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Femme assise

In May 1909 Pablo Picasso and his lover Fernande Olivier left Paris in order to spend the summer in the artist’s native Spain, arriving first in Barcelona. Having stayed there longer than initially intended due to Fernande’s ill health, in early June the couple arrived in Horta de Ebro (now Horta de Sant Joan), a remote Catalonian village (fig. 1) which could only be reached by mule, where they stayed until September. The summer months spent in Horta proved to be one of the most significant periods of Picasso’s career: he executed a number of portraits of Fernande, as well as several landscapes, which are today widely recognised as the true beginnings of Cubism. Femme assise belongs to a series of canvases based on the features of Fernande Olivier, which revolutionised Picasso’s working methods and developed a radically new approach to the representation of form, thus clarifying his path towards Analytic Cubism. The development of Cubism is inextricably linked to the friendship between Picasso and Georges Braque. Their friendship started in the winter of 1908 and their exchange of ideas had an immediate impact on their painting. Through continuous conversation and the exchange of letters, the two artists helped each other to invent an entirely new visual idiom. During the summer of 1909, while Picasso was at Horta, Braque had similarly left Paris in search of isolation and inspiration at La Roche-Guyon on the Seine. While Picasso simultaneously painted landscapes and portraits, Braque concentrated on landscapes depicting the castle and the surrounding forests using a remarkably similar palette of greens and greys and the towering, stacked compositions as his friend in Spain. William Rubin has described this period in Picasso’s œuvre as ‘the most crucial and productive vacation of his career. There in the pellucid Mediterranean light of his native Spain, he distilled from the material he had been exploring during the previous two years his first fully defined statement of Analytic Cubism’ (W. Rubin, Picasso in the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1972, p. 56). In 1907 Picasso made his major breakthrough, the celebrated Les Demoiselles d’Avignon now in The Museum of Modern Art, New York (fig. 2), a triumphant expression of modern aesthetic values, and arguably the single most influential painting created in the twentieth century. While working on this canvas he followed the traditional practice of creating countless sketches and small studies to help develop and refine the final composition. He continued to practice this method of working up to a single, monumental composition the following year, culminating in Trois femmes, now in The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. In 1909 Picasso’s working methods changed: rather than working up sketches and studies towards a single composition in which all of his latest developments were included, he produced a series of oils all of which were based on Fernande, but whose primary concern was the development of radical reinterpretation of pictorial form, largely influenced by paintings of Cézanne (figs. 3 & 8). Writing about the group of paintings inspired by Fernande Olivier, executed in Horta de Ebro from mid-June to early September 1909, Elizabeth Cowling observes: ‘He used several different formats, but […] no single painting is larger than all the others or designed as a “masterpiece”. Within the series as a whole there were mini-series devoted to the head only, the head and shoulders [fig. 4], and the head and torso or three-quarter-length figure [fig. 5]. […] Further variation is introduced through the angle of the head, orientation of the figure, degree of contrapposto in the pose, the hairstyle and clothing, lighting, colour and the extent to which the background and its content are subject to the same elaborate facetting. The other paintings done in Horta – views of the village and mountains [figs. 6 & 7], still lifes and two paintings of the head and shoulders of a man – relate closely in their structure and style to the paintings of Fernande, so that, for example, the sharply delineated, in-out thrusts of the facets of her head and neck resemble those of the cubic buildings packed together on the hillside or the crisp folds of the ruckled drapery in the still lifes. Picasso’s production during these months […] was thoroughly integrated, his approach disciplined: there is unquestionably a Horta style’ (E. Cowling, op. cit., pp. 211-212). Like the other Horta portraits, Femme assise is characterised by geometricised, broken down forms which allowed the artist to explore the sitter’s figure from multiple angles and to achieve a highly voluminous, sculptural feel. As John Golding has commented: ‘Picasso’s paintings of 1908 had been sculptural in appearance and intent and in some of them there are already hints or implications of the multi-viewpoint perspectives of early Cubism. This reached its first full, explicit expression in the work produced by Picasso at Horta de Ebro, a remote Catalan village, in the summer of 1909. Picasso had become interested in a sculptural approach to painting because of the physicality of his vision, because he wanted to touch and to mould and to handle his subjects. Now, with the abandonment of traditional single viewpoint perspective he was able to achieve his goal of taking possession of his subjects more completely and to give his canvases a dimension that in a sense already existed in free-standing sculpture: for clearly the essential property of sculpture in the round is that the sculptor impels the spectator to move around it and study it from all angles. With the adoption of multi-viewpoint perspective Picasso presented the viewer with a sculptural fullness or completeness on a two-dimensional support’ (J. Golding in Picasso: Sculptor/Painter (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 20). Having explored the possibilities of representing a three-dimensional figure on the two-dimensional medium of canvas painting, and having imbued his Horta paintings with a strong sculptural feel, it is no surprise that upon his return to Paris in September 1909 Picasso applied his findings to a three-dimensional medium, producing the celebrated Tête de femme (Fernande). Considered to be the first Cubist sculpture, Tête de femme (Fernande) was executed in two plaster versions and later cast in bronze. The richness of the sculpture with its countless ridges, recesses and protrusions and the multiplicity of viewpoints that it offered, inspired a number of photographers including Alfred Stieglitz (fig. 14) and Brassaï. Elizabeth Cowling discussed the relationship between the paintings that Picasso produced during the summer in Horta and the sculpture that followed immediately after: ‘Evidently he wanted to condense within a single work not only all the main angles and tonal variations explored in individual paintings in the series, but also the viewpoints (such as the head seen more or less in profile, from the back, or from above) which appear in none of them’ (E. Cowling, op. cit., p. 212). This sculptural quality is powerfully present in several features of Femme assise, particularly in the dramatic rendering of the figure’s elongated neck, the pronounced eyebrows and the ‘reversible cube’ of her forehead – the volume which can be read as both protruding and receding – and whose V-shape is echoed in Fernande’s characteristic upturned lips. While Femme assise and its companion canvases consistently take the image of Fernande as their motif, Picasso’s focus was centred around his painterly technique, as he explored his new methods to their farthest limit. Painting itself, rather than depicting his model, became the artist’s main focus. As Pierre Daix observed: ‘Painting itself now reigned supreme, blossoming with renewed vitality beyond all inherited assumptions as to its limits, subject only to the geometricizing demands of his refiner’s fire. In working in this manner, Picasso transferred to these portraits the monumentality acquired in his geometrization of the Horta landscapes, such as Houses on the Hill [fig. 7] and The Factory. [… Fernande] exists as little more than a “motif,” a springboard to the free improvisation of his geometric reconstruction of fragmented shapes. One can, of course, recognize Fernande’s voluminous head of hair and the general contours of her face, sliced into large masses […]. The portrait is no longer a naturalistic representation but has become everything that painting can appropriate from the model in order to transform it into what only painting can express. The portrait becomes the sum of all that Picasso’s plastic imagination can extract and transform from the model’ (P. Daix in ‘Portraiture in Picasso’s Primitivism and Cubism’, in Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York & Grand Palais, Paris, 1996-97, p. 276). Writing in the catalogue of the seminal exhibition entirely dedicated to Picasso’s Cubist portrayals of Fernande, Jeffrey Weiss distinguished several groups of portraits executed in Horta. The first group, which includes Tête de femme (Fernande) now in the Art Institute of Chicago (fig. 10) is according to Weiss ‘distinguished by a relatively fleshy treatment of the face […]. The second group of paintings from Horta consists of five canvases [including the present work], one of which has been destroyed in a fire. These images trade the softer anatomy of the preceding type for a construction that is articulated by blade-like edges and angular, interlocking forms’ (J. Weiss in Picasso: The Cubist Portraits of Fernande Olivier (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., pp. 8-9). While scholars have argued that Picasso probably regarded the group of Horta paintings as part of the same pictorial experiment, rather than a linear progression, it is clear that the present work, in which round shapes are replaced with more angular ones, can be regarded as a step further on the path of breaking up form and transforming the figure into a series of hard-edged faceting. A similar treatment can be seen in what can be described as a background of the present composition, in which the vase of flowers to the right of Fernande’s neck is depicted in a significantly more stylised, abstracted manner than the vase in Portrait de Fernande, now in Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf (fig. 11) or the still-life with a pear and cloth on a table-top in the Chicago picture. The extraordinary development that occurred in Picasso’s paintings of Fernande executed in Horta in the summer 1909 marked the arrival of Analytical Cubism (fig. 12), a style which opened radically new possibilities in pictorial treatment of form and would thus prove to be a pivotal point in the development of Modern art. As Weiss argues, however, ‘form in the Fernande sequence is not specific to painting and drawing – not, in fact, specific to any single medium. It belongs, instead, to the reciprocal relationship the artist established among a multiplicity of mediums, including sculpture and photography’ (ibid., p. 15). Belonging to this extraordinary opus produced over a short yet momentous and far-reaching period of Picasso’s œuvre, Femme assise stands firmly as an icon of Modernism. This work has been requested for the forthcoming exhibition Picasso Portraits, to be held at the National Portrait Gallery, London from October 2016 to February 2017 and at Museu Picasso, Barcelona from March to June 2017. Signed Picasso (upper left)

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2016-06-21
Hammer price
Show price

Pikene på broen (Girls on the Bridge)

