 1603. Caravaggio actually denied being friends with Gentileschi but we know that this must have been an exaggeration for at the very least there was a strong working relationship of some sort. It is recorded that Caravaggio had borrowed from Orazio a capuchin’s cowl and a pair of swan’s wings, presumably for use as props for a painting. One might tentatively propose that Orazio made use of these props in his Stigmatization of Saint Francis from 1600, in a private collection, and may even have reused them later in the Saint Francis Supported by an Angel, from around 1607, today in the Prado, Madrid (fig. 4).6 However, the lyricism and sense of color which Orazio was never to abandon, and which were in part a result of his Tuscan late-mannerist training, meant that the term Caravaggesque can apply to Gentileschi only in part. His work is certainly not Caravaggesque in the way one might thus label artists such as Bartolomeo Manfredi, whose work often displays a forceful use of light and is populated by low-life figures. Gentileschi was one of the few artists of his generation, in fact, who succeeded in blending Caravaggesque naturalism with formal sophistication, and in using light as an instrument to celebrate beauty rather than as a theatrical device, Orazio proved to be one of the most graceful, personal and innovative artists of the period, as the present Danaë testifies. During these key years Gentileschi repeatedly made use of Caravaggio’s topos of presenting a single figure, lost in contemplation, and close to the picture plane, against a background that is bare but for a few details. While Caravaggio was intent on exploring the dramatic potential of a scene, however, Orazio focused on stylistic mannerisms, concentrating, for example, on the silvery fall of light on feathers in his aforementioned Saint Francis Supported by a an Angel in Madrid, as well as his treatment of the same subject in the Galleria Barberini, Rome.7 He brings a similar approach to the delightful description of colorful silks, such as in his wonderful Young Woman Playing a Lute (fig. 5) from 1612-15 in the National Gallery of Art, Washington.8 This interest in achieving visual harmony rather than creating dynamic impact can be found throughout Gentileschi’s career and is clearly manifest in the present work. The Sauli Commission By 1620 Orazio had established himself in Rome as an artist of great repute, working, amongst others, for the Borghese family. In 1621 a second defining moment in his career took place when the Genoese patrician Giovanni Antonio Sauli arrived in Rome with a delegation sent in honor of the new Pope Alessandro Ludovisi, who took the name Gregory XV. While Sauli is thought to have met Orazio for the first time in Rome, he probably already knew of his work since Orazio’s brother, Aurelio Lomi, had in fact lived in Genoa from 1597 to 1604 and had worked for the Sauli family, producing two canvases for the basilica of Santa Maria in Carignano, a Last Judgement and a Resurrection of Christ.9 Whatever the precise context, Sauli was impressed enough by Orazio’s work to invite him back to Genoa - where the artist was to remain until he left for France in 1624 - acting as an advisor for Sauli’s burgeoning picture gallery and producing paintings directly for him. The Ligurian capital was enjoying a period of unprecedented wealth and transformation. Genoa, “La Superba,” had established itself as the leading banking and commercial center of the Spanish Hapsburg Empire in northern and central Europe, and in the Mediterranean. The atmosphere of the artistic milieu was no less febrile: Peter Paul Rubens had already left his indelible mark on the city with his portraits and altarpieces, particularly the Circumcision commissioned by Nicolò Pallavicino for the church of the Gesù; Guido Reni’s paintings, in particular his Assumption of the Virgin from 1617, already adorned the family chapel of Cardinal Stefano Durazzo, also in the Gesù; Anthony Van Dyck was to arrive in the same year as Gentileschi. All three of these artists were fascinated by color and the effects of light. It is perhaps little wonder then that it was amidst this stimulating Genoese setting that Orazio was to complete three masterpieces for Sauli’s palazzo which represent the apogee of his career: the present Danaë, the New York Penitent Magdalene, which is based on the same cartoon as the Danaë, and the Getty’s Lot and his Daughters. Carlo Giuseppe Ratti, editor of the 1768 edition of Raffaele Soprani’s account of various artists and their work in Genoa (see Literature), singled out the Danaë as the finest of the set. In both form and content, the poetics of Gentileschi’s approach are remarkable. The subject matter of the Sauli paintings are taken from disparate sources: the present work is drawn from classical mythology; the Getty Lot and his Daughters is taken from the Old Testament scriptures; the story of the Penitent Magdalene is an apocryphal Christian tale. If a carefully defined iconographical program were intended, and there is no evidence that was the case, the uniting thread between the three would surely point to the rapport between women, God and different types of love, each picture representing a distinct facet of this relationship. Danaë, invitingly veiled in a richly embroidered bedroom, represents sensual love and physical union. The Magdalene, chastely covered in part by her brown robes and meditating alone in a cave, symbolizes cerebral and devotional love after her conversion. Lot’s daughters, on the other hand, depict a moral challenge for they are caught between the sin of incest and the divine order to ensure that their genealogical line is not extinguished after the destruction of Sodom. The compositions may perhaps just as well have been conceived within a visual framework rather than an iconographical one (see fold-out on p. 15). The Magdalene and the Danaë, both single-figure paintings, are based on the same cartoon and may have flanked the more complex and multi-figured design of the Lot and his Daughters, which compositionally forms a neat downward-facing triangle at its center. The Danaë may have hung to the right of the Lot, for while her body draws the eye to the right, her raised arm and the momentum of the coins could usefully create the right wing of the "triptych." The Magdalene’s pose would indicate that she would have hung to the left. There is no suggestion that the pictures actually hung in a line, however, so at this stage any discussion on the potential layout of the pictures remains firmly rooted in the realm of conjecture. The Sauli pictures were so successful that Gentileschi’s status in Genoa as a great artist was ensured. Marcantonio Doria, another local aristocrat, employed Orazio on the elaborate fresco decorations (now lost) of the ceilings of his casino at Sanpierdarena outside Genoa, where Simon Vouet also participated. Carlo Emanuele I, Duke of Savoy, also came to know of Gentileschi’s work and in 1623 ordered the Annunciation in the Galleria Sabauda, Turin.10 Further versions of the Sauli paintings themselves were also produced, and attest to their immediate success and popularity: the Clevelend Museum of Art houses a second version of the Danaë, which was possibly in the collection of the Duke of Sunderland by the mid-eighteenth century.11  Further versions of the Magdalene are in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, in a New York private collection, and further inferior versions are known.12 The Getty’s Lot and his Daughters was replicated at least four times, the best versions probably the autograph variant in the National Gallery of Art, Ottawa, and the painting in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, though the latter should be considered a studio work at best.13 Versions It was quite common practice in the seventeenth century for artists to paint second versions, and Orazio is known to have done so on numerous occasions beside those related to the Sauli pictures. Earlier in his career, for example, he had produced a second version, today in a private collection, of the Saint Jerome in the Museo Civico in Turin.14 For the second version of the Danaë in Cleveland (fig. 6, 163.4 by 228.7 cm.), Gentileschi made use of the same cartoon as for the Sauli picture but introduced some minor changes, perhaps the most significant of which is the rather anxious expression on Danaë's face which contrasts with the more serene look of the prototype. Marginally larger than the present work, the Cleveland painting was understandably widely (though not unanimously) thought to be the lost Sauli original when it was rediscovered in 1971, five years before the present picture resurfaced.15 There can now be no doubt, however, that the Cleveland painting is the second version since it lacks the obvious pentimenti of the present work such as those in Danaë’s right shoulder and around Cupid’s right upper arm. It is also painted in a more rigid manner, as is often the case with second versions, since by the time of their execution the designs had already been resolved. When the two pictures were closely compared on the occasion of the 2001 exhibition, it became evident that the Cleveland picture was in fact produced from a tracing. Similarly, the use of glazes, which in the Feigen Danaë create a sense of transparency in the sheets and allow the light to shimmer on the various surfaces, is absent from the Cleveland version, which by contrast appears somewhat ponderous, in part, it should be added, due to its less than satisfactory condition. Danaë in relation to other paintings in Orazio’s oeuvre From both the compositional and stylistic points of view, the Sauli Danaë fits perfectly into Orazio’s work from the early 1620s and epitomizes his artistic early maturity, arguably his most accomplished period, though he never totally abandoned his earlier style. Danaë’s rhetorical gesture, for example, echoes the figure of Saint Cecilia in a work from 1606-07, the Saints Cecilia, Valerianus and Tiburtius visited by the Angel (fig. 7) in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, while similar gestures, which border on the self-conscious, are also to be found in the aforementioned Annunciation in Turin (fig. 8) from 1623. A similar control in the rendering of shimmering fabrics can be seen in the handling of the bedsheets in the sumptuous red and blue folds of the Turin Annunciation, as well as the yellow and blue robes of the figure of Public Felicity in the Louvre, Paris.16 A useful comparison might be made with Orazio’s inviting Cleopatra (fig. 9) from the early 1610s, today in an Italian private collection, which has also at times been ascribed to Orazio’s daughter, Artemisia.17 The picture demonstrates quite how far Orazio’s style had evolved by the 1620s. During this earlier artistic phase Orazio’s description of the white linen sheet and the red folds of the curtains are still very much rooted in a strong Caravaggesque naturalism which cannot yet boast the elegance or refinement of the present picture. Moreover, the corpulent female figure type is deliberately bold and overtly sexual by comparison, and has not yet developed into the graceful, restrained and painterly figure of the present Danaë. Provenance The painting’s provenance can be traced from Palazzo Sauli to the present day. The three Sauli pictures are listed in inventories from 1661, 1663 and 1668 of works bequeathed by Sauli to his son Francesco Maria. The artists Domenico Piola and Bernardo Carbone valued the collection at 14,630 Genoese lire, with the Danaë and the Lot both listed at 3,760 lire and the Magdalene at 1,880 lire.18 The paintings hung in the picture gallery and were seen there by Carlo Giuseppe Ratti in 1780 as well as by the anonymous author of the Descrizione della Città di Genova (see Literature) in 1818. The paintings were probably removed from the palazzo in 1852, when the property was sold by Costantino Sauli who had inherited the property via Domenico Maria Ignazio Sauli and Domenico Sauli. Costantino died intestate in 1853 so his goods were distributed among his three daughters: Maria, who was unmarried; Bianca, who married Domenico de Mari; and Luisa, who married Francesco Camillo Pallavicino. Luisa’s daughter Maria Teresa married Lazzaro Negrotto Cambiaso and their son was Pierfrancesco (also known as Pierotto) Negrotto Cambiaso, who, conveniently, was his aunt Maria’s heir, thereby reuniting many Sauli possessions. Wilhelm Suida’s guide of 1906 (see Literature) confirms that the Magdalene from the set was indeed in Pierfrancesco’s possession. In 1924 Pierfrancesco married Matilde Giustiniani Durazzo Pallavicini, who inherited his goods after his death. Matilde died childless and bequeathed her estate to her niece Carlotta Giustiniani Cattaneo-Adorno, in whose villa the painting was rediscovered, along with the Magdalene and, confusingly, the Thyssen (not the Getty) Lot and his Daughters. The journey of the Sauli Lot and his Daughters to its present home in the Getty is more circuitous. Though the picture only resurfaced in 1997, it had been known through a photograph in the archives of the Museo del Palazzo Rosso in Genoa, where it was recorded as belonging to a certain Mr Teophilatus, who had died in 1910. The confusion over the provenance of the Getty picture was compounded by the fact that when the other two pictures in the Sauli set were discovered, the Thyssen version of the Lot and his Daughters was hanging with them, not the Getty prototype. It is entirely reasonable that copies of the originals were made to hang in other family palazzi, as is stated in the Sauli inventories, and as confirmed by Cataldi Gallo (see Literature). This would certainly explain why the inventory of 1735 lists a copy of the Lot as measuring 5 by 7 palmi, or roughly 124 by 175 cms, not too far off the 120 by 169 cm of the Thyssen Lot. The Getty/Sauli Lot did not travel far from Genoa, however: the next confirmed sighting was in the 1920s when it emerged that a Mrs Margaret Pole kept the picture in her Ligurian villa at Diano Marina, near Imperiale. She is believed to have taken the work to England between 1925 and 1927 and it was her heirs who sold the painting to the Getty in 1997. The Thyssen painting can be categorically excluded from the original Sauli set not only for its inferior quality but also because of its smaller size. Moreover, in an enlightening article from 2001, Leonard, Khandekar and Carr (see Literature) describe how restoration of the pictures confirmed that each of them had been cut diagonally at the lower corners, as if to fit a particular set of frames with spandrels. The Feigen picture had in fact also been cut diagonally in the upper corners. None of the other versions of the Lot and his Daughters shows evidence of this, and nor do the Cleveland Danaë or any of the other versions of the Penitent Magdalene. While one cannot prove the movement of the present painting between 1818, the last written record of it in the collection of Carlotta Giustiniani Cattaneo-Adorno (see Poleggi, under Literature), and 1975, the year the picture resurfaced, the family links between the Sauli and the Giustiniani Cattaneo-Adorno present a very strong case for the painting having remained within the family. That Suida (see Literature) should have seen the Sauli Magdalene in the palace of Pierfrancesco Negrotto Cambiaso in 1906 and that the Magdalene and the Danaë were still together in 1975 only lends weight to the theory. In 1975 the Danaë and the Magdalene were purchased by the Englishman Thomas P. Grange. The Danaë was sold by his widow to Richard Feigen, who subsequently sold it to a family trust. 1. The Penitent Magdalene is on canvas and has dimensions of 149.5 by 183 cm.; the Lot and his Daughters, also on canvas, has dimensions of 151.8 by 189.2 cm. See Christiansen and Mann, under Literature, pp. 174-78, cat. no. 35, and pp. 180-84, cat. no. 37. 2. Canvas, 120 by 172 cm.; see P. Humfrey, Titian, The Complete Paintings, Bruges 2007, p. 199, cat. no. 144, reproduced in color. 3. Canvas, 170 by 344 cm.; see D. Posner, Annibale Carracci, New York 1971, vol. II, p. 69, cat. no. 152, reproduced plate 153a. 4. Pen drawing; see Posner, op. cit., reproduced plate 153b. 5. See S. Schütze, Caravaggio, The Complete Works, Cologne 2009, pp. 258-59, cat. nos 24.I and 24.II, both reproduced in color. 6. Canvas, 162.5 by 116 cm.; see Christiansen and Mann, op. cit., pp. 53-55, reproduced in color. The Madrid painting is also on canvas, 126 by 98 cm.; Christiansen and Mann, pp. 61-63, cat. no. 6, reproduced in color. 7. Canvas, 133 by 98 cm; Christiansen and Mann, op. cit., pp. 110-112, cat. no. 21, reproduced in color. 8. Canvas, 143.5 by 129 cm.; Christiansen and Mann, op. cit., pp. 113-15, cat. no. 22, reproduced in color. 9. For a reproduction of Lomi's Annunciation in the church of Santa Maria Maddalena in Genoa, see Christiansen and Mann, op. cit., p. 169. 10. Canvas, 286 by 196 cm.; Christiansen and Mann, op. cit., pp. 198-201, cat. no. 43, reproduced in color. 11. Christiansen and Mann, op. cit., pp. 193-95, cat. no. 41, reproduced in color. 12. For a further discussion of the different versions of the Magdalene, see Christiansen and Mann, op. cit., pp. 174-78. 13. Ibid., pp. 180-84. 14. Ibid., pp. 94-96, cat. no. 16, reproduced in color. 15. Carlo Volpe doubted that the Cleveland picture was the Sauli version and believed it to have been painted during Orazio’s French period (see C. Volpe, "Sulla mostra di Cleveland," in Paragone, 263, January 1972, p. 67). Benedict Nicolson proposed that the Cleveland painting was a second version painted in England (see B. Nicolson, "Caravaggesques at Cleveland," in The Burlington Magazine, February 1972, p. 114). 16. Christiansen and Mann, op. cit., pp. 214-17, cat. no. 44, reproduced in color. 17. Ibid., pp. 97-100, cat. no. 17 and pp. 302-05, cat. no. 53, reproduced in color. The painting has two entries in the catalogue as attributions to both Orazio and Artemisia are proposed. 18. See Cataldi Gallo, under Literature, p. 351.

