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An outstanding ru guanyao lobed brush washer northern song dynasty

THIS IS A PREMIUM LOT. CLIENTS WHO WISH TO BID ON PREMIUM LOTS MAY BE REQUESTED BY SOTHEBY'S TO COMPLETE THE PRE-REGISTRATION APPLICATION FORM AND TO DELIVER TO SOTHEBY'S A DEPOSIT OF HK$1,000,000, OR SUCH OTHER HIGHER AMOUNT AS MAY BE DETERMINED BY SOTHEBY'S, AND ANY FINANCIAL REFERENCES, GUARANTEES AND/OR SUCH OTHER SECURITY AS SOTHEBY'S MAY REQUIRE IN ITS ABSOLUTE DISCRETION AS SECURITY FOR THEIR BID. THE BIDnow ONLINE BIDDING SERVICE IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR PREMIUM LOTS.overwhelmingly beautiful, finely potted with shallow rounded sides rising from a wide flat base raised on a slightly splayed foot, the thin walls divided into six evenly spaced lobes by small pinched notches each extending to a vertical groove, fully enveloped in a luscious caesious coloured glaze, a tactile delight, suffused with a latent crackle now and then accented with darker veins of cracklure, the glaze thinning at the extremities and along the lobes to a purplish colour and, at times, pulling gently to reveal the dark body beneath, conjuring the occasional beauty spot, the underside heightened with three delicate 'sesame-seed' spur marks, two Japanese paulownia wood boxes Pride of Emperors, Desire of Connoisseurs, Model for Potters Regina Krahl Ru guanyao, the Ru kilns' 'official ware', plays a role quite extraordinary in the history of China and her art. Hardly any other artefacts have elicited feelings as fervent as the small and deceptively modest Ru ceramics. Of outstanding rarity, historically connected to patriotic sentiments of a grand era, conceptually to philosophical ideals of life in tune with nature, and aesthetically to a sophisticated taste for artlessness and excellence, they have obtained an almost mythical aura. The Northern Song court (960-1127) is recorded to have been unhappy about the white ceramics it received from the Ding kilns, apparently on account of the unglazed rims then characteristic of Ding wares. Thus it commissioned the kilns at Ruzhou, south of the capital, Kaifeng in Henan province, to produce celadons. The potters were ambitious, as they aimed to hide all evidence of the somewhat rough ceramic body by covering it all-over with luminous, mostly crackled glazes in various tones of a subtle blue-green. Fully enveloped in this glossy green coating the pieces almost looked as if carved from jade. To achieve this, they had to be precariously balanced in the kiln on pointed stilts. This technique of firing fully glazed vessels on small spurs rather than making them stand on an unglazed footring, was not invented by the Ru potters; it had been practised already at other manufactories before. The Ru kilns, however, perfected it by making the marks on the underside as tiny and tidy as possible and by reducing their number to the absolute minimum of three, thereby creating a distinctive characteristic for their wares. Already in 1591 Gao Lian flatteringly referred to the typical spur marks on Ru vessels as 'sesame-seed' markings. Ceramics, as a non-precious material made valuable through craftsmanship perfectly accorded with the ideals of China's elite at the time, of simplicity, modesty and naturalism. With their demanding criteria for judging proportion, glaze structure, tonal range and tactility, Song connoisseurs in many ways anticipated modern design movements, and Song ceramics still provide models of style and craftsmanship today. Although this taste was originally borne by the class of China's educated scholar-officials, its sophistication did not remain unnoticed for long and the court soon fully embraced it. Ru official ware with its superficially simple aspect, whose focus is the overwhelming beauty of its glaze subtly set in scene by elegant, finely potted forms, embodies the quintessence of this taste. Although the exact time of the production of Ru ware is still under debate, all scholars agree that it was made for an extremely short period only. Generally a space of some twenty years is proposed, from 1086 to 1106, although some scholars have argued for a slightly longer period. In any case, it was supplied to the court during only two reigns, those of the Emperors Zhezong (r. 1086-1100) and Huizong (r. 1101-25). We do not know yet in how far these emperors had any personal influence on its production. Zhezong ascended the throne as an infant and until 1093 power was de facto in the hands of the Empress Dowager Gao, neither of them known for a particular interest in fine works of art; Huizong on the other hand has gone down in history as one of China's greatest imperial connoisseurs, patrons and collectors. This was the first time that the court had expressly ordered ceramics to be made for its own use – rather than picking the best of those supplied in tribute. When in 1127 the Song lost the northern part of their glorious empire to the Jurchen and were forced to relocate the court to south China, they no longer had access to the official manufactory, which quickly declined to the level of a popular kiln. This lack of fine ceramics in the new capital, Hangzhou, must have served as a poignant reminder of this painful loss of territory and hegemony. As a quick return to the north became more and more unlikely, Emperor Gaozong (r. 1127-62), the first to rule out of Hangzhou in the south, in 1151 received a well-publicized gift of sixteen pieces of Ru ware from a high official, Zhang Jun – a symbolic patriotic gesture that clearly few individuals would have been able to match. Zhou Hui, writing on Ru ware in 1192 already said "... today it is very difficult to obtain", Cao Zhao, writing in 1388, reported the same, "... examples are very difficult to obtain...". In order to remedy this permanent shortage of wares of Ru quality, the Emperor set up new official kilns in Hangzhou to make ceramics especially for the court modelled on this coveted ware from the north that was reminiscent of happier days. By the late Ming dynasty (1368-1644) Ru official ware was deemed completely 'unobtainable' or 'to have ceased to exist'. Indeed its fame appears to have been based more on hearsay than on knowledge of actual items, with literary passages copying each other and by doing so, increasing the aura of this fabled product of the past. Its colour was said 'to approach the blue of the sky after rain', and agate was reputed to be mixed in the glaze. Although in the Song only selected pieces are supposed to have ended up at the court, whereas pieces rejected by the court were allowed to be sold, examples do not seem to have been available even to copy. In spite of its towering fame that surpassed that of the fabled guan and ge wares of the south, no copies of Ru were made in the Ming dynasty by the Jingdezhen porcelain kilns, which imitated anything of earlier periods that was deemed worthwhile, and certainly guan and ge. It remained for the Yongzheng Emperor (r. 1723-35) in the Qing dynasty to revive the Ru style. An inventory of the seventh year of Yongzheng (1729) lists thirty-one Ru wares carefully kept in lacquer boxes, probably imported from Japan, all of them brush washers of various shapes and with various inscriptions (Lin Baiting, 2006, p. 25). Although we do not know for certain whether they had all been correctly identified, many of them are described as having inscriptions and can thus be matched to pieces extant in Taipei today. And these were not the only Ru vessels held in the palace storerooms. The Emperor sent originals of various types from the palace in Beijing to the porcelain kilns in south China to have them copied, or else to hold them up as standards of quality and stimulants for inspiration. In a list of different porcelains ordered to be made for the Emperor, preserved in the Jiangxi tongzhi [Annals of Jiangxi] of 1732, two types of Ru ware are recorded to be copied at Jingdezhen from Song originals: 'Uncrackled Ru glaze with copper-coloured paste, copied from the colour of the glaze of two pieces of the Song dynasty', and 'Ru glaze with fish-roe crackle of copper-coloured paste, copied from the colours of the glaze of a piece of the Song dynasty sent from the imperial palace' (Bushell, Oriental Ceramic Art: Illustrated by Examples from the Collection of W.T. Walters, New York, 1896; reprint London, 1981, pp. 194f.). Not only Ru copies were produced, however, but a whole range of vessels with various greenish glazes was inspired by Ru. The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-95) contributed to the fame of the ware by composing poems on Ru and having them engraved on pieces from the imperial storerooms. At least twenty extant Ru pieces bear his inscriptions, although he did not always correctly identify them. Of eighteen different poems composed for Ru pieces, only two actually mention Ru ware. One of the Yongzheng Emperor's copies even seems to have fooled his son, as the Qianlong Emperor had a lengthy poem inscribed on it, taking it for a Song original (China. The Three Emperors 1662 – 1795, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005, cat. no. 197). Yet the Song original sent by his father to Jingdezhen to be copied (fig. 1) must have been one of his favourites, too, since he had a special wooden stand made for it provided with a small drawer to hold a miniature album of his own paintings, calligraphies and seals. In the West, the identity of Ru ware was long unknown. In 1915, when R.L. Hobson wrote his seminal work Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, he still stated (p. 52) "Though no authenticated example of Ju [Ru] ware is known in Europe, it is impossible to ignore a factory whose productions were unanimously acclaimed by Chinese writers as the cream of the Sung [Song] wares." It was the International Exhibition of Chinese Art at the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1935/6, which brought some enlightenment about this unknown ware as the Chinese Government had lent ten examples identified as Ru. In China many attempts had been made to locate the kiln site, but it was only in 1986 that kilns considered to be the official Ru manufactories were identified at Qingliangsi, Baofeng, Henan province. A large number of sherds belonging to typical Ru official ware vessels were recovered. Remnants from the Baofeng kilns show that the potters also made ordinary, non-official wares, and that they were more ambitious than the extant items let one to believe. Whereas virtually all extant pieces of Ru official ware are small and plain, experiments were made with many complicated sculptural forms, openwork designs, and detailed engraved decoration, of which no complete examples may, however, ever have left the kilns. Although other more recently excavated kiln sites are now sometimes mentioned in this context as the possible official kilns of the Northern Song period, in particular the Zhanggongxiang kilns located nearby, at Ruzhou, also in Henan province, finds from those sites do not match extant pieces of what traditionally is called Ru ware. _________________________________________________________ Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Clark's Ru Guanyao Brush Washer Regina Krahl The present flower-shaped bowl is – arguably – the most desirable piece of Ru official ware still in private hands. Among extant pieces of Ru ware, it is remarkable in three respects: first for its glaze, perhaps the most attractive colour, structure and texture available; second for its rare shape, with its six delicate, sharp points subtly accentuating the glaze colour; and third for its illustrious provenance, the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Clark being one of the most noteworthy ever assembled in the West. The greatest asset of any piece of Ru ware is obviously its glaze. Small glazed test pieces discovered at the kiln sites and equally forming part of the Sir Percival David Collection attest to the high degree of care taken in the firing of Ru wares. It was the glaze that got ravishing reviews from connoisseurs of former dynasties, giving rise to poetic descriptions such as 'approaching the blue of the sky after rain'. In this respect, the present piece can stand up to the highest expectations. Yet Ru glazes vary widely, probably more so than those of any other Song green-glazed stonewares. Textual records since the times of Cao Zhao, who wrote the Ge gu yao lun [Essential Criteria of Antiquities] in 1388, made a clear distinction between pieces with and without crackle (often referred to as 'crab's claw markings') and invariably ranked the non-crackled variety much higher ("... those without markings are better still."). In the list of thirty-one Ru wares in the imperial palace, drawn up in the Yongzheng period, only one circular washer is singled out as being without crackle. Since crackled Ru ware is much more common, a crackled glaze is often thought to be characteristic. In fact virtually all Ru glazes show some form of crazing; but whereas this becomes a prominent feature in a translucent glaze, it remains subliminal in an opaque glaze. It is this rare even, monochrome appearance of opaque Ru ware that Chinese connoisseurs, imperial or otherwise, unanimously preferred. Only one piece in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is said to fit this description and is rated as "unique in the world" (fig. 1): it is the narcissus bowl that was specially selected by the Yongzheng Emperor to be copied at Jingdezhen, and by the Qianlong Emperor to be associated with a booklet of his own paintings and writings. Because of its extraordinary even glaze, Sir Percival David reputedly found it difficult to accept this piece as a Song original rather than a Qing copy, when it was sent to the Royal Academy of Arts, London, for the 1935/6 exhibition (Lin Baiting, 2006, p. 24 and cat. no. 7). The bluish-green glaze of our present washer, with its even milky appearance clearly falls into this category of the most highly ranked 'un-crackled' Ru glazes. In literary sources, even down to the Qianlong Emperor's poems, there is frequent reference to agate having been used in the composition of the glaze. This statement is still not fully explained, other than by giving the ware extra cachet by making it particularly precious. Agate was in fact mined nearby and is still unearthed in that area; yet according to Rose Kerr and Nigel Wood its inclusion in the glaze would have given "no real technical advantage but did no harm either" (Science and Civilisation in China, vol.5: Chemistry and Chemical Technology, part XII: Ceramic Technology, Cambridge, 2004, p.606). This finely potted six-petalled flower-shaped bowl, probably intended for washing brushes after writing, is reminiscent first and foremost of contemporary lacquer forms, but similar shapes were also produced by other northern kilns. It is particularly rare among Ru wares, where only one other companion piece is recorded, formerly the pair to the present piece and now in the collection of the British Museum, London (fig. 2). It would seem to be the most desirable shape among Ru pieces still in private hands, all others being plain circular dishes or washers. Even at the kiln site sherds of related 'melon-lobed' shape are said to have been exceedingly rare, and only one slightly smaller example, reconstructed from fragments but only partially preserved, has been published (Fang & Xin, 2008, p. 83, fig. 54: 8 and col. pl. 96, figs. 1 and 3). Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Clark of Fulmer in Berkshire formed their fabled collection mainly between the 1920s and 1940s, before Alfred Clark's death in 1950. He was an active supporter of the Oriental Ceramic Society and directly involved in the preparation of the 1935/6 exhibition in London to which he lent five dozen pieces. Asked whose collection Sir Percival David considered most highly, Lady David in an interview in 1992 replied "I think the Clark's", "The collection, I would say, was one of the finest. It was small, formed by two people with extremely good taste.... They... had a little room upstairs in which they kept their Song pieces in showcases around the walls ..."(Anthony Lin Hua-Tien, 'An Interview with Lady David', Orientations, April 1992, pp. 56-63). This washer was one of a pair owned by Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Clark. While the companion piece (fig. 2) was donated by the couple to the British Museum in 1936, Mrs. Clark, who survived her husband until 1976, seems to have held on to the present one until old age. It came to Japan sometime in the 1970s, where it has been kept with due respect ever since in paulownia wood double boxes. __________________________________________________________ The Worldwide Patrimony of Ru Official Wares Regina Krahl Today the worldwide patrimony of heirloom pieces of Ru official ware that can still be traced comprises only seventy-nine items. Virtually all of them are in Museum collections. Only six vessels are remaining in private hands besides the present piece: three of them plain circular washers, and three shallow dishes of which one is reduced in size (figs. 3-8). In addition, discarded specimens have been excavated from the kiln site, but mostly in fragmentary state. In 1958 G. St. G. M. Gompertz compiled a list of thirty-one pieces of Ru ware outside of China, in addition to the ten sent by the Chinese Government to the London exhibition 1935/6; in 1987 Wang Qingzheng et al. published a list of sixty-five heirloom pieces of Ru official ware worldwide, which was updated to sixty-nine in a revised publication in 1991. Both lists, however, included pieces which today would no longer qualify as such. In a recent exhibition catalogue Degawa Tetsuro compiled a list of seventy pieces and published each one with information about its whereabouts, size and one or two images (Degawa, 2009, pp. 279-87). To this invaluable and reliable inventory, the largest ever published, can be added:    Two further small dishes in the National Palace Museum, Taipei; one further small dish in the British Museum, London; one further brush washer in the Röhsska Museum, Gothenburg (one of a pair in the Museum); one brush washer from the Barlow Collection, now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; one brush washer in the Meiyintang collection; one brush washer from the Chang Foundation, Taipei; one dish from Stephen Junkunc III, now in the Au Bak Ling collection; one cut-down dish, also from the Junkunc III collection. Two further pieces had been recorded in earlier publications (1923 and 1942), but are unaccounted for since and may no longer be extant. Of these seventy-nine recorded items, twenty-one are in the National Palace Museum, Taipei; seventeen in the British Museum, London; fifteen in the Palace Museum, Beijing, eight in the Shanghai Museum, a pair in the Röhsska Museum, Gothenburg, Sweden, and single items in the National Museum of China, Beijing; the Tianjin Municipal Art Museum; the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka; the Hong Kong Museum of Art; the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the St. Louis Art Museum; the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Only six pieces of Ru official ware were ever sold at auction: The bottle from the Eumorfopoulos collection, now in the Sir Percival David collection in the British Museum, London, was sold in our London rooms, 28th May 1940, lot 135.     The narcissus bowl with metal rim, later in the Ataka collection and now in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, was sold in our London rooms, 17th March 1959, lot 26, and again 24th February 1970, lot 1. The circular brush washer from the K.S. Lo Foundation in the Hong Kong Museum of Art was sold in our London rooms 15th April 1980, lot 140.     The circular brush washer later in the Chang Foundation, Taipei, now in a private collection, was sold in our London rooms 15th June 1982, lot 252. The dish from the Stephen Junkunc III collection, now in the collection of Au Bak Ling was sold at Christie's New York, 3rd December 1992, lot 276 (included in the exhibition 100 Masterpieces of Imperial Chinese Ceramics from the Au Bak Ling Collection, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1998, no. 1). A fire-damaged dish with its rim cut down, also from the Stephen Junkunc III collection, was sold at Christie's New York, 29th March 2006, lot 401. "...It remains to this day the supreme expression of the art of the Chinese potter..." (James C.Y. Watt in Wen C. Fong & James C.Y. Watt, Possessing the Past, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1996, p. 238). __________________________________________________________ Selected Bibliography on Ru Official Ware Ju and Kuan Wares. Imperial Wares of the Sung Dynasty, Related Wares and Derivatives of Later Date, The Oriental Ceramic Society, London, 1952 G. St. G. M. Gompertz, Chinese Celadon Wares, London, 1958 Wang Qingzheng, Fan Dongqing and Zhou Lili, Ruyao de faxian / The Discovery of Ru Kiln, Shanghai, 1987, revised English edition, Hong Kong, 1991 Ye Zhemin and Ye Peilan, eds, Ruyao juzhen / Collection of Porcelain Treasures of the Ru Kiln, Beijing, 2001 Zhao Qingyun, ed., Songdai Ruyao [Ru ware of the Song dynasty], Zhengzhou, 2003 Lin Baiting, ed., Da guan. Bei Song Ruyao tezhan / Grand View: Special Exhibition of Ju Ware from the Northern Sung Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2006 Fang Yanming & Xin Ge, eds, Baofeng Qingliangsi Ruyao / Ru Yao at Qingliangsi in Baofeng, Zhengzhou, 2008 Henan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, ed., Ruyao yu Zhanggongxiangyao chutu ciqi / Ceramic Art Unearthed from the Ru Kiln Site and Zhanggongxiang Kiln Site, Beijing, 2008 Sun Xinmin & Wang Guangyao, Henan xin chu Song Jin ming yao ciqi tezhan [Special exhibition of ceramics from famous Song and Jin kilns recently excavated in Henan], Poly Art Museum, Beijing, 2009 Degawa Tetsuro, Hokusō Joyō seiji: Kōko hakkutsu seika ten / Northern Song Ru Ware. Recent Archaeological Findings, Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 2009

