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Skizze fur sintflut ii (sketch for deluge ii)

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

  • USAUSA
  • 2004-11-04
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La Séance du matin

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

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-05-07
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Three Studies for Self-Portrait

Each: signed, titled, dated 1980 and variously inscribed on the reverse oil on canvas, in three partseach: 35.5 by 30.5cm Left panel: signed, dated 1980 and inscribed 3 Studies for Self-Portrait, Front Left Panel centre panel: signed, dated 1980 and inscribed 3 Studies for Self-Portrait, Centre Panel right panel: signed, dated 1980 and inscribed 3 Studies for Self-Portrait, Front Right Panel Over and above any other theme or major development in Francis Bacon’s work of the 1970s, it was self-portraiture that utterly dominated the decade. Spearheading the magnificent Figure and Form collection are two self-portraits which represent the absolute zenith of Francis Bacon’s most significant and enduring body of work. Self Portrait and Three Studies for Self Portrait are unparalleled within the intimately scaled self-portraits.Fixed against two electrifying blue grounds, they exude conceptual brilliance and, above all, painterly genius; the combination of an Impressionistic colour palette, layers of Letraset, grazes of corduroy fabric, and exigent mark making awards these paintings unequivocal masterpiece status. These powerful images stand alongside those by Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Picasso whose formidable self-portraits rank among the most iconic paintings within the history of art. To appreciate them is to understand something of the collector’s insatiable appetite for masterpieces by Bacon. Indeed at the time of purchasing Three Studies for Self-Portrait (1980) the owner proudly remarked: “Although we already had a little self-portrait as well as a big self-portrait [Self-Portrait from 1978 sold at Sotheby’s in 2007], it excited us just as much to buy this triptych: as we would thus have three self-portrait paintings all in different formats”. This enthusiasm extended to the purchase of Self-Portrait (1975): “I am particularly excited about this purchase as I consider this Self-Portrait as an absolute masterpiece. It is my favourite!”. Dated 1975 and 1980 respectively, and never before exhibited in public, these magnificent works narrate the latter half of this most extraordinary decade for Francis Bacon. Today considered the most introspective and inwardly scrutinising of his career, Bacon’s 1970s production is characterised by the searing self-images that emerged following the sudden death of Bacon’s former lover, George Dyer, in 1971. Bacon never truly relinquished the guilt and responsibility he felt in fuelling Dyer’s tragic juggernaut of a life, and the suite of ‘black triptychs’ painted between 1971 and 1973 offer exorcising lamentation over his death. In tandem with these works, Bacon’s self-portrait practice proliferated and became increasingly complex. Within these often mournful paintings the artist appears as a modern day allegory for melancholia leaning on a washbasin, with facial features violently mutilated, or with his wristwatch prominently insisting upon life’s transience. Whether heroically scaled or intimately proportioned, the self-portraits echo Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray: where Bacon’s grief was stoically concealed from life, the canvas became the face of his suffering and pain. Although the major work of Bacon’s mourning had come to an end with the black triptychs, the spirit of George Dyer and practice of self-portraiture endured, fed by an ever-increasing number of friends whom Bacon lost. Not long after George Dyer in 1971, the artist’s Soho companion and Vogue photographer John Deakin passed away, followed by the Colony Room’s famous matriarch, Muriel Belcher in 1979, and in 1980 Bacon’s decisive link to the French intelligentsia, Sonia Orwell, died after a long battle with cancer. Indeed, the ever proliferating sequence of bereavements famously led Bacon to proclaim: “I’ve done a lot of self-portraits, really because people have been dying around me like flies and I’ve had nobody else to paint but myself” (Francis Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester, 1975 in: ibid., p. 129). By the decade’s midpoint however, the opening of a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, his growing success in Paris, and the increasing prominence of two younger men in his life, Peter Beard and John Edwards, ushered in a tonal change that signalled the beginnings of a late style. Chronologically, the first of the two works is a dramatic 14 by 12 inch single canvas from 1975. Framed by a thickly applied deep purple ground, Bacon’s three-quarter-turn profile is articulated in an auroral palette of green blending into purple and pink; pastel tones that are interwoven and offset by corduroy swipes of orange, and alabaster accents of white that work to illuminate the entire painting. In evidence is the artist’s distinctive forelock of hair, those inimitable diagonal brushmarks which the esteemed French poet, and friend of Bacon’s, Michel Leiris described as “a reckless comma staunchly inscribed across his brow” (Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon Full Face and in Profile, New York 1983, p. 12). The artist’s mackintosh – a wardrobe staple evident in self-portraits of 1969, 1970 and 1976, alongside countless photographs of the artist – is here overlaid with fragments of illegible Letraset, a pictorial “sampling” that first appeared in Studies of the Human Body of 1970 (Martin Harrison, In Camera – Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, London 2005, p. 190). Significantly, this painting marks the only instance of its use across the entire pantheon of small portrait heads. Typically employed to enhance the suggestion of discarded newspaper sheets in his larger canvases – perhaps a reference to the chaos of his studio or the powerfully atmospheric descriptions of T.S. Eliot – the presence of Letraset seems to function in a more abstract manner in this painting. Untied to any representational form, it is a superimposition that appears to operate on a formal level to fix, or pin down, the effervescence of Bacon’s brushwork. Its broken typography clearly echoes the collages of Synthetic Cubism, while Martin Harrison suggests the influence of Marcel Duchamp, Tristan Tzara and Max Ernst’s non-linear typographical montages, as well as the ‘cut-up’ technique developed by the Beat Generation’s Brion Gysin and Williams Burroughs (Ibid.). Indeed for Bacon, words were as powerful as images – if not more so. He read extensively and returned endlessly to the phrases and passages in Aeschylus, James Joyce, Yeats, Proust and T.S. Eliot that unlocked ‘the valves of sensation’ most powerfully. Where these influences fed most directly into his large triptychs, in its unique formal echo of the fragmentation and compression that Bacon prized in Eliot’s work, Self-Portrait of 1975 emphasises the importance of literature and poetry for breeding images in his imagination. This painting also narrates a phase of Bacon’s life in which he strengthened his ties to the Parisian art world. On the one hand Bacon relished the unvarnished company of his Soho drinking clique, whilst on the other there was a great need for refuge amongst intellectual peers. Sonia Orwell – the widow of George Orwell – played a significant role in this regard, and during the many soirées held at her house on Gloucester Road during the 1960s, Bacon encountered a number of leading lights from the Parisian avant-garde. These connections meant a great deal to an artist for whom Paris remained the epicentre of the artistic world: home to the birth of Modernism, it was in Paris at the end of the 1920s that Bacon, inspired by a Picasso exhibition, first nurtured his ambitions to become a painter. Amongst le tout Paris of the arts and letters it was his friendship with the writer Michel Leiris that proved most influential. At first daunted by Bacon's work, Leiris’ enthusiasm was crucially piqued by the small portrait studies. Thereafter not only did Leiris bring about top-level recognition of the artist’s work in France, it was he who would pen the introduction to the feted retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1971 and thus herald Bacon’s entry into the cultural pantheon of Paris (Michael Peppaitt, ibid., p. 287). Many aspects of Self-Portrait – it’s chromatic subtly and luminous brilliance (a quality shared with the magnificent Portrait of Michel Leiris from 1976), the prominence of Letraset and its literary connotations – anchor it to the increasingly extended periods Bacon spent living and working in Paris during the mid-1970s. No doubt driven by a masochistic impulse to inhabit his guilt more intensely, Bacon was drawn back to the site of Dyer’s suicide, to the very hotel in which he had died only 48 hours prior to the opening of his Grand Palais retrospective. Paris, the very centre of Bacon’s artistic aspirations, was thus forever cast under the tragic and fantastical shadow of Dyer’s demise. With the length of his stay increasing each time, Bacon’s need to paint demanded a proper place in which to work, and in 1974 he took up a studio in the Marais district at 14 rue de Birague. Indeed, owing to the absence of exhibition history at Marlborough during this year, it is very possible that it was here, and not the famous 7 Reece Mews, in which Self-Portrait was executed. Contra to the fallacy that he could only work amongst the chaos of his West London studio, Bacon very successfully painted in a number of different locations throughout his career; from Eric Hall’s cottage in Petersfield and then Monte Carlo in the 1940s, through to Tangier in the 1950s. His working conditions however were particular, and over the years he unsuccessfully tried numerous other spaces in London, from the house in Roland Gardens off the Old Brompton Road which he deemed too grand and therefore castrative, to the purchase in 1970 of the house in Limehouse on Narrow Street which was duly sold in the 1980s. Herein, the studio in Paris proved most conducive and became the artist’s second home until the end of his life. With one large room at the top and a kitchen on the lower level, the Parisian studio possessed the same creative portent and atmosphere as the claustrophic environs of the now famous 7 Reece Mews; as explained to David Sylvester: “I am very influenced by places – by the atmosphere of a room, you know. And I just knew from the very moment that I came here [Reece Mews] that I would be able to work here. And I felt the same thing about the place in Paris. It’s only one room, but I knew from the moment I went into it that it was a place I could work in” (Francis Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester, 1989 in: David Sylvester, op. cit., pp. 189-90). Bacon’s increasing success and growing legendary status in Paris, fuelled by his ease at work at 14 rue de Birague and set in stone by his wildly successful show in 1977 at Galerie Claude Bernard, truly characterise the period: many of the mid-to-late 1970s works exude a curious mix of the intellectually stimulating and exhilarating ambience of Paris with the melancholic introspection that typifies the decade. Although a sense of captured movement is readily apparent in the 1975 Self-Portrait, Bacon’s features remain remarkably intact. This painting does not possess the carved tangle of physiognomic forms or time weariness evident in self-portraits from the immediate years post George Dyer, instead, it emanates youthfulness. Alert and smooth-skinned, Bacon’s painted face belies the age of its author. Michael Peppiatt explains: “… Bacon continued to take great care of his appearance as he grew older, dyeing his hair subtle shades of reddish brown and applying liberal amounts of ‘pancake’ makeup to his face, even though it had not become deeply lined” (Michael Peppiatt, op. cit., p. 364). Bacon was obsessed with his physical appearance and those of others, and was increasingly pre-occupied with the effect of time on the body: “I’ve always liked bodies that function perfectly… But of course old age cancels those things out. There it is… ‘la vieillesse est horrible et sans reméde’ – old age is ghastly and incurable” (Francis Bacon quoted in: Michael Peppiatt, op. cit., p. 354). This sense of rejecting the ravages of time is notably apparent in the second Bacon from Figure and Form, Three Studies for Self-Portrait of 1980. Executed across three canvases – Bacon’s preferred format – this triptych presents a succession of self-images in almost identical three-quarter turn profiles. Having typically chosen to portray his subject in full face and in profile, like a police record from left to right, this triptych is remarkable for its repetitious insistence. Painted on a scumbled pastel blue backdrop, with each likeness framed by a black border, these images evoke a classical portrait bust or life mask, in which refined and subtly differing features appear unmarred by age. The evidence of the artist’s characteristic nose and forelock make this ineffably Bacon, however, it is apt to note the physical implication of two younger men at this point in his life. In 1980 the only other portraits painted in this format were of Peter Beard and John Edwards – a fact that also rings true for 1975, during which Peter Beard first entered Bacon’s canon and was the only other subject to appear in a 14 by 12inch study. The present triptych thus appears as a fantastical distortion of the self in which the influence of other younger physiognomies seems to intermingle and mutate into Bacon’s own. Peter Beard, an American photographer with model good looks, became friends with Bacon in the mid-1960s. His photographs of African wildlife, particularly aerial shots of animal carcasses, greatly intrigued Bacon; however it wasn’t until some ten years into their friendship that Bacon deigned to paint his likeness. No doubt at Bacon’s behest, Beard took a number of photographs of himself that were found among the detritus of 7 Reece Mews after the artist’s death. In a manner that echoes George Dyer in his underpants, Beard, with athletic physique on show, appears at ease in front of the camera. Close up shots of his face reveal his classic good looks, a trait that Bacon very much admired in a model: “I’m glad to say that two people, very good looking, have turned up, both of whom I’ve known in the past. They’re both good subjects. I loathe my own face, and I’ve done self-portraits because I’ve had nobody else to do… I like painting good-looking people because I like good bone structure” (Francis Bacon in conversation with David Sylvester, 1975 in: op. cit., pp. 129-30). Intriguingly it is the very same year in which Bacon begins painting Beard – 1975 – that the artist’s own self-portraiture takes on a decisively youthful and less distortive mien. The other ‘good-looking’ person mentioned by Bacon is undoubtedly John Edwards. Bacon came to know Edwards during his time spent drinking in East London pubs, and towards the mid-1970s they became firm friends. A ruggedly good-looking Eastender, Edwards undoubtedly reminded Bacon of Dyer whose working class roots and frankness had always appealed to his taste for unadorned reality. Unlike the intensely sexual nature of Dyer and Bacon’s relationship, the Bacon/Edwards dynamic was built on a paternal compassion that would last until the very end of the artist’s life. Indeed, it was Edwards who became Bacon’s sole heir after his death in 1992. The security of this quasi-familial companionship had a dramatically palliative effect on Bacon’s work, and the pictures of the 1980s are increasingly typified by, to quote Peppiatt, “an eery sense of calm” (Michael Peppiatt, op cit., p. 355). In this regard Three Studies for Self-Portrait chimes very much with a pendent triptych, and Bacon’s very first portrait, of John Edwards executed in the same year. Possessing the same pastel background and youthful brow as the Edwards triptych, Bacon’s sequence of self-images are remarkably tranquil; offset only by the scumbled background, vigorous smudging swipes of ribbed pink paint and darkening orange shadows that creep across his pallid complexion. With his eyes downcast and apparently shut, these floating heads appear as disembodied apparitions that echo the deathly emanation of his William Blake life masks of 1955. Aged 71 by this point, Bacon was increasingly haunted by the inevitability of death above all else, frequently drawing attention to his age with such expressions as: “What’s unpleasant when you get to my age is that you know for certain you won’t live much longer”; or, “My life’s nearly over and all the people I’ve been fond of are dead” (Francis Bacon quoted in: Michael Peppiatt, op. cit., p. 358). In 1979 and 1980, the respective loss of Muriel Belcher and Sonia Orwell, proved a substantial blow and fuelled the artist’s ever prescient and intimate grasp of death’s finality – a quality increasingly reflected in the spare and unceremonious self-portraits of his final years. The pale blue ground framed by abyssal black invokes Bacon’s fascination with reflections and divisive use of mirrors in his work. Imbued with metaphorical portent and often presenting the viewer with illogical reflections, these mirrors are widely indicated by a blue ground in works such as Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror (1976). In Three Studies for Self-Portrait, that Bacon is conceivably looking at his own reflection in a mirror on the wall is possible. Where he would undoubtedly have used photographs to recreate his own likeness in paint, he would also have studied his own reflection in the mirror. Thus in a league with his art historical forebears, particularly Velázquez (whom he held in the highest esteem) and others whose self-images play upon the concept of reflection in paint, Bacon presents a painting of a picture formed within a mirror. As a visual manifestation that combines his conceptual genius with a profound sentience with the inevitability of death, this piece, and more widely the entire pantheon of his self-portraits, profoundly echoes Bacon’s favourite maxim by Jean Cocteau: ‘Each day in the mirror I watch death at work’.

