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La plage à trouville

La Plage à Trouville is an important and fascinating early example of Monet's beach scenes, a subject that is now recognised as an icon of the Impressionist movement. With its evanescent effects of light and colour, and a lively, atmospheric depiction of daily life at a fashionable seaside resort, it represents a key moment in Monet's career and in the development of his Impressionist style. The present work was recently included in the travelling exhibition Impressionists by the Sea, which opened at the Royal Academy of Arts in London last summer. Its featuring on the cover of the exhibition catalogue is not only a testament to its importance in Monet's œuvre, but also proclaims it as an emblem of Impressionism. La Plage à Trouville was painted in the summer of 1870, when the artist took his new wife Camille and their son Jean to Trouville (fig. 1) on the Normandy coast to spend the summer months there. By the second half of the nineteenth century Trouville had become a fashionable summer retreat for the French aristocracy, and their colourful costumes provided a subject-matter to a number of painters, most notably Boudin, who returned there throughout his career. Boudin and his wife were also spending the summer of 1870 at Trouville, and the two artists often painted together en plein air, while Camille and Madame Boudin would relax, sunbathe and read. Boudin's interest in capturing the fleeting effects of sunlight on sumptuous fabrics and the effect of a windy day on the flowing garments (fig. 2) was to have a profound influence on Impressionist artists. Indeed, 'Monet later acknowledged his debt to Boudin for introducing him to this peinture claire as a means of representing the effects of bright daylight' (J. House in Impressionists by the Sea (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 132). The paintings Monet executed throughout the summer at Trouville depict either a wide stretch of the beach populated by a number of figures, as in the present work, or the elegantly dressed Camille on the beach (fig. 3). The three major achievements of Monet's summer at Trouville are the present work, its sister-painting La Plage à Trouville, now in the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (fig. 4) and L'Hôtel des Roches Noires, à Trouville, in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris (fig. 5). These three pictures mark a turning-point in the artist's career, when he started using a brighter palette and focusing on the effects of light. Although he had been rejected from the Salon only months before, while his fellow artists Manet, Degas, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley and others had all been accepted, the present work shows Monet in a seemingly optimistic mood, employing vivid colours and a daring compositional arrangement. The scene is characterised by its expansive sweep of beach, with the sea on the left, and the promenade on the right lined by the red-bricked, neo-Gothic grandeur of the Hôtel des Roches Noires. The tricolors bring an aura of festivity to the composition and are echoed in the billowing sails of the boats and dinghies in the bay. The present painting is the larger of the two closely related horizontal versions of this view of Trouville. The Wadsworth Atheneum version (fig. 4) depicts the beach at low tide, with a boardwalk laid out on the margins of the beach for the ladies with their parasols and paramours. In the present work, by contrast, the tide has encroached upon the beach, leaving only a confined area of sand for the strollers to occupy. Both paintings must have been created at similar times of day, though, as the shadow that the green steps leading down to the beach cast is the same in both works. The flags and the sailing boats in the present painting, serve to enliven the present version of the scene still further. John House wrote about the present work in relation to its sister-painting in the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art: 'These two canvases form a clear pair, one showing the beach at low tide with the boardwalk of planks laid out at the top of the beach, the other the scene at high tide with the boardwalk removed. However [...] there is no evidence that Monet exhibited the two pictures together, despite their evidently complementary subjects. Monet's viewpoint in the two canvases is identical, but the more extended, horizontal format of [the present work] emphasises the expanse of the beach [...]. In [the Wadsworth Atheneum picture] the sea is relegated to the distance, and appears wholly placid and passive. By contrast, in [the present work] the waves encroach close to the promenading figures, though only the little dark figure of a child beyond the foreground couple seems to be taking any notice of them' (ibid., p. 132). Almost ten years after this work was painted, Marcel Proust began to spend his teenage years at the Hôtel des Roches Noires, taken there by his grandmother, and later recalled 'those seaside holidays when grandmother and I, lost in one another, walked battling the wind and talking' (quoted in G. D. Painter, Marcel Proust: A Biography, New York, 1959, vol. I, p. 83, translated from the French). The author was later to fictionalise his yearly visits to Trouville in A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleur, in which the town becomes Balbec and the Hôtel des Roches Noires becomes Grand Hôtel de Balbec. Proust writes in A la recherche du temps perdu: 'I could see, on the first evening, the waves, the azure mountain ranges of the sea, its glaciers and its cataracts, its elevation and its careless majesty – merely upon smelling for the first time after so long an interval, as I washed my hands, that particular odour of the over-scented soaps of the Grand Hotel' (Marcel Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu, translated from the French). This passage, so redolent of Proust's seaside experiences at Trouville, reflects in words the conjuring power that Monet achieves in paint in La Plage à Trouville. The blustery summer breeze is evoked in the bulging sails and the pennants blowing across the promenade. The wide perspective with which the artist handles the scene and the way in which the figures at the far end of the beach grow into larger figures walking towards the viewer in the middle distance, with their walking canes and parasols and their sun hats and Sunday best, invites the viewer into the scene. An image of leisure and luxury, of the pleasure of a fashionable seaside resort, the work is an important testament of its era. At the same time, it shows the painter's quintessential relish for sunshine, sand and sea, masterfully rendered in this composition that can be regarded as one of the most iconic images of Impressionism. Fig. 1, The beach at Trouville, 1860 Fig. 2, Eugène Boudin, La Plage de Trouville, 1863, oil on canvas, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford Fig. 3,  Claude Monet, La Plage à Trouville, 1870, oil on canvas, The National Gallery, London Fig. 4, Claude Monet, La Plage à Trouville, 1870, oil on canvas, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford Fig. 5, Claude Monet, L'Hôtel des Roches noires, à Trouville, 1870, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris Signed Claude Monet (lower left)

  • USAUSA
  • 2006-11-07
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Le bassin aux nympheas

