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A large imperial portrait of consort chunhui by giuseppe castiglione

Hanging scroll, ink and colour on silk, majestically and vividly painted in precise detail with Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui seated in formal robes (chao fu) on an elaborate throne, the full-length imperial-portrait (shengrong) of the imperial consort resplendently rendered with a well-proportioned and porcelain-complexioned face, the regal yet serene expression accentuated with a powerful gaze transmitted from her almond-shaped eyes, the lips picked out with a warm ombré coral colour, flanked by a pair of earlobes adorned with three embellished double-gourd drop earrings on each side, clad in a fur-edged ceremonial costume comprising a full-length robe (chao pao) under a further full-length sleeveless vest (chao gua) with shoulder epaulettes projecting outwards from both shoulders, the vest opening down the centre along a border enclosing stylised lingzhi blooms, the garment elaborately decorated with five-clawed scaly dragons soaring sinuously amidst multi-coloured lingzhi blooms, above stylised 'shou' roundels and brightly coloured lishui diagonal stripes, all against a rich blue ground, the grandeur further highlighted with long beaded necklaces (chao zhu) of varying colours and sizes elegantly hanging over and around the figure's upper torso, all below a kerchief under a court hat (chao guan) with a black fur brim and a crown decorated with red floss silk tassels and ornamented gold phoenix, the golden-yellow rectangular throne framed on three sides with an ornate throne-back entwined with ferocious dragons sinuously writhing around the members, all supported on dragon-head cabriole legs terminating in claw-and-ball feet, the figure seated on a thick yellow-ground cushion decorated in multi-coloured threads with auspicious emblems, inscribed on the right with five characters by the Qianlong Emperor reading Chunhui Huangguifei ('Imperial Noble Consort Chunhui'), mounted on imperial yellow silk embroidered with phoenix amidst swirling clouds Discussing the 'Portrait of Consort Chunhui in Ceremonial Costume' Nie Chongzheng There exist many portrait paintings of past emperors and their consorts, as recorded in the archives of the Qing dynasty palace, from the first Qing dynasty reign of Shunzhi, until the reign of the Xuantong Emperor at the end of the dynasty. All dressed in the full official regalia of the period, they provide us with a wealth of information about these individuals and their appearances.  This is especially the case during the Qianlong period. The Qianlong Emperor lived to the ripe old age of 89, and reigned for 60 of those years, and even after abdicating in favour of his heir the Jiaqing Emperor, he still reigned supreme for a further three years. During this long reign, he frequently and consistently commissioned artists to paint portraits of him and his empress and consorts. From his youth as the heir apparent, right through his advanced age, he was painted at various stages and intervals by different artists. Not only do these provide visual testaments of the Qianlong Emperor, but they also immortalise his consorts in these portraits. In the first half of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign, the Italian painter Lang Shining (Giuseppe Castiglione) painted several portraits of the emperor and his consorts. He was born in 1688 (the 27th year of the Kangxi reign, Qing Dynasty) and was a painter at the imperial court from the 54th year of the Kangxi reign (1715) when he arrived in China, and never retired from his position, passing away in the 31st year of Qianlong’s reign (1766). His remains have been buried far from his homeland, in Beijing and still rest there today. Lang Shining played an important role in painting such imperial portraits. The works that remain allow us to appreciate the fruit of his labour, and are also noted down in the records of the imperial palace. Lang Shining received his basic artistic training in Europe and had a strong grasp of the fundamentals of portraiture. His true-to-life portraits were greatly admired by the Qianlong Emperor, and as such, resulted in his commissioning Lang Shining to paint many of these imperial portraits. Therefore, many of the portraits painted during the first half of Qianlong’s reign were by Lang Shining’s own hands. However, because most of these portraits do not bear the artist’s name or seal, it has created problems in attributing these works. This is because while it was deemed a great honour to be able to paint the portrait of the emperor or his consorts, it was, in fact, a duty to the ruler, and as such, to show due respect to the emperor and the members of the imperial family. Artists were not usually allowed to leave their mark on these portraits. In the Palace Museum, Beijing, and the National Palace Museum, Taipei, there are collections of imperial portraits, especially those portraying the imperial family in ceremonial costumes. Although the lack of an artist’s signature or seal may seem to present problems in the task of authentication, identification and attribution during the Qianlong period, the differences in techniques and styles between the European painters at the Chinese court, and the Chinese painters working in the Palace can be readily discerned by experts analysing this field and thus do not necessarily pose a problem. We now turn to the Portrait of Consort Chunhui. It is a portrait of one of the Qianlong Emperor’s consorts, which is painted in ink and colour on silk, and measures 198 by 123 cm. It does not bear any inscription or artist’s seal, and is also without any Qing official collector’s seal. However, on the right hand side of the subject matter, there is a line in calligraphic script, naming her Consort Chunhui. This is undoubtedly by the hand of the Qianlong Emperor. Information from records state that this consort was of Manchu origin, called Su Jiashi, daughter of Su Zhaonan, born in the 52nd year of the Kangxi reign (1713), and was two years younger than the Qianlong Emperor. During the Yongzheng period she was a lady-in-waiting, and soon after Qianlong ascended to the throne she was made imperial consort, and in the 2nd year of Qianlong’s reign (1737) was named Chunfei. In the 10th year of Qianglong’s reign (1745), she became Chun Guifei. In the 25th year of the Qianlong reign (1760), she was made Chun Huang Guifei. She passed away the same year at the age of 48.  Posthumously, she was awarded the title ‘Consort Chunhui’ by the Emperor. This painting is currently the only example of her in full ceremonial costume, and the inscription by the emperor, most likely written after her death, demonstrates his remembrance of his deceased consort. From this scroll, it is evident that the painter was skilled in analysing structure and perspective – the subject matter’s facial features are rendered using both light and shade, and are clear and distinct. In addition, the sides of the nose and cheeks have been painted to provide three-dimensionality, at the same time intricately depicting the flesh and tone of skin. The artist was also proficient in painting the throne and floor covering. Chunhui is also depicted on Lang Shining’s Portraits of the Qianlong Emperor, the Empress, and Eleven Imperial Consorts (fig. 1), now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. In this work, produced in the first year of Qianlong’s reign, Chunhui is fourth in the sequence (fig. 2). Comparing the two portraits of the imperial consort, it is clear that they are of the same person, save for the fact that the subject in the present portrait is slightly older than that in the group portrait; both portraits are by the same artist. As the Portraits of the Qianlong Emperor, the Empress, and Eleven Imperial Consorts is inarguably by the hand of Lang Shining, even though there is no seal on the painting, by inference, the European style and technique used in the present scroll attribute the painting to Lang Shining. As a distinctive European style can be detected, as well as taking into account the striking similarities, it is not unreasonable to attribute this work to Lang Shining. However as the lines of drapery, the throne and the carpet are painted with a more Chinese technique, it is likely that these areas were painted by Chinese students of Lang Shining, filling in the outline that he had left for them to complete. This style, however, still retains Qing official style. Similar portraits of consorts in ceremonial costume include the Portrait of Empress Xiaoxian (fig. 3) as well as the Portrait of Consort Huixian (fig. 4), both in the Palace Museum, Beijing. These are painted with similar stylistic features attention to detail and a distinct European flavour, and are therefore all attributed to Lang Shining. Naturally, during Lang Shining’s earlier years, his artistic victor allowed for his ability to use close detailing in the rendering of the subject, and he would have completed the whole painting single-handedly; in his later years, his advanced age did not allow for this, and he then focused on the main subject matter, leaving his Chinese students to fill in the outline of the clothing and the background, which gave rise to the latent inconsistencies in his portrait paintings. ___________________________________________________________ Guiseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), a native of Milan, arrived in Beijing in 1715 and served under three emperors, Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong for over 51 years. As a Jesuit missionary he entered the milieu of the imperial workshops and obtained the patronage and favour of all three emperors. He was trained by his order as a painter of religious subjects before being sent to China and became an accomplished painter. At the Chinese court he was obliged to paint under the direct supervision of the emperor. Among the three rulers he served under, the Qianlong Emperor was possibly the most demanding, supervising every aspect of the work down to the smallest detail. By adapting traditions and Chinese media, he created a unique style and developed a manner of painting that was pleasing to the imperial taste. He brought Western conventions of shading and depiction of volume and space to his courtly subject matter and became an expert in painting on silk and on paper as well as doing murals. Castiglione excelled in portrait painting, a style much in demand for ceremonial occasions and in the event of an imperial death. The Qianlong Emperor’s admiration of his portraits is apparent from comments inscribed on the hanging scrolls Spring’s Peaceful Message in the Palace Museum, Beijing, and illustrated in Yu Hui, ‘Naturalism in Qing Imperial Group Portraiture’, Orientations, vol. 26, no. 7, July/August 1995, p. 81. Yu (ibid., p. 80) translates the emperor’s comments as follows: ‘Castiglione excelled in portraying likeness, (this portrait) was painted for me in my youth’. The present painting is one of the very few extant imperial portraits that can be unequivocally attributed to Castiglione. It is very close in style and identical in its setting to Castiglione’s famous Portrait of Empress Xiaoxian in the Palace Museum, Beijing, which is illustrated in Qingdai gongting shenghuo, Hong Kong, 1985, p. 184. Another painting using the same setting, but perhaps executed by other court painters working closely together with Castiglione, and not inscribed by the Emperor like the present painting, is the Portrait of Empress Xiaoyi Chu, also in the Palace Museum, Beijing, included in the exhibition, Empresses and their Court Arts in the Forbidden City, Tokyo, 1997, cat. no. 54. Compare also a half-portrait of another imperial consort attributed to Castiglione, Portrait of Consort Huixian in the Palace Museum, also exhibited in Tokyo, 1997, ibid., cat. no. 61. The portrait of Chunhui is painted in the traditional shengrong style, a formal portrait style made for ceremonial works depicting the subject in a still pose without any facial expression. Castiglione’s brushwork gives his subject a beauty and gentility befitting a high ranking court lady. She looks young and beautiful, with a sensitive expression on her face achieved by the use of the European pictorial technique of light ‘shadowing’. Castiglione captured the inner vitality of his subject, producing a Chinese style portrait with Western influence. In the portrait, Chunhui is wearing an official Manchu court robe for winter called chao fu and a first-rank imperial consort’s winter hat called chao guan. The chao guan is heavily adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls, resembling a crown. A similar chao guan is illustrated in Gary Dickinson and Linda Wrigglesworth, Imperial Wardrobe, Berkeley, 2000, pl. 152. Sources Cécile and Michel Beurdeley, Castiglione, Peintre Jésuit à la Cour de Chine, Fribourg, 1971. Exhibition of Treasures from the Palace Museum, Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1988. Yang Boda, 'Castiglione at the Qing Court', Orientations, vol. 19, no. 11 November 1988, pp. 44-51. Zhu Jiajin, 'Castiglione's Tielu Paintings', Orientations, vol. 19, no. 11, November 1988, pp. 80-83. Wu Hung, 'Emperor's Masquerade - Costume Portraits of Yongzheng and Qianlong', Orientations, vol. 26, no. 7, July/August 1995, pp. 25-41. Yu Hui, 'Naturalism in Qing Imperial Group Portraiture', Orientations, vol. 26, no. 7, July/August 1995, pp. 42-50. Shan Guoqing, 'Gentlewoman Paintings of the Qing Palace Ateliers', Orientations, vol. 26, no. 7, July/August 1995, pp. 56-59. Empresses and their Court Arts in the Forbidden City, Sezon Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1997. Gary Dickinson and Linda Wrigglesworth, Imperial Wardrobe, Berkeley, 2000. Emperor Qianlong's Grand Cultural Enterprise, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2002. The Life of Emperor Qian Long, Macao Museum of Art, Macao, 2002.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2015-10-07
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No. 6/Sienna, Orange on Wine