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2015-07-01
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Two Studies for Self-Portrait

Each canvas signed, titled and dated 1977 on the reverseoil on canvaseach: 34cm by 29.5cm Left panel: signed, dated 1977 and inscribed Self portrait, Diptych, Front left Panel on the reverseright panel: signed, dated 1977 and inscribed Self portrait, diptych, Front right panel on the reverse Francis Bacon lived with the deepest commitment to seizing the vulnerable, vital and violent conditions of human existence; he was an artist for whom painful reality was itself life’s purpose. Nowhere is this more forcefully evident than in the haunting opus of self-portraits that weave an autobiographical thread through a lifetime enlivened by drama and blighted by tragedy. Executed in 1977 when Bacon was 68 and at a height of critical repute and international acclaim, Two Studies for Self-Portrait evinces both mournful rumination and fierce effacement. Following the unexpected (though unsurprising) suicide of George Dyer in 1971 – on the very eve of his retrospective opening at the Grand Palais – Bacon launched into a period of production that would become the most emotionally fraught, inventive, self-flagellating and ambitious of his career. In 1977 Bacon’s tremendous outpouring of pain and melancholia, fused with grand poetic and painterly ambition, culminated in the hugely successful one-man-show at Galerie Claude Bernard in Paris. Providing the introverted counterpart to the cycle of extroverted and elaborate triptychs executed during this period and exhibited in the ‘77 exhibition, are the small portrait studies. Operating on an almost 1:1 scale, these works represent the most immediate and all-too-human aspect of Bacon’s practice: drama and brutality are enacted within the vicissitudes of an existential physiognomy. In this regard, the self-portraits can be viewed as the most revealing and ruthless of Bacon’s oeuvre, prepared as he was to masochistically inflict more violence upon his own likeness than to ‘insult’ anyone else. Scuffed, scraped, contorted and dissolving in confused movement, the present work forms an enigmatic and rare doubling of Bacon’s photo-booth styled headshots. Indeed, only two other self-portraits in this dual format were created in comparison to the 14 single panels and 11 triptych self-portrait studies in the 14 by 12inch canvases. Exhibited widely across Europe and Asia during Bacon’s lifetime, this striking dual image bears the signature features of the artist’s famous face: the carefully arranged forelock of hair and plump rounded features are idiosyncratically present. Plagued by death, guilt, bereavement and excruciating self-analysis, the self-portraits form the most enduring and imaginative exercise of Bacon’s later practice. In Two Studies for Self-Portrait Bacon appears as a double death mask of translucent and scumbled marks; air-like apparitions of an ephemeral spirit dissolving into the black ether of an enveloping void. The pink and purple colouration and effervescence of paint handling somewhat recall the artist’s much earlier animations of William Blake’s life mask from 1955. Appearing to wear a turtleneck jumper in these portraits, Bacon’s head and neck are similarly disembodied, with heavy eyelids and unseeing eyes closed shut by the corrugated scrape of textured fabric. Intriguingly the left panel seems to echo the earlier Self-Portrait with Injured Eye from 1972 in which Bacon’s battered eye socket is portrayed as triumphantly swollen, purple and enlarged. Herein this bruised palette is in keeping with the very best works from this decade, in which pink, purple and accents of orange, yellow and blue feature heavily. In both portraits the mouths are the site of further violence and incredible painterly invention. The ellipses and circular outlines telescope our attention on the elongated and mangled jaw-line in both pictures, with heightened confusion occurring in the right panel. Oval voids and shadows eat away at painted flesh whilst circular windows reveal a jumble of blurred masticatory movement. Whether tooth-bearing and screaming as in his earlier work (most notably the corpus after Velazquez’s Pope Innocent X) or as a muddle and mess of lips as in the present self-portraits, Bacon maintained an abiding obsession with mouths throughout his lifetime. Prior to the execution of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion in 1944, Bacon had studied a nineteenth-century book on diseases of the mouth for its explicit and viscerally colourful hand-painted illustrations. In the present work, the lasting influence of this book, paired with Bacon’s erotic fascination with the mouth, is formalised by compositional elements that echo the diagrams in K.C. Clark's Positioning in Radiography (London 1939) – another highly influential source for Bacon owing to its encyclopedic illustration of X-ray photography. These medical and biological fascinations paired with a revelling of the moribund and violent all form a part of how Bacon existentially dissects what it is to be human, that existence is purely flesh and physicality; in his paintings he flays and undoes corporeal boundaries and pokes at our fleshy make-up with his brush, transcribing, dissecting and pinning it back in place. In full consciousness of the waning years Bacon here paints himself in the dim-light of inexorable transience: “I myself want to go on living as long as I can… After all, there’s nothing else… we can just go on living, even though we know something terrible will happen” (Francis Bacon quoted in: Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London 2008, p. 309). Nihilistic and resolved to the inevitable oblivion of mortal flesh, Bacon stoically transcribed the psychological wounds of his life through his extraordinary opus of self-portrait studies. The very first self-portrait created in this intimate 14 by 12 inch format was painted in 1962 directly in response to the death of Peter Lacy, the object of Bacon’s first major love affair. A former RAF pilot with a self-destructive nature prone to furious outbursts, Lacy embodied a magnetic force for Bacon whose finely-tuned and masochistic proclivity for violence drove all aspects of his life. By the mid-1950s the tempestuous relationship had ended and Lacy and moved to Tangier, where he began to slowly and surely drink himself into oblivion. Upon hearing of Lacy’s death the grief-stricken Bacon painted his own self-portrait flanked by Lacy’s emanation as a commemorative act of resuscitation and atonement. The triptych, Study for Three Heads (1962) powerfully lays bare the harrowing introspective quality intrinsic to the intimately scaled canvases: struggling to the surface of the outer panels, Bacon’s phantasmal memory of Lacy is here comingled and conjoined with the artist’s own self-image in the central canvas. Indeed, it was this first major tragedy in Bacon’s life that precipitated the first acknowledged self-portraits. That tragedy had the power to induce a mode of self-reflection in Bacon’s work was made emphatically clear following the artist’s second profound trauma: the death of George Dyer. Ten years following Lacy’s demise, and on the eve of Bacon’s retrospective opening at the Grand Palais in 1971, George Dyer – Bacon’s companion, lover and principle artistic subject since 1964 – was found dead. Marred by progressive alcoholism, suicidal desperation and a waning sense of purpose in Bacon’s shadow, Dyer’s eight-year relationship with the artist was as fractured as it was passionate. A compelling force in life, in death, Dyer’s absent-presence took on the weight of Bacon’s loss and melancholic regret; a profound grief that resonates throughout Bacon’s post-1971 opus and specifically the elegiac late paintings of himself. As evinced in the present work, Bacon’s searching and intensely haunting self-images at once exorcise accusatory demons whilst offering deeply mournful inquiries in the face of profound bereavement: today the suite of heart-rending self-images executed following Dyer’s death stand among his very best works. These harrowing epic eulogies powerfully speak of the intense loss and guilt that eternally remained with the artist. “I loathe this old pudding face of mine… but it’s all I’ve got left to paint now” (Francis Bacon quoted in: ibid., p. 307). From the suicide of his friend John Minton in 1957, the aforementioned deaths of Peter Lacy and George Dyer, the death of his mother, Winnie Bacon, in 1971, through to the demise of his longstanding friend John Deakin in 1972, by 1977 Bacon's life had been starkly punctuated and beset by loss. Echoing the narrative traits of a Greek Tragedy, this trend would continue for the rest of his life: in 1979 Bacon witnessed the death of his good friend and owner of the beloved Colony Room drinking den, Muriel Belcher, while his youngest sister, Winifred, died in 1981 following a long battle with Multiple Sclerosis. Though he had suffered with chronic asthma since childhood and having been a dedicated drinker and lover of excess, Bacon lived into his ninth decade until he died in 1992. Feeling as if death had stripped him of all his friends, during the 1970s Bacon increasingly turned the brush on himself; in these works his visage can be viewed as a ghostly sentinel to the misfortune and loss of those closest to him. While the intensity of Bacon’s self-portrait practice undoubtedly deepened following the death of George Dyer, Bacon had maintained an abiding fascination with his own appearance throughout his life and knew his own features intimately. He wore make-up and was a keen subject of the photographers lens; indeed, the artist had quickly learned the nuances of re-invention and self-presentation from a young age, spending hours scrutinising and tracing the particulars of his own appearance in the mirror. Such is the power of the small portrait studies; to quote William Feaver: “this is how we see what we feel like in the morning, examining the image in the mirror that corresponds so remotely with the sense we have of ourselves. This is the face that gets worse (more ‘lived in’) over the years, the face that betrays. These heads are what we are stuck with: unsentimentally ours. Bacon dealt with his… knowing that the best he could do was to effect a phantom, a rasping whoosh of characteristics” (William Feaver, ‘That’s It’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., Francis Bacon 1909 – 1992 Small Portrait Studies, 1993, p. 6). Two Studies for Self-Portrait witnesses Bacon conjure the traits of his own appearance with facility and aplomb: the wide moon-like face and the deeply set yet extraordinarily round eye sockets are here framed by the quintessential fringe of hair swept across his forehead. Moving from one image to the next Bacon’s visage begins to waste and disappear; in the second canvas the idiosyncratic roundness is replaced by a wraith-like apparition, as wispy emanations cipher matter into the encroaching darkness that consumes the right-hand side of the artist’s face. When asked by David Sylvester in 1979 why there are so many self-portraits, Bacon explained: “People have been dying around me like flies and I’ve had nobody else to paint but myself… I loathe my own face and I’ve done self-portraits because I’ve had nothing else to do” (Francis Bacon quoted in: David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London 2000, p. 129). Although somewhat true, Bacon's purported reluctance to paint his own image is largely trivialising. The artist had very rarely painted from life and did not require the presence of sitters to translate a likeness in paint, instead relying upon memory and the detritus of photographs and books famously strewn across his South Kensington studio as aesthetic triggers. Alongside the countless pictures of friends taken by John Deakin, hundreds of photographs of himself comprised a core visual compost for his pictorial imagination. The subject of major international retrospectives and studies across the globe by the 1970s, Bacon was all too aware of his prominent status. When added to the cumulative impact of time on his own appearance, these factors clearly compounded a desire to not only indelibly inscribe his own likeness within the annals of art history but also to challenge its champions. Successor to a genre perfected by revered masters from Rembrandt to Picasso, Bacon was undoubtedly driven by an incessant compulsion to forge a personal mythology for the experience of his time. As a genre, self-portraiture purportedly reveals the private side of a public profession; nowhere can this be understood with such forthright candour than in Bacon’s oeuvre as viewed in the light of Rembrandt’s legacy. Rembrandt was the very touchstone of Bacon’s inventiveness in these small scale canvases; the endless variety and successive permutations of his own visage, which meld into almost abstract dissolving matter towards the end of his life cast Rembrandt’s late self-portraits as a striking parallel to, and even art historical blue-print for, the present work. Bacon believed Rembrandt’s self-portraits to be “formally the most extraordinary paintings. He altered painting in a way by the method by which he dealt with himself and perhaps he felt freer to deal with himself in this totally liberal way” (Ibid., p. 241). He would undoubtedly have intimately known the two self-portraits in the National Gallery’s collection and was familiar with the most ambitious self portrait of Rembrandt’s career Self Portrait with Two Circles (1665-69) in the collection of Kenwood House in North London – an interesting visual comparison to the present work for its prominence of circular elements – while his own celebration of the Aix-en-Provence self-portrait speaks for itself: “… if you think of the great Rembrandt self-portrait in Aix-en-Provence, for instance, and if you analyse it, you will see that there are hardly any sockets to the eyes, that it is almost completely anti-illustrational. I think that the mystery of fact is conveyed by an image being made out of non-rational marks… what can happen sometimes, as it happened in this Rembrandt self-portrait in Aix-en-Provence, is that there is a coagulation of non-representational marks which have led to making up this very great image. Well, of course, only part of this is accidental. Behind all that is Rembrandt’s profound sensibility, which was able to hold onto one irrational mark rather than onto another” (Francis Bacon quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Marlborough Gallery, Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings, 1967, p. 28). In this description of the Aix-en-Provence Self-Portrait with Beret (1659), it is almost as though he is describing the very nuances, subtleties and techniques employed in the execution of the present work. When viewed up close Rembrandt’s heads seemingly disband into a mass of non-representational marks that were doubtless an inspiration to Bacon’s own savage expressivity. Like Rembrandt tallying his aged, lined and weary features with a congruent painterly treatment of disbanded corporeality, in the present work the vaporous dissolution of Bacon’s likeness tempers exigent facture with an intense yet reposed response to the concrete fact of mortality. Bacon once mentioned to David Sylvester: “Life is all we have. I mean we are here for a moment” (Francis Bacon quoted in: David Sylvester, op. cit., p. 231). Indeed, where Bacon translates this eschatological communion most powerfully is in the astounding body of self-portraiture that punctuates the most exceptional moments of his oeuvre. As outlined by Michael Peppiatt: “…he was never more brilliant, more incisive or more ferocious when it came to depicting himself. In this he helped revive a genre, and Bacon’s Self-Portraits can now be seen as among the most pictorially inventive and psychologically revealing portraits of the Twentieth Century” (Michael Peppiatt in: Exhibition Catalogue, Rome, Galleria Borghese, Caravaggio Bacon, 2009-10, p. 210). Ethereally effervescent and partly enshrouded in shadow, de-formulation and re-formulation of likeness moves between these two remarkable visages; these depictions glow like votive icons of an artist who is today considered an icon of his age.