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2012-04-04
Hammer price
Show price

Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers)

Fred Hoffman, Ph.D Fred Hoffman worked closely with Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1982-84, during the artist’s residency in Venice, California.  During this time Fred Hoffman produced most of the artist’s limited edition silkscreen prints, and facilitated the artist’s production of the 1984 unique silk screen paintings. In 2005 Fred Hoffman co-curated the artist’s last American retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum, and is currently preparing a book The Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat. One month after opening his first one-person exhibition in the United States at the Annina Nosei Gallery in New York City in March 1982, Jean-Michel Basquiat ventured to Los Angeles where he presented his work at the Larry Gagosian Gallery in West Hollywood. Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) was one of the featured works in this historic exhibition, occupying the main east wall of the gallery. Accompanying this work in the exhibition were Untitled (Black Tar and Feathers), 1982 on the facing west wall along with Six Crimee, 1982, Untitled (LA Painting), 1982, Untitled (Two Heads on Gold), 1982, and Untitled (Baptism), 1982. As with the artist’s first show in New York, Basquiat's Los Angeles exhibition quickly sold out. Collectors, the art public and even critics were overwhelmed by the arrival of this original artistic voice whose work exuded not just an exciting new content but unparalleled confidence and conviction. Basquiat's Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) was a break-through work for the artist. It announced the arrival of the fully mature artist, both stylistically and thematically, in full command of both his means of expression and of the images, themes and subjects which would occupy him throughout his career. At the time of its execution it was a key work for the artist. In all regards - structurally, pictorially and iconographically - the breakthroughs achieved in Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) became important precedents for many of his subsequent works. In terms of the work’s physical structure, Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) was the first truly complex work built entirely by the artist from raw building materials. As such, Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) became the catalyst for the artist to explore many truly unique pictorial strategies. Many of these were nothing less than breathtaking in their complexity and inventiveness. Equally, it was humbling to recognize this young artist’s capacity to not only take on, but truly be in command of many universally recognized themes and subjects. Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) is constructed from a number of separate wood panels which have been attached together forming two main rectangular picture surfaces joined at the center line of the painting. The top half of the picture consists of three wooden panels, each supported at their edges on the reverse by wooden slat supports resembling stretcher beams. The lower half of the picture is comprised of one panel, with similar wood slat supports, again resembling stretcher beams, attached to the four front edges of the wood panel. The two halves (top and bottom) which comprise the overall picture support are attached to each other by bolts through the horizontal beams which meet at the central horizon line of the picture support. The overall impression of the physical picture support is of two contrasting surfaces. While the top surface projects forward, the bottom half, essentially framed by wood slats at the edge, recedes away from the viewer. From an examination of the physical nature of this picture support it is clear that Jean-Michel Basquiat gave this elaborately constructed surface a great deal of consideration well in advance of the application of any paint or imagery.  This is hardly a picture support that he stumbled upon or that he retrieved from the detritus of his daily lived experience on the streets of New York. Rather, Basquiat executed a highly considered structure, which not only supported but enhanced a sophisticated set of themes and subjects which were of intense concern to this young artist seeking to express a personal as well as universal world view. Basquiat would create a comparable picture support in Untitled (Black Tar and Feathers), the companion painting to Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers). Together, these two works announced Basquiat’s intent in exploring a wide range of innovative new solutions to the traditional picture support.  Immediately on the heels of these two pictures, and in contrast to their construction-like esthetic, for the remainder of 1982 and continuing into 1983, Basquiat produced a series of seemingly flimsily-constructed picture supports, essentially challenging notions of what constitutes a work of art. The artist continued his pursuit of  even more elaborately constructed picture supports early the following year, when in response to a decision to tear down the fencing material surrounding the outdoor patio of his Venice, California studio, Basquiat turned the slats of wood fencing into a unique group of truly ambitious picture supports. One example of these Venice pictures is Gold Griot in which the wood fencing picture support not only accommodates but dramatically enhances Basquiat’s presentation of a truly heroic black male figure. It is almost impossible to imagine the daring breakthrough achieved in the Venice fencing supports without the backdrop of the structural innovation achieved in Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers). Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) distinguishes itself for its bold pictorial ambition. Nowhere in the artist’s oeuvre prior to Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) do we encounter this range and diversity of pictorial techniques as well as the confidence to pursue untested new means of paint application. Simply, Basquiat saw this work as his opportunity to test the limits of his means of expression. The top section of Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) more or less conforms to the artist’s personalized yet innovative method of operation. Basquiat started this half of the picture by covering a significant portion of the picture support with Xerox-generated images on paper which were collaged directly to the wood surface.  Consistent with the artist’s practice in other paintings, many of the Xerox images are repeated over and over throughout the surface. Many of these images were subsequently covered over with a thin coat of an intense and highly unusual hue of yellow paint. In choosing this particular hue, Basquiat sought to seduce and at the same time challenge the senses. The particular color Basquiat had chosen for the top half of this work is, in fact, unique to his oeuvre and makes it evident how much the artist needed to be recognized as one of the truly rare and gifted colorists of not only his generation but in the entire history of contemporary art. Having collaged down a group of  Xerox-generated drawings, Basquiat went back into many of them with dense, heavily worked oil stick, building up full figural images, heads and symbols (such as his highly recognized crown). In other areas the artist essentially obliterated these images with fully abstract passages of paint in acrylic. Consistent with many other notable works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, the artist built up the top portion of this work progressively and responsively - laying down an image, partially obliterating it and building it back up until the entire pictorial surface reads as a cacophony of highly charged images, lines, shapes and colors all harmoniously interacting with each other. In contrast, the bottom portion of Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) conforms to more traditional expressionist pictorial practice. While the artist has applied Xerox collaged images in two places, this portion of the picture is almost entirely built up by a range of paint strokes, some executed with brush, some with the wood tip of the brush and others directly with the fingers as well as the hands of the artist. This portion of the work distinguishes itself for its daring application of loose, free, quick and decisive gestural strokes. Taken together, the directness as well as immediacy of these differing methods of paint application demonstrates a new found confidence in this young artist’s means of expression. At the same time, they make it evident that the young Basquiat was keenly aware of the historical precedents for many of his chosen techniques. We are especially reminded of many of the bold, even brash pictorial practices introduced by Robert Rauschenberg in his early Combine paintings, especially those dating from 1954 such as Collection (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). While the top portion of Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) brings to mind Willem de Kooning’s integration of figure and abstract passages of paint, the lower portion of the work, especially in its use of a highly charged palette of orange, yellow and red, as well as the repetition of dark extenuated circular forms, suggests an awareness of the breakthroughs achieved by Rauschenberg in his early Combines. The expressive, free, gestural brushwork contained within the “framing” edge in the bottom portion of Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) is especially noteworthy as it is rarely, if at all found in any of the other work from this seminal moment in the artist’s oeuvre. As will become apparent, Basquiat’s new found pictorial strategy was the direct result of the artist’s intent in asserting a subject matter which would be read and experienced as significantly contrasting with the associations and meanings assigned to the “forward” projecting pictorial field in the top half of the picture. Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) is a prime example of many of the most important themes and subjects which were of concern to Basquiat throughout his career. Notably, the top portion of the picture evidences the artist’s practice of transforming individuals into heroic icons. Here the artist depicts a group of figures whom he would have observed  and  encountered on a daily basis on the streets of New York City. In this painting Basquiat portrays these individuals both as full length figures as well as heads. Precisely at this point in his career we find Basquiat focused on the presentation of members of his “crew” - those individuals whom he engaged with on a daily basis. Six Crimee, exhibited alongside Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) at the Larry Gagosian Gallery, portrays another group of similar images. In some instances, Basquiat even captured the physical features of a recognizable personage. Such is the case in one of the three standing figures in Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) where the artist has depicted the head of Henry Geldzahler, then one of the impresarios of the New York art world, on top of the body of a standing black male figure. While portraiture and especially self-portraiture, will increasingly occupy a larger place in Basquiat's pictorial output, the artist’s primary concern in Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) is the presentation of a compelling iconography able to proclaim a new found freedom and liberation for the young black male. This becomes evident in the arm- hand gestures, as well as stance and posture of these figures. Taken all together, the individuals depicted by Basquiat convey confidence and conviction. These first iconic figures will quickly evolve into even more authoritative representations of the young black male. One only needs to think of Self Portrait, 1982, or Profit I, 1982, to witness the rapid evolution in Basquiat’s depiction of the young black male. The figures depicted in Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) followed immediately on the heels of the small series of paintings of single black male figures such as Irony of Negro Policeman, 1981, each of whom is portrayed as engaged in a specific kind of work or labor. In contrast, Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) focuses on that symbolic moment when Basquiat’s young black heroic figures have arrived, strutting and manifesting their strength and independence - holding their own on a hard won center stage. As such these figures are an expression of authority. Making this implicit, Basquiat has accompanied two of his figures by crowns hovering directly over their heads.  These are not, however, symbols of kings or divinity. Rather, the combination of crown and heroic posture proclaim a new found freedom and liberation from the social, economic and political constraints traditionally identified with the young black male. As further evidence of Basquiat’s assertion of liberation and freedom he has accompanied the two centrally positioned figures with the scales of justice directly below their feet; and off toward the right side of these figures he has placed a hovering angel. Taken all together, these figures and their accompanying iconographic references speak of a rising above the pain, suffering and degradation associated with the act of being “tarred and feathered.” Throughout Jean-Michel Basquiat’s career, political and social commentary functioned as a springboard in order to reveal deeper truths about the individual; and by extension, became one of the artist’s most viable means of alluding to as well as characterizing a larger “world view.” Nowhere is this more evident than in Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers). In fact, this seminal work represents one of the earliest and most fully realized works in which Basquiat was able to turn his depiction of the realities of the black man in urban white America into an expression of transformation and a liberated sense of self. The artist made this evident in the contrasts he established between the bottom and top portions of the work. These distinctions include the physical differences in each half of the picture support; in how he has pictorially resolved each portion of the work; and lastly in the image content depicted in each half of the work.  In regard to all three, the distinctions created between the two halves of the painting establish a duality, which in turn alludes to two fundamentally different ways of engaging or defining human experience. By extension, the assertion of these contrasts and distinctions became Basquiat’s means of symbolically implying transcendence - a rising above the suffering implied in the historical/social connotations of “Tar and Feathers.” The bottom half of the work, in its tactile as well as pictorial immediacy alludes to the realm of man’s physical being - the realities of his condition. In contrast, the top portion of this work presents figures (and their accompanying symbols) who have risen above the physical realm. Hovering in an “other worldly” aura of radiating yellow, the personages of Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) are liberated from worldly constraints. Having transcended physical as well as emotional suffering, Basquiat’s figures rest in a recognition of a deeper sense of self. Lastly, and retrospectively, the “world view” as articulated by Jean-Michel Basquiat in Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) prophetically served as the backdrop for some of the key themes as well as iconographic strategies employed by the artist in some of his important last works of art.  While Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers) does not allude to death, the dualism implicit in the structuring as well as iconography of the work provided Basquiat with a foundation for the basic pictorial strategies employed in important late works such as Eroica I and II and especially in Pegasus. Santa Monica, California, September 2013 © Fred Hoffman

  • USAUSA
  • 2013-11-14
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L'Amazone