  • USAUSA
  • 2016-01-28
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Study for Portrait of P.L.

“I couldn’t live with him, and I couldn’t live without him.” The artist referring to Peter Lacy, in reference to Peter Lacy, cited in Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, London, 2006, p. 42 "The living quality is what you have to get. In painting a portrait the problem is to find a technique by which you can give all the pulsations of a person…The sitter is someone of flesh and blood and what has to be caught is their emanation." The artist cited in David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 98 "The frustration is that people can never be close enough to one another. If you're in love you can't break down the barriers of the skin." The artist cited in Hugh M. Davies, 'Interviewing Bacon, 1973' in, Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen, 2009, p. 107 Study for a Portrait of P.L. marks a critical transition in Francis Bacon’s historic oeuvre. It is simultaneously an astonishingly intimate portrait of the then most important person in the artist’s life, Peter Lacy, and a masterpiece of physiognomic, psychological and emotional analysis. The manifold smears and blows of coagulated paint narrate the extraordinarily personal story of love, obsession, chaos and disaster that had existed for much of the previous decade between Bacon and Lacy. At the same time the solitary human form, all flashing movement and writhing corporeal dynamism, is fixed forever in a moment of spectacular flux. Here Bacon snaps his psychosomatic x-ray on the human animal trapped within an unstable, existentialist drama. Within the boundaries of the last century, perhaps only Picasso so determinedly interrogated the limits of figurative stability to discover new perspectives on the nature of existence. Since living in Paris himself in the late 1920s, Bacon had long venerated Picasso’s genius, and here the long shadow of the Spaniard’s influence, which readily traversed the twenty-eight years between them, appears resurgent. While the schematic facets of Lacy’s face are reminiscent of Picasso’s legendary analytical cubist sculptures and paintings, the dramatically curving features and arched eyebrows recall both Picasso’s portraits after tribal masks and even paradigms of the Marie-Thérèse cycle from the 1930s. Yet Study for a Portrait of P.L. reflects the full force of Bacon’s phenomenal intellect and artistic capacity, and its specific vision of mankind isolated is unprecedented. This work further represents the moment at which Bacon adopted a radically minimalized composition, with single figures surrounded by expanses of monochromatic color-fields populating much of his output for the remaining thirty years of his career.The first portrait Bacon painted of Lacy after his death in 1962, this work is both posthumous eulogy and sustaining memento mori to the artist’s recently departed friend and lover. The striking facial features and convoluted body of the sitter are the main focus of the composition, heightened by Bacon's virtuosity of dramatic brushwork and exuberance of color. Painted in the year of Lacy's death, this devotional portrait stands as a surviving eulogy to the artist’s ill-fated lover, the manifestation of pure emotional honesty, or what Bacon called the ‘brutality of fact.’ Initially based on a photograph taken by Bacon of Lacy outside the Prado Museum in Madrid when they were en-route together to Tangier, it is one of just a tiny handful of paintings that the then 53 year old Bacon had produced by this time to bear a title that explicitly identifies its subject. The first of Bacon’s posthumous homages to Peter Lacy, the present work conveys the immediate memory of the man who dominated the artist’s life for the prior decade. In 1952, having met Peter Lacy in Soho’s Colony Room, Bacon embarked on what was to become “the most exalted and most destructive love affair he was ever to know.” (Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, London, 2006, pp. 57-58) The former Battle of Britain pilot was described by Bacon as always being “in a state of unease...this man was neurotic and almost hysterical.” Bacon had fallen in love in large part because Lacy knew how to dominate and hurt him. Tough, to the point of cruelty, Lacy’s demeanor held Bacon perpetually in an emotional and physical vice and although Lacy was the love of his life, this tempestuous affair was ultimately calamitous. Bacon later lamented in conversation with Michael Peppiatt that “Being in love in that way, being absolutely physically obsessed by someone, is like an illness.” (Ibid., p. 40) Described as “the greatest and most disastrous love of his life,” their tempestuous and often violent relationship was dominated by obsessive love and passion, by aggression, disdain and excessive abuse of alcohol, lasting until Lacy died alone in Tangier, where he had moved in the mid-1950s. While Bacon kept his studio in London he made extended trips there every summer from 1956 onwards, and they also went to the South of France together on a number of occasions in the late 1950s. The lifestyle of Tangiers was perceived as exotic and had a more tolerant attitude towards homosexuality, offering an escapism that, compared to the scene of social and physical claustrophobia suffered by homosexual men in 1950s Britain, was liberating to them both. Yet ultimately it was a fatal arena for Lacy as a man trapped in the grasp of alcoholism. News of Lacy’s death came among the many telegrams of congratulations that Bacon received on the eve of his major retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1962. Somewhat poignantly, it was on the eve of his next major retrospective ten years later at the Grand Palais, Paris, that Bacon received news of the suicide of George Dyer, famously a subsequent lover and muse. Whereas Bacon commemorated Dyer in his monumental ‘Black Triptychs’ of 1972-1974 - portraying his last moments, slumped lifelessly on a hotel bathroom floor - the present work is all the more subtle and relays a compelling narrative. A crisp ellipse of zinc white and deep claret-red describes a glass of wine, cupped in the palm of Lacy’s hand, as a visual epitaph. Here, not only did Bacon eulogize the lasting memory of his former lover with the void of claret-red in Lacy’s palm, but he also further marked the sitter with stigmata - the manifestation of psychosomatic wounds of a tortured soul. Wonderfully capturing Lacy’s nervous and elusive personality, this emotionally tense painting unravels the sitter’s psychological and emotional essence. As Hugh Davies and Sally Yard have noted, “Bacon searched the surfaces of his friends for some intimation of their inner lives [and] concludes that mind, nervous system, and body are one.” (Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon, New York, 1986, p. 50) Among the many striking features of Bacon’s breathtaking art is the silent aura of anonymity that frequently shrouds his subject matter. During the 1940s, 50s and early 60s the spectacular troupe of characters that violently courses through his canvases are afforded little identification by his famously elusive titles. ‘Study for Portrait,’ ‘Head,’ ‘Figure in a Landscape,’ ‘Figure Sitting,’ ‘Two Figures’: Bacon purposefully obfuscated his subjects, cloaking them in obscurity. Yet Bacon’s extraordinary oeuvre is frequently celebrated precisely because of its profound interrelationship with his life: how those closest to him catalyzed his painting, and how in turn his existence as an artist dictated the terms of his relationships. Lucian Freud, Muriel Belcher, George Dyer, John Edwards, and Peter Lacy: at various points across four decades each of these was a major presence in Bacon’s life, and each became a recurring phantasm in his portraits. Indeed, within the era of Modern Art just a handful of other figurative artists – perhaps van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso and Giacometti above all – have so thoroughly integrated their art and their life to such spectacular effect. While van Gogh portrayed his friend and physician in Portrait of Dr. Gachet; Cézanne’s Cardplayers were farmhands who worked on his family’s estate; Giacometti’s Grande Figures were inspired by his muse and lover Isabel Rawsthorne; and Picasso’s Le Rêve and La Lecture depicted his young mistress Marie-Thérèse. For decades these masterpieces have resided in the pantheon of art historical paradigms, each having given new perspective to the mysteries of the human drama. Yet far from glorifying mythical or historical figures, or even wealthy patrons, all these began as intimate depictions of people who were personally significant to the artist. Similarly, Study for a Portrait of P.L. is both an intimate portrayal of the then most important figure in the artist’s life, and a masterpiece of Modern painting that consolidates Bacon’s unique perception of human psychology and emotion. Although it has been noted that Bacon rejected Abstract Expressionism, the thick bands of exuberant and alternating color that he utilized in the present work unquestionably reveal the influence of the expansive color-field canvases of Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, which Bacon would have seen at The New American Painting exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1959. Furthermore, this was undoubtedly heightened by his time spent in St. Ives in late 1959 to early 1960, where he would have been keenly aware of the horizontal stripe paintings that Patrick Heron was making at the time. The adoption of these broad, horizontal bands of bold colors corresponds to the stone wall and iron balustrade behind Lacy in the Madrid photograph, and demonstrates a new solution to the creation of depth within Bacon's composition. It is particularly intriguing to note that the colors in the background of the present painting concord closely with those of Mark Rothko’s painting Number 10 of 1950, now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and which was included in the 1959 Tate exhibition that Bacon saw. This coloristic composition clearly held enduring appeal for the artist, as demonstrated by a similarly constructed self-portrait with comparable ground hues, executed in 1963 and apparently based partially on the sister-photograph of Bacon outside the Prado. The illusion of depth in Study for a Portrait of P.L. is accentuated by the simplified geometry of the perspectival setting: a confined flattened space, the couch painted with swathes of rich indigo and cobalt blues, sits harmoniously amid pastel-green and golden-ochre bands. The horizontal line of the couch meets the eye line of the sitter, defining the pictorial space. Lacy’s left foot points elegantly downward toward the sand-like floor, referencing his final resting place in the sparse landscape of Tangier. Bacon’s rich hues have been soaked into the absorbent unprimed canvas, which contrasts brilliantly with the explosive plasticity of the impasto head. Bacon, as was his usual practice, has reserved his most intense application of paint for the head of his subject. The sheer intensity, detail and controlled violence of Lacy’s visage in the center of the composition are an immediate beacon for the mastery of paint handling. Akin to the greatest small portrait heads he produced, the animalistic features of the sitter are carved out with an incredible mixture of sensuous delicacy and gargantuan brutality. This ferocious profile is loaded with physicality, both literally with the weight of oil paint and as the material record of the artist’s own brutal assault. Out of a flurry of swipes and blows of robust flesh tones, Lacy’s unmistakable presence emerges with each loaded stroke, offering bold relief against the rich bands of blue, unraveling the sitter’s psychological and emotional core. It is almost as if Bacon has attempted to hide this face and to camouflage it in paint, yet suffers the burden of knowing it too well to conceal its true identity. Having initially distanced himself from Picasso in 1945, the physiognomy of Lacy’s head with its arching cranium and circled eyes is highly reminiscent of Picasso’s ‘primitive heads’ of the early 1900s. Indeed Bacon had spoken of “a whole area, suggested by Picasso, which in a way has been unexplored, of organic form that relates to the human image but is a complete distortion of it.” (the artist cited in Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon New Studies, Göttingen, 2009, p. 164) Peter Lacy’s cross-legged pose is yet another distinctive feature of this composition, and as so often with Bacon’s art, this pictorial device harbors diverse interpretation. As attested by many witnesses and documented in extensive photographs, Bacon himself often sat this way, with the calf of one leg jauntily resting on the knee of the other, and crossed-legs is a readily identifiable theme through his oeuvre. From the terrifying chimera under an umbrella in Painting, 1946 that hangs in the Museum of Modern Art, through the famous Self-Portrait of 1956 that shows Bacon hunched over in a grey suit, his legs entangled and seemingly knotted together, to later self-portraits of the 1970s right up to 1990 and portraits of John Edwards, this bodily configuration reappears time and again in his corpus. Of course in the early 1960s he commissioned John Deakin to take photographs of George Dyer in his studio, stripped to his underwear, sitting with one leg slumped across the other, and this photo-shoot was effectively recreated with Peter Beard a number of years after Dyer’s suicide. Speculation about the thematic implications of this pose is highly subjective. However, conventionally recognized as a posture of elegance, refinement and sophistication, in the context of 1950s and 60s Britain it could be deemed a trait more reflective of the upper echelons of that hierarchical society and therefore more closely aligned to attributes of wealth and power. In the context of Bacon’s painting of Peter Lacy and the relationship between them, any inference to a power balance would inevitably carry further connotations of sexual dominance. It is important not to hypothesize too far or extrapolate too much, but there can be no question that the figure’s pose in this painting, while apparently conservative and socially acceptable, also carries an aura of threat and aggression. The copious smearing of paint used to delineate the face attains a rich texture; the heavy black line defines the cheek and sweeps across the right eye socket, leaving a cavernous dark space, further enhancing this compelling and emotive image. Bacon’s work of this period placed a decided emphasis on forces rather than forms. "The living quality is what you have to get. In painting a portrait the problem is to find a technique by which you can give all the pulsations of a person…The sitter is someone of flesh and blood and what has to be caught is their emanation." (the artist cited in David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p. 98) It is often noted that Bacon’s portraits reveal their sitter’s inner essence because he painted people he knew closely. In Study for a Portrait of P.L., Bacon resurrected his ill-fated lover, capturing Lacy’s character as he observed him over years, and thus the painting holds within it time, experience and the shadows of memory itself. In the first years of his relationship with Lacy, the sense of danger had excited him. He had always sought out adversity, in his life as in his art, impelled by his own vitality and the conviction that the closer you get to it, the more clearly you saw the reality of existence, itself forever hovering on the brink of extinction. As the artist ruefully concluded, “I couldn’t live with him, and I couldn’t live without him.” (the artist cited in Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, London, 2006, p. 42) The psychological and physical forces conveyed by Bacon's unique handling of paint and by his expressionistic treatment of the human figure, decisively mark the direction of his work until his death over a quarter of a century later. Obsessive and impassioned portraits of the following decade of Bacon's close social circle of friends and lovers – none more so than his next fated lover George Dyer – are unquestionably derived from the present work and the emotional resonance that lies between the artist and sitter. Titled and dated 1962 on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2013-05-13
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Le Grand Canal

