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Untitled xvi

Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XVI dates from 1975, the year when the artist ended a long period of abstinence from painting and produced twenty large-scale canvases of explosive, vibrant color executed in lush, sensuous paint strokes, all in the space of only six months. Normally an artist who heavily scrutinized and reworked his canvases at great length, de Kooning marveled at his own burst of creativity, experiencing a great resurgence of confidence in his masterful manipulation of oil paint.  As de Kooning recalled in 1981, “I made those paintings one after the other, no trouble at all. I couldn’t miss. It’s a nice feeling. It’s strange. It’s like a man at a gambling table [who] feels that he can’t lose.  But when he walks away with all the dough, he knows he can’t do that again.  Because then it gets all self-conscious.  I wasn’t self-conscious.  I just did it.”  (Judith Wolfe, ``Glimpses of a Master’’ in Exh. Cat., East Hampton, Guild Hall Museum, Willem de Kooning: Works from 1951-1981, 1981, p. 15).  Beginning in 1975 and over the next few years, de Kooning surrounded himself with his canvases, each inspiring him to paint another and informing all with the same sense of water, light and sky.  The thick and juicy paint flowed from his brushes, layering color upon color, as forms emerge and submerge in the textural paint surface. By autumn of 1975, de Kooning had created enough paintings for a major exhibition with his dealer, Xavier Fourcade, in October and November. Untitled XVI was a highlight of this show which heralded a new, dramatically passionate period of the artist’s oeuvre. Beginning in 1969, de Kooning worked primarily on sculpture, producing clay and bronze figures in his first foray into three-dimensional art. The tactile quality of sculpting was wholly sympathetic with de Kooning’s sensuous approach to oil paint which was eloquently acknowledged by de Kooning in his famous 1950 quote, ``Flesh was the reason oil painting was invented’’.  When sculpting, de Kooning often closed his eyes while working with clay, allowing touch and not sight to dictate the form. In similar fashion, the physical immediacy of Untitled XVI is striking. De Kooning emphasizes texture, allowing a variety of planes of paint to coalesce in and out of each other across the canvas. Bold, jubilant brushstrokes of white, pink, yellow and red swell and pucker like undulating flesh, juxtaposed with quieter passages of blue, green, salmon and maroon that are scraped and flattened across the surface with a large palette knife. The building up of paint and the impastoed surface is a signature characteristic of Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s in general and of de Kooning in particular; however one of the revelations of de Kooning’s later work, such as Untitled XVI, is the utter sophistication and variety of de Kooning’s paint handling. The quieter passages of paint, created by scraping and smearing across fields of varying color pigment, foreshadow the beauty of Gerhard Richter’s smeared Abstrakte Bild of the 1980s. In the present painting, de Kooning employed this subtle technique in passages of blue paint at the center of the composition, highlighted with threads of white and yellow, reminiscent of shimmering water. Critics have long noted the strong affinity for water in de Kooning’s work, and the paintings of 1975-1977 seem to be the most direct references to liquidity and flow in the artist’s oeuvre. De Kooning’s newfound freedom of form, space and color in paintings of 1975 such as Untitled XVI was described by Bernhard Mendews Bürgi in the 2005-2006 exhibition of de Kooning’s later decades at the Kunstmuseum in Basel. ``Now, however, the accumulation of sensations between earth and light and water and sky, distilled and detached from anecdotal experience, exploded in a rush of painting. What already applied to the abstract landscapes of the late 1950s and early 1960s became even more conspicuous in the series created between 1975 and 1980, …. They are not abstractions of the experience of nature; they are abstract in following an uncurbed energy principle without beginning and end, allowing things to emerge, to rise to the surface in analogy to nature. ..Everything seems to be floating, flying, lying and falling in these paintings, their energy heightened by a pulsating rhythm.‘’  (Exh. Cat., Basel, Kunstmuseum Basel, De Kooning Paintings, 1960-1980, 2005, pp. 24-26). De Kooning’s sense of line is key to his artistic talent and aesthetic sensibilities, and even during his fallow period away from painting from 1969 to 1975, he continued to draw prolifically. But with his return to the plastic form of paint, de Kooning’s line is subsumed, as his strokes broaden and flatten. In place of the line, color and light serve as the organizing principles in these abstract landscapes, reflecting the bright and open environment of his home in East Hampton. De Kooning was always a superb colorist, whether using a palette of black and white in the abstractions of the early 1940s or the pastel hues and acidic, jarring tones of his Women paintings and Urban Landscapes of the 1950s.  But with his move to Long Island, de Kooning responded intimately not only to his watery surroundings, but to the elements of light and air. In shimmering light, forms dissolve and reform in a manner deeply akin to de Kooning’s sense of abstraction. The overlapping layers of color create the sense of space in this composition, juxtaposing muscular maroons with yellows and salmon pinks in a sensuous celebration of color.  With this vibrancy of palette, coupled with the genius of paint handling and sure command of composition and form, Untitled XVI heralds the emergence of de Kooning as a wholly revitalized artist as he entered his seventh decade. Signed on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2006-05-10
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Sinking Sun

One of the defining works of Roy Lichtenstein’s stellar career, Sinking Sun is an authoritative masterpiece which occupies a peerless position both within the artist’s prodigious oeuvre and within the wider context of American Pop Art. Executed in 1964, it stands at the apogee of the comic strip paintings which shot Lichtenstein to international fame in the early 1960s. Bold in ambition and scale, Sinking Sun demonstrates the artist’s complete mastery of the mechanics of impact that he culled from the mass-media and witnesses the distillation of his instantly recognisable, highly distinctive comic-book-derived iconography that he honed in the earlier comic strip paintings. The centerpiece of the Roy Lichtenstein: Landscapes exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1964, Sinking Sun was acquired by Dennis and Brooke Hopper and for many years was the crown jewel of their collection, gracing the walls of their home at 1712 North Crescent Heights, Los Angeles – the literal backdrop to one of the most well-known celebrity duos of 1960s America. An iconic image of a quintessentially American landscape full of hope and nostalgia, Sinking Sun has itself become an icon of the cultural landscape from which it originated. Alongside Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein’s espousal of the prosaic commonplace of popular culture - both in style and frame of reference - and his alchemy of the mass-produced visual qualities of ‘base’ commercial images into poetic pictorial elements worthy of Fine Art, is unequivocally one of the most original innovations and crowning achievements of twentieth-century art practice. Sinking Sun is the endpoint of Lichtenstein’s most acclaimed and sustained body of work, painted between 1961 and 1965, which looked to the low-brow, vapid, cult comic literature to provide both its imagery and its stylistic blueprint. Jettisoning the emphasis on the artist’s touch – the indexical link to the artist that had played such a vital role in the semiotics of Abstract Expressionism – Lichtenstein, alongside Warhol, sought a pictorial vocabulary embedded in modes of mechanical reproduction. Like Gustave Courbet a century earlier, Lichtenstein sought freedom from what he deemed to be the dominant and academic mode of painting of the day through recourse to vulgar subject matter presented in a vernacular style on a pedestal formerly reserved for high art.  In so doing he forced a critical reappraisal of the aesthetic potential of the quotidian modes of commercial illustration. Unlike Warhol, who pioneered the silkscreen process to transfer his images to canvas, Lichtenstein at the start magnified and transferred his images by hand in a painstaking process that insistently removed all the expressionistic detail of brushwork, further divesting the image of naturalistic representation by heightening the heavy stylization of the comic book source. “I want my painting to look as if it has been programmed. I want to hide the record of my hand.” (Roy Lichtenstein interviewed by John Coplans cited in Exh. Cat. Pasadena, Art Museum, Roy Lichtenstein, 1967, p.12). This systematic and detached process invited accusations from Lichtenstein’s hostile critics of image duplication: the rote copying of arbitrarily gleaned trite images. However, Lichtenstein never copied an image wholesale and it is in the subtle manipulation of the images that Lichtenstein’s true genius lies. As the artist comments, the difference is often not great but it is crucial: “It becomes a very exaggerated, a very compelling symbol that has almost nothing to do with the original”. (Ibid, p. 12)  As one can see by examining the comic book page for Heart Throbs, a DC Superman National Comics issue in comparison to the Sussex, another 1964 Landscape painting, the artist did not borrow a comic panel in its entirety. He would slice out a cropped section – in this case the horizon of rolling hills, clouds and sky – that is glimpsed behind the dialogue balloons of a couple in deep discussion. The horizon is a distant detail in the overall image, but Lichtenstein sliced it from the page and focused on this edited image for his composition. In a similar manner, Lichtenstein chose to highlight the upper right corner of a comic panel from another issue of Heart Throbs for the composition of the romantic painting Kiss with Clouds (1964). In this case, the image of a kissing couple is truncated so that we see their closed eyes but not their lips, with the background of sky and clouds playing a more prominent role in the composition than in the original comic panel. Such conscious artistic choices denote the high level of thought and careful consideration that Lichtenstein brought to the image he chose to convey on canvas, contradicting any notion that his was a rote selection of given images. What fascinated Lichtenstein about the comic strip subject matter was the disjunction between their exaggerated emotional content and the rigid conventionality of their style. “I was very excited about and interested in the highly emotional content yet detached, impersonal handling of love, hate, war etc., in these cartoon images… It is an intensification, a stylistic intensification of the excitement which the subject matter has for me; but the style is, as you say, cool. One of the things a cartoon does is to express violent emotion and passion in a completely mechanical and removed style”. (Roy Lichtenstein interviewed by G. R. Swenson cited in Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein, 1968, p.9) It is this fundamental paradox between subject and style, an ongoing concern throughout Lichtenstein’s entire oeuvre, which the artist interrogated with such aplomb in the comic-strip works. Like the artist's greatest works of the period, Sinking Sun harnessed the rigorous stylistic order and overwhelming graphic clarity of the comic strip while simultaneously mimicing the modes of mechanical reproduction. Lichtenstein’s palette is reduced to the core primary colours of red, yellow and blue which are kept as close as possible in feeling, texture and pitch to those used in advertising. As the artist has said: “I use colour in the same way as line. I want it oversimplified – anything that could be vaguely red becomes red. It is mock insensitivity. Actual colour adjustment is achieved through manipulation of size, shape and juxtaposition”.  (Ibid, p. 12) The extensive use of the regularised Benday dot throughout the broad expanse of the picture plane simulates on a monumental scale a specific type of widely used printing technology. Diagrammatic to the extreme, the composition is articulated by the use of bold black highly legible outlines which dramatically define and separate the four horizontal registers of land, horizon, cloud and sky. In places, the Benday dot is liberated from this containing black line and the artist uses the white ground to evoke volume, as in the curvilinear forms of the billowing cumulus cloud, which recall the ebbing waves of Drowning Girl of the previous year. Unlike many of his works from this period which adapted and modified a specific source image or combined multiple sources into a single image, Sinking Sun depicts a generic, clichéd image that verges on the kitsch. Clearly derived from the comic strip, this traditional topos of romantic literature is conventionally depicted in the final frame of both romance and war comic strips, drawing the plot to a close and symbolizing closure and the restoration of order and harmony. This is not an actual landscape, rather it is the stereotype of a fictive landscape - one that is quintessentially optimistic and American. The cliche of `riding off into the sunset' spoke of the promise of happiness and success, as well as the providential abundance of the American frontier and the American dream. Because the stereotype is so strong and so indelibly ingrained into a shared public consciousness, we readily recognise the image just as the beholder instantly recognises the landscape in Temple of Apollo, painted the same year, even if they have never visited Greece. By reducing all extraneous pictorial detail and traces of narrative to an absolute minimum (note the absence of gulls here that are present in other landscapes of the same period), Lichtenstein bestows on Sinking Sun an emblematic fixity that transcends the here and now to create a monolithic image of monumental and enduring presence. What is so powerful in Lichtenstein’s most accomplished paintings is that they are more like comics than the originals from which they derive. Through Lichtenstein’s process of manipulation and reframing, his image of the closing sunset comes closer to the Platonic ideal of comic book style than the comic book source. So powerful is Sinking Sun that it has been subsumed back into the media from which it originated as the hyperbolic archetype of the comic strip genre. However, Lichtenstein’s primary interest in the motif of the landscape resides in the jarring tension established between the synthetic style and the natural phenomena that is being depicted, which pushes to its logical conclusion the disjunction between the object and its representation that is at the core of his practice. As the artist has stated: “There is something humorous about doing a sunset in a solidified way, especially the rays, because a sunset has little or no specific form. It is like the explosions. It’s true that they may have some kind of form at any particular moment, but they are never really perceived as defined shape… It makes something ephemeral completely concrete.” (Lichtenstein interviewed by John Coplans cited in Exh. Cat., Pasadena, Art Museum, Roy Lichtenstein, 1967, p. 15). Even though the source image is a derivative of the comic strip, it is a strictly three dimensional motif that undergoes the same formulaic process of simplification and schematization as the more overtly two-dimensional comic-strip images. The rolling hills and expanse of sky, with all its permutations of light and dark, shadow and reflection, are reduced to a flat amalgam of lines, shapes and colours; its nuanced organic forms become rigid and geometric and nature’s disorder is ironed out to become a highly structured arrangement. Lichtenstein has abstracted nature into his own synthetic construct: while traditional landscape painters rely on a willing suspension of belief, asking the beholder - at least for a moment – to accept the representation as the scene itself, Lichtenstein, by contrast, stresses the artificiality of the representation, urging us to recall not the natural landscape but a generic landscape as depicted in the mass media. Above all it is in the rendering of a three-dimensional landscape in a two-dimensional graphic style with its tenacious insistence on ineluctable flatness of the picture plane that silences his antagonistic critics in demonstrating his engagement with the same formal concerns that had been the overbearing preoccupation of his greatest ancestors. As Diane Waldman has commentated, “Sinking Sun, an obvious cliché of a landscape, is among the most successful of [Lichtenstein’s] landscape paintings, largely because it strikes such an effective balance among its subject, the conventions of the comic strip and the demands of pure painting. By stressing the artificiality of the comic-strip derived landscape, Lichtenstein proposed a new form of landscape painting. The predetermined fiction of the comic strip enabled him to present the illusionistic image of the landscape in terms that confirm the fictive reality of the picture plane. As he had in the past, Lichtenstein was able to subvert the representational subject matter by belying its reality and conforming instead to the reality of a reproduction and, ultimately, the even more fundamental reality of the canvas.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Roy Lichtenstein, 1994, p. 131). Standing at the intersection of popular culture and high art, Sinking Sun aptly demonstrates the facility with which Lichtenstein negotiated between Fine Art and images of common currency. In a large part the initial potency of Sinking Sun derived from the cultural shock of scrutinizing for the first time a spectacle so common that we have always closed our eyes to it; Lichtenstein’s skill resided in his ability to unlock the beauty within the pictorial conventions of ubiquitous, everyday images. However, like Jasper John’s Flag, itself a metaphorical landscape of stars, sky and limitless American horizons, Sinking Sun has become a timeless American icon, as fresh and compelling today as it was to its original audience. Exceptional for its rarity, Sinking Sun is one of the few unequivocal cultural landmarks of the twentieth century, making this the rarest of auction moments. Signed and dated 64 on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2006-05-10
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Le Roi jouant avec la reine

Le Roi jouant avec la reine is Max Ernst's masterpiece in sculpture. Belonging to a small group of sculptures that Ernst conceived in 1944, Le Roi jouant avec la reine is one of the artists most powerful and compelling plastic works and illustrates his visionary approach to the medium. The power of this work lies in the contrast in scale between the oneiric, god-like figure of the King who rises out of the chessboard and the smaller figure of the queen who sits within his embrace. Discussing the sculptures of this period Carola Giedion-Welcker wrote: the best among them is the spectacular composition Le Roi jouant avec la reine (1944), with its contrasting alternation of smoothly supple, tactile volumes and encircled expanses of air, combining to produce an impression of suggestive lightness and spatial tension (C. Giedion-Welcker, quoted in Max Ernst. Sculptures, maisons, paysages (exhibition catalogue), Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1998, p. 154, translated from French). This dynamism is an essential element of Ernsts anthropomorphic reimagining of chess pieces in the work. The Surrealist preoccupation with chess stemmed from more than a mere enjoyment of the game; rather, chess was particularly suitable as a means of exploring Surrealist preoccupations. Visually it lent itself to a Surrealist involvement, but more importantly, it could function metaphorically as an alternative reality. For artists who had lived through the First World War, it offered a different battleground and a means of transcribing violence in more civilized terms. The practicalities of the game the paradox between individual thought and proscribed movement mirrored their own interest in automatism and the unconscious mind but the patterns of play were also suggestive of other realms and multiple endings. A keen player, Ernst was particularly receptive to these artistic possibilities, using them to great effect in the present work. Just as the beauty of the game lies not in the pieces but in their movement, in Le Roi jouant avec la reine the power of the sculpture is not in its constituent parts but in the suggestive fluidity of their orchestration. The sculpture was originally conceived in the summer of 1944 while Ernst and Dorothea Tanning were holidaying in Great River, Long Island. Ernst presented the plaster version to his friend Robert Motherwell, who was also staying nearby, as Motherwell recalled: Max Ernst made some haunting sculpture in white plaster, including The King Playing with the Queen. Angry at its general rejection, and moved by my admiration, he gave me The King on the spot. I barely managed to get it into my little Nash convertible (quoted in H. H. Arnason & Dore Ashton, Robert Motherwell, New York, 1982, p. 106). In 1953 Jean and Dominique de Menil arranged for the work to be cast in bronze by the Modern Art Foundry and Ernst arranged for Motherwell to receive a bronze cast as an acknowledgement of his safekeeping of the plaster and in testament to the friendship between the two artists. Dr. Jürgen Pech has confirmed the authenticity of this work. Inscribed max ernst and numbered I 

