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Meules

The year 1890 was a watershed moment in Claude Monets lifehe turned fifty, bought property for the first time and negotiated the purchase of Édouard Manets Olympia and its ensuing placement in the French national collection (see fig. 1). Any of these could have been the most notable occurrence of that period, but 1890 was also the year that Monet painted the most definitive artistic series of the nineteenth centuryhis Meules. This acclaimed series found its inspiration in the fields adjacent to his home in Giverny; the series takes as its principal imagery the monolithic grainstacks which dominated the harvested fields from the high summer onward. The present oil is the most evocative and glorious example from the most famed group of pictures in the nineteenth-century western canon.Commonly known as his Haystacks, these canvases were dominated by gigantic conical structures, composed of wheat or grain, stacked in such a way as to allow the stalks to dry and prevent mold prior to the grains separation from the stalk by a threshing machine. Each village did not possess its own thresher, and the wait for one of these traveling machines to reach a specific location often took monthsgrain cut in the summer might sit in its neat and careful stack until January or February of the following year. These stacks were over ten feet in height, sometimes reaching over twenty feet, their shape varying by region. The blond monoliths in Monets canvases possess the typical shape of the grain stacks in the Normandy countryside, a cylindrical base topped with a peaked dome, which lay all around him in the fields of Giverny. Monet had spent the better part of the 1880s traveling throughout France and, upon occasion, further afield. From the wild and rocky coast of Belle Île in Brittany to the bright light and soft air of Antibes, his travels would provide him with new subjects and locations to populate his canvases. It was at his hotel on Belle Île that he, quite by accident, met Gustave Geffroy in 1886, who Monet found sitting at his accustomed table in the dining room. Monet was both surprised and pleased upon his return to the hotel one evening to find the art critic for La Justice seated at the table that he generally occupied. Its funny to be so far away and to have these meetings, Monet told Alice when describing this fortuitous encounter. Geffroy had come to Belle Isle to do research for a book on the anarchist Blanqui. He had had no idea that Monet had made the long voyage there as well (P.H. Tucker, Monet in the 90s, The Series Paintings (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1989, p. 29). This meeting was not to be their last. The two got on quite well and, before he left the island, Geffroy was able to watch Monet hard at work painting his canvases, gaining first-hand knowledge of the artists method and practice. Their friendship would last decades and it is no accident that in 1891, when Monet first exhibited fifteen works from the Meules series at Galerie Durand-Ruel, Geffroy would write the glowing introduction in the accompanying exhibition catalogue. Haystacks and grainstacks had appeared in Monets canvases before this period of focused illumination, but never proved to be the specific subject and study of his work, appearing as incidental in a larger landscape, or behind figures strolling through a lush field. In 1884 haystacks (composed of hay) sit in front of a row of poplars (Wildenstein 900-902) while in 1885 the stacks are leaned against by young figures dressed for a summer day (Wildenstein 993-95; see fig. 2) and in 1886 they form a small part of a broader and more expansive view of the surrounding countryside (Wildenstein 1073-74). It was not until two years later in 1888 that Monet began to place these grainstacks as the central motif of a composition (Wildenstein 1213-17; see fig. 3). As Daniel Wildenstein relates: His choice of stack was favored by circumstances: a little to the west of his house, a large piece of land, the Clos Morin, served each year as a floor for the stacks of one of Givernys bigger farmers. The high road passed the north face of the Clos Morin before reaching the town hall. From this road Monet would enter the enclosed field. These paintings [Wildenstein 1213-17] constituted a rather modest beginning and, despite the exaggerated claims occasionally heard, did not mark any real progress towards the systematic use of series. Monets series were not magically born of his first encounters with the grain-stacks; they were the result of many years of experience (D. Wildenstein, Monet or the Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne, 1996, pp. 247-48). In choosing these powerful grainstacks as his subject, Monet continued a long tradition of depicting the French countryside and its abundant riches