To encounter the magisterial No. 6/Sienna, Orange on Wine is to be embraced by the full force of Mark Rothko’s evocation of the sublime. In accordance with the most authentic experience of Rothko’s vision, we cease to perceive this work as a dialogue between medium and support, and instead become wholly submerged within its utterly captivating compositional dynamism, chromatic intensity, and sheer scale. The artist famously stated, in what is perhaps the definitive text declaring the philosophical underpinnings to his oeuvre, “I think of my pictures as dramas; the shapes in the pictures are the performers… They are organisms with volition and a passion for self-assertion” (Mark Rothko, “The Romantics Were Prompted,” first published in Possibilities, no. 1, 1947). Indeed, our experience of No. 6/Sienna, Orange and Wine as participants in its stunning drama brings it to life, and may give new dimension to our lives. We do not look at this painting; we are absorbed into it. Being in its presence parallels a line of Nietzsche that had inspired Rothko since he had been a young man: “There is a need for a whole world of torment in order for the individual to sit quietly in his rocking row-boat in mid-sea, absorbed in contemplation” (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, translation by Francis Golffing, New York, 1956, pp. 33-34).The bars of rich, sumptuous dark hues concurrently imply a limitless abyss while the fiery orange toward the bottom surges forward, a dynamic optical experience resulting in a vibrancy that places the work at the pinnacle of the artist’s oeuvre. A sensation of rich, somatic absorption that is unparalleled by any other artist’s work, No. 6/Sienna, Orange on Wine causes us to sink deeper into our own minds. As Dore Ashton eloquently wrote: “The interior realm was where Rothko wished to or perhaps could only live, and what he hoped to express. The ‘theater of the mind,’ as Mallarmé called it, was immensely dramatic for Rothko. His darkness at the end did allude to the light of the theater in which, when the lights are gradually dimmed, expectation mounts urgently” (Dore Ashton, About Rothko, New York, 1983, p. 189). Through his technique of layering thin washes of paint one over the other, often allowing colors from initial layers to show through the subsequent coats of pigment, Rothko’s painting seems to conceal a hidden light source emanating from its very core. Twinkling through and around the elegant planes of color, the present work achieves an incandescent dimensionality that is reminiscent of Rembrandt or Caravaggio’s divine virtuosity for rendering natural light in flat oil paint. Michael Butor wrote of this series of Rothko’s works that “one of the most remarkable of Rothko’s triumphs is to have made a kind of black light shine” (Ibid., p. 189). Indeed, it is almost as if this extraordinary painting is brilliantly illuminated from within: a translucent vessel of pure color and light. It is well documented that Rothko was fixated with the literary work of Friedrich Nietzsche, above all the German philosopher's seminal opus The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, written in 1872. Nietzsche’s ideas of how the tension between Apollonian and Dionysian forces dictates the terms of human drama were important to the advancement of Rothko's color fields. Indeed, Rothko’s vast tableaux have often been discussed in the lexicon of the immediate and saturating effects of music. David Sylvester’s review of the 1961 Whitechapel Gallery exhibition in London provides an apt response to the present work in these terms: “These paintings begin and end with an intense and utterly direct expression of feeling through the interaction of colored areas of a certain size. They are the complete fulfillment of Van Gogh’s notion of using color to convey man’s passions. They are the realization of what abstract artists have dreamed for 50 years of doing – making painting as inherently expressive as music. More than this: for not even with music…does isolated emotion touch the nervous system so directly” (in New Statesman, 20 October 1961 cited in exhibition catalogue, London, The Tate Gallery, Mark Rothko: 1903-1970, 1987, p. 36). Excepting a letter to Art News in 1957, from 1949 onwards Rothko ceased publishing statements about his work, anxious that his writings might be interpreted as instructive or didactic and could thereby interfere with the pure import of the paintings themselves. However, in 1958 he gave a talk at the Pratt Institute to repudiate his critics and to deny any perceived association between his art and self-expression. He insisted instead that his corpus was not concerned with notions of self but rather with the entire human drama. While he drew a distinction between figurative and abstract art, he nevertheless outlined an underlying adherence to the portrayal of human experience. Discussing the “artist’s eternal interest in the human figure,” Rothko examined the common bond of figurative painters throughout art history: “they have painted one character in all their work. What is indicated here is that the artist’s real model is an ideal which embraces all of human drama rather than the appearance of a particular individual. Today the artist is no longer constrained by the limitation that all of man’s experience is expressed by his outward appearance. Freed from the need of describing a particular person, the possibilities are endless. The whole of man’s experience becomes his model, and in that sense it can be said that all of art is a portrait of an idea” (lecture given at the Pratt Institute 1958, cited in exhibition cataloge, London, The Tate Gallery, Ibid., p. 87). Teeming with the sheer genius of its creator’s inimitable evocation of the sublime, No. 6/Sienna, Orange on Wine is the singular summation of Mark Rothko’s fundamental artistic ambition as elucidated in his definitive Pratt Institute talk. A veritable treatise on the absolute limits of abstraction, the present work, in truth, involves both spirit and nature, and instills in us a profound sense of the spiritual whilst evincing Rothko’s abject faith in the critical role the artist plays in attaining the highest realm to which man could aspire: “For art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness” (Mark Rothko, “Personal Statement,” in Miguel López-Remiro, ed., Writings on Art, Mark Rothko, New Haven, 2006, p. 45). Signed Mark Rothko and dated 1962 and titled Sienna Orange on Wine and inscribed #6 on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-11-05
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'the sky blue diamond'superb fancy vivid blue diamond ring, cartier