L'Amazone is an early masterpiece which counts among Modigliani’s most famous images. While his subject is presented as an elegant horsewoman, her arched brow, pursed lips and smoldering gaze create a powerful erotic charge. The sharp angles and smooth curves of her upper body fill the canvas, as the sitter’s breasts and buttocks swell beneath her tightly-fitting riding coat. A femme fatale to rival his most revealing nudes, L'Amazone reveals Modigliani’s deeply passionate artistic vision. The subject of this painting is Baroness Marguerite de Hasse de Villers, a glamorous socialite and the lover of Paul Alexandre’s younger brother Jean, who commissioned this portrait of his girlfriend in 1909.  Marguerite poses in her riding habit, with her gloved hand on hip and her sly glance at the artist transgressing the boundary of her rarefied status.   Sensational as it is, the portrait proved to be one of Modigliani’s greatest challenges.  Progress was slow from the start, with a frustrated Modigliani repeatedly threatening to destroy what he had already completed.  “The portrait seems to be coming along well, but I’m afraid it will probably change ten times again before it’s finished,” Jean reported to his brother Paul (quoted in Meryle Secrest, Modigliani, A Life, New York, 2011, p. 124).  One of the major preoccupations was Marguerite’s jacket, which Modigliani continuously reworked and recolored from red to yellow-ochre.  The resulting image was so astonishingly avant-garde that Marguerite apparently did not recognize herself.   But the prescient Paul Alexandre, whose portrait was also painted by Modigliani during this time, instantly saw the genius in this picture and acquired it for his own collection. Modigliani’s preliminary drawings for L’Amazone, also in the Lewyt Collection, pay close attention to Marguerite’s fine-boned facial features and the elongation of her jaw line (figs. 3, 4, 5).  The mask-like angularity of the face immediately calls to mind the work of Picasso, whose 1905 portrait of Gertrude Stein, yet another strong-willed aristocratic woman of the era, shares many commonalities with the present work (figs 1, 2).  Writing about Picasso’s legendary portrait, his biographer Pierre Daix observes that Picasso “reduces her face to a mask, to contrasts of volume lacking any detail of either identification or psychological expression.  That summer, anticipating Matisse, Picasso was the first to take amplification and formal purification to such an extreme.  And the faces of all his figure-paintings of the period display a similar reduction to essentials, to structure.  Was this what struck Modigliani?” (excerpt in Secrest, op. cit., p. 179). Modigliani’s stylization of the Baroness can clearly be linked to the works he saw at Picasso’s studio at the Bateau Lavoir (figs. 10, 11), as well as their mutual interest in African tribal art, but it is also indicative of the influence of another artistic colleague, who was present at the modelling sessions for this portrait.   The first sketches for L’Amazone were made at Cité Falguière, the Montparnasse studio that he shared with Constantin Brancusi (fig. 7), and the highly sculptural details of Marguerite’s face in these drawings and the finished portrait belie the environmental influences at play whilst the artist was bringing this portrait to life (figs. 6, 8). One of the notable features of the present work is Modigliani’s approach to rendering the potent sensual appeal of a woman who was far removed from the artist’s own social realm.  The Baroness was introduced to the artist by her lover Jean Alexandre, the younger brother of Modigliani’s patron Paul Alexandre (fig. 1), who acted both as a patron and guardian figure for the wayward artist.  Jean was charged with supervising Modigliani’s progress while Paul was out of town, since Modigliani was too often distracted by drink and debauchery to complete projects by his own accord.  The present work, as well as a portrait of Jean, were two of the major works that occupied Modigliani during this time.  We know from Jean’s letters to his brother that they were extremely difficult for him to complete.  Indeed, Modigliani’s working methods during his sessions with his models were unorthodox, and his female models particularly suffered his eccentricities.  His devilish good looks and bacchanalian temperament sometimes intimidated his models, and his unprofessional antics would make for a lively, if not unnerving, afternoon in the studio.  One might imagine how the Baroness barely endured their sessions together, given that she ultimately lost patience with him. Lunia Czechowska, another one of his frequent models, described how Modigliani’s joie de vivre got the better of him the first time he painted her portrait:  “Gradually as the session went on and the hours passed, I was no longer afraid of him.  I see him still in shirtsleeves, his hair all ruffled trying to fix my features on the canvas.  From time to time he extended his hand toward a bottle of cheap table wine (vieux marc).  I could see the alcohol taking effect: he was so excited he was talking to me in Italian.  He painted with such violence that the painting fell over on his head has he leaned forward to see me better.  I was terrified.  Ashamed of having frightened me, he looked at me sweetly and began to sing Italian songs to make me forget the incident” (Pierre Sichel, A Biography of Amedeo Modigliani, New York, 1967, p. 325). The more socially remote Marguerite was much less accommodating.   The young woman grew increasingly impatient after several weeks of posing in the draughty open studio space shared with Brancusi, so sessions were relocated to the more private environs of Jean’s apartment.  After more hours of work and with no end in sight, she threatened to quit and gave Modigliani an ultimatum of one week, forcing the artist to a conclusion.  Jeffrey Meyers describes L’Amazone as a "masterpiece" in his biography of the artist:  “Her high cheek bones narrow to her dainty chin as her wide shoulders narrow to her waist, the curve of her sunken cheek echoes the curve from her shoulder to her waist, and a dark diamond shape (echoing the shape of her torso) appears between the sharp angle of her left arm and her svelt body” (Jeffrey Meyers, Modigliani, A Life, Orlando, 2006, p. 52).  The resulting image is a glamorous and provocative interpretation of female sexual potency. “More than anything else, Modigliani was a portrait painter” the historian Werner Schmalenbach wrote in his well-known essay on the artist’s portraiture.  Schmalenbach explained that Modigliani’s approach to portrait painting was one of cool distance and keen insight, a combination which enabled him to render the “likeness” of his sitter.  It is this effect that he achieves with the present work and that he would later incorporate into the most successful portraits of his later years:  “They are unequivocally portraits and, contrary to all the artistic precepts of the age, they possess a documentary value. Even a portrait such as that of Max Jacob, for all its formalization and stylization, is still a likeness – incontestably so, since it is actually based on a photograph.  At the same time, however the sitter’s individuality is reduced to the extent that the stylization creates the effect of a mask.  This brings African masks to mind, but here there is nothing alien, mysterious or demonic about the mask; it masks nothing.  On the contrary, the sitter has sacrificed to the form some of his individuality, his emotions, his affective life, just as the paint, for his part, keeps emotion well away from that form.  He looks at this fellow man with great coolness.  The warmth of the painting lies solely in its colour.  This combination of cool detachment with painterly warmth lends the painting – like many other works by the artist – its own specific “temperature” (Werner Schmalenbach, “The Portraits”, L’ange au visage grave (exhibition catalogue), Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 2002-03, pp. 42-43). Signed Modigliani (lower left)

  • USAUSA
  • 2013-05-07
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Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps

Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps comes from the collection of Max Silberberg (1878-1942), an industrialist based in Breslau and the owner of one of the finest pre-war collections of 19th and 20th Century art in Germany. Alongside magnificent examples of classic French Impressionism by Manet, Monet, Renoir and Sisley, Silberberg also collected masterpieces of Realism and Post-Impressionism including several works by Delacroix and Courbet together with paintings by Cézanne and van Gogh. A prominent member of the business community and a generous patron of Jewish causes, by 1935 Silberberg was forced to relinquish his public roles, his company was Aryanised and sold, and his house was occupied by the SS. The collector was forced by the Nazi authorities to consign most of his wonderful collection, including the present work, to a series of auctions at Paul Graupe’s auction house in Berlin in 1935 and 1936. Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps was subsequently acquired by John and Frances L. Loeb, passionate supporters of Jewish and cultural charitable organisations. In 1985, the Loebs promised the painting to The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, in honour of its founder Teddy Kollek and on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, and bequeathed it to The Israel Museum in 1997 through the American Friends of The Israel Museum. In 2000 the museum returned the present work to the heir of Max Silberberg, who – as a gesture of appreciation for the museum’s exemplary efforts on her behalf - allowed the work to remain on public display in Jerusalem until her death in 2013. Camille Pissarro - Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps, painted in 1897, is an outstanding work from one of the most important series of Pissarro’s urban views. The excitement and spectacle of the city at the fin-de-siècle is brilliantly evoked by the artist’s handling of paint and the elegant composition. The remarkable scope and variety of the Boulevard Montmartre series reveals Pissarro’s approach to the systematic exploration of a series of views of the same subject. Focused upon a single compositional device – the magnificent procession of the Boulevard Montmartre – the artist thoroughly investigated the different atmospheric conditions of the street. This variety is illustrated by two distinct determinations - the weather and the activity represented. Thus there are festive afternoons (fig. 1) as well as comparatively tranquil ones, sparsely populated streets in winter and conversely busy scenes, as well as a view of the street at night (fig. 2). Joachim Pissarro writes: ‘As his most systematic and homogenous compositions, and his most clearly focused series, as well as one of his most rapidly achieved, the boulevard Montmartre series addresses elementary issues inherent in serial procedures. While representing a single motif seen under different combinations of light, weather and seasonal change, Pissarro’s approach to this series was capable of producing an infinite number of possibilities’ (J. Pissarro in The Impressionist and the City: Pissarro's Series Paintings (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 60). The artist accomplished this triumphant series by working methodically for over two months at the window of his hotel room from dawn till dusk, with only two and a half hours for lunch. Pissarro’s series paintings of Paris in the late 1890s are amongst the supreme achievements of Impressionism, taking their place alongside Claude Monet’s series of Rouen Cathedral, poplars and grainstacks and the later waterlilies. For an artist who throughout his earlier career was primarily celebrated as a painter of rural life rather than the urban environment, the Boulevard Montmartre, Gare Saint-Lazare and Jardin des Tuileries series confirmed his position as the preeminent painter of the City. However, Richard R. Brettell also argues that in contrast to Monet’s work, for Pissarro ‘no “series” is quite like another’ and was not initially conceived to be hung together. ‘By contrast, it seems as though Pissarro ‘tested the waters’ of urban view painting, found them temptingly warm and stayed in them less as a result of a grand design than because he was enjoying the experience. One senses little of the intense struggle to redefine painting that occupied Monet in his series. Rather, Pissarro appears almost to have been liberated by urban view painting’ (R. R. Brettell in ibid., p. xv). Pissarro’s pictures of the City coincided with an important development in his handling of paint. Discussing the artist’s approach to painting urban scenes, Karen Levitov writes: ‘Pissarro used the word “passage” to explain his latest technical experimentations, which moved him away from what he increasingly found to be the harsh contrasts and lack of spontaneity in the Neo-Impressionist technique. Passage can also suggest the modern transitions – in geographic location, artistic methodology, and political ideology – embodied by Pissarro’s pathways’ (K. Levitov, Camille Pissarro. Impressions of City & Country (exhibition catalogue), The Jewish Museum, New York, 2007, pp. 10-11). The inexpressive nature of the pointillist technique concerned Pissarro, and by the late 1880s he sought a compromise between the vibrancy and sensibility: ‘I think continually of some way of painting without the dot. I hope to achieve this but I have not been able to solve the problem of dividing the pure tone without harshness… How can one combine the purity and simplicity of the dot with the fullness, suppleness, liberty, spontaneity and freshness of sensation postulated by our impressionist art?' (letter from the artist to his son Lucien Pissarro, 6th September 1888, quoted in John Rewald & Lucien Pissarro (eds.), Camille Pissarro: Letters to his son Lucien, Boston, 2002, p. 132). The works produced in the following decade represent the successful reconciliation between tonal purity and atmospheric effect. Pissarro’s richly painted canvases, such as the present work, are imbued with a sensual appreciation of brushwork and texture. On 8th February 1897 Pissarro wrote from Eragny to his son Lucien informing him of his return to the city: ‘I am returning to Paris again on the tenth, to do a series of the boulevard des Italiens. Last time I did several small canvases – about 13 x 10 inches – of the rue Saint-Lazare, effects of rain, snow, etc., with which Durand was very pleased. A series of paintings of the boulevards seems to him a good idea, and it will be interesting to overcome the difficulties. I engaged a large room at the Grand Hôtel de Russie, 1 rue Drouot, from which I can see the whole sweep of boulevards almost as far as the Porte Saint-Denis, anyway as far as the boulevard Bonne Nouvelle [fig. 3]’ (Letter from the artist to his son, Lucien Pissarro, 8th February 1897, quoted in John Rewald & Lucien Pissarro (eds.), ibid., p. 307). Although he initially planned to dedicate his efforts to depicting the Boulevard des Italiens, problems arose with composition. Writing to his third son, Georges, the artist announced: ‘I have begun my series of Boulevards. I have a splendid motif which I am going to explore under all possible effects [including the present work], to my left; I have another motif, which is terribly difficult: almost as the crow flies, looking over the carriages, buses and people milling about the large trees and big houses which I have to set up right – it’s tricky… It goes without saying I must resolve it all the same’ (letter from the artist to his son Georges Manzana-Pissarro, 13th February 1897, in Janine Bailly-Herzberg, op. cit., p. 325).  This troublesome motif was eventually resolved into two works entitled Le Boulevard des Italiens: matin (fig. 4) and Le Boulevard des Italiens, après-midi, both of which emphasised the bustling energy of the street adjacent to his hotel. The ‘splendid motif’ was the farthest east of Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s Grand Boulevards – The Boulevard Montmartre. As part of the ambitious reforms Napoleon III introduced during the 1860s, Haussmann was charged with masterminding a radical reconfiguration of Paris. Many parts of the medieval city were razed to provide space for an extensive grid of straight roads, avenues and boulevards. The ‘Haussmannisation’ of Paris which is celebrated today as the precursor to modern urban planning, met with admiration and scorn in equal measure at the time - not least because of the staggering 2.5 billion francs spent on the project. However, in another letter to his son Lucien, Pissarro extolled the artistic possibilities presented by the new urban landscape: ‘It may not be very aesthetic, but I’m delighted to be able to have a go at Paris streets, which are said to be ugly, but are [in fact] so silvery, so bright, so vibrant with life […] they’re so totally modern!’ (letter from the artist to his son Lucien Pissarro, 15th December 1897, quoted in J. Pissarro & C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., p. 728). These sentiments are also illustrated in the works of his contemporaries, such as Claude Monet and Gustave Caillebotte, whose views of Paris captured the grandeur and commotion of the modern city (figs. 5 & 6). Haussmann’s renovations provided the perfect setting for a burgeoning middle-class, whose appetite for modern painting far outstripped that of the established aristocracy. Pissarro’s views of Paris focused principally on the new vistas, which not only proved highly successful artistically but also critically and commercially. As Lucien commented upon hearing about his father’s plans to execute a series of street scenes: ‘What a good idea you had to install yourself in Paris, this will make you more successful in the eyes of the Parisians who love only their city, when all’s said and done, not to mention the enjoyment you’ll get from this thoroughly new series’ (quoted in Anne Thorold (ed.), The Letters of Lucien to Camille Pissarro 1883-1903, Oxford, 1993, p. 529). Having encouraged Pissarro to attempt more paintings of the city, Durand-Ruel was delighted by the resulting Boulevard Montmartre series, and bought the majority of the canvases upon completion. The artist held the present work in particularly high esteem; he wrote to Durand-Ruel: ‘I have just received an invitation from the Carnegie Institute for this year’s exhibition: I’ve decided to send them the painting Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps… So please do not sell it’ (letter from the artist to Paul Durand-Ruel, quoted in J. Pissarro & C. Durand-Ruel Snollaerts, op. cit., p. 736). However, his dealer chose to ignore Pissarro’s instructions and sent a later work depicting the Avenue de l’Opéra instead. In 1992 Le Boulevard Montmartre, matinée de printemps was reunited with others from the series in an exhibition held in Dallas, Philadelphia and London which sought to confirm Pissarro's depictions of the Boulevard Montmartre as the greatest and most innovative series of urban landscapes of his œuvre. Signed C. Pissarro and dated 97 (lower left)