seen in the paintings of such artists as Millet and the Barbizon school (see fig. 4). Monets fellow Impressionists, most notably Camille Pissarro, had also included imagery of haystacks in their work. As early 1873 Pissarro places a haystack front and center, its roughly triangular form breaking the horizon line and dominating the field and figures that surround it (see fig. 5). Almost twenty years later his haystacks appear smaller in size, tucked between trees and pathways near his home in Éragny. However, Monet updated and adapted this tradition to striking effect: his grainstacks series contain virtually no anecdotal detail; no dogs or laborers, no figures walking through the fields or birds flying in the sky. The artist pares down his vision to focus solely on the grainstacks themselves, on the play of light or night on them, on the sky and the horizon. In this reduction of motifs, Monet echoes the purity of line and form evident in Japanese colored woodblock prints by such masters as Hokusai that began to be seen in the West in the mid-nineteenth century, and also demonstrates a divergence of approach from contemporary artists such as Vincent van Gogh, who treated the same subject in Arles during 1890 with very different aims, imbuing his subject with a wealth of details that Monet chose to exclude from his painting (see fig. 6). While van Gogh's stacks, situated by a farmhouse, portray a scene of continuing work and human interaction, Paul Gauguin portrays them mid-construction, where local women manipulate the interior of the stack while thronged by chickens (see fig. 7). This context underscores the separation from Pissarro and Millets imagery, showing the stacks primarily as temporary architectural constructions in the landscape. The theme of the harvest, as an essential cyclical human activity which indicated success or failure, feast or famine and ensured the passage of time, has a storied presence in artistic imagery since ancient times. From a wall painting from the Ramesside period of ancient Egypt circa 13th-11th centuries B.C. to an idealized image of medieval peasant life for the month of June in the Très riches heures of the Duke de Berry, executed by the Limbourg brothers in the early 1400s to Pieter Bruegel the Elders The Harvesters, the growth and collection of grain is depicted as integral to human life and development and can be conflated with the rise of human civilization (see figs. 8, 9 & 10). Though the new modern behemoth, the railroad, wended its way across France by 1890, the importance of the harvest for the countryside, town and state was still paramount. In the careful preparation, harvest and storage methods exhibited by each grainstack, the economic health of the countryside was demonstrated. A good harvest and correct farming methods ensured the prosperity of the farmer and town, and by extension the city and state. The notion of the stacks carrying the wealth of their owners finds a resonance in Monets depiction of their surfaces and the volumetric play of their shapes. The stacks in the present composition are broad, full structures that suggest the great fertility and bountifulness of the Normandy landscape. Their surfaces are gilded and burnished with the light of the sun, and the whole scene is infused with a sense of well-being, vitality and the harmony of nature. Examining the series as a whole, overall compositional devices can be noted. Paul Hays Tucker describes this organization: The compositions are all strongly geometricthe fields, hills, and sky being reduced to parallel bands that in most cases extend across the entire canvas, with the fields occupying approximately half the surface, and the hills and sky, a quarter each. When fifteen of these canvases were exhibited at Durand-Ruels in Paris between May 4 and May 18, 1891, their impact was as forceful as their elemental motifs and the show was an enormous success. In moving from one canvas to another, one senses not only the many artful choices Monet made, but also his deep engagement with the stacks themselves. They are never overwhelmed by the light or obscured by the atmosphere, and thus they never lose their identity as forms. Monet even goes so far as to outline them, often in bold colors, and to define their conical tops by rivulets of light that run down their undulating edges. Although inert, the stacks seem to be invested with great feeling (P. H. Tucker, Monet in the 90s, The Series Paintings (exhibition catalogue), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1989, pp. 77 & 82). The present canvas breaks from the overall organization of the series in several ways. The parallel bands are less dominating in structure, rather the strong diagonal extending from the left edge of the canvas towards the horizon line becomes dominant. In only one other canvas is this the case (Wildenstein 1272). Monet