Set with a square-cut fancy vivid blue diamond weighing 8.01 carats, the geometric mount set with brilliant-cut and baguette diamonds, size 51, signed Cartier, numbered, French assay and maker's marks. Blue is the colour of trust, honesty, loyalty, reliability and responsibility. This idealistic colour inspires higher ideals, and evokes peace and tranquillity. In nature, it is the colour of water and sky. The colour sky blue, particularly, emanates calm, serenity, spirituality and infinity, and refers to the heavens and what is above. Blue is one of the primary colours and has been used by many artists as a strong component of their works. Even in the decorative arts, this colour is omnipresent. The porcelain manufacture of Sèvres is so famous for its production of blue objects that Sèvres porcelain has become synonymous with the colour: le bleu de Sèvres. Wedgewood also used the combination of blue and white to make its distinctive creations. In fine art, the great Old Master painters demonstrated their talents with their depiction of nature, recreating the delicate and fine aspects of a landscape, selecting just the right colour for the skin on portraits, and using the perfect hue for the subject in a still life. The reproduction of sky has always been one of the artists’ favourite subjects. The skies of John Constable are widely renowned and highly sought after. Many of Monet’s works feature great swathes of blue sky. During the same period, Matisse was using a warm blue to realise his Nudes. Later, Yves Klein took this colour almost as his signature and these days the term ‘Klein blue’ is commonly used. Contemporary artists are still fascinated by this colour and the reproduction of the sky, like Edward Ruscha, with his Mirror Image Level, which will be offered in the Contemporary Art auction in November. Wassily Kandinsky, in his essay Du spirituel dans l'art, assures: “Blue is a celestial colour, evoking a deep calm… The deeper the blue becomes, the more strongly it calls man towards the infinite, awakening in him a desire for the pure and, finally, for the supernatural”. Blue attracts and fascinates people and there is no exception when this colour occurs in a diamond. Fancy Vivid Blue diamonds have a beauty that is incomparable to that of any other gem. They are greatly admired and eagerly sought after by collectors and connoisseurs. Considering that the blue colour in stones is often not evenly spread, and on occasion entirely absent, the encapsulating of a beautiful pure even blue colour is truly a professional challenge for the diamond cutter. He will spend months studying the proportions of the rough in order to guarantee the greatest standards of proportionality, colour and beauty, and to bring out this captivating colour, making fancy vivid blue one of the nature’s rarest endowments of colour in diamonds. Ever since Jean-Baptiste Tavernier sold the French Blue to Louis XIV in 1669, the world has been mesmerised by the rarity of blue diamonds. Reminiscent of the hues of the azure sea, blue diamonds owe their colouration to the trace element boron. Although other rare coloured diamonds, such as pink and red, are found in India, Brazil and Australia, blue diamonds are primarily recovered from the Cullinan mine in South Africa. Their colour may range from a pale blue to a light sky blue to a dark blue. The more intense colours, fancy vivid, are considered the rarest and most desirable. In recent years, Sotheby’s has handled some of the most notable blue diamonds at auction and holds the world auction record price per carat for any diamond and gemstone with the ‘Blue Moon of Josephine’, a 12.03 Fancy Vivid Blue diamond, sold in November 2015 in Geneva for more than USD 4 million per carat.

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2016-11-16
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Abstraktes Bild

“There are few artists in the contemporary art world whose work has a presence like that of Gerhard Richter's.” Kasper König and Chris Dercon, in Ulrich Wilmes, Ed., Gerhard Richter; Large Abstracts, Cologne and Munich, 2009 "I want to end up with a picture that I haven't planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture...I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things I can think out for myself" The artist interviewed in 1990, in Hubertus Butin and Stefan Gronert, Eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2004: Catalogue Raisonné, Verlag Ostfildern-Ruit 2004, p. 36 A majestic panorama of richly variegated paint cresting across a vast canvas, Abstraktes Bild comprises the epitome of Gerhard Richter’s astoundingly powerful art of abstraction. Simultaneously concealing and revealing spectacular accents of red, yellow and blue primaries, a sublime silvery-gray veil of lusciously viscous oil paint flows laterally across the canvas like a tide coursing across the geological strata of an ancient cliff face. According to the artist’s self-determined catalogue raisonné, this work was numbered as his first painting of 1990, the chronological apex of the 1988 to 1992 period when his creation of monumental essays in abstraction reached new heights. Indeed, at the start of a new decade and perhaps more than any single other, this moment witnessed his mastery of the long, hard-edged spatula ‘squeegee’ as the central instrument of his technical practice. The most comparable body of work immediately to precede this painting was the 1989 cycle of four abstract paintings entitled Eis, now a highly-prized component in the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago, which, though on canvases smaller in scale than the present work, stand as direct precursor for Abstraktes Bild. The scale of this work is exceptional and it is one of only eight paintings created in 1990 to exceed two and a half meters in height, with the others today housed in prestigious collections including the Tate (number 726); the Böckmann Collection, Berlin at Kunsthalle Hamburg (727); and The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (734). Works of this scale and quality are remarkably rare (only three paintings of this scale and format from the 1988-1992 period have ever before appeared at auction) and the appearance of Abstraktes Bild today, after more than twenty years in the same private collection is a major event. The vast and intensely beautiful chromatic expanse of Abstraktes Bild stands as one of the most elegant and fully resolved exemplars of Richter's epic corpus. It embodies the fully-formed mature aesthetic of the artist's abstract vision, and is very much a paragon of "the compositionally complex, heavily impastoed and richly polychromatic Abstract Paintings" described by Roald Nasgaard (Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988, p. 106)  Seeping layers of brilliantly charged hues are dramatically scattered across the canvas, alternately coalescing and dissolving to defy conventional color patterns. Accumulations of innumerable streaking strata of lustrous oil paint forge a sublime symphony of dark and light blue-grey tracts punctuated by vibrant reds, yellows, blues and greens. This coloristic harmony and lyrical resonance broadcast an evocative atmosphere of density and chaos, while the interplay of hues and the complex smattering of thick impasto invite the viewer to look both at and through the laminas of material. We become immersed in color and movement as if confronting a natural phenomenon of the sea or sky. Absorbed by the vast surface area of the canvas, the experience is evocative of confronting a monolithic masterpiece of Abstract Expressionism by artists such as Rothko or Pollock. The result of Richter's remarkable technical aptitude, which has led to his reputation as one of the outstanding painters of our era, this work is testament to his ceaseless technical explorations in the field of abstraction and to his profoundly intellectual interrogation of the nature of images and perception. Although the title Abstraktes Bild that Richter has given to the impressive works he has produced since the 1980s is typically translated as 'Abstract Painting', the curator Robert Storr restores the meaning of Bild as 'picture', implying something beyond mere painting, and as this "reinforces the impression...of shoals, riptides, and cresting waves amid the paintings' scraped and layered pigments" (in: Dietmar Elger, Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting, Cologne 2002, p. XIII)  Here tracts of color are dragged across the canvas using the squeegee, so that the various strains of malleable, semi-liquid pigment suspended in oil are fused together and smudged first into the canvas, and then layered on top of each other as the paint strata accumulate. The painting undergoes multiple variations in which each new accretion brings color and textural juxtapositions until they are completed, as Richter himself declares, "there is no more that I can do to them, when they exceed me, or they have something that I can no longer keep up with." (Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988, p. 108)  This extensive process facilitates multiple facets of creativity: Abstraktes Bild becomes truly the sum of Richter's wide-ranging innovation. Furthermore, Richter's technique affords an element of chance that is necessary to facilitate the artistic ideology of the abstract works. As the artist has himself explained, "I want to end up with a picture that I haven't planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture...I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things I can think out for myself." (the artist interviewed in 1990, in Hubertus Butin and Stefan Gronert, eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2004: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern-Ruit 2004, p. 36)  With the repeated synthesis of chance being a defining trait of its execution, the painterly triumph of the present work becomes independent of the artist and acquires its own inimitable and autonomous individuality. Gerhard Richter's artistic contribution is internationally considered within the highest tier of this era; his inimitably diverse canon evidencing more than five decades of philosophical enquiry into the core natures of perception and cognition. Indeed, with its poignant critical reflections and groundbreaking advancements, it is undeniable that his output has opened up a wealth of possibilities for the future course of Art History. Since the early 1960s he has considered all genres of painting, delving into and pushing the boundaries of theoretical and aesthetic levels of understanding whilst exploring and challenging the fundamentals of their development. However, his extraordinary odyssey into the realm of abstract painting is often regarded as the culmination of his artistic and conceptual enquiries into the foundations of visual understanding. After decades of exploring the role of painting in relation to competing visual cultures; film and photography; and even painting itself, the emergence of the Abstraktes Bild stands as the crowning achievement of his oeuvre. As Benjamin H. D. Buchloh has highlighted, and as there can be absolutely no doubt, Richter's position within the canon of abstraction is one of “incontrovertible centrality.” (Exh. Cat., Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Gerhard Richter Large Abstracts, 2009, p. 9) In sum, Abstraktes Bild beautifully encapsulates Richter's theory that with abstraction "there is no order, everything is dissolved, more revolutionary, anarchistic" (Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988, p. 108)  As a collective corpus, the Abstraktes Bilder are destined to have a unique identity whereby the total deconstruction of perception - dismantling themes of representation, illusion, communication - becomes a sublime chaos. As a paradigm of this oeuvre the present work communes a subjective relationship with the viewer and becomes itself experience rather than object. Here Richter deconstructs the concept that abstraction demands logical framework, thereby advancing the pioneering achievements of Kandinsky, Malevich, and Mondrian, and continuing the line of enquiry instituted by the Abstract Expressionists by delivering a visual experience of phenomenal psychological resonance. In the words of Nasgaard, "The character of the Abstract Paintings is not their resolution but the dispersal of their elements, their coexisting contradictory expressions and moods, their opposition of promises and denials. They are complex visual events, suspended in interrogation, and fictive models for that reality which escapes direct address, eludes description and conceptualization, but resides inarticulate in our experience" (Roald Nasgaard, Op. Cit., p. 110) Signed, dated 1990 and numbered 712 on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2012-11-14
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Femme nue assise

