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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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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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