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2015-02-10
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Brother's Sausage

Recalling the sequential progression of a classical frieze in its monumental scale and rich communicative power, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s breathtaking Brother’s Sausage demonstrates the artist’s most creative reimagining of the weighted genre of history painting.  With a typically post-modern flair, Basquiat brands his series of canvases with myriad idiosyncratic cultural signifiers that dissolve the long-upheld distinctions between mass media and fine art. Framing the divergent narrative from opposing ends, the six conjoined canvases that constitute Brother’s Sausage collectively stage an enigmatic semiotic drama that unfolds through such seemingly disparate references to cultural signifiers such as a household sausage brand, the ‘big bad wolf,’ and the American currency. Set against a backdrop of Basquiat’s unique symbolic lexicon – an alternative reality inhabited by mythic beasts, cartoon heroes and food packaging – and filtered through his unique experience as a black artist of rising fame, this expressive panorama offers a psychologically coded evocation of the painter’s direct cultural milieu: the artistic hub of downtown Manhattan in the pivotal year of 1983. Expressing the coalescence of a burgeoning avant-garde art scene amidst an urban landscape bedecked with street-art and the ephemeral detritus of consumerism, Basquiat gives cinematic form to the heterogeneous vibrancy of a new creative epicenter, underscored by the infant rhythms of hip-hop and the clatter of metropolitan life. Across six varied panels the young artist flaunts the staggering reach of his aesthetic through a masterful balance of mediums and techniques. From the think impasto of luscious gestural brushwork and the strident graphic demarcation of oil stick, to the layering of collage, washes of abstract effervescence and the timely introduction of his drawings through Xerox copies, Brother’s Sausage unequivocally demonstrates the revolutionary strides and unmistakable bravado that afforded Basquiat unprecedented international acclaim at this time. The work is part of a limited series of monumental paintings that witness Basquiat hinging multiple canvases together with a deliberately hand-crafted sensibility that recalls his earlier reliance on ad-hoc surfaces. As such, this rare and important object has captivated the attention of Basquiat connoisseurs since its creation, having previously hung in the home of renowned dealer and progenitor of the Basquiat catalogue raisonné, Enrico Navarra. Expressing key elements of the artist’s esoteric symbolism and taking its namesake from a consumer brand, Brother’s Sausage crucially offers both a celebration and a critique of the cacophonous onslaught of commercial desire on the subjectivity of a modern man, defined along the axes of race, money and power.  Born into a regular working family in Brooklyn, New York, at the age of seventeen Basquiat dropped out of school and moved to Manhattan’s spirited Lower East Side. With few resources other than sheer determination, within just four years the young artist progressed from intermittent bouts of homelessness and the ubiquitous dissemination of his “SAMO” graffiti tag across the city, to being introduced to an enamored art world as “The Radiant Child” through René Ricard’s seminal Artforum article of December 1981.  By 1983 Basquiat had already in the previous year shown at the legendary Documenta 7 in Kassel as the youngest of 176 artists, and in March he became one of the youngest artists to have ever exhibited at the Whitney Biennial in New York.  Basquiat’s early success provided him with this confidence to be more ambitious in scale, structure and technique. Recalling the makeshift aesthetic of Rauschenberg’s revered Combine paintings, Brother’s Sausage is one of only five multi-panel works from 1983 that Basquiat constructed by joining six or seven canvases together with metal hinges that he left visible on the picture plane. Like a slapdash folding screen or a piece of theatrical scenery, the work supersedes the boundaries between painting and object, recalling the artist’s early financial hardship during which, as long term friend Mary Ann Monforton reported, “Basquiat painted on anything he could get his hands on: refrigerators, laboratory coats, cardboard boxes, and doors.” (“Interview with Franklin Sirmans,” January 31, 1992, in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art (and travelling) Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1992, p. 235) The present work’s profound recall of desolate shop fronts plastered with posters and graffiti  enshrines the ephemeral threads of the city’s visual fabric as Basquiat’s enduring source of inspiration. However, by also indulging in an immense horizontal format that emulates ancient architectural entablature, Basquiat uses his unique aesthetic to reconfigure classical ideals of pictorial storytelling embodied in paradigms such as the Renaissance altarpiece or the Elgin marbles of the Parthenon; a calculated nod to the fine art establishment that his early institutional recognition had placed him at the heart of. Considered in comparison with the other 1983 ‘hinged’ works, Brother’s Sausage shows the greatest variation in visual registers and techniques between the panels, whilst still remaining visually cohesive. As such, Basquiat hints at the notion of legible narrative, whilst ultimately denying it by constructing an unstable nexus of evasively referential images, words, and abstract idioms that express infinite semantic possibilities. With characteristic gestural bravura, Basquiat introduces the central theme of consumerism into Brother’s Sausage by way of the expressively painted “FAMOUS SAUSAGE” and coin motifs that act as the resolved bookends to the grand progression of images. Unlike iconic brands such as Brillo and Campbell’s Soup, which were immortalized by Pop Art pioneer Andy Warhol, the commercial signs Basquiat chose here are typically esoteric while retaining the bold simplicity that is a hallmark of visual merchandizing. Like a hand-painted butcher’s window, the first canvas inaugurates the artwork’s eponymous sausage company through a hybrid logo that appears as a visual mélange of signs from its packaging. This includes the company’s founding date and a list of the edible ingredients, framed by links of comically exaggerated red sausages that also reappear in the work’s third panel. Playfully indulging in the ambiguity of visual signs, Basquiat here conflates the reduced symbols of advertising and the free loops of gestural abstraction. Similarly tearing apart distinctions between cultural genres, Basquiat’s punctuated structuring of words enables a banal list of quotidian ingredients to take on a rhythmic quality that draws from the artist’s experience as a musician and DJ during the birth of New York’s hip-hop scene. Rap’s driving lyrical power translates to Basquiat’s persistent sampling and rhythmic repetition of words such as “Famous”. Highlighted in a blood red paint, this subtle indication of his unbridled ambition is repeated in the Xerox collage, which Basquiat lauds as the ultimate referential medium. Incorporated into the “Bros Famous Sausage” logo is a charismatic depiction of a menacing wolf whose symbolic ambiguity serves as a point of enigmatic entry into the works plethora of endless semantic registers. Basquiat often drew inspiration from comic books and this villainous, hat-bearing wolf is in direct reference to the 1943 feature Dumb Hounded, illustrated by his favorite cartoon artist Tex Avery. In the Twentieth Century, however, the iconic image of the ‘big bad wolf’ was equally popularized through Walt Disney’s Silly Symphony cartoons and the relentlessly catchy tune “who’s afraid of the big bad wolf” that provided both an uplifting anthem and a haunting soundtrack to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Developing the common historic associations between the ‘big bad wolf’ and the United States’ devastating interwar economic decline, Basquiat brings in solemn monetary associations in the final panel. At the center of a stark blackness the words “LIBERTY” glisten from the depiction of a 1951 dime. Paralleling the commercial logo of the first panel, the artist calls upon this powerful word as a commonly recognized slogan for the American dream.  At the dime’s center we see the crudely rendered coin portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States for much of the great depression from 1933-1945. His profile is rendered in a distinctly abstracted structure reminiscent of the appropriation of African art within the idioms of western modernism. Building upon this dialogue, Basquiat contrasts the pink skin tone of his Roosevelt with a dark black ground and an inflection of ochre that shines through from beneath the head. Through symbolically simple colors that parallel the reductive ignorance of prejudice, Basquiat finds an apt chapter of history through which he initiates a dialogue on the economic dimensions of race relations in America and the history of its art. Indeed, it was Roosevelt who in 1941 signed Executive Order 8802 which forbid race discrimination in defense related industries, and which crucially formed a precursor to historic Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that would come into force decades later and forever change the social fabric of the nation. Transporting this historic precedent to the urban present, Basquiat questions the remaining presence of institutionalized racism in America. Born to Puerto-Rican and Haitian parents, Basquiat embodied the sheer determination, intelligence and skill that he believed would be necessary to gain respect in not only an almost exclusively white art world, but the almost exclusively ‘white’ western art historical tradition. Weaving a nuanced tapestry imbued with a deep awareness of the cultural legacies that defined his position as an African American artist, through Brother’s Sausage and the revolutionary oeuvre of which it is a paradigmatic masterwork, Basquiat rendered for himself a unique and enduring place within the meta-narrative of art history, remaining as one of its most radical and visionary painters. The signatory power of Basquiat’s forms are intimately tied to his multiple techniques. Reveling in a definitive Neo-Expressionist idiom whilst exercising a sophisticated knowledge of art history, Basquiat’s gestural brushwork across the work’s six canvases intuitively recalls the legacy of Abstract Expressionism. In the crudely delineated red sausages that animate the third panel and the vertical drips of fluid blue that caress its length, Basquiat recalls both the luscious abstract moldings of Willem de Kooning and the ecstatic drips of Jackson Pollok with a typically irreverent sense of humor. The dynamic energy of Franz Kline is recalled in the more aggressive zones of jagged marks that demarcate the figurative elements of the first and last panels, whilst the effusively merging vibrations of Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still find place in the color field evocations of the fifth panel.  This is taken to an extreme in the second panel, which shows Basquiat’s rare submission to pure tonal abstraction as he indulges in the shimmering optical splendor of a graduated sky blue, imbued with the subtleties of texture from an underlying layering of paper collage. In no other work does Basquiat devote an entire panel to this captivating effect of  light and shadow, displaying a calm serenity that privileges a sense of ethereal beauty, found in even the most disposable material amidst an urban cacophony. The delicate strata of aqua tissues provide a moment of calm that contrasts with the pervasive presence of printed Xerox collage, which read as frenzied outbursts of uncontrollable creative expression and allude to Basquiat’s superlative talents as a draftsman. Central in importance within the artist’s wider methodology, as noted by Robert Storr, “Drawing, for him was something you did rather than something done, an activity rather than a medium. The seemingly throw-away sheets that carpeted his studio might appear little more than warm-ups for painting, except that the artist, a shrewd connoisseur of his own off-hand and under foot inventions did not in fact throw them away, but instead kept the best for constant reference and re-use. Or, kept them because they were, quite simply, indestructibly vivid.” (Robert Storr, “Two Hundred Beats Per Min,” in Exh. Cat., New York, The Robert Miller Gallery, Basquiat Drawings, 1990, n.p.) Channeling the kinetic scrawl of Cy Twombly and child-like characterizations of Jean Dubuffet, the collaged drawings in Brother’s Sausage provide a cathartic map of Basquiat’s subconscious. As noted by Fred Hofmann, “He discovered that he could shut out the myriad stimuli constantly bombarding him from the outside world; and at the same time, he could enable impressions, thoughts, memories, associations, fantasies, and observations formulating in his mind to simply pass through him, making their way onto a sheet of paper. From a very early age, Basquiat discovered that drawing was a process of ‘channeling’ in which he essentially functioned as a medium.” (Fred Hoffman in Exh. Cat., New York, Acquavella Galleries, Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawings: Work from the Schorr Family Collection, 2014, p. 33) Utilizing the quotidian office technology of the photocopier, Basquiat accessed a far more rapid form of image duplication than the dense silkscreen method pioneered by Warhol, whom the young artist regarded as both lauded mentor and friend at the time. Effectively usurping Warhol’s obsession with domestic products and household names, Basquiat here creates a brand of himself through the repetitive exploitation of his unique visual idiom. Crucially, Basquiat copies his own drawings, repurposing again the characters from Greek and pagan myths, as well as the popular cartoons, that collectively typify the artist’s broad cultural purview. By plastering his stream of visual consciousness onto the canvas through collaged copies, Basquiat emulates the successive buildup of advertisements on city walls, underground flyposting and commercial billboards. As such, Brother’s Sausage reflects not only the artist’s penchant for self-promotion, but his undying infatuation with urbanity: a psycho-physical space through which he inserts his unique subjectivity into the grand genre of history of painting.

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2016-11-18
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Withdrawal