  • USAUSA
  • 2017-05-16
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Le Bassin aux nymphéas

Claude Monets paintings of his water lily pond at Giverny rank among the most celebrated Impressionist pictures. The profound impact the series made on the evolution of modern art distinguishes this important series as Monets greatest achievement. The famous lily pond in his garden at Giverny provided the subject matter for most of his major late works, recording the changes in his style and his constant pictorial innovations. The present work, which dates from circa 1917-20, is a powerful testament to Monets enduring vision and creativity in his mature years. Le Bassin aux nymphéas triumphantly achieves monuments of color; the water reflects the skies shifting hues and the lilies themselves are elegant touches of paint applied with bravura. By 1890, Monet had become financially successful enough to buy the house and large garden at Giverny, which he had rented since 1883. With enormous vigor and determination, he swiftly set about transforming the gardens and creating a large pond. There were initially a number of complaints about Monets plans to divert the river Epte through his garden in order to feed his new pond, which he had to address in his application to the Préfet of the Eure department: "I would like to point out to you that, under the pretext of public salubrity, the aforementioned opponents have in fact no other goal than to hamper my projects out of pure meanness, as is frequently the case in the country where Parisian landowners are involved. I would also like you to know that the aforementioned cultivation of aquatic plants will not have the importance that this term implies and that it will be only a pastime, for the pleasure of the eye, and for motifs to paint" (quoted in M. Hoog, Musée de lOrangerie. The Nymphéas of Claude Monet, Paris, 2006, p. 119). Once the garden was designed according to the artists vision, it offered a boundless source of inspiration, and provided the major themes that dominated the last three decades of Monets career. Towards the end of his life, he obfuscated his initial intentions, perhaps with a mind to his own mythology, telling a visitor to his studio: "It took me some time to understand my water lilies. I planted them purely for pleasure; I grew them with no thought of painting them. A landscape takes more than a day to get under your skin. And then, all at once I had the revelation how wonderful my pond was and reached for my palette. Ive hardly had any other subject since that moment" (quoted in S. Koja, Claude Monet (exhibition catalogue), Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, 1996, p. 146). Once discovered, the subject of water lilies offered a wealth of inspiration that Monet went on to explore for several decades. His carefully designed garden presented the artist with a micro-cosmos in which he could observe and paint the changes in weather, season and time of day, as well as the ever-changing colors and patterns. John House wrote: "The water garden in a sense bypassed Monets long searches of earlier years for a suitable subject to paint. Designed and constantly supervised by the artist himself, and tended by several gardeners, it offered him a motif that was at the same time natural and at his own command - nature re-designed by a temperament. Once again Monet stressed that his real subject when he painted was the light and weather" (J. House, Monet: Nature into Art, Newhaven, 1986, p. 31). By 1909, Monet's paintings of his Giverny garden were creating a sensation among patrons and critics. In 1909, Charles Morice wrote in response to an exhibition of recent works at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris: "These 'Paysages d'eau,' five years of studies at the edge of the same pond, miraculously synthesize all the accomplishments of Impressionism, all its errors, all its merits. One shouldn't resist this enchantment, but one must also take it into account. The omnipotence of the artist is not in question: he has done exactly what he proposed to do. But, if Delacroix had good reason to define painting as 'the art of producing illusion in the mind of the spectator by way of his eyes,' could one say that the painting of Mr. Monet accords with the terms of this definition This painting does not aim at our mind; it stops at our eyes. This splendidly and exclusively physical art returns to the elements of matter. It has the status of a necessary reaction and bears witness always to marvelous personal gifts" (C. Morice, "Modern Art" in Mercure de France, July 16, 1909, trans. in Claude Monet: Late Work (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, 2010, p. 180). The lasting legacy of Monets late work is most clearly seen in the art of the Abstract Expressionists, such as Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollock and Sam Francis, whose bold color planes and rejection of figuration is foreshadowed by Monets Nymphéas. In recent years Gerhard Richter's monumental abstract canvases, such as Cage 6 from 2006, have carried on the tradition established by his artistic forebears. As Jean-Dominique Rey writes: "Late Monet is a mirror in which the future can be read. The generation that, in about 1950, rediscovered it, also taught us how to see it for ourselves. And it was Monet who allowed us to recognize this generation. Osmosis occurred between them. The old man, mad about colour, drunk with sensation, fighting with time so as to abolish it and place it in the space that sets it free, atomizing it into a sumptuous bouquet and creating a complete film of a beyond painting, remains of consequential relevance today" (J.-D. Rey, op. cit., Paris, 2008, p. 116). The present work is distinguished by its important early provenance. Katia Granoff, the Ukranian poet and art dealer who was close friends with Michel and Gaby Monet, was given the opportunity to acquire major works from Monet's estate including the present work. Granoff championed Monet's paintings from his late oeuvre throughout her lifetime, and contributed many photographs and factual information to the first edition of the artist's catalogue raisonné. Stamped Claude Monet (lower right); stamped Claude Monet (on the reverse)

  • USAUSA
  • 2017-05-16
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Portrait

Curving and muscular, sensuous yet tinged with threat, Francis Bacon’s Portrait from 1962 is a masterclass in the art of seduction. Despite its anonymous title, this passionate painting is undoubtedly a portrait of Bacon's first great love, Peter Lacy, and invites the viewer’s voyeuristic gaze to explore the serpentine lines and flowing curves of the libidinous and muscled flesh on display. Combining the erotic grandeur of Michelangelo with the bestial carnality of a fresh kill, this painting heralds the very beginnings of Bacon’s great (and long) late style.  Arriving in a burst of precocious activity between January and May 1962, embarked upon in preparation for his landmark career retrospective at the Tate Gallery, this painting announces a shift in the artist’s treatment and portrayal of the human animal. Under the spotlight and on the stage, Bacon’s work is imbued with a grandiloquence that approaches the cinematic. Fittingly, Portrait once resided in the collection of pioneering film director Michelangelo Antonioni, whose acclaimed existentialist films of the 1960s telescoped the alienation of our contemporary situation in a way that chimes with Bacon’s revelation of the isolated human figure’s corporal despair. With this work, the creative frustration and turbulence of the mid-1950s was finally converted into a profound inventive force: Portrait marks the inception of an astounding vision that would engender the most remarkable decade of Bacon’s career. Counting among the handful of new paintings created before the Tate show in May 1962, Portrait accompanied the artist’s first great large-scale triptych, Three Studies for a Crucifixion and prestigiously graced the Tate’s walls. Both of these works deploy an exhilarating painterly treatment in which flesh and bone are turned outwards while writhing bodies are located within increasingly resolute interiors. The hallowed ‘spaceframe’ is largely abandoned; although the faint ghost of its linear outline burns through the cool greys and taupe shades that demarcate floor from ceiling in Portrait, Bacon’s drama now takes place upon a raised curvilinear platform and within a defined claustrophobic room. Recalling Bacon’s memories of a country house in Abbeyleix, Ireland, in which he lived as a boy, curving walls and arced space became the quintessential Baconian stage-set from this moment on. Of the latter, Portrait shares a remarkable compositional congruence with Study from Innocent X (one of Bacon’s most inventive and very last Pope paintings executed in 1962, also exhibited in the Tate show) and in many ways these works are pendant pictures. The use of arcs intersecting and dividing the background to create the sense of a curving room and raised platform – or dais – are almost identical in both works; while their corkscrewing bodies and contorted and grimacing features confer an unmistakable reading of the bestial. The very cruciform pose of Bacon’s subject in Portrait – with both arms spread-open above interlaced legs that appear to hover as though suspended in midair – formally echoes the pictorial trope of Christ’s crucifixion. This is a religious construal that carries through from the present work – which has been suggested was painted early in 1962 – into the red Pope that comes next in Ronald Alley’s 1964 catalogue raisonné, and finally through to the Three Studies for a Crucifixion which was famously completed only days before the Tate show opened in May. The confluence between the far right panel of this triptych (which has been suggested is a re-working and inversion of Cimabue’s canonical altarpiece) and the present work, thus imparts a striking conceptual link. However, counter to the hot inferno and vicious animalism of these two paintings, the palette for Portrait is considerably cooler and presents a voluptuous male body that in its very contortion activates a louche yet inviting scenario ripe with phallic charge. It is worth noting as well that where the figure of the Pope and armature of the Christ’s crucifixion were symbols of Bacon’s rise to prominence during the 1950s, the proven success of this symbolic ‘crutch’ began to give way for, to quote John Russell, ‘the maximization of risk’ at stake within his practice of portraiture. (John Russell, Francis Bacon, Greenwich, 1971, p. 165) Having said this, where Portrait may at first appear to be the sedate and composed counterpoint to the blood-curdling despair of Study from Innocent X or Three Studies for a Crucifixion, this painting’s quintessential Baconian violence is concentrated within the corkscrewing body, phallic power, and virtuoso facture of the face: scraped into a wide grimace, a row of bared incisors underlines a viscous stratum of corrugated oil paint that coalesces to form this painting’s locus of psychological torment. Herein, Portrait of 1962 can be seen to anticipate the artist’s remarkable pictorial inventions and career-defining body of portraiture that was soon to emerge following the supreme success of the Tate show. When it opened in May 1962, the contemporary press lauded this exhibition with glowing reviews. “It would be both unwise and unjust to write briefly about the retrospective exhibition of work by Francis Bacon at the Tate Gallery” wrote Eric Newton for The Guardian, “beauty is there throughout. A casual glance into any of the five rooms in which these pictures hang, reveals shapes that are noble in themselves, and color schemes that are enchanting. It is only when we begin to examine them for subject matter that one begins to experience the frisson that is Bacon's special gift.” (Eric Newton, "Mortal Conflict," The Guardian, 24 May 1962) The high praise continued in an indepth profile of Bacon in The Observer which celebrated the painterly virtuosity on view at the Tate: “few people will visit the Tate without being stunned by Bacon’s really tremendous power to convey the underworld of tension and suffering – humanity with the lid off.” (Anon. "The Observer Profile" in: The Observer Weekend Review, 27 May 1962, p. 23) While Nigel Gosling’s review declared Bacon as “the most interesting” of “all the living painters I know.” (Nigel Gosling, "Report from the Underworld," Ibid., p. 27) Significantly, Gosling’s piece accorded special recognition to Bacon’s new work by referring to “the exciting new paintings which crown this splendidly chosen and displayed exhibition.” (Ibid.) As part of the retrospective’s dramatic climax, these new works (which included Portrait, Study from Innocent X, and Three Studies for a Crucifixion) announced Bacon’s latest innovations in portraying the human condition. Boasting geometric simplicity, sumptuous use of color, a heightened sense of painterly spontaneity and fleshy voluptuousness, the originality of these works would directly renew his approach to the human body as a site of exuberant excess, pain, and brutal release. Three years prior to this, Bacon had begun to explore the classical theme of the reclining nude in a number of anonymous, androgynous, yet erotically charged "Lying Figure" paintings created during a three-month stay in the Cornish seaside village of St. Ives. Indeed, the composition and color palette of the present work finds its genesis in this small corpus. Presaging the contorted and provocative nudity of Portrait these upside-down figures lie prostrate on a sofa and form corporeal fleshy jumbles that languorously writhe. Although short, Bacon’s time in St. Ives would have a dramatic impact and would furnish the transition away from the grisaille half-light and tank-like interiors of his previous 1950s output. Immersed in a local artistic milieu that was predominantly centered on contemporary debates surrounding abstraction, Bacon, who had previously dismissed this branch of contemporary art as merely “decorative”, nonetheless began to apply Newman and Rothkoesque fields to engender a new kind of spatial depth through color (the artist cited in Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London, 1996, p. 223). Pitched against these enlivened and increasingly flattened planes, which, as in the present work, imbued his paintings with a heightened environmental presence and actuality, Bacon’s treatment of the human form underwent a correlative transformation. The ghost-like pallor of his figures fell away and was replaced by a depiction of human flesh as living and bleeding: muscle and bone turned inside out. A more immediate developmental stage in the creation of Portrait can be traced to a sketch published in Martin Harrison’s In Camera: Francis Bacon, Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting (published in 2005). Although Bacon famously never admitted to drawing or premeditating his works, it is widely known that he did write lists and, more infrequently, made rapid short-hand studies for potential compositions. Dated to 1962, and etched onto frontispieces of Eadweard Muybridge’s The Human Figure in Motion (1955 edition), a quickly worked thinned-oil sketch of a figure reclining on a sofa/chaise faces a list in Bacon’s typical hand of ideas for future works. At the top of the list ‘Portrait of Peter as opposite’ seems to confirm that this sketch – and by association the present work which contains an almost identical pictorial schema, pose, intimation of a dais or raised platform, and intersecting pattern of background curves – depicts the object of Bacon’s first and greatest love affair, Peter Lacy (Martin Harrison, In Camera: Francis Bacon, Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, London, 2005, p. 181). In Portrait, the outstretched arms and seated position, the structure of the head, the contortion of the facial features and the sinister grimace, are all characteristics familiar to Bacon’s portrayal of Lacy. An older man and ex-RAF pilot with a tendency for violent outbursts, Lacy was Bacon’s romantic ideal. It was a destructive relationship that fed equally upon Lacy’s appetite for sadism and Bacon’s masochistic cravings. Although their turbulent relationship had come to an end in 1958, Bacon, who had also continued to frequently visit Lacy where he had settled in Tangier, continued to conjure his likeness in paint. Having titled the work Portrait Bacon leads us to believe that this painting is indeed a rendering of someone, and considering the phallocentric eroticism and subtle menace on show, it can be inferred that Lacy is most probably the subject of the present work. Lacy appears in a number of guises throughout Bacon’s production; he is the model for Bacon’s terrifying Papal father figures in the 1950s, the dominant lover in the violently sexual Two Figures of 1953, and subject of countless portraits including the first official small canvas triptych in the 14 by 12 inch size, Study for Three Heads of 1962. Of the latter, this painting was executed in mourning of Lacy’s death in Tangier, news of which reached Bacon on the very first day that his Tate retrospective opened to the public. Herein, Portrait is arguably the last painting of Lacy executed whilst he was still alive. Ultimately however, that the identity of Portrait is left anonymous leaves interpretation entirely open to reading a host of disparate linkages. The interlacing and corkscrewing limbs, the voluptuous flesh and ample musculature in Portrait invokes the importance of Michelangelo in Bacon’s imagination. Of the many artifacts excavated from Bacon’s Reece Mews studio were countless leafs taken from books on the Renaissance master, particularly of drawings depicting the male body which was his primary focus as an artist.  The tangible bulk of Bacon’s subject in Portrait is fundamentally Michelangeloesque: the undulating curves of the arms, the sculpting shadow that defines the right pectoral and the hefty posterior emulate the muscled tension of Michelangelo’s idealized male forms. However in Bacon’s imagination the work of Michelangelo was tied up with images by the pioneering documentary photographer Eadweard Muybridge. “Actually Muybridge and Michelangelo are mixed up in my mind together” explained Bacon, “and so I perhaps could learn about positions from Muybridge and learn about the ampleness, the grandeur of form from Michelangelo.” (the artist cited in Margarita Cappock, Francis Bacon’s Studio, London and New York, 2005, p. 116) Published in the late Nineteenth Century, Muybridge’s pseudo-scientific photographic treatises on human and animal locomotion presented for the first time an aid for artists in capturing split-second images of moving bodies. Sold as plates and eventually published in volumes, Muybridge’s motion studies were populist, voyeuristic, and undeniably eccentric; the gratuitous display of nude and well-muscled male bodies climbing stairs, running, jumping, boxing, playing tennis and cricket, fencing and wrestling appealed massively to Bacon, not only for their vital authenticity as documenting the human body in motion, but also for their undeniable homoerotic content. For Bacon, Muybridge and Michelangelo represented two sides of the same coin; although separated by centuries and entirely different objectives, these two were bound in Bacon’s mind owing to the wealth of taut muscled poses prevalent in the work of both. For Bacon, these images of the male body were libidinous and unlocked ‘valves of sensation’ that acted as a key cipher onto which he could apply and improvise his own painterly record of impassioned embodiment. That Bacon outlined this preliminary working through of Portrait on a copy of Muybridge’s Human Figure in Motion further emphasizes the fact. Furthermore, as images presented in sequence the latent sense of the cinematic within Muybridge was not lost on Bacon; indeed, film was of massive consequence and truly formed him as a painter. As explained by art historian David Alan Mellor: “From almost the time of the first critical writing on Bacon, in 1949, film was seen to be the indispensable point of reference for any understanding of him.” (David Alan Mellor, “Film, Fantasy, History in Francis Bacon” in Exh. Cat., London, Tate Britain (and travelling), Francis Bacon, 2008, p. 50) From Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), Luis Buñuel’s Un chien andalou (1967) through to Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima mon amour (1959), the powerful imagery of film fed directly into Bacon’s “pulverizing machine” and symptomatically emerged in his painting; the most famous example of which is the screaming nanny motif from Potemkin which finds almost endless repetition in Bacon’s early work (the artist cited in John Russell, Ibid., p. 71). A true cinephile, Bacon immersed himself in film’s burgeoning history, its developing field of critical literature, and its exciting contemporary development. As Mellor has explained, in parallel with the ascent of creative film-making “something in painting withered as a result. Bacon’s purpose has been to bring that something back to life.” (Ibid.) From the work of Fritz Lang, D.W. Griffith and Abel Gance, through to the more novel and experimental trends in popular culture, Bacon was open to every development in this new and exciting genre. Indeed, the red and green accents outlining the body in Portrait seem to reflect the contemporaneous craze for 3D images and film, which beginning in Hollywood in 1953, had swept across Britain by the late 1950s. Martin Harrison alludes to this fact in In Camera and points to the concurrent appearance of red and green combinations in a number of works from the 1960s (Martin Harrison, ibid., p. 150). However, as the history of Portrait’s ownership relays, the direction of this stream of influence has since changed current. Within the last 50 years or so, the influence of Bacon’s work on the arena of film is undeniably palpable. As opening testament to this, the first owner of Portrait was the Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, who alongside Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Goddard, and Alain Resnais pioneered a new wave of European art-house cinema that emanated a distinctly contemporary ennui. Subversive and influential in equal measure, Antonioni had made his name by 1960 with L’Avventura (1959), which along with a further two films (La Notte and L’Eclisse) released in 1960 and 1962 respectively, explores the thematic of modern day alienation and emotional abandonment through narrative disjoint and striking camera work. It is for the 1966 Blow-Up however that Antonioni is best known; set within swinging London, the film loosely follows a fashion photographer who believes he unknowingly captures evidence of a murder when photographing two lovers in a public park. Fittingly for Bacon’s work, this film scrutinizes how our perception of reality and fact is increasingly channeled through the proclaimed ‘truth’ of a photographic image. That Portrait, and largely Bacon’s work in general, would have struck a chord with Antonioni is therefore unsurprising: chilling renderings of distinctly modern and alienated human beings reside at the very core of both artists’ work. Whether Bacon influenced Antonioni or vice versa is undocumented, however, evidence of Bacon’s impact on a host of more recent cinematic heavyweights affirm the truly epic scope of Bacon’s remarkable creative vision. In the controversial Last Tango in Paris (1972) starring Marlon Brando, director Bernardo Bertolucci juxtaposed the film’s opening credits alongside two of Bacon’s paintings, one of Lucian Freud reclining in a manner that echoes the pose in Portrait, and another of Isabel Rawsthorne sitting on a chair; both were painted in 1964. During the filming of Last Tango in 1971 Bertolucci visited Bacon’s retrospective in Paris at the Grand Palais multiple times, even taking Brando, whom he encouraged to look at Bacon’s provocative portrayal of male flesh as inspiration for his character Paul – an older man who enters into an anonymous and sado-masochistic relationship with a young woman. The writhing, straining, and tormented quality of Bacon’s figures, whose provocative flesh is hungover with aggressive sexuality, is carried across to the psychologically perturbed and sexual abandon of Bertolucci’s protagonists. Indeed, there is even something of the sadistic/seductive tone of Portrait inherent within Brando’s character. On a more holistic level however, it was the color of Bacon’s paintings that affected the overall look of Last Tango in Paris: the cinematography is characterized by a predominance of orange, icy white, cool grey and flashes of red, a palette that was sourced directly from hues found in Bacon’s work. Where for Bertolucci the influence of Bacon was specific to Last Tango, Bacon’s incredible arena, at once grand and claustrophobic, resonates throughout the entire career of David Lynch. The importance of Bacon for Lynch is undeniable: from the heavily curtained room of the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks (1990-91), the pig carcass hanging outside the butchers shop in The Elephant Man (1980), the unconstrained primal shrieks of Dennis Hopper’s sadistic Frank Booth in Blue Velvet (1986), not to mention the body horror of Lynch’s first critical success, Eraser Head (1977), there is a Baconian menace that infiltrates every pore of this director’s production. As explained by Lynch: “Francis Bacon is, to me, the main guy, the number one kinda hero painter. I saw Bacon’s show in the 1960s at the Marlborough Gallery and it was really one of the most powerful things I ever saw in my life… The subject matter and the style were united, married, perfect. And the space, and the slow and the fast and, you know, the textures, everything.” (David Lynch cited in Erica Sheen and Annette Davidson, Eds., The Cinema of David Lynch: American Dreams, Nightmare Visions (Directors' Cuts), New York, 2004, p. 139) Intriguingly, where David Lynch had first started as an artist before his foray into film-making, Bacon reflected upon a similar reversal of his own ambitions: “You know, I’ve often said to myself that I would have liked to have been a film director if I hadn’t been a painter.” (the artist cited in Margarita Cappock, Op. Cit., p. 117) The filmic dimension of Bacon’s art is thus entirely beyond reproach and continues to profoundly impact the vision of filmmakers today. Perhaps the most famous and recent example of which is Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, for which Heath Ledger’s Joker makeup in The Dark Knight (2008) was directly inspired by the “worn through [and] sweaty” quality of Baconian flesh. (Christopher Nolan in conversation in “Film meets Art – Chris Nolan inspired by Francis Bacon”, Tate Video, 02.19) Ambitious in scope, theatrical in scale, and foreboding in presence, the sense of a majestic cinematic entity is played out powerfully across the large-scaled golden-framed triptychs and single paneled paintings that would send Bacon’s reputation into the stratosphere during the coming decade. Having first resided with one of the most pioneering visionaries in the history of film, Portrait is utterly indicative of the very beginnings of this ambitious project, which following the 1962 retrospective and the innovative works that Bacon made for it, would set the standard and format for the rest of Bacon’s long and illustrious career. Furnishing the very incipit of this transition, Portrait is an extremely passionate and accomplished piece of painting. Conferring unrestrained intensity of feeling, this painting is a lustful soliloquy to Peter Lacy that is a simultaneous masterwork of compositional balance: steamy eroticism is cooled by a sedate chromatic palette. Muscular, powerful and sexually charged, inviting and yet simultaneously menacing, this is an image that extends far beyond the simplicity of its title. Titled and dated 1962 on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-11-12
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Untitled (Rome)