Le Grand Canal is an exceptionally rare and beautiful painting from the esteemed series of works that Monet painted in Venice in 1908. The ineffable light conditions of the city are in this work rendered as dappling crests of pink and gold upon the surface of the canal and imbue the domes of Santa Maria della Salute with a pearlescent glow. This view of the Grand Canal is arguably the most iconic of all the Venetian paintings. Monet executed six canvases which show variations on the theme of Santa Maria della Salute seen from the steps of the Palazzo Barbaro (figs. 1 & 2), where he set up his easel during the first half of October. Joachim Pissarro describes this group of works as, ‘unquestionably one of Monet’s most systematic series. The six canvases are almost exactly the same dimensions; the layout of the motif is virtually identical in all, and each of the canvases was painted at the same time of day, probably in the afternoon. The fact that Monet chose to represent the tide changes that cover and uncover the steps of the Palazzo Barbaro is not incidental: Monet deliberately emphasizes that we are on the sea ('his element'), not on fresh water. Establishing in advance the conditions of observation and the context of his experimentation, Monet used Venice as another pictorial laboratory, gauging changes in the 'envelope' (the indefinable Venetian 'haze') under identical circumstances. These are two typically Venetian effects that animate these views of Santa Maria della Salute: the filtering haze either heightens the colours of the prism, almost setting them alight, or, on the contrary, it dampens them and unites them in a sort of muffled monotonous harmony’ (J. Pissarro, Monet and the Mediterranean (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 72). Monet and his wife Alice travelled to Venice for the first time in the autumn of 1908 at the invitation of Mary Young Hunter, a wealthy American who had been introduced to the Monets by John Singer Sargent. They arrived on 1st October and spent two weeks as her guest at the Palazzo Barbaro, which belonged to a relation of Sargent - Mrs Daniel Sargent Curtis, before moving to the Grand Hotel Britannia on the Grand Canal where they stayed until their departure on 7th December. From the balcony of the Palazzo Barbaro, they could see three of the great palaces Monet was to paint during his time in Venice: Palazzo da Mula, Palazzo Dario (fig. 4) and the Palazzo Contarini (fig. 5). Initially reluctant to leave his house and garden at Giverny, Monet must have sensed that the architectural splendours of Venice in their watery environment would present new and formidable challenges. His first days in Venice seemed only to confirm his initial fears but after several days of his customary discouragement, he commenced work on 7th October. In his study of Monet's work and the Mediterranean, Joachim Pissarro has given a detailed account of Monet's working schedule while he was in Venice: ‘After so much procrastination, Monet soon adopted a rigorous schedule in Venice. Alice’s description of his work day establishes that from the very inception of his Venetian campaign, Monet organized his time and conceived of the seriality of his work very differently from his previous projects. In Venice, Monet divided his daily schedule into periods of approximately two hours, undertaken at the same time every day and on the same given motif. Unlike his usual methods of charting the changes of time and light as the course of the day would progress, here Monet was interested in painting his different motifs under exactly the same conditions. One could say that he had a fixed appointment with his motifs at the same time each day. The implication of this decision is very simple; for Monet in Venice, time was not to be one of the factors of variations for his motifs. Rather, it was the 'air', or what he called 'the envelope' - the surrounding atmospheric conditions, the famous Venetian haze - that became the principal factor of variation with these motifs’ (J. Pissarro, ibid., p. 50). Discussing the Venetian paintings of 1908 Gustave Geffroy attempted to define the approach Monet took to his depictions of the city, in particular making a study of the artist’s repeated portrayal of certain motifs: ‘It is no longer the minutely detailed approach to Venice that the old masters saw in its new and robust beauty, nor the decadent picturesque Venice of the 18th century painters; it is a Venice glimpsed simultaneously from the freshest and most knowledgeable perspective, one which adorns the ancient stones with the eternal and changing finery of the hours of the day’. Monet’s Venetian canvases transported Geffroy: ‘in front of this Venice in which the ten century old setting takes on a melancholic and mysterious aspect under the luminous veils which envelop it. The lapping water ebbs and flows, passing back and forth around the palazzo, as if to dissolve these vestiges of history… The magnificence of nature only reigns supreme in those parts of the landscape from which the bustling city of pleasure can be seen from far enough away that one can believe in the fantasy of the lifeless city lying in the sun’ (G. Geffroy, Claude Monet, sa vie, son temps, son œuvre, Paris, 1924, pp. 318 & 320). In Venice Monet continued to observe, as he had in the views of the river Thames he completed in 1904 (fig. 6), how light reflected off a wide stretch of water dissolves and liquefies the solid, uneven surfaces of brick and mortar. In Venice, however, the closeness of the buildings to the water's edge led him to explore more abstract compositions accentuating the interplay between the rhythms of the ornate façades, with their arched openings and horizontal divisions, and the rhythmic expanse of water (fig. 7). This innovative approach was perhaps encouraged by Monet’s appreciation of the special importance Venice held for his artistic forebears. George Shackelford and MaryAnne Stevens argue: ‘Venice offered Monet contact with a specifically resonant artistic tradition and with aesthetic options that invited him to extend the artistic concerns with which he had been engaged since the early 1890s […] to depict the dominant tonality of the air that lies between the subject and the artist/viewer (the enveloppe) and […] the reflection of subject and light on water, Monet drew upon such predecessors in Venice as Turner and Whistler, and the achievements of his London series’ (G.M.T. Shackelford & M. Stevens, Monet in the 20th Century (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 178). The glorious canvases that Turner produced in the early 1840s, such as The Dogana, San Giorgio, Citella, from the Steps of the Europa (fig. 8), present a Venice which is transfigured by light. It is a light that has a form and presence more accurately recorded in the waters of the lagoon than falling on the city itself. Matisse is recorded to have noted: ‘it seemed to me that Turner must have been the link between the academic tradition and impressionism’ (quoted in Turner, Whistler, Monet (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 203) and he divined a special connection between Turner’s works and Monet’s. Writing in the catalogue for the Turner, Whistler, Monet exhibition Katherin Lochnan pinpoints the Venice pictures as the culmination of Monet’s discourse with those two painters: ‘These beautiful and poetic works are portals through which the viewer can enter a world of memories, reveries and dreams. Fearing that they might constitute the final chapter in his artistic evolution, Monet sounded in them the last notes of his artistic dialogue with Turner and Whistler that had been central to his artistic development’ (K. Lochnan in ibid. p. 35). During the course of his stay Monet painted thirty-seven canvases of Venetian subjects, which depicted views of the Grand Canal, San Giorgio Maggiore, the Rio della Salute; the Palazzos Dario, Mula, Contarini and the Doge’s Palace. On 19th December 1908, a few days after Monet’s return to Paris, Bernheim-Jeune acquired twenty-eight of the thirty-seven views of Venice although Monet kept the pictures in his studio until 1912 to add their finishing touches. After the death of Alice in 1911, Monet finally agreed on a date for the exhibition at Bernheim-Jeune. Claude Monet Venise opened on 28th May 1912 and was greeted with considerable critical acclaim, not least by Paul Signac who viewed the Venetian canvases as one of Monet’s greatest achievements. Writing to Monet he states: ‘When I looked at your Venice paintings with their admirable interpretation of the motifs I know so well, I experienced a deep emotion, as strong as the one I felt in 1879 when confronted by your train stations, your streets hung with flags, your trees in bloom, a moment that was decisive for my future career. And these Venetian pictures are stronger still, where everything supports the expression of your vision, where no detail undermines the emotional impact, where you have attained the selflessness advocated by Delacroix. I admire them as the highest manifestations of your art’ (P. Signac quoted in Turner, Whistler, Monet (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 207). A year after the exhibition at Bernheim-Jeune Le Grand Canal was acquired by Hunt Henderson, the New Orleans based sugar magnate. Henderson was one of the most important collectors in the American South in the first half of the 20th Century, amassing a significant collection of works by the Impressionists, including paintings and drawings by Monet, Renoir and Degas. Henderson’s collection continued to grow as he acquired work by the most avant-garde artists of the day from both sides of the Atlantic, from Picasso and Braque to Georgia O'Keefe. A founding trustee of the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art (subsequently known as the New Orleans Museum of Art), Henderson lent his works generously to the opening exhibition. However, as Henderson’s collection began to include increasingly contemporary work, the museums’ conservative director Ellsworth Woodward expressed his disapproval and Henderson withdrew his support for the museum, and following his death in 1939 the collection remained with his descendants until 1983. Signed Claude Monet and dated 1908 (lower right)

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2015-02-03
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An outstanding and highly important massive gilt-bronze figure of