In the early days of January 1965, Picasso executed a series of large canvases on the theme of a seated female nude. The present work is one of the first from this series completed at Notre-Dame-de-Vie, the home that he shared with Jacqueline in Mougins. Painted in quick succession, these works bear witness to the extraordinary energy and creative urge that characterised Picassos late years. Having gone through many phases of stylistic and technical experimentation, by this time Picasso had acquired a confidence and freedom that enabled him to paint monumental works in quick, spontaneous brush-strokes. He was able to isolate those elements of his subject that fascinated and preoccupied him, namely the symbols of erotic desire and threat embodied in the female nude, elements present since his early career.   The motif of a nude figure seated in an armchair occurred repeatedly throughout Picassos career. While varying in style and depicting different women that marked each period of the artists life, these nudes always served as a vehicle of expressing the palpable sexual tension between the painter and his model. From the soft, voluptuous curves of Marie-Thérèse Walter, to the fragmented, near-abstract nudes of his Surrealist works, and the geometrical rendering of his later years, Picassos seated nudes have a monumental, sculptural presence, and are invariably depicted with a powerful sense of psychological drama stemming from the tension between the invisible artist and his sitter. Although the figure of the painter is not portrayed within the composition, his persona is very much present in this work. Picassos concerns regarding the act of painting and the role of the artist, explored in the series of works on the theme of artist and model, carried onto his series of seated nudes, including Femme nue assise. The monumental nude in this composition, looming large on her throne like a pagan goddess, is not isolated in her own world. Her significance is in her relationship with her creator at the same time as with the viewer a tantalising relationship of attraction and menace. In his discussion of Picassos late works, David Sylvester links them to his early masterpiece, Demoiselles dAvignon, both distinguished by the raw vitality which they have as their central underlying theme: The resemblance of figures in the Demoiselles and in late Picasso to masked tribal dancers is as crucial as their scale in giving them a threatening force. It is irrelevant whether or not particular faces or bodies are based on particular tribal models: what matters is the air these personages have of coming from a world more primitive, possibly more cannibalistic and certainly more elemental than ours. Despite the rich assortment of allusions to paintings in the Renaissance tradition, the treatment of space rejects that tradition in favour of an earlier one, the flat unperspectival space of, say, medieval Catalan frescoes []. At twenty five, Picassos raw vitality was already being enriched by the beginnings of an encyclopaedic awareness of art; at ninety, his encyclopaedic awareness of art was still being enlivened by a raw vitality (D. Sylvester, Late Picasso. Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, Prints 1953-1972 (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 144). In various periods of his work, Picassos art was closely related to his personal life, and the women depicted in his paintings were always influenced by Picassos female companions at the time. In Femme nue assise, the female figure is inspired by Jacqueline, the last love of his life, whom Picasso married in 1961, and although she is not a direct likeness of Jacqueline, with her large eyes and sharp profile, she bears the features with which Picasso usually portrayed his last muse. The essence of Jacqueline, who rarely posed as his model, is always present in his portraits of the period. As demonstrated in the present work, Picasso often depicted Jacqueline in an angular, fragmented manner, a stylistic device invented in his portraits of Dora Maar (fig. 3), but the roots of which go back to his cubist experiments with multiple view-points. Whilst borrowing elements from his own artistic past, Picasso here created an image with a force and freedom he only achieved in the last decade of his career. Signed Picasso (lower left); dated 3.1.65  5.I  8 on the reverse

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2017-03-01
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No. 6 (Yellow, White, Blue Over Yellow on Gray)