“He smears the colour on with his fingers or applies it directly from the tube onto the canvas as a physical act: colour becomes raw condition or ‘materia nuda’, human presence of gods and heroes like flesh and blood in pink and red.” Heiner Bastian, Cy Twombly: Paintings 1952-1976 Volume I, Berlin 1978, p. 43. Cy Twombly’s breathtaking painting Untitled (Rome) of 1964 brings together in perfect concert all the spectacular drama, enveloping scale, stunning colour, sublime confluence of line and form, and sheer emotional urgency that characterise the most irresistible achievements of his prodigious oeuvre. Executed in the artist’s thirty-sixth year, this major triumph of his groundbreaking 1960s output belongs to a critical moment in his long and illustrious career. Created in Rome, Twombly’s beloved adopted home, it was acquired in Italy forty-five years ago and has remained in the same important private European collection ever since. Never before exhibited publically, Untitled (Rome)’s monumental scale, surpassed by only one other work of 1964, sets it apart as among the most physically impressive canvases of Twombly’s entire canon. The canvas spans in excess of two by two and-a-half meters, and to stand before it first-hand is to enter an experiential arena limited only by the beholder’s imagination. Untitled (Rome) precisely distils Twombly’s revolutionary idiom, combining ethereal strokes of graphite, brilliantly coloured graffito lines, and visceral clumps of impasto to conjure the suggestion of a plethora of influence and remembrance. In contrast to paintings of the preceding 1961-63 period, which frequently took a specific Classical myth as their inspiration, Untitled (Rome) embodies what Roland Barthes termed Twombly’s “Mediterranean effect”: a topology of references constituting  “an enormous complex of memories and sensations… a historical, mythological, poetic culture, this whole life of forms, colors and light which occurs at the frontier of the terrestrial landscape and the plains of the sea” (Roland Barthes, ‘The Wisdom of Art’ in: Nicola Del Roscio, Ed., Writings on Cy Twombly, Munich 2002, p. 19). It is a work of art that exists in and of itself, encapsulating Heiner Bastian’s description of Twombly’s 1961-65 corpus; “Everything about the paintings… above all, their permeation with antiquity and the Mediterranean world – sets them apart from the larger body of artistic theory of the latter half of this century” (Heiner Bastian, Cy Twombly, Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, 1961-65, Vol. II, Munich 1993, p. 21). The composition beautifully unites two pillars of Twombly’s practice, painting and drawing, in terms simultaneously as emphatic as they are economical. The delicate pencil strokes connote an essential and sensitive linear architecture that proves an unlikely yet precise counterbalance to the explosive passages of vibrant colour. Indicating a demarcation of the composition into three vertical sections, the sharply incised horizontal and vertical graphite lines suggest both the design of a triptych, and even more specific formal iconography, such as the raised central platform or step that is common to Renaissance triptych altarpiece paintings that present a central protagonist, elevated above their supplicants. Moreover, Twombly’s composition continues the unremittingly free association between painting and language, with a short vertical line of text sitting above the central white form, which is intended to be virtually indecipherable but which could read “A Lesson’s end.” The indeterminate yet vibrant white form at the centre of the composition comprises a richly aggregated matrix of looped marks; impasto oil paint squeezed, scratched and gouged in repeated circular lines. This woven mass both recalls Frank O'Hara’s 1955 description of Twombly’s work: “a bird seems to have passed through the impasto with cream-colored screams and bitter claw-marks… this new development makes the painting itself the form” (Frank O'Hara, 'Cy Twombly,' ARTnews, vol. 53, no. 9, January 1955, p. 46); as well as evidently anticipating the looped mark-making of the revered ‘blackboard’ paintings that were to come later in the decade. Twombly had first moved to Italy seven years earlier in 1957, establishing a studio in Rome that overlooked the Colosseum. In 1959 he married Tatiana Franchetti in New York, thereby formally becoming integrated into his wife’s Italian family. In early 1960 the couple moved into a grand new home in a seventeenth-century Palazzo on the Via di Monserrato in Rome and Twombly’s life became infused with the antiquarian splendour and sensually overwhelming experience of the heart of the city among Classical stimuli and evocative urban topography. As Nicholas Cullinan has described, “To encounter the past is to put into question the present. This sense of awe and perplexity at overlaid tenses and times and encountering places only previously known in the imagination…offered for Twombly a palimpsest of past, present and future; layered, intertwined and interpenetrating each other like archaeological strata” (Nicholas Cullinan in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Modern, Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, 2008, p. 74). Concurrently Twombly’s style became increasingly visceral, with thick and florid colour enunciating Classical references, such as in the Ferragosto paintings executed in the summer of 1961. Working in his studio on Piazza del Biscione through 1962, he became more focused on mythological subjects, as demonstrated through his paintings Birth of Venus, Hero and Leander, Leda and the Swan, and Vengeance of Achilles. These thematic developments culminated at the end of 1963 with a series of works called Nine Discourses on Commodus, an epic portrait of the violently megalomaniac Roman emperor. He spent the Spring of 1964 in Greece and during July and August he worked in Castel Gardena in the Dolomites on a series of drawings which he entitled Notes from a Tower. When he returned to Rome he painted the major triptych Ilium (One Morning Ten Years Later), the extraordinary second version of School of Athens, now in the Museum Ludwig, Cologne, and the masterful Il Parnasso. It was in this context that Twombly created the present work; a crescendo of the visceral imagery, compositional economy, and graphic intelligence that define a staggering innovation and inimitable abstract aesthetic. Approaching the Classical tradition broadly, Untitled (Rome) magnificently and concisely illustrates the dialectic underlying classical art, as outlined by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche in his defining work The Birth of Tragedy (1872). Beyond an historical analysis, Nietzsche aimed to identify universal principles of tragic art, which he saw as stemming from the tension between ordered Apollonian self-concern and Dionysian states of destructive communal abandon. Nietzsche’s description of this interplay speaks to the visual encounter of Untitled (Rome): “And behold! Apollo could not live without Dionysos… Let us now imagine how the ecstatic sounds of the Dionysiac festival, with its ever more seductive, magical melodies, entered this artificially dammed-up world founded on semblance and measure, how in these melodies all the unmeasurable excess in nature found expression in pleasure, suffering and knowledge, in a voice which rose in intensity to a penetrating shout; let us imagine how little the psalm-singing artist of Apollo and the ghostly sound of his harp could mean in comparison to this daemonic popular song!... The individual, with all his limits and measure, became submerged here in the self-oblivion of the Dionysiac condition and forgot the statutes of Apollo. Excess revealed itself as the truth; contradiction, bliss born of pain, spoke of itself from out of the heart of nature” (Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ in: Raymond Geuss and Ronald Speirs, Eds., Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, Cambridge 1999, p. 27). More than any other painter of his generation, Twombly captured the aesthetic of excess (though always in tension with restraint). The proto-architectural drawing along the horizon of Untitled (Rome) can thus also be seen to function as a minimal theatrical set – an Apollonian backdrop – before which violently rendered paint marks perform. Its ruled lines abstractly bespeak a stepped wall or edifice; the pencil a necessary foil to bright and explosively painted oil pigment. Hand prints in various states of resolve – sometimes with a palm, but elsewhere dotted or dragged marks by errant fingertips – showcase Twombly’s tactile painting style. Elsewhere, these personal gestures dissolve into anonymous energetic brushstrokes, which constitute bright knots of crimson red or brilliant white. The palette utilised in Untitled (Rome) can significantly be found on ancient pottery and statuary from the classical Mediterranean: bright orange and red, cobalt blue, yellow, black and white, are all pigments that archaeologists have determined originally adorned the now purest white marble statues and temples. By its recourse to Classical history, the immediacy of its painted finger marks, and insistently representational composition, Untitled (Rome) evinces how Twombly differed from contemporary Abstract Expressionism. Nevertheless, it equally illustrates Thomas Crow’s observation that Twombly and the Abstract Expressionists were affined by having “extinguished explicit figuration the better to retain the formal characteristics of heroicizing art from the past: large scale, expansiveness of effect, the rhetoric of ambition and risk… In this sense, their art was old-fashioned in its ambition, a throwback to the seventeenth century… when art could confidently summon up belief in Vir Heroicus Sublimis” (Thomas Crow, Modern Art in the Common Culture, New Haven 1996, p. 191). The immersive dimensions, arresting colour scheme, and aggressively painted surface of Untitled (Rome) unmistakably convey its ambitions as a truly heroic work of art.

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2014-02-12
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DEUX FEMMES or LA CHEVELURE FLEURIE

Executed in 1902, during his second and last visit to the South Seas, Deux femmes or La Chevelure fleurie epitomises Gauguin’s fascination with his idyllic surroundings, and presents a peak of the artist’s life-long search for the primitive achieved in his last years. Attracted by the freedom, wilderness and simplicity of this remote place far removed from the Western world, Gauguin produced works in which the fluidity and expressiveness of the brushstrokes reflect the sense of artistic liberation. The dynamic, vivid palette of the present painting evokes the richness of nature that excited the artist, and the warm, golden yellow of the women’s bodies contrast the purple hues of the background. The particular appeal of this work lies in the tension between the overt sensuality of the two semi-nude figures and the mysterious quality of the overall atmosphere. Having spent two years in Tahiti, in July 1893 Gauguin returned to France, in order to sell his paintings and raise funds for subsequent travels.  After twenty-two months of energetic and intense activity of self-promotion, the artist left Marseille on 3rd July 1895. In September he arrived at Papeete, where he had spent most of his time during his first stay on the island, but having found it increasingly Europeanised and colonised, moved to Punaauia, where he lived in a traditional Tahitian hut made of bamboo canes and palm leaves. In 1901 Gauguin finally carried out his old intention of moving even further to the islands of Marquesas, and on 10th September left Tahiti on the steamship Croix de Sud. He settled on the island of Hivaoa, where life was more savage and scenery far wilder than in Tahiti. Furthermore, its inhabitants had a reputation for being the most handsome people in the South Seas – taller, slimmer, and with elegant, elongated features. The artist himself wrote: ‘I am certain that in the Marquesas, where models are easy to find (while in Tahiti it is getting more and more difficult), and where in addition there are landscapes to discover – new and more primitive sources of inspiration, in fact – I can do fine things. My creative powers were beginning to flag here, and moreover the art public was getting too familiar with Tahiti’ (quoted in Bengt Danielsson, Gauguin in the South Seas, London, 1965, p. 228). It was on this remote island, where Gauguin was to stay for the rest of his life, that the present work was painted. After months of financial struggle and deteriorating health, the beginning of 1902 saw a period of relative prosperity for Gauguin, and it was probably during this time of increased enthusiasm and artistic creativity that he painted Deux femmes. Showing two semi-nude female figures in an interior setting, it depicts the atmosphere of languor characteristic of the tropics, and its strong, vibrant tones demonstrate the artist’s fascination with the warm, lush colours of the sunlit island. The depiction of the two figures reflects Gauguin’s admiration of the golden yellow skin of the Marquesan women (fig. 1), and their proportionate bodies, more elegant than the muscular, androgynous physique of the Tahitian women (fig. 2). He wrote about the Marquesan type: ‘Their beautiful bodies, without any whalebone to deform them, move with sinuous grace under their lace and muslin chemises’. Whilst still fascinated with the wilderness of the island and its nature, Gauguin became more interested in the mythical, spiritual quality of his surroundings during his second stay in the South Seas, and his imagination and creative energy often focused on compositions that transcended the particular place in which they were painted. He created his own mythic universe which was a conflation of the religious traditions of the East, West and Oceania, of beliefs both ancient and contemporary. The artist’s personal mythology, combining the physical with the spiritual into an idyllic, harmonious world, reached its most accomplished expression in Gauguin’s monumental Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? of 1897. In the present work, the physical beauty of the figures, rendered with lush, vibrant colours, is imbued with an air of spirituality and otherworldliness typical of Gauguin’s late works. The praying figure depicted in the top right corner adds a note of mysticism, its blue tonality, usually associated with the spiritual, in sharp contrast with the lush tone of the women’s bodies. Another curiosity in the present composition is the fox appearing in the doorway, often interpreted as a symbol of perversity. George T. M. Shackelford compared the fox in Deux femmes with a wooden relief Soyez amoureuses vous serez heureuses of 1889 (fig. 3), also showing the animal among a number of exotic figures: ‘The odd relationship between the relief of 1889 and a painting of 1902 is underscored by another canvas completed in the same year, Two Women [the present work], in which the Breton fox sits outside the door of a Polynesian dwelling. Within the house, two figures sit in curious juxtaposition, with a strange “carved” figure perched at the upper right of the composition’ (G. T. M. Shackelford, in Gauguin Tahiti. The Studio of the South Seas (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 254). Apart from painting and wood carving, during this time Gauguin executed a number of transfer drawings (fig. 5), often used either as studies for his paintings, or to recombine aspects of paintings thus arriving at new images. In his account of the artist’s final years, Richard Brettell wrote: ‘In 1901, Gauguin moved to the even more distant island of Hivaoa, part of the most remote island group on earth. From the tiny village of Atuona, where he lived the last two years of his life, he kept abreast of world news, followed artistic and literary events throughout Europe, and busied himself with the decoration of his last total work of art, the famous House of Pleasure. After years of struggle, he came to a financial agreement with Ambroise Vollard who, in exchange for a more-or-less regular income, imposed a certain level of productivity upon Gauguin. Since his works were then in demand, he finished them relatively quickly and sent them in batches to France … the rapidity with which he worked had a liberating effect on Gauguin. His compositions became more varied, and he experimented even more dramatically with relationships of color’ (R. Brettell, in The Art of Paul Gauguin (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 395). Whilst many artists from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century– from Symbolists to Fauves and German Expressionists – followed Gauguin’s example in their quest for the ‘primitive’ and ‘savage’, he was the one to have ventured furthest in the pursuit of these ideals. A fascinating and highly accomplished image of harmony between man and nature, Deux femmes is a powerful testament not only Gauguin’s own creative vision, but also the artistic and spiritual ideal of his time. Fig. 1, Paul Gauguin, Et l’or de leur corps, 1901, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris Fig. 2, Paul Gauguin, Te faaturuma (I) (La Boudeuse), 1891, oil on canvas, Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts Fig. 3, Paul Gauguin, Soyez amoureuses vous serez heureuses, 1889, painted wood, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Fig. 4, Paul Gauguin, Contes barbares, 1902, oil on canvas, Museum Folkwang, Essen Fig. 5, Deux marquisiennes, circa 1902, transfer drawing printed on paper, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Signed P. Gauguin and dated 1902 (lower left)