Untitled

“They came, with the artist in his mid-seventies, as the climax of a period in which the paintings...with their massively congested, deeply luminous color, their contrasts between flowing and broken forms, attain at their best a total painterliness in which marks and image coalesce completely and every inch of the canvas quivers with teeming energy." David Sylvester, About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-1996, London, 2001, pp. 349-350 "De Kooning’s paintings of the Seventies are an annihilation of distance. The close-ups are about closeness, a consuming closeness. These paintings are crystallizations of the experience and amazement of having body and mind dissolve into another who is all delight.”  David Sylvester, About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-1996, London, 2001, pp. 349-350 Willem de Kooning’s greatest paintings capture the inherent paradox of his aesthetic practice, amply demonstrated by the bold Untitled from circa 1975-1977. De Kooning did not strive for resolution in his works; he sought instead to capture the variable quality of life, all in a rush of tactile paint that defied the limits of the canvas just as it shattered the boundary between figuration and abstraction.  In Untitled, the master painter’s slippery, limpid forms rendered in his soft, pliable pigment oscillate between objective art and abstract art, composed and agitated - all with the storied brilliance of his vibrant color palette and lush range of brushwork. In every decade of his long and illustrious career, de Kooning kept a firm grip on his medium as muse, and the glories of paint exhibited in Untitled are quintessential de Kooning, whose wrist, arm and body became one with the rhythms of his brush or palette knife. This spectacular assault of unrestrained expression encapsulates the full genius of de Kooning’s abstract vernacular. Painted in the years when de Kooning sensationally returned to painting after a long absence, this work belongs to an explosive outpouring of creativity that produced an illustrious series of large-scale, color-saturated canvases that rank among the finest achievements of his prodigious career. De Kooning’s independent spirit infuses Untitled and its sister paintings of the late 1970s with a heroic quality of individualism rather than conformism. He was at heart a pluralist who reveled in the multi-thematic, and like Pablo Picasso before him, de Kooning was rebellious and forged new paths, without eschewing the forms of expression of centuries past. Picasso was also a master at reinvention, and de Kooning proved just as adept at the contradictory role of master and rebel. After the 1956 death of Jackson Pollock, de Kooning was the undisputed leader of Action Painting and carried the Abstract Expressionist banner well into the next generation. Yet his eventual withdrawal from New York City to the environs of Long Island in the early 1960s was a reflection of his move away from the communal artistic existence that had fostered his breakthrough years of Woman I in 1950-52. De Kooning now sought reflective contemplation rather than the dissonant atmosphere of Manhattan, and found it in the tranquil and lush environment of his beloved Long Island, which resonated for him with memories of his native Holland. He had spent time in East Hampton as early as 1959, following the lead of Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky who had already escaped the city in favor of the countryside. By summer 1961, he had purchased a small house in Springs, East Hampton and soon found property nearby for a studio. In 1963 he settled there entirely, immersed in the sunlit coastal landscape that suffused his work with light and space. Untitled’s jubilant brushstrokes of yellow, pink, red and bright green are juxtaposed with quieter passages of white, salmon and flesh tones that proclaim de Kooning’s great gifts as a colorist, equal to Henri Matisse, the grand master of sublime color whose retrospective in New York in 1927 was a pivotal experience for de Kooning. His love for the spectacular light and its reflections on the water were a revelation and a reinvigoration to de Kooning, and while Untitled remains determinedly abstract, it nevertheless communicates an essence of contextual experience. As he related in 1972 to Harold Rosenberg, “I wanted to get in touch with nature. Not painting scenes from nature, but to get a feeling of that light that was very appealing to me, here particularly.” The colors were “indescribable tones, almost. I started working with them and insisted that they would give me the kind of light I wanted. One was lighting up the grass. That became that kind of green. One was lighting up the water. That became grey…I got into painting in the atmosphere I wanted to be in.” (Harold Rosenberg, “Interview with Willem de Kooning," Artnews 71, no. 5, September 1972, p. 57)  White is a predominant color in this corpus of late 1970s paintings, lending a sense of brilliant light and sharp-edged contrast to the saturated jewel tones in Untitled. The painting can be read as either landscape or seascape with the greys and white as either frothy sea spray or sand dune beaches with green sea grasses, punctuated by hints of sun-dappled flesh. The tactile process and properties of oil paint were a constant for de Kooning, and his sense of touch infused his great foray into sculpture that immediately preceded the paintings of the late 1970s. Picasso, who had worked in sculptural form as early as the first decade of the Twentieth Century, also championed the relationship between the two media when he famously stated that “sculpture is the best comment a painter can make on painting.” In like fashion, de Kooning’s physical reveling in pliable wet clay was transfiguring for him, leading to a renewed celebration of oil painting in works such as Untitled. De Kooning also greatly admired the younger artist, Francis Bacon, whom he had met for dinner in London in 1968 in the company of the critic David Sylvester. Both artists were greatly influenced by the vigorously textured brushwork of Chaim Soutine who remarkably infused paint with a sense of physical flesh. Bacon’s allegiance to the human form as his arena for creative exploration would also ring true to de Kooning’s sensual approach to oil, as eloquently acknowledged in his famous 1950 quote, “Flesh was the reason oil painting was invented.” It is therefore not surprising that Untitled exhibits de Kooning’s new found emphasis on the process of painting. While a heavily impastoed surface is a signature characteristic of de Kooning’s work of the 1950s, one of the revelations of the 1970s work, as in Untitled, is the sophistication and variety of paint handling. Focusing on the texture of his surface, de Kooning thinned his paint with water, adding kerosene, benzene or safflower oil as binding agents.  Using unorthodox methods of applying and removing paint with spatulas and knives, de Kooning defined Untitled through gesture, scraping and movement, ultimately creating a varied topography of undulating and shimmering color. De Kooning’s revitalization in painting, begun in 1975, was startling for a man who had first burst upon the art world stage in the 1940s. Famous for scrutinizing and reworking a single painting, he now surrounded himself with canvases, each inspiring the other and all informed with the same sense of improvisational urgency. Later describing this period, de Kooning recalled, “I couldn’t miss. It’s a nice feeling. It’s strange. It’s like a man at a gambling table [who] feels that he can’t lose.” (the artist cited in Judith Wolfe, “Glimpses of a Master,” in Exh. Cat., East Hampton, Guild Hall Museum, Willem de Kooning: Works from 1951-1981, 1981, p. 15) In the autumn of 1975 de Kooning premiered the first of these works with his dealer, Xavier Fourcade, followed by another exhibition in 1977, both greeted with laudatory reviews. As cited by John Elderfield in the catalogue for the 2011 retrospective of de Kooning’s work, David Sylvester acknowledged 1977 as the “annus mirabilis of de Kooning’s career,” in which “the paintings… with their massively congested, luminous color, their contrasts between flowing and broken forms, attain at their best a total painterliness in which marks and image coalesce completely and every inch of canvas quivers with teeming energy.” (David Sylvester, “Art: When Body, Mind and Paint Dissolve”, The Independent, February 15, 1995) Untitled is a truly exceptional embodiment of the emphatic mark-making and sheer force of painterly conviction that defines the majestic contribution to twentieth century art made by de Kooning over a remarkable span of decades.

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-05-13
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Les femmes d’Alger (J)

Between December 13, 1954 and February 14, 1955, Picasso produced a series of paintings, drawings, etchings, aquatints, and lithographs depicting the exoticism and pleasures of a harem.   Among the most visually enticing of the opus is a group of fifteen oils, numbered with letters A through O, known as Les Femmes d'Alger.  Thirteen of these canvases present a group of three or four women -- one seated and one reclining, one smoking a narghile and one serving tea -- while the other two depictions focus on a single figure in isolation.  The present work, which is one of the most detailed depictions of the full quartet, is the tenth from the series and is often referred to as Les Femmes d'Alger (J).  Although the poses of the women are consistent throughout, each rendition in the series is fresh with various levels of abstraction and detail.  Not since his Demoiselles d'Avignon from 1907 did an ensemble of women so intensely occupy Picasso's attention and command his artistic devotion.   An immediate sensation when they were exhibited at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris,  Les Femmes d'Alger became the most important series of Picasso's post-war production. Picasso was not alone in his fascination with this subject.  The harems of North Africa and their connotations of sexual abandon were of overwhelming interest to many artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.   The artist's specific inspiration for Les Femmes d'Alger came from Eugène Delacroix’s picture of the same title from the 1830s.  Delacroix had painted two famous oil versions of this subject, the first now in the collection of the Musée du Louvre (see fig. 1) and the second in the collection of the Musée Fabre in Montpelier (see fig. 2), and Picasso was intimately familiar with both of them.  His interest in these pictures originated  in the 1940s, but it was not until 1954 after the death of Henri Matisse that he even attempted his own interpretations of these works.  Matisse most famously explored themes of orientalism in the 1920s in Nice, transforming the exotic odalisque into one of the most recognizable emblems of eroticism in Modern art (see fig. 3).    Both he and Picasso had prided themselves on deriving much of their artistic knowledge from their study of the old masters.   After Matisse's death, Picasso, one of the few living artists of his generation, may have felt compelled to keep the art of these painters alive.  This picture, which is one of the most "Matissian" in its use of color and the suppleness of its forms, was completed on January 26, 1955. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Picasso completed several series based on old master paintings, such as Velázquez’s Las Meninas and Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe.  His production inspired by Delacroix's Les Femmes d’Alger, however, was the debut of Picasso’s efforts at reinterpretation.  Stripping the women of their clothing and their modesty, Picasso's harem is replete with a type of eroticism that Delacroix himself would have never attempted.  Picasso also derived certain structural elements of this picture from other sources.  The placement of his figures specifically recalls Odalisque avec esclave (see fig. 4) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, a painter whom Picasso idolized throughout his life.  So entrenched was he in quoting the Old Masters in this series that Picasso even imagined the following scenario, which he told his friend Hélène Parmelin: "I have a feeling that Delacroix, Giotto, Tintoretto, El Greco, and the rest, as well as all the modern painters, the good and the bad, the abstract and the non-abstract, are all standing behind me watching me at work" (quoted in Hélène Parmelin, Picasso Plain, New York, 1963, p. 77). Picasso’s main model and muse for his Les Femmes d’Alger series was his companion, Jacqueline, whom he would later marry in 1961.  Jacqueline was a demure, submissive person with dark features, and both her appearance and temperament were in contrast to Picasso’s former lover, the strong-willed Françoise Gilot.  In her memoirs, Gilot recalled accompanying Picasso to the Louvre on many occassions to see Delacroix's Les Femmes d'Alger, and how he often spoke about painting his own version one day.  When she asked him how he felt about Delacroix's work, he allegedly narrowed his eyes and said, "That bastard.  He's really good" (quoted in Francoise Gilot, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 203).  Picasso and Gilot ended their relationship around 1953, the same year that he met Jacqueline, and by 1955, he and Jacqueline were living together at Picasso’s villa, La Californie.  It was during these first months of his relationship with Jacqueline that he was inspired to begin working on this series. Michel Leiris has written about the development of this theme in Picasso’s art, and the influence that the women in his life had on it:  “In Paris, Picasso embarked on a series of variations of Delacroix’s ‘Women of Algers’ (the later Montpeller version as well as the more famous Louvre one), which he had long had in mind.  Picasso ‘had often spoken to me (Françoise Gilot wrote) of making his own version of the Women of Algers and had taken me to the Louvre on an average of once a month to study it.’  However, Françoise had not been the Delacroix type.  Jacqueline, on the contrary, epitomized it – and not just in physiognomy.  All three of Delacroix’s Women of Algers have the same squat, short-wasted torso that we find in the numerous paintings of Jacqueline…  All three Women of Algers likewise manifest Jacqueline’s submissiveness towards that absent but ever-present pasha, the painter.  And then, there is the African connection: Jacqueline had lived for many years as the wife of a colonial official in Upper Volta, now called Burkina.  As Picasso remarked, ‘Ouagadougou may not be Algiers, nonetheless Jacqueline has an African provenance” (Michel Leiris, “A Genius without a Pedestal,” Late Picasso, Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, Prints 1953-1972 (exhibition catalogue), The Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 18). After he completed this series, Picasso asked his dealer, Daniel Henry Kahnweiler, what Delacroix would probably have thought of these new paintings.  Kahnweiler replied that Delacroix would most likely have understood them.  “Yes, I think so.”  Picasso said.  “I would say to him, ‘You had Rubens in mind and painted Delacroix.  I paint with you in mind and make something different again” (quoted in Susan Grace Galassi, Picasso’s Variations on the Masters: Confrontations with the Past, New York, 1996, p. 127). Picasso consigned the entire series of Les Femmes d'Alger to Kahnweiler at the Galerie Lousie Leiris and all 15 were then purchased by Victor and Sally Ganz on June 8, 1956 for $212,953.  The Ganzs kept five of them (C, H, K,  M, and O) and sold the other ten, including the present work and one currently in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, for $138,000 (see fig. 5).  The present work was then acquired by two of Picasso's longtime dealers living in New York, Saidenberg Gallery and later, Paul Rosenberg & Co.,  who sold it to the Cook family in 1962. Comparables: Fig. 1, Eugène Delacroix, Les Femmes d’Alger, 1834, oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris Fig. 2, Eugène Delacroix, Les Femmes d’Alger, 1849, oil on canvas, Musée Fabre, Montpelier Fig. 3, Henri Matisse, Odalisque au culottes gris, 1926-27, oil on canvas, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris Fig. 4, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Odalisque avec esclave, 1840, oil on canvas, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts Fig. 5, Pablo Picasso, Les Femmes d’Alger, January 16, 1955, oil on canvas, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Wilbur D. May Signed Picasso (upper left); dated 26.1.55 on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2005-05-03
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Nu couché vu de dos

Nu couché de dos is one of Matisse's most sumptuous oils of an odalisque, reclining in a position that best exploits the inviting curves of her flesh.   Painted while the artist was living in Nice and during what is considered his most accomplished period as a colorist, the composition presents a medley of Matisse's greatest achievements as a painter and draftsman.  The artist himself once made the following remarks with regard to the subject that arguably dominates his oeuvre: “The odalisques were the bounty of a happy nostalgia, a lovely, vivid dream, and the almost ecstatic, enchanted days and nights of the Moroccan climate.  I felt an irresistible need to express that ecstasy, that divine unconcern, in corresponding colored rhythms, rhythms of sunny and lavish figures and color” (Henri Matisse, quoted in Jack Flam (ed.), Matisse: A Retrospective, New York, 1988, p. 230). The figure of the odalisque was one that had long been celebrated in the history of art, most famously in the 19th century by painters such as Delacroix and Gêrome.  Matisse applied a highly personal approach to his interpretation of this subject, surrounding the figure with the rich textiles and personal affects of his studio. Writing about this series of Odalisques, Elizabeth Cowling commented: “In painting his make-believe harem scenes – nothing could be less authentic than the heteroclite mix of fabrics, costumes, furniture and bric-a-brac – Matisse sought to personalize and modernize the hackneyed Orientalist subjects which has first come into vogue during the Romantic period.  Delacroix’s sumptuous Women of Algiers was of paramount importance to this enterprise and in the sum total of the Nice odalisque paintings numerous echoes of it can be heard…” (Elizabeth Cowling, Matisse Picasso, Tate Modern, London, 2002, p. 221). This picture dates from the summer of 1927 and is one of a series of  compositions in which Matisse depicts his model against a decorative screen and next to a rococo table and metal samovar (see fig. 1).  In the present composition, the figure's curvaceous limbs and the bend of her spine echo the patterning of the drapery and the lines of the objects that surround her.   Her skin is inflected with multi-colored shadows and highlights, and her restless body, with a foot that appears to be shifting at the edge of the canvas, is framed by rich tones of green and magenta.     To enhance these sensations evoked by his model's warm flesh, Matisse turns up the temperature by including a hazy, bronze samovar, which we can imagine is filled and bubbling with hot tea.   The composition as a whole brilliantly recreates the intoxicating atmosphere of the harem which Matisse recreated within the confines of his studio.   Discussing these paintings, Jack Cowart has written that, "these striking paintings are the fullest realization of Matisse's thesis on pattern, decoration and the odalisque placed in his 'brewing tension.'  He surely enjoyed the deceptive game he played with this conflict between reality, appearance, and art, and dreaming and waking.  These paintings are fantasies in the best sense of the word, but for the sake of denying such an accusation, he said: 'I do odalisques in order to paint nudes.  But how does one paint nudes without their being artificial?  Because I know that odalisques exist, I was in Morocco.  I have seen some'" (Jack Coward, Henri Matisse, The Early Years in Nice 1916-1930 (exhibition catalogue), The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986-87, p. 37). Matisse's model for the present picture was probably Henriette Darricarrère, who had worked with the artist throughout his Nice period.    Although Matisse considered her his primary source of inspiration, Henriette would stop modeling for him at the end of 1927 due to her failing health.  The present work, created the summer before her retirement, was probably one of the last major oils in which she posed for him in the nude.  In her recent biography of the artist, Hilary Spurling provided a wonderful description of what Matisse saw in his model, and Spurling's description can be aptly applied to the present composition:  "Henriette was a living sculpture.  The finely modelled planes of her torso and limbs caught the light....Her body articulated itself like a cat's into compact rounded volumes -- breast, belly, haunch, hip, calf, knee -- flowing smoothly into and out of one another from the calmer regular oval face to the balls and heels of her bare feet" (Hilary Spurling, Matisse The Master, A Life of Henri Matisse, The Conquest of Colour, 1909-1954, New York, 2005,  p. 270). In the present picture, Matisse's explicit concentration is on his model's back, an attribute that is often considered to be the most expressive part of the body (see fig. 2).  Throughout the history of western art, the best academic and avant-garde painters occasionally dedicated their compositions to depicting the elegant curves of back and relished in the seductive exercise of tracing the long line of the spine (see figs. 3 & 4).   But for Matisse, this part of the body presented the greatest formal challenges.  Matisse's first major exploration of the back was in the medium of sculpture, in a series of bas-reliefs that occupied him into the 1930s (see fig. 5).   Matisse himself once said, "Expression, for me, does not reside in passions glowing in a human face or manifested by violent movement.  The entire arrangement of my picture is expressive:  the place occupied by the figures, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything has its share" (Henri Matisse, Figure, Color, Space (exhibition catalogue), Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, 2006, p. 283). In a recent exhibition of the artist's work, Gottfried Boehm discussed Matisse's obsession with the back in his paintings and drawings.  Writing about a drawing in which Matisse depicts his model from behind (see fig. 6), Boehm offers the following observations on the artist's ability to focus the gaze of his audience and enchant them with the beauty of his images:  "Following the contours of the recumbent body, we soon become entangled in precisely those spatial conflicts that propel us beyond the perimeters of the [picture] itself and into a much larger, imaginary space.  Yet this redirecting of the beholder's gaze presupposes a refusal to fix the attention on any one spot.  Those who do try to do just this, for example by focusing on the patterns of the tapis africain or the floor tiles, are immediately swept along by the logic of the repeated pattern" (Gottfried Boehm, ibid., p. 287). Fig. 1, Henri Matisse Drawing the model Wilma Javor reclining on a sofa, Villa Alésia, Paris, 1939, Archives Matisse Fig. 2, Henri Matisse, Odalisque à la ceinture verte, 1926-27, oil on canvas, The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Cone Collection, Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland Fig. 3, Diego Velázquez, La Venus del espejo, 1648, oil on canvas, The National Gallery, London Fig. 4, Paul Gauguin, Manao Tupapau (The Spirit of the Dead Watching), 1892, oil on burlap mounted on canvas, Albright Knox-Art Gallery, Buffalo Fig. 5, Henri Matisse, Nu de dos IV, 1930, bronze, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart Fig. 6, Henri Matisse, Nu allongé sur le ventre petit tapis africain, 1935, pen and India ink on paper, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris Signed Henri Matisse (lower right); titled Nu couché dos on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2006-05-03
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A magnificently carved lobed dingyao basin northern song dynasty