Well-cast and portrayed seated in vajraparyankasana, the right hand held in bhumisparshamudra and the left in dhyanamudra, wearing a pleated robe draped over the left shoulder with the undergarment gathered at the chest, the serene face with downcast eyes and a meditative expression, flanked by a pair of long pendulous ears cut with vertical slots, the head and domed ushnisha covered with tight curls and surmounted by an ovoid jewel, all supported on a double lotus pedestal with beaded edges and inscribed Da Ming Yongle nian shi, the base sealed and engraved with a visvavajra The Shakya Sage An Exceptional Yongle Gilt-Bronze Buddha David Weldon The artists working in the imperial workshops during the Yongle period remain anonymous, but their gilt bronze sculptures have now become recognised as among the most important works of art from the Buddhist world, characterised by faultless casting and rich golden hue. Some fifty-four examples bearing the inscription da Ming Yongle nian shi (‘bestowed in the Yongle era of the great Ming’) have been documented in Tibetan monastery collections; see Ulrich von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, Hong Kong, 2001, vol. II, pp. 1237-91. These works have survived in Tibet due to imperial patronage lavished on Tibetan hierarchs and monasteries during the reign of the Yongle emperor. Zhu Di (1360-1424) pursued a bountiful relationship with Tibetan religious leaders during his reign as Yongle (Perpetual Happiness) emperor, but not all bronzes from his workshops were cast as gifts to Tibetans, nor were they all made following the strict Tibetan iconographic canons. A relatively large group depict Chinese Buddhist iconography that was not popular in Tibet, such as the Speelman Udayana Buddha, sold in these rooms, 7th October 2006, lot 803, and the Markbreiter Marichi and Chintamanichakra Avalokitesvara, also sold in these rooms, 7th October 2010, lot 2141 and 2143. With the emperor’s espousal of Buddhism it may be assumed that works were also cast to be worshipped locally, especially those iconographic subjects that depict deities from familiar Chinese Buddhist traditions. The present gilt bronze Buddha shows no signs of having been ritually painted as is normal in Tibetan Buddhist practise, and it could be that the sculpture was made in the imperial workshops for local worship rather than as a gift to a Tibetan hierarch. The stylistic origin of the Yongle Buddha can be traced to the Yuan dynasty when Tibetan Buddhism became the court religion. Early fourteenth century woodblocks made for the monastery of Yangshen Yuan, Hangzhou, are evidence of a new style appearing in Chinese Buddhist art, see Heather Stoddard Karmay, Early Sino-Tibetan Art, Warminster, 1975, pp. 47-50, pls. 26, 29, 30. The gently smiling faces, full rounded figures and tiered thrones in these woodblock prints reflect the current Newar styles favoured in Tibet, and introduced into China by Nepalese artists such as Aniko (1244-1306). Yongle sculptors could almost have used these illustrations as a blueprint for works such as the Shakyamuni Buddha shrine in the British Museum, W. Zwalf ed., Buddhism: Art and Faith, London, 1985, frontispiece, and the Speelman shrine, sold in these rooms, 7th October 2006, lot 808 (fig. 1). The present Buddha follows much the same style but has no additional throne, and differs in subtle stylistic detail from the British Museum and the Speelman examples: the drape of the Buddha’s robe over the lotus seat gathers linearly in front of the legs, in the manner of the Speelman Vajradhara, sold ibid., lot 811, rather than spreading in undulating folds. And an incised line decorates the hem of the Buddha’s robe throughout, a detail not encountered elsewhere in the oeuvre. Apart from these minor differences the classic Yongle style is evident in the loosely folded cloth over the legs and torso, the ubiquitous drape of the robe falling from the right shoulder, and the bulbous lotus petals of the pedestal, evenly spaced around the base between rows of rounded pearls. Other than the monumental gilt-bronze Padmapani in the Qinghai Museum, see The Palace Museum, Splendors from the Yongle (1403-1424) and Xuande (1426-1435) Reigns of China’s Ming Dynasty, Beijing, 2010, p. 253, pl. 126, and the Cernuschi Museum example, Ulrich von Schroeder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes, Hong Kong, 1981, p. 531. Pl. 151E, this Buddha is one of largest extant Yongle marked bronze sculptures, comparable in size to the important Xuande Amitayus, Christie’s Hong Kong, May 31, 2010, lot 1961. The iconographic form, in which the historical Buddha is presented, unadorned but for a simple robe and seated in the earth-touching gesture (bhumishparsha mudra), is relatively uncommon in the corpus of Yongle bronzes, with only one small example recorded in von Schroeder’s survey of Tibetan monastery collections, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet,  op. cit., p. 1280, pl. 358A. Other small examples include the rare Nepalese style Yongle Buddha in the Markbreiter Collection, sold in these rooms, 7th October 2010, lot 2142 and a classic version in the Palace Museum, Splendors from the Yongle (1403-1424) and Xuande (1426-1435) Reigns of China’s Ming Dynasty, op. cit., p. 244, pl. 118, but the present example is by far the largest yet recorded. The Buddha’s earth-touching gesture recalls an episode from his spiritual biography in which he triumphs over Mara (maravijaya) just prior to his enlightenment. Having vowed to remain in meditation until he penetrated the mysteries of existence, Shakyamuni was visited by Mara, a demon associated with the veils and distractions of mundane existence. The Buddha remained unmoved by all the pleasant and unpleasant distractions with which Mara sought to deflect him from his goal. According to some traditional accounts, Mara’s final assault consisted of an attempt to undermine the bodhisattva’s sense of worthiness by questioning Shakyamuni’s entitlement to seek the lofty goal of spiritual enlightenment and freedom from rebirth. Aided by spirits who reminded him of the countless compassionate efforts he had made on behalf of sentient beings throughout his many animal and human incarnations, Shakyamuni recognised that it was his destiny to be poised on the threshold of enlightenment. In response to Mara’s query, Shakyamuni moved his right hand from his lap to the ground before him, stating, ‘the earth is my witness’. This act of unwavering resolve caused Mara and his army of demons and temptresses to disperse, leaving Shakyamuni to experience his great enlightenment. The episode embodied in this rare Yongle gilt bronze took place upon the adamantine site (vajrasana) at Bodh Gaya, which by tradition was especially empowered to expedite his enlightenment.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2013-10-08
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Peinture (étoile bleue)

The dazzling Peinture (Étoile bleue) is an extraordinary image of astonishing grace and visual potency executed at the height of Surrealism. Set upon a magnetically charged ultramarine background, the present work belongs to Joan Miró's celebrated 'dream paintings' cycle in which he pioneered a poetic form of abstraction that is considered to be his finest achievement. In 1971 Rosalind Krauss was preparing the landmark exhibition Joan Miró: Magnetic Fields at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Krauss wrote to the then owner of the work at the time requesting a loan of the painting for the show: 'I visited Miró in Mallorca, to discuss our project with him. During our visit; Miró emphasized the significance of this exhibition in order to demonstrate an aspect in his œuvre that was very important yet unknown to the public. We looked at pictures of the possible paintings that we would exhibit and he drew my attention in particular to Blue Star [the present work] as a work key to his œuvre and to the time period. The importance of this work in the eyes of Miró comes from the fact that within it we find exceptionally the representation of human figures and cosmic signs reunited in one solitary image' (letter from R. Krauss, 8th December 1971). In 1925 Miró began a group of pictures which were to be known as his 'dream paintings', and are considered to be his most important and groundbreaking works. Having abandoned the fantastical figurative manner of representation he had hitherto employed and developed a new visual idiom that was first used in works such as Peinture-Poésie (fig. 1), in which he declares that blue is the colour of his dreams. The style steadily evolved towards the state of perfect harmony found in Peinture (Étoile bleue) in which individual motifs are freely suspended amidst an unblemished ultramarine blue ground and only connected by the finest lines free of literal translation or representation. The star motif, a highlight of majestic cobalt blue which it shares with another painting in the series would become the crucial element to this visual idiom. The intensely rich blue used in many of the 'dream paintings' is the quintessential feature of works from this period and was immensely influential to a later generation of artists such as Mark Rothko (fig. 7) and Yves Klein (fig. 8). Isabelle Monod-Fontaine writes: 'the colour blue (or azul as Miró termed it, in Spanish derived from Arabic) is generally associated with spirituality, implicitly referring to an 'above' of mellifluous whisperings, something like Mallarmé's Azure' (I. Monod-Fontaine, in Joan Miró, 1917 – 1934 (exhibition catalogue), Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 2004, p. 71). In April 1927 Miró began a further group of paintings with a luminous cerulean background all of which derived their inspiration from the Fratellini brothers who performed a circus act at the Cirque Medrano in Paris throughout the 1920s (figs. 2, 3 & 4). The circus provided ample material for a generation of artists working in Paris at the time, including Picasso and Calder (fig. 6). For Miró it represented an inspiring display of movement and colour that when reassembled upon the canvas retained only the most fleeting yet sensational flashes of their structures. Jacques Dupin writes: 'One of Miró's major obsessions from the very earliest paintings on had been circular and spiral movement, the tension that arises between a centre or a fixed axis and something revolving around it [...]. The image of a man at the centre of a ring, whose long whip makes the horses move around it, accurately portrays this metaphysical fable and the organization of forces it describes. This theme helped the artist to liberate himself from his obsession. He produces a series of variations on this theme, of such freedom and daring that in some of them it is impossible to identify horse, man or whip... The ringmaster is at the centre, swinging on the base supplied by a half circle. [...] He is often summed up as a powerful black quadrangle at the centre of the canvas, with or without the immense uncoiled arabesque of the whip shooting out from it' (J. Dupin, Miró, New York, 1993, p. 128). Miró moved from the rue Blomet in Montparnasse to a studio that his dealer, Jacques Viot, had found for him in the Cité des Fusains in Montmartre in 1926. There he was transported into the heartland of the Surrealists; his neighbours were Max Ernst, René Magritte, Jean Arp and Paul Eluard. This extraordinary community of artists were producing their most ground-breaking work at this time. The concentration of artistic minds in such close proximity to each other meant that their inventiveness was dramatically spurred on by conversation and competitive rivalry. Roland Penrose writes: 'The two years during which Miró was based in the rue Tourlaque came at a time when the early heroic period of surrealist activity was reaching its highest point of animation' (R. Penrose, Miró, 1970, London, p. 61). Unlike his contemporaries' figurative version of Surrealism, Miró's artistic development took a different turn. The ideology espoused by André Breton and his cohorts was generally depicted in a figurative manner. For Miró the liberty granted by the Surrealist attitude to experimentation led him to become extremely imaginative with forms of representation, and eventually led him to total abstraction. He had joined the group in 1924, and participated in their first exhibition held at the Galerie Pierre in Paris in 1925. Breton's first Surrealist manifesto of 1924 proclaimed: 'I believe in the future resolution of these two states, seemingly so contradictory, which are dream and reality, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality'. Breton commented that Miró 'may be looked upon as the most Surrealist among us' (A. Breton, 'Le Surréalisme et la peinture', in Jacques Dupin, Joan Miró: Life and Work, London, 1962, p. 156). The sheer exuberance of Miró's painting was at odds with his shy, reserved nature. At the time he was working on Peinture (Étoile bleue) Miró's usual modesty was especially in evidence. In a letter written to his friend Sébastià Gasch, the artist implored him not to mention his name or works to anyone in Paris. His friends struggled to contain their curiosity and enthusiasm for his work and in the same month as Miro completed the present work, Gasch wrote: 'Miró is inspired. Miró has re-vindicated all the prestige of what was considered not so long ago as an aberration – inspiration. [...] Miró, alert to his inner life, is only interested in the translation into form of his own dreams, the dreams of a poet, in the expression of his interior visions by strictly pictorial means, in his rendering of his imagination's suggestions through the exclusive medium of shape and colour. And the results he obtains are every day more positive. The welcome Paris's most exclusive artistic circles have given his works vouch for that' (S. Gasch, 'El pintor Miró', in La Caceta Literaria, 15th April 1927, vol. 1, no. 8). Peinture (Étoile bleue) possesses all the essential qualities that marked out  Miró's 'dream paintings' as the high-point of his early career. Its immensely rich colouration, the elegance of its construction and the importance of the motifs depicted serves to underline the outstanding qualities of Miró's painting. Alberto Giacometti once said of the inimitable quality of Miró's art: 'For me, it was the greatest liberation. Anything lighter, more airy, more detached, I had never seen. In a way, it was absolutely perfect. Miró could not put down a dot without it being in just the right place. He was so much a painter, through and through, that he could leave three spots of colour on the canvas and it became a painting' (quoted in op. cit, Paris, 2004, p. 212). Fig. 1, Joan Miró, Peinture-Poésie (Photo ceci est la couleur de mes rêves), 1925, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Fig. 2 , Joan Miró, Peinture, 1927, oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London Fig. 3, Joan Miró, Peinture, 1927, oil on canvas, Fondation Beyeler, Basel Fig. 4, Joan Miró, Peinture, 1927, oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Fig. 5, Man Ray, Portrait de Joan Miró, 1934, photograph Fig. 6, Alexander Calder, Untitled, 1940, painted iron and filament, Stiftung Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum - Zentrum Internationaler Skulptur, Duisberg Fig. 7, Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1968, oil on paper laid down on canvas. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 14th November 2007 Signed Miró and dated 1927 (lower right); signed Joan Miró and dated 1927 on the reverse

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2012-06-19
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Six Self Portraits