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2006-02-07
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Very important fancy intense pink diamond

The pear-shaped fancy intense pink diamond of fine colour weighing 16.00 carats, mounted as an earring with a pear-shaped and a brilliant-cut diamond, post fitting. Certainly, the occurrence of any gem-quality diamond is rare, but the discovery of a pink diamond is exceedingly unusual. Of all diamonds annually submitted to GIA, no more than 3% are classified as coloured diamonds; less than 5% of those coloured diamonds are predominantly pink, according to the Gemmological Institute of America. 'The Artemis Pink' has been determined as type IIa. According to the GIA Laboratory, the 16.00 carat Pear Modified Brilliant diamond has been determined to be a type IIa diamond. Type IIa diamonds are the most chemically pure type of diamond and often have exceptional optical transparency. Type IIa diamonds were first identified as originating from India (particularly from the Golconda region) but have since been recovered in all major diamond-producing regions of the world. Excerpt from the Type IIa classification letter On 4 April 2017, Sothebys Hong Kong sold the Pink Star, a magnificent Fancy Vivid Pink Internally Flawless diamond weighing an outstanding weight of 59.60 carats, for a record price for any diamond, any gemstone and any jewel at US$ 71.2 million. The current record price ever paid at auction for a fancy intense pink diamond is The Graff Pink, a superb 24.76 carat Fancy Intense Pink diamond, which sold at Sothebys Geneva in November 2010 for US$46.16 million. Accompanied by GIA report no. 1172688201, stating that the diamond is Fancy Intense Pink, Natural Colour, VVS2 Clarity, together with a Type IIa classification letter. 

  • CHESwitzerland
  • 2017-05-16
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Untitled (Bolsena)

“By moments, all sense of the concrete is lost in the movement of an invisible, spellbinding, received spaciousness – and the imagery appears as enlarged details of a storehouse of distant apparitions and flux.” Heiner Bastian, Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume III, 1966- 1971, Munich, 1994, p. 32 In the summer of 1969 Cy Twombly worked in isolation on the shores of Lago di Bolsena, about eighty miles north of Rome, to create a cycle of grand, epic paintings that have long been recognized as an outstanding and seminal series of his oeuvre. As definitively attested by the present work, which steadfastly remained in the artist’s own collection for over four decades, the Bolsena canvases are unlike anything else of his groundbreaking 1960s output. Executed during a “long and often lonely siege of work” – clearly catalyzed by a fevered and inexorable will to innovate in the summer heat of central Italy - this painting marks a significant departure from the predominant trends of repetitive elegiac inscription and tonal solemnity of the so-called ‘blackboard’ paintings that occupied much of his attention during the latter part of the decade (Kirk Varnedoe, ‘Inscriptions in Arcadia,’ in Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, 1994, p. 43). As with the very best works by Twombly, this painting signals an urgent and fractured transmutation of diverse stimuli through its lyrical fits of stuttering marks, numbers, fluttering forms and explosive scribbles. Yet, this work is also entirely archetypal of the specific characteristics of the Bolsena series, as precisely defined by Nicholas Cullinan “Flow, segmentation, sequence and lateral speed assume centre stage… Tumbling forms, calculations and scribbled-out numbers like incorrect sums proliferate...[The] topic of ascent and descent is particularly applicable to the Bolsena paintings.” (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern (and travelling), Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, 2008-09, p. 112) Much of the radical shift in Twombly’s oeuvre embodied by the Bolsena works can perhaps be accounted for by his ceaseless travel during this time: an apparently insatiable wanderlust, which concords with the markedly different aesthetic characteristics and pictorial traits of the various series he produced during this entire period. At the end of 1967, the thirty-nine year-old Twombly travelled by boat from New York to Naples, but by May and June 1968 he was back in New York, working in a studio on the Bowery where he created the Orion and Synopsis of a Battle pictures, and the first large-scale version of Treatise on the Veil and Veil of Orpheus. He spent August 1968 in Castel Gardena before returning to New York City for the autumn. In December he was in Captiva Island, Florida, where he worked on a series of collages, as well as in Los Angeles where he had his first exhibition at the Nicholas Wilder Gallery. From there he travelled to California and then on to Mexico and he spent the month of January 1969 on the Caribbean Isle of Saint Martin. Thus his arrival in Bolsena in May 1969 marked the end of a period of enduring transition, and he would remain in the ancient Italian town in comparative solitude for six months until October. A small town infused with the rich shadows of an endless history, Bolsena provided Twombly an environment of certainty and longevity, which so often sparked his ability to create breathtakingly unprecedented art. Thus as with other works executed in Italy, Untitled is a reflection of a place that Twombly perceived as being lost to history. Forged in an inherently classical environment, this painting is inevitably a personal manifestation of ancient landscapes, though through Twombly’s vision this becomes a metaphysical landscape that is limited only by the imagination. As Cullinan has noted, Bolsena would have been known to Twombly through Raphael’s fresco The Mass at Bolsena (c.1512-13) in the Stanza di Eliodoro of the Vatican Palace (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern (and travelling), Op. Cit.) Through the summer of 1969 Twombly worked in the Palazzo del Drago in Bolsena, which had been built as an imposing palace in 1543 for Tiberio Crispo, a nephew of Pope Paul III. In these magnificent surroundings Twombly created some of the most innovative works of art of the post-war period, beautifully summarized by Heiner Bastian: “The series of large-format light canvases Untitled painted between May and September on the shore of the Lago di Bolsena, transform the reduction and discipline of the grey paintings into the gesture, citation and fragmentation of pliability and transparency. In these paintings reside real as well as imagined confrontations, lit by the reflection of actual things as if by a radiance cast by marvelous happenstance; and all within freely changes temper as it navigates pathways warped by a reeling, gravimetric tow.” (Heiner Bastian, Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume III, 1966- 1971, Munich, 1994, p. 32) Untitled encapsulates Twombly’s signature technique and tremendously influential aesthetic wherein the traces of creation and erasure are left bare on the face of the composition: the narrative of addition and subtraction builds up like archaeological strata to create an artwork of endless intrigue. As explicated by Bastian, “By moments, all sense of the concrete is lost in the movement of an invisible, spellbinding, received spaciousness – and the imagery appears as enlarged details of a storehouse of distant apparitions and flux.” (Heiner Bastian, Op. Cit.) Twombly often speaks of “irresponsibility to gravity” as being central to his work, describing his interpretation of Classical mythology as a realm of shadowless imagination without weight or constraint. As Twombly enters into a physical dialogue with the corporeal and unseen, myth is manifest as sensually tangible experience. Expressed through the violent metamorphosis of mutating, ever fateful identities and thoughts, the poetry and mythology of Classical antiquity - its sense of tragedy and transformation – emerge invigorated and renewed. With an incomparable surface and cascading sense of destabilized forms, the surface of Untitled pulsates with a frenzied sensuality that reaches beyond allegory to the absolute itself. Sumptuous in opposites and allusion, Untitled offers an allegorical appeal to form and its ongoing transformation. The agitation of Twombly's hand and gesture stands in opposition to the solidity of objects: the imperceptible growth of a tree branch and the challenged stability of stone architecture are suggested by the frenetic pencil graphite and oil paints that are applied with an aggression that is more akin to erasure than creation. It is in this space between negation and suggestion that Twombly's works find their powerful resonance. And through the opposition of these binary qualities, Twombly gives new possibilities to the expressiveness of painting. Signed, inscribed Bolsena and dated 1969 on the reverse

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  • 2013-05-13
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Femme assise dans un fauteuil sur fond blanc

what Picasso understood by monochrome was the use of a single color and its nuances, with any values one wished to ascribe to these. Carmen Giménez in Picasso Black and White (exhibition catalogue), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York & The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2012-13, p. 27 'Je vois souvent une lumière et une ombre.' Pablo Picasso Dating from March 1953, Femme assise dans un fauteuil sur fond blanc was painted during the time when Picasso was living in the south of France with Françoise Gilot (fig. 2) and their two children, Claude and Paloma. Picasso met Françoise in May 1943, during his tumultuous relationship with Dora Maar, and in 1946 that they settled in Vallauris. The period that followed was marked by great personal fulfilment, during which Picasso was, probably more than at any other time, devoted to his family, and this happiness in private life spilled into the artists work, resulting in a number of portraits of his muse and their children. Gilot was forty years Picassos junior and was herself a painter, and her youthful spirit and interest in art not only inspired Picasso, but also encouraged a new direction in his portraiture. The majority of his depictions of Françoise, with her hair in the characteristic chignon, are infused with a calm elegance and poise. The present work, however, was painted only several months before the breakup of their relationship, as Françoise would leave Picasso in September 1953 and move with the children to Paris. Although executed months before these events that would cause Picasso much suffering, Femme assise dans un fauteuil sur fond blanc demonstrates a stylistic shift that may indicate a decline in their relationship, as well as an early appearance of a new woman in the artists life. The tranquil and domestic atmosphere of the previous decade is here replaced with a degree of energy and drama stemming from a sharp, linear execution. The angular, broken forms which were developed during Picassos Cubist phase recall the dramatic depictions of Dora Maar and his war-time portraits. Over the ten or so years in which Picasso painted portraits of Françoise, she was a catalyst for some of the most elegant and innovative artistic explorations. In the early days of their relationship Picasso painted Gilot in a series of now celebrated images of femme-fleur, where the artist beautifully compared the features of his youthful muse to a delicate flower. In the present work Picasso further develops the linear style with which his portrayals of Gilot are usually associated, pushing the boundaries of two-dimensional representation. Using only white paint, he reverses the traditional notion of line and background, and allows passages of unpainted brown board to play the role of the line which describes the features of his sitter. Instead of the traditional modulation of paint, a variation in chromatic intensity is achieved through the colour and texture intrinsic to the plywood visible through or between layers of white paint. This combination of linear treatment with the use of only two colours would lead to a remarkable series of sculptures executed in sheet metal which Picasso produced the following year (fig. 4). Picassos monochrome works (figs. 1, 3 & 4) have recently been the subject of the highly acclaimed exhibition Picasso Black and White, held in New York and Houston in 20012-13, in which the present work was included. Whilst Picassos use of a reduced palette, going back to his Cubist works, is often discussed by art historians from a formalist point of view, in the exhibition catalogue Carmen Giménez suggests that line, shadow, chiaroscuro, and monochromy are not simple techniques or procedures, but bring with them a symbolic sense of enormous intellectual and psychological density something of deep importance for an artist like Picasso (C. Giménez in Picasso Black and White (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 25). In the present work this monochrome backdrop, executed in wide brushstrokes of pure white pigment, emphasises the artists flat treatment of the picture plane, and by concealing any indication of a setting, focuses the viewers attention on the details of the sitters costume, hair and facial features. The resulting image is not only a remarkable example of Picassos unique technical and intellectual ability, but also a poignant reflection of the artists emotional state during this important period in his life. The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Claude Picasso. Dated 25.3.53. on the reverse

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2017-03-01
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Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V]