Since my pictures are large, colorful and unframed, and since museum walls are usually immense and formidable, there is the danger that the pictures relate themselves as decorative areas to the walls. This would be a distortion of their meaning, since the pictures are intimate and intense, and are the opposite of what is decorative. (Mark Rothko, 1954) Mark Rothko is universally regarded as one of the preeminent artists of his generation; closely identified with the New York School, his art, like Jackson Pollock’s and Willem de Kooning’s, remains one of the most celebrated dialects of the collective Abstract Expressionist language. For nearly half a century, Rothko developed an impassioned form of abstract painting; one that transformed painted color into emotive experience. The 1940s saw him adopt a biomorphic style close to that of his fellow Abstract Expressionist, Arshile Gorky. Gradually, Rothko became increasingly reductive, paying rigorous attention to formal elements such as color, shape, balance, depth and composition. From the early 1950s, until his death in 1970, Rothko made a series of works in which any suggestion of figuration was abandoned in favor of superimposed rectangular shapes of color, with cloudy edges, that possessed an evanescence and incandescence unique to his art. Bathed in a painterly mist, these indeterminate forms project their hues out of the pictorial space, inviting the viewer to contemplate the space he has created, leading them to extreme states of feeling. No. 6 (Yellow, White, Blue over Yellow on Gray) is a seminal example of Rothko’s enterprise. Executed in 1954, a time many consider the zenith of Rothko’s creative powers, the present work displays Rothko’s elimination of all elements of Surrealism or mythic imagery, providing us with a nonobjective composition of amorphous forms for which the artist is so championed – here, three soft-edged, luminescent rectangles of lemony yellow, milky white and ultramarine blue stacked weightlessly on top of one another, floating horizontally against a gray ground. The effect, as in all his work, but especially with this particular painting, is utterly mesmerizing. In the spring of 1954, Rothko left the Betty Parsons Gallery and joined Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still and Willem de Kooning at the Sidney Janis Gallery. In April 1954, Katherine Kuh, the Curator of Modern Painting and Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, approached Rothko and proposed that he inaugurate a series of solo exhibitions at the Art Institute. His exhibition, Recent Paintings by Mark Rothko, held in Chicago from October 18th to December 31st in the Gallery of Art Interpretation at the Art Institute, was the first one-man show Rothko had received at a major American museum. Kuh and Rothko exchanged a number of letters about his work, and this correspondence was intended to be used as the basis of a pamphlet to accompany the show. The brochure was never produced, however, as Rothko did not want to guide the viewer’s experience of his work (“While on the surface this may seem an obliging and helpful thing to do, the real result is the paralysis of the mind and the imagination” Mark Rothko’s letter to Katherine Kuh, July 14th, 1954). Crucially, Rothko was very involved in the selection of works for this important exhibition and, as David Anfam notes, “… much effort went into the selection and its arrangement. Rothko used number-titles for all the pictures, which were hung around three walls (the east one had windows), on both sides of a free-standing partition and, in one case, suspended from the ceiling of an off-white room measuring 50 [by] 41 ½ feet”. (David Anfam, Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 2001, p. 72). Rothko even prescribed the color of the walls: ‘slightly off-white’, as Katherine Kuh wrote in her letter to Rothko on July 8th, 1954. Only eight canvases were selected by Rothko and Kuh: two works from 1951; one from 1952; two from 1953 and three paintings from 1954. All were insured by the Art Institute whilst on exhibition; the present work for $2,000. Four of these works now grace the walls of the Tehran Museum of Art; The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao; The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. One painting belongs to the artist’s son; another to his daughter. Only the present work and one other from this exhibition remain in private, anonymous collections. David Anfam conjectures that the ensemble of these eight paintings “… must have been unforgettable: an ambience not unlike what John Elderfield describes with regard to Symbolist aesthetics as ‘disembodied light in an unlocatable space’ – and, in the words of the press release (which perhaps contains leads from Rothko himself transmitted via Kuh), one that ‘avoids the traditional center of interest, always stressing instead the flux and flow of light and color’.” (Ibid.) Many of the works were conspicuously tall and narrow (the present work included) serving to stress an upright, anthropomorphic aspect to their display. Anfam suggests that the keynote to this exhibition was a ‘magisterial somberness’, evident in the dark plum-black of No. 4 (1953, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) or the midnight-green of No. 7 (1953, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D. C.). This exhibition was the first to powerfully speak of Rothko’s move away from a sunny spectrum of reds, yellows and oranges, to weighty, darker, more challenging hues. Anfam notes that even “… the light fields of No. 6 [the present work] were in fact locked within a marginal black aureole”. (Op. Cit., p. 73). This shift in palette and mood is linked to Rothko’s desire to envelop his viewer with his art; to provide not an object in space, but the very space itself. Indeed, Rothko asked Kuh in a letter dated 25th September, 1954 to ensure that his larger pictures be installed in such a way “… so that they must be first encountered at close quarters, so that the first experience is to be within the picture.” (see Exh. Cat., Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Mark Rothko, 1998, p. 345). Kuh, in an earlier letter on July 18th, 1954, wrote “I think what happens to me when I am enjoying your paintings is less a thinking [her underline] than a feeling process. I seem to enter them – not just be looking at them.” As such, this famous exhibition and the extraordinary paintings included in it wonderfully reveal the conscious expansion of size, scale and seriousness made by Rothko with his art at this crucial juncture in his career. Rothko’s absolute authority over color, surface, texture and composition was never more commanding than in his paintings from the 1950’s. This was a decade in which Rothko created some of the most important, beautiful and tragic images of the Twentieth Century. Experimentation in the balance of these elements, and the proportion of weight or suspension given to each cloudy field of color, created a majestic series of sensual, enigmatic masterpieces of gripping presence. No. 6 (Yellow, White, Blue over Yellow on Gray) is amongst the most sensational of them all. This superlative painting reverberates, optically and intellectually; engaging us with the artist’s desire to create a pictorial language that went beyond the very boundaries of painting, encompassing a transcendent, deeply affecting relationship between the viewer and the object. Rothko’s challenge, to both himself and his audience, was to engage not only the eye, but also the mind and even the spirit. Seeking to evoke Edmund Burke’s notion of the ‘Sublime State’ - one of vastness, oneness and infinity - Rothko hoped to achieve in his painting what he called a moment of clarity: “The progression of a painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity; toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea; and the idea and the observer … To achieve this clarity is, inevitably, to be understood.” (Mark Rothko, “Statement on his Attitude in Painting”, The Tiger’s Eye, 1949). The reductive power of Rothko’s canvases, built upon the elimination of line in favor of a blurred demarcation of color forms, is powerfully felt in the present work. Here, veils of rich blue, opalescent white and citrus yellow are layered on top of a deep gray ground, stretched to the perimeter of the canvas, allowing the ground to frame the dazzling interaction of color within. Such color juxtapositions achieve an alchemy of optical mystery, with the evanescent vapors of blue, yellow and white evoking a myriad of contradictory responses. Here, a sense of illuminating light contrasts with the artist’s achieved obscurity; within the apparently monolithic voids, a sense of organic presence prevails. To come back to Edmund Burke, “… extreme light … obliterates all objects, so as in its effects exactly to resemble darkness”. In the same paradoxical manner, Rothko’s saturated colors transcend above and beyond the decorative, into the metaphysical realm and the tragic Void. The breathtaking quality of the oscillating color forms has always been the most accessible and the most seductive element of Rothko’s expression. Katherine Kuh considered Rothko’s paintings to have “… a kind of ecstasy of color” (letter to Rothko, July 18th, 1954). We see here a communion of color that unites each and every tone together into a unified whole. The impact of color, here layers of yellow, white and blue thrust to the front of the picture plane by the charcoal frame surrounding them, is immediate. It is striking, almost physical at first glance. Interestingly, Rothko objected to any simplistic view of vibrant color. Pulsating yellows and whites bounce with life and joy and yet, ironically, there is a deeper, more somber tone (lurking in the blues and grays) which one begins to feel the more time one spends in front of the picture. The chromatic contrasts he presents us with display a dissonance that is both ethereal and disquieting. Another formal contradiction lies in the monumentality of Rothko’s canvases. These large format surfaces surprisingly allow for the most intimate experience between the viewer and the object. Yet, for all of that, one still feels that one is experiencing the Void, is actually ‘in’ the painting and that the artist has come close to the ‘visual infinite’. Rothko’s complex relationship with color was shaped by the influence of Henri Matisse’s pure, flat color (he would paint Homage To Matisse in 1954 [The Edward R. Broida Trust]) and the thin veils of flat color in his friend Milton Avery’s work. Rothko’s technique allowed him to create these dazzling surfaces. Oil paint seems to have been soaked into the present work, achieving a finish akin to the effects of watercolor bleeding into paper. Rothko fleshes out his color bands with feathery, liquid brushstrokes that further define these passages as densely painted areas. Such brushwork serves to establish the amorphous, evanescent forms that appear to float on top of each other. It is as if we witness a miasma of form and color that has been extracted from some primordial soup. Rothko’s rectangular shapes hover on the subtly diffused canvas, lending each shape a halo-like effect that serves to simultaneously radiate out and recede in to the picture plane. A combination of opaque and translucent layers of paint come together to continually add and subtract the density of painted ‘weight’ on the support, further engendering a sense of movement within the abstract composition. A beautiful equilibrium between colors is achieved and one that chimes perfectly with the shape of the canvas. The artist has calibrated these color fields in relation to the proportions of the internal forms and the overall scale of the canvas. White and yellow fizzes against the gray ground, and is anchored by the dark blue field below it. Color literally moves, and its movement is articulated not by the artist's brush, but by our ocular reception of the painting. We move it around because we are drawn in so deeply by its scale and by the sensitivity of its painted surface. A shimmer prevails overall, one that makes the velvety tones of the surface literally breathe. No. 6 (Yellow, White, Blue over Yellow on Gray) is an astonishing example of Mark Rothko’s theories on painting and his craft. The emphasis on rich color heightens our senses, yet this joyous chromatic celebration is underpinned by his ability to create a temporal and spatial vacuum which draws the viewer in, forcing them to contemplate the work and themselves in a quasi-spiritual manner. This achievement draws Rothko’s work far away from the boundaries of mere decoration, and subsequently enhances the powerful concept at play here. We are not presented with an empty pattern, merely to satiate the eye, but rather with a portal into another dimension into which each individual viewer can project their own feelings and emotions. Signed and dated 1954 on the reverse; numbered #5102.54 on the stretcher