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2014-02-05
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Le palais contarini

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 and the subject of this painting, the Palazzo Contarini (fig. 1). 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, Monet and the Mediterranean, New York, 1977, 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). 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 divined a special connection between Turner’s works and Monet’s. Writing in the catalogue for the Turner, Whistler, Monet exhibition, in which the present work was included, 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). In Venice Monet continued to observe, as he had in the views of the river Thames he completed in 1904, how light reflected off a wide stretch of water dissolves and liquefies the solid, uneven surfaces of stone walls. 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 façade, with its arched openings and horizontal divisions, and the rhythmic expanse of water. The glorious late canvases that Turner produced in the early 1840s, such as San Benedetto, Looking towards Fusina (fig. 4), presents a Venice which is transfigured by light. Similarly in Le Palais Contarini, Monet has suffused the very bricks and mortar with amethyst, lilac and cobalt blue. In his introduction to the Bernheim-Jeune exhibition, Octave Mirbeau observed that the atmosphere in Monet's views of Venetian palaces was ‘mixed with colour as though it had passed through a stained-glass window’ (O. Mirbeau, quoted in ibid., p. 206). The Palazzo Contarini is one of the most important early renaissance buildings in Venice, also known as Contarini dal Zaffo. Located in the Dorsoduro district to the north of the city, its celebrated façade is faced by marble and derives its style from Etruscan sources. Although little is known of the early history of the building, the various names bestowed upon it over the past five hundred years have featured some various patronymics, including that of the Manzoni and Polignac families. At the beginning of the 20th century, it housed the salon of the Princess Winnaretta de Polignac, née Singer, who counted amongst her guests Ethel Smyth and Igor Stravinsky. It was the Princess de Polignac who acquired the two outstanding frescoes by Domenico Tiepolo, executed in 1784, from the Palazzo Correr a Santa Fosca, and installed them in the Palazzo Contarini. 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 Daria, Mula, Contarini and the Doge’s Palace (fig. 3). 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 give them 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 few years after the exhibition at Bernheim-Jeune Le Palais Contarini was acquired by Adolph Lewisohn (1849-1938), a German-born businessman who had made a fortune in the United States out of copper mining and investment banking. His great wealth enabled him to create an outstanding collection of art which included celebrated paintings by Van Gogh and Gauguin which now hang, respectively in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Of those pictures that were not bequeathed to his only son Samuel, the remains were given to the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The present painting remained with his family until 1996 when it was acquired by the present owners. Signed Claude Monet and dated 1908 (lower left)

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2013-06-19
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Untitled XXI

“They came, with the artist in his mid-seventies, as the climax of a period in which the paintings...with their massively congested, deeply luminous color, their contrasts between flowing and broken forms, attain at their best a total painterliness in which marks and image coalesce completely and every inch of the canvas quivers with teeming energy" (David Sylvester, About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-1996, London, 2001, pp. 349-350). "De Kooning’s paintings of the Seventies are an annihilation of distance. The close-ups are about closeness, a consuming closeness. These paintings are crystallizations of the experience and amazement of having body and mind dissolve into another who is all delight”  (David Sylvester, About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-1996, London, 2001, pp. 349-350). De Kooning did not strive for resolution in his works; he sought instead to capture the variable quality of life, all in a rush of tactile paint that defied the limits of the canvas just as it shattered the boundary between figuration and abstraction. With the unparalleled Untitled XXI of 1976, the artist reached his formal climax in the clear brilliance of the painting’s electric color palette and the ripe opulence of his brushwork. Through each visceral swathe, smear, drip and blow, the artist here asserts his total mastery of his medium. Thick passages of jubilant yellow and intense red convene with rich, buttery sections of blue and white, creating the impression of breaking ocean waves akin to the artist’s beloved coastal environment in Long Island. Areas of pliable oil paint have here been smeared, scraped, and spattered to create a luscious all-over impasto that roils with an inner cyclonic tempest. Like a Turner seascape, the textural turbulence of de Kooning’s painting catches the viewer in the throes of a whirlwind, waves crashing against the sky with powerful velocity. One cannot help but be absorbed in the fantasy of the painting, consumed by every sensory dimension ensnared in its abstract forms. Light, sound and scent beat across every square-inch of Untitled XXI with an ineffable rhythm: “It is breathtaking to see the traces of the brush racing across the canvas at breakneck speed, groping, raw and sublime, and uniting or overlapping within the space of the canvas. They almost seem to have lost control, driven by an inner dynamic, slobbering, smearing, smudging, spilling, crusted, and spattering, veering away from the whole of the picture. And yet the picture whole, the whole of the painting, is unmistakably present… Such a candid commitment to process, to emergence and inevitable passing, makes this life of ceaseless movement in and through painting essentially heroic and dauntless...” (Bernhard Mendes Bürgi in exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Basel, De Kooning: Paintings 1960-1980, 2005, p. 26). Held in the Taubman Collection for almost four decades and unseen by the public since 1983, this occasion marks the first appearance of Untitled XXI in over a third of a century. Willem de Kooning’s greatest paintings capture the inherent paradox of his aesthetic practice, amply demonstrated by the bold Untitled XXI from 1976. In Untitled XXI, the master painter’s slippery, limpid forms rendered in his soft, pliable pigment oscillate between objective art and abstract art, composed and agitated. During these years, de Kooning amplified the texture of his paintings by thinning oil paint with water, and adding kerosene, benzene or safflower oil as a binding agent. With these adjustments to his material, the medium of paint was thickened and transformed with clay-like viscosity, evoking the fleshy figural bronzes that had previously occupied his practice. From 1969 de Kooning devoted himself primarily to sculpture, producing clay and bronze figures in his first foray into three-dimensional art. De Kooning’s physical reveling in pliable wet clay was transfiguring for him, leading to a renewed celebration of oil painting in works such as Untitled XXI. De Kooning also greatly admired the younger artist, Francis Bacon, whom he had met for dinner in London in 1968 in the company of the critic David Sylvester. Both artists were greatly influenced by the vigorously textured brushwork of Chaïm Soutine, who remarkably infused paint with a sense of physical flesh. Bacon’s allegiance to the human form as his arena for creative exploration would also ring true to de Kooning’s sensual approach to oil paint, as eloquently acknowledged in his famous 1950 quote, “Flesh was the reason oil painting was invented.” Within both mediums, de Kooning pressed the antithetical dialogue between improvisation and control, resulting in a gestural tension that animated his surface to the extreme. When sculpting, de Kooning often closed his eyes while working with clay, allowing touch and not sight to dictate the form. In similar fashion, the physical immediacy of Untitled XXI appears virtually to project off the picture plane and comprises a remarkably sculptural landscape of paint material. In Untitled XXI, the layers of dense, viscous paint attain a sculptural quality, evident in the ridges and curves of impasto that cover the picture. Like Twombly’s esteemed group of Baroque works, de Kooning’s extravagant painting here reaches an erotic climax—his own wild abandon is visible in his brushwork, teeming with a sensual energy in the volume of pigment and impassioned palette. Moreover, the luminous surface is achieved by the artist’s practice of first covering the surface in a layer of lead white paint, which he would then sand until the canvas reached near translucency. From 1975 de Kooning surrounded himself with his canvases, each inspiring him to paint another and informing all with the same sense of water, light and sky. Thick, lustrous paint flowed from his brushes, layering color upon color, as forms emerged and submerged in the textural paint surface. In every decade of his long and illustrious career, de Kooning kept a firm grip on his medium as muse, and the glories of paint exhibited in Untitled XXI are quintessential de Kooning, whose wrist, arm and body became one with the rhythms of his brush or palette knife. This spectacular assault of unrestrained expression encapsulates the full genius of de Kooning’s abstract vernacular. Painted in the years when de Kooning sensationally returned to painting after a long absence, this work belongs to an explosive outpouring of creativity that produced an illustrious series of large-scale, color-saturated canvases that rank among the finest achievements of his prodigious career. De Kooning’s revitalization in painting, begun in 1975, was startling for a man who had first burst upon the art world stage in the 1940s. Famous for scrutinizing and reworking a single painting, he now surrounded himself with canvases, each inspiring the other and all informed with the same sense of improvisational urgency. In the spring of 1975, with the arrival of de Kooning’s seventh decade, the artist erupted in an outbreak of passionate energy and creative inspiration. Abandoning the variations on the human figure that he had occupied himself with for years, this moment marked the dawn of a new series of spectacularly breathtaking monumental abstractions. Later describing this period, de Kooning recalled: “I couldn’t miss. It’s a nice feeling. It’s strange. It’s like a man at a gambling table [who] feels that he can’t lose” (the artist quoted in Judith Wolfe, “Glimpses of a Master,” in exhibition catalogue, East Hampton, Guild Hall Museum, Willem de Kooning: Works from 1951-1981, 1981, p. 15). In the autumn of 1975 de Kooning premiered the first of these works with his dealer, Xavier Fourcade, followed by another exhibition in 1977, both greeted with laudatory reviews. As cited by John Elderfield in the catalogue for the 2011 retrospective of de Kooning’s work, David Sylvester acknowledged 1976 as the “annus mirabilis of de Kooning’s career,” in which “the paintings… with their massively congested, luminous color, their contrasts between flowing and broken forms, attain at their best a total painterliness in which marks and image coalesce completely and every inch of canvas quivers with teeming energy” (David Sylvester, “Art: When Body, Mind and Paint Dissolve,” The Independent, February 15, 1995). Untitled XXI is a truly exceptional embodiment of the emphatic mark-making and sheer force of painterly conviction that defines the majestic contribution to twentieth-century art made by de Kooning. De Kooning’s independent spirit infuses Untitled XXI and its sister paintings of the late 1970s with a heroic quality of individualism rather than conformism. He was at heart a pluralist who reveled in the multi-thematic, and like Pablo Picasso before him, de Kooning was rebellious and forged new paths, without eschewing the forms of expression of centuries past. Picasso was also a master at reinvention, and de Kooning proved just as adept at the contradictory role of master and rebel. After the 1956 death of Jackson Pollock, de Kooning was the undisputed leader of Action Painting and carried the Abstract Expressionist banner well into the next generation. Yet his eventual withdrawal from New York City to the environs of Long Island in the early 1960s was a reflection of his move away from the communal artistic existence that had fostered his breakthrough years of Woman I in 1950-52. De Kooning now sought reflective contemplation rather than the dissonant atmosphere of Manhattan, and found it in the tranquil and lush environment of his beloved Long Island, which resonated for him with memories of his native Holland. He had spent time in East Hampton as early as 1959, following the lead of Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky who had already escaped the city in favor of the countryside. By summer 1961, he had purchased a small house in Springs, East Hampton, and soon found property nearby for a studio. In 1963 he settled there entirely, immersed in the sunlit coastal landscape that suffused his work with light and space. Untitled XXI’s jubilant brushstrokes of yellow, blue, red and bright green are juxtaposed with quieter passages of white and grey tones that proclaim de Kooning’s great gifts as a colorist, equal to Henri Matisse, the grand master of sublime color whose retrospective in New York in 1927 was a pivotal experience for de Kooning. His love for the spectacular light and its reflections on the water were a revelation and a reinvigoration to de Kooning, and while Untitled XXI remains determinedly abstract, it nevertheless communicates an essence of contextual experience. As he related in 1972 to Harold Rosenberg: “I wanted to get in touch with nature. Not painting scenes from nature, but to get a feeling of that light that was very appealing to me, here particularly.” The colors were “indescribable tones, almost. I started working with them and insisted that they would give me the kind of light I wanted. One was lighting up the grass. That became that kind of green. One was lighting up the water. That became grey… I got into painting in the atmosphere I wanted to be in” (Harold Rosenberg, “Interview with Willem de Kooning," Artnews 71, no. 5, September 1972, p. 57).  White is a predominant color in this corpus of late 1970s paintings, lending a sense of brilliant light and sharp-edged contrast to the saturated jewel tones in Untitled XXI. The painting can be read as either landscape or seascape with the greys and white as either frothy sea spray or sand dune beaches with green sea grasses, punctuated by hints of sun-dappled flesh. Using unorthodox methods of applying and removing paint with spatulas and knives, de Kooning defined his composition through gesture, energy and movement, ultimately creating a varied topography of undulating and shimmering color. Formerly an artist who famously scrutinized and reworked his canvases extensively, the confidence of the present work’s rapidly generated composition imbues Untitled XXI with an urgency that is still as affecting today as when it was first created almost forty years ago. Whilst still displaying the unmistakable traces of de Kooning’s remarkable touch and fluid wrist, Untitled XXI boasts an enlivened spirit and a new freedom in which his innate gifts for line, color, and form remain paramount. WILLEM DE KOONING: EAST HAMPTON LIGHT By Diane Waldman My first encounter with Willem de Kooning occurred in 1976 when I visited him at his studio in The Springs, East Hampton.  De Kooning was sitting in a chair in his dimly lit studio, an open dictionary on the table in front of him.  He had been searching for the meaning of ‘art’ and ‘drawing,’ he said, and seemed to relish the notion that to draw meant ‘to pull, to drag.’        Perhaps it was the way he said it, perhaps it was the darkened room but those simple explanations seemed to me then and still today to be both elemental and profound.  I thought of the cave paintings I had seen at Altamira in Spain, which in their simplicity said everything there was to say about the natural world.        After a while he got up to show me around and I was struck once again by his radiant paintings, the first of which were shown the year before at the Fourcade, Droll Gallery in New York in an exhibition of such magnitude that upon seeing them I immediately proposed a survey of this series to be held at the Guggenheim Museum.        When Willem de Kooning moved from New York to The Springs, East Hampton in 1963, he was so carried away by his surroundings that he began to quite literally incorporate what he saw in his paintings.  As he remarked to the critic Harold Rosenberg:        I even carried it to the extent that when I came here I made the color of sand—a big pot of paint that was the color of sand.  As if I picked up sand and mixed it.  ….When the light hits the ocean there is a kind of grey light on the water…. Indescribable tones, almost.  I started working with them and insisted that they would give me the kind of light I wanted….I got into painting in the atmosphere I wanted to be in.  It was like the reflection of light.  I reflected upon the reflections on the water, like the fishermen do.[1]        The beaches, marshes, scrub oaks and potato fields of East Hampton and Montauk slowly yielded up their secrets and with them de Kooning began a new series of paintings in which light and color are supreme.        Born April 24, 1904 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, de Kooning emigrated illegally to the United States on the S.S.Shelley in 1926 and settled in Hoboken where he worked as a house painter.  Trained as both a commercial and fine artist he moved to New York City in 1927 and found work in a design and decorating firm.  By the early 1930s he had met and befriended Arshile Gorky, John Graham, and Stuart Davis, each of them of singular importance to him in his development as an artist.        De Kooning and Gorky shared an intense personal dialogue, based in part on the fact that both were foreigners, both were drawn to the many European modernists being shown, often for the first time in New York, and both were eager to investigate a wide variety of styles, chief among them Cubism, Surrealism, and the form of geometric abstraction practiced by the group the American Abstract Artists who were indebted to Mondrian and De Stijl.        Although these and other influences played an important role in de Kooning’s development during the 1930s and 1940s it was not until June of 1950 when he began Woman I that they coalesced into the predatory image of the female form, an iconic figure that heralded  a new and important departure for the artist.        I had always regarded de Kooning as the linchpin of the Abstract Expressionist movement, one foot firmly planted in the past, the other in the now. And so it was with the ‘Women.’  As it had with Gorky, innovation came from a prolonged dialogue with tradition.  References to Manet, Picasso, Matisse, to Cycladic figurines and to the Sumerian idols he saw on jaunts to the Metropolitan Museum abound in these paintings.        De Kooning worked on the series of ‘Women’ well into the 1950s but by the 1960s with his move to The Springs he began to show a deepening interest in the landscape, which a decade later was to become his primary focus.        Since beginning the new series in 1975 de Kooning had moved from the specific to the general, from concentration on particular areas to a more even articulation of the surface, away from shaping and placing colors and contours to resemble parts of the human figure or the landscape.        In Untitled XXI, as in the other paintings in the series, more completely than ever before in his long and prodigious career, de Kooning sublimated the Cubist grid and biomorphic imagery, giving himself up to color and light.  As a result, the paintings have less depth and the imagery, so to speak, really just a riot of color and a series of luscious viscous brushstrokes, sits firmly on the picture plane.        Gone are the reminders of the light and shade of New York.  All is light, the white light of the East End, and the reflections cast by the sun playing on the water.  Liberated from shape and contour, color and light become supreme.  As the dictionary defines it, art is the expression of what is beautiful.  Exuberant, free and innovatory, the magnificent Untitled XXI is testimony to the great late flowering of his art. ©Diane Waldman [1]Art News, September 1972, p. 56 Signed de Kooning on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-11-05
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THE MAGNIFICENT FLORENTINE PIETRA DURA, EBONY AND ORMOLU CABINET MADE FOR THE 3RD DUKE OF BEAUFORT