“Because our time – and even more, our space – is the space of history, peopled by myths and tragedies and the poesy of beginnings, of the great metamorphoses in which nature still speaks through humanity: Immortal gods occasionally cross the reality of our profane places.” (Heiner Bastian, Ed., Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume V, 1996-2007, Munich, 2009, p. 32)Riotous and emotive, irrepressibly dynamic and unreservedly arresting, Cy Twombly’s Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V] of 2004 is a singular summation of the impulses and inspirations that define his prodigious legacy. Executed in the final decade of the artist’s life, the present work is one of six total paintings that comprise Twombly’s celebrated Bacchus series. The paintings that constitute this tour-de-force corpus are widely considered the masterpieces of the later years of the artist’s career and can be seen as the ultimate manifestations of the most fundamental motivations of his inimitable artistic journey. Four years after executing Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V], Twombly embarked upon a series of three expansive canvases that utilize the same compositional structure and palette as the present work. All three of these later Bacchus paintings today reside in the permanent collection of the Tate Modern in London, having been presented as a gift to the institution in 2014 by the Cy Twombly Foundation. It is across the monumental faces of the Bacchus paintings that Twombly’s deliberate and forceful exploration of the intersection between the traditionally irreconcilable poles of abstraction and narrative comes to glorious fruition. Though resolutely non-figurative in its composition, Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V] is nonetheless powerfully evocative; each churning whorl of blood-red pigment unleashed by Twombly’s brush across its towering surface appears as if imbued with the very spirit of the mythic figure from whom it takes its name. As Heiner Bastian describes,  “In the myths of the Mediterranean world, in its epics and tragedies, and in the evocation of the imaginable physis of these myths, there lies an alluring animation which has now been alive in Cy Twombly’s works for decades…” (Heiner Bastian, Ed., Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume V, 1997-2007, Munich, 2009, pp. 33-34) The allure of the ancient proved constant and irrevocable for Twombly from the very earliest moments of his career. The second painting recorded in the artist’s catalogue raisonné, executed in 1949 in his hometown of Lexington, Virginia, is titled Ritual; two years later, while a student at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Twombly executed a painting he called MIN-OE inspired by the doubled forms of Luristan bronzes, dating from the Early Iron Age; six years after that, and following his move from New York City to Rome in 1957, the artist painted two monumental canvases titled Olympia and Arcadia; finally, at the end of this first decade of his mature practice, and at the dawn of a new period of pronounced critical recognition in his career, Twombly executed a monumental ‘history painting’ titled The Age of Alexander in which his signature scrawls, scratches, smears, and graffiti-like text coalesce to convey the epic of Alexander the Great. In the four decades that followed until the creation of Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V] Twombly continued to advance his technique, arriving at new aesthetic innovations with each subsequent series; through it all, the lure of the mythic remained a persistent and incontrovertible leitmotif. In his late style, Twombly not only revisited but vivaciously reinvented his signature technique by expressively enlarging and exaggerating his line by using a pole affixed with a brush, akin to the technique Henri Matisee utilized in his mural-size paintings. The remarkable, billboard-like scale of Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V] points to the extreme physicality of Twombly’s mature practice, imbuing the work with a palpable sense of the artist behind the brush and how he rigorously ranged across the canvas at any given time. The resultant composition, abounding with the pure painterly force of uninhibited muscular execution, is moreover perfectly in line with the lore of its namesake god. While ‘Bacchus’ is most commonly associated with pleasure, indulgence, and sensual release, the moniker ‘Mainomenos’ historically bears an altogether more sinister and nefarious connotation for its association with debauchery taken to an often violent extreme. Twombly’s signature looping layers of pigment here are brilliantly demonstrative of this dual personality: as the swirling forms in their thickest passages appear lush and euphoric, their uplifting vibrancy quickly gives way to the foreboding downward pull of sanguine drips that dominate the lower half of the composition. It is ultimately this perfect confluence of the joyous and the portentous that positions Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V] within the pantheon of Twombly’s most successful painted works. As described by Heiner Bastian, “Such are these paintings by Cy Twombly, ‘dedicated’ to Bacchus: the imagination of a life force and the certainty that the most profound abyss and the lightest heights represent not a dualism but rather the breath of all things; they are a unity.” (Heiner Bastian in Ibid., p. 46) Twombly began to investigate the possibilities of his sweeping trademark lasso loops in 1952 after a series of trips with Robert Rauschenberg to Northern Africa, Spain, Italy and France. There he became fascinated by the ancient forms of graffiti he found scrawled on historic monuments, making him question the connection between man’s place in the world and the physical records he leaves behind. On his return to America, Twombly was drafted into the army, where he trained as a cryptographer, constantly examining and deciphering codes. Immersed in this cryptic, lexical sphere, at night Twombly would make sketches in the dark echoing the surrealist technique of automatic writing articulated in the drawings of André Masson, the ‘dream pictures’ of Joan Miró and the frottages of Max Ernst. Drawing on the semiotic potential of the line in Twombly’s work, Roland Barthes commented, “I love the traces of graphic activity, whether they are in Oriental calligraphy, in a certain kind of painting we might call ‘semiographic’, for example, Masson, Réquichot, or Cy Twombly.” (Roland Barthes in conversation with Claude Jannoud, in Linda Corverdale, Trans., The Grain of the Voice: Interviews 1962-1980, Berkeley, 1985, p. 193) During the 1960s, Twombly became preoccupied with Leonardo da Vinci’s intriguing studies of water. Indeed, Twombly even appended a reproduction of da Vinci’s study of the Deluge to one of his collaged works in 1968. The galvanic and obsessive quality of Leonardo’s tempestuous twists and swirls which attempted to translate air and water into line, finds resonance in the undulating loops of Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V]. Indeed, in his definitive text on this formidable late series, Bastian alludes specifically to the roiling waters of the sea in describing the sensation of viewing a Bacchus painting: “’Oceanic’ would be one of the words for this emotive, circular, frame-filling movement without a center. Dissonant and harmonic, deforming and real, but also beyond the pure bond of comprehensible ‘beauty.’” (Heiner Bastian in Op Cit., p. 46) Furthermore, numerous examples of Twombly’s work owe much to the scientific notebooks of Leonardo. Just as Joseph Beuys had done before him, Twombly found in the Renaissance master’s scrawls and obsessive streams of poetry, something of an irrational, secretive quality; an aesthetic that can be seen in the profoundly personal lexicon of the pre-linguistic cresting loops that dance across the canvas of Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V]. Animated by linear forms that recall the Palmer handwriting drills used to teach American children how to write and Paul Klee’s pedagogical exercises, the present work draws upon a symphony of contemporary cultural references to supplement its outwardly apparent historical bent. Capturing both time, in the way that its vigorous curves forcefully stream across the wooden face, and space as the layered streams of red paint variously multiply, retreat and navigate the painting’s terrain, Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V] closely aligns itself with the monochromatic ‘Blackboard’ paintings that Twombly executed between 1966 and 1971. As this seminal series began to enter art historical discourse, a number of critics began to suggest that the reduced, black or gray and white, palette of these works should be regarded as a response to the climate established by Minimalism; however, such a broad assessment overlooks the rich tonalities and expression achieved by the stark tonal contrast elicited by Twombly’s chosen palette. Rather, both the artist’s 'Blackboard' paintings and his later reinvigorations of the subject in works such as Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V], should be understood in terms of emancipation, a liberation from his preceding oeuvre. As Robert Pincus-Witten confirms, "handwriting has become for Twombly the means of beginning again, of erasing the Baroque culmination of the painting of the early 1960s... beautiful writing has been submerged within a Jasper Johns-like gray field. Put bluntly, it has been drowned in a schoolmaster's blackboard." (Robert Pincus-Witten, "Learning to Write," in Nicola del Roscio, Ed., Writings on Cy Twombly, Munich, 2002, p. 56) While the color spectrum of the present work is more radiantly ebullient than that of the ‘Blackboard’ paintings, the sensation of artistic action as unfettered expression remains the same.  That Twombly decided to ‘begin again’ by reimagining the aesthetic effects of his ‘handwriting’ motif at the end of his career attests to the artist’s enduring desire to broaden his ideas and the fecundity of his imagination. Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V] finds its place alongside some of Cy Twombly’s most enigmatic mature works, prefiguring as it does the chromatic explosion of the Camino Real series that ultimately came to be his final artistic offering. Neither aimless outpourings nor mechanical exercises, the bold touches in Untitled [Bacchus 1st Version V] encapsulate both rich content and strong signifying purpose. For what is remarkable about Twombly, and is perfectly embodied in the present work, is how he empowered his brushstroke with the capacity to both delineate and to represent the flux of visual expression. As Harald Szeeman concludes, “no other artist has such a gift for open endedness… words become lines expressive of feeling, lines become tones, tones become tensions, white becomes resolution. All this happens with the flowing naturalness of handwriting… this work seems to us both primeval and innovative, like memory itself and its energies.” (Harald Szeeman, Ed., Cy Twombly, Munich, 1987, p. 12) Signed with initials and dated 04 Gaeta on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2016-05-11
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Front and Back Dollar Bills

Encapsulating the ultimate marriage of art and money, Andy Warhol’s first series of silk-screened works, the Dollar Bills, perfectly reflect their maker’s own glittering transformation from artist to icon. Executed in 1962, these are the very first works through which the Godfather of Pop mastered his career defining and trademark artistic method: silkscreen printing. Executed in repeating sequences of dollar note green and inky black with landmark mechanical precision, Warhol’s Dollar Bills represent the very cornerstones of his entire artistic output. This series comprises of only eight works created in monumental proportions: today two are housed in the illustrious international collections of the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin; while the extant works are held in world renowned private collections including the Froehlich Collection and the Estate of esteemed collector Myron Orlofsky. Incredibly boasting two of the remaining large Dollar Bills left in private hands, To The Bearer on Demand proudly includes the only diptych depicting one dollar billsin the series as well as the only work purely depicting the backs of Warhol’s favourite denomination, the two dollar bill. As key components of the Dollar Bills corpus therefore, Front and Back Dollar Bills and Two Dollar Bills (Back) (40 Two Dollar Bills in Green), together play a crucial role in Warholian history. Incredibly rare and utterly ground-breaking, the appearance of these works for public sale denotes a truly unique auction moment and quite possibly marks one of the very last appearances of Warhol’s small series of large Dollar Bills on the open market. With this series, Andy Warhol wholly revolutionised American art with his pioneering use of the commercial silkscreen technique. Responding to the consumer driven culture of the post-war climate, Warhol sought a technique that would eradicate traces of the artist’s hand, mirroring the distance and alienation that was proliferating in the modern world around him. Rather fittingly, and with typical Warholian irony, the subject matter chosen for this momentous shift in practice was the ultimate serial image and symbol of commerce – the mass-printed dollar bill. Depicting one of the most recognisable and potent motifs in the world, this series explores the cultural, creative and decorative potential of the dollar as a socially loaded emblem of wealth and status. The early silkscreened dollar bills should thus be seen as the very foundation of his lifelong fascination and celebration of celebrity, wealth and popular culture and are amongst the most significant pieces he ever created. Various anecdotes have been mythologised in art history as to who inspired Warhol to elevate the humble dollar bill to the realm of high art. One account attributes the suggestion to the famed art and antiques dealer Muriel Latow. Warhol's assistant, Ted Carey, gave this account of the fabled conversation between Warhol and Latow: “Andy [Warhol] said, 'I don't know what to do.' 'So,' he said, 'Muriel, you've got fabulous ideas. Can't you give me an idea?' And so, Muriel said, 'Yes.' 'But,' she said, 'it's going to cost you money.' So Andy said, 'How much?' So she said, 'fifty dollars.' She said, 'Get your checkbook and write me a check for fifty dollars' and Andy ran and got his checkbook, like you know, he was really crazy and he wrote out the check. He said, 'All right. Give me a fabulous idea.' And so Muriel said, ’What do you like more than anything else in the world?’ So Andy said, ’I don’t know, what?’ So she said ’Money. The thing that means more to you than anything else in the world is money. You should paint pictures of money’ and so Andy said ’Oh, that’s wonderful’” (Ted Carey quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Andy Warhol Enterprises, 2010-11, p. 126). Alternately, New York art dealer Eleanor Ward attributes the start of this series to her promise of a solo show at her Stable Gallery should Andy paint her lucky two dollar bill. In typically drôle diction however, Warhol describes his reasoning much more simply: “I just paint things I always thought were beautiful, things you use every day and never think about. I’m working on soups and I’ve been doing some paintings of money. I just do it because I like it” (Andy Warhol quoted in: David Bourdon, Warhol, New York 1995, p. 90). At the beginning of 1962 Warhol announced the induction of the dollar into his repertoire with his large and now iconic hand-painted One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate). Up to this point, Warhol had been translating mass produced images, objects and commercial products purely by hand. Frustrated by drawing, however, he became preoccupied by visualising processes of industrial repetition and giving artistic expression to the factory production line, and so looked for a mechanical aid to produce his paintings. Having first experimented with the serial image by laboriously using stencils, as seen in his repeating soup cans such as 100 Campbell Soup Cans, and meticulously using rubber stamps as with his Airmail series, Warhol found that neither process allowed him to achieve his ultimate goal; a mechanical multiplicity of one image within the same work. The silkscreen, however, would prove to be Warhol’s perfect muse. During the months of March to April 1962 he employed the silkscreen method that was already widely used in the field of commercial printing. First, the artist approached his local printers, Tibor Press, and asked whether they would silkscreen actual money for him. Although the company initially declined, they agreed providing that Warhol would supply them with drawings rather than actual money to print. Herein lies the birth of his pivotal Dollar Bill series. For these works Warhol meticulously traced by hand the graphic detail of the dollar bill’s design; once on acetate these drawings were then transferred onto silkscreens by an external company. The process would have involved coating screens in photosensitive emulsion, placing Warhol’s dollar-bill acetate against the screen and exposing it to strong light; where the light exposed emulsion hardens and binds to the screen fabric, Warhol’s dollar drawing would have blocked the light and thus remained soluble. After being sprayed with water, the emulsion where the image was placed falls away to reveal a perfectly reproducible image template. A contemporaneous trade-secret of the printing industry, this extraordinary technical innovation was to have widespread and radical consequences not only for Warhol but also for the history of art. The only diptych created by Warhol in the Dollar Bills series, Front and Back Dollar Bills explores the graphic potential of the ubiquitous United States note to its fullest. Separating the dollar bill into its black and green constituent parts – whereby the left panel articulates the front of the bill in a sumptuous jet black and the right panel illustrates the back of the dollar in a rich, hookers green – Warhol creates the slick veneer that would come to typify his iconic Pop aesthetic. The reasoning behind the separation of green and black elements is most likely historic. The first government issued dollar bills were printed in 1861 under Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War, and became commonly known as ‘greenbacks’. Printed in green on the back and black on the front, the ‘greenback’ is quoted in the present work and thus certainly reflects Warhol’s erudite knowledge of the history of the dollar. Sharing great affinities with the foundational dollar masterpiece, One Dollar Bill (Silver Certificate), the left hand panel of Front and Back Dollar Bills depicts the obverse of the old Silver Certificate Dollar Bill, whose name is faintly legible across the top of each dollar, whilst the intense black paint strikingly picks out the facial features of George Washington in the centre. The right hand panel illustrates the mysterious reverse of the dollar bill, with the iconic motto of the United States, ‘In God We Trust’ clearly defined and emblazoned across its centre. To create the repeating hypnotic surfaces of Front and Back Dollar Bills, Warhol schematically arranged the individual prints in two rows of twenty across each panel to create two elegant, elongated portrait pieces that combine in a visually arresting masterpiece. As with Front and Back Dollar Bills, for Two Dollar Bills (Front) (Froehlich Collection), Forty Two Dollar Bills (Fronts and Backs) and the present Two Dollar Bills (Back) Warhol composed two rows of twenty, two dollar bills, to create an exquisite, slim-line portrait format. Reflective of the comparative rarity of the two dollar bill in circulation and the lucky status it has thus been accorded, Warhol created four two dollar bill works on a large scale. The two-dollar bill held a particularly important place in Warhol’s world. Obsessed and fascinated by the design of these rare bills, he would go to banks to stock up on them – not for their monetary value but purely to marvel at the beauty of their design. Indeed, Arthur C. Danto recounts that a significant cache of two dollar bills was found in Warhol’s apartment after his death, evidence not of miserliness but of Warhol’s mania to collect (Arthur C. Danto, ‘Andy Warhol and the Love of $$$$$’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, Indianapolis, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Andy Warhol Enterprises, 2010-11, p. 7). It was this kind of money, the bills of small denominations, that Warhol loved the most. As with his Campbell Soup Cans, these bills were those used every day by ordinary people to buy normal goods and were easily accessible to all. Owing to the traced template of his dollar bills, Warhol was unable to fully remove his hand from the surface of these works. Furthermore, each work in this series exhibits a certain handmade aesthetic owing to the inconsistencies of placing the silkscreen and printing each dollar individually. To minimise evidence of this, Warhol mapped out a grid of pencil lines to guide the placement of the individual screens that are still visible today. In the present works, deep green and inky black areas create striking painterly contrasts to the white ground whilst fine drawing delineates President Thomas Jefferson’s palatial home, Monticello and the portrait of George Washington at the centre of the one-dollar bill. In order to distinguish his dollar bills from real life paper money, and to avoid being accused of counterfeiting, Warhol drew his dollar on acetate measuring approximately four by nine inches – considerably larger than real one and two dollar bills. The ensuing difference in size, Warhol’s use of drawing, and the irregular slips and impressions of the silkscreen surface help to distinguish these paintings both visually and technically from fake money. Herein, the Dollar Bills retain their concession to the tradition of fine art as emanating from the hand of the artist, whilst simultaneously signalling Warhol’s ideological aim to become like a machine. The relationship between art and money defined Warhol’s expansive oeuvre, charting his development from commercial illustrator, to fine art innovator and art world superstar. Unlike any artist before him, Warhol directly inhabited the interstitial space that separates art from commerce. Indeed, Warhol would have been acutely aware that the value of his paintings would far outstrip the cumulative worth depicted on each canvas. In this regard the Dollar Bills are unrivaled in embracing and simultaneously critiquing exactly what they represent. Unlike any works before or after, the Dollar Bills signal the absolute alignment of subject and object: money and art are presented in consummate yet dichotomous complicity. More than fifty years later, these works are as radical and ‘on the money’ today as they were in 1962. I) signed and dated 1962 on the overlap ii) signed and dated 1963 on the overlap

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2015-07-01
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Le Penseur, Taille de la Porte dit Moyen modèle

Rodin’s Le Penseur has become one of the most recognizable sculptures in art history. The works pertinence to Rodin's contemporaries was immediate and its continued relevance in today's visual culture has solidified the sculpture's legacy. Though he firmly grounded Le Penseurin intellectual history, Rodin transcended preceding imagery to create a true masterpiece that continues to transfix contemporary society. Rodin first conceived of the model in 1880-81 to crown the tympanum of his monumental Gates of Hell (fig. 1).  The figure was intended to represent Dante, surrounded by the characters of his Divine Comedy, but soon took on an independent life. "Thin and ascetic in his straight gown," Rodin wrote later, "my Dante would have been meaningless once divorced from the overall work. Guided by my initial inspiration, I conceived another "thinker", a nude, crouching on a rock, his feet tense. Fists tucked under his chin, he muses. Fertile thoughts grow slowly in his mind. He is no longer a dreamer. He is a creator" (quoted in R. Masson & V. Mattiussi, Rodin, Paris, 2004, p. 38). This superb cast of the subject from 1906 boasts an impeccable provenance including American collectors Ralph Pulitzer and William S. Paley. The works' status as an humanist icon gave it an understandable appeal to these pioneers of American journalism. Transcending Dante's narrative, the Penseur became a universal symbol of reflection and creative genius which has retained its hold on the popular imagination. Rodin conceived Le Penseur to be the apex, both structurally and philosophically, of his Gates of Hell. As Camille Mauclair noted in 1898, "All the sculptural radiance ends in this ideal center. This prophetic statue can carry in itself the attributes of the author of the Divine Comedy, but it is still more completely the representation of Penseur. Freed of clothing that would have made it a slave to a fixed time, it is nothing more than the image of the reflection of man on things human. It is the perpetual dreamer who perceives the future in the facts of the past, without abstracting himself from the noisy life around him and in which he participates..." (Camille Mauclair, "L'Art de M. Rodin", La Revue des Revues, June 18, 1898). From at least 1888, when the sculpture was first exhibited in Copenhagen, Rodin considered Le Penseur to be an autonomous composition. The following year it was shown in Paris, with the original title Dante revised to read Le penseur: le poète. The work's effect on critics and viewers was immediate and potent, allowing it to transcend the larger scheme of La Porte de l'Enfer. Artists such as Edward Steichen and Edvard Munch worked through a hypnotic attachment to the model (fig. 5).  Writer and critic Gabriel Mourey wrote of the work in 1906, “he is no longer the poet suspended over the pit of sin and expiation; he is our brother in suffering, curiosity, contemplation, joy, the bitter joy of searching and knowing. He is no longer a superhuman, a predestined human being; he is simply a man for all ages, for all latitudes” (“Le Penseur de Rodin offert par souscription publique au people de Paris,” Les Arts de la vie, vol. 1, no. 5 (May, 1904), p. 268). The form of Le Penseur relies upon a historical lineage traceable to Albrecht Dürer’s influential etching, Melancolia (fig. 2). Contained within this figural gesture – tilted head resting upon raised hand – were implications of introversion, philosophical crisis and intellectual profundity. Michelangelo relied upon a similar form for his personification of Lorenzo de Medici (fig. 3) and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux would give the gesture a dark turn in his masterwork of 1865-67 (fig. 4). The allegorical force of this gesture was undeniable by the time Rodin conceived Le Penseur in 1880. Rodin strips away the narrative and specificity that permeated these earlier examples, rendering his sculpture with a clear humanist vision. The figure was discussed by the artist shortly before his death, when he described his desire to personify the act of thinking:  "Nature gives me my model, life and thought; the nostrils breathe, the heart beats, the lungs inhale, the being thinks and feels, has pains and joys, ambitions, passions, emotions...  What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes" (quoted in Saturday Night, Toronto, December 1, 1917). This cast was commissioned in 1906 by Ralph Pulitzer, the son of publishing magnate Joseph Pulitzer. The Pulitzer family was introduced to Auguste Rodin by author and journalist Stephen MacKenna in 1905. MacKenna served as a Parisian correspondent for New York World between 1903 and 1907 – a newspaper owned by Joseph Pulitzer. MacKenna had written a review of Rodin in 1901 and subsequently acted as an intermediary between the artist and the Pulitzer family. Rodin would later refer to the family as the Kings of America, deservedly so as the Pulitzers were among the most important and influential figures in New York at the turn of the last century. Joseph Pulitzer’s rise from a Hungarian immigrant to a pillar of the publishing industry and wealthy collector personified the American dream. Joseph Pulitzer likewise commissioned a further cast of Le Penseur for his own collection in 1907. This subsequent cast, however, did not bear the distinctive plaque as we find on the present work which evidences Rodin’s personal supervision of the casting process. The Alexis Rudier Foundry, known for having created some of the most desirable casts of Rodin's oeuvre, executed approximately 30 casts of Le Penseur in this scale beginning in 1902. Other casts from this edition hold positions in prominent museums including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washintgon, D.C.; The Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University; the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia; The Montreal Museum of Art and the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. Inscribed A. Rodin and with the foundry mark Alexis Rudier Fondeur Paris; additionally inscribed on a plaque affixed to the rock Le Penseur: Executé en 1906 dans mes ateliers et sous ma surveillance pour Monsieur Ralph Pulitzer, Auguste Rodin.