also employs a radical cropping in Meules, which contributes to the sense of dynamism in the receding diagonal line of the stacks; this is in direct opposition to the sun, hidden behind the stacks, which casts diagonal beams of light towards the lower right corner of the composition, suffusing the edges of the stacks and the ground with reds, oranges and vibrant greens. By cutting off a portion of the largest stack at the left edge he conveys the monumentality of these monoliths and further impresses the manipulation of light in the landscape caused by their physical presence. The Haystacks are best understood, writes Charles S. Moffett, in terms of the evolution of Monets late work. They were the first of several series, and as such they mark the appearance of a mode that interested the artist for the rest of his career. In this connection, Geffroy makes a remark in his 1891 catalogue essay that is both insightful and prescient. He likened the haystacks in the field near Monets house to mirror-like object passagers (transitory objects), the primary function of which was to reflect the surrounding effects of light and atmosphere, or, in the terminology that Monet used when speaking to Byvanck These haystacks, in an empty field, are mirror-like objects in a kind of open thoroughfare where environmental influences, atmospheric effects, puffs of breeze, and short-lived light effects manifest themselves (C. S. Moffett, Monets Haystacks in J. Rewald & F. Weitzenhoffer, eds., Aspects of Monet, a symposium on the artists life and times, New York, 1984, p. 155). The essential trouble with capturing a fleeting effect and memorializing it on canvas was not, by 1890, a new concept. Monet, however, wanted, as ever, to push the boundaries of what this meant and how to depict it. Monet was focusing on what was in a sense the most transitory of all subjects, states John House, and the one most suited to the rapid sketchthe atmosphere itself, the ever-changing envelope which gave color and life to inert objects. As Geffroy reported in his Salon de 1890, using a phrase which Monet repeated in later interviews, Monet does not want to represent the reality of things, he wants to record the light which lies between him and the objects. The key to Monets later works lies in this paradox and in ways in which he resolved it: he was seeking a way of translating natures most fleeting effects into fully realized, complete works of art. No longer could the impression be an end in itself; the work of art had to transcend the initial experience and yet still retain a sense of the immediacy of the experience, of linstantanéite (J. House, Monet in 1890 in ibid., p. 133). How was Monet to accomplish immediacy A close examination of the surface of Meules betrays the concept, and the rather romantic idea, of Monet completing all of his work en plein air. While much of the initial work was done in the fields, examining light, perspective, and various ephemeral effects, the staggering complexity of pigment application, color and light in Meules speaks to close and time-consuming work in the artists studio following his initial sessions out of doors. As John House describes: In the Meules, the surfaces, though dense, are generally less insistent; the effect of the instantaneity of the envelope is recreated in elaboration of the final stages of the execution of the paintings, when soft yet animated touches of endlessly varied color were added over less variegated paint layers. Paradoxically, then, the instantaneity of the initial effect could only be finally realized in paint at the end of a protracted period of reworking, and given the transistoriness of the subject, this can only have been achieved in the studio. So, in one sense the initial effect was recreated as the painting was worked up, but in another sense the elaboration and resolution of the painting itself transcended the momentariness of its initial stimulus. The more serious qualities which Monet sought in these paintings emerge as the viewer contemplates them at his leisure. Their starting point may have been an instant of vision, but the pictures can in no way be apprehended in an instant. Looking at the picture is now an experience absolutely different from, and divorced from, the experience of looking at nature itself (ibid., pp. 134-35). Fifteen of Monets Meules were exhibited for the first time in May of 1891 at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris. Several other works accompanied the exhibition, but the attention of the public was captured by the grainstacks. It is impossible to know each of the fifteen paintings from the series which were included as the catalogue descriptions are imprecise and no photographs were taken of the exhibitionmuch to the dismay of later scholars. The exhibition would prove to be a success in sales and in prestige. Many of