In 1883, Monet moved to Giverny where he rented a house with a large garden.  Reflecting his growing success, he acquired the property in 1890.  In 1893 he purchased a large adjacent plot of land, and began to construct his famous water gardens and lily pond, fed by water from a nearby river.  During 1901-02, Monet enlarged the pond, replanted the edges with bamboo, rhododendron, Japanese apple and cherry trees.  Towards the end of his life, he told a visitor to his studio “It took me some time to understand my water lilies.  I planted them purely for pleasure; I grew them with no thought of painting them.  A landscape takes more than a day to get under your skin.  And then, all at once, I had the revelation - how wonderful my pond was - and reached for my palette.  I've hardly had any other subject since that moment” (as cited in Stephan Koja, Claude Monet, Osterreichische Galerie-Belvedere, Vienna, 1996, p. 146). In fact, after the turn of the century, the gardens around Monet's Giverny home became the central theme of the artist's work, as Monet produced series of paintings on the themes of the Japanese footbridge and the waterlilies.  Monet paid exacting attention to the details of the garden, including maintaining the pond and plants in a perfect state for painting. Elizabeth Murray writes “The water gardener would row out in the pond in a small green flat-bottomed boat to clean the entire surface.  Any moss, algae, or water grasses which grew from the bottom had to be pulled out. Monet insisted on clarity.  Next the gardener would inspect the water lilies themselves. Any yellow leaves or spent blossoms were removed.  If the plants had become dusty from vehicles passing by on the chemin du Roy, the dirt road nearby, the gardener would take a bucket of water and rinse off the leaves and flowers, ensuring that the true colors and beauty would shine forth” (Elizabeth Murray, ‘Monet as a Garden Artist,’ Monet, Late Paintings of Giverny from the Musée Marmottan, New Orleans, 1995, p. 53). In 1914, Monet began to conceive of his Grandes Décorations, a sequence of monumental paintings of the gardens that would take his depictions of the water lily pond in a dramatic new direction.  Paul Tucker writes that these new paintings “were characterized by an unprecedented breadth in terms of their size, touch and vision.  Nearly all of these pictures... were twice as big as his earlier Water Lilies. They were also more daring in their color schemes and compositions.  And they were much looser in handling...  At once exploratory and definitive, hesitant and assured, these paintings thus constitute a unique group of canvases in Monet's oeuvre.  They were a sustained and evidently private enterprise in which Monet tested out his ideas for his decorative program on a scale he had never attempted for these watery motifs” (Paul Tucker, Claude Monet, Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, pp. 203 & 204). After constructing an enormous garden that could surround him while he worked, Monet conceived of a group of paintings that would similarly surround the viewer. Monet wrote:  “The temptation came to me to use this water-lily theme for the decoration of a drawing room: carried along the length of the walls, enveloping the entire interior with its unity, it would produce the illusion of an endless whole, of a watery surface with no horizon and no shore; nerves exhausted by work would relax there, following the restful example of those still waters, ... a refuge of peaceful meditation in the middle of a flowering aquarium” (cited in Roger Marx, ‘Les Nymphéas de Monet', Le Cri de Paris, May 23, 1909). Le Bassin aux Nymphéas was painted as Monet worked on the Grandes Décorations, the two rooms of large scale paintings of the water lily pond (see figs. 1 and 2).  In this large scale, Monet has moved further away from a realistic depiction of the lily pond as the viewer is brought closer to the surface of the pond, seemingly hovering above the shifting colors of the pond's reflections.  Monet's palette is more vibrant than in his earlier water lily series, and the handling is decidedly more loose and fluid, with flowers indicated by bold strokes of paint..  Related paintings of the same motif in the Honolulu Academy of Arts (see fig. 3) and another formerly from the Reader’s Digest Collection (see fig. 4) show a similar handling of paint. In the present work, the viewer is brought even closer to the surface, making the purple and green reflections even more striking in their indication of trees and sky that Monet does not elsewhere depict.  This heightened sense of the pond's surface also emphasizes the surface of the painting as Monet's dazzling strokes of paint move back and forth, like the reflections of the lily pond, between the ripples in the water. The large scale of the present work suggests that although it may have been conceived outside, it was almost certainly painted in the large studio that Monet had built expressly for the purpose of accommodating the Grandes Décorations.  Monet's conception at this point was not to depict the actual pond but to surround the viewer with the “water surface with no horizon and no shore,” an effect the present work achieves with its striking scale and presence.  Charles Moffett and James Wood write:  “While the garden that he had made served as a first sketch, a springboard for the imagination, everything was subject to a revision in the studio.  As his world contracted his canvases grew larger, culminating in the great mural-sized waterscapes in which nature is recorded in a scale of nearly one to one. Simultaneously the point of view was elevated, leaving the observer suspended above the ambiguities of translucence and reflections, deprived of a horizon line from which to plot his location.  After 1916, when the barnlike third studio was completed, Monet devoted himself to the large, decorative Water Lilies cycle (Les Nymphéas, Etude d'eau) that was finally installed in the Orangerie in 1927.  That Monet was nearly totally absorbed by a 'decorative’ cycle did not in any way diminish the importance of the project.  Perhaps more than anything else, 'decorative’ suggests that he was synthesizing and abstracting form and color from nature to create a particular effect for a specific architectural setting.  The image on the retina was now only a starting point, for in these vast close-ups Monet takes us through the looking glass of the pond's surface and into the shallow but infinite space of twentieth century painting” (Monet's Years at Giverny: Beyond Impressionism, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1978, p. 13). Fig. 1, Monet’s Grandes Décorations in the artist’s studio at Giverny, photograph by Joseph Durand-Ruel on November 11, 1917, Archives Durand-Ruel Fig. 2, Monet’s Grandes Décorations in the artist’s studio at Giverny, photograph by Joseph Durand-Ruel on November 11, 1917, Archives Durand-Ruel Fig. 3, Claude Monet, Le bassin aux nymphéas, 1918, oil on canvas, Honolulu Academy of Arts, Honolulu Fig. 4, Claude Monet, Le bassin aux nymphéas, 1917-19, Oil on canvas, formerly in the Reader’s Digest Collection Stamped with the signature (lower right)

  • USAUSA
  • 2004-05-06
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Sous-bois

Vlaminck's seminal Sous-bois (Paysage) resonates with a passion and exuberance that characterize the greatest Fauve paintings. This work was executed in the summer of 1905, only months before Louis Vauxcelles derided the outrageously colorful canvases of Vlaminck, Matisse and Braque on display at the Salon d'Automne as the rantings of 'wild beasts.' The Fauves, as they came to be known, continued to flood their compositions with bold color for another two years, creating an aesthetic that would later launch the color revolution of the German Expressionists in the following years.Of all of the Fauve painters, Vlaminck was perhaps one of the most vocal about the trans-sensory impact of vibrant color. 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. ''When I had spent a few days without thinking, without doing anything, I would feel a sudden urge to paint" Vlaminck once recalled of this period. "Then I would set up my easel in full sunshine [...] Vermilion alone could render the brilliant red of the tiles on the opposite slope. The orange of the soil, the harsh crude colours of the walls and greenery, the ultramarine and cobalt of the sky achieved an extreme harmony that was sensually and musically ordered.  Only the series of colours on the canvas with all their power and vibrancy could, in combination with each other, render the chromatic feeling of that landscape" (quoted in Gaston Diehl, The Fauves, New York, 1975, p. 104). This fascination with brilliant, vibrant colors is magnificently reflected in Sous-bois, which probably depicts a scene near Chatou, where Vlaminck lived at the time. The artist rarely left this region during his Fauve years, preferring its surroundings along the Seine over the landscapes of the south of France, favored by Matisse, Derain and Braque. Vlaminck moved to the island of Chatou in 1892, at the age of sixteen, and became deeply attached to this area. He drew inspiration for most of his early landscapes from this region, many of them characterized by the red-tiled roofs typical of the surrounding villages. It was in Chatou, the birth place of André Derain, that the two artists met by chance in 1900, and subsequently formed a partnership that became the core of the Fauve movement. Vlaminck and Derain shared a studio, and over the following years regularly painted together, often depicting the same views of the local landscape. The present work was acquired in 1954 by Sarah (Sadie) Campbell Blaffer, an art patron and philanthropist, and has remained with the family for over sixty years.  Blaffer was the daughter of William Thomas Campbell, the founder of the Texas Company (later known as Texaco), and Sarah Campbell (née Turnbull). Sarah’s lifelong love for supporting the arts began during a visit to the Louvre during her honeymoon with her husband Robert E. Lee Blaffer (the founder of the Humble Oil  & Refining Co., now Exxon Mobil). Together, the Blaffers amassed a comprehensive collection of works ranging from Old Master paintings to Impressionist and Modern masterworks. Mrs. Blaffer was an early benefactor of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where she later donated a large portion of her collection. Following her death, the present work was inherited by her daughter Cecil Blaffer Hudson von Fürstenberg (also known as Titi von Fürstenberg). Signed Vlaminck (lower right)