“No longer shall I paint interiors and people reading, and women knitting. I shall paint living people who breathe and feel and suffer and love – I shall paint a number of pictures of this kind. People will understand the sacredness of it, and will take off their hats as though they were in church.” – Edvard Munch Pikene på broen (The Girls on the Bridge) numbers among Edvard Munch’s greatest masterpieces. Painted in 1902, the same year Munch’s Frieze of Life was exhibited at the Berlin Secession, the present work captures Munch’s use of bold coloration, sharp perspective and sinuous line. Of his twelve oils of this subject, ten are in public collections – the present work is one of only two canvases remaining in private hands. Munch’s importance to the history of 20th century art cannot be overstated. From Expressionism to Fauvism to Pop Art his far reaching influence is impossible to ignore. Instead of visual reality, it is his uncanny ability to capture the human experience and its emotions that makes him one of the most powerful artist in history. Munch first visited Åsgårdstrand, a resort a few miles south of Oslo, in autumn of 1888. He took a holiday residence there in the summer of 1889, which he rented for some years until he purchased a house in 1897. In the following years, Munch traveled widely across Europe, making extended visits to Berlin, Paris and Hamburg, but often returned to Åsgårdstrand during the summer months. He painted his Frieze of Life there, characterized by his expressive winding line, distorted perspective and non-naturalistic colors that would ultimately inspire the Fauves in France and Expressionists in Germany and Austria. "The countryside around the little town of Åsgårdstrand near the west bank of the Oslo Fjord held an exceptional place in Munch's art. Munch was familiar with all of its features: the gently undulating coastline, the large crowns of the linden trees, and the white fences which materialized like fluorescent bands in the summer night. After several summer holidays there, he was able to immerse himself in the essence of the place in a way which made it a reflection of his own inner landscape, while simultaneously expressing the moods and feelings of an entire generation" (M. Lande in Edvard Munch, The Frieze of Life (exhibition catalogue), The National Gallery, London, 1992, p. 54). The year Munch first spent his summer in Åsgårdstrand, he wrote in his journal “No longer shall I paint interiors and people reading, and women knitting. I shall paint living people who breathe and feel and suffer and love – I shall paint a number of pictures of this kind. People will understand the sacredness of it, and will take off their hats as though they were in church.” George Heard Hamilton asserts that “In these three sentences he rejected the emotionally neutral subjects of Impressionism, and stated his determination to paint pictures expressive of states of mind and his vision of a group of pictures having a continuous, cumulative effect. The latter idea he developed as an extended Frieze of Life. As such it was never completed; the components were never definitely established, and although as many as twenty-two separate paintings were shown together at the Berlin Sezession [sic] in 1905, it remained a collection of disparate canvases differing in size, scale, and technique. Only the theme held the parts together, the theme of suffering through love towards death, suffering more mental than physical, realized by gesture more than by action, by facial expression more than by event. The individual episodes in sum comprise the fullest statement any artist has left of the fin-de-siècle mood of disillusionment with man’s material and social development” (George Heard Hamilton, Paintings and Sculptures in Europe 1880-1940, New Haven, 1993, pp. 122-24) Alongside Vincent van Gogh, Munch was the key pioneer of Expressionism. Both artists used the genre of landscape as a vehicle to express inner states of being. In depicting nature in a highly individual, internalized manner, Munch draws on the tradition of stemningsmaleri, or “mood-painting,” characteristic of Nordic art towards the end of the nineteenth century, notably his contemporary Harald Sohlberg. Alongside several fellow avant-garde artists, Munch abandoned the plein-air naturalism which had dominated Norwegian landscape painting, in favor of an emotionally charged and resonant vision of nature. In the present masterpiece, he took as a starting point a scene he would have witnessed in Åsgårdstrand. The strong perspectival device of the jetty (although the work is titled with “bridge”) allows for the deep recess of space flowing sharply towards the town at right. Munch used the non-natural color and distorted perspective to express emotion. Girls on the Bridge, one of Munch's most widely popular and acclaimed motifs, was painted during one of the most turbulent periods of his life. The rich symbolism of this picture relates to Frieze of Life, which takes the stages of a young woman's development from puberty to maturity as one of its themes. Girls on the Bridge continues Munch's exploration of these themes of sexual awakening and mortality. The image of a cluster of young women, huddled in a secretive mass between two points of land, resonates with explosive tension. Recalling his own emotional instability during the years he painted this image, Munch wrote to his friend Jens Thiis, probably in 1933: "...those years from 1902 until the Copenhagen clinic [in 1908] were the unhappiest, the most difficult and yet the most fateful and productive years of my life." Discussing Girls on a Bridge Antonia Hoerschelmann wrote: "Contemporary critics praised the work enthusiastically as perhaps the most mature and accomplished painting produced by the painter Edvard Munch. The painting was also received with great enthusiasm in Berlin, where Munch showed it to fellow artists in 1902. He reports that Max Liebermann considered it his best painting" (Edvard Munch – Theme and Variation (exhibition catalogue), Albertina, Vienna, 2003, p. 293). A fervent traveler, whose existence around 1900 can be best described as nomadic, Munch absorbed the visual arts, literature and performance arts of the many cities and countries he went through. “The stimulating effect of Paris is reflected in the masterpieces he produced just after the turn of the century, such as the lyrical and harmonious Girls on the Bridge, a motif of puberty charged with the eroticism of a Nordic summer night. It is probably the most outstanding example of Munch’s ‘new artistic use of colour’ which appears to have influenced the French Fauvists…. In this context Christian Krohg’s comments in an article of 1909 are interesting: ‘In conclusion, if I were to give an impression of Matisse as a painter, I would say that he resembles Edvard Munch… I think Munch is the father of Matissism, though he may perhaps disown his child” (A. Eggum in Edvard Munch, The Frieze of Life (exhibition catalogue), The National Gallery, London, 1992-93, p. 21) As was often the case with his serialist tendencies, Munch went on to produce several versions of Girls on the Bridge, creating between 1901 and 1935 a total of twelve known oil paintings and a number of variations in etching, lithograph and woodcut. Five of these oils depict groups of women – identifiable based on their hair, worn pinned up under their hats – while six depict groups of adolescent girls, whose brightly colored dresses and loose hair denote their age. Of the works in oil, several are in the collections of museums around the world, including the Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo; The Pushkin Museum, Moscow; Bergen Billedgalleri; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth and the Munch Museum, Oslo. Sue Prideaux has described how critical this image was for the artist: "The Girls on the Bridge is a continuation of his redemption-landscapes, a wish for resurrection into a clean clear world inhabited by innocents, a hope that all loves need not be disastrous. The first time he showed it, the painting became enormously popular; he had already promised it to Olaf Schou in place of one that had been destroyed in a shipwreck, but he wrote to Tante Karen, 'shame it was sold, I could have sold it twenty times over.' It has remained one of his most popular images. In his mind, it occupied a very special place" (S. Prideaux, Edvard Munch, Behind the Scream, New Haven, 2005, p. 202). Expressive use of color is fundamental to the present version of Girls on the Bridge, although there are some differences in composition with other versions from these first years of Munch's exploration of this motif. In the first version, originally called Summer Night, three young girls stand on the bridge at Åsgårdstrand and gaze into the water. The midnight sun creates a mysterious half-light which softens and dematerializes all the forms. Munch's draughtsmanship is organic and sinuous, paralleling contemporary developments in the decorative arts such as Art Nouveau and Jugendstil. In comparison, the present picture is characterized by a brilliant even light that eliminates mysterious shadows, sharpens and defines the forms and accentuates the contrast of color. A group of girls now clusters in the middle of the bridge, which recedes at a much sharper angle than in the Oslo picture, further into the picture plane, similar in perspective to The Scream. These views of Åsgårdstrand do not look outwards towards the fjord that would be the focus of so much of Munch’s Norwegian production. Turning his back to the picturesque harbor, the artist depicted a view up the jetty, towards the houses and trees lining the side of the fjord, with a small upward-sloping road taking the viewer's eye deep into the composition. While from a structural point of view the bridge plays a similar role as in The Scream, the overall treatment of the scene provides a less dramatic, more poetic atmosphere. In the strength of its color and radical perspective, however, the present work ranks among the most confident and stunning paintings of Munch's career. Ragna Stang has described Girls on the Bridge:  "Munch makes use of a handrail to accentuate the perspective – our eyes instinctively follow it towards the landscape in the background, even though we are unable to make out precisely where the railing ends and the road, which leads past the large sleeping house into the small town beyond, actually begins. The composition of this first version shows clearly how Munch has applied the same technique of elementary simplification that we have already seen in landscapes of the period. He has achieved a perfect sense of equilibrium in the way that the sharp diagonal of the handrail is matched by the white horizontal line of the wall, while the dark, brooding mass of the linden tree is mirrored in the water below the swirling lines of the shore. Munch specialized in the portrayal of still summer nights, and in this painting he has succeeded, by the use of subtle shades of pink, deep green and blue, in recapturing that mood as never before, the whole effect being further enhanced by the small, watery gold shape of the moon. Against this mellow and restrained background, the green, red and white dresses of the girls ring out as a fanfare of color, and we are reminded of the question once posed by Christian Krohg: 'Has anyone ever heard such resonant color...?" (R. Stang, Edvard Munch, The Man and his Art, New York, 1979, p. 170). The year the present work was painted was a seminal year in the artist’s career, both professionally and personally. After a long love affair with Tulla Larsen, Munch managed to separate himself once and for all from her in dramatic fashion. The affair ended in a self-inflicted gunshot wound, obliterating the knuckle of one of his fingers leading to a surgery he insisted on being awake during, which he would later use to create paintings of the medical procedure. The year 1902 however was also one of considerable career triumph - he first exhibited the Frieze of Life at the Berlin Secession, he bought and began to use a camera and he met Max Linde, who would publish, that same year, Edvard Munch und die Kunst der Zukunft (Edvard Munch and the Art of the Future). During this period Munch moved increasingly away from portraits and representations of people in outdoor settings towards the motif of landscape. This shift of focus, however, did not signify a departure from his earlier obsession with tormented, angst-ridden individuals. On the contrary, it was precisely this emotional and mental instability that gave the artist the insight to produce such masterpieces as the present work, in which he reached a certain level of abstraction, expressing the joys and anxieties of the human condition through the pictorial elements of color and form. “Munch’s statement ‘I do not paint what I see but what I saw’ suggests that he understands his work as the product not of an empirical, observational process but of the cumulative emotion of the mind’s eye. Intentionally and consciously, between seeing something in the world and realizing it in paint, he passes it through a mental filter from which it later emerges transformed in the intensity of the remembered moment. Like van Gogh and Gauguin before him and the Expressionists after him, Munch often uses color not for naturalistic description but to convey authenticity of feeling. Meanwhile his loose, flowing brushstrokes shape figures whose contours pulsate with lines and movements in the scene surrounding them. Understanding the world as a place of agitation and stress, Munch makes that vision literal; the emotional states that concern Munch are often disruptive—anxiety, jealousy—but he also knows quieter moods, like melancholy, loneliness, or, more positively, the shared solitude of lovers as in The Kiss, where the couple seem to melt into each other in an erasure of separate identities” (K. McShine in Edvard Munch, The Modern Life of the Soul (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Modern Art, New  York, 2006, p. 15). Munch's landscapes of this period had a strong influence on German Expressionist painters, who had the opportunity to see his works in several exhibitions in Germany between 1905 and 1908. The brilliant, wild palette that dominated Munch's canvases had a powerful impact on the Brücke artists who were eager to move away from their urban surroundings in Berlin and other cities, and to embrace the more 'primitive' life-style and wild nature of the northern German coast. It was the daring, expressive power of Munch's landscapes, pulsating with undulating lines and vivid, dramatic brush-strokes that had such a profound effect on some of the major figures of twentieth century art including Kirchner, Schmidt-Rottluff, Pechstein and Heckel. Munch’s breadth of feeling in his works of art is hard to fully express. Perhaps no other artist has created such deeply gripping and unflinching images – images that are honest and in that honesty evoke visceral reactions. Kynaston McShine in the introduction to the Museum of Modern Art’s 2006 exhibition Edvard Munch, The Modern Life of the Soul described the artist: “Edvard Munch is the modern poet and philosopher in painting. At the same time, he is passionately emotional, perhaps more so than any other modern artist. The extremes of joy and pain all come to him, and human emotions are presented in his work with a naked rawness that still startles more than a century after his vision was formed. His iconic constructions depicting events and moods from his own life create indelible images that occupy our minds. Munch’s painting as in The Dance of Life, encompasses a litany of emotions that covers life from birth to death. The narrative of Munch’s life and work, rooted in the nineteenth century, somehow transforms, through his own will and force, his personal experiences  into an extraordinary examination of what he terms ‘the modern life of the soul’ – birth, innocence, love, sexual passion, melancholy, anger, jealousy, despair, anxiety, illness, and death. His exploration of the range of modern experience in palpable psychological terms reflects an existential agitation” (ibid, p. 11). The present work has formed an integral part of several famed American collections. It was first brought to the United States by Norton Simon in the 1960s whose collection is now displayed in the famed Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. Wendell & Dorothy Cherry acquired Girls on a Bridge in 1980 when Norton Simon decided to pursue a collection more focused on sculpture. The Cherrys shared a life-long passion for collecting the very finest European and American Paintings. Their extraordinary collection included seminal works by Degas, Klimt, Modigliani, Sargent, Soutine and Picasso amongst others. Wendell Cherry passed away in 1991 and Girls on the Bridge remained with his widow Dorothy until 1996, when it was sold by Sotheby's. On this occasion, as in 1980 and in 2008, the painting achieved a new world record for the artist. In 2012 Sotheby's sold The Scream for $119 million, then the highest auction price in history. Signed E. Munch and dated 1902 (upper right)

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2016-11-15
Hammer price
Show price

Paysage sous un ciel mouvementé

Van Gogh's dramatically atmospheric Paysage sous un ciel mouvementé is one of the finest of the artist's Arles landscapes.  Painted amidst the most fruitful period of the artist's career, when his canvases were flooded with rich passages of densely-painted color, the composition depicts a verdant field under threat of an explosive rainstorm.  Van Gogh creates a scene of intense anticipation here, replete with psychological drama as the laborers hurry to finish their work before the heavens rain down upon them.  This painting was completed only two months before Van Gogh executed what is arguably his most celebrated work, The Starry Night, now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.   Paysage sous un ciel mouvementé can be considered the thundering precursor to the MoMA picture and the first act of Van Gogh's grand celestial exploration.  Both of these paintings celebrate the majestic beauty of nature and the uncontrollable and often turbulent forces that shaped Van Gogh's world.   In his analysis of Paysage sous un ciel mouvementé, Sjraar van Heugten discusses the events that led to Van Gogh's completion of this important painting in April of 1889: "This Provençal landscape of a meadow in Spring is among the last paintings which Van Gogh made in the countryside near Arles. Known by the title, Paysage sous un ciel mouvementé, as well as Meadows, it was painted in the first half of April 1889, just a few weeks before Van Gogh would leave Arles and admit himself to the asylum of Saint-Paul-de Mausole in Saint-Remy. During his Dutch years (1881-1885), Van Gogh’s main goal had been becoming a painter of the human figure, following in the footsteps of painters like Jean-François Millet, Jules Breton and Joseph Israëls. But even in that period, his landscape paintings and drawings show his unusual talent for that genre. In the South of France, where he found an abundance of motives in nature, this capacity would lead to an astonishing number of masterpieces. Van Gogh had arrived in Arles on February 20, 1888. After two years in Paris (early 1886-early 1888) he had grown very tired of urban life. He wanted to go to Marseille, but decided to go to Arles first, to recuperate in rural surroundings and a mild climate. Soon, Arles and the Provençal countryside turned out to be a treasure trove of inspiration, and Van Gogh would never go to Marseille. In Paris he had discovered Japanese art and in the South he hoped to find the same harmony, color and light that he had observed in Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. He was not disappointed. He had high hopes that he could persuade other avant-garde artists to come to Arles and establish an artists community, ‘A Studio of the South’. Upon arrival -  and to his dismay - he had found Arles covered under some 60 cm of snow. During the first weeks he had few chances of working outside, but the weather finally turned on 10 March. He then set off to produce a long series of flowering orchards. During his two years in Paris, Van Gogh worked hard to change his stylistic approach and dark palette into a modern way of painting with strong, vibrant colors. He had studied Impressionism, the works of the young avant-garde, Japanese art, and a broad range of other artists. His understanding of color theories became profound. He experimented with several techniques, such as the Neo-Impressionist’s dots and strokes, and the almost draughtsman-like brushstroke of the peinture à l’essence, painted with very thin paint. He found that working in a heavy impasto suited him best and allowed him to work in a lively and expressive manner. These achievements came together in Arles, where Van Gogh developed his singular modern idiom fully. The bright light and remarkable colors of the South were ideally suited for his coloristic talents. Van Gogh sought to make truly modern figure pieces, and some of the figures and portraits he painted in Arles are among the best in his oeuvre. But the landscape painter in him was greatly inspired by the nature of the South, and his achievements in that genre are amongst the most radical innovations in the history of art. After his spring campaign of flowering orchards, summer followed with the harvest of the wheat, one of Van Gogh's favorite motifs. Autumn landscapes and parks were attacked with equal vigor. On October 23, 1888, after having postponed several times, Paul Gauguin arrived in Arles to join Van Gogh, who by now lived and worked in the Yellow House. Van Gogh had high hopes that his studio in the South would indeed be realized, since he saw Gauguin as the de facto leader in such a community. For many weeks the artists worked well together, inspiring each other and exchanging artistic insights. However, their preferences and temperaments clashed, and at the end of December a fierce discussion got out of hand. During what was probably a first attack of his illness, Van Gogh cut off a part of his left earlobe and had to be hospitalized. Gauguin left Arles on December 25 and Van Gogh's dream of a studio of young artists was shattered. Van Gogh's last four months in Arles were marked by problems and incidents. People from the neighborhood around the Yellow House turned against him and in the end he had to leave. Due to attacks of his illness he returned to the hospital several times and stayed there for weeks. In April 1889, when he was again staying in the hospital, he felt well enough to go outside and paint the Spring landscape. In a letter of mid April he asks Theo to send him a large batch of paint, adding: ‘I have 6 spring studies, including two large orchards. It’s very urgent, because these effects are so fleeting.’ [758][1] One of these studies was Meadows (the present work). Van Gogh mentions the painting three times in his letter, but does not comment on it. It is, however, very tempting to see a reflection in it of Van Gogh’s feelings during those days filled with worry. At the beginning of April, Van Gogh had written to Theo: ‘I’m well these days, apart from a certain vague background sadness that’s hard to define.’ [754]  At the end of the month he wrote to his sister Willemien that he had suffered four attacks of his illness over the past months and he is worried about the future: ‘It’s very likely that I have a lot more to suffer'...‘I can’t precisely describe what the thing I have is like, there are terrible fits of anxiety sometimes – without any apparent cause – or then again a feeling of emptiness and fatigue in the mind.’ [764] Van Gogh’s melancholy mood found his way into some of his works. In that same letter he describes a view of the courtyard of the hospital which he painted: ‘[…] it’s a painting chock-full of flowers and springtime greenery. However, three black, sad tree-trunks cross it like snakes, and in the foreground four large sad, dark box bushes.’ On May 3 he writes to Theo that he made a drawing of a weeping tree ‘which became very dark and quite melancholic for springtime.’ [768] In Meadows, Van Gogh possibly wants to convey this sentiment. With its cheery field with flowers it is clearly a spring scene. A man and a woman to the left are out for a stroll. She is bending over, probably to pick some flowers. Van Gogh often added such couples to compositions to give the image a touch of human romance and a feeling of consolation. The landscape and the figures are painted in a quick but careful way, and the colors are bright and lively. The heavy gray clouds in the blue sky are highly unusual in Van Gogh’s work from Arles. They are painted with a thick brush in forceful and expressive strokes, and are in contrast with the lightness of the lower part of the painting. They may have been included to evoke the feeling of melancholy that had Van Gogh in its grip. It gives the painting a strong personal touch and makes it a moving testimony of the painter’s life during that late period in Arles. Ronald Pickvance has suggested a possible location for this scene, but the landscape contains so few identifying topographical clues that any certainty seems impossible.[2] The painting was mainly done in one session with possibly some added touches in the next days. Van Gogh painted on a standard size canvas, a so-called toile de 20 figure. Like many contemporary artists in France, Van Gogh bought standard size canvases or cut canvas from a role to fit standard size frames. They came in three categories, paysage, marine and figure and the number referred to the price in sous that they cost when the system was introduced. A toile de 20 figure measures 73 x 60 cm. Van Gogh usually bought his canvases pre-primed. When Van Gogh left Arles, he had to leave some of his work behind. In the first half of July 1889, he went from Saint-Rémy to Arles to pick up canvases and on 15 or 16 July he sent 11 paintings to Theo by train, Meadows (the present work) amongst them" (Sjraar van Heugten in correspondence with Sotheby's, October 2015).   [1] The letter numbers refer to Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker, Vincent van Gogh – The Letters. The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, Amsterdam etc. 2009. See also the online edition, with more extensive annotation: vangoghletters.org. [2] Pickvance 2000, no. 74, p. 307, see literature Sotheby's is grateful to Sjraar van Heugten for writing the catalogue note for the present lot.