  • USAUSA
  • 2013-05-07
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Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face)

Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face) is positioned in the top tier of Jean-Michel Basquiats cycle of full-length male figures; that limited series of immensely impactful grand-scale paintings that took the art world by storm in 1981 and 1982. This work exemplifies the artists magnificently heroic presentation of the isolated human form, and in this vein can be seen to advance a venerable tradition epitomised by the tragic protagonists of Pablo Picassos Blue and Rose Periods, Willem de Koonings corporeally provocative series of Women, and the searing existential isolation of Francis Bacons life-size figures of the 1960s and 1970s. Even within the context of such an extraordinary series, the present work is exceptional. It represents a significant milestone within Basquiats oeuvre as the first occasion upon which a sheet of Xerox collage was used as the compositional centre point for a major painting and, in depiction, is undoubtedly one of the most arresting and dramatic works from the entirety of 1982 itself the most significant year of this artists cruelly curtailed career. Spectacularly forged in an array of oilstick, acrylic, spray-paint, and Xerox collage, this painting brings the haptic urgency of Basquiats art to life. It is challenging, dissonant, and alluring; as vivid in execution as it is considered and erudite in conception. It shows Basquiat as the dominant force in the 1980s art world; the prodigy of the painterly elite, whose works still challenge and interrupt our creative consciousness today. The monumental near-life size figure that dominates this impressive composition is immediately recognisable as one of Basquiats heroic figures. This series of isolated full-length male figures, always depicted with both arms raised aloft, and often shown with a studded halo or roughly pronged crown, formed the centrepiece of almost all of this artists most important early works. The present example is instinctive and urgent in execution, with arms and fists depicted through rapid bursts of dripping spray paint, and blockish body sparsely demarcated in twisting downward spirals of chalky oil-stick scrawl. These figures were integral to Basquiats praxis, and hugely important to him personally. As a young black man raised in a middle-class family in Brooklyn, the artist readily felt the effects of racial segregation in art history: I realised that I didnt see many paintings with black people in them (Jean-Michel Basquiat cited in: Cathleen McGuigan, New Art, New Money, The New York Times, 10 February 1985, online). He sought out idols in other areas of life, and transmuted them into his art. To a great extent, Basquiats heroic figure was based on the black athletes whose extraordinary prowess allowed them to transcend racial boundaries in mid-twentieth century America. The first sainted black athlete that Basquiat identified with was the baseball player Hank Aaron, who, despite having set eleven Major League and eighteen National League records, could neither eat in the same restaurants nor stay in the same hotels as his teammates because of prohibitive laws in the south. However, the artist found his true heroes in the field of boxing: Cassius Clay, Jack Johnson, and Joe Lewis feature in numerous paintings, with gloves abstracted into blunt roundels and arms thrust triumphantly in the air. Indeed, even the defiant posture of raised fists, reduced to its most primitive iteration in the present work, had huge significance in this context. It is wholly redolent of the Black Power salute, first made famous in the sporting arena by Juan Carlos and Tommie Smith, who protested racial oppression at the Mexico City Olympic Games by raising their fists in defiance of the U.S. National Anthem. Against the backdrop of Charlie Parkers jazz, these athletic heroes became the inimitable protagonists of Basquiats early production; the jubilant stars of his burgeoning oeuvre. As explicated by the art historian Richard Farris Thompson, the coronation of black sports figures in Basquiats oeuvre at once celebrates and satirises one of the few professions in which blacks are permitted to excel (Richard Farris Thompson, Brushes with Beatitude, in: Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of Art, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1993, p. 50). This work represents an important milestone in Basquiats oeuvre: the very first occasion upon which he used a sheet of Xerox collage as the centrepiece of a major painting. Indeed, up to this point, the artist had barely used the medium at all, including similar sheets in only twelve of his earlier paintings. For the rest of his career, he collaged similar Xerox into countless works, allowing its distinctive aesthetic to become a signature component of his idiosyncratic style. Indeed, for such a prolific draughtsman as Basquiat, using Xerox was an invaluable way of multiplying and proliferating his output. He was famous for his relentless depictive energy; drawing and painting on fridge doors and windows with the same immediacy and fluency as upon sketchbooks and canvases. The introduction of the Xerox machine was, to an extent, a means to gather all of these creative efforts upon a single ground. Moreover, for an artist who already relished in combining multiple media in his art works, the introduction of Xerox was further exciting for its novelty: its flat sheen provided him with another texture another tool; another weapon to include in his technical arsenal alongside acrylic, oil stick, and spray paint. In the present work, Xerox collage stars. It is the key stone of the compositional concept that brings the crudely delineated figure to life. Basquiats prominent and central use of Xerox collage in this work is further significant within the context of further developments in art history and the New York avant-garde in the second half of the Twentieth Century. We think of Robert Rauschenberg, the true pioneer of collage, who included all manner of materials in his works and truly paved the way for introducing quotidian objects into art. We are also put in mind of Willem de Kooning, an artist who created similarly isolated figures against similarly incongruous abstract backgrounds, consisting of large opaque passages of daubed colour. De Koonings Woman from c. 1952 which is now held in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York forms a particularly pertinent comparison in its inclusion of a collaged element at its compositional centre; in this work, in order to anchor his wild abstractions in figurative reality, de Kooning collaged the mouth from a cigarette advertisement in a magazine onto the face of his figure, providing direct precedent for Basquiats strategy in Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face). In the appreciation of this work we are also moved to think of Basquiats close relationship with Andy Warhol. When the young artist first broke onto the downtown scene in the early 1980s, Warhol was still king: the unmitigated arbiter of taste and the inimitable harbinger of celebrity and style. Such was Basquiats obvious artistic genius that the pair rapidly developed an intimate and hugely mutually influential artistic relationship. They met in the year that the present work was created. Warhol recorded the encounter in his diary in typical fashion: Down to meet Bruno Bischofberger (cab $7.50). He brought Jean-Michel Basquiat with him. Hes the kid who used the name Samo when he used to sit on the sidewalk in Greenwich Village and paint T-shirts he was just one of those kids who drove me crazy And so had lunch with them and I took a Polaroid and he went home and within two hours a painting was back, still wet, of him and me together (Pat Hackett, Ed., The Andy Warhol Diaries, New York 1989, p. 462). Against this background, we are reminded that the entirety of Warhols painterly career was predicated upon the use of the Silkscreen print, itself a method of printing and image reproduction which he appropriated, subverted, and thrust into a high art context. Basquiat adopted Xerox in a directly comparable manner, using its everyday function as a means to reach his own creative and conceptual ends. So much of Basquiats oeuvre was deeply founded in art history, especially during these nascent stages of his career. Picasso was perhaps his ultimate hero, for the machismo of his relentless artistic innovation, and for the jarring dissonance of his executive style. The isolated figures of Picassos blue period equitably alone against equitably unfeasible backdrops undoubtedly provide some stylistic precedent for Basquiats angelic heroes. Basquiat also loved Picassos preference for primitivism; the French masters absorption of influence from tribal African art provided the young Basquiat with an iconographical pathway back to his heritage. Through Picassos work, he was able to divine the aesthetic of the African tradition, circumventing his immediate Haitian lineage, and tapping into his familial roots. We know that this was an immensely important notion for the artist. He visited Africa twice in his lifetime and formed close bonds with communities in the Cote dIvoire. In the appreciation of Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face), and in the comprehension of Basquiats working process, we are also moved to think of Cy Twombly. Just like Basquiat, Twombly absorbed influence from an eclectic array of stimuli: where Basquiat focussed on Jazz music and anatomical textbooks, Twombly read Virgil and Leonardo da Vinci. Both artists used these unconventional prompts not as direct source material to emulate or illustrate, but rather as blunt emotional background to their work; conceptual themes that sit alongside their art works rather than within. Both Basquiat and Twomblys oeuvres defy categorisation or classification according to genre, and they both created works in the same manner: with raw frenetic abandon, juxtaposing abstract passages with isolated figurative moments and scrawlings of instinctive text. Jean Dubuffet was another huge influence on Basquiat, providing precedent and a prototype for the art-world outsider. Dubuffets oeuvre was based upon a fundamental and conscious break with the artistic establishment. He found creative succour in the art of children, and the art of the mentally ill. Basquiat not only shared this sense of separation from the mainstream avant-garde but also a number of aesthetic traits. Dubuffet was another artist of immense fluency and skill, and was also well known for using unconventional mediums in his canvas works, proffering thick home-made emulsions and even sticking butterflies to his canvases. Moreover, whilst he never quite reached Basquiats extremes of Xerox, he was one of the pioneers of collage, every inch the equal of his Abstract Expressionist peers. Executed with convulsive paroxysmal marks that reflect the spontaneity of graffiti, Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face) is the perfect encapsulation of the artists transition from street to studio. Created the year after Basquiats breakthrough participation in the renowned New York/New Wave show at the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Centre, the present work is replete with the international excitement surrounding the artist. It was in 1982 that Basquiat had six solo exhibitions and became the youngest artist ever privileged with an invitation to exhibit in documenta 7 alongside Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, and his aforementioned heroes Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol. Utterly demonstrative of this extraordinarily fertile moment, Untitled (One Eyed Man or Xerox Face) is rich with iconographic meaning, radiating with unbridled confidence and conviction. Looking back on this astonishing year, Basquiat recalled I made the best paintings ever (Jean-Michel Basquiat cited in: Richard Farris Thompson, op. cit., p. 50). This feeling of bravura skill and assertion is nowhere more evident than in the present work. Signed, dated 82 and inscribed NYC on the reverse

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2017-03-08
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Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice)

"The car crash turns the American dream into a nightmare" Neil Printz, in Exh. Cat., Houston, Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, p. 16 "When you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn't really have any effect...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' Andy Warhol interviewed by Gene Swenson, ``What is Pop Art?'', Artnews 62, November 1963, pp. 60-61 Designated in Georg Frei and Neil Printz’s 2002 catalogue raisonné as one of the very first of Andy Warhol’s “car crash” paintings, Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice) of 1963 is an historic paradigm of Pop Art from the heart of a breathtaking moment in twentieth-century Art History. This work's execution in January - February 1963 belongs to an extraordinary shift in this most iconic of artistic careers, during which Warhol revolutionized the terms of popular visual culture. The ideal of the seminal Death and Disaster series, which was one of the most provocative, confrontational and brilliant projects undertaken by any artist in the transformative decade of the 1960s, this canvas epitomizes the monumental themes of Warhol’s career: namely an unprecedented artistic interrogation into the agencies of mass-media, celebrity and death. Warhol made just four paintings based on the specific car crash photograph that is repeated twice in the present work. One of these, Green Disaster #2, is now housed in the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt while another, Orange Car Crash, is in the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna. As the very incipit of this legendary series, perhaps the most notorious and challenging of his entire illustrious oeuvre, Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice) is truly a foundational masterpiece of one of the most influential artists of the last century. With deafening resonance Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice) exclaims an immediately harrowing and intensely violent scenario: the instant aftermath of a brutal car crash. Within the composition the unmistakable corporeal outline of a single body is slung out of the vehicle’s passenger side door and thrown towards the viewer. The elbow of its crooked arm points directly towards us, almost as if in a final, last-gasp accusatory gesture against our morbid voyeurism. The metallic expanse of the vehicle's massive form accentuates the flesh-and-blood mortality of its ill-fated passenger. Intertwined with the deformed metal superstructure and jointly sprawled across the asphalt concrete is this twisted victim: man and machine having become fused together through mundane catastrophe. In more metaphorical terms, the harsh division between the gleaming automobile with glistening chrome and polished hubcap on the left, and the spectacularly crushed grille, wing and bonnet on the right is mediated by the strewn body, unfortunately caught at the precise point between organized construction and chaotic destruction. Thus one of the great symbols of 1950s and 1960s America, a facilitator of individualism and a key signifier of social mobility, the automobile, becomes the devastating delivery system of indiscriminate fatality. As Neil Printz relates, "the car crash turns the American dream into a nightmare" (Neil Printz in: Exh. Cat., Houston, Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, p. 16). Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice) offers the nightmare, but also concurrently normalizes this dystopian vision of sanitized suburban brutality. As ever with Warhol's oeuvre, import is incited not only by subject, but also by method, process and context. Silkscreened on phthalo green, the notionally horrific and terrifying subject matter is revealed through the patterned gradations of anonymous dots against a determinedly anti-naturalistic hue that has been extracted straight out of the gaudy, attention-grabbing chromatic vernacular of mass-media advertising. In addition, Warhol faithfully reproduces the composition of the photojournalist, replicating the foreign aesthetic of a found image. The nature of this rendering is strategically impersonal. Hopps succinctly describes that "Warhol took for granted the notion that the obvious deployment of traditional rendering need not be revealed or employed, thereby expunging manual bravura from his work." (Walter Hopps, in Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, p. 7) In Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice) the mechanical silk-screen dot and absence of manual bravura silence the subject, at once evoking the production of newsprint photojournalism and the unceasing everyday phenomenon that the car crash had itself become. In an interview with Gene Swenson in 1963 Warhol stated that "when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn't really have any effect." (the artist interviewed by Gene Swenson, ``What is Pop Art?'', Artnews 62, November 1963, pp. 60-61) In his 1970 monograph, Rainer Crone discusses how, although the car crash photos "evoke the immediacy of the actual event...this decreases as such occurrences become more frequent." (Rainer Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, p. 29) Nevertheless, the raw power of this confrontational image remains urgently accosting, despite our immersion in supposedly desensitizing mass-media representations of violence and brutality. The tonal polarization of the silkscreen impression bleakly particularizes the mangled figure and dramatizes the finality of deathly stillness. The atrocity here is highly quotidian: it is a thoroughly everyday catastrophe; typical of what Walter Hopps calls the "unpredictable choreography of death" amidst the "banality of everyday disasters." (Op. Cit., p. 9) Warhol, himself obsessively fixated with the fragility of existence, here scrutinizes the public face of a private disaster and questions why anonymous victims are elevated to celebrity through their unexpected ultimate encounter with death. The source for Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice) was an unidentified newspaper photograph, extant in the Warhol archive. Despite the horror of the scene before him, the photographer nevertheless intuitively cropped the image through the view finder to engender narrative and provide an aesthetically satisfying picture according to compositional convention. Warhol selectively accentuated lights and darks on this photograph to intensify the contrast of the reproduction on the screen when he ordered his mechanical, in order to improve its legibility as well as enhance the compositional polarization of the composition. In purely formal terms, the unlikely contrast between the utterly crumpled front of the car against its largely unscathed rear chassis is marked by the derelict corpse and the vertical axis of the still-in-tact armature of the side windows. This divides the composition in two, which, coupled with the double repetition of the silkscreen mechanical, provides a broad quartering of the entire canvas, encouraging our eye to travel side to side, up and down, and diagonally between the four principal arenas of pictorial data. Warhol's exceptional aptitude to seize the most potent images of his time defines him as the consummate twentieth-century history painter. Inasmuch as his canvas implicates our fascination with mortality and a certain voyeurism of death, it advances a heritage proposed by David’s Death of Marat and Géricault’s The Shipwreck, while also uniting the celebrity and anonymity of victimhood so harshly contrasted in those two paradigms. The seminal Death and Disaster Suicides, Car Crashes, and Electric Chairs; as well as the celebrity portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor; and the immortal Campbell Soup Cans and Coca Cola Bottles, were all executed within a matter of months in an explosive outpouring of astonishing artistic invention. Warhol was disturbed by the media's potential to manipulate, yet simultaneously he celebrated the power of the icon. Thus at the same time this painting encapsulates portraiture as biography and it acts as a memorial to the anonymous victim by eulogizing the subject’s story to the realm of high art. Like a tomb to the Unknown Soldier, Warhol enlists the simulacra of this stranger to commemorate all casualties of mass culture in a newly homogenized society. Confronted by the tragedy of death and its incongruous by-product of celebrity, Andy Warhol nullified the news story zeitgeist through the effects of replication and multiplication, so undermining the manipulative potentiality of mass media. In keeping with his very best work, celebrity, tragedy and the threat of death inhabit every pore of this silkscreened painting. This compelling work stands as a treatise on the emotional conditioning inherent to mass culture. Scrutinizing the public face of a private disaster, it questions how anonymous victims are elevated to notoriety via the exceptional conditions of their demise, or as Thomas Crow describes, "the repetition of the crude images does draw attention to the awful banality of the accident and to the tawdry exploitation by which we come to know the misfortunes of strangers." (Thomas Crow, "Saturday Disasters: Trace and Reference in Early Warhol,” Art in America, May 1987, p. 135) The uncertain interplay between anonymous suffering and the broadcast exposure of bereavement and loss is here locked forever into the acrylic and ink lamina of this remarkable painting.