Sublimely potted with eight ethereal lobes rising from a flat base, the lobes delineated on the interior by sharp vertical lines of slip dividing the surface into eight panels, encircling the broad central medallion exquisitely carved with a full-bloom peony, the layers of the scalloped-edged petals accented with light combing, supported on a slender stalk issuing three serrated leaves with faintly incised veins, all framed by the deftly carved side panels, each with a slightly varying lotus sprig rising above a furled lotus pad with softly combed details, all placed to the left of centre, completely veiled in a silky ivory-coloured transparent glaze showcasing the white stoneware body, the plain sides of the exterior marked by the furrows of the corresponding lines on the interior, shaded in characteristic asymmetrical cream-coloured tear streaks running down the sides and pooling around the knife-pared bevelled edge encircling the flat base, the subtly concave base left plain save for a sweeping semi-circular graze giving the surface depth, the unglazed mouthrim crowned by a delicate copper-brown band elegantly contrasting against the white body Ding Ware at Its Peak Regina Krahl White porcelain, sparkling, glossy, smooth and impermeable, and thus appetizing and hygienic, is still the finest material available for tableware, catering to the most discriminating tastes even today. White Ding ware is and always was one of the most admired ceramic wares of China, much copied already at its time, standing out among the many wares of the Song (960-1279) as the best suited for food and medicine. True Ding ware is mostly of good quality and pleasing design, but this large bowl, which is unique, is outstanding in every respect, and represents a rare example of this ware at its very best: combining exquisite material with fine potting, a particularly successful shape with pleasing proportions, and a spirited, freely and distinctly incised design. Ding ware was always highly acclaimed at court. A tribute to the court of 2,000 pieces of Ding ware with metal-bound rim is recorded for the year AD 980. Many Ding vessels were discovered in the tomb of Emperor Taizong’s Empress, who died in AD 977 and was later reburied in AD 1000. A large number of Ding vessels from the Qing (1644-1911) court collection are still remaining in the Palace Museum, Beijing, others are in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, several of them bearing inscriptions by the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-95). Many early Ding wares, particularly of the Tang (618-907) and Five Dynasties (907-960) periods, but also of the Song dynasty, are inscribed with the character guan (‘official’) or xin guan (‘new official’), and the excavations of the Quyang kiln sites in Hebei province have brought to light sherds of the Song and Jin (1115-1234) dynasties inscribed with the characters dong gong, ‘Eastern Palace’, and the names of two administrative units within the Court, Shangyaoju, the ‘Palace Medical Service’, and Shangshiju  the ‘Palace Food Service’ (for the former see, for example, Ding ci ya ji. Gugong Bowuyuan zhencang ji chutu Dingyao ciqi huicui/Selection of Ding Ware. The Palace Museum’s Collection and Archaeological Excavation, Palace Museum, Beijing, 2012, cat. nos. 3, 6-9, and 28; and Zhongguo gu ciyao daxi. Zhongguo Dingyao/Series of China’s Ancient Porcelain Kiln Sites. Ding Kiln of China, Beijing, 2012, cat. nos. 21, 42, 55, 68, 70, 77; for the latter see Tei yō. Yūga naru haku no sekai: Yōshi hakkutsu seika ten/Ding Ware. The World of White Elegance: Recent Archaeological Findings, Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 2013-14, cat. nos. 45-6 and 32-3). Ding ware has been located to kiln sites at Jianci, Beizhen, Eastern and Western Yanchuan and Yebei villages near Baoding city, Quyang county, Hebei province, although examples of similarly high quality have also been excavated in Jingxing county, further southwest in Hebei. Given the overall excellence of this white ware, it is only natural that the court would have picked it as one of its ceramics. However, in the Song dynasty, kilns working for the court were neither strictly controlled by the court nor restricted to cater solely for imperial use. The majority of Ding wares, beautiful though they are, are mass-produced and come from a production line, where shapes and designs had been expertly worked out to be repeated in large quantities in nearly identical manner. These include the vast number of bowls and dishes with swiftly incised overall designs that tend to blend in with the slightly opaque glaze and to form a fairly indistinct overall enhancement of the vessel, rather than standing out as distinct decoration. Often, the decoration does not take the shape of the vessel into account at all, and can even be partly obliterated by sharp grooves from subsequent moulding. The present bowl belongs to a very different category, to an exceedingly small group of Ding wares, which are individually modelled and decorated, of well-designed form and with distinctly rendered, naturalistic flower decoration that represents an integral part of the vessel’s beauty. The exquisite, deeply eight-lobed shape of the present bowl, reminiscent more of a fruit than a flower, is as satisfactory to hold like a plump, cut-open melon. Yet the potting is most delicate. The grooves, indented on the outside, form a sharp ridge on the inside, reinforced by added lines of slip. An expert potter’s finishing touch was a quick movement of a knife to pare off the edge around the base, to make the base narrower and the shape thereby much more elegant. Bowls of similar eight-lobed shape are extremely rare and generally undecorated around the sides. Compare four such bowls in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, one larger (25 cm, fig. 1), and three of similar size or smaller (20.5 cm, 22.5 cm and 22.9 cm), but with a shallow foot, and plain except for an engraved lotus motif in the centre and raised ribs inside, all included in the museum’s current exhibition Dingzhou hua ci. Yuan cang Dingyao xi bai ci tezhan/Decorated Porcelains of Dingzhou. White Ding Wares from the Collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2014, cat. nos. II-80, 81 and 82; another (21.6 cm) of that type from the Sir Percival David Collection now in the British Museum, London, is illustrated in Margaret Medley, Illustrated Catalogue of Ting and Allied Wares, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, 1980, pl. VI, no. 42; and a smaller one (18.4 cm) excavated from a Jin tomb of 1177 and now in the Capital Museum, Beijing, is published in Shoudu Bowuguan cang ci xuan [Selection of porcelains from the Capital Museum], Beijing, 1991, pl. 48. A much smaller (10.6 cm) lobed bowl, probably reduced in height and referred to as a washer, but otherwise very similar, with a single lotus spray in the centre and plain sides with raised ribs inside, preserved in the Palace Museum collection, Beijing, is inscribed on the base ju xiu (elegance assembled); see The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelain of the Song Dynasty, Beijing, 1996, vol. 1, pl. 82. A larger lobed basin (26.5 cm) in the Seikadō Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, classified as Important Cultural Property, is a rare example with floral incising both inside and outside, but of coarser type, see Yutaka Mino, Chūgoku no tōji [China’s ceramics], vol. 5: Hakuji [White wares], Tokyo, 1998, col. pl. 47. Other large bowls with this bevelled edge around the base tend to be round, with indentations only faintly hinted at on the outside, and thus completely different in appeal; compare two large Ding basins (26 cm and 24.5 cm) from the Qing court collection in the Palace Museum, Beijing, both with straight rim and incised with indistinct overall lotus scrolls, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelain of the Song Dynasty, Beijing, 1996, vol. 1, pls. 47 and 55; another (24.5 cm) in the Osaka Museum of Oriental Ceramics, classified as Important Cultural Property, is published in Mino, op. cit., col. pl. 46. A tree peony design, naturalistically represented with its serrated leaf, is extremely rare. A similar peony spray appears in the centre of two small dishes or brushwashers in the National Palace Museum, both of which are engraved on the base with an inscription by the Qianlong Emperor; see the exhibition catalogue De jia qu. Qianlong Huangdi de taoci pinwei/Obtaining Refined Enjoyment: The Qianlong Emperor’s Taste in Ceramics, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2012, cat. nos. 5 and 6 (fig. 2); a dish with this design in the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum, Kansas City, is published in Zhongguo gu ciyao daxi, op. cit., p. 279, fig. 27. Lotus motifs are very common on Ding ware, but tend to be so sketchily rendered that they are sometimes interpreted as day-lily motifs, even though they are often combined with the arrow-head water plant. The lotus is rarely seen in the naturalistically manner as depicted here, with its leaf variously curled and turned in different directions. This motif appears similarly on only a few other fine Ding pieces, such as a six-lobed food bowl in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the Museum’s current exhibition Dingzhou hua ci, op. cit., cat. no. II-39 (fig. 3); and a fragment of a similar Song bowl, that forms part of the Gugong’s vast sherd collection, which includes Ding sherds recovered from the kiln sites at Jiancicun and Yanchuancun in Quyang county, Hebei; see Gugong Bowuguan cang Zhongguo gudai yaozhi biaoben, vol. 2: Hebei juan  [Specimens from China’s ancient kilns preserved in the Palace Museum, vol. 2: Hebei volume], Beijing, 2006, pl. 169 top. On a lobed dish from the Qing court collection in the Palace Museum, Beijing, similar lotus sprays alternate with ducks, see Ding ci ya ji, op. cit., cat. no. 82, or The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelain of the Song Dynasty, Beijing, 1996, vol. 1, pl. 61; an identical dish from the Kempe collection was included in the exhibition Chinese Gold, Silver and Porcelain The Kempe Collection, Asia House Gallery, New York, 1971, cat. no. 110, and sold in our London rooms, 14th May 2008, lot 258. The well-known record in a Song text that the court did not appreciate Ding wares because of their unglazed rims and ordered wares from the Ru kilns instead, has been discussed by Ts’ai Mei-fen of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, at a symposium organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1996. She argued that unglazed rims were not the consequence of the kilns’ practice of firing bowls upside down, but that “the reason for the unglazed rim was that the metal-banded rim was the popular taste of the time”, approved even at court, and that “the practice of covering edges … began well before the Ting [Ding] kiln started firing its ware upside down. The practice was not introduced to cover up the unglazed rim, but, on the contrary, the unglazed rim was possibly instituted because of the popular practices of decorating edges.” She states that the Wensiyuan (Crafts Institute), a workshop for the production of jewellery under the Directorate for Imperial Manufactories, as well as the Houyuan Zaozuosuo (Palace Workshop of the Rear Garden), another workshop that produced articles for use in the inner court, both included a Lengzuo workshop, for the ‘decoration of edges’. Ts’ai suggests therefore that the quote does not refer to imperial taste but to the fact that metal-bound vessels were not considered suitable for certain imperial ritual ceremonies. See Ts’ai Mei-fen, ‘A Discussion of Ting Ware with Unglazed Rims and Related Twelfth-Century Official Porcelain’, Arts of the Sung and Yüan, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1996, pp. 109-31. On the present bowl the tactile ivory-tinged glaze, with its characteristic ‘tears’ of a deeper tone, preserves its attractive original lustre. Pieces of comparable quality are outstandingly rare and hardly left in private collections. The bowl was in the fabled collection of Alfred and Ivy Clark already in 1949, before Alfred Clark’s death, and featured in many important exhibitions, but has not been publicly shown since 1971, when it was last sold at Sotheby’s. Alfred (1873-1950, fig. 4) and Mrs. Ivy Clark (1890 or 91-1976), both major supporters of the London Oriental Ceramic Society and its exhibitions, started collecting in the 1920s. Edgar Bluett devoted two articles in the art magazine Apollo to their collection already in 1933 and 1934. Although they donated some of their pieces to the British Museum, the majority was sold over the years in different sales at Sotheby’s. Lady David, when asked whose collection Sir Percival David ranked highest, thought the collection of the Clarks would have been most to his taste (Orientations, vol. 23, no. 4, 1992). The Clark’s outstanding collection of Song ceramics, of which they lent twenty-eight pieces to the important Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition The Arts of the Sung Dynasty in London, 1960, also included the magnificent lobed Ru guanyao brush washer sold in these rooms, 4th April 2012, lot 101 and still holding the world record price for Song ceramics.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2014-04-08
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An Extraordinary Ruby and Diamond Ring

AN EXTRAORDINARY RUBY AND DIAMOND RING Set with a cushion-shaped ruby, weighing approximately 15.04 carats, within a cushion-shaped diamond surround, to the pavé-set circular-cut diamond three quarter-hoop, mounted in gold, ring size 5½ Accompanied by premium report no. 80282 dated 12 February 2013 from the SSEF Swiss Gemmological Institute stating that the ruby is of Burma (Myanmar) origin, with no indications of heating and the colour of this ruby may also be called 'pigeon blood red' in the trade; also accompanied by an appendix stating that the ruby possesses extraordinary characteristics and merits special mention and appreciation. The ruby shows an impressive size and weigh, combined with a vivid red colour and an attractive cutting style. The inclusions found by microscopic inspection represent the hallmarks of classical ruby mines in the Mogok valley in Burma (Myanmar), well known for its wealth in gems since historic times. Its vivid and saturated red colour, poetically referred to as 'pigeon blood red', is due to a combination of well-balanced trace elements in this stone, characteristic for the finest rubies from Mogok. A natural ruby from Burma of this size and quality is very rare and thus can be considered an exceptional treasure Report no. 13020031 dated 12 February 2013 from the Gübelin GemLab stating that the ruby is of Burma (Myanmar) origin, with no indications of heating and this colour variety may also be called “pigeon’s blood red” in the trade; also accompanied by an appendix stating that the ruby possesses a combination of outstanding characteristics. It displays a homogeneous and richly saturated colour, which typifies the finest of these gems. The depth of colour, combined with a high clarity and brilliance, all contribute to the beauty of the gem. Such a combination of characteristics is very rare in Burmese rubies of this size US$10,000,000-15,000,000