  • USAUSA
  • 2004-11-09
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Femme à la fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse)

Picasso’s paintings of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter are among the greatest images of love, sex and desire in twentieth century art.   Created amidst the spiralling emotional chaos of Picasso's own personal life in the 1930s, the 'Marie-Thérèse pictures' comprise what is largely considered to be the artist's creative peak and have come to epitomize Surrealist figurative painting at its most impassioned and dramatic.  This richly-textured painting, with its thick cross-hatching, is believed to be one of the most color-saturated in Picasso’s oeuvre.  It evidences one of the first creative bursts of energy following a near year-long hiatus from painting during his stressful separation from his wife Olga.   It is also perhaps the most emotional portrayal of the woman who would go down in history as Picasso's personification of love.  Picasso had met Marie-Thérèse in Paris in 1927 when she was only seventeen, and the wealth of images she inspired over the following decade has been acclaimed as one of the greatest achievements of the artist's career.  Dating from 1936, this sumptuous and exuberantly colorful portrait of the young woman was painted in April following the birth to Picasso’s daughter Maya the previous fall, and her presentation here demonstrates the potency of her role in the artist’s life.   His biographers and descendants have claimed that Picasso’s relationship with Marie-Thérèse was the most emotionally enriching of all his love affairs, despite the numerous infidelities and his eventual marriage to his second wife Jacqueline.  Through it all, Marie-Thérèse remained the personification of sweetness and light, sustained by Picasso’s declarations of his enduring love for her. Just weeks after painting her striking likeness in Femme à la fenêtre, he described his feelings for her in no uncertain terms:  “This 23rd day of May 1936, I love you still more than yesterday and less than tomorrow.  I will always love you as they say, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you….” (quoted in L’Amour fou, Picasso and Marie Thérèse,  Gagosian Gallery, 2011, p. 40). Femme à la fenêtre bears all the hallmarks of Picasso’s sumptuous depictions of the love of his life.  Strength and vibrancy characterize the picture, with its sharp color palette, angularity and boldness of form.  An athletic, statuesque blonde, Marie-Thérèse was the embodiment of sensuality, and her physical presence elicited some of Picasso’s most visually arresting images (fig. 2).  His many inventive depictions of her asleep, reading or at play underscore how her every move fascinated him.  In the present work, he pictures her seated at a window, similar to the pose of Leonardo's Mona Lisa smiling enigmatically from within the loggia.   Now the mother of his child, Marie-Thérèse is cast in a new role, evocative of the courtly ladies of Renaissance portraiture and indicative of her more dignified status in the artist's life. Picasso was not the only one who found Marie-Thérèse’s physical presence irresistible.  “I found her fascinating to look at,” reported Françoise Gilot upon meeting her rival in 1949.  “I could see that she was certainly the woman who had inspired Pablo plastically more than any other.  She had a very arresting face with a Grecian profile. … She was very athletic; she had that high-color look of glowing good health one often sees in Swedish women. Her form was very sculptural, with a fullness of volume and a purity of line that gave her body and her face an extraordinary perfection” (quoted in L’Amour fou, Picasso and Marie Thérèse, pp. 71-72). In contrast with his depictions of a more passive Marie-Thérèse, the present painting is one of his most animated, tactile and sculptural renderings of the young woman.  Her figure is rendered with incisions into the thick paint, adding dimension to her features.  Her alertness and sharpened sensibilities are not without merit, as the composition dates from a vulnerable period in her relationship with the artist.  Picasso painted this canvas at a villa in Juan-les-Pins, where he had taken Marie-Thérèse and their infant daughter Maya during the spring of 1936 (fig. 1).  He had neglected her for months following the birth of their daughter in order to deal with his separation from his estranged wife Olga.  But another distraction had entered Picasso’s life during these months, and her influence on Picasso was becoming increasingly apparent in his art.  Dora Maar, the young Surrealist photographer whom Picasso met through Paul Eluard while Marie-Thérèse was pregnant, had already commenced her love-affair with the artist by late 1935.   By the end of the decade Dora would eclipse Marie-Thérèse as Picasso’s primary muse, becoming the inspiration for his harrowing “weeping women” series of the war years. Picasso would interpret Dora’s strength of character and fiery personality in severely abstracted and sharply linear depictions reinforced with acidic colors.  We can see iconographic traits manifesting in the present depiction of Marie-Thérèse, particularly in his rendering of her hands.  While the distinctive arches of Marie-Thérèse’s hairline and smooth curves of her face are present, it is Dora’s famously manicured fingernails that we see here, which would become her identifying features in some of Picasso’s most ambitious portraits (fig. 3).   Dora's presence also makes its way into this picture vis-a-vis the artist's focus on Marie-Thérèse's hat, which Maya Widmaier Picasso has identified as a beret that her mother purchased at Hèrmes. Picasso embellishes this accessory with textural cross-hatching, calling to mind the embossing of the golden halo on Duccio's twelfth century Madonna (fig. 5).  While the luxe accessory may have been important to the sitter, its significance in this painting becomes clear in retrospect: for it was Dora who would be immortalized in Picasso's portraits as the wearer of stylish hats.  What may have then been an important personal item for Marie-Thérèse becomes here a symbolic indicator of her status as the saintly new mother of Picasso's daughter and as the antithesis of her new rival.  In fact, the picture can be read as an amalgam of both women, and evidences a Madonna/Magdalene dichotomy that manifested in Picasso's art while he was simultaneously involved with both women. As is the case for many of the works now considered to be among Picasso’s greatest pictures, Femme à la fenêtre remained in the artist’s possession until his death in 1973.  It was then inherited by his granddaughter Marina, whose father was the son that Picasso had with his wife Olga.  Because Picasso was not able to divorce Olga due to the heavy financial penalties that would ensue, he was unable to marry Marie-Thérèse and kept their relationship a secret well into the 1930s.  Marie-Thérèse, for her part, was mostly tolerant of the situation, with Picasso forever reassuring her that she was the primary object of his affection.   Her permissive temperament, however, is alleged to have faltered upon meeting Dora only months after he finished the present canvas.  As the story goes, Picasso was painting Guernica in his studio when Marie-Thérèse met Dora for the first time.  “I kept on painting and they kept on arguing,” Picasso told Gilot in later years.  “Finally Marie-Thérèse turned to me and said, ‘Make up your mind.  Which one of us goes?’ … I was satisfied with things as they were. I told them they’d have to fight it out for themselves.  So they began to wrestle.  It’s one of my choicest memories” (quoted in ibid., 49-50).  It is Marie-Thérèse’s uncharacteristic fierceness that is perhaps alluded to in this most fascinating and provocative picture. Dated 13 avril XXXVI (upper left)

  • USAUSA
  • 2012-11-08
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Danseuses en blanc