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-11-06
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Nymphéas

Claude Monet’s Nymphéas are amongst the most iconic and celebrated Impressionist paintings. The profound impact the series has made on the evolution of Modern Art marks them out as Monet’s greatest achievement. The famous lily pond in his garden at Giverny provided the subject matter for most of his major late works, recording the changes in his style and his constant pictorial innovations. The present work, which dates from 1905, is a powerful testament to Monet’s enduring vision and creativity in his mature years. Monet’s Nymphéas from 1905-1907 are triumphantly achieved monuments of color; the water reflects the skies’ shifting hues and the lilies themselves are elegant touches of paint applied with bravura. As Daniel Wildenstein notes, it was in 1905 that Monet’s canvases took an especially close up view of the pond, with a number of water lilies in the foreground of their compositions, and no sign of the banks. This innovative approach can be seen in the present work and a closely related painting in the National Museum of Wales. By 1890, Monet had become financially successful enough to buy the house and large garden at Giverny, which he had rented since 1883. With enormous vigour and determination, he swiftly set about transforming the gardens and creating a large pond. There were initially a number of complaints about Monet’s plans to divert the river Epte through his garden in order to feed his new pond, which he had to address in his application to the Préfet of the Eure department: "I would like to point out to you that, under the pretext of public salubrity, the aforementioned opponents have in fact no other goal than to hamper my projects out of pure meanness, as is frequently the case in the country where Parisian landowners are involved […] I would also like you to know that the aforementioned cultivation of aquatic plants will not have the importance that this term implies and that it will be only a pastime, for the pleasure of the eye, and for motifs to paint" (quoted in Michael Hoog, Musée de l’Orangerie. The Nymphéas of Claude Monet, Paris, 2006, p. 119). Once the garden was designed according to the artist’s vision, it offered a boundless source of inspiration, and provided the major themes that dominated the last three decades of Monet’s career. Towards the end of his life, he obfuscated his initial intentions, perhaps with a mind to his own mythology, telling a visitor to his studio: "It took me some time to understand my water lilies. I planted them purely for pleasure; I grew them with no thought of painting them. A landscape takes more than a day to get under your skin. And then, all at once I had the revelation – how wonderful my pond was – and reached for my palette. I’ve hardly had any other subject since that moment" (quoted in Stephan Koja, Claude Monet (exhibition catalogue), Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, 1996, p. 146). Once discovered, the subject of water lilies offered a wealth of inspiration that Monet went on to explore for several decades. His carefully designed garden presented the artist with a micro-cosmos in which he could observe and paint the changes in weather, season and time of day, as well as the ever-changing colors and patterns. John House wrote: "The water garden in a sense bypassed Monet’s long searches of earlier years for a suitable subject to paint. Designed and constantly supervised by the artist himself, and tended by several gardeners, it offered him a motif that was at the same time natural and at his own command - nature re-designed by a temperament. Once again Monet stressed that his real subject when he painted was the light and weather" (J. House, Monet: Nature into Art, Newhaven, 1986, p. 31). In 1908 Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier visited Monet at Giverny and gave a thoughtful description of Monet’s working methods for the review Fermes et Châteaux: "In this mass of intertwined verdure and foliage […] the lilies spread their round leaves and dot the water with a thousand red, pink, yellow and white flowers […]. The Master often comes here, where the bank of the pond is bordered with thick clumps of irises. His swift, short strokes place brushloads of luminous colour as he moves from one place to another, according to the hour […]. The canvas he visited this morning at dawn is not the same as the canvas we find him working on in the afternoon. In the morning, he records the blossoming of the flowers, and then, once they begin to close, he returns to the charms of the water itself and its shifting reflections, the dark water that trembles beneath the somnolent leaves of the water-lilies" (quoted in Daniel Wildenstein, Monet or The Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne, 2003, p. 384). The unending variety of forms and tones that the ponds provided allowed Monet to work consistently on a number of canvases at the same time. The spectacular field of color presented by Nymphéas is created to elicit an instinctive emotional response rather than to record a particular location, temporal conditions or natural phenomena. Over the course of three crucial years, from 1905 until 1907, Monet experimented with different approaches and painting techniques. The paintings from 1905 were thickly painted with a dense surface and horizontally oriented, whilst those from 1906 interplay between rich impastoed areas with finer washes. In 1907 Monet used his canvases vertically and experimented with longer brushstrokes. Another important feature of the works from this period is how Monet removed the perspectival elements that had existed in his earlier renditions of the lily pond, so the banks and borders which were sometimes featured no longer informed the scope or scale of the works. Since the birth of Impressionism, Monet’s primary concern had been the sensation of color and its properties and these technical innovations underwrote his highly advanced theoretical approach. In Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, the narrator goes to visit a fictional painter called Elstir who was based in part on Monet. Here, in the studio the narrator begins to see Elstir’s new purpose for art. "But I was able to discern from these that the charm of each of them lay in a sort of metamorphosis of the things represented in it, analogous to what in poetry we call metaphor, and that, if God the Father had created things by naming them, it was by taking away their names or giving them other names that Elstir created them anew. The names which denote things correspond invariably to an intellectual notion, alien to our true impressions, and compelling us to eliminate from them everything that is not in keeping with itself" (quoted in Charles Prendergast, The Triangle of Representation, New York, 2000, p. 154). Monet’s Nymphéas fulfils the promise of Elstir’s intentions, managing to transcend paintings traditional, illusory function in order to create a new sense of purpose for art. Even in his earliest depictions of the Nymphéas Monet embraced a monumental scope, which would be most fully realised in his Les Grandes décorations, a sequence of monumental paintings of the gardens that took his depictions of the water lily pond in a dramatic new direction - the artist envisaged an environment in which the viewer would be completely surrounded by the paintings. In 1909 Monet was quoted by Claude-Roger Marx outlining his vision: "The temptation came to me to use this water-lily theme for the decoration of a drawing room: carried along the length of the walls, enveloping the entire interior with its unity, it would produce the illusion of an endless whole, of a watery surface with no horizon and no shore; nerves exhausted by work would relax there, following the restful example of those still waters, a refuge of peaceful meditation in the middle of a flowering aquarium" (quoted in Claude Roger-Marx, "Les Nymphéas de Monet," in Le Cri de Paris, Paris, 23rd May 1909). The present work and the others in this series eventually led to Les Grandes décorations, now in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, which are according to Daniel Wildenstein "the crowning glory of Monet’s career, in which all his work seemed to culminate"(D. Wildenstein, op. cit., 1996, p. 840). The present work was included in the seminal exhibition held at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1909, which the artist entitled Les nymphéas, série de paysages d'eau par Claude Monet. This long awaited show had been planned for many years, and delayed by Monet’s prevarication and his lengthy trip to Venice earlier in the year. The artist insisted on payment for almost all the works to be included in the show, resulting in Durand-Ruel, not having the funds to bankroll the whole exhibition, having to jointly acquire the pictures with the Bernheim-Jeune brothers. Monet and the dealers chose 48 canvases all of the same subject which were shown in three rooms and drew the attention and admiration of countless collectors, as Daniel Wildenstein notes: "These works perfectly matched the aesthetic of the first years of the 20th Century’ (D. Wildenstein, Monet or The Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne, 2003, p. 388). Their natural grace and exuberance related to the Art Nouveau. Writing on the exhibition at the time, Jean-Louis Vaudoyer stated: "None of the earlier series… can, in our opinion, compare with these fabulous Water Landscapes, which are holding spring captive in the Durand-Ruel Gallery. Water that is pale blue and dark blue, water like liquid gold, treacherous green water reflects the sky and the banks of the pond and among the reflections pale water lilies and bright water lilies open and flourish. Here, more than ever before, painting approached music and poetry. There is in these paintings an inner beauty that is both plastic and ideal" (J.-L. Vaudoyer in La Chronique des Arts et de la Curiosité, 15th May 1909, p. 159, translated from French). The lasting legacy of Monet’s late work is most clearly seen in the art of the Abstract Expressionists, such as Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollock and Sam Francis, whose bold color planes and rejection of figuration is foreshadowed by the Nymphéas. In recent years Gerhard Richter's monumental abstract canvases, such as Cage 6 from 2006, have carried on the tradition established by his artistic forebears. As Jean-Dominique Rey writes: "Late Monet is a mirror in which the future can be read. The generation that, in about 1950, rediscovered it, also taught us how to see it for ourselves. And it was Monet who allowed us to recognize this generation. Osmosis occurred between them. The old man, mad about colour, drunk with sensation, fighting with time so as to abolish it and place it in the space that sets it free, atomizing it into a sumptuous bouquet and creating a complete film of a ‘beyond painting’, remains of consequential relevance today" (J.-D. Rey, op. cit., Paris, 2008, p. 116). The first known owners of the present work were Emil and Alma Staub-Terlinden of Männedorf. Together they amassed one of the finest private collections of Impressionist art in Switzerland, much of it purchased over a short period of time around the end of the 1910s. Emil Staub inherited his families’ leather-working business and factories in 1890, and the substantial wealth that it provided allowed him and his wife to pursue the very best paintings by the preeminent artists of the day. Regular visits to Paris were taken up by trips to the galleries of Durand-Ruel, Bernheim-Jeune and Paul Rosenberg, often accompanied by the Swiss painter Carl Montag who acted as an intermediary between French artists and dealers and a number of Francophile Swiss collectors. Aside from the present work, the Staub-Terlindens acquired other highly important paintings, such as Cézanne’s La bouteille de menthe and Manet’s Des huîtres both now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and Monet’s La Gare Saint-Lazare, arrivée d’un train in the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University. The present work remained in the Staub-Terlinden’s possession for many years, before being subsequently acquired by the present owner in 1955. Signed Claude Monet and dated 1905 (lower left)

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-05-05
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World auction record price-per-carat for a diamond or gemstone

'The Blue Moon' An exceptional Fancy Vivid Blue diamond ring The cushion-shaped fancy vivid blue diamond weighing 12.03 carats, mounted as a ring, size 471/2. “Blue diamonds shine among nature’s most rare and valuable gems. For centuries, their unique sparkle and intriguing form have captivated gemmologists, historians, and spectators worldwide. Though any diamond with natural blue colouration is a rare discovery, some are so exceptional that they emerge only once in a lifetime. The Blue Moon Diamond, a 12.03 carat gem of Fancy Vivid Blue colour and Internally Flawless clarity, is one of those remarkable occurrences”.Introduction of the GIA monograph “Fancy Vivid blue diamonds are extremely rare and the Blue Moon is no exception. It is an historic stone that is one of the rarest gems with this colour and in this size to be found in recent history. After seeing the stone’s colour and understanding its significance, it was fitting to name it the Blue Moon Diamond as not only its shape is reminiscent of a full moon, but the metaphor for the expression is exactly what one could say about the occurrence and existence of such a gemstone”. Suzette Gomes, CEO of Cora International Mining “Thomas Cullinan discovered the Cullinan mine in 1902, which at that time was named the Premier mine. Established on the second largest kimberlite pipe by inherent value, the Premier mine gained immediate prominence as a quality producer of large colourless diamonds and also rare blue diamonds. Annual production from the Premier mine was the largest in the world for the mine’s first decade of operation. Perhaps one of the greatest finds in the mine’s history is the Cullinan diamond. The Cullinan diamond is the largest colourless diamond ever discovered with a weight of 3,106 carats which has since been cut and polished into nine major stones, including 96 minor stones. Two of them currently reside within the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom”. Excerpt from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles website Furthermore the Cullinan I weighing 530.20 carats and the Cullinan II weighing 317.40 carats which are set in the Royal sceptre and the Imperial State Crown of the United Kindgom, the Cullinan mine is also the source of two other important blue diamonds: the Smithsonian Institution’s Blue Heart, a 30.62 ct Fancy Deep blue gem discovered in 1908, and the 27.64 ct Fancy Vivid blue Heart of Eternity, unveiled by Steinmetz in 2000. If “some of the earliest and most historical blue diamonds, such as the Hope and Idol’s Eye, are believed to have originated in the ancient mines of India, in more recent times, the only mine to produce blues with any regularity is the Cullinan mine in South Africa. However, that supply has diminished over the past decade; when in full production, less than 0.1% of diamonds sourced showed any evidence of blue colour. The Blue Moon Diamond is a shining member of that miniscule percentage. Reportedly unearthed from the Cullinan mine in January 2014 as a 29.62 carat rough crystal, the diamond is one of few to have been tracked precisely from the mine to the hands of its cutter”. Excerpt from the GIA monograph Manufacturing The rough diamond was purchased at a tender by Cora International from Petra Diamonds, owner of the Cullinan mine. “Nature granted the Blue Moon Diamond with the gifts of stunning colour and form. However, it is the responsibility of man to capitalize on these qualities and bring the diamond’s innermost beauty to full display. The art of cutting allowed for the Blue Moon Diamond’s natural beauty to reach its optimum potential”. Excerpt from the GIA monograph Greg Stephenson, Diamond Marketing Manager for Petra Diamonds, recalls the moment he first saw the exceptional rough diamond: “I opened the canister in which it was shipped and it fell on to my work pad. I sat there for about a minute just looking at it on my white pad - no light, no loupe - just awe-struck. The colour, the tone, the saturation… magnificent. It was as though it had been dropped in a bottle of old blue ink - extraordinary saturation with no hint of zoning and definitely no modifying colours. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the most beautiful rough diamond I have ever seen.” Colour After several months of careful and precise cutting process, the gem could reveal its potential and magnificent beauty. The colour is the most important quality for a fancy coloured diamond. “Diamonds obtain their colour from so-called “colour centres”. They are single or multiple non-carbon atoms that replace carbon in the structure of the diamond, causing a disturbance in the structure and sometimes giving rise to the colour. The distinctive blue colour in diamonds is attributed to trace amounts of the element boron in the crystal structure. Minute traces of boron are required to create the colouration. Less than one boron atom per million carbon atoms is sufficient to produce the blue colouration”. Excerpt from the Natural History Museum website “Likely to have never before been seen within such a large diamond, or any gemstone, [the hue of the Blue Moon diamond] could be indescribable to even the most experienced diamantaire or colour theorist; some, however, liken it to the ocean... The colour within the Blue Moon Diamond was so remarkable that it received the grade of Fancy Vivid. In blue diamonds, Fancy Vivid specifically describes those that are medium to dark in tone and strong to very strong in saturation. In a past  GIA study of 462 blue diamonds, only 1% were Fancy Vivid”. Excerpt from the GIA monograph Study The stone is so exceptional that scientists from the Smithsonian Institution and the National Gem and Mineral Collection carried out extensive research on the stone, exploring its physical properties and exceptional characteristics. They were able to study the diamond ahead of its being exhibited earlier this year in the Gem Vault of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. “The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (NHM) has unveiled one of the rarest stones, a 12-carat Fancy Vivid blue diamond, which is internally flawless. The Blue Moon Diamond was housed in a special, temporary exhibition in the Gem Vault from September 13, 2014 until January 6, 2015”. Excerpt from the Natural History Museum website Phosphorescence “The Blue Moon did not show any obvious fluorescence (…). It did show phosphorescence, in the form of an intense orange-red glow after exposure to UV light. The phosphorescence was most intense after exposure to short-wave UV light and remained visible to dark-sensitized eyes up to 20 seconds”. Eloïse Gaillou and alii, “Study of the Blue Moon Diamond”, in Gems and Gemology “The phosphorescence spectra which showed a red colour component (particularly in early decay time) is a characteristic of rare and exceptionally pure blue diamonds”. Excerpt from the GIA monograph “We are aware of only one other type IIb diamond from the Cullinan mine with orange-red phosphorescence. Type IIb diamonds with orange-red phosphorescence more commonly originated in India or Venezuela (…). The Blue Moon underscores the fact that the phosphorescence behaviour of type IIb diamonds is not tied to a specific geographical source”. Eloïse Gaillou and alii, op. cit.