Utterly compelling, urgent and sensational, Six Self Portraits of 1986 represents the undiluted quintessence of the brand of Andy Warhol; the perfect manifestation of his declaration “If you want to know about Andy Warhol, then just look at the surface of my pictures, my movies and me and there I am; there’s nothing in between.” (the artist cited in Gretchen Berg, ‘Andy: My True Story,’ in Los Angeles Free Press, March 17 1967, p. 3) An art-world revolutionary who was responsible for an entirely new visual lexicon to re-present a transformed society, it was ultimately Warhol who became more famous than many of the celebrities he depicted. Throughout his career, self-representation was the lifeblood of Warhol’s work, and of all the Self-Portraits he made throughout his lifetime it was the 1966 and 1986 series which are most revered. Executed only months before his unexpected death on February 22, 1987 while recovering from surgery, the 1986 Self-Portraits are universally acknowledged as Warhol's last great artistic gesture in which he re-attains the artistic high-ground of his seminal works from the 1960s. They are the final, definitive self-image that Warhol left for posterity. This unique group, Six Self Portraits, acquired by the present owner at the time of the exhibition at Anthony d'Offay Gallery in 1986, was specifically assembled by the artist, giving the clearest indication possible of the importance of cohesion and repetition to this unquestionable masterwork of Warhol’s late career. This acclaimed series of final portraits was first unveiled by Anthony d'Offay at his London gallery in July 1986, the first and only show in Warhol's career dedicated to the theme of self-portraiture. The gallerist recalls the genesis of the series: "I realised two things: first that Warhol was without question the greatest portrait painter of the 20th century, and secondly that it was many years since he had made an iconic self-portrait. A week later I visited Warhol in New York and suggested to him an exhibition of new self-portraits. A month later he had a series of images to show me in all of which he was wearing the now famous 'fright wig'. One of the images not only had a demonic aspect but reminded me more of a death mask. I felt it was tempting fate to choose this image, so we settled instead on a self-portrait with a hypnotic intensity." (Anthony d'Offay cited in Exh. Cat., Andy Warhol, Self Portraits, Kunstverein St. Gallen, Kunstmuseum, 2004, p. 131) This remarkable image became the anchor for one of his greatest exhibitions in a commercial gallery. Today, works from this landmark exhibition grace the collections of Tate, London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Warhol made the first self-portrait of his mature career in 1963, in which his appearance is masked by dark glasses and the graininess of the then new screen-printing process, followed by a subsequent small series in 1964, similarly based on a photo-booth source photograph. The emergence of the Self-Portraits charted a turning point for Warhol: now, among the images of the rich and famous, he became an icon in his own visual repertoire. By 1966, the year of his third great series of self-images, he was a star in his own right; an artist, musician and increasingly acclaimed film maker whose constructed public persona was almost as famous as his artistic production. Propelled into the public limelight, the world now bestowed on him the same degree of celebrity status that he found so intriguing and captivating in those that he chose to depict. In his archetypal 1966 portraits, at once iconic and iconoclastic, Warhol succeeded in capturing on canvas the most alluring and elusive star in his firmament of celebrity: himself. It was not until twenty years later, in the series to which the present work belongs, that Warhol would find an equivalently powerful self-image. While in the 1960s, Warhol was an aloof commentator on the consumer culture that was sweeping through an economically prosperous America, by the time of the present work he and his art had become synonymous with contemporary American culture itself. Such was his fame and the success of his artistic vision that it shaped the worlds of art, fashion, film and the media throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In his last Self-Portraits, the ever insightful commentator packages and presents himself as a product to be consumed by the machinery of the commodity culture which he himself helped to define. While the 1963 and 1964 Self-Portraits were based on a photo-mat strip of photographs, in the 1986 series Warhol used a Polaroid photograph as his source image, a technique which he had refined in his portraiture throughout the 1970s. Wearing a black turtle-neck sweater and one of his many elaborate wigs, in his diaries Warhol recalled the making of the image: "At the office Sam tried to take pictures of me that I needed to work from for the self-portraits for the English show, and I'd done my hair in curlers and everything and he just couldn't get it right." (the artist cited in Jennifer Higgie, 'Andy Warhol' in Frieze, 5th September 1996) Comparing the final canvases to the original image, it is evident that Warhol chose the image in which his top best covered his neck. In this way, Warhol made his body disappear entirely, so that his severed head hovers in space. Here more than in any other of his Self-Portraits, Warhol tackled the challenge of self-depiction with an unrivalled and up-close theatricality, presenting an image both of Warhol the man and Warhol the artistic phenomenon. As David Bourdon observed, "Warhol's visage by this time was, of course, almost totally invented: the hair belonged to one of dozens of wigs, the skin had been dermatologically transformed and constantly taughtened through the use of astringents, and the sunken cheeks had been smoothed out with collagen injections." (David Bourdon, Andy Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 402) Warhol exposed his starkly isolated, distinctive appearance to our sharp scrutiny in unparalleled photographic detail. His last Self-Portrait catalogued the transformation in his ageing features in dialogue with the technical transformation in his art from maverick to master. Using his face as an arena for technical and compositional experimentation, by now Warhol had harnessed and honed to sheer perfection the silkscreen process which he had introduced to fine art practice in the early 1960s. While the 1966 Self-Portraits are characterized by often rough printing and serendipitous outcomes, here the image is of such controlled clarity that it resounds in our memory even when we cease to look. The silkscreen captures every minutiae and contour of Warhol's features, from his sunken cheeks, the slight jowls around his pursed lip and that incredibly penetrating stare. If Warhol's credo was the seductive surface, here it reaches its apogee, in the flawlessly slick, black, even lamina of ink which lends the works a surface unity worthy of the clean, flat surfaces predicated by Minimalism. Unlike his works from the 1970s which had thick, brushy acrylic surfaces, here Warhol returned to the ineluctable flatness of the picture plane. Warhol had an obsessive preoccupation with sudden death, even before Valerie Solanas entered the Factory and shot him, nearly killing him, on June 3rd, 1968. This morbid fascination is openly reflected in his work, especially in the often gruesome Death and Disaster and Electric Chair series. Here, the mysterious image of the artist's gaunt features reflects this lifelong fascination with the transience of life, and seems to convey an awareness of his own impending death. While there is no way that Warhol could have known what fate had in store for him, there is an almost tangible sense of the ageing artist confronting his own mortality. As John Caldwell noted of Warhol's last series, "The new painting, coming as it does twenty years after the last great self-portraits in the sixties, has by contrast with them a strange sense of absoluteness. Perhaps this comes in part from the fact that the artist's neck is invisible, or it may derive from the oddly lit nimbus of hair that seems posed forever over his head. Certainly, the portrait derives part of its power from the sense that we are being given a rare chance to witness the aging of an icon." (John Caldwell, "A New Andy Warhol at the Carnegie," Carnegie Magazine, Pittsburgh, January - February 1987, p. 9) Despite their colors and high-keyed tonality, these are stark faces, moribund like a spectral head. Set against the inky black background, Warhol's disembodied head takes on the resemblance of a skull, the consummate vanitas motif, a reminder of the ubiquity of life and death. Warhol had already explored this motif of the memento mori, first in a series of Skulls from 1976 and subsequently in a small series of self-portraits with a skull made two years later when the artist was fifty. In the present series, however, Warhol himself becomes the vanitas object. The heightened contrast emphasizes the bone structure of the skull below the taut skin. As Warhol's friend and biographer David Bourdon recalled, the public's immediate reaction to these works when they were exhibited was one of shock, with many viewers leaving the show deeply moved: “Some spectators interpreted the pictures as a memento mori, an unblinking, unsentimental view of a hurriedly approaching mortality.” (David Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 402) Ever since the Ethel Scull commission in 1963, Warhol understood the power of working in multi-panel, multicolored, repetitive compositions, which allowed him to exploit the given image to its limit. In his portraiture, this allowed him to explore the subtle nuances and permutations of the sitter, creating extra sensitivity through repetition. This is how he chose to exhibit his works - as a series - from the time of his breakthrough Campbell's Soup exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1962 onwards. Yet it is rare today to find such series still intact, rendering the present group exceptional. The presence of the repeated image here further rarefies an already iconic portrait of the artist. Indeed the disembodied heads can fuse to create a single image, as our eye scans from one to the other, never resting as no single head dominates. By repeating his self-representation, Warhol revealed in these pictures a fractured self-image where unity only exists in multiplicity. Through mechanical reproduction and anonymous facture, Warhol's multiple Self-Portraits contradict the genre's ideal of intimate self-expression; yet in fact, in harnessing the technique of the screen-print to such unbridled international success, the resulting image is anything but anonymous. On the contrary, Warhol's image is here packaged and presented in his own instantly recognizable brand of Pop, on par with his 1960s portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Liz Taylor. Each signed and dated 86 on the overlap

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-05-13
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Untitled (RIOT)

Wool’s subversive conceptual project nowhere better echoes the content of his painting than in the immediacy of the word RIOT: a rebellious, insurrectionary edict that parallels the insurgency of Wool’s own artistic practice. The leviathan Untitled (Riot) encapsulates Christopher Wool’s anarchic painterly enterprise with complexity, juxtaposing the chaotic entropy of the image with the austere stringency of language.  Concurrently outrageously provocative, artistically seductive and conceptually brilliant, Christopher Wool's monolithic Untitled (Riot) is the very quintessence of his most immediately recognizable and significant body of work. Having resided in the same private collection since it was first acquired from Luhring Augustine Gallery in 1991, Untitled (Riot) is a monument of Wool’s singular output. The expressive nature of the immediately charged word RIOT confronts the viewer, conveying a violence or imminent threat that is visually echoed by his graffiti-like defacement of the aluminum surface. Fragmenting the four-letter word into its constituent parts and stacking the letters two-by-two immediately opens an incongruity into the decisive word, resulting in an ‘all-over’ composition that can be read in different permutations and suggesting the potential for multiple interpretations. The blunt, exclamatory quality of the word RIOT is paralleled by the quadrilateral brusqueness of Wool’s rectangular grid, in which the geometric blocks of black text assert imperative space. As is characteristic of Wool’s paintings, the edges of the stenciled blocks reveal small but arresting glitches of process—rich incidents of dripping, skipping, or distortion that corrupt our reading of the word. Behind the letters, we see a sumptuously overpainted record of the word, with the word inverted in order and each letter rendered backwards. In this way, the word becomes a visual rather than purely linguistic device, centering attention toward the material application of enamel on the aluminum—process rather than content here takes reign. The formality of the grid and the truncation of the word imply constriction, while the obstruction of such rigid boundaries by painterly interruptions articulate a palpable danger along every edge.  The oft-recounted story of the moment Christopher Wool was moved to create his first word painting is something close to a New York myth. It’s the kind of account that perfectly conveys the magic of the city: in 1987, while walking the streets of his Lower East Side neighborhood, Wool encountered a new, yet graffitied, white truck. Scrawled across its side was a tag reading, “SEX LUV” and the artist was so affected by the sight, he returned to his studio to create his own painterly version. This initial rendering of S-E-X and L-U-V laid the groundwork for what would become his signature technique—large black letters, placed vertically over one another and stenciled upon a smooth white background. Wool began this series in 1987 by painting prominent stenciled black capital letters on aluminum surfaces, reveling in their elusive quality and ambiguity; associated with both the punk poetics of the downtown scene in the early 1990s alongside the increase in postmodern critical thinking, Wool’s paintings investigate the limitations of language as descriptive signifiers, challenging the legibility and objectivity of language by its visual capacity for incessant re-interpretation. His dispossessed language is no less abstract than his formal mark-making; with Untitled (Riot), the claustrophobic, broken letters are enlarged and confined within the immense metal field spanning nine feet in height. Like street signs or tabloid headlines, this word is both matter-of-fact in its presence and manifestly urban. Wool’s street-smart approach to art is also like that of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who similarly found inspiration in New York’s periphery. There in the fringe’s unfashionable neighborhoods, both artists assembled and defined their own unique vocabularies. Basquiat, for his part, developed an engaged and personalized style of pop culture symbolism; Wool, meanwhile, discovered the promising possibilities of linguistic abstraction. His use of demotic misspelling, symmetrically stenciled words and unexpected breaks in text are the tangible products of an urban landscape. The painterly composition is minimal and the individual letters have been reduced to a bipolar, stenciled schematic. Whereas the execution of the work achieves the perfection of Minimalist reduction on the one hand, on the other it includes overt suggestion of its handmade manufacture, with the irregular outline, smudges and drips heavily in evidence. Through his text paintings Wool interrogates not only the definitions of subject matter, conceptual content, and creative authorship in painting, but also demonstrably exhibits a love of the act of creation, insistently leaving remnants of the process of its making, such as the luscious drips of ink-like paint in the present work, to designate the hand of the artist. Wool is interested in the way that text can function as image, harnessing the pictorial qualities of his stenciled letters to accentuate their status as shapes and de-naturalize their communicative utility. In arranging the word RIOT into four quadrants, Wool simultaneously reveals the frontal clarity of this short, powerful word, while making efforts toward destabilizing its legibility in its grid-like composition. As explained by Katherine Brinson, “He has long been fascinated by the way words function when removed from the quiet authority of the page and exposed to the cacophony of the city, whether through the blaring incantations of billboards and commercial signage or the illicit interventions of graffiti artists. But with their velvety white grounds and stylized letters rendered in dense, sign painter’s enamel that pooled and dripped within the stencils, the word paintings have a resolute material presence that transcends the graphic.” (Katherine Brinson in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (and travelling), Christopher Wool, 2013, p. 40) Dating back to the Analytic Cubist paintings of Picasso and Braque before the First World War that incorporated collaged elements of newspaper headlines, typography became an integral part of Futurism, Constructivism and Bauhaus design. During the 1950s, when galleries were dominated by Abstract Expressionism, Jasper Johns used stencils in his work to counter the outpourings of emotion among his fellow painters. Referencing Duchamp and Dada, Johns was interested in stencils because of their ready-made status - when used in paintings, they challenged the authenticity of the personal brushstroke. Even Francis Bacon would come to incorporate Letraset typography in his paintings to address questions of Saussurian semiotics, the dynamics of sign systems, and methods of communication. Furthermore, Concrete poetry of the 1960s and early 1970s abandoned grammar, syntax and punctuation to break words into apparently arbitrary units. However, by focusing more on process rather than subject matter, the act of painting itself became Wool's primary subject. In every way exemplary of Wool’s specialized approach to painting, Untitled (Riot) presents the viewer with a formally engaging and intellectually rigorous artistic experience. As one of Wool's earliest and most legendary word paintings, the present work occupies a place in the history of art—it is through works such as this that Wool ultimately advanced the project of painting in the face of postmodern skepticism. Perhaps curator Madeleine Grynsztejn phrased it best when she wrote, “Wool deliberately choreographs a collision between different components of language—grammatical, semantic, visual, imaginary and spoken—that conveys an emotional magnitude beyond the range of everyday speech and closer in spirit to the true proportions of Wool’s subject: the inherent inefficacy and near-constant failure of language.” (Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), Christopher Wool, 1998, p. 267) With the present work, Wool did not just spark a riot—he caused a revolution. Signed, dated 1990 and numbered W14 on the reverse

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  • 2015-05-12
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Femme au chignon dans un fauteuil