  • USAUSA
  • 2016-05-09
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Suicide

Visual aesthetics, rigorous use of composition and astute choice of subject matter come together in Andy Warhol’s, Suicide, 1964, to create a work of power, beauty and tragedy.  After decades of modernist abstraction, Pop Art restored representation and objective imagery to painting, reflecting the world in which it thrived via electronic and print media.  Many interpreted the subject matter of Pop Art as too readily recognizable and easily accessible and did not realize the deeper conceptual aesthetic issue that was central to Warhol’s oeuvre - how modern media was affecting modern life and consciousness.  Andy Warhol stands as one of the most acute observers of this phenomenon.  Suicide is an outstanding example of the artist’s Death and Disaster series that reveals Warhol’s pre-occupation with the contradictions inherent in public and private despair. The Death and Disaster series may have at first appeared to be a startling choice of subject for the new star of Pop Art and the painter of mundane consumer products such as the Campbell’s Soup Can.  Yet, over the intervening decades, this body of work has been recognized as his most important and complex.  Warhol had a striking fascination with death and, overtly or subtly, the theme is a vein that runs through a large portion of his overall output – from celebrity paintings to self-portrait to car crashes. The Deaths and Disasters were both self-inflicted, and socially determined.  They do not appear at all sentimental; capturing the choreography of death rather than the emotional import.  The raw humanism of the images of suicides, catastrophes, tragic car accidents and capital punishment is juxtaposed against Warhol’s desire to be detached and machine-like, revealing the contradictory impulse that led him to produce such powerful and moving works of art. In the 1960’s, items such as advertisements, movie stills, magazines and newspaper photographs played a dominant role in artists’ creative thinking.  A dramatic growth in leisure time among affluent societies increased readership of print and film media.  Often the same photograph or video clip was shown repeatedly in periodicals and on television screens, inuring the public to certain images no matter how potent their content.  The irony of this appealed to Warhol, who subtly used this brand of imagery to infuse raw emotion into his subject matter.  Warhol began his Electric Chairs in 1963, exploring the banality of death in the modern world.  An empty electric chair is a forceful and jarring image of death that is instantly recognizable as an iconic image of legalized and supposedly civilized killing.  In Warhol’s Suicides death is humanized.  In both series the viewer is presented with a sense of imminence.  There is an unsettling emptiness in the Electric Chair paintings, as though the victim is waiting to be brought to execution.  In the present work the viewer can not help but anticipate the ultimate fate of the free falling body. As opposed to the single image focus of the Suicides, Warhol at times chose to cloak images from the Death and Disaster series in repeated patterns. The Car Crash series depicts anonymous victims and indiscriminate death in a much more blatant manner, as we witness the brutal aftermath of accidents, yet when Warhol chose to screen the image multiple times, there is a sense of “slippage” in their impact that results both from the artist’s technique and the nature of news photography. Ultimately however, even within his detached stance, the artist’s actual intent was not to render the scene as anonymous but to point out the particularities and unique tragedy of an individual death.  In a 1963 interview, Warhol described his attraction to his source material.  “When you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn’t really have any effect. …and I thought people should think about them some time. …It’s not that I feel sorry for them, it’s just that people go by and it doesn’t really matter to them that someone unknown was killed so I thought it would be nice for these unknown people to be remembered.” (Gene Swenson, “What is Pop Art?”, Artnews 62, November 1963, pp. 60-61) In 1962 Warhol created the artistic enterprise for which he is most famous – the use of silkscreen technique to create fine art.  The medium appealed to Warhol visually for its tonal contrasts and grainy cinematic effects, but more importantly he appreciated the flexibility of the medium.  Warhol is believed to have created his first Suicide silkscreen on paper in 1962, one of his earliest uses of the photographic silkscreen process.  In 1964, Warhol produced an elite corpus of works based on this photograph, creating one of the most powerful images of his entire oeuvre. The present work is an outstanding example from this esteemed series. Warhol’s silkscreens on paper, such as the present work, The Kiss (Bela Lugosi) and Cagney, have an individuality as they demonstrate the silkscreen process at its most basic – the variables in ink and the action of the screening itself.  The incredible tonal range, raw imagery, and intense subject matter of Suicide produce an effective impact on the viewer and make the work a resonant example of Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster series. Signed and dated 1964 on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2012-11-14
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Achrome