  • CHESwitzerland
  • 2015-11-11
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Grande tête mince (Grande tête de Diego)

Giacometti’s extraordinary Grande tête mince, also known as Grande tête de Diego, is a robust personification of the Existentialist movement during the heated years of the Cold War.  Of all his representations of the human figure, this sculpture is without question Giacometti's most formally radical, visually engaging and emotionally impactful.  This imposing figure, parting his lips as if he is about to speak, embodies the anticipation of a moment yet to be realized.   The model for this profoundly expressive sculpture was the artist's younger brother Diego, who inspired numerous variations on the theme of head and bust sculptures of the 1950s and whose physiognomic similiarity to his brother invested these projects with an autobiographical narrative.  The powerful Grande tête mince is the most ambitious of a series of innovative sculptural portraits completed during this era and has since been considered one of the artist's greatest works. "To me," Giacometti once stated, "sculpture is not an object of beauty but a way for me to try to understand a bit better what I see in a given head, to understand a bit better what appeals to me about it and what I admire in it" (reprinted in Alberto Giacometti, The Origin of Space (exhibition catalogue) op. cit., p. 73).  By the 1950s, Giacometti shifted his attention from the spindly, elongated figures of his post-war years, like Homme qui chavire, and turned to figural sculptures that were more naturalistic in scale.  Most of these works were heads and half-length busts, completed between 1951 and 1957 and often executed from memory.  For the most part, these sculptures were solid, designed without a base, and executed with the matiére pétrie, or kneaded method, that heightened the expressiveness of the figure. The artist relied on an intensely hands-on process for this sculpture to create the indentations and the folds of Diego's jacket and in the sharp bridge of his nose.  "Each of these nebulous undergoing perpectual metamorphosis seems like Giacometti's very life transcribed in another language," Jean-Paul Sartre wrote when observing the artist at work on his sculptures in his studio (reprinted in ibid. 233). “These sculpted faces compel one to face them as if one were speaking to the person," Yves Bonnefoy has written, "meeting his eyes and thereby understanding better the compression, the narrowing that Giacometti imposed on the chin or the nose or the general shape of the skull. This was the period when Giacometti was most strongly conscious of the fact that the inside of the plaster or clay mass which he modeled was something inert, undifferentiated, nocturnal, that it betrays the life he sought to represent, and that he must therefore strive to eliminate this purely spatial dimension by constricting the material to fit the most prominent characteristics of the face.  This is exactly what he achieves with amazing vigor when, occasionally, he gave Diego's face a blade-like narrowness - drawing seems to have eliminated the plaster, the head has escaped from space - and demands therefore that the spectator stand in front of the sculpture as he did himself, disregarding the back and sides of his model and as bound to a face-to-face relationship as in the case of work at an easel.  As Giacometti once said, "There is no difference between painting and sculpture." Since 1945, he added, "I have been practicing them both indifferently, each helping me to do the other.  In fact, both of them are drawing, and drawing has helped me to see” (Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, A Biography of His Work, Paris, 1991, pp. 432-436). Giacometti's choice of his brother Diego as the subject of this significant sculpture was based on his comfortability and familiarity with his model.  "He's sat for me thousands of times," Giacometti said. "When's he's sitting there, I don't recognize him.  I like to get him to sit, so as to see what I see" (reprinted in Alberto Giacometti, The Origin of Space (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 140). Like the hauntingly beautiful paintings of his brother which Giacometti executed at the same time, Grande tête mince demonstrates the artist's fascination with the emotive power of the sitter's face.  The present sculpture is the artist's most ambitious experiment in representation of this most expressive part of the body and results in a work of art that captures the multiple incarnations of the model in one single form.  Viewed from different vantage points, the present sculpture can be seen as two distinct heads: the side profile is much more articulated and full-bodied than the elongated, nearly intangible frontal view. This duality calls to mind the bust portrait of Nefertiti that had fascinated Giacometti throughout his career, and here he has achieved that similarly disconcerting perceptual effect. Patrick Elliot has written about the stunning visual effect of Grande tête mince, “In conversations, Giacometti observed enormous differences between a side view and a frontal view of an object, as if the two were completely separate things that could not possibly be rendered in a single sculpture.  Giacometti normally represented figures as very frontal forms, and is reported to have said that : ‘when a person appeals to us or fascinates us we don't walk all around him.  What impresses us about his appearance requires a certain distance.’ The present sculpture is a remarkable instance of Giacometti's attempt to unite two very different views in a single work” (Alberto Giacometti, 1901-1966 (exhibition catalogue), Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; Kunsthalle, Vienna, 1996, p. 172). According to the Fondation Giacometti, the present bronze was cast in 1955 at the Susse foundry.  The first owner of this sculpture was Richard K. Weil (1902-1996), the St. Louis manufacturer and trustee of Washington University.  Weil and his wife Florence Steinberg Weil were avid collectors of modern art and major benefactor's of the University's Art Department and Gallery.  The couple acquired this bronze from Giacometti's European dealer Maeght in 1957 and sold it to the present owner in 1980. Inscribed with the signature Alberto Giacometti, with the foundry mark Susse Fondeur Paris and numbered 6/6

  • USAUSA
  • 2013-11-07
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Jeanne Hébuterne (au foulard)

Jeanne Hébuterne (au foulard) is a wonderfully elegant and poignant portrait of Modigliani’s companion and muse. The highly refined aesthetic Modigliani developed in the last years of his life - with the rich palette and sublimely graceful line - is beautifully represented in this portrait. Inspired by the art of his native Italy, and influenced by the avant-garde artists he surrounded himself with in Montparnasse, Modigliani forged a uniquely evocative style which is particularly characteristic of his portraiture. The present work was executed shortly before both Modigliani’s and Jeanne’s premature deaths two days apart, in January 1920. Their tumultuous relationship and its tragic ending is one of the most enduring examples of cultural mythology. Jeanne (fig. 3) was born in 1898 and was just nineteen years old when she met Modigliani in the summer of 1917, while studying at the Académie Colarossi, which Modigliani had attended since his arrival in Paris in 1906 and where both attended life drawing classes. For the next three years, she would be his constant companion and source of inspiration, and the artist was to immortalise her image in a number of portraits (figs. 1 & 2). Although Jeanne was an artist herself, having committed suicide at the age of only twenty-two, she remains known primarily through Modigliani’s portraits of her. By the time he started depicting Jeanne, Modigliani had developed his mature style, and the portraits of his companion painted during the last three years of his life are his most refined and accomplished works. Kathleen Brunner wrote about the couple’s relationship: ‘Jeanne Hébuterne met Modigliani in 1917, while she was a young art student at the Académie Colarossi. The following year she became his companion and the model who embodied the graceful, Italianate aesthetic of his late work. […] Hébuterne was devoted to Modigliani, as he was to her, even pledging in writing to marry her. She was introspective and compliant, although she may have had a stronger character than is commonly acknowledged […]. In their final months, in Paris, Modigliani painted some of his most poignant, Madonna-like portraits of Hébuterne, pregnant for the second time. When Modigliani died on 24 January 1920, Hébuterne was distraught and, two days later, committed suicide by leaping from an upstairs window’ (K. Brunner in Modigliani and His Models (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2006, p. 150). The elegant style of the present work and the mannerism that characterised Modigliani’s portraiture in general are partly derived from the artist’s fascination with the Old Masters of his native Italy. As Werner Schmalenbach wrote: ‘Historical associations impose themselves: echoes not only of the fifteenth-century Mannerism of Sandro Botticelli but of the classic sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mannerism of Pontormo, Parmigianino and perhaps also El Greco. One work often mentioned in connection with Modigliani’s late portraits of women is Parmigianino’s Madonna dal collo lungo; Pontormo’s St. Anne Alterpiece is equally relevant. Modigliani had a sound knowledge of Italian art, and we must assume that he was well aware of all this, however direct or indirect the actual influence’ (W. Schmalenbach, Modigliani, Munich, 1980, p. 42). At the same time, Modigliani was acutely aware of the artistic developments of his own time. Although he never completely subscribed to the syntax of Cubism, he adopted some of its stylistic devices such as the geometric simplification and break-up of forms, and was close to the sculptors Ossip Zadkine and Jacques Lipchitz, both of whom were strongly influenced by Cubism. Even more important perhaps was his relationship with Brancusi, whom he met in 1909. Brancusi not only encouraged him to carve directly in stone, causing him virtually to abandon painting for several years, but also gave the most convincing demonstration of how influences from the widest possible range of sources – tribal, archaic, Asian and African – could be transformed into a personal idiom of the greatest originality (fig. 6). Between 1909 and 1914 Modigliani devoted most of his creative effort to stone carvings and preparatory drawings, and during this time considered himself primarily a sculptor. In his sculptural opus, Modigliani never abandoned the motif of the human figure, alternating between heads (fig. 4) and caryatids. The highly stylised, elegant facial features of his stone carvings reflect an amalgamation of influences, from Khmer sculpture to ancient Egyptian and Greek art. A particularly strong source of inspiration was found in African dance masks. Modigliani arrived in Paris at the time when tribal art was being ‘discovered’ by avant-garde artists and he soon became a pioneer of ‘primitivist’ style alongside Picasso, Matisse and Brancusi. Modigliani applied his fascination with African masks (fig. 5) first to his stone carvings and later to his painted portraits. What he and his fellow artists – including Picasso (fig. 7) - responded to was the simplification and abstraction of the human figure, a style that helped define the development of early modernism in Europe. Modigliani imbued his portraits of Jeanne with an emotional and psychological dimension rarely found in his other work, as described by Claude Roy: ‘In most pictures of Jeanne we find a very discreet, deliberately subdued color orchestration […] in the softness of the colors, the fragile delicacy of the tones and the exquisite discretion with which relationships between the picture elements are stated, we cannot fail to sense the expression of a love no less discreet than ecstatic. Modigliani is speaking here almost in a whisper; he murmurs his painting as a lover murmurs endearments in the ear of his beloved. And the light bathing the picture is the light of adoration’ (C. Roy, Modigliani, New York, 1958, pp. 112-113). Jeanne Hébuterne (au foulard) displays the softness and the gently emotional tone that Roy described, accomplished through the use of subtly curved lines and a rich, warm palette. In the catalogue of the exhibition Modigliani: The Melancholy Angel held in 2002-03 Modigliani’s portraits of Jeanne are discussed in comparison to photographs of her taken by Blaise Cendrars, Jean Cocteau and Paul Guillaume: ‘Now, thanks to the photos of Jeanne, we can for the first time appreciate the full extent of Modigliani’s sensitivity to the woman he loved and drew such inspiration from; how irresistibly he evoked her gauche physical presence, rather emphatic features, her magnificent head of auburn hair, often plaited, and her melancholy moue. Contemporaries such as Stanislas Fumet compared her to a swan’ (Modigliani. L’ange au visage grave (exhibition catalogue), Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 2002-03, p. 386). This exquisite three-quarter length portrait powerfully synthesises all the characteristic traits which Modigliani developed in his post-1916 portraits: the geometric simplification of the female form, the S-shaped curve of her body inscribed by a flowing melodic line to which her whole body is subjected, the elongated neck and face, the stylised, accentuated line of her nose and the pursed, small mouth with sensuous lips. Uniquely, in Jeanne Hébuterne (au foulard) Modigliani has endowed his lover with a pair of piercingly bright eyes, with delicately indicated pupils. This departure from his more usual ‘almond’ vacant eyes, which imbued his sitters with an enigmatic and impenetrable mood, gives Jeanne a powerful sense of personality. What makes the present work stand out among Modigliani’s portraits is a beautifully achieved balance between his unique mannerism and stylisation and a tender insight into the personality and psychology of his muse. This work has been requested for the forthcoming major Modigliani retrospective to be held at Tate Modern, London from November 2017 to April 2018. Signed Modigliani (upper right)

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2016-06-21
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Mao