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2015-12-01
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A FINE AND EXQUISITE FAMILLE-ROSE FLORAL MEDALLION BOTTLE VASE BLUE ENAMEL MARK AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG

A FINE AND EXQUISITE FAMILLE-ROSE FLORAL MEDALLION BOTTLE VASE ENAMELLED IN THE PALACE WORKSHOPS BLUE ENAMEL MARK AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG, THIS IS A PREMIUM LOT. CLIENTS WHO WISH TO BID ON PREMIUM LOTS ARE REQUESTED TO COMPLETE THE PREMIUM LOT PRE-REGISTRATION 3 WORKING DAYS PRIOR TO THE SALE. BIDnow ONLINE BIDDING SERVICE IS NOT AVALIABLE. Superbly potted, the slightly compressed spherical body sweeping up to a tall slender neck with a cupped mouth, in a tour-de-force of painting the fine white body covered in a clear glaze and decorated with four round white medallions each containing finely enamelled flowers, one with yellow day lilies growing beside pink and red poppies with small blue daisies on the side, the second with pink and red roses blooming from a bush with bamboo and asters, the third with a nandina bush laden with ripe red berries arching over a stand of narcissus with lingzhi fungus to the side, the final medallion with rich yellow hollyhock growing beside red and yellowish green leafy stems, all reserved on the blue ground decorated with pink and yellow bats swooping amidst multi-coloured clouds, between a border of lappets picked out in rose-pink enclosed by a narrow yellow border and two shades of green radiating from the foot and a puce-ground border painted with archaistic green and pink dragons on the shoulder, the raised collar picked out in orange, the splayed foot encircled by a pale blue ground border painted with a feathery pink scroll above a thin yellow line, all below a tall neck decorated with stylised multi-coloured flowers borne on scrolling leafy stems against a rich yellow ground, all between two borders of ruyi heads, one predominantly blue and the other pink, the cupped mouth with a border of small petals on the underside, the base inscribed with a blue enamel mark Qianlong nianzhi within a double square, the mate offered in the proceeding lot 18.4 cm., 7 1/4 in.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2010-10-06
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Number 12, 1950

"I approach painting in the same sense as one approaches drawing; that is, it's direct.'' Jackson Pollock interviewed by William Wright, Summer 1950, cited in Clifford Ross, ed., Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, New York, 1990, p. 144 Surging with the inimitable dynamism that has come to define Jackson Pollock’s prodigious legacy, Number 12, 1950, encapsulates the pure essence of his art. Executed in 1950, at the chronological apex of the artist’s indelibly significant career, Number 12 belongs to an elite cycle of fifteen paintings on Masonite that Pollock created in that year. He obtained the sheets of Masonite, all measuring twenty-two inches square, from his brother Sanford McCoy. Inspired by the textured surface of his new material, and how it interacted with his impassioned splatters differently from the smooth paper ground that he had previously used for works of this scale, Pollock feverishly created this series of intimately scaled masterworks. Other examples from this illustrious group today reside in the world’s most prominent museum collections, such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Number 15); the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (Number 18); the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (Number 16); and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Number 22). Focused to a point of sensational intensity, Number 12 epitomizes the chromatic vibrancy, heroic drama, and thrilling dynamism of an artist at the height of his groundbreaking prowess. The past quarter century has witnessed only an exclusive handful of Pollock’s drip paintings offered at auction, marking the occasion of this painting’s appearance for sale as a spectacularly rare and historic event that befits its status as an exquisite vestige of one of Abstract Expressionism’s most profound and momentous legacies. 1950 was a hugely significant and transformative year in Jackson Pollock’s career. In January, on the day before his thirty-eighth birthday, the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired the artist’s 1948 canvas Number 1A. In June, he was chosen by Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and Alfred Frankfurter as one of six artists to participate in an exhibition of young American painters in the U.S. Pavilion at the XXV Venice Biennale. In July, the photographer Hans Namuth asked Pollock if he could photograph him while he painted, thereby initiating a series of studio visits that resulted in the most resounding and iconic images of the artist at work on his eponymous drip paintings. And, from November to December, Pollock showed the present work alongside a selection of other 1950 masterpieces such as Lavender Mist: Number 1 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.); One: Number 31 (Museum of Modern Art, New York); and Autumn Rhythm: Number 30 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) in his fourth solo exhibition at Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, which was subsequently designated as one of the three best shows of 1950 by ARTnews. Not publically shown for nearly sixty years, Number 12 appears today as a singular memento of an historic moment when the eyes of the world looked to New York for the most revolutionary creative innovations and the forging of contemporary Art History. In this work the technically diverse layers of material accretion, accumulations of brilliant red, yellow, green, and black tempered by the shimmering aluminum paint that courses through the dense tempest of drips, deliver an all-over effect that is at once aesthetically arresting and infinitely subtle. Our sustained experience of the painting is rewarded with a sublime catharsis, as its compositional complexity continually fluctuates between the shadows of rhythmic patterns and the disorganized chaos of action painting unrestrained. Number 12 exemplifies the innovation that most defines Pollock’s achievement as embodied in the phrase “drawing into painting,” coined by William Rubin in 1967 to describe the liberation of line from figuration into abstraction. Distinctions between artistic practices did not exist for Pollock whose radical technique married paint to the freedom of draftsmanship in order to express his innermost artistic impulse. Pollock's pursuit was immediacy and the fluid union of material and creativity as one. In his mature oeuvre, neither brush nor any other tool applied paint to his support surface; instead, he placed his chosen ground on a flat surface and with his quick wrist and flowing movement dripped, splattered, and pooled paint from the can, creating complex, all-over patterns. Here, Pollock’s intensely-hued pools unite with the textured Masonite ground to imbue the work with an ever-heightened dimension of material vivacity. While the enthralling surface encourages the eye to examine its detail, the density of overlapping pigments creates a dynamism that presses outward toward the Masonite edge. However, although often considered an essentially graphic artist preoccupied with the primacy of line, the present work is also a major demonstration of Pollock’s mastery of color. Indeed, the combination of the harmony of pure color and the tensile strength of linear design positions this painting in the highest order of Pollock’s oeuvre. The skeins of material interweave to build the structure of a picture that seems almost to possess an inner life and ultimately a sense of wholeness emerges from the combination of physical abandon and aesthetic control. Enlisting a technique of chance that would subsequently influence generations of the Twentieth Century’s most prominent artists, from Francis Bacon’s famous throwing of paint, to Gerhard Richter’s entire dependence on the arbitrary squeegee spatula for his abstract paintings, Pollock faced an unprecedented dilemma in deciding the moment at which a picture arrived at its crescendo of resolution. In this respect Number 12 is yet again a definitive example of Pollock’s genius. Kirk Varnedoe has described how Pollock determined the success of a work or its arrival at its final form: "Like many other modern artists before and since, he was drawn to explore edge conditions, extreme boundaries where coherence might give onto its opposite, and where fullness of meaning and total emptiness rubbed against each other." (Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Jackson Pollock, 1998, p. 51) Number 12 exists for perpetuity in precisely such an “edge condition”: harboring a fundamental order yet poised on the very precipice of utter dissolution. Pollock proved that if art was defined by the artist, then the individual's subconscious and instincts directly influenced the technique, composition, and content of the art. He revolutionized easel painting by asserting that material and medium could fundamentally replace subject matter in painting. It is true that there were some distant precursors, such as the innovative use of collage and found objects in the works of Picasso, Braque, and Duchamp, as well as the automatism of the Surrealists and the conceptual subversions of Marcel Duchamp. Yet Pollock demonstrated unequivocally that the material was the means by which he expressed his message while working in the most traditional of mediums, oil paint.  As Varnedoe observed, " 'How?' would take over from 'What?' as the prime point of genesis. Changing his self-awareness from a search for buried icons or totems to a reliance on more pragmatic instincts about how it felt best to work, Pollock would unblock the way to a fundamentally personal, original art. And a great deal more." (Ibid., p. 48) Pollock's innovations were elemental and instinctive, born of many years of struggling with the tension between figure and ground, abstraction and representation, content and technique. Beginning in the winter of 1946-47 when Pollock first placed his canvases on the floor of his Long Island barn, he pushed the boundaries of painting beyond his earlier Surrealist and Expressionist work. Standing above the painting surface, Pollock worked from all four sides to drip, pool, and fling pigment from sticks, brushes, and other implements. From 1947 to 1951, Pollock's brush seldom touched his paintings, but his dexterity and total physicality orchestrated the fluidity, density, speed, and rhythm of his medium into an all-over composition of cohesive expressiveness. This golden period witnessed the genesis of a sublime body of work, including the present painting. As one of the most iconic figures of twentieth-century Art History, Jackson Pollock’s long shadow cast a protean myth that has almost obscured his monumental achievement in creating an independent aesthetic that revolutionized artistic practice during and after his lifetime. Yet a few works of genius such as Number 12 transport us directly to the crucible of that revolutionary enterprise, and stand as enduring testament to this master’s sheer brilliance. Signed and dated 50

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-05-12
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Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider - 1961

Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider - 1961 Carte grise française Châssis n° 2935GT Moteur n° 2935 Numéro interne n° 610 E Boîte de vitesses n° 8.61 Pont n° 383F - Certainement le plus beau cabriolet de la deuxième moitié du XXème siècle - Une des 37 California Spider SWB phares carénés construite - Entièrement originale, jamais restaurée - Histoire unique et fabuleuse - Ayant appartenu à l'une des plus grandes stars du cinéma, Alain Delon - Matching numbers - La California du Salon de Paris 1961 - Même propriétaire depuis 1971 Avec la 250, le destin de Ferrari va changer. De constructeur marginal, il va prendre une dimension industrielle et acquérir l'aura mondiale qu'on lui connaît aujourd'hui. Autour du fameux V12 3 litres, dont les qualités de puissance et de souplesse ne sont plus à démontrer, naissent deux familles d'automobiles : des Ferrari exclusivement destinées à la piste, et d'autres plutôt réservées à un usage routier et offrant donc un confort et un équipement dont étaient jusque-là dépourvues les voitures de la marque. La branche course donnera naissance à des légendes sur roues comme les Testa Rossa, berlinettes Tour de France, 250 GTO ou 250 LM alors que la famille des voitures de route produira de merveilleux coupés ou cabriolets que se disputeront stars, sportifs de haut niveau et gros industriels. Mais ce qui caractérise aussi le constructeur de Maranello, ce sont les "passerelles" constantes qui relient les deux familles, et qui fait que les voitures de route ne sont jamais très loin de la piste... Le spider 250 GT California est le fruit de ce mariage idéal. En effet, alors que le cabriolet 250 GT Pinin Farina est directement dérivé du coupé grand tourisme, le spider California s'appuie sur les berlinettes destinées à la compétition. A tel point d'ailleurs que, sur un dessin magistral de Pinin Farina, il est carrossé chez Scaglietti, à qui Ferrari confie la réalisation de ses voitures de compétition. Le spider reprend le même châssis de 2,60 m d'empattement que la berlinette Tour de France, son moteur offre des caractéristiques comparables et sa forme adopte le décrochement d'aile arrière caractéristique de la version fermée. Comme il est moins systématiquement orienté compétition, il accuse sur la balance quelques dizaines de kilos de plus que son homologue, mais reste malgré tout plus léger que le cabriolet. D'ailleurs, certains modèles plus spécialement préparés pour les joies du chronomètre vont se distinguer sur circuits : ainsi, Ginther et Hively terminent premiers de la catégorie Grand Tourisme et neuvièmes au classement général des 12 Heures de Sebring 1959 et Grossman et Tavano décrochent la cinquième place aux 24 Heures du Mans de la même année, au volant d'un spider engagé par l'écurie du NART de l'enthousiaste Luigi Chinetti. Ledit Chinetti n'est d'ailleurs certainement pas étranger à l'appellation "California" du spider 250 GT : d'origine milanaise, ami intime d'Enzo Ferrari, il participe largement et efficacement à la diffusion de Ferrari en Amérique du Nord, qui devient pour le constructeur italien un marché avec lequel le modèle va connaître une évolution parallèle à celle des versions compétition et un grand succès commercial auprès des plus exigeants amateurs fortunés. En tout, quarante sept exemplaires sont vendus en moins de deux ans dont curieusement 6 seulement en Californie. En réalité deux California de plus sont sorties des ateliers de Scaglietti à la même époque, un coupé " Boano " et un cabriolet Pinin Farina, rhabillés à la suite d'accidents. Et il convient bien sûr de ne pas oublier les 52 exemplaires sur châssis court qui ont pris la suite entre 1960 et 1962. Modèle exclusif et performant, le spider California garde une place à part dans la production Ferrari, car il réalise une synthèse inégalé entre les qualités des modèles de piste et ceux de route, les deux voies sur lesquelles Ferrari a appuyé son succès planétaire. De plus les carrosseries cabriolet de la marque sont particulièrement rares dans la production Ferrari, ce qui explique son succès grandissant au fil des décennies faisant aujourd'hui de la California la plus chère des Ferrari routières. Sur les 52 exemplaires produits sur châssis court, seuls 37 California sont sorties avec les phares carénées. Cette particularité est la plus recherchée aujourd'hui et ce, grâce à l'élégance supérieure qu'elle revêt. Lorsqu'il se rend au Salon de l'Auto, à Paris en 1961, Gérard Blain est déjà un acteur de cinéma confirmé. Á 31 ans, il a déjà une vingtaine de films à son actif et une passion pour les cabriolets Ferrari. Il vient de faire reprendre sa Ferrari 250 GT Série 1 (la voiture du Salon de Paris 1957) par la Franco-Britannic Autos, l'importateur Ferrari, et s'intéresse de très près au magnifique Spider 250 GT California châssis court, de couleur bleu foncé, hard-top bleu foncé, intérieur simili noir, exposé sur le stand de ce même importateur Ferrari. Ce châssis 2935GT, terminé le 27 septembre 1961, a été envoyé immédiatement chez l'importateur parisien pour le Salon qui a lieu du 5 au 15 octobre 1961. La première semaine du Salon sont exposées sur le stand de la Franco-Britannic une 250 GT Berlinette Lusso (#2917), une 250 GTE et une 250 cabriolet série II. La Ferrari 250 berlinette châssis court sera vendue dès le début du Salon et sera remplacée en deuxième semaine par cette Ferrari 250 California #2935. Après son achat par Gérard Blain, elle est immatriculée le 21 octobre 1961 à son nom et son adresse (9 rue de Siam, Paris XVIe arrondissement), sous le numéro 88 LR 75, 6 jours donc après la fermeture du Salon. Alain Delon est de la même génération que Gérard Blain, et les voitures de sport font évidemment partie de son environnement de star. Séduit par la belle Ferrari de son ami, il lui achète et on la retrouve immatriculée 4452 MC, à Monaco donc. Une copie du titre de circulation monégasque au nom de l'acteur nous montre qu'il l'a immatriculée précisément le 23 mai 1963 en Principauté. Il est incroyable de découvrir que Marc Bouvot, fils du troisième propriétaire, a retrouvé les plaques originales 4452 MC que son père avait conservé après l'achat auprès d'Alain Delon. A cette époque, après avoir été consacré par Plein Soleil et Rocco et ses frères, Alain Delon connaît une fantastique accélération de sa carrière d'acteur. Beau, séduisant, talentueux, il fait tourner les têtes et tomber les cœurs, et les producteurs profitent de cette fabuleuse image pour le faire tourner sans discontinuer. En 1963, il est avec Jane Fonda dans Les Félins, où René Clément l'entraîne dans une machiavélique machination. L'année suivante, on le retrouve avec Shirley MacLaine dans La Rolls Royce jaune où il séduit une riche et belle marquise. La Ferrari partage ces grands moments avec le célébrissime acteur et des photos le montrent au volant du Spider 2935GT, en compagnie des deux actrices, elles aussi des stars que le monde admire. En 1964, Alain Delon et sa femme Nathalie partent en voyage en Californie. L'acteur fait envoyer la voiture à destination afin d'en profiter dans les rues de Los Angeles. C'est certainement à ce moment-là que les répétiteurs de clignotants sur les ailes avant ont été changés afin de correspondre aux normes américaines. Nous avons retrouvé sous le siège passager les répétiteurs ronds d'origine dans leur boîte ! Sur l'attestation d'assurance de l'époque, un document original fourni par le fils du troisième propriétaire, on remarque une adresse inscrite à la main indiquant une adresse à Beverly Hills. Sans doute l'acteur avait-il noté cette indication afin de la communiquer à son assureur. Sur une photo prise aux États-Unis en 1964, la Ferrari California est surprise devant une station d'essence, avec Nathalie Delon, pendant que son mari vérifie la pression des pneus et, sur un autre cliché, on aperçoit le couple à Los Angeles, en promenade à bord de sa voiture. En juillet 1965, Alain Delon se sépare de la Ferrari California et en confie la vente à Michel Maria Urman Automobiles, 40 bis rue Guersant, Paris XVIIe, spécialiste de voitures de prestige. Elle est achetée le 2 août 1965 pour la somme de 30 000 francs par Paul Bouvot, alors que la voiture n'affiche que 37 000 km. Paul Bouvot dirige à cette époque le Centre de Style des Automobiles Peugeot, et son œil de styliste perçoit le caractère exceptionnel de la ligne de la California. Il confiera un jour à son fils : "Cette Ferrari est un chef d'œuvre ; elle est belle quel que soit l'angle sous lequel on la regarde, avec ou sans ses attributs". Il évoque bien sûr les pare-chocs, qui sont parfois démontés de la voiture comme le montrent des photos que nous a montrées son fils Marc Bouvot. Paul Bouvot immatricule la Ferrari le 18 août 1965, sous le numéro 6101 RU 75. Pendant un an, il va parcourir quelque 25 000 km, ne se gênant guère pour se rendre au volant au Centre de Style Peugeot, ce qui fera grincer des dents certains dirigeants qui auraient préféré le voir arriver dans une plus classique Peugeot. Mais Paul Bouvot est un Ferrariste passionné. Ainsi, quand il vend le Spider California en mai 1966 à son quatrième propriétaire, M. Robert Cooper (un Canadien vivant à Paris), c'est pour acheter quelques mois plus tard une autre Ferrari 250GT California châssis court que son ami Jess Pourret lui propose. Mais c'est une autre histoire... Robert Cooper gardera la voiture six mois, avant de la céder fin 1966 à un amateur de voitures de sport parisien qui en profitera jusqu'en octobre 1967. L'avant-dernier propriétaire de 2935GT est un médecin parisien qui la gardera quatre ans jusqu'à son acquisition en novembre 1971 par Jacques Baillon. 2935GT rentre alors dans une collection prestigieuse commencée dans les années 1950 par Roger Baillon, son père. Jacques Baillon roulera très peu avec la Ferrari qui, comme la plupart de ses voitures, se retrouvera vite remisée à l'abri du temps et des intempéries. Marc Bouvot, dont le père a acheté la Ferrari à Alain Delon en 1965, nous a permis de consulter ses documents originaux exceptionnels (plaques minéralogiques originales Monaco, certificats originaux d'assurance au nom d'Alain Delon, copie du titre monégasque, pochette originale en cuir). C'est également grâce à l'ouvrage de référence sur le Salon de Paris intitulé "Les Ferrari au Salon de Paris-1948 /1988" de Dominique Pascal, et avec la collaboration de Jess Pourret et Marc Rabineau, que nous avons pu constituer un dossier historique très complet. L'avis des spécialistes " Ce graal automobile se trouve aujourd'hui telle que nous l'avons découvert, le 30 septembre dernier, alors que nous ouvrions la porte du garage de la propriété. Protégée de toute humidité, elle nous fait front, recouverte d'un léger voile de poussière et de quelques piles de magazines et autres journaux. Elle a mieux résisté au poids des années qu'au poids du papier…son coffre s'en est incliné. Mais il ne s'agissait surtout pas d'y toucher tant cette particularité donne à la Belle toute son originalité, son exclusivité et son histoire unique. Chaque grain de poussière reste celui de tant d'années de stockage à l'abri des intempéries. Protégée de l'humidité, sa robe est saine, tout autant que son châssis. Les jours de portes, capot et coffre sont droits et d'origine. Lorsque vous fermez les portes, on perçoit ce bruit caractéristique d'une automobile préservée. Ses vitres latérales sont en plexiglas (serait-ce d'origine ?). Son intérieur est celui d'origine, avec sa sellerie noire en simili cuir. L'acquéreur qui se glissera derrière son volant prendra possession de la clef pour ouvrir la boîte à gants. Il y découvrira la paire de gants en cuir havane asséchée par le temps, déposé sur des vignettes automobiles des années 71 à 75, jamais collées sur le pare-brise. Lorsqu'il baissera le dossier passager, il glissera sa main dans le vide-poche pour y découvrir le manuel d'origine ainsi que les bons d'essence d'époque. Dans le vide-poches du dossier du fauteuil conducteur, il découvrira le double de clefs. En ouvrant le coffre, il découvrira deux circuits pour enfants, certainement cachés là par Jacques Baillon en vue de les offrir à ses enfants à Noël…ses enfants ne les reçurent jamais…oubliés au fond du coffre… A côté, un nécessaire de pharmacie d'époque encore dans son emballage plastique ainsi que plusieurs exemplaires du livre de Paul Frère "La conduire en compétition". La baie moteur elle semble ne jamais avoir bougée…jamais démontée, intacte avec ses deux bobines originales… rarissimes. Cette automobile est une œuvre d'art, la dernière California châssis court phares carénés dans un état d'origine intouchée depuis 45 années, probablement jamais démontée. Elle est le graal des Spiders Grand Tourisme, la référence ultime de l'histoire de l'Automobile et LE plus beau cabriolet de la seconde moitié du XXe siècle. " Une procédure d'enregistrement des enchérisseurs particulière s'applique à ce lot. Si vous souhaitez enchérir sur ce lot, merci de vous manifester auprès du département et de vous enregistrer au moins 48 heures avant la vente. French title Chassis n° 2935GT Engine n° 2935 Internal number: 610 E Gear box n° 8.61 Rear axle n° 383F - Certainly the most beautiful cabriolet of the second half of the 20th century - One of 37 California Spider SWBs with covered headlights - Completely original, never restored - Unique, fabulous history - Belonged to one of the most famous film stars, Alain Delon - Matching numbers - The 1961 Paris Motor Show California, - Same owner since 1971 Ferrari's destiny was changed by the 250. Starting as a small-scale constructor, it took on an industrial dimension and gained the international reputation that it enjoys today. Centred on the famous V12 3-litre engine, which had nothing further to prove, two Ferrari families were born : one destined exclusively for the track and the other, offering a level of comfort and equipment missing until that point, for the road. The racing line gave birth to such legendary cars as the Testa Rossa, Tour de France berlinetta, 250 GTO and the 250 LM. Meanwhile stars, tycoons and amateur enthusiasts fought over the road-going line which produced splendid coupés and cabriolets. A constant characteristic of Maranello was the strong link between these two groups, which meant that the road-going cars were never far from the race track...The 250 GT California Spider is the child of this perfect marriage. Indeed, while the 250 GT cabriolet by Pinin Farina is derived from the GT coupé, the California Spider is drawn from the competition berlinettas. So much so that the brilliant design by Pinin Farina was bodied by Scaglietti who built the competition cars for Ferrari. The Spider used the same chassis with 2.6m wheelbase as the Tour de France, had a comparable engine and featured the same rear wing styling as the closed version. Being geared less towards racing, it was a little heavier than its counterpart, but still lighter than the cabriolet. Also, there were certain models, specially prepared with a stopwatch in mind, that distinguished themselves on the circuit : Ginther and Hively finished first in the GT category and ninth overall in the 1959 Sebring 12 Hour race, and Grossman and Tavano took fifth place in the Le Mans 24 Hour race the same year, at the wheel of a spider from the NART team belonging to enthusiast Luigi Chinetti. The aforementioned Chinetti was involved in the " California " title of the 250 GT Spider: originally from Milan and a close friend of Enzo Ferrari, he was largely responsible for the widespread and efficient distribution of Ferrari throughout North America. This became an important market for the model that evolved alongside the competition versions, and enjoyed great commercial success with demanding wealthy amateur drivers. In all, forty-seven examples were sold in under two years, with surprisingly just six going to California. Two further Californias left the Scaglietti workshop at that time, a " Boano " coupé and a Pinin Farina cabriolet, both rebodied after accidents. And one must not forget the 52 short-chassis examples which followed on between 1960 and 1962. An exclusive and high-performance model, the California Spider holds a special place in the history of Ferrari, as it embodies an unrivalled fusion of qualities for road and track, the two paths on which Ferrari built its global success. The open versions of this marque are particularly rare, which explains the growing success across the decades of the California, the most expensive road-going Ferrari today. Of the 52 short wheelbase examples of the California produced, just 37 had covered headlights. This feature is the most highly sought after today, for its superior elegance. When he arrived at the Paris Motor Show in 1961, Gérard Blain was already an established film actor. He was 31, with some twenty films to his name and a passion for Ferrari convertibles. He had just returned his Ferrari 250 GT Series 1 (the 1957 Paris Motor Show car) to the Ferrari importer Franco-Britannic Autos, and was interested in the magnificent 250 GT California SWB Spider, in dark blue with dark blue hard-top and black imitation leather interior, displayed on the same Ferrari importer's stand. This particular chassis 2935GT, completed on 27 September 1961, had been sent straight to the Parisian importer to be shown at the Motor Show on 5 to 15 October 1961. During the first week of the show, a 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso (#2917), a 250 GTE and a 250 cabriolet series II were on show on the Franco-Britannic stand. The Ferrari 250 SWB berlinetta was sold at the start of the show and was replaced in the second week by this Ferrari 250 California #2935. The Ferrari was bought by Gérard Blain and registered on 21 October 1961 in his name and address (9 rue de Siam, Paris XVIe arrondissement), with the number 88 LR 75, just six days after the Motor Show had closed. Alain Delon was from the same generation as Gérard Blain, and sports cars were clearly part of his celebrity scene. Liking the look of his friend's stunning Ferrari, he bought it, and had it registered in Monaco, 4452 MC. A copy of the Monégasque registration papers in the actor's name reveals that he registered it on 23 May 1963 in the Principality. Amazingly, Marc Bouvot, the son of the third owner, found the original plates 4452 MC that his father kept after buying the car from Alain Delon. At this period, having become established through roles in Plein Soleil et Rocco et ses frères, Alain Delon's acting career suddenly took off. Handsome, charming and talented, he caused heads to turn and hearts to break. Producers profited from this fabulous image by keeping him busy in one film after another. In 1963, he starred with Jane Fonda in Les Félins (Joy House), in which René Clément weaved him into a Machiavellian plot. The following year, he appeared with Shirley MacLaine in La Rolls Royce jaune (The Yellow Rolls-Royce), in which he seduced a rich and beautiful marquise. The Ferrari shared these great moments with the celebrity actor and photos show him at the wheel of the Spider 2935GT, in the company of these two actresses, themselves stars admired worldwide. In 1964, Alain Delon and his wife Nathalie travelled to California. The actor had the car sent out so that he could enjoy driving it around the streets of Los Angeles. It must have been at this time that the indicator lights on the side of the front wings were changed to correspond with American regulations. Under the passenger seat we found the original round indicator lights in their box ! On the period insurance certificate, an original document supplied by the son of the third owner, an address in Beverley Hills is recorded by hand. No doubt the actor noted this information down for his insurance company. In a photo taken in the United States in 1964, the Ferrari California is spotted at a gas station, with Nathalie Delon, while her husband checks the tyre pressures. In another photo, the couple are seen in Los Angeles, riding in their car. In July 1965, Alain Delon parted with the Ferrari California, entrusting its sale to Michel Maria Urman Automobiles, 40 bis rue Guersant, Paris XVIIe, a specialist in prestigious cars. It was bought on 2 August 1965 for the sum of 30,000 francs by Paul Bouvot, having covered just 37,000 km. At that time, Paul Bouvot ran the Style Centre of Peugeot, and as a designer, appreciated the California's exceptional styling. One day he confided to his son : " This Ferrari is a masterpiece, it is beautiful which ever way you look at it, with or without its attributes. " He was no doubt referring to the bumpers, which were sometimes taken off the car, as photos shown to us by his son Marc Bouvot reveal. Paul Bouvot registered the car on 18 August 1965, with the number 6101 RU 75. Over the course of a year, he covered some 25,000 km, not bothered about turning up at the Peugeot Style Centre at the wheel of this car, something that must have riled certain directors who would have preferred to see him arrive in a more classic Peugeot. Paul Bouvot was a passionate Ferrarista however. When he sold the California Spider in May 1966 to its fourth owner, Mr Robert Cooper (a Canadian living in Paris), it was to buy another Ferrari 250GT SWB California a few months later offered by his friend Jess Pourret. But that is another story... Robert Cooper kept the car for six months, before selling it at the end of 1966 to a Parisian sports car enthusiast who ran it until October 1967. The last but one owner of 2935GT was a doctor from Paris who kept the car for four years until it was acquired by Jacques Baillon in November 1971. And so 2935GT entered a prestigious collection that had been started during the 1950s by Roger Baillon, his father. Jacques Baillon drove the Ferrari very little, and like the majority of his cars, it soon found itself stored away, protected from the elements and bad weather. Marc Bouvot, whose father bought the car from Alain Delon in 1965, allowed us to consult his outstanding original documents (original Monaco number plate, original insurance documents in Alain Delon's name, copy of the Monégasque registration document, original leather folder). Also thanks to the reference book on the Paris Motor Show entitled "Les Ferrari au Salon de Paris-1948 /1988" by Dominique Pascal, with the collaboration of Jess Pourret and Marc Rabineau, we were able to put together a complete history file. The specialist's view " This highly sought-after automobile is presented today exactly as we found it, on 30 September, when we opened the garage door to the property. There it sat in front of us, in the dry, covered with a light veil of dust and several piles of magazines and papers. It has held up against the passing of the years better than the weight of paper...its boot is dented. However, it was imperative not to touch anything, as this was part of the story of this Sleeping Beauty, its originality, exclusivity and unique history. Every speck of dust is a record of the years it has been stored and kept safe from the elements. Protected from moisture, the body and the chassis are both sound. The lines of the original doors, boot and bonnet are straight. When you close the doors, you hear that characteristic sound of a motor car that has been preserved. The side windows are in plexiglas (would they have been original ?). The interior is original, with black imitation leather upholstery. The future buyer who slips in behind the wheel will take possession of the key to the glove box and will find a pair of tan leather gloves, dried over time, laid on top of tax discs from 1971 to 1975 that were never stuck on the windscreen. In the pocket on the back of the passenger seat he will find the original owner's manual and some old fuel receipts. In the back of the driver's seat he will discover the spare set of keys. On opening the boot, he will find two children's tracks that must have been hidden there by Jacques Baillon, a Christmas present for his children...his children never received these and they were left, forgotten, deep at the back of the boot...Next to them, a packet from the chemist, still in its plastic wrapper, along with several copies of the book by Paul Frère " La conduite en compétition ". The engine bay looks as if it has never been moved...never dismantled, and is intact still with the two original coils...incredibly rare. This automobile is a work of art, the last short chassis California with covered headlights, in original condition and untouched for the last 45 years, and probably never dismantled. This is the Holy Grail of GT Spiders, the ultimate reference in the history of the automobile and THE most beautiful cabriolet from the second half of the 20th century." Special bidder registration procedures apply to this lot. If you intend to bid on this lot you need to register your interest with Artcurial no less than 48 hours in advance of the sale. Estimation 9 500 000 - 12 000 000 € Sold for 16,288,000 €