In an era dominated by Abstract Expressionism and Art Informel, Piero Manzoni radically dislocated the painted surface from the hand of the artist. To achieve this end, the series of Achrome works initiated in 1957 and pursued until his premature death in 1963, together constitute one of the most ground-breaking and profound artistic contributions to the post-war age. Though Manzoni experimented with a plethora of materials – including straw, polystyrene, bread rolls, gravel, felt and wool to name a few – it is the series of ‘achromatic’ works on canvas composed of kaolin saturated folds, that epitomise the very apogee of Manzoni’s pioneering conceptual dialogue. Spanning an expansive 150cm in width, Achrome from 1958-59 is a true masterpiece from this revered and ambitious corpus. Of the three-hundred or so works composed of kaolin on canvas, the present Achrome is one of only nine pieces executed in such monumental proportions; one of which resides in the Pompidou Centre, Paris; one is housed in the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin; one which is held in the collection of the Museum Moderna Kunst, Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna; and another is part of the Rachofsky Collection in Dallas. The masterful swathe of central corrugations are exquisitely articulated. Framed by two serene bands of tonally diaphanous and veil like kaolin, these horizontal folds, ridges and peaks appear preserved like a fossil, petrified in a state of material metamorphosis. No longer the fluid softness and liquidity of its primary state, but a suspended positive and negative hardened into a dual affirmation of both substance and void: a true exemplification of Manzoni’s metaphysical quest for “total space” and “pure absolute light” (Piero Manzoni, ‘Free Dimension’ in: Azimuth, No. 2, 1960, n.p.). Included in the 1971 retrospective at the Gallerie Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome and not seen again until the 2005 exhibition Beyond Painting, Burri, Fontana, Manzoni at Tate Modern, the public reappearance of this pristine and unassailably rare Achrome, marks a truly extraordinary event. Constituting a primordial sign, the Achrome does not signify or represent anything but its own existence: each work possesses its own autonomy. Across the series of kaolin Achrome however, formal variations and differences in scale enliven these monochromatic entities: sometimes achieved with a single piece of canvas, and other times with individual squares to form a grid; sometimes scattering the folds throughout the picture plane, and other times – as in the present work – concentrating them within a specific area. In this regard, the present work can be viewed as a paragon of Manzoni’s production. Flanked by two horizontal bands of scumbled kaolin, the enveloping central field of taut pleats saturated with heavy kaolin is utterly mesmeric. Though Manzoni expressly eschewed referentiality, the exquisite formal harmony evident in Achrome suggests a kind of organic architecture, as though harnessing and liberating an innate beauty that lay dormant within the materials of canvas and kaolin themselves. The kaolin suspends a dialogue with chance, and in so doing captures something of the universal. Indeed, one can’t help but relate these undulating vibrato forms to the drapery of Renaissance marble statuary or the crumbling soil ridges of a ploughed field. Microcosm and macrocosm are brought together within Manzoni’s tabula rasa; his expansive field of immersive and sculptural monochrome thus becomes an empty arena or Zero ground, at once evocative, yet closed and resistant to interpretation. By dislocating artistic agency and gesture from the canvas' surface, Manzoni aimed to evacuate representation and therein obtain an entirely self-generated metaphysical image of absolute purity. Structured as a 'non-picture', the Achrome were composed via the drying process of kaolin. This material, a soft china clay employed in making porcelain and first employed by Manzoni in 1958, is not an impasto; it does not require brushing, pouring or physical manipulation. Rather, Manzoni would first glue the canvas into a seemingly organic arrangement of self-proliferating folds and creases, before the chalky colourless kaolin solution was applied. The white kaolin not only removed the hand of the artist but also enhanced the sculptural depth and solidity of surface undulations. With its torrent of striated and sculptural folds, the resultant work harbours a dynamic energy. Ultimately it is through the self-defining drying process, without the artist's intervention, that the work achieves its final form. Seemingly white, the kaolin functions in removing colour whilst adding weight, imbuing these works with sculptural monumentality. Nonetheless if this work evokes monumental art of the past, it is testament only to the insularity of art itself, a purely visual language of resplendent luminous materiality. As the curator Jon Thompson has elucidated, the Achrome are material tautologies: they refer only to themselves as reiterations of their own composition (Jon Thompson, ‘Piero Manzoni: Out of Time and Place’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Serpentine Gallery, Piero Manzoni, 1998, p. 43). Canvas laid upon canvas, folding in on itself in self-generating monochrome pleats, the Achrome constitutes a metaphysical blank, a distillation of the picture plane to pure material characteristics. Etymologically meaning ‘without colour’ these works are unrelated to any pictorial phenomenon or anything extraneous to its surface; in the words of the artist:  “It is a white that is not a polar landscape, or a beautiful or evocative material, or a sensation, or a symbol, or anything else; it is a white surface that is nothing else but a white surface (a colourless surface that is nothing else but a colourless surface). Or better still is exists, and this is sufficient” (Piero Manzoni, ‘Free Dimension’, op. cit.). Very much in tune with the vital tenets of the Zero art movement, Manzoni sought to explore the relationship between art and nature against a new age of technological advancement emerging from the rubble of the Second World War. Chiming with the aims of Zero’s progenitors Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, Manzoni looked to overturn the boundaries of painting and supplant tangible and fixed appearances in art. Indeed, Manzoni was integral in forging the bridge between Northern European and Italian artists, travelling tirelessly back and forth to Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, and functioning until his early death in 1963 as a “messenger, carrying the Zero message all over Europe” (Otto Piene quoted in: Heiner Stachelhaus, Zero: Mack Piene Uecker, Dusseldorf 1993, p. 153). Together with Castellani he published the first issue of the journal Azimuth in September 1959, followed by the second and final issue in January 1960. They opened Galleria Azimut in Milan on 4 December 1959 and during its six month lifetime they hosted twelve solo and group exhibitions that exactly summated the vital message of Zero, such as La nouvelle conception artistique in January 1960, which included the work of Mack and Mavignier as well as Manzoni and Castellani. Alongside members of the Zero group, this rich dialogue of avant-garde artistic theories thrived amongst Manzoni and his contemporaries, particularly Lucio Fontana and Yves Klein. However, where Fontana and Klein both experimented with and relied conceptually upon colour in their art, Manzoni distinguished himself with the Achrome by utilising only the porcelain white of kaolin clay and articulated an entirely new attitude to the picture plane. Lucio Fontana’s Spatialism incited artists to pierce the canvas and access the quasi-mystical dimensions beyond while Yves Klein’s concept of colour promised access to sublime states of meditative transcendence. Manzoni, by contrast, revolted against the implication that art lay ‘on’ or ‘through’ the canvas, or within any given chromatic tone. His comments, advanced primarily in Azimuth, establish an entirely different view of painting. Manzoni wrote: “… I am unable to understand the painters that, whilst declaring themselves to be interested in modern problems, even today look on a painting as if it was a surface to be filled with colour and forms in accordance with a taste which can be more or less appreciated and which is more or less trained… The painting is thus completed and a surface with limitless possibilities is finally reduced to a sort of recipient into which unnatural colours and artificial significance are forced and compressed. Why not empty, instead, this recipient? Why not liberate the surface? Why not attempt to discover the limitless significance of total space? Of pure and absolute light?” (Piero Manzoni, ‘Free Dimension’, op. cit.). During a tragically brief life cut short at the age of only thirty, Manzoni adopted a revolutionary conceptual approach to making and viewing art, emphasising the surface and materials as the true subject of the work. In the creation of the Achrome, Manzoni awakened an area of creativity in which the painting's subject was its own self-generating form; in 1960 he wrote: "The artist has achieved integral freedom; pure material becomes pure energy; all problems of artistic criticism are surmounted; everything is permitted" (Ibid.). Manzoni's prescient innovations anticipated both Conceptualism and Arte Povera, while his artistic legacy, enshrined by iconic works such as the present Achrome, enduringly persists as a revolutionary and insurmountable presence within contemporary art today. Signed on the stretcher

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2014-10-17
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A Belle époque Diamond Devant-De-Corsage Brooch, by Cartier