THE MAGNIFICENT FLORENTINE PIETRA DURA, EBONY AND ORMOLU CABINET MADE FOR THE 3RD DUKE OF BEAUFORT BY THE GRAND DUCAL WORKSHOPS (GALLERIA DEI LAVORI) AND BACCIO CAPPELLI, THE BRONZE FIGURES OF THE FOUR SEASONS BY GIROLAMO TICCIATI, CIRCA 1720-1732 The cabinet of massive architectural form, the main part in three sections divided by crisply profiled stepped mouldings, fitted with ten cedar-lined drawers surrounding a central door enclosing a removable section with three smaller purpleheart and ebony-veneered cedar-lined drawers mounted with satyr mask and drapery ring handles, each drawer mounted with a panel edged with ormolu and banded with amethyst quarz, inlaid in brilliantly coloured semi-precious stones with birds perching and in flight among sprays of flowers, framed by pilasters in the central register panelled with lapis lazuli and Sicilian red jasper, the ormolu capitals centred by grey chalcedony (calcedonio di Volterra) masks joined by swags of ormolu foliage encrusted with hardstone fruit centred by a grey chalcedony lion-mask repeated at the sides, below a band of amethyst quartz mounted with cartouches of lapis lazuli in the centre and agate at the sides, the upper and lower sections with vertical amethyst quartz panels, the upper headed by female masks suspending fruit, the lower by grotesque masks, the frieze with concave-centred and bow-ended panels of lapis lazuli, red and green jasper (verde di Corsica); the stepped pediment centred by a clock face, studded with fleur-de-lys dividing the numerals, the brass back-wound falseplate timepiece movement with screwed dust-cover to the rectangular plates, four bossed pilars, going barrel train of five wheels and recoil escapement with steel crutch and silk-suspended pendulum with holdfast clip within the cupboard framed by pilasters and richly encrusted down-curved swags, surmounted by the Beaufort arms, supporters and motto in ormolu, lapis and red jasper, the angles mounted with four lightly draped ormolu standing figures emblematic of the Four Seasons; the sides fo the cabinet each centred by a large and brilliant panel of birds and a spray of flowers tied with red and blue ribbon with smaller panels of birds above and below; the cabinet supported on eight massive square tapering legs panelled with lapis lazuli and red jasper mounted with ormolu, the eared moulded edge mounted with S-scroll and shell plaques and satyr masks INSCRIPTIONS AND LABELS ON THE CABINET The cabinet has a label pasted onto the back of the removable central section inscribed in ink Taken from the North Breakfast Parlour & Cleaned By John Smith William Williamson Thomas Butler By the Orders of the 6 Duke of Beaufort -1813- taken of above 250 Pieces of Bronze The cabinet is also inscribed in pencil (below the third drawer down from the top on the right hand side) J.J. Smith April 1903 Cleaned Cabinet all over for Morants Bond Street and (on the inside backboard behind the removable centre section) Cleaned Easter 1903 In addition above the removeable centre section there is a pen and wash stretch of the front of a horse Further inscriptions and labels which were revealed during the restoration at Hatfields include two labels to the interior inscribed Giacomo Faggiani maestro di cassa del duca di beaufort à disfato questo gabbineto e nettato, e messo a scieme novembre 20 1775 badminton and a second April 1903 9th Duke of Beaufort This cabinet was cleaned and renovated and the missing parts replaced at the time the Drawing room was redecorated by J.S. Wallis of Morant & Co. 91 New Bond St. London NW. The movement of the clock is inscribed John Seddon St. James's London 1748. The central pietra dura plaque is inscribed to the reverse Baccio Cappelli Fecit Anno 1720 nella Galleria di S.A.R. and the plaque on the top left drawer bears a paper label inscribed No 1 Baccio Cappelli Fecit. THE DRAWINGS OF THE BADMINTON CABINET PREPARED BY THE GRAND DUCAL WORKSHOPS 1. VIEW OF THE FRONT OF THE CABINET WITHOUT THE BASE inscribed Scala di Braccia due à Panno Fiorentine and with a scale; black chalk, pen and brown ink, watercolour on two joined sheets, watermarks encircled fleur-de-lys (2) 1055 x 770 mm. 2. VIEW OF THE LEFT AND RIGHT SIDES OF THE CABINET inscribed with a scale; black chalk, pen and brown ink, watercolour on two joined sheets, watermarks encircled fleur-de-lys (2) 1056 x 785 mm. 3. VIEW OF A LEG inscribed Celle icy est la Boule/de Cuivre doré que/l'on pourrá ajouter/si l'on veut.; black chalk, pen and brown ink, watercolour 648 x 240 mm. THE BADMINTON CABINET by Alvar González-Palacios THE DUKE OF BEAUFORT'S VISIT TO ITALY AND THE ORIGINS OF HIS COMMISSION The maginficent Badminton Cabinet is the last great work of art made in Florence under the Medici. Standing almost 4 metres tall, it is also the most spectacular piece of furniture in private hands, and is documented indirectly before it was made. We refer to an account book of incidental expenses, kept by Dominique du Four who accompanied the 3rd Duke of Beaufort on his long Continental travels as a member of his household, which informs us that His Grace left Paris on 28 March 1726 and arrived in Florence on 27 April, remaining there until 2 May (document 18). As there is no evidence that he ever returned to the Tuscan capital it is highly probably that the decision to commission the Cabinet was taken at this time. B. Ford and J. Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1707-1800, New Haven and London, 1997, confirms from other sources the same dates that we had established. Two years later in a letter of 3 June 1728, the Duke's Roman agent, the architect and stuccoist Giovanni Francesco Guernieri, hinted at the existence of something being made for his master in Florence under the watchful eye of Thomas Tyrrel. If, as we shall see, we are quite well informed about Guernieri's activities, nothing surely was known until very recently of this Tyrrel. It seems that Tyrrel was found as a boy begging in Prague by the last Grand Duke Gian Gastone de Medici who took him back to Florence and ennobled him subsequently. He became well-connected with important tourists and died in Florence in 1753. Tyrrel was instrumental for the making of the Duke of Beaufort's Cabinet (B. Ford and J. Ingamells, 1997, p. 961). Guernieri writes to the Duke however that he had given instructions to the said Tyrrel to get the Duke's things ready so that they might be packed and sent to Leghorn (document 1). On 9 July, Guernieri, who in the meantime had left Rome for Leghorn to ensure that His Grace's acquisitions left for England in good order, wrote bitterly that in Florence, where he had stopped first, nothing was ready. He had, in fact, been there on 28 June when he met Tyrrel who had been instructed to supervise the executino of a 'Cabinet' in the Workshops of His Royal Highness the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He went on to say that Tyrrel has told him that 'le dit cabinet' would not be ready until the end of October 1728 because of certain changes to the original plan, including an increased number of metal ornaments, framing elements, and additional work on the Ducal coat-of-arms (document 2). Guernieri's account of the unfinished state of the cabinet is confirmed by a note of 24 July 1728 from the Duke's shippers stating that more time was needed before 'the cabinet and other things' would be ready (document 3). THE SHIPMENT OF THE CABINET Some years later, early 1732, a number of payments to agents and a ship's captain in Leghorn for custom and transport charges, including 'Port for unshipping of Cabinet or 5 cases', appear, relating to goods belonging to His Grace (documents 14, 15 and 16). Once again Dominique du Four's account book helps to illuminate the sequence of events leading up to the final shipment of the cabinet. Du Four noted that he left Florence for Leghorn on 12 August 1732 with an unidentified cabinet-maker and his son, and that they remained there until the 20th, the day after 'Mylord Duc's' cabinet had been put on board. Finally, on 21 August 1732, Captain Daniel Pullam and the Oriana sailed for London with 'five large cases... containing the severall parts of a large Cabinett of his Grace the Duke of Beaufort', as stated by a receipt signed by the captain himself (document 19). Although there is no record where the Cabinet went immediately after its arrival in London, it is more than probable that it had always been destined for Badminton, especially as the note of 24 July 1728 mentioned above stated that it would eventually be sent 'on some good ship for London if none should offer for Bristoll about time' (document 3). This Cabinet is, therefore, likely to be the piece of furniture that gave its name to the Cabinet Room mentioned in a 1775 inventory of paintings (Badminton Muniments, RA 1/2/1). Here it was surrounted by carvings by Grinling Gibbons and a good number of Italian paintings: an Education of Jove and a satirical piece by Salvator Rosa, two canvases of ruins by Ghizzolfa (i.e. Ghisolfi), a Madonna and Child by Guernico, scenes of the life of Queen Esther by Pietro da Cortona, representations of the Liberal Arts by Trevisani, and a series of overdoors with ruins by Viviano (i.e. Codazzi) and a perspective view of the buildings of Rome by an anonymous artist. To finish up, on 30 May 1739, Captain Pullam petitioned the Duke to be reimbursed for financial losses which he had incurred during the shipping of the Cabinet when he had not only been forced 'not to take in any Ballast that should damage the cabinet' but had also had to buy a large quantity of cork to ensure its safety and this last he had resold in London much under cost (document 20). STYLISTIC ANALYSIS The research carried out, over the years, by the present author in the immense archives where the documents relating to the last Medicis and their financial administration are stored, has failed to yield any information about this cabinet, mainly because it is difficult to determine with any accuracy in which of the many departments of the Grand Ducal Administration documents about its commission and execution would have been recorded. It must be remembered that our Cabinet was paid directly by the Duke of Beaufort, a very rare occurance at the Galleria where everything was made for the Grand Duke, even if they were intended as gifts. Although it was not the habit of the Grand Ducal Workshops to accept work from private individuals, the Duke of Beaufort's exalted social position and the close political contacts which his family, known for its Jacobite sympathies, cultivated with highly placed personages, such as the Papal Secretary of State, Cardinal Lercari, undoubtedly influenced the negociations leading to the commission. If, on the one hand, contemporary Galleria documents are of little help in establishing the background of this Cabinet, its figurative language, on the other, gives clear indications about its artistic origins. To begin with, simple stylistic analysis is all that is needed to identify the sculptor who executed the models for the statuettes of The Four Seasons, placed at the angles of the upper corners. He is called Girolamo Ticciati (died in Florence in 1744), and the waxes and their corresponding moulds figure in an inventory of models acquired by Carlo Ginori for the Porcelain Manufactory at Doccia, founded in 1743. The waxes have since disappeared but the moulds are still to be found in the Doccia Museum (fig. 1) and are listed in a well known document (K. Lankheit, Die Modellsammlung de Porzelanmanufaktur Doccia, Munich, 1982, p. 130). The unusual facial type of the Four Seasons on the Beaufort Cabinet is that found on Ticciati's only known bronze, the signed Christ and the Samari tan, executed in 1724 for the Electress Palatine and now in the Royal Palace, Madrid (J. Montagu, Gli ultimi Medici, exh. cat. Florence, 1974, no. 98 bis). It is certainly relevant to this argument that Ticciati's contemporary biographer, F. M. N. Gabburi, noted that the sculptor had prepared four busts of The Seasons which he had sent to England (K. Lankheit, Florentinische Barockplastik, Munich, 1 962, p. 230). TICCIATI AND GALLERIA PRACTISE Ticciati was a pupil of Giovanni Battista Foggini, who was Director, until his death in 1725, of the Galleria dei lavori, or Grand Ducal Workshops. The Beaufort Cabinet bears, moreover, all the hallmarks of that sumptuous style created by Foggini during the twilight years of the Medici dynasty: every one of the decorative motifs continues and, at the same time, develops the great artist's favourite forms, thus bringing the maximum splendour to the characteristic juxtaposition of ebony, gilt-bronze and hardstone of Florentine Court furniture. It should be borne in mind, when looking for the work of individual hands in such a piece, that during the years needed to construct this edifice destined for a room, no less than thirty craftsmen would have been involved. 152 in. (386 cm.) high; 91½ in. (232.5 cm.) wide; 37 in. (94 cm.) deep

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2004-12-09
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Withdrawal

A MAGNIFICENT AND UNIQUE FALANGCAI 'GOLDEN PHEASANT' VASE BLUE ENAMEL MARK AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG

A MAGNIFICENT AND UNIQUE FALANGCAI 'GOLDEN PHEASANT' VASE BLUE ENAMEL MARK AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG, THIS IS A PREMIUM LOT. CLIENTS WHO WISH TO BID ON PREMIUM LOTS ARE REQUESTED TO COMPLETE THE PREMIUM LOT PRE-REGISTRATION 3 WORKING DAYS PRIOR TO THE SALE. BIDnow ONLINE BIDDING SERVICE IS NOT AVAILABLE.   of the rarefied guyuexuan type, the body of tapering ovoid shape resting on an unglazed foot enclosing the countersunk mark, surmounted by the tall cylindrical neck finished with a slightly lipped rim, finely potted in the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen in white porcelain of the purest homogenous structure and applied with an even milky-white glaze suffused with tiny bubbles and with a smooth silky surface; enamelled in the imperial palace workshops within the confines of the Forbidden City in the finest opaque 'foreign colours', applied in subtly shaded washes and immaculately depicted detail with a pair of golden pheasants perched on a knotty trunk, the male balancing on one slender yellow leg, the other leg held up to the rich red breast, the head turned back over the shoulder with the long sharp beak flanked by short hairs below the bright oval eye, picked out in black, yellow, red and pink enamels, and the straw-yellow crest falling back over the thick pinkish orange ruff and multi-coloured wing feathers, the long tail depicted in iron red and sepia with yellow spot markings extending to the tip of the longest feather, the female crouching below her mate, the detailing of her feathers subtly picked out in sepia and the only colour being the yellow and puce of her eye; the thick knotted trunk set with spots of pale greenish moss and extending to angled branches sparsely sprouting pale pinkish leaves, small bright blue and deep purple asters with yellow stamens clustering at the base below a rose, the two large pink flowers and a single bud borne on thorny, leafy stems with detailing picked out in black on the green, the whole forming a continuous scene complimented on the neck with a couplet reading Zhaozhao long li yue.  Suisui zhan chang chun, ('May you capture the "beautiful month' for days on end.  May you seize enduring spring year upon year.') and three seals jiali ('beautiful'), sishi and changchun ('enduring spring at all seasons'), the countersunk base with the four-character mark Qianlong nian zhi written within a double-square in a characteristic greyish blue enamel 20.3 cm., 8 in.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2011-04-07
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Untitled V