“[Warhol] has given us an image of Mao with such brutal force that, however we formulated our mental picture of the Chinese leader a moment ago, he has supplanted it with his own.” (Douglas Crimp, “New York Letter,” Art International, vol. 17, no. 2, February, 1973, p. 46) The People’s Republic of China’s state portrait of Chairman Mao is undoubtedly one of the most iconic images of the Twentieth Century. Almost 40 years following his death, Mao Zedong’s visage still benevolently pervades the expanse of Tiananmen Square; in a similar turn, Andy Warhol’s own daring and incisive portraits of China’s first communist leader today pervade the most prestigious art institutions across the globe. With rouged lips, peachy skin and a navy tunic set against a backdrop of pale blue, the present work is the very first Mao painting designated in The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné. In total, Warhol executed an ambitious 199 Mao paintings in 5 set scales across 5 individual series between 1972 and 1973. This painting, executed between March and May 1972, is from the very first group of works, and belongs to a corpus of only 11 paintings (cat. nos. 2277-2287) each measuring an immersive 82 inches in height. Of the other 10 paintings in this cycle, half are known to reside in some of the most prestigious public and private collections worldwide including the Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart (cat. no. 2278); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humelbaek (cat. no. 2281); The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh (cat. no. 2283); The Brant Foundation, Greenwich (cat. no. 2284); and the Fundació Suñol, Barcelona (cat. no. 2286): a list which provides a clear indicator of the precedential and creative importance of this foundational cycle. Conceived at the time of President Nixon’s historic trip to China in February of 1972 and executed only weeks after his return, the present work, and its inaugural counterparts, is a masterpiece of symbolic manipulation. This series announced Warhol’s return to painting with tremendous force and conceptual brilliance; uniting infamy with celebrity, reducing the politically germane to the glossy levity of fashion, and marrying the communist multitude with the capitalist market, the Maos represent Warhol at his very best. Described by the catalogue raisonné as the 'early Mao' paintings, these portraits are remarkable within the series at large for being executed entirely by Warhol himself. Without the aid of a studio assistant and without commissioning an external company to print his canvases (as he would with later works in the series) Warhol took on the technical challenge of wielding a single screen spanning in excess of 6 feet. Dragging a squeegee loaded with printing ink across this expansive screen and onto canvas would undoubtedly have been tricky; indeed, the particular aesthetic of this series takes its character from the irregularities of Warhol’s one-man manufacture. Starting with the present work which possesses a chromatic brilliance and a screen of astonishing clarity, as the sequence progresses a pattern of uneven squeegee pressure accumulates whilst the screen print register increasingly fades. As Neil Printz and Sally King-Nero have noted, these “fade-outs” are most likely owing to the fact that the 11 early Mao paintings were executed in a single run without cleaning the screen of ink clogs and build-ups. (Sally King-Nero and Neil Printz, eds., The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Paintings and Sculpture 1970-1974, Vol. 03, New York, 2010, p. 196) The very last work in this cycle is testament to such a hypothesis; found in Warhol’s studio after his death, cat. no. 2287 solely consists of a ghost-like single black silkscreen print on an unpainted raw canvas ground, and undoubtedly marks the end of Warhol’s print run. In addition to this progressive 'fading-out,' the sequence narrates a cumulative experimental treatment of the painted surface. Departing from the mask-like precision of his 1960s portraits of Marilyn or Liz, Warhol becomes increasingly loose with his brushwork in this series, even making painterly flourishes and in-fills after the screen’s application – a feat heretofore unthinkable within Warhol’s striving for factory-like mechanization. This comes to a head in cat. no. 2286 whereby the order of execution has been entirely reversed: the screen, which seems to have been printed directly onto raw canvas, appears beneath a chromatic patchwork of expressionistic paint. This series thus radically broke with Warhol’s hard-edged 1960s facture and instead invited the artist’s hand and a register of brushstrokes into the works’ core aesthetic. Archetypally prescient yet ambivalent in its meaning, it has been suggested that Warhol adopted this 'painterliness' in response to, or in critique of, developments in contemporary painting; for example the Neue Wilden in Germany, whose key proponents Georg Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer had just begun to forge a renewal of painting as a product of gestural expression. In the Maos Warhol reduced expressionistic brushwork to a painterly codex and juxtaposed it with the machine register of his iconic screen print methodology. However, far from an all-over painterly abandon (an approach that would increasingly emerge in the late 1970s and 1980s  works)  these brushy fields are for the most part contained within the parameters of Mao’s portrait. The present work is a remarkable example of this balance between precise control and free-flowing gesture: it possesses a screen that is perhaps the most clear and regular of the entire suite of 11 paintings and a wonderful clarity in the application of colored fields – particularly the modulation of the skin tonalities and full brightness of the pink lips under which Mao’s mole takes on the appearance of a Marilynesque beauty spot. Allied with a biting political awakening, this series heralded the dawn of a new stylistic impetus: Warhol's application of a markedly expressionistic hand set the precedent for his latter oeuvre, acting as the spearhead and anchor around which Warhol’s colossal corpus of Society Portraits would proliferate. Between 1972 and 1974 the 10 fully realized early Mao portraits were part of a highly successful promotional program of exhibitions across Europe, which included the series’ debut in 1972 with Zehn Bildnisse von Mao Tse-Tung at the Kunstmuseum Basel. The following year these 10 paintings would travel to the Galerie Galatea in Turin, however it was not until 1974 that the series as a grand and holistic project would be exhibited together for the very first time. Set within the grandiose environs of the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode la Ville de Paris, Andy Warhol: Mao delivered a spectacular display of Warhol’s first body of new paintings since his Flowers of 1964. Taking inspiration from his 1966 exhibition at Leo Castelli in which the gallery was famously covered in cow wallpaper, Warhol plastered the walls of the Musée Galliera with Mao wallpaper – a repeated graphic taken from the suite of Mao drawings onto which he painted purple ellipses over each face. Alongside the 10 early Mao paintings, he exhibited a further 3 series of works including 4 colossal Giant Mao canvases measuring 177 by 137 inches, 11 large 50 by 42 inch canvases, and 42 smaller 26 by 22 inch canvases. Exhibited in sequence abutting each other and hung at a level just above the viewer’s eye-line, the Mao portraits magnificently inhabited and transformed the tremendous architecture of the gallery into an extravaganza of color and political daring. Echoing the omnipresence of Mao’s portrait in schools, the workplace, and in public spaces in China, Warhol took on the inherent seriality of Mao’s likeness and subverted it. Displaying incessant repetition, yet with each work possessing individual schemas of gestural candy color, this exhibition delivered the full force of Warhol’s Mao project by reducing an irreproachable image power to the level of surface decoration. As Warhol himself commented on using Mao’s image: “Mao would be really nutty… not to believe in it [Mao]. It’d just be fashion.” (the artist cited in Ibid., p. 166) Following Warhol's premature ‘retirement’ from painting declared at an exhibition of the Flowers in Paris, the mid-to-late 1960s saw his artistic focus shift towards filmmaking, music, performance and other entrepreneurial projects such as Interview magazine: in accordance with these activities, Warhol’s public persona began to rival the fame and influence of the celebrities idolized in his work. In 1968 a near-fatal assassination attempt by radical feminist author and aspiring playwright Valerie Solanas, dramatically triggered a period of deep reflection and re-evaluation, further prolonging the absence of a major new body of paintings. Coinciding with the very first portrait commissions during the early 1970s, Warhol began contemplating the topic of his painterly reprise. Bob Colacello recalled the genesis of the Mao paintings in a conversation between the artist and his gallerist in 1972: “It began with an idea from Bruno Bischofberger, who had been pushing Andy to go back to painting… Bruno’s idea was that Andy should paint the most important figure of the twentieth century.” (Bob Colacello, Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Up Close, New York, 1990, p. 111) Albert Einstein was suggested for the impact of his Theory of Relativity in both precipitating “technological richness and technological terror”; however by this point, Warhol had already conceived of Mao Zedong: “That’s a good idea. But I was just reading in Life magazine that the most famous person in the world today is Chairman Mao. Shouldn’t it be the most famous person, Bruno?” (the artist cited in Ibid.) Proving the artist’s finely tuned ability to draw on the sociopolitical had lost none of its power, the Mao paintings arrival in 1972 evinced a retort to American foreign policy: in rapid response to the highly orchestrated media frenzy that was Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, Warhol’s series of paintings subversively turned China’s communist leader into capitalist commodity. Famously critical of Nixon, who prior to his conciliatory efforts towards China was known as an anti-communist red-baiter, Warhol appositely took on the most prescient political dialogue on the global arena. Although he had broached the American political arena a decade earlier with his Electric Chair and Race Riots, both initiated in 1963, it was not until 1971 that Warhol began to contemplate the contentious international concerns at the forefront of the global political consciousness and headlining the Western media. Signaling an ambitious return to his breakthrough medium, this series is remarkable in its major portrayal of the only political figure ever painted of Warhol’s own volition. The idea to paint Mao had taken seed in Warhol’s imagination ever since Nixon’s televised announcement in July 1971 of a sanctioned visit to China. Following the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, America’s refusal to recognize the new communist government drew an iron curtain between China and the US that lasted over twenty years. In an effort to thaw Sino-American relations and in a tactical move to help resolve the Vietnam War, Nixon - famously hardline in his anti-communist policy – was to be the first President to visit the People’s Republic of China. Every part of the historic visit was highly orchestrated and planned; confident in the visual power of television, Nixon ensured that the whole event was choreographed as though it were a TV extravaganza. Resembling a media circus, almost one hundred journalists were invited to cover the trip, with the most dramatic events televised live in time for the morning and evening news bulletins. That Nixon was up for re-election in 1972 was a fact not lost on journalists who commented upon the heavily propagandist nature of the event. Despite such obvious strategic motivations however, Nixon’s highly atypical scheme ironically laid the groundwork for reshaping the global balance of power; his radical steps to assuage anti-American sentiment in the East are today considered a landmark of twentieth-century foreign policy. Far from apolitical, Warhol was famously left-wing (as can be gleaned from the fundamentally democratic core of Warhol’s career and choice of subjects – a coke is a coke no matter who you are) and was known to hold anti-Nixon sympathies – the very same year he started the Mao paintings Warhol ran a suite of screen prints in contribution to the Democratic opposition’s campaign; beneath a demonic looking green-faced Nixon ran the slogan "Vote McGovern." Following Nixon’s trip in February 1972, Warhol was quick off the mark; work on the present paintings as part of the very first Maos began the next month. The choice of subject was thus timely and suited Warhol’s trademark vacillation between detachment and censure. Undoubtedly motivated by the extremity of media coverage, particularly televisual, Warhol’s controversial validation of Mao the celebrity icon and consumer brand announced his return to painting with the fan-fare Bischofberger had duly hoped for. As stated by Colacello: “Andy wasn’t apolitical; he was ruthless. Mao was a brilliant choice, and Andy’s timing was perfect. The Mao paintings, when they were exhibited a year later in New York, Zurich, and Paris, were greeted with universal acclaim. They were controversial, commercial, and important, just like the man they portrayed and the man who painted them. And they were all about power: the power of one man over the lives of one billion people.” (Ibid.) Warhol's source image derives from an official portrait of the authoritarian ruler which followed the canon of official Soviet portraiture of Stalin and Lenin. Unlike the latter, however, Mao's image, which was seen to embody the revolutionary spirit of the masses, stares directly at the beholder and was exhibited prominently above the Tiananmen Gate where, in 1949, Mao had announced the founding of the People's Republic of China. Symbolizing perpetual surveillance, the image was ubiquitous in every schoolroom, shop front and public institution across the country and was reproduced on the first page of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, more commonly known as Mao's "Little Red Book," which was widely disseminated during and after the Cultural Revolution as a mandatory citizens' code. With a print-run estimated at over 2.2 billion, this made Mao's stern yet benevolent face one of the most extensively reproduced portraits in history. The depiction of power through a sovereign body, and the subversion of such iconography, has a lineage as long as art history itself. The power of images to construct ideas and communicate ideals has been manipulated in portraits of power dating back to the busts of the Roman Emperors. From the glorious pomp and majesty of royal portraits through to those of officials in acquired positions of power, state images idealize, manipulate perceptions, and assert the right to dominion. However, there are those examples in art history which are remarkable for their disruption of such codes of power. For example Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Innocent X (1650): as elucidated so powerfully in the work of Francis Bacon, in Velázquez’s portrait Pope Innocent X comes off as a power hungry dictator rather than a benevolent father; an undercurrent that cuts right through to Innocent X’s reputation for war-mongering. Or take Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ magisterial Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne (1806): a portrait so over-stuffed with imperial symbols and art historical tropes that in its unbridled effort to present Napoleon as the rightful sovereign ruler strains to hold itself together; Napoleon appears as a doll dressed up and playing a role, a pretender that doesn’t fit the livery of power he has adopted. Although coming from a critical and external standpoint, Warhol’s subversion is just as ambiguous and complex as those examples in art history: Warhol unravels the internal architecture of power behind Mao’s image via a similar internal reworking and in so doing works loose the binary opposition between capitalism and communism. The juxtaposition of this mythic, deified image of the communist leader with an art form that fetishized consumerist objects is wonderfully seditious. Fascinated by the ubiquitous proliferation of this single image, Warhol would undoubtedly have picked up on affinities between the mass-media derivation and seriality of his own work, and the propagandist role of Mao’s official portrait. The pervasiveness of Mao’s portrait possesses a mass produced aesthetic, a quality that led Warhol to remark to David Bourdon: "I've been reading so much about China. They're so nutty. They don't believe in creativity. The only picture they have is Mao Zedong. It's great. It looks like a silkscreen." (the artist cited in David Bourdon, Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 317) As Printz and King-Nero have noted, in drawing this parallel between the aesthetic of communist propaganda and his own assimilation of the visual traits of ubiquitous mass production, the artist seemed to have sensed that “Mao’s portrait was, in effect, already a Warhol.” (Sally King-Nero and Neil Printz, eds., Op. Cit., p. 166) To the artist, Mao’s image demonstrated all the characteristics of a brand; a readymade icon that consecrated the cult of personality, and its attendant consumer value, endemic to his own capitalist culture. Where Warhol’s 1960s work depicting Marilyn Monroe or Jackie Kennedy sought to expose the power of the mass-media in simultaneously idolizing and commodifying figureheads of popular culture, this corpus exposed the potency of the Chinese state-controlled propaganda machine to apotheosize a powerful political persona. Mao’s visage thus proved a fascinating and fertile dichotomy for Warhol: on the one hand the power of the capitalist free-market paradigm, driven by the tabloid press and the mechanics of advertising; on the other, its direct antithesis, the communist paradigm which sought absolute political and cultural control by the same means. With these works, Warhol uncovered the shared goals of both societal models: consumerist advertising and the centrally controlled propaganda apparatus of the People’s Republic to commodify personality for the purpose of collective absorption. Between 1972 and 1973 Warhol produced a total of 199 works depicting Chairman Mao. Alongside five graduated series of paintings – which diminished in size and accordingly increased in number – Warhol created a suite of drawings and portfolios of prints. Ranging from the colossal Giant Maos intended to rival the scale of the iconic portrait hung above Tiananmen gate, through to the miniature portraits measuring 12 by 10 inches, Warhol conceived of a body of work to plausibly suit all tastes and budgets (Ibid., p. 167). The resulting body of work transformed Mao’s official portrait used for the dissemination of communism into a commodity of the capitalist economy, no more consequential than a can of Campbell’s Soup. Resting on a knife’s edge, Warhol’s ambivalence between complicity and criticism, apathy and consequence is truly definitive in the Mao portraits – a controversial standpoint wittily enacted in the photographs that document Warhol’s pilgrimage to China and the Forbidden City ten years later in 1982. By channeling Mao through the mechanistic swipe of his trademark screen print, and highlighting his features and iconic suit in brightest tones of gesticular paint, Warhol transmuted political significance: no longer representing a symbolic threat to the American dream, Mao became Warhol’s newest player on the vacuous fashion circuit and member of the celebrity circus. Signed on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-11-12
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Untitled (Yellow and Blue)