A BELLE ÉPOQUE DIAMOND DEVANT-DE-CORSAGE BROOCH, BY CARTIER The pendant centering upon a pear-shaped diamond, weighing approximately 34.08 carats, an oval-shaped diamond, weighing approximately 23.55 carats, and a marquise-shaped diamond, weighing approximately 6.51 carats, enhanced by Lily-of-the-valley links set with circular-cut diamonds, and suspended from two detachable similarly-set lines, each with a pavé-set old-cut diamond palmette terminal, mounted in platinum, 1912, pendant only 9.1 cm With maker's mark for Henri Picq workshop, signed Cartier Accompanied by report no. 2155827220 dated 20 December 2013 from the GIA Gemological Institute of America stating that the 34.08 carat pear-shaped diamond is E colour, VSI clarity, and a Diamond Type Classification letter stating that the diamond is Type IA Report no. 2155827320 dated 16 December 2013 from the GIA Gemological Institute of America stating that the 23.55 carat oval-shaped diamond is D colour, VVS2 clarity, a working diagram indicating that the clarity of the diamond is potentially Internally Flawless, and a Diamond Type Classification letter stating that the diamond is Type IIA Report no. 2155827783 dated 24 December 2013 from the GIA Gemological Institute of America stating that the 6.51 carat marquise-shaped diamond is D colour, VS1 clarity, and a Diamond Type Classification letter stating that the diamond is Type IIA Report no. 5151827771 dated 20 December 2013 from the GIA Gemological Institute of America stating that the 3.54 carat heart-shaped diamond is E colour, VS2 clarity, and a Diamond Type Classification letter stating that the diamond is Type IA

  • CHESwitzerland
  • 2014-05-14
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Concetto Spaziale, Attese

“There is a spontaneous effect of ritual in Fontana’s action that has nothing at all to do with destruction but everything to do with the intention of all ritual action: to clarify what is invisible… What is concrete loses its significance as reality and what is insubstantial manifests itself as more cogently real than anything we can grasp with our five physical senses… The insubstantial, intuited space beyond the canvas, however, turns into a powerful presence that is far more physically real than the canvas.” (Fred Licht in Exh. Cat., Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection (and travelling), Homage to Lucio Fontana, 1988, p. 40)  "I have invented a formula that I think I cannot perfect. I succeeded in giving those looking at my work a sense of spatial calm, of cosmic rigor, of serenity with regard to the infinite. Further than this I could not go." (Lucio Fontana cited in Giorgio Bocca, “Il taglio è il taglio: Incontro con Lucio Fontana, il vincitore di Venezia”, Il Giorno, 6 July 1966) In the fall of 1964, the legendary Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni was fifty-two years old and was not only redefining the landscape of contemporary cinema, but transforming the very parameters of visual expression. Following the unparalleled success of his now-canonical trilogy of black and white feature films that interrogated the alienation of man in the modern world—L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), and L’Eclisse (1962)—Antonioni made a radical turn for the first time to the cinematic possibilities of color. That September, Antonioni debuted his film Il deserto rosso (Red Desert) at the 25th Venice Film Festival. Met with universal acclaim, the feature was awarded the Golden Lion—the festival’s highest honor. Antonioni’s earliest venture into color motion pictures, Red Desert makes profound use of the chromatic spectrum: intensely saturated fields of red, yellow, and green puncture the bleak industrial landscape of Ravenna, in which the film is set. A former painter in his youth, Antonioni took up his brushes again prior to filming Red Desert in order to refamiliarize himself with color. The director likened his filmmaking process to painting: “In ‘Red Desert’ I had to change the appearance of reality—of the water, the streets, of the countryside. I had to paint them with real paint and brush. It was not easy…. it is like painting a film.” (Antonioni cited in Aldo Tassone, ed., Parla il Cinema Italiano, Milan, 1979) Several months later, the sixty-five year old Lucio Fontana stood before a nearly seven-foot wide canvas and plunged his blade into the vast blazing red void. One year before winning the grand prize at the Venice Biennale, Fontana took his knife to the surface of the present work at the very crest of his creative powers. Slicing the painted canvas with twenty-four individual tears across its panoramic width, Fontana embarked on what would become the most dramatic and climactic painting of his career—the single canvas that bears the greatest number of slashes of any of the artist’s deeply venerated series of Tagli. After inflicting his archetypal violence on the painting’s expanse, Fontana inscribed on its reverse (in Italian): “I returned yesterday from Venice, I saw the film of Antonioni!!!” Seeing Antonioni’s landmark film Red Desert left Fontana in a state of utter revelation, motivating him to create the most electrifyingly theatrical painting of his entire body of work. A breathtaking frieze of twenty-four sensational incisions across a single row of his majestic crimson canvas, Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale, Attese from 1965 is extraordinarily rare among the artist’s output. Not only is it the only single unmodified canvas to bear twenty-four cuts, but there are no paintings in the artist’s entire production with a greater number of incisions, thus rendering it an ultimate exemplar of the utmost rarity among Fontana’s iconic body of paintings. Concetto Spaziale, Attese is indisputably cinematic in composition; Fontana’s lacerations erupt across the surface from left to right like discrete frames unspooling over a film reel, marking a rhythmic progression of narrative time in sequential beats. In the dynamic kineticism of its sweeping proportions, the present work stuns in its filmic tempo more than any other of Fontana's paintings. Noting the unparalleled drama of the present Concetto Spaziale, Attese, Fred Licht explained: “Fontana’s frieze compositions are probably his most ambitious and eloquent works. The artist strikes a major chord by means of the proportionate relationship of the grouped slashes and the rigid format of the overall field. Against this primary equivalent of a basso continuo the eye perceives constantly changing rhythmic sequences made up of the shifting fields, sometimes broad, sometimes slender, that separate the slashes… The situation is not dissimilar to Chinese scroll paintings in which the viewer is also expected to unroll the painting very slowly, revealing first one complete ‘phrase’ which he then must bring into linear and rhythmic conjunction with the image that appears as the scroll is unrolled another few inches.” (Fred Licht in Exh. Cat., Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection (and travelling), Homage to Lucio Fontana, 1988, p. 64) Each slash ruptures the emptiness of Fontana’s monochromatic picture plane, paralleling the singular bursts of hysteria that erupt from the empty landscape of Antonioni’s Red Desert. In the enigmatic film, isolated moments of erotic passion and subdued violence punctuate the bleak industrial environment of petroleum tankers and smoke plumes that characterize the mechanical plant of the story’s setting. These scenes are heightened by Antonioni’s richly saturated color palette. His severe geometries and bright zones of pure, solid color surely appealed to Fontana, as did the film’s underlying subtext. Red Desert explored the contemporary alienation and spiritual malaise of the technological age; how the architecture of modern technological industry affects the anxiety of mankind. Just as Fontana’s holes and slashes evoked mankind’s instinct to leave his mark within the space age, in Antonioni’s film, the director explored how modern technological life affects humanity. Both Fontana’s