Femme au chignon dans un fauteuil, Picasso’s richly colored depiction of his lover Françoise, dates from the fall of 1948, not long after Picasso returned from a conference of the Communist Party in Warsaw.  At the time Françoise was pregnant with the couple’s child, and she was furious that Picasso had left her alone for several weeks.  As a gift of appeasement he returned from Poland with an embroidered red peasant jacket, which Françoise wore on occasion and is depicted in the present portrait.  This brightly-colored article would feature in several portraits of Francoise during these months, perhaps inspired by Picasso’s rival Matisse’s successful series of the woman in a Romanian blouse that had been exhibited to great acclaim in Paris around this time.Painted in in the fall of 1948, Femme au chignon dans un fauteuil belongs to a period of Picasso's work characterized by an increasing energy and artistic freedom after the war years.  His works of the late 1940s demonstrate a new departure in Picasso's art, turning away from the somber still-lifes and portraits painted during World War II, towards a new style, brighter in both coloration and subject matter.  During this time Picasso became increasingly involved with the Communist Party, which he had joined in 1944.   In his art, however, he avoided overtly political themes, and chose instead to depict more intimate subject matter drawn from his personal life. Perhaps the most significant motive for this change was Picasso's partnership with the young painter Françoise Gilot. Picasso met Françoise in May 1943, during his tumultuous relationship with Dora Maar, and it was not until 1946 that they settled in Cap d'Antibes in the south of France.  The period that followed was marked by great personal fulfilment, during which Picasso was, probably more than at any other time, devoted to his family, including the couple's two children, Claude and Paloma.  This happiness in private life spilled into the artist's work, resulting in a number of portraits of his lover and their children.  Over the years Picasso's depictions of Françoise became increasingly stylized, as he depicted her as a "Woman-flower" and sometimes in the nude.  The present work, painted in the aftermath of their lover’s quarrel and evidencing Picasso’s peace offering of the Polish jacket, was a catalyst for a related series of prints that the artist completed around the same time. Picasso’s figure is seated on throne like a Renaissance queen and not unlike those depicted by the Old Master painters whom Picasso so greatly admired. Having left behind the innocent, dream-like portraits of Marie-Thérèse Walter, as well as the dramatic, distorted depictions of Dora Maar, Picasso found a new style for his portraits inspired by Françoise, characterized by a certain calm elegance and poise.  In the present painting, she adopts an almost formal pose, looking straight at the viewer.  As Frank Elgar pointed out: "The portraits of Françoise Gilot have a Madonna-like appearance, in contrast to the tormented figures he was painting a few years earlier" (F. Elgar, Picasso, New York, 1972, p. 123).  Discussing Picasso's depictions of Gilot, Michael Fitzgerald wrote: "Picasso's portraits of Françoise also were not drawn from life; yet the dialogue between artist and subject influenced their form. Françoise was not interested in truly naturalistic images, and, unlike in the cases of Picasso's other wives and mistresses, there are almost none that reproduce her features strictly. Within the context of portraiture, this radical reconfiguration of Françoise's face takes a step beyond Picasso's previous renderings of her; yet it does so by adopting techniques that he had employed for many years" (M. FitzGerald, 'A Triangle of Ambitions: Art, Politics, and Family during the Postwar Years with Françoise Gilot,' in Picasso and Portraiture, London, 1996, p. 416). Picasso loaned the present work to several important career retrospectives held at museums throughout Europe in the early 1950s.  It seems that he only parted with the picture in 1956, when it was sold to the Goldwyn family presumably by Picasso's dealer Daniel Henry Kahnweiler at Galerie Louise Leiris.  Samuel Goldwyn, Sr., who was born in Warsaw, must have been profoundly impressed by the Polish element of the composition and perhaps felt a kinship with Picasso through this picture.  Indeed, Picasso and Goldwyn were great visionaries of the 20th century, who both creating indelible images that have withstood the test to time. Signed Picasso (upper right); dated 1.11.48 on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-05-05
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Untitled (Pope)

“Terror and atrocious suffering make the mouth an organ of searing screams.” Georges Bataille, ‘Dictionnaire – Bouche’, Documents, No. 5, 1930, pp. 298-99 “Great art is always a way of concentrating, reinventing what is called fact, what we know of our existence….tearing away the veils that fact acquires through time.” Francis Bacon interviewed by Hugh Davies, June 26, 1973, in Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon, New York, 1986, p. 110 “Consciousness of mortality sharpens one’s sense of existing.” Francis Bacon interviewed by Hugh M. Davies in 1973, in Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen, 2009, p. 96 It is perhaps the most singularly devastating personification in figural art of the post-war period. It is a vision so universal and immediate that it threatens to traverse the threshold between viewer and object, simultaneously leaping into our domain and sucking us into its own. It is an unrepeatable image, borne specifically of its time and of the unique experiences of its creator, yet stands as an allegory for perpetuity. Emerging from the desolate shadows of the Second World War and its abject annihilation of over fifty million souls, a Pope looms forth from the depths of Francis Bacon’s formidable genius and draws near, into our focus. The Vicar of Christ, Successor of Saint Peter and God’s temporal representative on earth; this Supreme Pontiff has transmogrified into a chimera of awesome terror. It has become the anguished epitome of humanity’s excruciating scream: deafening to our collective interior, yet silent in the existential void. Encaged within insufferable isolation, this Pope - totem of enlightened perception, of authoritative faith, of order against chaos - is violently racked by the brutal fact of the human condition. It is the proposition of a world turned upside down, of established systems shattered, and, as such, is the perfect response to Theodor Adorno’s legendary 1951 axiom “There can be no poetry after Auschwitz.” Having remained in the same private collection for over thirty years and hidden from public view, this painting embodies, of course, Bacon’s most celebrated and recognizable iconography. Even more than this, as a Pope it crystallizes a thunderous climax in the long arc of that elusive and indefinable engine of innovation known as artistic genius. Within the Twentieth Century, perhaps only Picasso’s Guernica, with its monumental, monochrome nightmare apparition of a Nativity scene being torn apart by massacre, parallels the impossible figurative potency of Bacon’s Screaming Popes. The phenomenal specter of papal imagery and its inspiration had seeped into Bacon’s work since the end of the 1940s, but the present painting is more precisely allied to his most revered cycle of Popes; the eight Study for Portraits that were executed in the summer of 1953 for his first exhibition outside England, at Durlacher Brothers Gallery in New York in October to November of that year. Constituents of this corpus today reside in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum, the Minneapolis Institute and the Lehman Loeb Art Center. However, it is to the seminal masterpiece Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X of 1953, housed in the Des Moines Art Center, that the present work bears especially close parity. In terms of the composition of space, the bodily expression and the figure’s portrait, the two paintings harbor close formal correspondence. Indeed, the visceral physiognomic intensity of the contorted features and flashing teeth of the gaping mouth in the present canvas, so deftly fashioned by the artist’s daubs of writhing paint, achieves a heightened psychological import – shooting the desperate papal cry straight into the realm of the viewer – that surpasses any of the eight Studies and is matched only by the Des Moines work. Bacon’s painting here is unleashed and urgent, unencumbered by any stodgy deliberation or revision, and his unbridled protagonist delivers a primal clarion call that summons Georges Bataille’s potent proclamation: “Terror and atrocious suffering make the mouth an organ of searing screams.” (Georges Bataille, ‘Dictionnaire – Bouche’, Documents, No. 5, 1930, pp. 298-99) Bacon’s typically eloquent declaration that he wanted to “unlock the valves of feeling and therefore return the onlooker to life more violently” aptly explains how the genesis of this most ambitious body of work was seeded by an inspirational touchstone of resounding familiarity. The archetype Bacon appropriated as starting point for his Pope series was Diego Velázquez’s extraordinary Portrait of Pope Innocent X of 1650, held in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome; a painting for which Bacon was “haunted and obsessed by the image…its perfection.” (Francis Bacon interviewed by Hugh Davies, June 26, 1973, in Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon, New York, 1986, p. 23) Having travelled to Rome from the Spanish court of Philip IV in 1649, Velázquez was afforded the great honor of depicting the Pope, Giambattista Pamphilj, known as Innocent X, whom he had met as papal nuncio in Madrid in 1626-30. The painting was executed in a Jubilee year when 700,000 pilgrims descended on Rome, and Velázquez dutifully portrayed the Bishop of Rome as the most powerful man in the world, encased by the trappings of his office. Yet the spectacular achievement of this portrait is that within the gold, silk and lace vestiges of papal supremacy resides a mortal human being beset by flaw and fallibility. While Pope Innocent X resides literally ex cathedra in the papal throne, official document clutched in hand and glinting ring proffered for all to pay homage; the man Pamphilj wears a pained and suspicious countenance that betrays the unscrupulous and duplicitous pitfalls of his tenure as Pontiff. The brilliance of Velázquez’s embedded juxtaposition, pitting the Papacy’s supposed omnipotence against Man’s inevitable frailty, while also delivering a likeness that was so highly received that he was awarded a golden medallion for his services, ignited an ambition within Bacon to equal this achievement, albeit in a godless world that had been literally torn to shreds by chaos and destruction. Moreover, beyond the substrate of canvas and layers of oil paint, Bacon perceived the voice of the artist speaking across the centuries: “If you look at a Velázquez, what do you think about? ... I don’t think about his sitters, I think about him… I think about Velázquez, I think people believe that they’re painting other people, but they paint out their own instincts.” (Francis Bacon interviewed by Hugh Davies, August 13, 1973, in Exh. Cat., Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Francis Bacon: The Papal Portraits of 1953, 1999, p. 34) It has previously been noted that Bacon had not at this stage in his career seen the Velázquez painting in Rome first-hand, and for this initial series of papal portraits he worked from a black and white illustration of the work. This in turn has been suggested as the cause for the purple color of the garments in these paintings differing from the original cardinal red. However, while Bacon’s extensive enlistment of and reference to photographic sources is beyond question, it also seems more than likely that he was familiar with another version of Velázquez’s painting; one that has resided in Apsley House, the seat of the Duke of Wellington in London, since the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. This smaller painting by Veláquez, either a study made before or copy made after the larger work, was gifted to the Duke of Wellington by the King of Spain in 1816, together with over 150 other pictures from the Spanish Royal Collection, in recognition of his defeat of Napoleonic forces and liberation of Spain in the Peninsular War. The British commander had recovered these works from the fleeing carriage of Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, after the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. Under the Duke of Wellington’s great-grandson, Apsley House and its art collection was opened to the public in 1952, the centenary of the first Duke’s death and, conveniently, shortly before Francis Bacon initiated a grand cycle of papal portraits including the present painting. That Apsley House sits at Hyde Park Corner, about fifteen minutes’ walk from the Royal College of Art where Bacon was using a studio between 1951 and 1953, readily invites the hypothesis that he was able to study this highly accomplished version at close quarters. However, the Velázquez painting is merely a template that becomes a delivery system for Bacon’s radical and unrelenting reinvention. Indeed, the present work is Bacon’s concrete realization that “Great art is always a way of concentrating, reinventing what is called fact, what we know of our existence….tearing away the veils that fact acquires through time.” (Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Op. Cit., p. 110)  Thus Bacon replaces the subjective idiosyncrasies of the grand state portrait with an intimate visage of pain and suffering that stands as proxy for the torment of the human race. His source for this all-encompassing cipher was provided by a film still of a screaming female character in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 movie The Battleship Potemkin. Bacon had first seen the movie in 1935 and viewed it frequently thereafter, and this specific still was reproduced in Roger Manvell’s 1944 paperback Film, though Bacon also kept other reproductions of the startling image. The frame shows a pince-nez wearing elderly woman, commonly referred to as a nurse, shot through the eye and caught at the instant of death. It belongs to the movie’s massacre sequence on the Odessa Steps which, though it veers wildly from historical accuracy, remains one of the most iconic pieces of propagandist film ever made. Within its remorseless tragedy it is this character, part blinded and dying while also witnessing a baby in a pram being brutalized by the sword of a tsarist soldier, that embodies the conception of absolute horror and the abandonment of all hope. By supplanting Velázquez’s portrait of Innocent X with this twentieth-century essence of ultimate despair and its tortured last gasping breath, Bacon unites two extremes of enduringly vehement imagery. It is also important to note the personal biographical import of this vision to its author. Since a small child, Bacon had suffered chronic asthma, greatly aggravated by the dogs and horses that had attended his upbringing. According to Caroline Blackwood, “When he was a little boy his parents had put him astride a pony and they had forced him to go fox-hunting. He loathed the brutality of the “Sport of Kings” and developed a violent allergy to horses. He turned blue once he found himself on the hunting field and he started to choke with chronic asthma…The subject made him freeze. He became agitated whenever I broached it. He started to tug at the collar of his shirt as if he were trying to loosen some kind of noose which he found asphyxiating; for a moment he resembled the agonized figures in his paintings whose faces turn a truly dangerous shade of indigo purple as they go into the last stages of strangulation.” (Caroline Blackwood, ‘Francis Bacon Obituary’, The New York Review of Books, 24th September 1992)  Bacon’s papal figure is caught in a symphony of movement; its representation comprised all of shadows and flashing motion and evolving in constant flux. This also recalls the photography of Edweard Muybridge, which used multiple cameras and an elaborate trigger device to capture successive stages of motion. Bacon possessed many illustrations of Muybridge's images and this Pope’s right hand, veering towards us out of the darkness, recalls something of Muybridge's photograph series 'Striking a Blow with the Right Hand', a fragment of which was found in the artist's studio after his death. While the right hand of Velázquez’s Innocent X hangs limply from the support of his gilded throne, Bacon’s papal fury lashes out at the viewer with a clenched fist, once again destabilizing the barrier between viewer and subject. The drama of all this corporeal expression is greatly intensified by the artist’s complex framing of the composition and the many facets that define an uneasy sense of flux and unknowable dimensions within the canvas. Bacon’s overlapping linear schema here act as cage-like space frames that enclose this Pope inside its solitary nightmare. Indeed, the present work proves to act as prototype for Bacon’s consequent declaration: “I like the anonymous compartment, like a room concentrated in a small space. I would like to paint landscapes in a box…If you could enclose their infinity in a box they would have a greater concentration.” (the artist interviewed by Hugh M. Davies in 1973, in Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen, 2009, p. 111) This compositional organization echoes Picasso’s strategy of reducing three-dimensions to a scored network of diagrammatic black lines, such as in the groundbreaking Painter and Model of 1928. It is also strongly redolent of the frantic inscribed urgency of Giacometti’s autograph portraiture style and architectonic construction, so harshly graphic in his visceral drawings, and evident in Portrait of Peter Watson of 1953, which, as noted by Martin Harrison, was a work that Bacon probably knew given his close relationship to the sitter. It is also reminiscent of Bacon’s work as a furniture designer in the late 1920s, where he defined the parameters of actual space with folding screens and curved metal tubes inspired by the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and Ozenfant, and which are well-evidenced in a 1930 article in The Studio magazine and the documentary paintings of his fellow painter and friend Roy de Maistre. The space frames of the papal portraits mark the mature inception of these translucent compartments of literal, psychological and somatic space that would subsequently trap anonymous businessmen within midnight blue voids and imprison countless actors in triptychs throughout Bacon’s oeuvres of the subsequent three decades. Aside from the formal compartmentalization of space, Francis Bacon was also transfixed by the potentiality of material strata and layers of perception, as he described to David Sylvester: "We nearly always live through screens – a screened existence. And I sometimes think, when people say my work looks violent, that perhaps I have from time to time been able to clear away one or two of the veils or screens." (Francis Bacon cited in David Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 1993, p. 26) The vertical and diagonal, tonally-polarized hatching that spans the present work is another iconographic device that is both rooted in illustrious precedent and foreshadows Bacon’s later output. In a way similar to the Des Moines Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, the upright bands that strike through this protagonist and unite it with the background are at once evocative of Titian’s Portrait of Cardinal Filippo Archinto of circa 1551-62, in which a diaphanous veil bisects the sitter’s right eye and dramatically blurs his left hand behind the drapery. This shuttering effect takes Bacon’s character in and out of coherence, like the staccato pulsations of a half-glimpsed memory disappearing and returning to our focus. Aspects of the forms merge and blur, instilling a sense of dynamism and movement, and we are afforded alternative descriptions of the pictorial content, such as the suggestion that this pope has his tongue fully extended out of his mouth. Bacon’s screens and veils complicate our perception of his vision, and as such deliver a fitting coda to one of his favorite passages from T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, which he told Hugh Davies had been a continual source of inspiration to him: “I have heard the key/ Turn in the door once and turn once only/ We think of the key, each in his prison/ thinking of the key, each confirms a prison” (read by the artist in interview by Hugh M. Davies in 1973, in Martin Harrison, Op. Cit., p. 102) Perhaps more than any other theme associated with his canon, the threat of mortality inhabits every pore of Bacon’s art. Danger, violence and death constantly linger in the recesses of his canvases, acting like a continual incantation of his deft maxim: “Consciousness of mortality sharpens one’s sense of existing.” (Ibid., p. 96). Of course, many of his greatest later works became directly associated with the sudden and brutal deaths of his respective lovers Peter Lacy and George Dyer, but in fact the risk of impending fatality imbued his existence from its most formative stage. Raised by English parents living in Ireland’s County Kildare during the violent era surrounding the Easter Uprising, Bacon’s upbringing was intensely fraught and immersed in the threat of harm: “My father warned us that at any time, not that we would be shot, but at night someone might break in or whatever. My grandmother married three times, at that time her husband was the Head of Police in Kildare and in their house all the windows were sandbagged. I lived with my grandmother a lot. I grew up in an atmosphere of threat for a long time…And then I was in Berlin at the beginning of the Nazi thing, my whole life had been lived through a time of stress.” (Ibid., pp. 104-5) Aged no more than sixteen, in 1926 he was abruptly driven from his home, away from hearth and kin by his father, and embarked for London. At the beginning of 1927 he was in Berlin and by the Spring he had arrived in Paris, staying that summer with a family in Chantilly before moving in the Fall to the Hôtel Delambre in Montparnasse, where he endured an impoverished subsistence lifestyle for almost a year. Alongside the actual events of his life, he of course became a voracious devourer of the canon of western Art History, and he purposely sought out those most powerful narrators of the tragedy of the human drama, from Michelangelo to Velázquez to Poussin to Picasso, to provide an analytical framework for his own experience. The dramatic shadow of this illustrious precedent is readily evident in the present work, and perhaps none more so than a work that Bacon would have encountered in the Tate, Henry Fuseli’s Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers, which in execution, subject and spirit stands as an eerily prescient predecessor for Untitled (Pope). Bacon’s coming of age was thus forged in a crucible of uncertainty and risk, and this heritage violently coursed through his subsequent life and art. Fifteen years after Paris, in 1944, he delivered the searing cry of his masterpiece Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion; shrieking into existence to announce that figurative art could never be the same again. A decade after that, the Popes declared that everything we thought we knew - the history that was meant to bind us, the psychological and emotional journeys we supposedly shared, the promise of futures entwined together - were all merely veils to mask the thunderous yet silent solitary scream that lies within us all. It remains one of the most pertinent, universal and affecting visions in the History of Art, and the full force of its power is trapped forever on the surface of this sensational painting.