“These are the edgings and inchings of final form” – Wallace Stevens (Wallace Stevens, “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven,” in The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, London, 1984, p. 488) “There is a need for a whole world of torment in order for the individual to sit quietly in his rocking row-boat in mid-sea, absorbed in contemplation.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, translation by Francis Golffing, New York, 1956, pp. 33-34) “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being." Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1962, chapter 11 “Pictures must be miraculous: the instant one is completed, the intimacy between the creation and the creator is ended. He is an outsider. The picture must be for him, as for anyone experiencing it later, a revelation, an unexpected and unprecedented resolution of an eternally familiar need.” Mark Rothko, "The Romantics were Prompted…,” Possibilities, New York, No. 1, Winter 1947-48, p. 84 As we stand enraptured by the stunning resplendency of Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Yellow and Blue) we bear witness to what can only be described as an unequivocal masterpiece of twentieth-century art history. A glowing aurora of shimmering color and light, the present work confronts us as the summation of its creator’s deeply philosophical practice, wherein he staged some of the most moving, transcendent, and simply breathtaking unions between material and support ever realized in the grand tradition of oil paint on canvas. Rothko once described his ideal vision for his paintings: “It would be good if little places could be set up all over the country, like a little chapel where the traveler, or wanderer could come for an hour to meditate on a single painting hung in a small room, and by itself.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., Riehen/Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Mark Rothko: A Consummated Experience Between Picture and Onlooker, 2001, p. 22) Executed in 1954, at the chronological apex of the celebrated period of Rothko’s career referred to by David Anfam, author of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, as the anni mirabilis, Untitled (Yellow and Blue) is a triumphant archetype of this artistic ideal: its radiant surface and towering scale elicit a visual and somatic experience that is prodigious and undeniable, compelling us to surrender to a sense of pure contemplation in the face of its painterly authority. For Rothko, art was capable of provoking in the viewer an existential sense of awe and wonderment for the sublime miracle of existence, and in Untitled (Yellow and Blue), as we stand suspended in its sea of meditative calm, we behold that capacity wholly and perfectly achieved. By the time he painted Untitled (Yellow and Blue) in 1954 Mark Rothko was fifty-one years old and had been working as a painter for thirty years. From figurative paintings in the 1920s and 1930s that reflected the realist trend dominant in American art, and perpetuated by figures such as Thomas Hart Benton, in the wake of World War I and through the Great Depression; through a series of canvases in the 1940s that looked to Europe and staged an exploration of biomorphic forms drawn from Miró, Picasso, Dalí, and Rothko’s other Surrealist predecessors; to the Multiform paintings begun in 1947 and representing the artist’s ultimate and unequivocal disavowal of the figurative, Rothko wrestled with the singular goal that had expanded in his mind to become all-consuming: to access an alternative realm, to transcend his worldly existence, to release himself and his viewers from what he perceived to be the devastatingly chaotic experience of everyday life. When he ultimately composed the first mature iteration of his legendary corpus, in 1949, Rothko succeeded in making his art the instrument of his inner life; his paintings ceased to be material expressions of artistic drive and transformed into gateways to the sublime. These vessels of pure color and light, Rothko’s towering theses on the absolute limits of abstraction, were overwhelmingly engrossing for him in his creation of them as they are all-encompassing of our senses as we stand in awe in front of them. As Dore Ashton writes, “His greatest fund of emotion was lavished primarily on what he made – paintings. Those paintings were to be his passport to a more luminous world, not encumbered by our nouns and adjectives, our interpretations that always fall short. They were prepared by careful thought, nurtured by well-fondled ideas, but, as he said, ‘Ideas and plans that existed in the mind at the start were simply the doorway through which one left the world in which they occur.’ To leave the world in which ideas and plans – so quickly superseded by emotions – occur was essential to Rothko. …He had deep needs to fulfill, many of them incapable of being brought to the threshold of language.” (Dore Ashton, About Rothko, New York, 1983, p. 3) Rothko’s progression, pursued with dogged determination over decades of experimentation and refinement and with an unerring conceptual and philosophical consistency, was not a quest for material success but instead a visceral, undeniable, and deeply personal calling. Untitled (Yellow and Blue) is a paean to the utterly absorptive process of its execution, whereby Rothko conferred upon its luscious, vigorous surface his own desire, as elucidated by Stanley Kunitz, “to become his paintings.” (Stanley Kunitz, interview with Avis Berman, December 8, 1983, Archives of American Art) Rothko executed twenty paintings in 1954, of which seven are today in the permanent collections of prominent museums around the world, including the National Gallery of Art (Orange and Tan); the Yale University Art Gallery (Untitled); The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (No. 9 (Dark over Light Earth/Violet and Yellow in Rose)); the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (No. 11/No. 2 (Yellow Center)); The Phillips Collection (The Ochre (Ochre, Red on Red)); The Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design (Untitled); and the Essen Folkwang Museum (White and Brick on Light Red (White, Pink and Mustard)). This seminal year also saw Rothko’s first one-man exhibition in a major US museum, at the Art Institute of Chicago. Organized by one of the foremost champions of the avant-garde and post-war art in America, the Institute’s visionary first curator of modern painting and sculpture Katharine Kuh, this exhibition was a definitive testament to Rothko’s preeminence amongst the giants of Abstract Expressionism that were his peers and contemporaries. In the months leading up to the exhibition, and in preparation for its installation as well as the publication of an accompanying catalogue, Rothko and Kuh corresponded at length in a series of letters. In a manner entirely consistent with his artistic philosophy and aesthetic predispositions, Rothko was highly involved and invested in all aspects of the planning, approaching each detail with the same level of conceptual rigor that informed the physical execution of each and every painting he made. His comments and specifications are illuminating and indicative of the very nature of his indelibly iconic practice. By way of instructing Kuh on how best to hang his monumental works, Rothko ultimately revealed a deeply rooted concern as to how his pictures were considered and perceived: “Since my pictures are large, colorful and unframed, and since museum walls are usually immense and formidable, there is the danger that the pictures relate themselves as decorative areas to the walls. This would be a distortion of their meaning, since the pictures are intimate and intense, and are the opposite of what is decorative; and have been painted in a scale of normal living rather than an institutional scale.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Mark Rothko: 1903-1970, 1987, p. 58) Furthermore, in a subsequent letter referencing the text that was to be published in the exhibition catalogue, Rothko provided some personal and vulnerable insight into his struggle to arrive at a linguistic description of his paintings that would accurately describe the purpose and phenomenal import that he had conferred upon them: “From the moment that I began to collect my ideas it became clear that here was not a problem of what ought to be said, but what it is that I can say. The question and answer method at once presented insuperable difficulties: for the question imposes its own rhetoric and syntax upon the answer regardless of whether this rhetoric can serve the truth, whereas I have had to set for myself the problem of finding the most exact rhetoric for these specific pictures.” (the artist in a letter to Katharine Kuh, July 28, 1954 in Miguel López-Remiro, ed., Writings on Art: Mark Rothko, New Haven and London, 2006, p. 92) Like viewing the inner workings of a complex machine, our knowledge of Rothko's anxieties, spoken genuinely in the same year that he created Untitled (Yellow and Blue) by a man who today is essential to any comprehensive understanding of modern art history, provides us with an indelible appreciation for Rothko’s paintings beyond the immediate and utterly visceral visual response we have as privileged viewers of their supreme majesty. Soaring to a stunning eight feet in height, Untitled (Yellow and Blue) broadcasts its allure on a greater-than human register; engulfing the viewer’s entire experience; and situating us as actors within its epic expanse. An apparent paradox typifies the artist’s ambition and contributes to his desire to commune directly with his canvases, declared in 1951: “I paint very large pictures…precisely because I want to be very intimate and human. To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience…However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn’t something you command.” (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Op. Cit., p. 85)  Of course, scale is absolutely fundamental to the nature of Rothko’s work, identified as such by Clement Greenberg even in 1950:  “Broken by relatively few incidents of drawing or design, their surfaces exhale color with an enveloping effect that is enhanced by size itself. One reacts to an environment as much as to a picture hung on a wall.” (“'American-Type’ Painting” (1955) cited in Clifford Ross, ed., Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, New York, 1990, p. 248) Through the seamless flow of color and light an atmosphere of the ethereal emanates as if from within Untitled (Yellow and Blue). As we become fully subsumed within its luminous surface, our perception of physical boundaries or demarcations of material space dissolves and we are overcome by a sense of endless continuity, as if standing at a precipice reaching outwards toward an ever-receding, boundless horizon. Incandescent zones of brilliantly hued pigment, simultaneously distinct and inextricably intertwined, pulsate with a tangible energetic intensity that takes absolute hold of our vision, pulling us under in a wave of pure artistic bravura. An ocean of radiant lapis blue churns in the lower half of the composition, threatening to surge forth from its predetermined rectangular structure and pour into the shimmering fields of golden yellow that surround it. As witnesses to this inimitable masterwork, we are afforded the opportunity to travel through the subtle variants of tone and contour that comprise the intricate landscape of its surface, apprehending the subtly perceptible strokes of Rothko’s brush that imbue each area of Untitled (Yellow and Blue) with an ineffable breath and inexorable vivacity. Infused with an otherworldly glow, these iridescent tones harbor primal connotations of light, warmth, and the Sun; yet, in line with a perennial balance that characterizes the very archetypes of the artist’s corpus, there is a concurrent tension struck between the uplifting emotions conventionally evoked by warm golden hues and something implicitly more tragic. Inasmuch as the dazzling yellow, made endlessly dynamic by the sheer underlayers of red and blue pigment that give it an exquisite complexity, invokes the Sun it also implicates the inevitable cycle of dawn and dusk, of rise and set, of continual demise and rebirth. Rothko once stated to David Sylvester: “Often, towards nightfall, there’s a feeling in the air of mystery, threat, frustration – all of these at once. I would like my painting to have the quality of such moments.” (the artist cited in David Anfam, Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 88), and with its suggestion of an unobtainable horizon and an infinite, unbreakable cycle, this work harbors something that is indescribably portentous. For nearly thirty years, from the time that it was acquired directly following Rothko’s death in 1970, Untitled (Yellow and Blue) held an esteemed place within the renowned collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon. Foremost among the leading patrons in the arts for much of the Twentieth Century, Mr. and Mrs. Mellon lived according to the noblest ideals of refinement and understatement. Paul Mellon’s father, the banker, industrialist, and philanthropist Andrew W. Mellon had effectively founded the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1937 with a gift of one hundred and fifteen paintings from his personal collection as well as the funds to construct the museum’s building, designed by John Russell Pope. Following his father’s death, Paul Mellon took stewardship over the project, presenting the completed building to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 and thereafter serving as the National Gallery’s president, board chairman, and honorary trustee. When Mrs. Mellon married Paul in 1948 she brought her distinctive passion and discerning aesthetic predisposition to the Mellon family’s art collection, redefining its scope to include artists like Mark Rothko who were operating at the very forefront of artistic innovation at mid-century. Mrs. Mellon's deep reverence and love for the arts combined with and extended Paul Mellon’s own overwhelming generosity; in 1966, to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Gallery, an exhibition of the Mellon’s vast trove of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings was held and the paintings subsequently donated to the museum. Five years later, the Gallery’s burgeoning collection of Modern Art required additional space and Mr. Mellon commissioned I. M. Pei to design a new East Building that, together with his sister Ailsa Mellon Bruce, he funded. Over the course of six decades until his death in 1999, Mr. Mellon donated nine hundred and thirteen works to the National Gallery. In a life and a world comprised of truly beautiful, personally meaningful, and historically significant works of art, Mrs. Mellon had a particular admiration for and predisposition towards the paintings of Mark Rothko. In the critical year following the artist’s death, she acquired a total of nine large-scale paintings from his estate including Untitled (Yellow and Blue): No. 2/No. 7/No. 20, 1951; Untitled (Blue, Green and Brown), 1952; No. 20 (Yellow Expanse), 1953; No. 14 (White and Green in Blue), 1957; Untitled (White and Orange), 1955 and Untitled (Red, Black, White on Yellow), 1955, both subsequently donated to the National Gallery; and Untitled (Yellow, Orange, Yellow, Light Orange), 1955, and Untitled, 1970, both sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2014 as part of the auction celebrating masterworks from her collection. Widely admired for her sophistication, expertise, sensibility, and intelligence, Mrs. Mellon was an indubitable champion of the arts who, with an unerring eye amassed a collection rich in historical import and sheer beauty of which Untitled (Yellow and Blue) was a privileged part. While much contemporaneous commentary cited Rothko’s oeuvre as radically dislocated from historical precedent, subsequent perspective readily posits his corpus an eminent historical location. The theoretical foundations of Rothko’s aesthetic revolution conformed to the predominating rhetoric of Abstract Expressionism in the mid-Twentieth Century – absolutism, themes of purging and beginning art anew, and other extremes of theory and practice were similarly espoused by Rothko’s now-heroic compatriots of the New York School such as Clyfford Still and Barnett Newman – yet his influences span the centuries that preceded him. From Giotto, J.M.W. Turner, Caspar David Friedrich, and Claude Monet to the Luminists, Pierre Bonnard, and Henri Matisse; predecessors concerned with the pure effects of color and light informed the new painting Rothko initiated at mid-century in New York. Written in the late 1930s, but not published until nearly seventy years later by the artist’s son Christopher, Rothko’s extensive writings, thoughts, and inspirations reveal a profound reverence for and intellectual involvement in early Italian painting, particularly that of Giotto di Bondone. During a series of trips to Italy Rothko was able to experience Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, wherein he studied and admired the artist’s ability to organize space and narrative action by means of color. Indeed, the brilliant lapis zone of Untitled (Yellow and Blue) bears a direct likeness to the stunning blue ground that covers the walls and arched ceiling in the chapel. Without question, Rothko was in awe of Giotto’s artistic sensibilities and writes at length of his colorism: “the use of color for its own sensual ends as well as for its structural ends had greatly deteriorated since the time of Giotto. Perspective displaced the use of the organic quality of colors, which had previously, in and of themselves, produced the tactile effect of recession and advancement.” (Mark Rothko, The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art, New Haven and London, 2004, p. 38) Like Rothko himself, Giotto was a pioneer who broke new ground in the use of pigments, variously hued and built up through layers of accumulation so as to assume their own dimensionality independent of an artist’s structuring line or invocation of perspectival space. Rothko continued, “It is Giotto’s color…that produced the great effect of his tactility. All the tactile painters have used color with a knowledge of its tactile qualities. This is in contrast with the illusory painters whose illusion of recession is achieved by the graying of color as it recedes into the distance. The tactile painters, in other words, achieve their tactile quality by means of color value. Color, however, intrinsically possesses the power of giving the sensation of recession and advancement.” (Ibid., p. 59) What is made clear by Rothko’s deep consideration and analysis in these passages, written in the earliest stages of his career, is that he had already arrived at a direction and purpose for his art – his was to be a corpus of tactile paintings; he was to use color in its purest form to generate atmospheric qualities, illusions of boundless depth – over a decade before happening upon the aesthetic revelation of how to transform this fundamental concept into its material manifestation. Five centuries after Giotto, the Romantics, in an impassioned reaction against the prevailing social norms that arose as a result of the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment, employed color in the emphasis and validation of the emotional intensity that results from confronting the transcendence of an uninhibited aesthetic experience. J.M.W. Turner, in his 1844 masterwork Rain, Steam, and Speed - The Great Western Railway, realized the unquantifiable power of the sublime when he culled an utterly affecting narrative out of pure color and light. Through the impossibly precise yet ethereally light stroke of Turner’s brush, we are willingly transported at once to the very core of this painting’s masterful surface and inwards, towards the depths of our own subconscious. Like the Romantics who preceded them, the Symbolists considered Art as a contemplative escape from a world of strife, achieving this liberation through themes of mysticism and otherworldliness grounded always by an incisive sense of mortality. With the advent of Abstract Expressionism, this remarkable philosophical lineage was given an ever grander and more evocative visual form. As early as 1943, Rothko published a joint statement with fellow pioneers of the new Abstraction, Barnett Newman and Adolph Gottlieb: “To us art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take the risks. … It is our function as artists to make the spectator see the world our way – not his way.” (Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Adolph Gottlieb, “Statement” in Edward Alden Jewell’s column, The New York Times, June 13, 1943) Thus, while delivering the tenets of Romanticism and Symbolism to the modern era, via a revolutionary compositional clarity and monumentality of viewing experience, Rothko conclusively asserted the paramount equation between his artwork and its beholder, whereby the true potential of his painting could not exist without the presence of the viewer. Four years later, he developed this integral relationship even further: “A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token.” (Mark Rothko, “Statement,” Tiger’s Eye, New York, vol. 1, no. 2, December 1947, p. 44) The artist famously stated, in what is perhaps the definitive text declaring the philosophical underpinnings to his oeuvre, “I think of my pictures as dramas; the shapes in the pictures are the performers… They are organisms with volition and a passion for self-assertion.” (Mark Rothko, “The Romantics Were Prompted,” first published in Possibilities, no. 1, 1947) Indeed, our experience of Untitled (Yellow and Blue) as participants in its stunning drama brings it to life, and may give new dimension to our lives. We do not look at this painting; we are absorbed into it. Indeed, being in its presence parallels a line of Nietzsche that had inspired Rothko since he had been a young man: “There is a need for a whole world of torment in order for the individual to sit quietly in his rocking row-boat in mid-sea, absorbed in contemplation.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, translation by Francis Golffing, New York, 1956, pp. 33-34) It is well documented that Rothko was fixated with the literary work of Friedrich Nietzsche, above all the German philosopher's seminal opus The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music written in 1872. Nietzsche’s ideas of how the tension between Apollonian and Dionysian forces dictates the terms of human drama were important to the advancement of Rothko's color fields. Indeed, Rothko’s vast tableaux have often been discussed in the lexicon of the immediate and saturating effects of music. David Sylvester’s review of the 1961 Whitechapel Gallery exhibition in London provides an apt response to the present work in these terms: “These paintings begin and end with an intense and utterly direct expression of feeling through the interaction of colored areas of a certain size. They are the complete fulfillment of Van Gogh’s notion of using color to convey man’s passions. They are the realisation of what abstract artists have dreamed for 50 years of doing – making painting as inherently expressive as music. More than this: for not even with music…does isolated emotion touch the nervous system so directly.” (in New Statesman, 20 October 1961 cited in Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Op. Cit., p. 36) Excepting a letter to Art News in 1957, from 1949 onwards Rothko ceased publishing statements about his work, anxious that his writings might be interpreted as instructive or didactic and could thereby interfere with the pure import of the paintings themselves. However, in 1958 he gave a talk at the Pratt Institute to repudiate his critics and to deny any perceived association between his art and self-expression. He insisted instead that his corpus was not concerned with notions of self but rather with the entire human drama. While he drew a distinction between figurative and abstract art, he nevertheless outlined an underlying adherence to the portrayal of human experience. Discussing the “artist’s eternal interest in the human figure,” Rothko examined the common bond of figurative painters throughout Art History: “they have painted one character in all their work. What is indicated here is that the artist’s real model is an ideal which embraces all of human drama rather than the appearance of a particular individual. Today the artist is no longer constrained by the limitation that all of man’s experience is expressed by his outward appearance. Freed from the need of describing a particular person, the possibilities are endless. The whole of man’s experience becomes his model, and in that sense it can be said that all of art is a portrait of an idea.” (lecture given at the Pratt Institute 1958, cited in Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Op. Cit., p. 87) Teeming with the sheer genius of its creator’s inimitable evocation of the sublime, Untitled (Yellow and Blue) is the singular summation of Mark Rothko’s fundamental artistic ambition as elucidated in his definitive Pratt Institute talk. A veritable treatise on the absolute limits of abstraction, the present work, in truth, involves both spirit and nature, and instills in us a profound sense of the spiritual whilst evincing Rothko’s abject faith in the critical role the artist plays in attaining the highest realm to which man could aspire: “For art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness.” (Mark Rothko, “Personal Statement,” in Miguel López-Remiro, ed., Op. Cit., p. 45)

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-05-12
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Saying Grace