and Antonioni’s respective works mine the existential loneliness of humans in a world that far exceeds the limits of any intelligible dimensions. In the final scenes of Red Desert, the figures descend into the foreboding fog, echoing the infinity of the black voids within each of Fontana’s slashes. Disclosing a space beyond the two dimensional picture plane guided Fontana’s artistic intent. Significantly, it was humankind’s exploration into space that would transform his practice: tangibility of the universe and scientific discovery of infinity was the catalyst for extending the scope of his sculptural/painterly experimentation. Fontana’s Tagli offered an innovative interpretation of the artist’s gesture that moved it from the surface to penetrating the canvas, and hence opened up an entirely new spatial dimension to his work. Surrounded by an era of advancements in space travel and quantum physics, Fontana understood that art, like science, must also compete with a vision of the world comprised of time, matter, energy and the deep void of space. This fixation with unknowable dimensions should be understood against a contemporaneous context of cosmic exploration; at the same moment Fontana began his Tagli, news stories of the 'space race' captivated audiences all over the world. Indeed, Fontana’s Spatialist theories echo an age utterly dominated by news of space exploration and discovery. In 1957 the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, into orbit; in 1959, the Soviets landed probe Luna 2 on the moon; and in 1961 the very first outer-space flight was made by Yuri Gagarin. As Sarah Whitfield noted: “The famous hole and cut were not just gashes punched through a canvas, but a way of making the viewer look beyond the physical fact of the painting, to what Fontana called ‘a free space’. This is as much a philosophical concept as a visual one, for as Fontana told Tommaso Trini shortly before his death: ‘art is only thought in evolution.’ The space created by the hole or the slash stands for the idea of a space without physical boundaries.” (Sarah Whitfield, Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1999, p. 14) In 1947, Fontana founded Spatialism, a deeply influential artistic movement that proposed a ground-breaking synthesis of the phenomenological realm as a new form of visual expression. The main principles, laid down in the very first Manifiesto Blanco, published in 1946 in Buenos Aires, outlined a new spirit for art, in tune with the post-war era, in which the traditional illusionism of oil painting was repudiated in favor of a unification of art and science. As outlined in the Manifiesto, Fontana stipulated the need for matter, color, and sound to be enacted within ‘real’ space and time: “Color, the element of space; sound, the element of time; and movement that develops in time and space; these are the fundamental forms of the new art that contains the four dimensions of existence.” (Lucio Fontana, "Manifiesto Blanco," 1946 in Guido Balla, Lucio Fontana, New York, 1971, p. 189) This theorizing would lay the foundation for the next twenty years of his practice, a period of production that significantly boasts the most important and esteemed works of the artist’s career. Fontana embarked on the Tagli at the end of 1958, partly in response to the developments in contemporary art in Italy during 1957-58, particularly Yves Klein’s first exhibition of monochrome paintings in Milan in 1957, Jackson Pollock’s retrospective in Rome in 1958, and the predominant rise of Art Informel. In response to the contemporary turn toward action painting at this time, Fontana’s cuts evoked this gestural performance while seeking the realization of a more metaphysical presence. Fontana combined the highly saturated monochromatic purity of Klein’s canvases with Pollock’s violently physical action. However, whereas Pollock’s painterly dripping technique left an indexical record of his every movement, Fontana’s gesture annihilated this proclivity toward additive mark-making and replaced it with a vandalistic destructiveness. Drawing attention to the materiality of the picture-plane, Fontana’s cuts question classical interpretations of a ‘figure-ground’ relationship; rather than striving toward an illusion of perspectival depth, Fontana’s punctures create forms within the canvas that embody a real third dimension of space. Moreover, the painting’s chromatic radiance amplifies the profound darkness of the plunging black recesses that aptly signify Fontana’s quest for "the Infinite, the inconceivable chaos, the end of figuration, nothingness." (Lucio Fontana cited in Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1999, p. 198) While Fontana maintained the outward gestural expressivity of artists like Pollock and Klein, each cut with the metallic edge of his Stanley knife blade reduced artistic gesture to a machine-like action, displacing the indulgence of personal subjectivity for an apparently mechanical reductivism. The serial progression of twenty-four repetitive cuts across the panoramic canvas aligns Fontana’s artistic process with industrial modes of mass production; even the implement he used to lacerate the painting is normally used to cut lengths of canvas in preparation for stretching. In part, Fontana’s grasp of how technology could fundamentally redefine the boundaries of human existence was indebted to the influence of Italian Futurism. As the Manifiesto Blanco had appreciatively stated: “Futurism adopts movement as the only beginning and the only end.” (Lucio Fontana, "Manifiesto Blanco," cited in: Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Ragionato, Vol. II, Milan, 2006, p. 19) For Fontana, Futurism rightly valued the forward progress of civilization and acknowledged the implications of Einstein’s theories of relativity. Yet whereas this earlier twentieth-century movement obsessed over sleek industrial design and the sublime amalgamation of man and machine in the known world, Fontana perceived a different aspect of progress: the loneliness of vast, unexplored territories, the return to primordial states of becoming, and a mysterious fourth-dimension. However, though Fontana undoubtedly inherited Futurism’s high-modernist endeavor to bring forth a totally new art for a new era, the mechanical character and emphasis on speed and movement through urban space vital to their project is resolutely absent from the Spatialist enterprise. Instead, the wounded picture plane and the scars of his eloquently sliced canvases hark back to an established art historical legacy. Far from the Futurist’s bombastic insistence on burning down the libraries and flooding the museums to purge the oppressive past, Fontana’s Spatialism expressed a project of recognizing the past and uniting it with the future. Though not speaking of any religious message, Fontana phrased his Spatialist journey in the context of Western art history. Supreme elegance, endurance and audacity define the present work; an extended choreography of twenty-four cuts jet across a deep-red monochrome picture plane. As each slash penetrates the evenly painted surface, the resulting tear is exquisitely fine at each polar end, gradually broadening toward the center where the tight canvas gives way to the pressure of the blade and curls deeply inward to reveal a profound emptiness. Reaching across a pristine expanse of pure bloodshot canvas, Concetto Spaziale, Attese heralds the end of the flat picture plane in what is quite simply one of the most radical gestures in art history. What defines Fontana’s work however is not only a revolutionary new form of expression, but a triumphant marriage of the cutting edge and the historical via the restrained yet violent gesture of Fontana’s Stanley blade cut. Indeed, the size of Concetto Spaziale, Attese and the unrivaled dynamism of its myriad cuts make this masterpiece an extremely rare testament to one of the most decisive breakthroughs in the history of art. Signed, titled and inscribed Sono tornato ieri da Venezia, ho visto il film di Antonioni!!! on the reverse