the art critics of the day wrote praise-laden reviews and Pissarro, not usually taken with Monets work, wrote privately to his son that, despite his misgivings, it was the work of a very great artist. The famed critic Felix Fénéon, who had coined the term Neo-Impressionist some four years earlier, wrote in rhapsodic prose: When did Monets colors ever come together in more harmonious clamor, with more sparkling impetus It was the evening sun that most exalted Grainstacks: in summer they were haloed in purple flakes of ire; in winter, their phosphorescent shadows rippled in the sun, and, a sudden frost enameling them blue, they glittered on a sky first pink, then gold (F. Fénéon quoted in D. Wildenstein, Monet or the Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne, 1996, pp. 279-80). One visitor of note to the 1891 exhibition was Bertha Honoré Palmer, the wife of the fabulously wealthy Chicago-based businessman Potter Palmer. Bertha Honoré Palmer saw the 1891 exhibition and, perhaps as a result of that experience, became the most important 19th-century collector of Impressionist landscape painting outside France, as well as the first collector to grasp the importance of Monets series paintings (R.R. Brettell, Monets Haystacks Reconsidered in Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, vol. II, no. 1, Chicago, Autumn 1984, p. 6). Mrs. Potter Palmer collected voraciously, owning, at one time, as many as ninety works by Monet. Without doubt, writes Richard Brettell, she was the first private collector to recognize the significance of Monets serial paintings. In fact, her collection of these works to this day rank as the most important assembled by a private collector or an institution. In addition to her nine Haystacks, she owned four of the Poplars, three of the Rouen Cathedral, and three of the series devoted to morning on the Seine (ibid., p. 19; see fig. 11). Mrs. Palmer was a force to be reckoned with (see fig. 12). During her lifetime, Mrs. Palmer was called the queen of Chicago. Married to the great hotel and retail magnate Potter Palmer, she bore him two sons, built a famous castle, presided over the largest private collection of works of art in Chicago, and was named president of the Board of Lady Managers for the Worlds Columbian Exposition of 1893. By 1890, she had become preeminent in Chicago and was also well known in New York, Newport, London, and Paris. Hers was a rich, intense life, full of politics, intrigue, and sheer power; if there was a woman who dominated the generation of American robber barons, it was Mrs. Palmer (ibid., pp. 15 & 18). After her husbands death she purchased and developed large swaths of real estate in Florida, vastly increasing the enormous fortune that had been left to her by her husband when he predeceased her in 1903. Potter Palmers decision to leave his entire fortune to his wife was met with raised eyebrows. His lawyer advised him against it stating: 'Your wife is a young woman, she might very well marry again.' Whereupon Potter Palmer responded, 'If she does, hell need the money.' When his old friend Marshall Field heard that Palmer had left his entire estate to his wife, Fields response was typical of his frugal personality: 'A million dollars is enough for any woman!'. Mrs. Palmer became an excellent business woman, and by her death in 1918, she had more than doubled her husbands estate (S.S. Kalmbach, The Jewel of the Gold Coast, Mrs. Potter Palmers Chicago, Chicago, 2009, p. 21). Her shrewdness in business did not just apply to her handling of a more-than-substantial real estate portfolio; over the years she also bought and sold artworks at an enormous rate, often holding on to works for just a few years and making a profit on their sale. Many of her paintings by Claude Monet would be held in the collection only temporarily. Meules was different however. She first acquired it in 1892, just two years after it was painted. In short order she sold the work back to Durand-Ruel, but soon thought better of the decision and re-purchased it by November of that same year. The work would not leave her collection again and remained with her for her lifetime. After her death, a portion of the collection was donated to the Art Institute of Chicago, including two works from the grainstack series. Meules however remained within the Palmer family, becoming a part of her son and daughter-in-law, Honoré & Grace Palmers, collection after her death. In its warmth and generosity of vision, in its elevation of the humble grainstack to an icon of Impressionism and in its emphasis on form and light over content and the burden of detail, Meules is truly the masterpiece from Monets series of grainstacks. Signed Claude Monet and dated 91 (lower left)

  • USAUSA
  • 2019-05-14
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WOOD AND ROCK