  • USAUSA
  • 2012-11-14
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Portrait de Paul Alexandre

“Modigliani was ‘noblesse excédée’ to use Baudelaire’s phrase which fits him beautifully. I was instantly struck by his extraordinary talent and I wanted to do something for him. I bought his drawings and canvases, but I was his only buyer and I wasn’t rich. I introduced him to my family. He already had, ingrained in him, the certainty of his own worth. He knew that he was a ground-breaker and not an imitator, but so far he had no commissions. I asked him to paint a portrait of my father, my brother Jean and several of myself” (Noël Alexandre, Modigliani inconnu, Paris, 1993, p. 59). These lines by Paul Alexandre reveal the decisive role the young doctor played in the ascendance of Amedeo Modigliani’s career and reflect his deep admiration for his artist friend. Paul Alexandre was completing his internship at the hospital Lariboisière in November 1907 when he met Modigliani, the bohemian Italian artist with dandyish style who had arrived in Paris the previous year. Thus began an important friendship that would last until August 1914 when the young doctor was conscripted and left for the front. Alexandre was in effect Modigliani’s first patron and perhaps the most important. It was only after his death in 1968 and especially upon the occasion of the exhibition Modigliani inconnu organised by his youngest son Noël Alexandre at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen in 1993, that the public were able to discover his incredible collection, comprising no less than twenty-five paintings and a hundred or so drawings (including over a dozen studies depicting himself). The impeccable provenance of these works enabled a new understanding of the early Parisian work of this artist who destroyed so much of his own output. This friendly association that sheltered Modigliani from financial need would prove to be unprecedented in the artist’s career since his subsequent protectors, Paul Guillaume in late 1914, and then Leopold Zborowski from 1916, were dealers first and foremost. Paul Alexandre, on the other hand, was a true art lover. He and his brother Jean had a group of artist friends from a young age and were instrumental in the creation of a commune known as the Delta that centred around the sculptor Maurice Drouart and the artists Henri Doucet and Albert Gleizes, later joined by the Romanian Constantin Brancusi. At the initiative of Paul Alexandre, in 1907 the circle that had been gathering weekly near the École des Beaux-Arts moved to 7 Rue du Delta in an abandoned municipal building located opposite a spare plot of land. For modest rent, Alexandre transformed the building into a “sort of guardian angel hostel”, a place of reciprocal help and hospitality but above all a site of dialogue for artists, sometimes also the scene of lively festivities and experiments such as the "hashish sessions" organised by the doctor. Alexandre recounted to his son Noël that it was at the Delta that he met Modigliani: “It was Doucet who brought him to the Delta for the first time […] Doucet had met him on Rue Saint-Vincent at Frédéric’s place ‘Au Lapin Agile’, that at the time was only frequented by the poor, by poets and artists … Modigliani told Doucet that he had been evicted from his small studio on Place Jean-Baptiste Clément and didn’t know where to go … Doucet suggested he come to the Delta where he could stay if he wished, and where he could store his belongings. This is how my friendship with Modigliani began. I was 26, he was 23 and my brother Jean was 21.” (Modigliani inconnu, p. 53-54). In his book on Modigliani, Jean-Paul Crespelle relates how the doctor, of limited fortune, deprived himself in order to pay for canvases, and that after opening his clinic at 62 Rue Pigalle, he would have Modigliani drop by on consultation days in order to share the day’s news. He wanted to help his friend but above all desired to own his pictures and admired his immense talent. He preciously conserved most of his collection until his death, almost systematically refusing any exhibition loan requests and even reproduction requests, leading Jeanne Modigliani to comment in her biography of her father: “he was the that increasingly rare breed of collector, a collector who was in love with art in the true sense of the word, to the joy and despair of academics: joy because he pristinely conserved works of indisputable provenance dating from Modigliani’s formative period; despair because he jealously guarded the works and no-one could boast of having seen the entirety of his collection” (Jeanne Modigliani, Modigliani, Une Biographie, Paris, 1990, p. 64). This portrait of Paul Alexandre from 1911-12 has remained in the family collection for over a century. A rare work, it was only exhibited once during its owner’s lifetime, in 1950-51 in the United States and although the picture is mentioned in this exhibition catalogue, it is not illustrated. It is the fourth portrait of a series of five, completed between 1909 and 1913, and it is by far the most powerful, the one that heralds that inimitable Modigliani style that bestows its models with unparalleled melancholia and sensitivity but that here also reveals an additional modernity that make it a pivotal work. According to Paul Alexandre’s daughter, this portrait was painted just after the death of the sitter’s mother. The burden of his grief infuses this painting with an intimacy and depth that radically set it apart from the other portraits that Modigliani painted of his patron and make it one of his most moving portraits of this period. Paul Alexandre seems to have posed for this portrait, just as he did for the three preceding ones, since we know that only 1913’s Paul Alexandre devant un vitrage (donated by the family to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen) was painted from memory – Modigliani gave the painting to his friend as a surprise. The three first depictions, that are more conventional, were painted in 1909 when the doctor introduced Modigliani to his family, and are contemporaneous with the portrait of his father Jean-Baptiste Alexandre au crucifix (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen) and that of his brother Jean (Fondation Gianadda, Martigny). These commissions enabled Modigliani to earn a living and one can imagine that the head of this bourgeois family, who had allowed himself to be persuaded by his son, preferred classical depictions. These portraits of Paul Alexandre are in keeping with the photograph of the young doctor dating from 1909 with this suit, white collar and black tie. The first is a study, while the second, painted against a brown background and the last with a green background present the same scene: the young man turns three-quarters facing the viewer, his right hand in his pocket or on his hip. We sometimes find signs of complicity in the background, such as the painting La Juive from 1907-08 hanging on the wall, one of the very first purchased by Paul Alexandre from Modigliani. Though our portrait, painted a few years later, was probably another commission requested by the patron, its style is strikingly different and more in line with the avant-garde experimentation pursued by his peers Picasso and Matisse and their mentor, Cézanne. The doctor is still recognisable but the composition has been geometrised, as seen by its perfect proportions, characterised by frontality, a vertical axis and economy of colour that clearly show the influence of Cézanne: a detailed, light face contrasting with a dark, dry background at times left unfinished. As Paul Alexandre explained: “He painted by first drawing (often in blue) the outline after contemplating it for a long time. Then he spread his colours diluted in a large quantity of turpentine. He varnished by very carefully spreading a thin layer of polish. Then he rubbed after drying with a chamois or flannel.” (Amedeo Modigliani, Peintures du don Philippe et Blaise Alexandre, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, 2002). This portrait, fused with undeniable modernity, is very different from the final version in front of a window painted in 1913 when the artist was beginning to paint again, which elongates the model’s face and evokes the influence of Cubism and Futurism. Our portrait of Paul Alexandre was in fact painted when Modigliani was turning towards sculpture. From 1910 to 1913, the artist focussed almost exclusively on stone sculpture and created multiple studies for sculpted heads and caryatid motifs – today twenty-five sculptures (all stone except for one in wood and one in marble) have been attributed to him. In April 1909, he left the Delta colony and moved to the Cité Falguière in Montparnasse, around the time that he met Brancusi. After a trip to Livorno and Carrara in summer 1909, the Italian developed his sculpture, considering it to be the pinnacle of art, and wanted to learn the technique of direct carving.  Once again Paul Alexandre was the catalyst, for as the doctor explained in his notebooks, as it was he who introduced Modigliani to Brancusi: “Though he was so different from Brancusi, I had an intuition that they would find a mutual understanding through their art. Later it was Brancusi who found him a studio on the Rue Falguière and helped him to prepare his exhibition. They never worked in the same studio, due to their independence and also due to lack of space, but they saw each other frequently and broke bread together […] It would be wrong to believe that either one was the other’s teacher. They were very different but were united in their selfless and perseverant approach to their research” (Modigliani inconnu, p.59). Though few direct accounts exist, the intertwined correspondence between Brancusi, Modigliani and Alexandre reveals that the two artists saw each other very regularly from 1909 onwards, as seen from the Brancusi portrait on the reverse of the painting Le Violoncelliste, 1909. A letter from Brancusi to Alexandre dated 4th March 1911 also indicates that the Romanian helped his friend to set up an exhibition of 25 sculpted heads in the studio of Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso that had been provided for the event. Five archive photographs exist showing the setting up of the exhibition; precious documents since only a few of these stone heads survive today, the others having been either lost or destroyed. The portrait of Paul Alexandre is one of the rare paintings created in this formal context, and if we view the work in juxtaposition with the photographs of these stone heads the visual analogies are striking. Just like Brancusi, Modigliani refined his technique by simplifying facial features such as the thin nose and almond eyes that characterise his sculpted heads, obtaining an archaic effect that combines diverse influences: Greek and Egyptian sculpture along with the Khmer and Indian art he had discovered at the Musée Guimet with Brancusi and Souza-Cardoso, but also the tribal art of Africa that was very much in vogue in avant-garde circles at the time. Contrary to received opinion, Paul Alexandre recounted that “it was Modigliani who introduced me to African art and not the other way around. He took me to the Musée du Trocadéro where he was passionate about the Angkor exhibition in the west wing” (Modigliani inconnu, p. 67); while one of his mistresses, the Russian poet Anna Akhmotova revealed that in 1911: “Modigliani dreamed of Egypt. He invited me to the Louvre, so that I could visit the Department of Egyptian Antiquities; he said that all the rest wasn’t worthy of our attention” (Christian Parisot, Modigliani, Paris, 2005, p. 173). The influence of primitive art in the widest sense of the term – the art of non-western cultures – was a vehicle for the extreme simplification of volumes in Modigliani’s sculptures that would be translated into expanses of colour in his paintings. In the portrait of Paul Alexandre, Modigliani uses the same radical approach and with very few lines, manages to breathe life into the personality of his model. If Brancusi played a decisive role in Modigliani’s mastery of direct carving, it is also possible that this emulation was reciprocal. The decorative motif in the background of the present portrait has fascinating similarities with Brancusi’s masterpiece, La Colonne sans fin. The precise date of this wooden tower’s conception has never been determined by historians; however it appears to be between 1916 and 1918, thus several years after this picture was painted. The work of Sidney Geist, a Brancusi specialist, points to a common source for this vertical band constructed from lozenge shapes. When in 1968 Geist questioned Madame Brefort, Paul Alexandre’s daughter, regarding the iconography of her father’s portrait, she replied that it was highly likely that Modigliani had taken inspiration from a Moroccan or African wall-hanging that was in Paul Alexandre’s home at the time. Even though this wall-hanging has not been found, the doctor’s daughter remained convinced that it was not invented by the artist. (Sidney Geist, "Le devenir de la colonne sans fin" in Les carnets de l’Atelier Brancusi, Paris, 1998, p. 16).  Given the bond between Paul Alexandre, Modigliani and Brancusi, the Romanian sculptor must have also known of this wall-hanging either through his fellow artist or by his own visits to the doctor’s home. This type of textile, generally originating from central Africa, for instance the Kuba textiles of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was in fashion at the time among avant-garde artists and African art connoisseurs; Matisse was a passionate collector of fabrics and owned a large panel by the 1920s, if not before. When Modigliani arrived in Paris, the art of Sub-Saharan Africa was just being discovered by the artists he met such as Picasso, Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck, who all collected tribal art. Matisse recounted that he had purchased his first wooden statue of African origin in an exotic curiosity shop as early as 1906 while the Hungarian antique dealer Joseph Brummer expanded his business into Pre-Columbian and African art from 1908. Modigliani spent time in this milieu and saw these African statues, notably at the homes of his friends the sculptors Jacques Lipchitz and Jacob Epstein and in the studio of the painter Frank Burty Haviland. However as Alan G. Wilkinson explains in the catalogue for the exhibition Le Primitivisme dans l’art du 20e siècle (1987), Modigliani took a different approach from his peers who mixed difference tribal influences. For the creation of his sculpted heads and later his portraits he essentially took inspiration from the masks of Ivory Coast baoulé dancers and ceremonial Fang and Punu masks from central Africa – such as the one visible on the wall of Picasso’s studio behind Frank Haviland in 1910. The 1911-12 portrait of Paul Alexandre is in keeping with this primitive style that was a total break from conventional art, reflected in in the fine features of the face with the contours of the eyes outlined by the eyebrows, as the sitter himself recalled: “In his drawings there is an invention, a simplification and a purification of form. This is why he was so seduced by African art. Modigliani reconstructed the lines of the human face in his own fashion by positioning them within the context of African art. He took pleasure in attempting to simplify lines and applying this to his personal research.” (Amedeo Modigliani, Peintures du don Philippe et Blaise Alexandre). Whether in his incredible stone sculptures or in his paintings, Modigliani was above all a great portraitist who, following in the footsteps of his peers Matisse and Picasso, was able to free himself entirely of the classical portraiture genre in order to express a new sensitivity. Taking inspiration from diverse primitive sources, he dispenses with all that is superfluous, transcending the model in order better to represent him. The finest tribute would come from his first admirer, Paul Alexandre himself: “Whosoever looks at his portraits of women, youths, friends and others, will find a man a man of exquisite sensitivity, tenderness, pride, passion for the truth and purity” (Modigliani inconnu, p. 67). The 1911-12 portrait of the man who was like a brother to the artist until the outbreak of war in 1914 (the two men would never see each other again after Alexandre returned from the front, as the Italian was by then associated with the young dealer Paul Guillaume whom the doctor disliked) is the most powerful from a stylistic point of view, and the most radical of the series. It foreshadows the portrait of the collector Roger Dutilleul, painted in 1919, but above all takes its place in the canon of portraits of artists’ protectors that have become icons of modern art, such as the portraits of Ambroise Vollard painted by Cézanne in 1899, of Gertrude Stein by Picasso in 1906, or later Auguste Pellerin by Matisse in 1916. Vérane Tasseau Signed Modigliani (lower right)

  • FRAFrance
  • 2014-06-04
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Abstraktes Bild