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  • 2015-11-12
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Femme de Venise VI

"I keep coming back to these women... around them space vibrates," the writer Jean Genet once said of the seminal Femmes de Venise.  The present sculpture is number six of Giacometti's celebrated series of nine standing figures of a female nude, collectively known as the Femmes de Venise. These standing women are perhaps Giacometti's best known works, regarded by many as the artist's most significant contribution to art of the 20th century.   Of the nine figures, number six is the tallest, with an elaborate coiffure and slightly parted lips. The form bears a sharp facial profile and a heavily textured surface that is rooted in the richly-modeled base. The series originates from a group of ten plasters which Giacometti had produced between January and May 1956 in preparation for the concurrent exhibitions of his work at the Venice Biennale and at the Kunsthalle in Bern in June of that year.  According to recent scholarship by Véronique Wiesinger, six of the plasters were exhibited in Venice as "works in progress" and four were shown in Bern.  Giacometti eventually selected nine of these plasters for casting into bronze in editions of six, plus one artist's proof of each figure.  Regardless of where they were exhibited, each of the nine bronzes is called Femme de Venise. Genet, who was Giacometti's favorite living author, provided a sensually-evocative descripion of these figures in the essay he published in 1957: "I can't stop touching the statues:  I look away and my hand continues its discoveries of its own accord: neck, head, nape of neck, shoulders... The sensations flow to my fingertips.  Each one is different, so that my hand traverses an extremely varied and vivid landscape... The backs of these women may be more human than their fronts.  The nape of the neck, the shoulders, the small of the back, the buttocks seem to have been modeled more lovingly than any of the fronts.  Seen from three-quarters, this oscillation from woman to goddess may be what is most disturbing: sometimes the emotion is unbearable... I cannot help returning to this race of gilded and sometimes painted sentries who standing erect, motionless, keep watch" (reprinted in R. Howard, ed., The Selected Writings of Jean Genet, Hopewell, 1993, pp. 323-324). The Femmes de Venise are direct descendants of the elongated female figures which Giacometti had been working on in the 1940s and precursors of the larger female figure that he would execute in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Created at the median of this artistic development, the Femmes de Venise serve as the summation of Giacometti's findings in this particular subject.  The variations among the nine Femmes, when considered as a group, demonstrate the metamorphoses of Giacometti's vision of the female form.  From a technical standpoint, the differences in height and anatomy suggest that their numbering might not reflect the sequence in which Giacometti produced them.  Valerie Fletcher has suggested that the nine Femmes were randomly renumbered when the artist selected them from among the original plasters for casting into bronze. This group of sculptures was created as different states of the same female figure, modeled from a single mass of clay on a single armature.  When Giacometti was satisfied with a particular version, his brother Diego made a plaster cast of it while Giacometti continued to rework the clay into a different figure.  "Every time I work I am prepared to undo without the slightest hesitation the work done the day before, as each day I feel I am seeing further," Giacometti explained in an interview with André Parinaud in 1962.  "Basically I now only work for the sensation I get during the process." ("Why am I a Sculptor?" reprinted in A. Gonzalez, Alberto Giacometti, Works, Writings, Interviews, Barcelona, 2006, p. 151). All of the Femmes de Venise display the thin, gaunt proportions for which Giacometti is best known, and about which he commented to Sylvester in 1964:  "At one time I wanted to hold on to the volume, and they became so tiny that they used to disappear.  After that I wanted to hold on to a certain height, and they became narrow.  But this was despite myself and even if I fought against it.  And I did fight against it;  I tried to make them broader.  The more I wanted to make them broader, the narrower they got.  But the real explanation is something I don't know, still don't know.  I could only know it through the work that I am going to do" (D. Sylvester, Looking at Giacometti, London and New York, 1997, p. 6). With its disproportionately small head and large feet accentuated by a sloping pedestal, the overall effect of this tall, slender figure is what Lord termed an "ascending vitality" (J. Lord, op. cit.,p. 356).  Reflecting on the impression which the Femmes de Venise make upon the viewer, Lord concludes: "When a spectator's attention is fixed upon the head of one of these figures, the lower part of her body would lack verisimilitude were it not planted firmly upon those enormous feet, because even without looking directly at them, one is aware of their mass... The eye is obliged to move up and down, while one's perception of the sculpture as a whole image becomes an instinctual act, spontaneously responding to the force that drove the sculptor's fingers.  Comparable to the force of gravity, it kept those massive feet so solidly set on the pedestal that they affirmed the physicality of the figure as the one aspect of his creativity which the artist could absolutely count on, all the rest being subject to the unreliability of the mind's eye" (ibid., pp. 356-57). According to Mary Lisa Palmer, Giacometti would usually send the even-numbered bronzes from the edition, including the present work, to Galerie Maeght in Paris and the odd-numbered casts to Pierre Matisse in New York.  Other casts of Femme de Venise VI are in the collections of Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University, Dallas; Museo Nazionale d'arte moderna in Rome, and the Fondation Maeght, Paris. Signed Alberto Giacometti, inscribed with the foundry mark Susse Fondeur, Paris and numbered 4/6

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  • 2015-05-05
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Glaçons, effet blanc

Among Monet’s most celebrated and visually spectacular canvases are his depictions of floating ice on the Seine.  These majestic compositions exemplify his talent for capturing the nuances of the natural world in flux, and Glaçons, effet blancis among the most elegant.   This view of the left bank and the islet of Forée from Bennecourt belongs to a series of fifteen river views completed during the winter of 1892-93.  Monet painted this composition in early January 1893, while the temperatures were still frigid enough to create the atmospheric drama that we see here. Through the haze of frosty air, the large sheets of ice have begun to break apart on the surface of the river as they drift downstream, while the banks and treetops in the distance glisten with the melting snow.   By the end of the month, the thaw brought Monet’s campaign to an abrupt end, leaving the artist with several unfinished compositions that he would have to complete in his studio.  The present composition, which Monet dated upon its sale the following year in 1894, is among the most visceral of these grand compositions and perhaps his most sensory interpretation of his observations that winter. Monet’s Bennecourt series was his third attempt at depicting the transformation of the frozen river.  Earlier depictions at Bougival in 1868 and then at Lavacourt, near Vétheuil, in 1879-80, mark his fascination with this subject and the gripping effect of the subject on his psyche.  These scenes were meditations on the cycles of life and the relentless passage of time, and the artist’s apparent awe with the grandeur of nature.  Paul Tucker suggests that Monet’s decision to focus on the ice floes yet again was an attempt to “reinvigorate himself, even to the point of painting outdoors in temperatures that were well below freezing.  They are at once elegiac and soothing, appropriately familiar in their composition and handling while striking in their color and their chilling atmospheric effects” (P.H. Tucker, Monet in the ‘90s, The Series Paintings, Boston, 1989, p. 169). Monet’s series paintings from the 1890s are widely considered his finest and most innovative achievements.   By painting the same subject at various times of day and under different weather conditions, he could document the continual transformation of his surroundings.  His painting of  Glaçons, effet blanc and the related canvases coincided with his series of depictions of Rouen Cathedral, and both undertakings reveal similarities in palette and approach.  Monet would apply the lessons he learned from these pictures to later series of misty mornings on the Seine and ultimately to his depictions of the waterlilies in his garden at Giverny.  Perhaps more than any of the series from this decade, the ice floe pictures laid the groundwork for his approach to his renderings of the floating lilypads and the reflection of the trees and sky in the garden pond. Monet continued to work on this series long after the ice melted on the Seine and into the following year.  As was the case for most of his plein-air compositions, he worked on these paintings intermittently throughout the day and would complete many of them in his studio.  His practice was often to sign paintings only upon turning them over to his dealer, and the present work is dated accordingly on the occasion of its consignment in February 1894 to the dealers Boussod, Valadon & Cie.  The picture was sold shortly thereafter to Edmond Decap, one of the first major collectors of Impressionist art. Monet's series of ice floes has since gained a significant following in the literary world, having been described beautifully in Marcel Proust's first novel, Jean Santeuil, and most recently requoted in Edmund de Waal's family history, The Hare with Amber Eyes.  Proust's gorgeous literary description captures the essense of what we see here: "A day of thaw ... the sun, the blue of the sky, the broken ice, the mud, and the moving water turning the river into a dazzling mirror" (M. Proust, reprinted in Edmund de Waal, The Hair with Amber Eyes, A Hidden Inheritance, New York, 2010). Signed and dated Claude Monet 94 (lower right)