In this sparklingly fresh work in pastel, Degas captures a group of four dancers in mid-flight as they step out from the wings. Their arms and legs extended in arabesque, their black neck ribbons, colorful headdresses and frothy white tutus are caught in the bright glow of the footlights. Before them stretches a broad expanse of empty stage and at the rear painted scenery flats vaguely suggest a landscape setting. Only rarely did Degas depict actual performances and here he gives us no precise information about the ballet or the dancers - their faces are hidden from view and no figure is seen in its entirety. However, the single dancer in a closely related pastel Dance on pointe: The Star, circa 1878 (The Norton Simon Art Foundation, Pasadena) has been identified as Melina Darde who posed for Degas on a number of occasions [1]. Degas is known above all as the artist of the ballet.  No other artist has explored the subject so consistently and in in such depth. As many of his drawings reveal, Degas had a detailed knowledge of ballet technique acquired during many hours sitting, sketchbook in hand, in dance classes and rehearsals. We will probably never fully understand exactly what drove this lifelong obsession with the subject. He once claimed that he painted dancers because he liked the pretty costumes and depicting movement. Certainly, he was fascinated by the human figure in motion and in the ballet he found a particularly sophisticated and rarefied range of movements. The Opéra was central to Degas’s life. He went all the time to see performances at the old rue Le Peletier opera house in the 9th arrondissement and, after it burned to the ground, at the splendid Palais Garnier, the glittering crown at the top of the Avenue de l’Opéra that opened in 1875.  Like many upper-class Parisians of his day, Degas had a subscription at the Paris Opera. As an abonné, he became a member of an elite, all-male club that enjoyed special privileges such as the free run of the theater including the backstage areas, its maze of corridors, dressing rooms, dance classes, rehearsal studios, corridors and the foyer de dance or green room where the ballerinas would mingle with the often predatory abonnés. The milieu of the dance and the Opéra was a thoroughly modern subject and was thus completely in tune with the avant-garde Impressionist group’s programme to jettison the past and focus on the everyday life of their own time.  But unlike other members of the group, for example Monet and Pissarro who were primarily interested in landscape, Degas preferred artifice to nature and the urban spectacle to the countryside.  He loved the effect of artificial, nocturnal light that he found not only in the theatre but also in Paris’s more plebeian cabarets and the café-concerts. The striking immediacy that Degas achieves in Dancers in White is in large part due to the highly unusual angle of vision. Instead of the conventional approach of looking straight on to the stage from the auditorium that we might expect from a theatrical subject, he invites us to share with him the view from the wings at the moment when the dancers enter the stage. The resulting dramatic cropping and overlapping of the figures produces an almost cinematic truth to the moment. Yet, although it has the freshness of direct observation, we know that this seeming spontaneity was an illusion and the result of long reflection, careful preparation and the analysis of a pose through the numerous drawings made in his studio.  Degas also found inspiration on the example of earlier and different art forms, not in the realm of high art but in the popular journalistic illustration of the previous generation, in the caricatures of such brilliant graphic artists as Honoré Daumier (1808-79) who in his lithographs, which were extensively represented in Degas’s personal collection, played with the notion with on-stage and off-stage. And the bird’s eye view and cropped figures in the Japanese ukiyo-e prints by artists such as Hokusai (1760-1849) and Hiroshige (1797-1858) that were so admired by Degas and his contemporaries, provided refreshing alternatives to the single-point perspective idea of composition that had prevailed since the Renaissance. The quest for unusual viewpoints – looking down on the stage from a box or frequently the view from the wings – recurs consistently in Degas’s highly innovative ballet scenes of the late 1870s and early 1880s. Breaking with all conventional notions of composition, these novel and daring pictorial structures allowed Degas to conflate the glamour of the performance on stage with vignettes of the more prosaic world behind the scenes.  In the Metropolitan Museum’s The Rehearsal of the Ballet on the Stage, probably 1874, Degas gets below the surface of theatrical artifice.  A group of dancers rehearse under the director of the ballet master – quite possibly the formidable Monsieur Pluque – while others lean against the flats, yawn and stretch in those offbeat moments that Degas captures with such acuity. Sometimes it is the magic of the performance on stage that predominates as in The Star (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) one of his most famous pastels in which the prima ballerina is caught, center stage, in a flood of brilliant light while behind in the wings we glimpse the dancers waiting for their cue and the black-suited figure of an abonné observing the scene. Or in The Green Dancer, circa 1880 (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid) the plunging viewpoint, presumably from a box, transforms the dancers into whirling pinwheels of dazzling colour.  And even in his last works, we find Degas still investigating the motif of dancers in the wings as in Four Dancers, circa 1899 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) where he presents them as a tight-knit group of intertwining figures Much of the magic of Dancers in White derives from the powdery pastel medium. Degas began to work extensively in pastel in the 1870s and in the next decade it would become his principal medium. Popular in the eighteenth century (Degas was a great admirer of the eighteenth-century pastel portraitist Quentin de la Tour), it enjoyed something of a revival in the late nineteenth century. Pissarro and Monet, for example, both use pastel to add color to drawings, but Degas use of the technique was on an entirely different level.  In it, he found a perfect fusion of color and drawing. In his late pastels he used bold, even violent hues, but here the touch is lighter, the colors soft and shimmering. Degas has used a variety of strokes to achieve different textural effects: smudged and rubbed chalky white pastel to capture the diaphanous tutus lightly scattered with sparkling gold sequences, cross hatching for the play of light over the dancers backs and legs and the loosely sketched scenery, while vivid dabs of bright red, yellow, white and black define the floral headdresses. Dancers in White has a fascinating history. Like The Rehearsal of the Ballet on the Stage, it was once in the great Havemeyer collection assembled in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by the sugar millionaire Harry Osborne Havemeyer and his wife Louisine. On Louisine’s death in 1929, a vast number of works were bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum including thirty-five paintings in addition to prints and the complete set of seventy sculptures by Degas. After meeting the American painter Mary Cassatt in Paris, Louisine, then aged about twenty-two, bought Degas’s Ballet Rehearsal, circa 1876 that Cassatt had pointed out to her probably on a visit to a color shop like Père Tanguy’s in Montmartre. This gouache and pastel over monotype is now in the Nelson Atkins Museum, Kansas City. This was Louisine’s first acquisition and as she later explained in Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector: ‘It was so new and strange to me! I scarce knew how to appreciate it, or whether I liked it or not, for I believe it takes special brain cells to understand Degas.’[2] She added ‘Five hundred francs was a large sum for me to spend in those days and represented many little economies and even some privations.’[3] It is not surprising then that a few years later the Havemeyers should buy the virtually contemporary Dancers in White ‘another [pastel] from Cottier and Company…several ballet girls in a row – vue de dos – also in white and with red flowers’.[4] Like Ballet Rehearsal, Dancers in White encapsulates Degas’s unique vision of the strange poetry and the pure enchantment of the dance. [1] See Jill De Vonyar and Richard Kendall, Degas and the Dance (exhibition catalogue), The Detroit Institute of Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2003, pp. 208-210. [2] Louisine W. Havemeyer, Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector, New York, 1961, p. 249. [3] Ibid., p. 250. [4] Ibid., p. 259. Sotheby's would like to thank Dr. Ann Dumas, Curator, Royal Academy of Arts, for writing the catalogue essay for this lot. Sotheby's would also like to thank Prof. Theodore Reff for his assistance with the cataloguing of this lot. Signed Degas (upper right)

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-11-05
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Rélief éponge bleu (RE 51)