"De Kooning's recent paintings at the Fourcade Gallery absolutely required sustained attention. There could be no quick perception, no general impression that could cover the wealth of experience reflected… While de Kooning has for a long time managed to combine the near and the far in synopsis, in these new paintings the articulation is emphatic. He establishes his distance – both from his particular moment in time and from any general audience – and he maintains the singularity of intimate detail. In short, he offers a distinct, a unique realm in which imagination prevails.” Dore Ashton, “75/76 New York,” Colóquio: Artes, no. 29, October, p. 14 Exceeding the confines of a vast canvas through its spectacular assault of unrestrained expression, Untitled V of 1975 encapsulates the full force of Willem de Kooning’s abstract vernacular. Through each visceral swathe, smear, drip and blow, the artist here asserts his total mastery of this medium. Indeed, the means of execution remain so compelling, so thoroughly captivating, that Untitled V stands as nothing less than the inescapable and irresistible culmination of the artist’s output. Executed in the year that de Kooning sensationally immersed himself in painting after a long absence, this work belongs to an explosive outpouring of creativity that produced an illustrious corpus of large-scale, color-saturated canvases that rank among the finest achievements of his prodigious career. Of this group, all produced in just six months, the present work is truly exceptional for the sheer force of its painterly conviction, the staggering variety of its luscious brushstrokes, emphatic mark-making and violent flecks of paint, all conveyed in the brilliant primary hues of an utterly seductive palette. While jagged cascades of serene blues fuse with cool fluid whites, searing reds and yellows surge across the surface to ignite the entire composition. Formerly an artist who famously scrutinized and reworked his canvases extensively, the confidence of the rapidly generated composition imbues Untitled V with an urgency that is still as affecting today as when it was first exhibited in New York almost forty years ago. This work has been held in the same private collection since 1989 and this occasion marks its first public appearance in over a third of a century. In the autumn of 1975 de Kooning held a major exhibition of new paintings with his dealer, Xavier Fourcade. Untitled V was a highlight of this show which heralded this dramatically passionate new period of the artist’s oeuvre. As Dore Ashton described in a review of the show at the time, "De Kooning's recent paintings at the Fourcade Gallery absolutely required sustained attention. There could be no quick perception, no general impression that could cover the wealth of experience reflected… While de Kooning has for a long time managed to combine the near and the far in synopsis, in these new paintings the articulation is emphatic. He establishes his distance – both from his particular moment in time and from any general audience – and he maintains the singularity of intimate detail. In short, he offers a distinct, a unique realm in which imagination prevails.” (Dore Ashton, “75/76 New York,” Colóquio: Artes, no. 29, October, p. 14) Later describing this exact period, in 1981 de Kooning recalled “I couldn’t miss. It’s a nice feeling. It’s strange. It’s like a man at a gambling table [who] feels that he can’t lose. But when he walks away with all the dough, he knows he can’t do that again. Because then it gets all self-conscious. I wasn’t self-conscious. I just did it.” (the artist cited in Judith Wolfe, “Glimpses of a Master,” in Exh. Cat., East Hampton, Guild Hall Museum, Willem de Kooning: Works from 1951-1981, 1981, p. 15) De Kooning created this magisterial work in the epic oceanic environment of his beloved Long Island, and while it remains determinedly and resolutely without figural content, it nevertheless communes an essence and memories of contextual experience. He began spending summers in East Hampton in 1959 and even then frequently considered giving up his Broadway loft entirely, following the lead of his contemporaries Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky who had already escaped the urban commotion of Manhattan in favor of the countryside. By summer 1961, de Kooning had purchased a small house in Springs, East Hampton and the following winter, found property nearby that was perfect for a studio. In 1963 he had moved entirely out of New York and immersed himself in the light-filled, calming atmosphere and coastal landscape that so closely evoked memories of his native Holland. The ocean became a part of his daily regime and de Kooning was captivated by the spectacular light of the long beaches and its effect on the reflections on the water. As he related in a 1972 interview with Harold Rosenberg, his play with light and colors are almost inexpressible: “Indescribable tones, almost. I started working with them and insisted that they would give me the kind of light I wanted. One was lighting up the grass. That became that kind of green. One was lighting up the water. That became grey…I got into painting in the atmosphere I wanted to be in.  It was like the reflection of light.  I reflected upon the reflections on the water, like the fishermen do.” (reprinted in Exh. Cat., Basel, Kunstmuseum Basel, De Kooning Paintings, 1960-1980, 2005, p. 152) From 1969 de Kooning devoted himself primarily to sculpture, producing clay and bronze figures in his first foray into three-dimensional art. The tactile quality of sculpting was wholly sympathetic with de Kooning’s sensuous approach to oil paint, as eloquently acknowledged in his famous 1950 quote, “Flesh was the reason oil painting was invented.” Within both mediums, de Kooning pressed the antithetical dialogue between improvisation and control, resulting in a gestural tension that animated his surface to the extreme. When sculpting, de Kooning often closed his eyes while working with clay, allowing touch and not sight to dictate the form. In similar fashion, the physical immediacy of Untitled V appears virtually to project off the picture plane and comprises a remarkably sculptural landscape of paint material. From 1975 de Kooning surrounded himself with his canvases, each inspiring him to paint another and informing all with the same sense of water, light and sky. Thick, lustrous paint flowed from his brushes, layering color upon color, as forms emerged and submerged in the textural paint surface. Indeed, the paintings of the mid 1970s, as perfectly epitomized by the present work, represent the most direct references to liquidity and flow in the artist’s oeuvre. Here de Kooning forges a variety of planes of paint to coalesce in and out of each other across the canvas. While the impastoed surface is a signature characteristic of de Kooning’s work of the 1950s, one of the revelations of de Kooning’s later work, as in Untitled V, is the utter sophistication and variety of his paint handling. Focusing his energy on the quality of paint application and the texture of his surface, de Kooning thinned his oil paint with water, adding kerosene, benzene or safflower oil as binding agents.  Using unorthodox methods of applying and removing paint with spatulas and knives, de Kooning defined his composition through gesture, energy and movement. While the expansive bursts of drips and paint flecks through the central section of Untitled V immediately evoke the method of Pollock, the quieter passages, created by scraping and smearing across fields of varying color pigment, foreshadow the beauty of Gerhard Richter’s smeared Abstraktes Bild of the 1980s. De Kooning’s sense of line is of course critical to his entire aesthetic identity, and even during the period when he worked primarily on sculptures from 1969 to 1975, he continued to draw prolifically. But with his return to the plastic form of paint, de Kooning’s line is subsumed, as his strokes broaden and flatten. In place of line, both color and light serve as the organizing principles in this abstraction, reflecting his bright and open environment. De Kooning was always an outstanding colorist, whether using a palette of black and white in the abstractions of the early 1940s or the pastel hues and acidic, jarring tones of his Women paintings and Urban Landscapes of the 1950s. But with his move to Long Island, de Kooning responded intimately not only to his oceanic surroundings, but to the elements of light and air. This newfound freedom of form, space and color was aptly described by Bernhard Mendews Bürgi in the 2005-2006 exhibition of de Kooning’s later decades at the Kunstmuseum in Basel: “the accumulation of sensations between earth and light and water and sky, distilled and detached from anecdotal experience, exploded in a rush of painting. What already applied to the abstract landscapes of the late 1950s and early 1960s became even more conspicuous in the series created between 1975 and 1980… They are not abstractions of the experience of nature; they are abstract in following an uncurbed energy principle without beginning and end, allowing things to emerge, to rise to the surface in analogy to nature… Everything seems to be floating, flying, lying and falling in these paintings, their energy heightened by a pulsating rhythm.” (Ibid., pp. 24-26) In shimmering light, forms dissolve and reform in a manner deeply akin to de Kooning’s sense of abstraction. With this vibrancy of palette, coupled with the genius of paint handling and sure command of composition and form, Untitled V heralds the emergence of de Kooning as a wholly revitalized artist as he entered his seventh decade. Signed on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2013-11-14
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Self-Portrait (Fright Wig)