  • FRAFrance
  • 2015-02-06
Hammer price
Show price

A B, Brick Tower

“The titles Richter has given this group of fourteen abstract paintings are not descriptive; they refer in a general associative way to his experiences of the city – to the chapels in Westminster Abbey, to the Tower of London.” Jill Lloyd, ‘Gerhard Richter: The London Paintings’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Anthony D’Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter: The London Paintings, 1988, n.p. The group of abstract paintings created for Richter’s 1988 show at Anthony d’Offay Gallery – his first major commercial exhibition in London – are indefatigably tied to their host city. From this corpus of fourteen so-called London Paintings created in response to a trip Richter made to London in 1987, A B, Brick Tower looms in exquisite swathes of richest red accented with strident kaleidoscopic underlayers of aquamarine blue, sunset orange, canary yellow and verdant green. Indeed, echoing the exquisite light effects and chromatic intensity of Claude Monet’s depiction of the Houses of Parliament and his iconic corpus depicting his water Lillie garden at Giverny, A B, Brick Tower, was included in the seminal exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler in 2002, Claude Monet… Up To Digital Impressionism. Displayed side by side, the parity between the Impressionist Master and the Master of Digital Impressionism is startling, with the present work delivering an opulent panorama of all-encompassing colour to rival Monet’s iconic Nympheas. Sumptuous impasto passages of viscous oil paint cover and reveal magnificent sediments of intense chromatic strata; an effect that conjures organic weathering and an atmospheric intimation of the painting’s urban title. While the painting’s name immediately evokes towering power station chimneys familiar to London’s twentieth-century industrial landscape, A B, Brick Tower also encompasses a more direct connection to the City of London whose history dates back to the settlement of the Roman Empire. Specifically, Richter’s painting takes its name from William the Conquerer’s medieval castle, the Tower of London. Named after one of the perimeter towers surrounding the central keep, this painting joins both Flint Tower and Salt Tower (two further towers from the twenty-one that surround the main castle) as abstractly anchored to a specific architectural monument. Within this corpus, the Towers’ companion pieces possess names that also anchor inchoate abstract fields of painterly abstraction to the chapels and saintly characters associated with the Tower of London’s central White Tower and those of Westminster Abbey: A B, St John, A B, St Andrew; and A B, St Bridget. Furthermore works from the London Paintings reference the general location of Westminster Abbey: A B, St James; while one monumental work possesses a more abstract allusion to the spiritual nature of ecclesiastical buildings: A B, Sanctuary. As with the extant thirteen works in this ground-breaking series, each follows a particular quality which is enforced by Richter’s subsequent titling. Alongside other works in this corpus, Richter conjures a mixture of evocations that complexly negotiate ecclesiastical and cultural references whilst at the same time eschewing literal interpretation. Indeed, far from performing a narrative function, these names operate within an intensely imaginative dimension rooted in Richter’s experience and anticipation of his London exhibition. Heralding its return, the appearance of this exceptional painting at auction in London marks a truly momentous occasion. Aside from acting as a tribute to London, the present work and its counterparts marked a distinct turning point in Richter’s career. Gaining representation in London by Anthony d’Offay was a significant coup for Richter, who was flattered to be exhibiting in the same space as some of the most internationally important artists of the late Twentieth Century, including Willem de Kooning, Carl Andre, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol (it was d’Offay who commissioned Warhol to make his greatest late works, the Fright Wig series of 1986). In tandem with attaining representation in New York in the early 1980s with Marian Goodman, Richter’s new relationship with d’Offay cemented his soaring reputation on the international stage. Alongside this, The London Paintings signify a concurrent step-up in Richter’s painterly investigation, heralding the very beginning of a decade that would produce the most arresting and extraordinary abstract pictures of Richter’s career. As Jill Lloyd presciently identified in her essay for the 1988 exhibition: “The complex weave of textures, colours and rhythms in these new paintings… results in a literal presence that is fuller, richer, more all-inclusive than in his previous abstract works” (Jill Lloyd quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, Gerhard Richter: The London Paintings, 1988, n.p.). Testament to the remarkable calibre of this defining exhibition, a number of these paintings now reside in prestigious museum collections across the globe: The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington., D.C.; Tate, London; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and La Caixa Foundation, Barcelona. Possessing an atmospheric power connected to famous British architectural monuments and affecting a viewing experience that evokes the atmospheric effects of Claude Monet, A B, Brick Tower sublimely registers beyond our sphere of cognition to deliver a rich poetic riposte to the sights and sounds of historic London. The Tower of London possesses a magnificently rich past. Built by William the Conqueror (first Norman King of England) as a battlement to subdue Londoners following his victory at the Battle of Hastings, the Tower complex is legendary for having served as an armoury, menagerie and Treasury, it is the home of the Royal Mint and Crown Jewels, and famously served as a prison during the Tudor era (Sir Walter Raleigh was in fact imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth I in Brick Tower) associated with executions and the famous legend of the Princes in the Tower under the reign of Richard III. Its appearance in art history dates back to illuminated manuscripts, such as Froissart's Chronicles (circa 1400) which recount the Hundred Years War, or the Poems of Charles d’Orleans (circa 1480) in which the captive Duke of Orleans can be seen writing his manuscript from the Tower. Other famous art historical instances include various woodcuts and engravings, seventeenth-century depictions of the fire of London, Paul Delaroche’s iconic painting of The Execution of Lady Jane Grey (1833), as well as J.M.W. Turner’s maritime view of the Tower from across the River Thames of 1825. Immortalised within these art historical canons – from landscape through to history painting – in 1987 the Tower of London entered into the radical abstract canon of Gerhard Richter. As an artist who has sought a relentless and almost clinical rebuttal of representational painting within an age of photographic image distribution, Richter’s complex and deeply conceptual abstract practice is brought back to an evocation of the art historical past. One year prior to the execution of the present work, Richter stated as much in a conversation with Benjamin Buchloh: “I do see myself as the heir to a vast, great, rich culture of painting – of art in general – which we have lost, but which places obligations on us. And it is no easy matter to avoid either harking back to the past or (equally bad) giving up altogether and sliding into decadence” (Gerhard Richter in conversation with Benjamin H. D. Buchloh (1986) in: Hans Ulrich Obrist, Ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, London 1995, p. 148). Intriguingly, Richter’s show at d’Offay also included a suite of landscape paintings, which at first viewing strike the viewer as natural successors to an art historical lineage of British landscape painters as epitomised by Turner, Constable or, as is oft mentioned, the sweeping panoramas of German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich. This however is to simplify Richter’s highly conceptual relationship with image-making in all of its guises (both representational and abstract), which, rooted in the recognisable tropes of art history (from Romantic landscape painting through to Abstract Expressionism), looks to drive the possibility of painting into the Twenty-first Century. Herein, the astounding abstract presented in The London Paintings were the very first to fully draw a bridge between Richter’s very nascent foray into the dialectic between painting and photography. Coming full circle from the earliest Photo Paintings, the present work witnesses the full induction of the squeegee as the principle compositional agent. This in turn invited the means through which Richter was able to instigate “Photography by other means” (Gerhard Richter quoted in: ‘Interview with Rolf Schön, 1972’ in: Dietmar Elger and H. Ulrich Obrist, Eds., Gerhard Richter, TEXT: Writings, Interviews and Letters: 1961-2007, London 2009, p. 73). As redolent in A B, Brick Tower, the sheen of immaculate colour and endless permutations mimic the aesthetic of a cibachrome print, while a distinctly photographic quality is compounded by the out-of focus consistency in the sweeping accretions of paint. Evoking a blurred image and imploring the same searching cognitive viewing experience as his photo-works, the hazy coagulation of endlessly scraped pigment forms an extraordinary repost to the canon of twentieth-century abstraction via the photographic, mechanical and the aleatory. Within the sheer excess of layering and dynamic compositional facture these paintings emit an extraordinary wealth of enigmatic yet recognisable evocation. The incessant erasure and denial of formal resolution induces a reading of phenomenal forms associated with those found in nature. Readily evoking natural experiences such as rain, water erosion, or in this case the weathering of a brick wall, the abstract works derive their affect from a spontaneous naturalism. Where Richter’s Photo Paintings fall away into abstraction, the Abstrakt Bilder return us to a suggestion of referential representation. Though entirely disconnected from referentiality in both method and conception, Richter’s abstractions nevertheless elusively evoke natural forms and colour configurations. As outlined by the artist: “The paintings gain their life from our desire to recognise something in them. At every point they suggest similarities with real appearances, which then, however, never really materialize” (Gerhard Richter quoted in: Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Chicago 2009, p. 267). Thwarting the artist’s own compositional preconceptions, these works are forged by a reactive and aleatory dialogue via the means of their execution: the squeegee. The layered excavation and resonant accumulation of gossamer colour imparts an eroded surface reminiscent of myriad natural forms. Like a sunset, glorious and luminescent in reflecting the chromatic intensity of stunning optical effects, Richter’s canvas evokes the beauty frequently called forth by the contingency of natural phenomena: “amid the paintings’ scraped and layered pigments” describes Robert Storr, “shoals, riptides and cresting waves” reinforce an impression of venturing beyond abstraction (Robert Storr quoted in: Dietmar Elgar, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Cologne 2002, p. XIII). Such a reading is very much linked to Richter’s methodological dialogue with chance. Dragged across an expanse of canvas the pressure and speed of Richter’s application ultimately surrenders to the unpredictability of chance in informing composition and colour. It is this separation of the artist from direct expression that bestows Richter’s paintings with their inherently natural look. The shimmering and harmoniously artful orchestration of paint within A B, Brick Tower vacillates between an act of intense evocation and a simultaneous effacement of painterly form: ingrained within the present work’s destructive and unpredictable formation is an undeniable reflection of Nature itself. As outlined by Beate Söntgen; Richter’s method “joins the painted traces of the tools together with the layering and intersections of colour to form structures that are figural or landscape like in appearance, without ever solidifying into an object that is once again recognizable” (Beate Söntgen, ‘Work on the Picture: The Discretion of Gerhard Richter’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Gerhard Richter: Abstrakte Bilder, 2008-09, p. 37). Comparative in both beauty and effect to Monet’s atmospheric and optical translation of his garden at Giverny or even his depiction of the Houses of Parliament across the River Thames, Richter’s A B, Brick Tower is nonetheless analogous to a wholesale inversion of the Impressionist master’s late practice. Correspondingly expansive, enveloping and utterly breathing colour, Richter shares Monet’s tropospheric yet abyssal chromatic impact. In the work of both it is the cognitive and sensory act of looking informed by a dense chromatic structure that drives visual affect. Clement Greenberg identified this as Impressionism’s most revolutionary insight, and it is this which Richter invokes and advances in his Abstracts. Where for Monet, nature was a point of departure to link the experiential stimulus of the outer world with an ineffable inner world of sensory perception, Richter’s outwardly incomprehensible plane of abstraction projects the interior world of sensory perception back into the exterior realm of natural reference. Rather than a perceptual and intensely subjective documentation of nature that verges on the abstract, Richter’s exercise in ostensibly objective and pure abstraction skirts the peripheries of a lyrical and expressive organic topography. Herein, Richter’s A B, Brick Tower, guised in the fuzz of televisual distortion, presents the viewer with an abyssal and chromatically resplendent vista, an approach to painting that, in echoing the title of Fondation Beyeler exhibition in which this painting was included, awards Richter the distinctly twenty-first century title of Digital Impressionist. Signed, dated 1987 and numbered 643-1 on the reverse 

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2015-07-01
Hammer price
Show price

* 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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