  • USAUSA
  • 2012-11-14
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An exceptionally large, fine and important blue and white lobed 'fish

Exquisitely potted, of ten-lobed mallow shape with deep rounded sides rising from a correspondingly shaped foot to a flared rim, the exterior strikingly decorated in different washes of cobalt with a dense and dynamic scene depicting four fishes, a carp, mandarin fish and two kinds of bream, swimming amidst water plants, the fishes with dark blue outlines and finely detailed with hatching and stippling, rendered interrupted by clumps of lotus blooms and leaves, the latter with white veins precisely picked out by incision through the washes to the porcelain body, the larger leaves further rendered with frayed edges accentuated with dark heaping and piling, the interior similarly painted with a double-line medallion enclosing a carp and mandarin fish dynamically swimming amidst clumps of lotus and undulating water weeds, the base inscribed with a six-character reign mark within a double circle Exhibited Chgoku Min Shin bijutsu ten mokuroku/Chinese Arts of the Ming and Ching Periods, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, 1963, cat. no. 290. Shinkan kansei kinen tokubetsu tenrankai zuhan mokuroku/Illustrated Catalogues of the Special Exhibition in Memory of the New Building, Kyoto National Museum, Kyoto, 1966, cat. no. 287. Mei hachi ten [Exhibition of famous bowls], Osaka, 1971, cat. no. 10. Ty no sometsuke tji ten/Far Eastern Blue-and-white Porcelain, Mitsukoshi, Tokyo, 1977, cat. no. 34. Min Shin no bijutsu [The art of Ming and Qing], Osaka Municipal Art Museum, Osaka, 1980, cat. no. 1-26. Literature Fujioka Ryoichi, Tji taikei [Outlines of ceramics], vol. 42: Min no sometsuke [Ming blue-and-white], Tokyo, 1975, col. pl. 17. Sat Masahiko, Chgoku tji shi [History of Chinese ceramics], Tokyo, 1978, p. 182, fig. 224. Sat Masahiko, Chinese Ceramics. A Short History, New York and Tokyo, 1981, p. 164, fig. 237. Fishes in the Imperial Pond Regina Krahl The deep fish pond on this dazzling bowl exudes an irresistible warm sentiment that instantly touches the heart. The bowl is unrivalled in its design, its painting quality, shape and size, and only two comparable smaller pieces appear to exist, both in the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Although the fish pond design has been frequently used as a motif on Chinese porcelain, it is hardly ever infused with as much life as on the present bowl, whose shape cleverly evokes the illusion of gentle underwater motion. Fish paintings were a recognized, if not widespread, genre of Chinese ink painting since the Song dynasty (960-1279), perhaps made popular through Liu Cai, a court painter of the late Northern Song (960-1127) specialized in paintings of fishes. The most famous painting attributed to him is the two-and-a-half-meter long handscroll Fish Swimming amid Falling Flowers today in the St. Louis Art Museum (97:1926.). The representation of fishes and their movements was perceived as a task yet more challenging than the depiction of other animals and birds, because their habitat impedes observation, and the resulting naturalism is awesome for painters not working directly from nature. The topos of fishes swimming in a pond was in China inextricably associated with one of the most famous passages of the book Zhuangzi by Zhuang Zhou (c. 369-c. 286 BC), Daoisms foremost thinker, where fish feature frequently in allegories. In this passage the free-thinking spirit of Zhuangzi, who comments on the pleasures of fishes darting around where they please, is opposed by the methodological reasoning of the Confucian Huizi, who challenges the Daoists legitimacy to talk about the feelings of fishes, not being a fish himself. After some exchanges, the Daoist eventually wins the argument by refusing to submit to his opponents formal logic. The Pleasures of Fishes thus became a byword for freedom from restraints, one of the perennial ideals of Chinas literati, which represented either unachievable dream, for the members of the bureaucracy, or perceived reality, for those who had withdrawn from it. Daoist thought flourished in the early Ming period (1368-1644), although the Xuande Emperor (r. 1426-35) did not propagate himself as a particularly fervent proponent of Daoism. Among the imperial princes, however, patronage of Daoist causes was strong enough to provoke several memorials to be handed in to the court, which requested a ban on the furthering of new Daoist monasteries (Richard G. Wang, The Ming Prince and Daoism. Institutional Patronage of an Elite, Oxford, 2012). Even without the philosophical significance of this motif in mind, the serene state of the four fat fishes floating through water plants, seemingly at total ease within their surroundings, is palpable when immersing oneself in this pond, which emanates an air of peace and contentment. Grouped in two pairs, the fishes depict a carp and a mandarin fish, or Chinese perch, each confronted with a type of bream, fangyu, characterized by the bumpy forehead often developed by older fishes. While the former two are well known from Chinese porcelain designs, the latter, although, like the other two species, part of Chinas staple diet for centuries, are rarely depicted on porcelain. The fishes are alternating with three large and two small clumps of lotus with fully opened blooms, buds, pods and large leaves in different stages of development, interspersed with long undulating fronds of pond weeds, clumps of clover fern and some fallen flowers. The latter may be meant to evoke the enchanting topic of Liu Cais painting, where some fishes are chasing blossoms shed by an overhanging flowering branch. The deep, barbed mallow shape of the bowl, with ten sharp ridges inside and with the foot cut to correspond, cleverly reinforces the impression of rippling waves and together with the naturalistic depiction of the fishes creates an astonishingly vibrant, lively effect. On the present bowl, the painters managed to exploit the cobalt pigment to maximum effect and to create an amazingly rich tonal variation in this monochrome palette: the fishes are drawn with dark blue outlines and details over pale blue washes; on the leaves the veins are in contrast reserved in white, being incised through the blue washes down to the porcelain body; and the large leaves that are rendered with frayed edges, as if about to wilt, are accentuated with dark heaping and piling, a feature that appears to have been deliberately induced. A large wilting lotus leaf, similarly rendered with fuzzy edges, appears next to a diminutive bird in an ink painting of a lotus pond signed yubi (imperial brush), executed by the Xuande Emperor, who was not only a devoted patron of the arts but is also considered as a gifted artist himself; see Craig Clunas and Jessica Harrison-Hall, eds, Ming. 50 Years that Changed China, The British Museum, London, 2014, p. 177, fig. 154 (fig. 2). As a porcelain motif, the lotus pond was taken up by Jingdezhens porcelain painters already in the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), and some of the finest Yuan blue-and-white jars are painted with this subject, such as, for example, the fish jar in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, from the Ataka collection (see Ty tji no tenkai/Masterpieces of Oriental Ceramics, The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 1999, cat. no. 33). The scene on the present bowl appears to have been directly inspired by such Yuan porcelain prototypes a very rare feature for Xuande imperial blue-and-white. The four fishes on our bowl depict the same species as those on the jar in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; and another exhibited in 2002 at Eskenazi, London; and the feature of the frilly lotus leaves is already found on the famous Yuan jar in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, from the Oscar C. Raphael collection, which depicts ducks in a lotus pond. For the two fish jars see Chinese Art under the Mongols. The Yüan Dynasty (1279-1368), The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 1968, cat. no. 155; and Two Rare Chinese Porcelain Fish Jars of the 14th and 16th Centuries, Eskenazi, London, 2002, cat. no. 1, where all three fish jars are illustrated together, compared with related Chinese ink paintings of fishes, including the painting by Liu Cai, and where the fish-pond motif is further discussed by Regina Krahl and Sarah Wong; for the Fitzwilliam Museums ducks jar see Margaret Medley, Yüan Porcelain and Stoneware, London, 1974, col. pl. C. Only one other Xuande bowl of this basic shape and design, of lower proportions and much smaller in size (18.4 cm), appears to have been published, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the Museums exhibition Mingdai Xuande guanyao jinghua tezhan tulu/Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Selected Hsüan-te Imperial Porcelains of the Ming Dynasty, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 140 (fig. 1), but two such bowls are listed in the inventory of the holdings of the National Palace Museum Gugong ciqi lu [Record of porcelains from the Old Palace], Taipei, 1961-6, vol. 2, part 1, p. 124. No comparable piece has ever been offered at auction or seems to be preserved in any other public or private collection. The Ming imperial kilns experimented with this design also on even smaller bowls: a related mallow-shaped bowl (15 cm) discarded at the kilns, also of deep bell shape and painted with a similar design, has been reconstructed from sherds excavated at the Jingdezhen kiln sites, and included in the exhibition Jingdezhen chutu Ming Xuande guanyao ciqi/Xuande Imperial Porcelain excavated at Jingdezhen, Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1998, cat. no. 103-2 (fig. 3), together with a related fragmentary bowl of circular section (15.8 cm), cat. no. 103-1. The present bowl shape was also used for a Xuande bowl decorated with ten small dragon roundels and a band of petal panels, but to strikingly different effect; see Sothebys Hong Kong Twenty Years, 1973-1993, Hong Kong, 1993, pl. 60, for a bowl sold in these rooms, 16th November 1973, lot 135 (fig. 4). On the formal dragon bowl, the indentations emphasize the solemnity of the design; on the halcyon fish pond bowl, the undulant sides highlight the vivacious air of the painterly motif. A reduced version of this fish pond design can also be found on four brush washers of Xuande mark and period, of similar mallow-shaped section, and on some circular dishes, all with shallow sides and thus nowhere near as striking as the present piece, which undoubtedly displays the design to best advantage. Compare a brush washer illustrated in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 4, no. 1653, sold in these rooms, 7th April 2011, lot 54, where the other three washers of this design are listed; for a dish of this design see the National Palace Museum exhibition 1998, op.cit., cat. no. 180, illustrated together with a dish with a lotus pond without fishes, cat. no. 179. Fragmentary washers and dishes of this design were also recovered from the waste heaps of the kilns, see the Chang Foundation exhibition, 1998, op.cit., cat. nos 19-2 and 86-2. The design was also copied later in the Ming and probably the Qing (1644-1911) dynasty. A very shallow mallow-shaped bowl (or deep dish) with a similar fish pond design, of Jiajing mark and period (1522-66), in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, was included in the Museums exhibition Fu shou kang ning. Jixiang tu'an ciqi tezhan tulu/Good Fortune, Long Life, Health, and Peace: A Special Exhibition of Porcelains with Auspicious Designs, Taipei, 1995, cat. no. 72; and a very large bowl of similar shape and design in the same museum, inscribed with a Xuande reign mark and still included as being of the period in the Museums 1960s inventory Gugong ciqi lu, op.cit., p. 124, was included as a later copy in the Museums exhibition Ming Xuande ciqi tezhan mulu/Catalogue of a Special Exhibition of Hsuan-te Period Porcelain, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1980, cat. no. 28; it probably dates from the Qing period.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2017-04-05
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World record price for a ruby