Within an artist’s oeuvre there is no greater symbiotic conflation of practice and practitioner than in the self-portrait. Yet at the heart of this genre lies a paradox: these precious relics offer rare access to the creative geniuses that shaped our visual culture, but their function as an honest record is compromised by those artists’ ability to engineer profound illusions to fashion their image. In his 1986 magnum opus Self-Portrait (Fright Wig), Andy Warhol – arguably the Twentieth Century’s best and most poignant representation of this paradigm – offers himself as a monument to the ages: as Warhol the celebrity, ‘Warhol’ the artistic style, and Warhol the man. Painted just months before his untimely death, the present work’s monumental 80-inch format –exceeded only in scale by seven known 108-inch examples – endows it with a unique status as both an engulfing cenotaph and a highly personal encounter. Signifying the artist’s ultimate mastery of his long-sustained and iconic silkscreen method, the perfected clarity of the transferred image in the present example is arguably unparalleled within his oeuvre. Every single printed raster is discretely discernable and brought into the sharpest of focus, chiming in sonorous contrast with a phantasmal white as Warhol’s starkly illuminated countenance emerges from an abstract darkness. Offering a sense of unmediated access never before afforded to his public, Warhol finally allows full scrutiny of his visage.  Each furrow of skin is perfectly discernable as the deep set lines of gaunt cheeks frame a penetratingly existential stare. Whilst the catalogue raisonné for works of this period is still forthcoming, extensive research reveals that of all other large format works from this series, the present work maintains the most luminous and pure white ground. Evoking the primacy of raw unedited film or the printed newspaper, this slick and glistening monochromy recalls the stars of the silver screen whom Warhol had venerated in his early career, and indeed whose fame he had now come to surpass. Furthermore, the present work’s exclusive cold white light articulates a rare instance in which the artist’s visage recalls not just a portrait but the stark appearance of a skull, invoking the longstanding motif of the memento mori. Like an anticipatory death mask, Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) crafts the most iconic vision of the artist who, having been so obsessed with the transience of life and the enduring power of the image, finally faces his own looming mortality. By giving this intimate moment visual form, the present work inducts Warhol into the limited cadre of great self-portraitists who define the genre’s captivating history. At 6:32am on February 22, 1987, Andy Warhol unexpectedly passed away in a Manhattan hospital when recovering from routine surgery. Whilst the artist had been suffering from intermittent bouts of ill health, to both friends, family and followers, the sudden death of an artist who had recently regained widespread critical acclaim seemed all the more tragic. Warhol’s profound symbolic repertoire had contributed to art history interminably pertinent ideas surrounding fame, mortality and the superficiality of images. Having established his international renown with his groundbreaking appropriation of mass-media and consumer imagery in the early 1960s, Warhol became synonymous with Pop Art, a reputation that was cemented by the legendary corpus of celebrity portraits he executed during the critical first years of his mature career. From Marilyn Monroe to Liz Taylor and Elvis Presley, it was at the dawn of the 1960s that Warhol assembled his cast of visual icons who, rendered in his unique Technicolor vision, came to define an entirely new aesthetic movement. To turn in the wake of this breakthrough success, however, by Warhol’s own admission, posed a significant challenge: “Gee, What’s happened to Andy Warhol?” the artist reflected “the 70s were sort of quiet… I think the 80s are going to be more exciting…in the 70s, nothing really different happened in art.” (the artist cited in Paul Gardner, “Gee What’s happened to Andy Warhol?,” Art News, 79, November 1980, p. 26) With the exception of his Mao series created from 1972-73, Warhol’s output in the 1970s was dominated by a string of portrait commissions which formed an atlas of American and European high-society, much decried by critics for a lack of originality; rather than being an astute commentator on the consumer market, Warhol was pandering to consumer demand.  The 1980s however offered an opportunity for renewal as the wave of Neo-Expressionism that came to dominate the landscape for painting served as a provocation for Warhol to reengage with his former glory. As critic Robert Pincus-Witten observed in 1980, “Glitz, glitter, glass seem the real subject of contemporary art… I suppose the real critical issue today is the beauty of the skin deep and the life of the mind as epitomized by Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. In the ‘60s, Warhol was a burning critical issue. In the ‘70s, Warholism had superseded Warhol. In the ‘80s, the Return of Andy Warhol.” (Robert Pincus-Witten, “Entries: Big History, Little History,” Arts Magazine, 54, April 1980, p. 184) Whilst as early as 1978 Warhol had begun to re-appropriate his own art with his Retrospectives and subsequent Reversal series, by returning to the genre of self-portraiture in 1986 Warhol was able to recall the aesthetic and conceptual genius of his former years whilst producing a body of work that was simultaneously timely and radically original. As one of the last series Warhol undertook, the 1986 Self-Portraits are universally acknowledged as the Pop-art pioneer’s last great artistic gesture in which he truly re-attains the artistic preeminence of his seminal art from the 1960s. Warhol’s initial foray into self-portraiture began as a student in Pittsburgh in 1948, with an irreverent painting that he submitted to the city’s annual artists' exhibition entitled The Broad Gave Me My Face, But I Can Pick My Own Nose. Whilst lacking the effected cool of his later output, this stridently humorous and attention-seeking performance anticipates the awareness of audience that would characterize the artist’s subsequent self-reflections. Warhol’s first series of self-portraits as an established artist, created from 1963-64, were in fact born out of a commission from the collector Florence Barron. Ingeniously reversing the traditional role of artist patron within the realm of portraiture, Warhol used the same photo-booth format that he had for his commissions from collector Ethel Scull and cabaret star Bobby Short. Shamelessly self-styled with dark glasses and a trench coat, here Warhol presents a sense of enigma exacerbated by his crude mastery of the silkscreen process at the time. Mirroring the playfully equivocal image that he was consciously constructing at the time with regards to his media persona, Warhol’s third series of self-portraits from 1966-67 show an aloof face half caught in shadow and adopting a pensive hand-to-mouth pose. Much like the immediately preceding set of full frontal portraits from 1964 in which the artist’s features are subsumed in the vibrant pop tones of the background, the 1966-67 works revel in blasts of dramatic color blocking which vibrate with the sensations of thermal imagery and through which the artist is almost enveloped in his own abstractions. In these images we witness the complete conflation of the artist and the sensational style that he had become known for. In contrast to the long idealized view of a self-portrait stemming from an artist’s introspective volition, from its genesis Warhol’s self-portraiture was a means of performing for a public other. By 1966 Warhol was firmly a star in his own right. Maintained through his aloof conduct in interviews, wild social calendar and the styling of his physical appearance, his fastidiously constructed and highly affected public image was almost as famous as his artistic production. Embodying the constructs of fame, value and appearances that he examined, indeed Warhol’s genius lies in the fact that this persona was itself intrinsic to the conceptual purview of his practice. Fundamentally what these early portraits represent is both the highly self-conscious construction and maintenance of the celebrity that Warhol so fervently valorized in earlier works, and which existed for Warhol intrinsically within the realm of superficial appearances. In essence they foreshadow a comment made by Warhol in 1971: "If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am.  There's nothing behind it." (the artist cited in Hal Foster, “Death in America,” in Annette Michelson & Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Eds. Andy Warhol, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2001, p. 71) Whilst Warhol would return to the self-portrait on a few select occasions over the proceeding decades, it would be 20 years before he executed his next, and final, major series. The retrospectively named Fright Wig paintings are similarly the result of a commission, but this time from the highly influential gallerist Anthony d’Offay. The revered patron subsequently recalled its beginnings: "I realized two things: first that Warhol was without question the greatest portrait painter of the Twentieth 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., Kunstverein St. Gallen, Kunstmuseum, Andy Warhol, Self Portraits, 2004, p. 131) Unveiled at d'Offay’s London gallery in July 1986, the Fright Wig self-portraits formed the first and only show in Warhol's career dedicated to the theme of self-portraiture. Moving away from the photo-booth images of 1963-64, Warhol used a Polaroid photograph as his source for these paintings – the instantaneous image capturing method which had guided his portrait practice of the previous decade.  Looking at the original images we see that Warhol wore a black turtle-neck sweater for his portrait, which, when filtered through the stark contrast of the monochrome silk-screen, allows the neck to disappear completely. The result is an eerie illusion of a disembodied head floating in a black void. Whilst d’Offay had expressed his preference within the series of Polaroids that Warhol supplied, the artist chose to also use the far more confrontational image that gave birth to the present work. Here Warhol's eyes appear more deeply sunken, half concealed by the wild tufts of his spiked hair, and his strikingly gaunt cheeks trace lines up his face. All work together to frame the artist’s utterly penetrating stare. The macabre existentialism locked in this image was not lost on contemporary critics, as John Caldwell noted when these works were first revealed: "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) Attesting to the undeniable and universally acknowledged significance of these works, other Fright Wig self-portraits of the same 80-inch format grace international museum collections including the Tate Gallery, London; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; the Baltimore Museum of Art; and the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Encapsulated most perfectly in the unique ghostly white of the present example, the stark chiaroscuro of the image endows the series with a spectral presence that is compounded by the proximity of its creation to Warhol’s passing. Undoubtedly the fantastic allure of this late works is the seemingly prophetic character they hold in which Warhol creates his ultimate memento mori; a reminder of the inescapable link between life and death. Through his compositional disembodiment Warhol’s likeness becomes distinctly skull-like. From the seventeenth-century Dutch still life genre of the vanitas, to Warhol’s own paintings and photographs, the skull as ultimate symbol of mortality has permeated art history. Warhol’s fascination with the transience of life permeated his choice of imagery throughout his career, from his earlier Death and Disaster and Electric Chair series to a corpus of Skull paintings executed in 1976 and a smaller group of 1978 self-portraits that show the artist posing with an anatomical skull. This preoccupation was not unfounded: in 1964 Dorothy Podber had walked into Warhol’s studio unannounced and with a loaded pistol, shooting at a 40 inch Marilyn canvas several times; in 1967 a man similarly entered the Factory, threatened Warhol and his staff and then shot at the wall; finally on June 3rd 1968 Valerie Solanas entered the Factory and successfully shot Warhol in the chest, leaving him in a critical condition. It is in these late portraits, after experiencing nearly two decades of ongoing health issues following the traumatic event of 1968, Warhol finally turns his fascination with mortality back onto himself. As Warhol's friend and biographer David Bourdon recalled at the time of their unveiling “Some spectators” were keen to recognize the paintings as an “unblinking, unsentimental view of a hurriedly approaching mortality.” (David Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 402) Warhol’s seemingly morbid obsession was perhaps not with death per se, but rather the images that are left behind by the deceased and the fact that death imbues them with a sense of legend, myth and iconicity. At the very beginning of Warhol’s 1980 publication Popism, we are met with an indication of his sentimental enchantment with the status of the posthumous celebrity: “If I’d gone ahead and died ten years ago, I’d probably be a cult figure today.” (Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, Popism: The Warhol ‘60s, New York, 1980, p. 3)  Noticeably ageing and left physically wounded as a direct result of his fame, by 1986 the artist makes a final attempt to give his iconic status a lasting image. Yet, perhaps somewhat jaded by experience, he no longer adopts the tone of sweet Pop nostalgia that he indulged in with his depictions of former starlets such as Marilyn Monroe. Moving away from the vibrant colors used for his silver-screen stars, in this distilled black and white silkscreen we find the most melancholic manifestation of Warhol’s realization that, whilst he may rival Marilyn in fame, he will never be able to experience or influence his status as a legend; a true legend is a posthumous legend. Through the very act of punctuating his career with self-portraits, Warhol places himself in dialogue with the greatest painters of history. In the Sixteenth Century, Albrecht Dürer periodically returned to self-portraiture, rendering meticulous self-depictions throughout his career. Whilst the unrelenting frontality of the present work evokes Dürer’s arresting portrait from 1500, the appeal to melancholy also parallels the German artist’s concealed self-portrait in the detailed grisailles etching Melancholia I of 1514.  From the seventeenth-century Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn, Warhol adopted a penetrating and contemplative stare. Yet falling just short of the emotional connection that Rembrandt articulated in paint, Warhol’s cold glare aims for timelessness and the sense of immortality embodied in an ancient marble bust. Contributing to the evocation of the scull motif, Warhol’s lifeless look shows him as almost prematurely deceased, once again beckoning the sense of legend he so fervently coveted. Unedited and brutally honest, Warhol’s presentation of himself also speaks with fluency to the discomforted self-portraits of Vincent van Gogh and the unflattering self-scrutiny of Francis Bacon. Moreover, assaulted by the harsh flash of the camera, here Warhol’s emaciated features and dark gaping mouth seem to recall the existential shock of Edward Munch’s Scream. The remarkable exposure of Warhol’s ageing features comes as a result of his undeniable mastery of the silkscreen method – his greatest technical gift to the art of portraiture. In Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) the expressionistic surfaces of his 1970s portraits is abandoned in favor of ineluctable flatness and perfected clarity of the silkscreen; an open window onto the subject. Whilst the enlargement of the original Polaroid image to this scale gives a wonderfully ethereal effect, the flawlessly slick print shows Warhol as absolute technical master of the technique that he pioneered. Most crucially, for the first time the artist is allowing us to look plainly upon his face. Obsessed with surface and image, naturally Warhol had occasionally expressed dissatisfaction with the details of his appearance. As David Bourdon observed, the penchant for modifying his appearance that was evident in the early portraiture took on corporeal effect in his later life: "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) Yet submitted to a tight compositional focus and glaring light, here Warhol creates a strange dichotomy between his vulnerable exposed face and theatrically expansive wig that consumes almost two thirds of the frame. With the wild flashes of hair aggressively crossing his face at diagonals, this highly stylized take on the artist’s signature white wig evokes both the unruly locks of scientific genius Albert Einstein and the flamboyance of the artist’s self-portraits in drag from 1981.  From 1984-85 the wigs that Warhol wore got longer, more voluminous and appeared to be teased, as a staunch attempt to maintain the glamour of his identity against the inevitable process of ageing. Like an avant-garde crown, Warhol adorns himself with the most exaggerated visual symbol of ‘Warhol’ that he can construct. Seemingly engulfed by the wig’s structured locks, Warhol makes a final effigy of the bombastic public persona that had at points overwhelmed both the artist and his career. With the confluence of a renewed painting practice, bustling social life, multiple business ventures, print projects, television productions and fashion engagements, the late 1980s were undoubtedly some of the busiest years in Warhol’s career. Yet amidst a restored sense of success, the transience of life still weighed heavy on Warhol’s mind and, in part, propelled him to create what are undeniably some of his greatest masterpieces: “Really, what’s life about? You get sick and die. That’s it. So you’ve got to keep busy.” (the artist cited in Pat Hackett, Ed., The Andy Warhol Diaries, New York, 1989, p. 721) More than any artist before him, Warhol's image was inextricably bound to his art, as he lived within the sense of celebrity that it examined. While in the 1960s, Warhol was an aloof commentator on the consumer culture that was sweeping through an economically prosperous America, in his final decade he and his art had become synonymous with contemporary American culture itself. Yet despite being the most famous artist of his time, Warhol remained a private individual, shielded by the characters he played and the masks he wore. As such, Self-Portrait (Fright Wig) is truly a culmination of everything that ‘Warhol’ stood for. Intimate yet performative, the present work bears witness to the clearest articulation of what curator Robert Rosenblum has described as “the endless contradictions” of Andy Warhol, “which constantly shift back and forth between telling us all and telling us nothing about the artist who can seem, even in the same work, both vulnerable and invulnerable, both superficial and profound.”  (Robert Rosenblum, “Andy Warhol’s Disguises’” in Exh. Cat., St. Gallen, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen (and travelling), Andy Warhol: Self-Portraits, 2004, p. 21) Substantiated in the salient tension between fragile human face and fantastical synthetic hair, it is by embodying this intriguing paradox that Andy Warhol has attained his truly mythical status within the history of visual culture. Stamped with the artist’s signature and inscribed I certify that this is an original painting by Andy Warhol completed by him in 1986 Frederick Hughes on the overlap

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2016-11-18
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Tête de femme

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

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2016-02-03
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The Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication PATEK PHILIPPE & Co., Geneva