Ever since its legendary exhibition in Iris Clert’s ‘forest of sponges’ exhibition in Paris in 1959, Yves Klein’s exquisite Rélief éponge bleu (RE 51) has represented the pinnacle of the artist’s creative innovation. It is perfectly archetypal of the artist’s legendary Rélief éponge corpus and embodies an artistic event beyond mere painting or sculpture; epitomizing the act of Klein’s genius. It was first owned by Lucio Fontana, the Italian luminary who is without question one of the pre-eminent, most revered pioneers of twentieth century abstraction. Fontana, in an expression representative of his extreme admiration of Klein, owned five works by Klein, each from Klein’s most significant, distinct series. Both the visual effect and physical presence of RE 51 are magnificently unique and impossible to reproduce adequately. The powdery, velvet blue surface continually evolves according to the play of light across the spectacularly articulated surface. While the sponges and pebbles afford a beautiful compositional structure, their arrangement also reinforces the effect of the monochrome. Indeed, the sheer power of the IKB pigment unifies the whole work to such a degree that the exact topography of the surface is not always discernible and the spellbinding blue intermittently overcomes silhouette and contour. The labyrinths of minute spaces within the sponges create multifaceted schemas of light and shadow and the extraordinary potency of Klein’s blue seems to fill these void matrices with a coloristic energy independent of the physical forms. Thus while the sponge bodies loom towards us, the myriad recesses draw our world into the infinity of Klein’s blue epoch. Klein’s meteoric career—ended barely before it had truly begun—was devoted to a relentless search for an immaterial world beyond our own. To this end he developed modes of expression that fused together a sweeping array of profoundly held interests in aesthetics, nature and mysticism. Among these artistic dialects the Rélief éponges issue the most effective manifestation of the complex mysteries that filled the artist’s life. Forging the kernel of Klein’s epoch of immateriality, these unreal masterworks deliver the crescendo promised by the IKB, gold and rose Monochromes; and bring to life the enigmatic shadows of the Anthropométries. While the Monochromes invite the viewer into Klein’s world, this Rélief éponge advances out into the world of the viewer; whereas the Anthropométries narrate the trace of transient human presence, RE 51 absorbs ancient creatures into the depths of its fathomless and immaterial blue. Although it may be indicative of some alien planetary landscape or the deepest ocean bed, the topography of RE 51 encapsulates the artist’s pure concept of an ethereal and intangible state. Having first observed the powerful chromatic effect of pure powdered pigment while in an art supply shop in London in 1949, through the 1950s Klein experimented with various fusions of asphalt, plaster, cement, sand, tar and other materials that he acquired from Edouard Adam, a chemicals and art supplies retailer in Montparnasse. From these trials he developed the legendary International Klein Blue, a synthetic medium that included the transparent binder Rhodopas M 60 A, which preserved the pigment as if it were still pure powder. It was also in Adam's shop where Klein discovered sponges in 1956, sourced from Greece and Tunisia, which the artist first used to apply paint to his surface before being struck by the extraordinary aesthetic of soaking them in IKB. As aquatic animals, sponges have evolved over hundreds of millions of years into bodies of maximum surface area and exceptional absorption qualities in order to extract food and oxygen as efficiently as possible from the constant flow of water passing through them. As a living being the shape of a sponge changes, but extracted from its life-support of plankton-filled seawater it is frozen in its final, ultimate form. In the present work these outstanding features of natural selection are profusely drenched in Klein’s blue, resulting in an organic architecture of immeasurable chromatic depth. From his earliest experiments with monochromes Klein was gripped by sculptural possibilities: curved edges emphasized dimensions beyond the flat rectilinear canvas and in his first IKB exhibitions the works were projected away from the hanging wall so as to be suspended in space. This exploration into the prospects of hanging sculpture finds its apogee in the Rélief éponge corpus where the three-dimensional elements project forward into the space of the viewer. Klein was fascinated by the work of Gaston Bachelard, the French philosopher of Air and Dreams, and by the Zen philosophy of spiritual and physical harmony that he first encountered during his training as a judo-ka in Yokohama in 1952. Indeed, the placement of the sponges in RE 51 surely drew upon Klein’s memory of the Zen gardens he had visited in Kyoto. In the Ryoan temple garden there are five groups of stones placed within a rectangle of raked gravel, presenting an order that appears entirely natural as if the stones had grown in place. The fact that the sponge reliefs incorporated actual elements of nature reinforces the parallel with the gardens of Kyoto. Yves Klein’s artistic contribution to contemporary culture is most frequently described as visionary, and the scope of his artistic innovations was utterly without precedent. The works he left behind are testament to a genius that perceived things others could not. RE 51 expedites the artist’s career-long investigation into how to communicate these concepts through artistic means, and because his language is so utterly unlike any other and precipitates a unique response in each individual spectator, this profoundly engaging and immensely beautiful work will always transcend and surpass our expectations of what art can achieve. Signed and dated 59 on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-05-13
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Selbstbildnis mit glaskugel  (self-portrait with crystal ball)

As an artist with one of the most expressive and imposing countenances of the 20th century, Beckmann could not resist rendering his own image in countless compositions throughout his career (see fig. 1 & 2). Those pictures that he explicitly intended as self-portraits were often the most psychologically intense and thought-provoking of these images. Beckmann painted this portrait of himself as a brooding sooth-sayer in 1936, only months before he and his wife Quappi fled Germany for Holland on the eve of the Second World War. Selbstbildnis mit Glaskugel (Self-Portrait with Crystal Ball) is a powerful testament of the artist’s determination to persevere during these troubled times. And perhaps more than any other picture that he completed while living in Berlin, it is a bellwether of the state of Modern art in the Third Reich. Earlier in 1936 government authorities shut down Beckmann’s exhibition space at the Nationalgalerie in Berlin, claiming that his bold compositions were examples of “degenerate art.” Undeterred and perhaps even emboldened by this affront, Beckmann went on to paint this picture, in which he contemplates his fate in a crystal ball. Because of this picture and a select number of self-portraits that are now in museums throughout the world, Max Beckmann’s face has become an emblem of 20th century art. In his memoirs, Stephan Lackner wrote about the imposing figure of this man: “Beckmann’s appearance was incredibly impressive. Above his athletic, massive body, his large head loomed like one of those rocks left by a prehistoric glacier on top of a hill” (Stephan Lackner, op. cit., p. 29). By their very nature, Beckmann’s self-portraits were his most direct and explicit mode of personal expression. And the objects he chose to depict in these pictures, like the crystal ball in the present work, are of particular importance to his message. Symbolism and iconography played a crucial role in Beckmann’s compositions throughout his career and were of great significance during the 1930s. Images of double-entendre were commonly used in the 1920s by the artists of the New Objectivity movement, but Beckmann, who did not affiliate himself with any artistic group, used symbolic objects to express his own political ideas. In his self-portraits from the late 1930s Beckmann usually included some kind of prop or instrument as a veiled reference to his struggle as an avant-garde artist working within the Third Reich (see fig. 3). The horn in his Selbstbildnis mit Horn (see fig. 4), for example, is a symbol of the man’s triumphant defiance in the face of National Socialism. The present picture, completed when the artist was still in Berlin and struggling in the midst of this oppression, is equally loaded with political significance. Here he casts himself in the roll of a sorcerer, brooding over events that are about to unfold. Beckmann presented the theme of the crystal ball gazer in another picture around this time (see fig. 5). A strong preoccupation with the unknown was evidently on his mind. Stephan Lackner reflected on the crisis of this era, considering that “Many ‘people of good will’ predicted that Hitler could not stay in power much longer, that the rearming Third Reich would soon be bankrupt, or that the radicalism of the Nazis would play itself out and give way to moderation” (Stephan Lackner, Max Beckmann, Memories of a Friendship, Coral Gables, 1969, p. 24). This picture may also relate to Beckmann’s specific concerns regarding the future of his art. In an essay written two years after it was painted, Lackner suggests in hindsight that this contemplative figure was divining the genesis of the fantastical pictures that he would complete in the years to come: “A magician in timeless garb stands before us, holding a large, shimmering crystal ball. From deeper sockets the glance does not challenge the viewer any more, the shadowy eyes look beyond actuality into more distant works. They now see oceans welling up with curved horizons, sunken islands, half-human and superhuman creatures from forgotten fables, titans in forbidden incest, kingly demigods looming in the dusk of prehistory: the basic symbols of life” (ibid., p. 59). In addition to its symbolic connotations, this picture provides examples of the swirling strokes and strong formal structure that defined Beckmann’s best compositions (see fig. 6). Peter Selz described it in the following terms: “Dominated by greenish-blue colors, Self-Portrait with Crystal Ball is based on the geometry of the sphere: the roundness of the ball is echoed in the half-circles of shoulder and lips and again in the artist’s forehead, as well as in the dark, almost sinister, cavities of his eyes. Beckmann’s eyes do not look into the crystal ball, nor are they directed at the viewer. Their gaze goes beyond, into unknown and threatening figures. Although the artist holds the means of divination in his very hands, he is helpless and seems to recede into the deep black space behind him” (Peter Selz, Max Beckmann, The Self-Portraits, New York, 1992, pp. 63-65). The first owner of this picture was Beckmann’s loyal patron, Rudolf Freiherr von Simolin (see fig. 7). In 1938, Beckmann’s friend Stephan Lackner arranged for some galleries in Zürich and Basel to stage exhibitions of the artist’s recent work. Beckmann, who was living in exile in Amsterdam at the time, came to the Zürich opening. To his great surprise, he was greeted by von Simolin, who had come all the way from his home in Berlin. Despite the German government’s vehement opposition to Beckmann’s “degenerate art,” von Simolin purchased Selbstbildnis mit Glaskugel and bravely took it with him back to Germany. Signed and dated Beckmann B.36 (lower right)

  • USAUSA
  • 2005-05-03
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