Superb and extremely rare ruby and diamond ring Set with a cushion-shaped ruby weighing 25.59 carats, between shield-shaped diamonds weighing 2.47 and 2.70 carats, signed Cartier, numbered, French assay and maker's marks, size 54, case signed Cartier.  "The described ruby exhibits a very impressive size and weight of 25.596 ct, combined with a highly attractive colour and a fine purity. Its colour is further pronounced by its well-proportioned cutting style, resulting in vivid red hues due to multiple internal reflections. Due to complex geological formation processes rubies of such quality generally are found in small crystals and only very exceptionally in such a size as the present stone. [...]Its vivid but saturated colour, poetically referred to as pigeon blood red, is due to a combination of well-balanced trace elements in the stone, typical and characteristic for the finest rubies of Mogok. [...]Based on our records we can conclude that a natural ruby from Burma of this size and colour is extremely rare. Thus, the described gemstone with its combination of outstanding characteristics can be considered a unique treasure of nature." Excerpts from the SSEF appendix letter, 4 February 2015"The 25.59 ct ruby described in the above mentioned Gübelin Gem Lab Report possesses a combination of outstanding characteristics. It displays a homogeneous and richly saturated 'pigeon blood red' colour, which typifies the finest of these gems. The depth of colour, combined with a high clarity and brilliance, all contribute to the beauty of the gem. The shape and finely proportioned cut provides vivid internal colour reflections. In addition, this remarkable gemstone has been spared thermal treatment." Excerpt from Gübelin appendix letter, 11 February 2015

  • CHESwitzerland
  • 2015-05-12
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Blau

"I want to end up with a picture that I haven't planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture... I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things I can think out for myself." The artist interviewed in 1990, in Hubertus Butin and Stefan Gronert, eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2004: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2004, p. 36 "The character of the Abstract Paintings is not their resolution but the dispersal of their elements, their coexisting contradictory expressions and moods, their opposition of promises and denials. They are complex visual events, suspended in interrogation, and fictive models for that reality which escapes direct address, eludes description and conceptualization, but resides inarticulate in our experience." Roald Nasgaard in Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988, p. 110 Ultimately engaging, breathtakingly beautiful, intensely dramatic, inspirational and inexplicable, Gerhard Richter’s Blau is as close a manifestation of the sublime as has been achieved in the art of painting. Here we are presented with, confronted by and engulfed within a square arena that exceeds nine feet in both height and width. This vast expanse is utterly replete with the most spectacular color, form and texture; a sheer cliff face of unadulterated expression as delivered by the world’s greatest living painter. Within the field of this canvas, acts of unfathomable chaos have touched something not quite of this realm, creating, in short, something that is phenomenal. Gerhard Richter’s unprecedented art of abstraction stands as ultimate culmination to the epic journey of his career, during which he has ceaselessly interrogated the limits of representation, the nature of perception and the operations of visual cognition. Variously evoking something of Rothko’s exuberance of transformative color, Pollock’s instigation of autonomous composition, and de Kooning’s transferal of the figural to the abstract, Richter’s abstraction is ultimately without comparison. That Blau is a definitive Abstraktes Bild masterpiece by Richter is incontrovertible: in palette, technique and gesture, this monumental triumph epitomizes the full force of his art. Some indication of its seminal preeminence is given by the fact that every abstract painting of equal or greater scale that Richter has made since Blau resides today in a museum. As one of the foremost masters of the past century, it is difficult to conceive of another artist as celebrated as Gerhard Richter. His prodigious artistic output has earned unparalleled international acclaim, and over the course of a fifty-year career his work has been honored with numerous retrospectives by the most prestigious institutions. In the past five years alone there have been seventy-six major solo exhibitions of Richter’s work held in over twenty countries around the world, from the United States to Japan, Brazil to Switzerland, and Mexico to South Korea. In recent years these have famously included shows at the Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern, the National Portrait Gallery, the Musée du Louvre and Centre Georges Pompidou in addition to many others. Each tesserae of Blau’s immense architecture contributes to its astounding character. The composition spans the entire color spectrum and traverses the full tonal scale, from deepest blacks to brightest whites. Dominated by the primaries of red, yellow and, of course, blue, it also encompasses every fractional permutation of hue in between. Streaked and smeared passages of once-semi-liquid material have been fixed on the surface; the shadows of their former malleability caught in a perpetually-dynamic stasis. Staccato ridges, crests and peaks of impasto punctuate this underlying fluidity in variously pronounced chromatic contrast, creating a powerful sensation of depth. The interchangeability of light and dark hues in front and behind, respectively in unified smeared swathes and broken thick accretions, such as deepest dark crimson on brilliant bright cyan in the top left versus vivid cadmium yellow on opaque rich umber in the bottom left, radically destabilizes this sense of depth. At the same time, this extreme textural topography creates an actual dynamism as the nature of the object subject to our vision constantly transforms with our shifting perspective and the ever-changing play of light across it. What is near and what is far becomes indefinite and our eye is forced to constantly readjust to attempt to comprehend the pure assault of pictorial data. Additional scrapes, smudges and incisions in all directions carry us forward and back, beyond even the furthermost reaches of color and pigment in a way reminiscent of Fontana’s slashes and scything deconstruction of the picture plane into the infinity of space beyond. The sum of Richter’s tireless process of addition and subtraction becomes a record of time itself within the paint strata: the innumerable layers of application and eradication have left their traces behind to accumulate and forge a portrait of temporal genesis. Richter’s creation of Blau necessitated a conscious suspension of the artist’s artistic will and assertion of judgment. Over a protracted period of execution, the painting underwent multiple variations in which each new sweeping accretion of paint brought new color and textural juxtaposition that were reworked until the optimum threshold of harmonious articulation was reached. Within this process, grounds of arresting pigment were applied only to be effaced and drawn out by large track-like strokes. Although spontaneous in their lyrical grandeur, these overlaid marks were in fact cerebrally labored. Yet Richter holds no presuppositions in the devising of his abstract paintings: in his own words it is by “letting a thing come, rather than creating it – no assertions, constructions, formulations, inventions, ideologies” that Richter looks “to gain access to all that is genuine, richer, more alive: to what is beyond my understanding.” (Gerhard Richter, ‘Notes 1985’ in Hans-Ulrich Obrist ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, Writings 1962-1993, p. 119) Indeed, as formulated by Birgit Pelzer, Richter’s abstract works, as epitomized by Blau, prove that which cannot be articulated: “Richter’s painting explores the enigmatic juncture of sense and non-sense. His paintings encircle, enclose the real as that which it is impossible to say: the unrepresentable.” (Birgit Pelzer, "The Tragic Desire" in Benjamin D. Buchloh, ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Massachusetts, 2009, p. 118) Benjamin Buchloh has identified a perennial relationship between absence and content in Richter’s abstract paintings, so that any evocation of nothingness or the void is immediately counteracted by unrelenting complexity and turbulence: "the ability of colour to generate this emotional, spiritual quality is presented and at the same time negated at all points, surely it's always cancelling itself out. With so many combinations, so many permutational relationships there can't be any harmonious chromatic order, or composition either, because there are no ordered relations left either in the colour system or the spatial system." (Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Ibid., pp. 23-24) Within its sheer excess of layering and dynamic compositional facture, Blau emits an extraordinary wealth of enigmatic yet recognizable evocation. The incessant erasure and denial of formal resolution induces a reading of phenomenal forms associated with those found in nature. Readily evoking natural experiences such as rain or water erosion, this work derives at least part of its effect from a spontaneous naturalism. Where Richter’s Photo Paintings fall away into abstraction, the Abstrakte Bilder by way of Blau return us, if only elusively, to a reading of figuration. By the early 1960s, long since the advent of Marcel Duchamp and Modernism’s declaration of painting’s demise, Richter took up the continuing debate head on, foregrounding the apparent obsolescence of painting into an inquiry that would revolutionize and reenergize its problematic practice. In the context of and as a reaction to photography, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Pop Art, Richter’s Photo Paintings – the body of work that was to launch him to critical acclaim – instigated a groundbreaking re-examination of painting in the face of technological means of mass production and the glorified pseudo-religiosity of abstract art. By translating artless black and white amateur photographs with indifferent photo-realist veracity onto canvas, Richter looked to the possibility for collusion between the oppositional binary of abstraction and resemblance, in search of a means for painting to objectively say something more than either could individually offer. Immaculately blurred while the paint remains wet, the Photo Paintings rendered explicit a simultaneous interpenetration of and tension between the three-dimensional space captured by the photograph and the flat pictorial space of painting. With these works, Richter bridged the gap between abstract painting and photographic figuration; a turn that at once, via an investigation of photography’s margins, undoes and affirms photography whilst legitimizing painting despite of this. Herein, these works laid the formative ground that would further engender Richter’s systematic negation of painting as the means by which he affirmed its currency. Towards the end of the 1960s, with the Color Charts and Grey Paintings – Richter’s most pronounced concession to ‘anti-painting’ and Minimalism – the serial and systematic erasure of gesture, artistic agency and privileging of chance compositional structures gave rise to Richter’s movement into pure abstraction from 1972 onwards. While the first of these took the form of abstract paintings based on photographic details of paint strokes, by the early 1990s Richter’s mastery of the squeegee technique to facilitate a quasi-mechanical palimpsest of layered and scraped down color, promulgated the possibility of exquisite lyrical painting within distinctly photographic terms. As made explicit by Kaja Silverman, Richter has made claims to paint “like a camera” even when photographic content is absent from his work (the artist cited in Kaja Silverman, Flesh of My Flesh, California, 2009, p. 173). In 1972 Richter explained, “I’m not trying to imitate a photograph… I’m trying to make one. And if I disregard the assumption that a photograph is a piece of paper exposed to light, then I am practicing photography by other means… [T]hose of my paintings that have no photographic source (the abstracts, etc.) are also photographs.” (Ibid.) In making this analogy with the camera, Richter embraces the fact that perception and the way we view the world today is entirely mediated by the photograph and its technological proliferation. Thus, as outlined by Richter, where the camera “does not apprehend objects, it sees them,” the Abstrakte Bilder elicit the capacity of painting to propagate a true semblance of perception and appearance. To quote Hal Foster, “The semblance that concerns Richter is of a “second nature”… a culture-become-nature bathed in the glow of the media, a semblance permeated with photographic, televisual, and now digital visulalities.” (Hal Foster, "Semblance According to Gerhard Richter," in Benjamin D. Buchloh, ed., Op. cit., p. 126) Redolent across the endless exposures and variegation of the present work, the presence of crackling, distortive fuzz and slick gelatinous layers of color as glaring artificial light, Richter's pure non-referential abstraction unmistakably bears the mark of photography. Idiosyncratically compatible with the detached, disenchanted mechanical age of contemporary visual culture, Gerhard Richter’s Blau represents an all-enveloping evocation of a distinctly post-modern semblance. The simultaneous negation and affirmation of contingency, expressivity, detachment and transcendence comprises an encompassing host of contradictions that posit this painting as a masterpiece of calculated chaos and paradigm of Gerhard Richter’s mature artistic and philosophical achievement. Signed and dated 1988, and numbered 658 twice on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-05-13
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