In 1955, The Saturday Evening Post asked its readers to select their favorite cover painted by its most beloved artist, Norman Rockwell. By that year, the popularity of this American publication was enormous, due in large part to the highly original images Rockwell crafted for its cover on a regular basis. Between 1916 and 1963, Rockwell executed over 300 of these commissions, making him one of the most recognizable figures in American art for nearly three-fourths of a century. Despite the wide variety and large number of covers readers could choose from, the outcome of the survey proved decisive: 32 percent of the final vote went to Saying Grace, the quietly poignant image of a grandmother and her grandson praying over a meal in the diner of a train station. Painted in 1951, Saying Grace epitomizes Rockwell’s classic iconography and stands among the greatest achievements of his celebrated career. Saying Grace appeared on the cover of The Post’s Thanksgiving issue on November 24th, which quickly became one of the publication’s most popular issues, contributing to the iconic status this image has today. By the early 1950s Rockwell’s Post covers had achieved a pervasive level of popularity, yet the artist saw even greater levels of creativity and professional success as the decade progressed. Rockwell painted an astounding 41 Post covers during this period and thematically sought to portray imagery more explicitly American in character. In several paintings, of which Saying Grace is one, Rockwell’s work adopted a new sense of seriousness in order to more accurately reflect the realities of post-war America. As The Post’s explanatory text for the image articulated, “The world is not too happy a place these days. There are wars and threats of wars. Anxiety and frustration are abroad, and in many quarters we see the bankruptcy of morals. So, suddenly comes the day to give thanks for the goodness of life. And perhaps this can be done most understandingly by someone like this little old lady who, wherever she may be, bows her head to say grace, speaking not analytically from the mind but spontaneously from the heart” (The Saturday Evening Post, November 24, 1951, p. 3). Despite this new seriousness, however, Rockwell’s classic sense of idealism remained resolutely intact. He continued to strive to capture Americans living their everyday lives and to create scenes that had the possibility of occurring in any town or home. The publication of each Post cover seemed to outdo the last as again and again the artist presented the country with imaginative images that confronted the issues of the American present, yet were steeped in the values of its past. The creation of Saying Grace began almost exactly a year before its publication date when the artist received a letter from a Post reader. Mrs. Edward V. Earl of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania wrote to the artist on November 27, 1950 about the experience of witnessing a Mennonite family praying in a Horn & Hardart automat. “[Mrs. Earl] had 'observed a plain young woman,’ explains the Norman Rockwell Museum, ‘evidently Polish,’ she said, with a little boy of about five. They walked by her with food-laden trays, laughing and happy to be in the restaurant. They took off their coats, hung them up and returned to their table at which two men were already seated, ‘shoving in their lunch.’ The young woman and boy folded their hands, bowed their heads and, for two minutes, said Grace” (Norman Rockwell Museum Archives, Stockbridge, Massachusetts. ProjectNORMAN, www.nrm.org). Rockwell publicly declared that while he frequently received suggestions from readers, only four ultimately found their way onto his canvases. Rockwell liked Mrs. Earl’s idea so much, however, that he decided to incorporate it as the basis for his annual Thanksgiving cover of The Post. In his response to Mrs. Earl’s letter, Rockwell thanked her profusely for her suggestion but also warned that any image he created on this theme would likely diverge from her memory of it. Like the best of Rockwell’s work, Saying Grace is an astonishingly complex composition derived from a unique synthesis of photography, preparatory sketches, live models and the artist’s own imagination. He combined each element to ultimately render a picture that uniquely presents an idealistic vision of the times and demonstrates his masterful ability to elevate commercial endeavors into the aesthetic realm. In 1937, encouraged by a younger generation of illustrators that included Steven Dohanos and John Falter, Rockwell similarly began to use photography to assist in composing his paintings. He typically started his compositional process by sketching the scene as he imagined it. Only after painstakingly collecting the appropriate props, choosing his desired models and scouting the locations required to achieve his desired scene would photography sessions begin in his studio (Fig. 1). Rockwell rarely took these photographs himself, preferring to be free to adjust each element while a hired photographer captured shots under his direction. He recognized the benefits that came from incorporating the camera into his technical process, later articulating, “I feel that I get a more spontaneous expression and a wider choice of expressions with the assistance of the camera and I save a lot of wear and tear on myself and the model” (Rockwell on Rockwell: How I Make a Picture, New York, 1979, p. 92). Rockwell utilized photography to compose numerous elements of Saying Grace. Several of the artist’s favorite models posed for the restaurant patrons. The young man at the table with his back to the window is Rockwell’s oldest son, Jerry, who was on leave from the U.S. Air Force when he sat for the painting. Rockwell’s student apprentice, Don Winslow, is seated next to Jerry with a cigarette in his mouth. The artist’s assistant, Gene Pelham, enjoys a paper and a cigar at the table in the foreground, while several other frequently used models of the time, including fellow Arlington residents Mrs. Ralph Walker and Bill Sharkey, are also identifiable. Rockwell felt he created his best work when he knew and liked his models. He strove to create a convivial atmosphere as he directed poses and would often initially assume the pose himself to show his model exactly his desired position and expression. Donald F. Hubert, Jr., an Arlington resident who served as the model for the young boy in Saying Grace remembered Rockwell’s kindly demeanor well but also vividly recalled his acute attention to detail, later writing of the experience, “I also remember, in this particular pose, that I could not keep my feet still, so somebody temporarily scotch taped my ankles together for the photo session” (Letter from Donald F. Hubert, Jr., February 11, 1986, Norman Rockwell Museum Archives, Stockbridge, Massachusetts). The decision to photograph live models imbues Saying Grace with an undeniable sense of naturalistic familiarity, but the technology also allowed the artist to experiment with diverse angles, poses and perspectives that gave his work a new sense of inventiveness. The finished illustration, however, was rarely an exact transcription of an individual photograph: “I do not work from any single photograph exclusively,” Rockwell once articulated of his process, “but select parts from several poses, so my picture which results from the photographs is a composite of many of them” (Ron Schick, Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, New York, 2009, p. 101). Rockwell’s most ambitious paintings required fifty to one hundred photographs to compose, as the artist strove to capture a range of images consisting of everything from overall composition scenes to the most minute detail shots. Once all were developed, Rockwell would place them on his studio floor and begin to select the best to use, at times cutting and cropping images and pasting them together in new ways. The apparent veracity of Saying Grace belies the careful planning with which Rockwell executed this composition. Rockwell’s quest for perfection was infamous, and he continued to develop and refine at every stage of his artistic process. He initially planned for Saying Grace to take place in a restaurant in Manhattan’s Times Square. Left unsatisfied with the preparatory photographs captured on site, Rockwell decided to transition the setting to a less site-specific environment. He envisioned the background first as a flower garden and then as a crowd of people hurrying by before finally settling on a rail yard, which he ultimately rendered as the stunningly detailed grisaille displayed in the work’s final version (Fig. 4). Maintaining his desire for authenticity, Rockwell photographed a nearby railroad yard in Rensselar, New York and had tables and chairs from actual diners shipped to his Arlington, Vermont studio in order to accurately portray the setting in its entirety. The heightened sense of photographic realism the canvas displays is additionally supported by the artist’s use of a popular cinematic technique called “deep-focus,” in which the foreground and background objects are given an equal sense of hyper-realistic clarity. As a result of this laborious preparation and process—which his son Peter remembers as driving his frustrated father to throw the unfinished painting out into the snow—Saying Grace offers a visual testament to Rockwell’s gifts as an artist. Rockwell included every compositional element to serve a specific purpose, ultimately allowing the picture to achieve a perfect sense of balance. The vibrant red highlights strategically placed throughout the scene direct the viewer’s eye through the composition to enhance the tangible sense of depth the artist has created within the two-dimensional picture plane. Of the nine figures whose presence can be detected in the scene, three are portrayed only partially and two are merely suggested, yet all assist as important compositional devices. The two standing figures serve as pendants, helping to frame the composition, while the man eating his breakfast in the foreground creates a window through which the viewer enters the composition. The low perspective utilized here, one likely borrowed from photography, creates the sense that we as the viewers are also sitting in the diner and participating in the action of the scene. The canvas is painted with an acute attention to detail; the myriad of textures Rockwell includes and juxtaposes—masterfully rendered minutiae such as the glass containers on the table, the grandmother’s crocodile handbag and her grandson’s newly shorn haircut—create a rich and animated surface that also imbues the painting with a strong sense of authenticity. Elements such as the curling cigarette smoke and the half-eaten breakfast on the foreground table are wonderfully immediate, creating the sense that the viewer is witnessing this vignette from life. Indeed, Saying Grace demonstrates perhaps better than any other work in the artist’s oeuvre, Rockwell’s unparalleled ability to encapsulate the subtle details of a complex narrative into a single, compelling image. This ability finds a parallel in the work of another great American master of the twentieth century, Edward Hopper, who similarly presented momentary yet extraordinarily compelling glimpses into the lives of ordinary Americans (Fig. 2). Simultaneously, however, we are not privy to the full arc of Rockwell’s narrative: Why have the woman and her grandson wandered into such an establishment where they are clearly out of place? Where are they going and from where have they come? The degree of ambiguity Rockwell includes only makes his image more captivating. We want to know more, to fully understand the scene he has rendered and the message he seeks to convey in this visually stunning and emotionally compelling work. Once we look closer, the artist’s message reveals itself: it is not the praying family who is Rockwell’s true subject but rather the crowd of onlookers who admittedly observe and consider them, yet ultimately allow them to give thanks in peace. Rather than a celebration of a particular religious practice, Saying Grace presents American culture as a place where differing values and customs are accepted. The artist explored this subject of tolerance at several iconic moments in his career, most famously in Freedom to Worship (1943), and The Golden Rule (1961) (Fig. 5). What distinguishes Saying Grace from these images, however, is the beautiful subtlety with which Rockwell translates his message. “I suppose we all have our own favorite Rockwells,” Ken Stuart wrote in 1961, reflecting on the career of his friend and collaborator of nearly 20 years. Serving as the art editor for The Saturday Evening Post during the most pivotal years of Rockwell’s association with the publication, Stuart understood the powerful reach of the artist’s imagery perhaps better than anyone; while we each find an image in Rockwell's body of work that gives us pause, particularly delights, or immediately transports us back in time to a moment of our own lives, the appeal of Rockwell remains universal. The sense of nostalgia Saying Grace presents continues to resonate with any American who has ever said grace before a meal or shared a quiet moment with a loved one. While his imagery undoubtedly adapted to evolving cultural norms and social mores over time, it consistently evokes a sense of timeless familiarity. Even today the figures he rendered—often modeled after his friends and family members—could be our own friends, neighbors or even ourselves. The particular vision of American life he projected has become integral to the country’s idea of itself and its history, contributing to Rockwell’s reputation as an astute chronicler of the American experience. Signed Norman Rockwell (lower center)

  • USAUSA
  • 2013-12-04
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A HIGHLY IMPORTANT IMPERIAL EMBROIDERED SILK THANGKA

A HIGHLY IMPORTANT IMPERIAL EMBROIDERED SILK THANGKA YONGLE SIX-CHARACTER PRESENTATION MARK AND OF THE PERIOD (1402-1424) This massive panel is exquisitely embroidered in gold thread and brilliant coloured silk threads on leaf-green jiang chou silk enriched with a regular pattern of dark blue medallions of curled leafy scrolls outlined with gold thread. The central image is of the wrathful Raktayamari, depicted in tones of red, standing in yab-yum embracing his consort Vajravetali. Her left leg encircling his waist, his right hand wielding above his head a khatvanga embellished with human heads in varying states and the vajra thunderbolt, his left arm supporting his facing consort and holding a kapala or skull cap in his left hand. The locked couple is trampling on the blue corpse of Yama, the Lord of death, wearing a tiger skin and crown, lying on the back of their mount, a brown buffalo recumbent on a multi-coloured lotus base. All below two rows of buddhas and bodhisattvas seated on lotus bases, the upper including Heruka Vajrabhairava on the far left and Manjusri on the far right, flanking the five Dhyani Buddhas, Ratnasambhava, Akshobhya, Vairocana, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi. The lower row with Green Tara and White Tara. On the lower panel is a row of seven offering goddesses dancing on lotus bases and holding aloft dishes as offerings below the couple. The thangka is bordered by an embroidered yellow-ground band of vajra. On the upper right side is the vertical presentation mark in gold thread on a red embroidered ground below the White Tara. Accompanied with a Qing dynasty silk surround now detached. 132 x 84 in. (335.3 x 213.4 cm.)

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2014-11-26
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No. 21 (Red, Brown, Black and Orange)