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  • 2013-11-07
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Le Pont japonais

Monet's spectacular images of the Japanese bridge spanning the lily pond of his lush garden at Giverny of the most recognizable images of 20th century art.  These pictures capture the mystique of the meticulously-landscaped environment that served as Monet's inspiration during his later career.  The present picture, which is one of the most richly painted in the series, can be seen in a photograph of the artist's Giverny studio,  where it hangs in completion among other notable examples of the artist's late production. Monet's bridge had powerful symbolic resonance when it was painted in the years after World War I.  As the bridge had been a symbol of progress for late 19th century artists, it was now also a signifier of the mending of nations and the joining of cultural forces.  Between 1918 and 1924 Monet seized upon the opportunity to lavish renewed attention on the bridge in his garden, using radical formal tactics that eliminate perspective, merge land with sky, and sky with water.  What he is attempting to suggest in the Japanese Bridges is the existence of a hybrid environment, a place where East becomes West through the powers of French culture and where nature becomes art through the Impressionist vision. Monet constructed his Japanese bridge in the summer of 1893 on a newly-acquired plot of land where he was creating a pond irrigated by the Epte river.  Daniel Wildenstein noted that just a few days before purchasing the land, Monet had viewed a collection of prints by Utamaro and Hiroshige at Durand-Ruel’s gallery and this Asian aesthetic was clearly on his mind.   He first painted the bridge in 1895, but it was not until 1899 that he turned to the pond and bridge in a series of eighteen views, twelve examples of which were exhibited at Durand-Ruel in 1900.  Nearly two decades later, Monet returned to this subject again.  Between 1918 and 1924 he completed twenty-five views of the bridge, now radically abstracted amidst layers of paint.  These later pictures, which have often been credited as an inspiration for Abstract Expressionism in the second-half of the 20th century, were completed contemporaneously with his Grandes Décorations project and were stylistically related to this monumental undertaking.  When considered within the scope of the series, each of the Pont japonais pictures differ signficantly.  In some canvases, Monet would stay true to the colors of the actual scene, rendering flecks of white, green and mauve for the trails of wisteria that covered the railing and the balustrade. In others, he did little to differentiate the bridge from the pond, and his color choices were surprisingly daring.  The present composition is exceptional for its fine balance between abstraction and realism, enabling us to see the bridge clearly amidst the torrent of Monet's wildly expressive brushwork. Paul Hayes Tucker provides an analysis of Monet's series of Japanese bridges, describing the artist's unorthodox approach to painting these pictures:  "The new Le pont japonais pictures were a throwback to his first engagement with this aquatic paradise, but now on radically different terms.  Completely disregarding artistic decorum, Monet lathered the surfaces of these canvases with thick, wet paint, making the liquid medium appear to seethe and dance as if fired by some unseen power.  These paintings are cauldrons of cacophonous color, trumpeting Monet's daring and abandonment, while asserting the value of the unknown over the secure, the reckless over the refined" (P. Hayes Tucker, Claude Monet, Late Work (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, New York,  p. 36). The present composition is one of the artist's most expressive renderings of the Japanese bridge.   Monet has lavishly applied his paint in the center of the canvas, while thinning it into washes in the corners.  His technique creates a peripheral recession, which is apparent even in the photograph of this painting hanging in the artist's Giverny studio. Stamped with the signature (lower right)

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-05-07
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Paysage à la Ciotat

Braque’s magnificent depiction of La Ciotat in the south of France is a seminal image of the Fauve revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century. The jubilant hues Braque used to create this vibrant image owe less to nature and more to his own emotional response to the landscape (figs 1, 5).  "Nature," Braque said in 1908 "is a mere pretext for decorative composition, plus sentiment. It suggests emotion, and I translate emotion into art" (quoted in Masters of Colour: Derain to Kandinsky  (exhibition catalogue), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2002, p. 131). Braque's depictions of the environs of Provence rank among the most expressive and desirable of the Fauve landscapes (figs. 2, 3, 5).  The inception of these rare and extraordinary canvases dates from the period immediately after the fall of 1905, when Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck first exhibited their boldy colorful Colliure landscapes at the Salon d'Automne and famously earned the moniker "wild beasts."   In 1906, Braque too would travel to the South of France, but he chose instead the rich terrain of the Provençal countryside as opposed to the port towns. In the present work, which was painted in the summer of 1907, Braque depicts the rolling hills near La Ciotat and L'Estaque - an area that figures prominently in his production through his Cubist landscapes. The influence of Matisse and Derain is heavily felt in the present work, but there is a sophistication of form that is entirely unique to Braque's Provençal landscapes. Richard Schiff writes of his landscapes from this period in a recent exhibition catalogue: "Freely arranged, his colors 'constitute a pictorial fact' and become, only in their secondary function, the description of a limited number of characteristics of the locality. Whether L'Estaque or Antwerp, the given configuration of land, water, and sky remains no more than summarily translated. A sense of height and a distinctive form of vegetation distinguish the southern location from the northern one. In March 1906, as if to speak for Braque as well, Derain wrote to Matisse that their generation of artists was fortunate in being the first at liberty to capitalize on a newly acknowledged condition: whatever material an artist chose to use would assume a life of its own, independent of what one makes it represent. The means would come first, followed by its object, so that the subject of art would be the means and not the representation" (Richard Schiff, 'Infinition', in Georges Braque, Pioneer of Modernism (exhibition catalogue), Acquavella Galleries, New York, 2011, p. 36). Braque's explosive Fauve period would end quickly when he turned to Cézanne's example in the construction of the Cubist idiom. The rarity of his Fauve canvases make them all the more valuable to these early moments in Modernism. Braque stated that "For me Fauvism was a momentary adventure in which I became involved because I was young... I was freed from the studios, only twenty-four, and full of enthusiasm. I moved toward what for me represented novelty and joy, toward Fauvism... Just think I had only recently left the dark, dismal Paris studios where they still painted with a pitch!" (quoted in The Annenberg Collection (exhibition catalogue), Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1989, p. 116). Braque's attention to form within the Fauvist landscape would have immeasurable influence on subsequent movements, such as the German Expressionists who would reiterate a freedom of color a few years later. Braque's dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler purchased many of Braque's paintings at the end of 1907, including several canvases that fit this description.    Please note that this work has kindly been requested for the upcoming exhibition, German Expressionism and France: From van Gogh and Gauguin to the Blaue Reiter to be held at the following venues: Kunsthaus Zürich, February 7 – May 11, 2014; Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, June 8 – September 14, 2014; and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, October 6 – January 25, 2015. Signed G. Braque (lower left)

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  • 2013-05-07
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