Executed in 1991, Gerhard Richters masterful Abstraktes Bild manifests the strident and unparalleled achievement of Richters intellectual inquiry into abstractionan investigation that reached its mature zenith surrounding the period of this works creation during this pivotal year. Belonging to a hallowed body of large-scale Abstrakte Bilder executed in 1991, this towering painting delivers a breathtakingly symphonic and utterly enveloping field of pigment that is dazzling in its execution and riveting in its chromatic complexity. Simultaneously concealing and revealing spectacular accents of red, yellow and blue primaries, a sublime ivory veil of lusciously viscous white oil paint flows laterally across the canvas like a storm of snow surging across the geological strata of a cliff face. The present work sits at the chronological apex of the period when the artists creation of monumental essays in abstraction reached new heights and the long, hard-edged spatula became the central instrument of Richters technical practice. Continuing the Twentieth Centurys legacy of erasure and radical reduction as a mode of interrogatory image-making at once redolent in the work of early Modernists such as Mondrian and Malevich, through to Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism Richters Abstrakte Bilder confront the contemporary currency of painting against a prevailing doubt over its artistic claims to truth. It is with this meta-dialogue in mind that the present work is utterly without parallel in Richters oeuvre. Evoking the lush surfaces of artists such as Robert Ryman and Willem de Kooning, Richter here negotiates fields of stunningly vibrant color against the reductive purity of white, resulting in a deeply worked composition that interrogates the limits of color altogether. Where Richter has unwaveringly voiced his criticism of Modernist abstractions transcendent idealism, this painting embodies an explicit confrontation and recapitulation of this particular abstract modality. It is this harnessing of contrast that allows Richters surface to positively shimmer. In the words of Roald Nasgaard, The character of the Abstract Paintings is not their resolution but the dispersal of their elements, their coexisting contradictory expressions and moods, their opposition of promises and denials. They are complex visual events, suspended in interrogation, and fictive models for that reality which escapes direct address, eludes description and conceptualization, but resides inarticulate in our experience. (Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Gerhard Richter: Paintings, 1988, p. 110) Acquired directly from Galerie Liliane & Michel Durand-Dessert the year of its execution, Abstraktes Bild remained in the same distinguished private collection for decades. As a spectacular torrent of brilliant white paint courses horizontally across the canvas, both covering and uncovering strata of bold crimsons, gold, and cerulean, Abstraktes Bild ranks among the most intense and pristinely resolved examples of Gerhard Richters hallowed corpus of abstract paintings. Streaked and smeared tides of once-semi-liquid material have been fixed on the surface; the shadows of their former malleability caught in a perpetually dynamic stasis. Staccato ridges, crests and peaks of brilliant white impasto punctuate this underlying fluidity, creating a powerful sensation of depth and perspectival space through the lens of Richters trademark abstract vernacular. In the present work, Richter navigates a thrilling tension between the crisp monochromatic white that sweeps across the surface and the intricate layers of vivid primary colors excavated from beneath the veil of his squeegee. Benjamin Buchloh has identified a perennial relationship between absence and content in Richters abstract paintings, so that any evocation of nothingness or the void is immediately counteracted by unrelenting complexity and turbulence, as exemplified in the present work: "the ability of color to generate this emotional, spiritual quality is presented and at the same time negated at all points, surely it's always cancelling itself out. With so many combinations, so many permutational relationships there can't be any harmonious chromatic order, or composition either, because there are no ordered relations left either in the color system or the spatial system." (Benjamin Buchloh, An Interview with Gerhard Richter in Benjamin Buchloh, Ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Massachusetts, 2009, pp. 23-24) Within its sheer excess of layering and dynamic compositional facture, this painting emits an extraordinary wealth of enigmatic yet recognizable evocation. The incessant erasure and denial of formal resolution readily evokes natural phenomena, deriving at least part of its effect from a spontaneous naturalism. Evocative of color theories that Neo-Impressionists such as Georges Seurat and Paul Signac utilized to create vibrating painted surfaces, the continually varied tonality and intensely numerous variations of contrasting hues within each inch of the canvas create an intensely unstable perceptive field. This coloristic harmony and lyrical resonance broadcast an evocative atmosphere of density and chaos, while the interplay of hues and the complex smattering of thick impasto invite the viewer to look both at and through the laminas of material. We become immersed in color and movement as if confronting a natural phenomenon of the sea or sky. Forming a conceptual keystone of his oeuvre since the late 1960s, Richters iconic Abstrakte Bilder have performed a prolifically sustained philosophical enquiry into the medium of painting and the foundations of our contemporary visual understanding. In the present work, the interchangeability of light and dark hues in front and behind, respectively in unified swathes and broken accretions, results in an extreme textural topography. The nature of the object, subject to our vision, constantly transforms with our shifting perspective and an ever-changing play of light across it. What is near and what is far becomes indefinite and our eye is forced to constantly readjust to attempt to comprehend the pure assault of pictorial data. Additional scrapes, smudges, and incisions in all directions carry us forward and back, beyond even the furthermost reaches of color and pigment in a way reminiscent of Fontanas slashes and scything deconstruction of the picture plane into the infinity of space beyond. The sum of all these accretions and reductions, of Richters tireless process of addition and subtraction, is a record of time itself within the paint layers: the innumerable levels of application and eradication have left their traces behind to accumulate and forge a portrait of temporal genesis. Richter's technique affords an element of chance that is necessary to facilitate the artistic ideology of the abstract works. As the artist has explained, "I want to end up with a picture that I haven't planned. This method of arbitrary choice, chance, inspiration and destruction may produce a specific type of picture, but it never produces a predetermined picture... I just want to get something more interesting out of it than those things I can think out for myself." (the artist interviewed in 1990 in Hubertus Butin and Stefan Gronert, eds., Gerhard Richter. Editions 1965-2004: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern, 2004, p. 36) With the repeated synthesis of chance being a defining trait of its execution, the painterly triumph of the present work becomes independent of the artist and acquires its own inimitable and autonomous individuality. Indeed, Richters creation necessitated a conscious suspension of the artists artistic will and assertion of judgment. Over a protracted period of execution, the painting underwent multiple variations in which each new sweeping accretion of paint brought new juxtapositions that were reworked until the optimum threshold of harmonious articulation was achieved. Yet Richter holds no presuppositions in the devising of his abstract paintings: in his own words it is by letting a thing come, rather than creating it no assertions, constructions, formulations, inventions, ideologies that Richter looks to gain access to all that is genuine, richer, more alive: to what is beyond my understanding. (Gerhard Richter, Notes 1985 in Hans-Ulrich Obrist ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, Writings 1962-1993, p. 119) Indeed, as formulated by Birgit Pelzer, Richters abstract works prove that which cannot be articulated: Richters painting explores the enigmatic juncture of sense and non-sense. His paintings encircle, enclose the real as that which it is impossible to say: the unrepresentable. (Birgit Pelzer, "The Tragic Desire" in Benjamin D. Buchloh, ed., Gerhard Richter: October Files, Massachusetts, 2009, p. 118) Signed, dated 1991 and inscribed 744-3 on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2017-05-18
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Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe

Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe was painted at No. 7 Reese Mews, Bacon’s home and studio for the last thirty years of his life, during what is considered to be his most fertile and canonical years of 1968 to1971. Photographs of his working space show a small room (13 x 26 feet) with the walls covered in paint (he used them as a palette for mixing colors, and jokingly referred to these as his only abstract paintings). The floor is hidden under a flood of papers, boxes, books and photographs, while every raised surface is crammed with paint pots and old brushes. After Bacon’s death, when the Dublin City Gallery catalogued and recorded the contents for removal (to be reconstituted in Ireland), they listed 570 books, 1,300 leaves torn from magazines or catalogues and 1,500 photographs. Like a magpie’s nest, Bacon had gathered round himself the images and sources that he assimilated and worked into his paintings (including the present work), picking and choosing from this horde of visual trophies. As a whole, his studio could be a metaphor for the constant visual bombardment of modern life. But the works that emerged are anything but cluttered: they bristle with an intensity that is both focused and stark. The most fertile of these sources was his collection of photographs. In an interview with David Sylvester, Bacon commented that “99 percent of the time I find that photographs are very much more interesting than either abstract or figurative painting. I’ve always been haunted by them.” (David Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London and New York, 1975)  Sometimes the images were taken from magazines, medical journals or the chronophotography of Eadweard Muybridge, but often these were images of close friends and drinking companions, expressly commissioned. Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe is partly based on a photograph of Henrietta Moraes, a key member of Bacon’s coterie and a fellow regular at Soho’s Colony Club, where the owner Muriel Belcher gave Bacon free drinks and a £10 allowance since he brought in so much business. Moraes was the erstwhile wife of the Indian poet Dom Moraes, and claimed to have attended the Colony Club simply so that Bacon would paint her, which ultimately he did at least a dozen times. Moraes was also painted by Lucien Freud in the course of a year-long affair during the fifties. But unlike Freud, who spent hours analyzing and scrutinizing his models in his studio with forensic precision, Bacon preferred to paint in absentia, relying predominantly on the combination of photographic material and memory to inform his image production. Furthermore, he saw what he did as injurious, a violent paroxysm on the human figure that he did not want to practice before his subject. Painting in absentia freed the artist from the imperatives of empirical observation and allowed him to liberally reinvent the image in the sequestered isolation of his studio. Typically, Bacon did not limit himself to just one source and it is hard not to place Henry Fuseli’s Nightmare among the antecedents of Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe. The thrown back arm, so eloquent of physical abandon, is a clear visual link between the paintings, as is the long flowing hair. The riotous body is not so much deformed as manifesting on its surface an inner turmoil, as she writhes in the grips of a very modern nightmare: a drug trip. Bacon claimed that the syringe had a purely visual purpose with no sinister connotations, as he also claimed about the Nazi armband in Crucifixion (1965), but in both these cases the allusive power of the objects is so loaded that it is disingenuous to deny their impact. Besides, the hypodermic syringe was to prove eerily prophetic, in that Henrietta Moraes became a heroin addict about a decade after the painting of this work. The swirling brushstrokes and rearranged features, as well as showing the influence of de Kooning, give a sense of captured movement over time, of film frames overlaid or a flipbook assembled into a single instant, like a writhing ghost within the flesh. Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe is one of Bacon’s few forays into that great proving ground of Western art: the reclining female nude. It brilliantly illustrates his almost sculptural approach to painting, his ability to mould the fleshy paint like clay, to be shaped and arranged on the armature of the human skeleton. The result, almost discomfortingly intimate and poignant, is a brilliant reminder of the vulnerability of the human condition. Several other features of Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe are typical Bacon leitmotifs. The thin and schematic axonometric lines that enclose the reclining nude – as they do the subjects of many other works – frame the composition, enclosing her in an artificial and constructed environment. The nude becomes a specimen in a vivarium, an object enclosed and framed by its surroundings. Much of Bacon’s art is about indication, about framing; about noticing and capturing something essential. In many of the later works red and white arrows appear, pointing at some particularly meaningful area of the composition, just as here the hypodermic needle was inserted into the composition of this painting specifically to achieve – Christological connotations apart – what Bacon described as “a nailing of the flesh onto the bed”.  Like a butterfly in a display case, the extended arm is fixed in place and indicated by the needle. “It’s less stupid than putting a nail through the arm” he explained.(Quoted in David Sylvester, The Human Body, Exh. Cat. London, Hayward Gallery, 1998, p. 31.) The screen that curves around behind her, like sideways Venetian blinds, is derived from a Cinerama screen, which, according to the blurb on a fragment of a magazine advertisement found in Bacon’s studio, “looks like an unbroken flat surface to the audience but it’s actually made up of hundreds of overlapping vertical strips”. These strips, in various forms, appear as curtains in numerous works, enclosing and framing the subject as if on a stage set, or else as visual interference with the image itself, distorting further the subject’s features, as though caught in the disintegrating rush of a blast furnace (for example the Munchian Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953 ).  In the foreground, the lines that bisect the canvas at a curve create the shape of an eye, while the female nude lies on an iris-shaped bed at the center. “I want to make the interior so much there that the form will speak more eloquently”, Bacon explained (Cited in John Russell, Francis Bacon, London, 1971, p. 75.). This carefully constructed spatial arrangement, and sensitivity for creating striking settings, betrays his short lived but successful first career as an interior designer. Overall, Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe embodies and exemplifies every reason why Bacon was Britain's greatest post-war painter. The psychological and physical forces conveyed by his unique handling of paint and by his expressionistic treatment of the human figure place him clearly in what his first dealer, Helen Lessore, has called The Great Tradition. David Sylvester, the doyen of Bacon scholars, personally requested that Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe be included in the last Bacon show he curated, Francis Bacon: the Human Body. The show brought together a small and highly select collection of only twenty-three works, the highlights of a whole career. For David Sylvester, it crowned nearly fifty years of writing, analyzing and proselytizing Bacon’s achievements. Also included was the earlier Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe of 1963, which has a less complex composition and lacks the detailed and characteristic Baconian setting. The central figure is also not as vigorously rendered as in Version No. 2, and David Sylvester described the difference. In   “Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe, 1968, Bacon performed the same operation in a much more abstracted form, so that he came closer to de Kooning there than in any other of his works.”(David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, London, 2000, p.108) Sylvester is placing Version No. 2 at the peak of a defining tendency within Bacon’s style: his abstract expressionist inspired gesture, the abstract handling of flesh and the human form as well as the energy apparent in his vigorous brushwork. It is not difficult to understand the importance that Sylvester ascribed to this work, especially in the context of a show dedicated to the human figure. The reclining nude figure of Henrietta Moraes treads a knife’s edge between contorted enervation and decomposition, barely containing both states at once. The animated brushstrokes are all that separate her flayed limbs from the crucified side of beef in Painting 1946, or the dissected fish of Chaim Soutine. Bacon manages to combine the pathos of an ecce homo with the harsh reality of a memento mori: ecstasy and overdose, pleasure and pain, sleep and death: they are nothing but opposite sides of the same coin, a gamble taken with each shot, each fix. Life can only be truly defined by its opposite, death, just as light is defined by dark; and Henrietta’s body walks the penumbra between the two. Bacon has achieved in this painting a level of pure mastery and a visual poetry that is both shocking and beautiful, brutally honest and yet profoundly empathic, making Version No.2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe a masterpiece with few equals in the whole of his long and stellar career. Titled and dated 1968 on the reverse; signed and dated 1968 on the stretcher

  • USAUSA
  • 2006-11-14
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Untitled

“There is never a question of what to paint but only how to paint. The how of painting has always been the image—the end product.” Robert Ryman cited in Exh. Cat., Zürich, Halle für internationale neue Kunst (and travelling), Robert Ryman, 1980, p. 15 Provocative in its immense purity and radical candor, Robert Ryman's Untitled bristles with an unrivaled dynamism and a clear vitality that renders it a timeless explication of the very essence of beauty. Ryman dates his earliest painting to 1955, but as widely noted, the years 1958-1962 were the most significant for the painter’s artistic development. Executed in 1961, the present work is one of the earliest examples of Ryman’s painting; in a career that spans more than a half-century, works from this remarkably significant period are notoriously rare as fundamental exemplars of the practice that would come to cause a quiet revolution in the medium. Works of comparable scale and complexity from this period number extremely few, with most belonging to international museum collections such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Enrapturing our eyes and enriching our souls, Ryman’s Untitled is one of the most crucial works ever painted by the artist; every peak of crisp phosphorescent white that emerges from its flurry of activity ineffably and incontrovertibly confirms the artist's painterly genius. The sureness of Ryman’s hand is astounding. Frothing in a turbulent squall of luscious impasto in brief, all-over contractions, the surface of Untitled erupts before our eyes while maintaining a fundamental exactness and precision. The warm luminous white strokes are layered above underlying greens, pinks, and yellows, appearing simultaneously calm and agitated—as if frozen mid-motion in a precise choreography of staccato brush movements. Breathtakingly stirring in its vital exuberance of directional vigor, while configured in a meticulous cross-hatched pattern governed by self-containment, Untitled retains the vitality of experimentation but is rooted firmly in the thoughtful exactitude that is so resolutely Ryman. The vehement motion of Ryman’s brushstrokes impel a substantial spontaneity, however restrained by the given format of the square canvas. While the surface of Untitled proposes a similar additive gestural syntax to the oil-encrusted abstraction of de Kooning, Pollock, and other of Ryman’s Abstract Expressionist influences, Ryman’s work completely eschews the notion of action painting. As explained by Robert Storr of works from this formative period, “Ryman’s are the product of the fingers and hand, not the arm. Gesture, for him, served paint rather than the painter; painting was a question of application rather than of ‘action.’ Contrary, then to Harold Rosenberg’s view of abstraction as an exercise in the rhetoric of self-affirmation, Ryman understood it even at that formative state as a problem of material syntax. What paint had to say was its own name, and it said it best in measured tones.” (Robert Storr, Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery (and travelling), Robert Ryman, 1993, p. 15) In its expansive surface, the size of the present work provided Ryman generous room to explore the whims of his brush and to compose the reaction of his variously toned paints as they intermingled. Like an open set of parentheses bounding a vertiginously poetic set of verse, the nature of Ryman’s canvas is as important to the artist as the pigment that builds its voluminous picture plane. Ryman’s assertion that the content of painting came from the paint itself and not the pictorial outcome revolutionized the characteristically modernist understanding of painting for painting’s sake. Following the fertile period of artistic development in New York after the second World War, the predominant mode of painting that emerged was one that broke entirely with European traditions—gigantically scaled, gesturally uninhibited, and chromatically varied, this method of expressionism was one which brought the optical properties of color to the fore. Ryman broke free of this influence, instead finding in the enclosed square format an ideal retreat from concerns of proportionality, and locating in the color white the physical properties that enabled him the most freedom to experiment within this perfect formal arena. The characteristics of white paint that were alluring to Ryman are innumerable: its tone, transparency, vibrancy, richness, and cohesion all provoked grand inspiration for the artist. While Ryman is compared often to Malevich or Albers in his utilization of the monochromatic square, his painterly concerns align more closely to with those of Jasper Johns—repelling associations with conceptual art, his pictures rather are embroiled in the corporeal properties of the paint instead of the theoretical capitulations of such influential modernists. Ryman’s paintings do not stand in service to an idea—they stand in service to the surface. After moving to New York City to be a jazz musician in 1952, Ryman took a job as a guard at the Museum of Modern Art. He exposed himself equally to all of the various styles that surrounded him, and this concentrated absorption of artistic influence ignited an experimental drive, leading him to purchase a set of brushes, some oil paint, and canvas boards. As he remembers, “I was just seeing how the paint worked, and how the brushes worked. I was just using the paint, putting it on canvas board, putting it on thinly with turpentine and thicker to see what that was like, and trying to make something happen without any specific idea what I was painting.” (the artist cited in Ibid., p. 12) This initial investigation into the nature of the painterly medium evolved into a pioneering exploration of the very limits of painting as a genre, and came to define the style of one of the most celebrated painters of the post-war era. Untitled of 1961 is a spectacular early example of Ryman’s inimitable technique. In every moment that we are taken aback by the painting’s heart-stopping splendor, we yearn for more time to be immersed in the infinite circuit of the picture; in every stroke resides the kernel of groundbreaking innovation. Signed and dated 61; signed four times and dated 61 three times on the overturned left edge

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-11-11
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* Note that the price doesn’t correlate with today’s value, but only relates to the actual end price at the time of the purchase.

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