Signed and dated 1953 on the reverse241.5 by 162.5cm.; 95 by 64in.Executed in 1951. Signed and dated 1953 on the reverse “These are the edgings and inchings of final form” – Wallace Stevens (Wallace Stevens, “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven,” in The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, London, 1984, p. 488) To encounter the majestic No. 21 is to be embraced by the full force of Mark Rothko’s evocation of the sublime. As privileged viewers of this indisputable, inimitable masterwork we are afforded a visual and somatic experience that is beyond compare and bespeaks the absolute mastery of the artist’s abstract vernacular. Executed in 1951 at the very incipit of what David Anfam, the editor of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, refers to as the anni mirabilis of Rothko’s oeuvre, the present work is a paragon of this halcyon era in which his mature mode of artistic expression pioneered truly unprecedented territory. Last seen in public during the major European travelling retrospective of Rothko’s art organized by the Kunsthaus Zürich in 1971-72, this superb painting has remained in the same highly distinguished private collection for over 40 years and its appearance here at auction marks an historic moment. A veritable treatise on the absolute limits of abstraction, No. 21 transmits an aura of the ethereal that is entirely enthralling and immersive. In accordance with the most authentic experience of Rothko’s vision, we cease to perceive this work as a dialogue between medium and support, and instead become wholly submerged within its utterly captivating compositional dynamism, chromatic intensity, and sheer scale. Soaring to 95 inches in height, No. 21 projects itself into our space on a greater than human scale, engulfing us entirely within its epic expanse. Dominated by simultaneously distinct and inextricably intertwined radiant zones of sumptuous color, the canvas pulsates with a tangible energetic intensity, pulling us ever inward. A concentrated field of gloriously vibrant orange surges forth from the sheer profundity of fierce black that surrounds it, the subtly perceptible strokes of Rothko’s brush in this area encouraging a sense of inexorable ascent towards the upper limits of the canvas. The captivating depth of the black band at the center, seemingly inhaling the areas of impossible illumination that surround it, pulls us in and takes absolute hold of our vision, encouraging us to travel through the subtle variants of tone and contour that comprise the intricate landscape of its surface. In a stunning feat of compositional and coloristic genius, this fiery ground is counterbalanced by the diaphanous layers of blush pink that seem to float amongst a sea of sunset orange in the lower register, bestowing upon No. 21 an otherworldly glow. Acting as a portal to the sublime, the limitless realm of sumptuous color in the present work envelops the viewer and brings life to Rothko’s assertion that his monumental canvases be experienced up close rather than from a distance. In its utter brilliance of palette, compositional dynamism, monumental scale, and indelible gravitas, this painting exists as an empyreal manifestation of the very apex of Mark Rothko’s painterly prowess. No. 21 was first shown in the year immediately following its creation in the iconic 1952 exhibition 15 Americans held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Organized by legendary curator Dorothy C. Miller, this seminal show included masterpieces such as Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and Clyfford Still’s PH-371 (1947-S), in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In characteristic fashion, Rothko was deeply involved in the curatorial planning and installation of the gallery devoted entirely to his paintings. Of the nine works originally chosen for the exhibition, five were eventually included in the show, among them No. 10, now housed permanently in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This final group of canvases was carefully and deliberately selected with an eye to variety. A diverse interplay of hues and forms, at once remaining distinct to their individual supports whilst communing directly with one another across the gallery, relayed an odyssey of progress towards an ultimate artistic truth. For its installation, Rothko demanded “blazing light” be shed on his paintings, thus intensifying the magnitude of his looming symphonies of color and contour, and conferring upon them a supremacy and majesty commensurate with their undeniable status as his first mature masterpieces. The paintings in this seminal exhibition, all executed between the years 1949-1951, are monuments to a crucial turning point in Rothko’s aesthetic evolution, when he resolved an abstract archetype out of the preceding multiform paintings. Begun in 1947, and emerging from an exploration of biomorphic forms drawn from Miró, Picasso, Dalì, and his other Surrealist predecessors, Rothko’s multiform paintings reduced all figurative remnants to brightly tinted patchworks of irregular floating shapes that seem to variously coalesce and disintegrate as if fluidly and organically moving of their own accord. As Rothko wrote at the time, “I think of my pictures as dramas; the shapes in the pictures are the performers… They are organisms with volition and a passion for self-assertion.” (Mark Rothko, “The Romantics Were Prompted,” first published in Possibilities, no. 1, 1947) By 1950, however, Rothko had abandoned these multiform compositions to contemplate what he called “an unknown space.” David Anfam, in his definitive text on the artist, deems this crucial moment the onset of the “classical period,” a time he delimits as beginning in 1950 and spanning the remainder of Rothko’s lifetime. He draws particular attention to 1951, the year of No. 21’s execution, as being decisive: “From 1951 onward, Rothko’s artistic self-confidence was everywhere visible – from the meticulousness, authority and range of the paintings to his very attitude toward them.” (David Anfam, Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 71) No. 21 is a paean to the newfound aplomb with which Rothko approached his towering theses on abstraction, reflecting across its luscious, vigorous surface the artist’s desire, as elucidated by Stanley Kunitz, “to become his paintings.” (Stanley Kunitz, interview with Avis Berman, December 8, 1983, Archives of American Art) Indeed, in the same year as this painting’s execution, Rothko declared the apparent paradox that distinguishes his oeuvre: “I paint very large pictures…precisely because I want to be very intimate and human. To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience…However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn’t something you command.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Mark Rothko: 1903-1970, 1987, p. 85) When Rothko asked Katherine Kuh, The Art Institute of Chicago’s visionary first curator of modern painting and sculpture, to describe her reactions to his paintings, she wrote of the ones she had seen: "for me they have a kind of ecstasy of color which induces different but always intense moods. I am not a spectator - I am a participant." (letter July 18, 1954) Like the artist himself becoming one with his canvas, physically entering into the incandescent environments as he created them, we too, as viewers, come to relate to his towering fields of luminosity as if engaging in a personal exchange. Our experience of No. 21, as participants in its stunning drama, brings it to life and may in turn give new dimensions to our life. We do not look at this painting; we are absorbed into it. Indeed, being in its presence parallels a line of Nietzsche that had inspired Rothko since he had been a young man: “There is a need for a whole world of torment in order for the individual to sit quietly in his rocking row-boat in mid-sea, absorbed in contemplation.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, translation by Francis Golffing, New York, 1956, pp. 33-34) Rothko’s arrival at his mature style, which in retrospect reads as the sole, inevitable, and predetermined conclusion of his quest for a reimagined abstraction, was in fact the supreme result of a calculated and concentrated purge, the product of an overwhelmingly radical and profoundly effective stripping away of compositional superfluity in order to arrive at the pure elemental state of the image. The distinct zones of color in the earlier multiform canvases coalesced into an impenetrable totality in works such as No. 21, wherein all elements engage in a choreography of endlessly pulsating flux and fusion so that the composition seems to shed the confines of its support, existing instead as a shimmering, energy-laden entity that fully surpasses the inadequacies of mere written description. Thus, the present work stands as the crowning evocation of Rothko’s declaration of 1948, delineating his ultimate goal a full three years before it was achieved: “The progression of a painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer … To achieve this clarity is, ultimately, to be understood.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, 15 Americans, 1952, p. 18) The theoretical foundations of Rothko’s aesthetic revolution conform to the predominating rhetoric of Abstract Expressionism in the mid-Twentieth Century. Absolutism, themes of purging and beginning art anew, and other extremes of theory and practice were similarly espoused by Rothko’s now-heroic compatriots of the New York School such as Clyfford Still and Barnett Newman. In response to a pervasive general malaise and loss of faith in the external realities of modern life in the wake of the Second World War, an impassioned, quasi-sacred belief in the transcendental power of art rose to prominence. Donning the philosophical mantle of his great Romanticist forebears – pioneering giants such as J.M.W. Turner, Caspar David Friedrich and Théodore Gericault – Rothko devoted himself to the pursuit of art as a portal to an enhanced realm of physical and spiritual experience. In an impassioned reaction against the prevailing social norms that arose as a result of the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment, the Romantics emphasized and validated the emotional intensity that results from confronting the transcendence of an uninhibited aesthetic experience. J.M.W. Turner, in his 1817 masterwork Mt. Vesuvius in Eruption, realized the unquantifiable power of the sublime when he culled an utterly affecting narrative out of pure color and light. As we bear witness to the immeasurable devastation of the depicted scene, conveyed through the impossibly precise yet ethereally light stroke of Turner’s brush, we nonetheless cease to understand it in terms of our corporeal reality. Instead, we are willingly transported at once to the very core of Turner’s masterful surface and inwards, towards the depths of our own subconscious. Developing on the same fundamental principles espoused by the Romantics a century earlier, the late-nineteenth century Symbolists – Odilon Redon, Gustav Klimt, and Edvard Munch among the most influential – eschewed naturalism and realism in art, proclaiming instead the sovereignty of spirituality, the imagination, and the unconscious.  Munch in particular, in stirring canvases such as The Vampire painted in 1893, gained prestige for his intensely redolent translations of the human psyche into art. This image, a collection of darkened hues punctuated by an electrifying mass of red that swirls and churns into a staggeringly affective depiction of two intertwined human forms, immediately and aggressively wrests us from reality, ferrying us into a world of dreamlike fantasy. Like the Romantics who preceded them, the Symbolists considered Art as a contemplative escape from a world of strife, achieving this liberation through themes of mysticism and otherworldliness grounded always by an incisive sense of mortality. With the advent of Abstract Expressionism, this remarkable philosophical lineage was given an ever grander and more evocative visual form. As early as 1943, Rothko published a joint statement with fellow pioneers of the new Abstraction, Barnett Newman and Adolph Gottlieb: “To us art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take the risks. … It is our function as artists to make the spectator see the world our way – not his way.” (Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Adolph Gottlieb, “Statement” in Edward Alden Jewell’s column, The New York Times, June 13, 1943) Thus, while delivering the tenets of Romanticism and Symbolism to the modern era, via a revolutionary compositional clarity and monumentality of viewing experience, Rothko conclusively asserted the paramount equation between his artwork and its beholder, whereby the true potential of his painting could not exist without the presence of the viewer. Four years later, he developed this integral relationship even further: “A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token.” (Mark Rothko, “Statement,” Tiger’s Eye, New York, vol. 1, no. 2, December 1947, p. 44) Through form, surface, texture, and color Rothko struck a perennial balance that lures the viewer's constant attention. Yet, as we are beckoned into the glowing lustrous embrace of the devastatingly beautiful and complex No. 21 there is a profound tension struck between the uplifting emotions evoked by our perception of Rothko’s vibrant hues and something implicitly more tragic. Such elemental colors as the vibrant red-orange and dazzling rose of the present work harbor primal connotations of light, warmth, and the Sun, but inasmuch as they invoke the Sun they also implicate the inevitable cycle of dawn and dusk, of rise and set, and their own continual demise and rebirth. Indeed, the near violent encroachment of the depthless black upon the shining orange expanse, though entirely and adamantly abstract, nonetheless communicates a narrative of perpetual contest between the primal forces of light and darkness. The environment that is created in No. 21 ubiquitously encompasses us yet, in its immateriality also eludes our grasp, projecting a sense of space that is at once material and metaphysical, encapsulating Rothko’s proclaimed goal to “paint both the finite and the infinite.” (Dore Ashton, About Rothko, New York, 1983, p. 179) Rothko once stated to David Sylvester, “Often, towards nightfall, there’s a feeling in the air of mystery, threat, frustration – all of these at once. I would like my painting to have the quality of such moments.” (the artist cited in David Anfam, Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas, Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 88), and with its suggestion of an infinite depth in the darkest areas of the black shape, this enigmatic work harbors something that is indescribably portentous. Excepting a letter to Art News in 1957, from 1949 onwards Rothko ceased publishing statements about his work, anxious that his writings might be interpreted as instructive or didactic and could thereby interfere with the pure import of the paintings themselves. However, in 1958 he gave a talk at the Pratt Institute to repudiate his critics and to deny any perceived association between his art and self-expression. He insisted instead that his corpus was not concerned with notions of self but rather with the entire human drama. While he drew a distinction between figurative and abstract art, he nevertheless outlined an underlying adherence to the portrayal of human experience. Discussing the “artist’s eternal interest in the human figure,” Rothko examined the common bond of figurative painters throughout Art History: “they have painted one character in all their work. What is indicated here is that the artist’s real model is an ideal which embraces all of human drama rather than the appearance of a particular individual. Today the artist is no longer constrained by the limitation that all of man’s experience is expressed by his outward appearance. Freed from the need of describing a particular person, the possibilities are endless. The whole of man’s experience becomes his model, and in that sense it can be said that all of art is a portrait of an idea.” (lecture given at the Pratt Institute 1958, cited in Exh. Cat., London, The Tate Gallery, Op. Cit., p. 87) Paintings such as No. 21, in truth, involve both spirit and nature, and Rothko sought to instill in the viewer a profound sense of the spiritual whilst evincing his abject faith in the role of the artist in attaining the highest realm to which a man could aspire. For Rothko, art was capable of provoking in the viewer an existential sense of awe and wonderment for the sublime miracle of existence, and in this truly spectacular painting that capacity is wholly and perfectly achieved.

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-11-11
Hammer price
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Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1

Throughout her career, Georgia O’Keeffe strove to depict what she described as “the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.” Her spirit of adventure and passion for the natural world drove her to explore the landscape of the United States, and to do so in such diverse places as Lake George, New York and Abiquiú, New Mexico. As such, the core of O’Keeffe’s work lies in the natural imagery around her, but her ability to capture the elusive boundary between representation and abstraction is central to her singular language of modernism. Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 is a strikingly bold and elegant representation of the artist’s mature intent and aesthetic. Painted in 1932, the work exhibits one of O’Keeffe’s most enduring motifs: her innovative renderings of magnified flowers. O’Keeffe first explored this theme early in her career, drawn to the flower as subject for what she felt was the challenge it posed to observation. It was easy, she believed, to overlook the beauty found in the details of these small forms. Beginning in the 1920s, she decided to paint them on a large scale so that “even busy New Yorkers” would have to stop and appreciate her unique, sensory experience of nature. “Where I come from the earth means everything,” O’Keeffe said of the profound connection she felt. “Life depends on it. You pick it up and feel it in your hands” (Debra Bricker Balken, Dove/O’Keeffe: Circles of Influence, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 2009, pp. 24-5). O’Keeffe utilized the Jimson weed as subject matter on multiple occasions, presenting it each time with a new viewpoint or altered perspective (fig. 1). The beauty of the blossom first attracted her when she discovered a group of them near her home in New Mexico, where these poisonous flowers grew in abundance. She examined one closely and remarked that “It is a beautiful white trumpet flower with strong veins that hold the flower open and grow longer than the round part of the flower—twisting as they grow off beyond it…Some of them are a pale green in the center—some a pale Mars violet. The Jimson weed blooms in the cool of the evening—one moonlight night at the Ranch I counted one hundred and twenty five flowers. The flowers die in the heat of the day…Now when I think of the delicate fragrance of the flowers, I almost feel the coolness and sweetness of the evening” (Georgia O’Keeffe, Georgia O’Keeffe, New York, 1976, n.p.). In Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, O’Keeffe transforms the poisonous into the sublime, presenting her perception of its essence rather than its literal form. She depicts the flower with subtly modulated tones of pure white, yellow and green to evoke the play of light and shadow on its delicate surface. Eschewing the details of the subject, O’Keeffe renders the blossom and leaves as elegantly simplified, circular forms—a motif essential to her aesthetic (fig. 2). She composes each element with precise, assured strokes of pigment to create sharply delineated contours and a lush surface. O’Keeffe’s perfectionism and technical facility was legendary, described by her longtime friend and collaborator, Doris Bry, as “a meticulous craftsman in everything she chose to do—from cooking to making clothes and gardens to grinding her own pigments between glass (on occasion) for greater translucency to having a go at creating her own pastel sticks. She loved the very substance of color” (Sarah Whitaker Peters, “Georgia O’Keeffe: Color and Conservation,” Georgia O’Keeffe: Color and Conservation, Jackson, Mississippi, p. 18). Indeed, the artist came to consider color as essential to form, once explaining that she visualized shapes in her mind that she could not translate onto canvas or paper until she could identify the appropriate colors with which to portray them. “I work with an idea for a long time,” she explained. “It’s like getting acquainted with a person, and I don’t get acquainted easily…Sometimes I start in a very realistic fashion, and as I go on from one painting to another of the same thing, it becomes simplified till it can be nothing but abstract” (Calvin Tomkins, Notes from Interview with Georgia O’Keeffe, September 24, 1973, for his New Yorker profile, “The Rose in the Eye Looked Pretty Fine,” March 4, 1973). In the present work, the Jimson weed is monumental, filling the picture plane nearly to entirety with its velvety petals. The artist grants merely a glimpse into its larger context, showing only portions of its leaves and a vivid blue sky. As the muse and wife of Alfred Stieglitz, O'Keeffe was undoubtedly exposed to his ideas and aesthetic preferences. O’Keeffe’s dialogue with the photographs of Stieglitz and his colleague Paul Strand is plainly evident in Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 as she crops the picture plane sharply and focuses intently on the blossom to present its form up close (fig. 3). Although she allows for a degree of three-dimensionality within the composition, the pictorial space is largely compressed, contributing to the impression of the blossom as a pattern of shapes and colors. These forms appear to ripple and swirl on the surface of the canvas, emanating outwards as if without definitive boundaries. A painter similarly inspired by the landscape of the American Southwest, Agnes Martin achieves a comparable, pulsating effect in her 1960 work, White Flower, in which she interprets her botanical subject as a starkly minimal geometric grid of minute lines and dashes of white pigment (fig. 4). Set against the dark gray background, these strokes seem to float forward into space, pushing against the two-dimensional picture plane to impart a more immersive experence of nature. Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 represents one of the rare instances during the first few decades of O’Keeffe’s career that she selected a canvas size noticeably larger than her standard format. In 1932, the same year she executed the present work, O’Keeffe had begun plans for a mural commission for Radio City Music Hall—then under construction in Rockefeller Center—which may have compelled her to experiment with this larger scale. As in Martin’s work, the proportions contribute to the sense that the landscape is enveloping the viewer. Presenting the blossom as a commanding form, rather than the delicate entity it is in reality, O’Keeffe achieves an effect not unlike that of Jeff Koons’ 1995-7 work Pink Bow, in which the artist depicts his subject in isolation, similarly centralized and frontally (fig. 5). The meticulous, nearly photographic  technique Koons utilizes in Pink Bow imbues the dainty folds of a ribbon with a bold sculptural presence and recalls O’Keeffe’s remarkably precise brushwork in works such as Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, in which her color, noted Paul Rosenfeld, “has an edge that is like a line. She created her edges with the finest and most precise kind of brushwork” (Peters, p. 17). In both works, the artist changes the subject into an iconic, timeless object that defies the fragility and, in the instance of the Jimson weed, the impermanence that are inherent to it in reality. O’Keeffe’s vision of the flower reveals the power and exuberance with which she viewed her natural environment. It is a deeply personal image that speaks to ideas of timelessness and universality. “O’Keeffe acted to suspend time,” explains Jack Cowart, “producing art that would capture the transient. [Here], O’Keeffe made a flower, with all of its fragility, a permanent image without season, wilt or decay. Enlarged and reconstructed in oil on canvas or pastel on paper, it is a vehicle for pure expression rather than an example of botanical illustration. In her art, fleeting effects of natural phenomena or personal emotion become symbols, permanent points of reference (“Georgia O’Keeffe: Art and Artist,” Georgia O’Keeffe: Art and Letters, Boston, Massachusetts, 1987, p. 2). As the enlarged blossom floats in the ambiguous pictorial space, O’Keeffe transforms this traditional still-life subject into a meditative experience. O’Keeffe’s intent  foreshadows the work of artists like Mark Rothko, who also used color, shape and scale to induce an emotional reaction from the viewer (fig. 6). Despite her initial association with Stieglitz and his circle, O’Keeffe’s aesthetic was always distinctly her own. Although connotations of sexuality and gender were continuously ascribed to the imagery displayed in works Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, O’Keeffe repeatedly denied these suggestions “…when you took the time to really notice my flower you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower,” she later explained of the tendency of audiences to misinterpret her work, “and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower—and I don’t” (Britta Benke, O’Keeffe, London, 2003, p. 38). O'Keeffe's flower paintings bring to mind the flowers of Andy Warhol, who also used the subject in a distinctive and individual way (fig. 7). Warhol met O'Keeffe in 1979 at her home in Abiquiú home to create her portrait. In Warhol's series, the artist presents his subject without narrative or context to purposely invite a greater degree of interpretation, questioning and reflection from the viewer. Both artists ultimately elevate an ordinary object into the realm of high art, compelling the viewer to consider something familiar in an entirely new way. “I have but one desire as a painter,” O’Keeffe once summarized of her creative intent, “that is to paint what I see, as I see it, in my own way, without regard for the desires or taste of the professional dealer or the professional collector. I attribute what little success I have to this fact" (B. Vladimir Berman, "She Painted the Lily and Got $25,000 and Fame for Doing It," New York Evening Graphic Magazine Section, May 12, 1928, p. 3M).

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-11-20
Hammer price
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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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