A gold, double dialled and double open-faced, minute repeating clockwatch with Westminster chimes, grande and petite sonnerie, split seconds chronograph, registers for 60-minutes and 12-hours, perpetual calendar accurate to the year 2100, moon-phases, equation of time, dual power reserve for striking and going trains, mean and sidereal time, central alarm, indications for times of sunrise/sunset and a celestial chart for the night time sky of New York City at 40 degrees 41.0 minutes North latitude Accompanied by the original fitted tulipwood box inlaid with ebony and centered by a mother-of-pearl panel engraved with the arms of Henry Graves, Jr. Also accompanied by the Patek Philippe Certificate of Origin and an Extract from the Archives of Patek Philippe. In the course of Patek Philippe’s 175 years as a master watchmaker, an anniversary which the firm celebrates this yea, many extraordinary watches have been created that have challenged the way we think about timepieces. It is an honour to offer the Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication in this important anniversary year of Patek Philippe, Geneva. Amongst the most complicated and significant timepieces ever created, the Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication redefined the possibilities of watchmaking and changed horology forever. With 24 complications, it remained the world's most complicated watch until Patek Philippe created the Calibre 89 in 1989 for its 150th anniversary. However, the Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication retains the title of the most complicated watch ever made without computer-assisted technology. We are grateful to Eric Tortella for his assistance in researching the Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication. LOT 345 PATEK PHILIPPE THE HENRY GRAVES JR. SUPERCOMPLICAITON PATEK PHILIPPE & Co., Geneva, No. 198.385, Case No. 416.769, started in 1925, completed in 1932 and delivered on 19th January 1933 diameter 74mm; thickness of case with glass 36 mm; weight of case 536 grammes (approx. 1 lb. 3oz) A gold, double dialled and double open-faced, minute repeating clockwatch with Westminster chimes, grande and petite sonnerie, split seconds chronograph, registers for 60-minutes and 12-hours, perpetual calendar accurate to the year 2100, moon-phases, equation of time, dual power reserve for striking and going trains, mean and sidereal time, central alarm, indications for times of sunrise/sunset and a celestial chart for the night time sky of New York City at 40 degrees 41.0 minutes North latitude Accompanied by the original fitted tulipwood box inlaid with ebony and centered by a mother-of-pearl panel engraved with the arms of Henry Graves, Jr. Also accompanied by the Patek Philippe Certificate of Origin and an Extract from the Archives of Patek Philippe. The Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication movement is unique. Patek Philippe ensured that each complication was designed specifically for this watch. Complex watch movements usually consisted of complications that were added to a simpler base calibre, however, the Supercomplication’s calibre was developed specifically for this single watch. The Supercomplication required the expertise of some of the finest watchmakers of the period, each skilled in the execution of particular components. These master makers had to work together to ensure that all complications within the watch were seamlessly combined with one another and presented in a case and with a dial of the finest design. After all, this watch was no mere flight of fancy; it was a special order and had to please its patron. This unique collaboration resulted in a watch that was not only the most complex in the world, but was also a timepiece of exceptional aesthetic beauty. Please see fig. 6 for the list of the Supercomplication's 24 complications. HENRY GRAVES, JR. Henry Graves, Jr. (1868-1953) was more than just a modern man at the beginning of the 20th century; he was an innovator. Born into a prominent banking family in Orange, NJ, his father, Henry Graves, Sr., was a partner in the banking firm of Maxwell & Graves located at 143 Liberty Street, New York City. Henry Graves, Jr. joined his father in the financial industry and moved to New York City. In 1896, Mr. Graves married Florence Isabel Preston of Irvington-on-Hudson, New York and they had four children. As a wealthy society family at the turn of the century, Mr. and Mrs. Graves had the luxury of owning several vacation homes in addition to their residence in New York City.  The family spent their summers at their homes in Irvington and Saranac, New York. In Saranac, the Graves owned Eagle Island, where Mr. Graves reveled in one of his sporting passions: boating. One of his treasured boats was the Eagle, a 50-foot speedboat. During the winter, the family spent time near Charleston, South Carolina where Mr. Graves was a member of the prestigious Yeaman’s Hall, an old plantation-turned-private club. The remainder of the year, the family lived at 420 Park Avenue in New York City, until the family moved to 834 Fifth Avenue in 1931. Mr. Graves would remain at his Fifth Avenue apartment until his death at the age of 86. Mr. Graves had a well-known appreciation for the arts. On 3rd April 1936, a single-owner sale was held at the American Art Association Anderson, Galleries, Inc., a predecessor of Sotheby’s in New York. The sale was titled "Masterpieces of Engraving and Etching: The Collection of Henry Graves, Jr." The introduction of the catalogue states: "The possibilities of collecting are revealed at their finest in the majority of the magnificent prints gathered by Mr. Graves. No other collection so rich in beauty, so carefully chosen, and in such splendid condition has ever been offered at public sale in this country." The highlight of the sale was Albrecht Dürer’s Adam and Eve, which brought an impressive $10,000. This price was truly remarkable at the time, given that the sale occurred in the midst of the Great Depression. In addition to Mr. Graves’ passion for fine art, he is remembered for his superb Patek Philippe collection of timepieces. Mr. Graves was introduced to the firm by his family jeweler, Tiffany & Co., and was impressed by Patek Philippe’s success in various timing contests at the Geneva Observatory. Mr. Graves began acquiring Patek Philippe timepieces in the 1910s, ultimately becoming one of the firm’s most notable patrons. Mr. Graves would either commission watches from the firm or would ask Patek Philippe to personalize timepieces he acquired with his family’s coat-of-ams. The Graves coat-of-arms bears an eagle rising out of a ducal coronet, along with the motto: Esse Quam Videri (To Be, Rather than to Seem). The majority of Mr. Graves’ watches are distinguished by the use of this Coat-of-Arms on the case or, as with the Supercomplication, on the watch’s box. Many of his pocket watches were further personalised: “Made for Henry Graves, Jr. New York.” In line with his own competitive spirit, Mr. Graves commissioned Patek Philippe to make him the most complicated watch – more complicated than James Ward Packard’s Patek Philippe with sky chart no. 198.023, the Leroy No. 1 and the “Marie Antoinette” by Breguet. Mr. Graves became the very proud owner of the Supercomplication on 19th January 1933 for the sum of 60,000 SF ($15,000). Weighing approximately 535g (1 lb. 3 ounces), the watch consists of 920 individual components including 430 screws, 110 wheels, 120 mechanical levers or parts and 70 jewels. The Supercomplication remained in Mr. Graves’ collection of timepieces until his death in 1953. His daughter, Gwendolen, inherited the Supercomplication and much of the collection and later gifted it onto her son, Reginald H. “Pete” Fullerton, Jr., in 1960.  Mr. Fullerton, Henry Graves, Jr.'s grandson, was the last descendant of the Graves family to own the Supercomplication until its sale to Seth G. Atwood, founder of the Time Museum, in 1969. THE CONTEST One of the few, very few, minor regrets that I may have had during the 36 exhilarating years of my association with Patek Philippe, Geneva, is that I was not around during an era which, today, is considered as being  the vintage years for a number of timepieces produced by the Manufactory, namely: between 1900 and 1935. During that era, two men in the U.S.A., vied with one another to order and acquire exceptional watches, either for their time-keeping qualities or their complex mechanisms. Interestingly enough, both chose Patek Philippe as their principal source of supply. Thus started a fascinating ‘contest’ between two gentlemen . . . who were nevertheless rivals in the field of horology. The first, Henry Graves, Jr. of New York, was essentially a sportsman and collector; but fortuitously born into a private banking family. The second was James Ward Packard of Warren, Ohio, the automobile manufacturer. First one, then the other of these two gentlemen would order from Patek Philippe in Geneva, timepieces with multiple horological complications. By 1916, Mr. Packard had edged in front of Mr. Graves in his bid to own the finest and most complex watch in the world. Indeed, in January of that year he took delivery of an impressive pocket-watch made by Patek Philippe and which incorporated 16 horological complications. Again, in April 1927 a further stunning pocket-watch with ten complications, including a celestial-chart, was delivered to Mr. Packard by Patek Philippe. However, neither piece could claim to be the most complicated watch ever made. For Mr. Graves, ever the sportsman and competitor, the challenge was irresistible. Unhesitatingly, he returned to the ‘contest’ with renewed determination. In strictest secrecy he once more approached Patek Philippe in Geneva with a monumental request, namely: to plan and construct “the most complicated watch ever made” The master-watchmakers at Patek Philippe, undaunted, returned to their respective ateliers and drawing-boards to ponder this new, exciting challenge. Obviously, computer assistance in the construction of complex horological mechanisms did not exist in those days. Exhaustive studies in the realms of astronomy, mathematics and precision mechanisms were necessary to achieve what then became the “world’s most complicated timepiece” incorporating 25 horological complications. The Supercomplication retained that title for an impressively long time: 56 years in total. By modern-day standards, the end result was achieved astonishingly quickly. Indeed, ‘only’ seven years were necessary, between 1925-1932, to research, develop and produce the chef-d’oeuvre ordered by Mr. Graves from Patek Philippe. The watch was delivered to Mr. Graves on 19th January 1933. Then, in 1989, to mark Patek Philippe’s 150th anniversary, they unveiled the Calibre 89 which incorporates 33 complications. Thus, the “Graves” watch lost its title…but to a worthy successor. For those who may have the privilege of actually handling this famous and extraordinary timepiece will, I am sure, experience an indefinable sensation. I certainly did! Alan Banbery Former Curator of the Patek Philippe Museum Geneva, October 2014 THE SIDEREAL DIAL The sidereal time dial was made between 1929 and 1932 from a gold plate with silvered finish. The three subsidiary dials for sunrise, sunset, and subsidiary sidereal seconds were recessed by circular engraving. The plate was then engraved and enamelled. Above the subsidiary sidereal seconds, the equation of time sector indicates the difference between the minutes of mean time and sidereal time. The sky chart is also made from a gold disc and is overlaid with champlevé blue enamel. The archives of Stern Frères show that Patek Philippe supplied the gold for the dial and paid 110 Francs for its construction. The Stern Frères archives still retain a copy of the original drawings for the dial which were submitted to Henry Graves, Jr. for his approval. The drawings appear in what is known as Stern Frères special design book. Dial details: Gold dial plate with silvered finish, black enamel Arabic dauphine numerals, outer minute track, large aperture revealing the sky chart surrounded with the cardinal points, the sky chart composed of a champlevé blue enamel over gold stars à paillons depicting approximately 450 stars and a magnificent representation of the Milky Way, the whole of the night sky for the exact longitude of Mr. Graves’ Manhattan apartment overlooking Central Park on Fifth Avenue, three sunken subsidiary dials for times of sunrise and  sunset in New York, and seconds combined with equation of time scale, ‘pear’ shaped blued steel hands, the dial plate engraved and enamelled and with large personal inscription reading “Made for Henry Graves Jr, New York 1932 by Patek, Philippe & Co. Geneva, Switzerland.” THE MEAN TIME DIAL The mean time dial was made by Stern Frères S.A. between 1929 and 1930 and is white enamel. The perfect aesthetics of the dial mask the extreme complexity of its construction. The dial has to accommodate seven layers of hands - the two split seconds hands, hour hand, minute hand, alarm hand, and double hands within either power reserve subsidiaries - all of which have to seamlessly glide above one another. In order to accommodate the unprecedented number of hands, the subsidiary dials are double sunk, and each are made from two separate enamel sections with their relevant calibrations. This allows extra depth to the dial, keeping the overall height between crystal and dial surface to a minimum and thereby minimizing the overall depth of the watch. Dial details: White enamel dial, black enamel radial Roman numerals chiffres Romaines regardants, style Genève, outer track for minutes and chronograph seconds indication for fifths of a second, double-sunk subsidiary dials for 60-minute and 12-hour registers combined with power reserves for striking and going trains respectively, further double-sunk subsidiary dial for subsidiary seconds and date, apertures for day, month and moon-phases, Breguet hour and minute hands, the subsidiary dials with feuille shaped hands, gold alarm indicator hand, all other hands blued steel. THE MOVEMENT TIER 1 The movement's core tier is double sided. Each side of the ocre accomodates an additional tier, thereby making a total of three tiers. The movement: 25''' damascened, two train, multi-layered plates with 70 jewels, signed and numbered on the movement band. Tier 1 Main plate with lever escapement, three first wheels of 14k gold, bi-metallic compensation balance, with gold regulating screws, adjusted to heat, cold, isochronism and five positions, unique balance regulator with aperture enabling regulation concealed under bezel, striking mechanism with two barrels, Westminster-type carillon, grande and petite sonnerie, with four hammer's striking four gongs, mean time train, power reserves for movement and strike, both chronograph mechanisms visible to back-hyphen plate of central tier. The chronograph is executed in a classic manner, however this complication utilizes a 12-hour register which is rarely seen on Patek Philippe watches. It is also notable that the chronograph function has a 60-minute register which is considerably more complex to integrate than the more standard 30-minute register. The grande sonnerie includes four hammers that strike four gongs to sound the passing hours and Westminster quarter hours, the petite sonnerie when activated merely strikes the passing Westminster quarter hours. The alarm employs a fifth hammer and a fifth gong to ring the alarm. Tier 2 - Under Mean Time Dial Plate with alarm, spring and lever layout for time and alarm triple-setting system, calendar, and moon-phases. The perpetual calendar is unusually displayed with the day of the week and month of the year both shown in rectangular windows. Tier 3 - Under Sidereal Time Dial Sidereal time train, sky chart mechanism, cams for equation of time, sunrise and sunset. The Sidereal Time train is constructed with three main wheels and makes one full revolution every sidereal day. The Supercomplication provides the complete sidereal time with hours, minutes and seconds indicated. This is the most accurate manner to display Sidereal time but also the most complex. The Sky Chart mechanism comprises the display plate itself with three wheels and one gear, all connected to the sidereal time and adjustable through the crown's hand setting function. THE CASE The case of the Supercomplication was made by Luc Rochat of L’Abbaye in the Vallée de Joux. The case is 73.2mm in diameter, 35mm thick including the crystals and weighs 535g (1 lb, 3 oz). The case by itself weighs an impressive 250g. The double open-faced case is of classic bassine design. Both bezels are impressively thick to accommodate the depth of the dials and their hands. Each bezel has a concealed hinge, which represents the highest quality of such design. Despite the watch’s impressive size, it is exceptionally well proportioned; this is a testament to the careful planning and extraordinary collaboration between the master watchmakers, dial makers, and case maker who, between them, ensured that every cubic millimeter of space was used with the greatest efficiency. Almost five years were required from the design of the case to its final delivery, during which time hundreds of adjustments were made to ensure every function allowed by the slides and pushers was precise and smooth. The case incorporates 13 operational functions. Facing the watch from the mean time side and running around the case in a clockwise direction from the crown these are: 1. winding device, turning to one side for the main barrel and to the other side for the chime 2. pulling the crown, first position for the mean time, second position for the sidereal time setting 3. chronograph main start/stop coaxial device 4. moon-phase adjuster 5. alarm winding sliding device 6. petite/grande sonnerie selection slide 7. minute repeat trigger slide 8. adjuster for months of the year 9. adjuster for days of the week 10.  adjuster for date of the month 11. the strike/silent option, selected via a slide 12. the split device pusher 13. pusher to engage hand-setting when crown is pulled out SUMMARY OF THE MAJOR FUNCTIONS Perpetual Calendar with Moon-Phases The perpetual calendar shows the correct day of the week, date of the month and month of the year regardless of the length of the month. It also automatically adjusts for the leap year. The aperture for moon-phases shows the correct phase and age of the moon. Since the duration of the Solar year is 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 48 seconds and the mean year is 365 days, an extra year is added every four years (leap year) and a further adjustment is made with the omission of a leap year every four centuries. According to the Gregorian calendar reforms of 1582, century years that are divisible by 400 without remainder are to be considered leap years. Consequently, the perpetual calendar of the Supercomplication will be accurate until the year 2100, when the calendar will need to be readjusted for the first time. The Westminster Chimes, Repeater and Alarm Grande Sonnerie with Westminster chimes. Selected via a slide on the case band, this function strikes the hours and quarters at every quarter. The five gongs hammer for the carillon are separate from the alarm. Petite Sonnerie selected via the slide on the case band, this function strikes the passing quarter hours. Minute Repeater Selected on demand via the case band, the watch strikes the passing quarter hours and minutes. The Westminster chime, made famous by the Westminster London clock popularly known as ‘Big Ben,’ was first used in St. Mary’s Church, Cambridge in 1793. The chime tune itself was taken from the fifth bar of Handel’s aria from the Messiah, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Split Seconds chronograph The split seconds chronograph can be used to time up to two events at the same time. The chronograph is started, stopped and reset via the pusher at the center of the winding crown. When the chronograph is running, the split pusher which is located in the case band between 10 and 11 o’clock (when looking at the mean time dial) can be pressed to stop one of the central chronograph seconds hands, leaving the other to continue alone. Whilst the chronograph is running, minutes elapsed will be counted on the subsidiary dial to the right and hours to the left on the mean time dial. Sidereal Time and Equation of Time The Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication has hours, minutes and seconds of sidereal time, the time of sunrise and sunset (calibrated for New York City) and the equation of time. This sidereal complication requires a transmission ratio of exactly 1.0027379092, which is driven by a 62 tooth wheel on the arbor of the fourth wheel. Sidereal time is based on the amount of time it takes the Earth to make two consecutive transitions of a meridian by a fixed star. By measuring the transits of a fixed star, one is able to measure the actual time it takes for the Earth to turn on its axis. This period of time is known as a sidereal day which is approximately 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds. The equation of time indicator on the Supercomplication watch is calibrated to show the difference between apparent solar time (the time as indicated by a sundial) and mean time (the average of solar time). Since the Earth is in an elliptical orbit, the difference between mean and solar time ranges from plus 14 minutes 59 seconds to minus 16 minutes 15 seconds. Solar time agrees with mean time on or about 15th April, 15th June, 31st August, and 24th December. The Supercomplication watch indicates the equation of time on a sector-shaped scale with calibrations for plus/minus 17 minutes. The equation of time mechanism is driven by an arbor that protrudes through the movement from the calendar mechanism. The spelling ‘sideral’ on the dial of the watch is the French form of the word; the English spelling being ‘sidereal.’ The Star Chart The Supercomplication’s star chart rotates anti-clockwise behind the oval aperture of the dial. The shape of the aperture allows one to see the night sky as seen from New York City, complete with magnitudes of the stars and the Milky Way. PROVENANCE & TIMELINE Provenance Henry Graves, Jr., New York, January 1933 Gwendolen Graves Fullerton, by descent from the above, New York, 1953 Reginald H. “Pete” Fullerton, by gift from the above, New York, 1960 Time Museum, Rockford, Illinois, Inventory no. 4443, 1969 Sotheby’s, New York, Masterpieces from the Time Museum, 2 December 1999, lot 7 Private Collection Exhibited Rockford, Illinois, The Time Museum, 1970-1999 Geneva, The Patek Philippe Museum, 2001-2005 Literature “The Summum of complication,” Journal Suisse d’Horologie, December 1932, pp. 36-37. “Watches: These are the Best Built in the World,” Life Magazine, 23 December 1940, p. 31. “The World’s Most Complicated Watch,” Patek Philippe Newsletter, May 1960, pp. 2-3. Eugene Jaquet and Alfred Chapuis, Technique and History of the Swiss Watch, New York, 1970, pl. 122-123. Cecil Clutton and George Daniels, Watches, London, 1979 (3rd ed.), pl. 377a-e. Rheinhard Meis, Taschenuhren: Von d. Halsuhr zum Tourbillon, Munich, 1979, pl. 848-850. Seth G. Atwood and William Andrews, The Time Museum an Introduction, Rockford, 1983,  p. 30. Martin Huber and Alan Banbery, Patek Philippe, Geneva, 1983 (vol. 1, 1st ed.), pp. 250-257, pls. 232a-h. Martin Huber and Alan Banbery, Patek Philippe, Geneva, 1993, (vol. 1, 2nd ed.), pp. 88-91, pls. 237-239h. David S. Landes, Revolution in Time: Clocks and the Making of the Modern World, Boston, 1983, pp. 448-449. Patek Philippe S.A., Star Calibre 2000, Geneva, 2000, pp. 20-21. Arthur Lubow, “Complicated Collectors,” Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva, Autumn/Winter 2002, pp. 36-41. Stacy Perman, A Grand Complication: The Race to Build the World’s Most Legendary Watch, New York, 2013. Timeline Please see fig. 9 for the timeline of The Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication. Acknowledgements We are grateful to the following individuals for their guidance and assistance with the creation of this catalogue: Patricia Atwood, Alan Banbery, Alex Barter, Sylvie Dricourt, Peter Friess, Stacy Perman, Martin H. Wehrli, Béatrice Widemann, and of course, Patek Philippe.

  • CHESwitzerland
  • 2014-11-11
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* Note that the price doesn’t correlate with today’s value, but only relates to the actual end price at the time of the purchase.

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