SU SHI (1037-1101) WOOD AND ROCK Handscroll, ink on paper Painting: 26.3 x 50 cm. (10 3/8 x 19 3/4 in.) Painting and colophons: 26.3 x 185.5 cm. (10 3/8 x 73 in.) Overall with mounting: 27.2 x 543 cm. (10 3/4 x 213 3/4 in.) Colophons by Liu Liangzuo (11th century), Mi Fu (1051-1107), Yu Xilu (1278-1368) and Guo Chang (1563-1622) Forty one collector’s seals, including one of Liu Liangzuo, twelve of Wang Houzhi (1131-1204), three of Yu Xilu, twelve of Yang Zun (circa 1294-after 1333), nine of Mu Lin (1429-1458), two of Li Tingxiang (1485-1544) and two of Guo Chang Colophon by Liu Liangzuo: It has been thirty years since Qiyun of Runzhou, the venerable Master Feng, resigned from his official position and followed the Way of Tao. Now in his seventies, his dark beard and hair ever glowing, he carries an elegant, calm air. As he showed me Wood and Rock by Dongpo [Su Shi], I hereby inscribe a poem for him, and still invite the respectable Haiyue [Mi Fu] to respond in the same rhyme. Liu Liangzuo of Shangrao. From ancient dreams a rock rises from the clouds, In vicissitude the wood sheds its skin; Its gnarled branches forever blessed by the heavens, Heroically defying worldly fates. Unrolling the scroll brings me so much joy, For true friends are rare behind closed doors. Such a sight exists in the garden of my home, Only embarrassed am I, to have forgotten to return. Colophon by Mi Fu: Fu, following the rhyme: Who can say what it is like at the age of forty? For three years, I haven’t had any new clothes made. In poverty one understands the dangers of life; In old age one feels the intricate wisdoms of Tao. Already too late to devote oneself to an official career, Not to mention how few souls truly know me. Delighted am I to find such refined company, In the autumn years of my life, I have yet to speak of returning home. Colophon by Yu Xilu: Having read Ode to Old Tree by Yu Zishan [Yu Xin, 513-581], I loved the incomparable sharpness of the language and tried to paint the old tree from my imagination, but to no avail. Now I see this painting by Dongpo where the proud, withered tree branches resemble giant creatures and dragons appearing and disappearing from stormy seas - a phenomenal result of the artist’s years of experience. I can almost see Zishan’s Ode coming to life! Master Liu of Shangrao and Master Mi of Xiangyang both composed fine poems; particularly, the calligraphy by Master Mi is most attractive. What a rare treasure combining both painting and calligraphy! On the occasion of Zongdao [Yang Zun] showing me this fine scroll in his collection, I hereby inscribe my joy upon seeing it. Yu Xilu of Jingkou. Colophon by Guo Chang: Withered wood, bamboo and rock by Su Changgong [Su Shi] with calligraphy by Mi Yuanzhang [Mi Fu] - a renowned work by two masters showcasing the finest achievements in both painting and calligraphy. A real treasure to be cherished! At the Pavilion of the Omniscient Mind. Jiayin year of the Wanli Reign (1614), two days after the Dragon Boat Festival.

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2018-11-26
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Femme au chien

At any given point in Picassos life, a veritable menagerie could be found in his home and studio. Dogs of all shapes and sizes, a variety of felines, doves, a parrot, an owl, a goatindoors and out of doors these animals would appear, disappear, reappear. Later in life a bird would drop dead in its cage in the studio at Notre Dame de Vie. Jacqueline, Picassos second wife, would spirit the cage away until a replacement could be found to ensure an ever-present appearance of life.The inclusion of a dog as a principal subject has precedent dating back to Picasso's earliest days as an artist. The titular dog in Femme au chien, his Afghan hound Kaboul, is rendered with clear affection and humor and a nod to Picassos adoration of these creatures. Canines of various sorts are present in Picassos works throughout his oeuvre: the emaciated figures of his Rose Period; his serial reinterpretations of Velazquezs Las Meninas; and his dachshund Lump (who he borrowed from David Douglas Duncan for many years) along with his Afghan hounds, Kasbek and Kaboul and his boxer Jan. The importance of dogs to Picasso is particularly evident in his delicate rendering of Garçon au chien executed in 1905, now a part of the permanent collection at the Hermitage (see fig. 1). Kaboul is not the only protagonist in Femme au chien, as the title suggests. Enthroned in an armchair, the woman featured in Femme au chien is Jacqueline Roque, Picassos beloved second wife who remained with him until his death in 1973. Picassos renderings of Jacqueline constitute the largest group of images of any woman in his life. The couple met in 1952 at the pottery studio in Vallauris, while Picasso was still living with the mother of his two children, Françoise Gilot. Unlike Françoise, Jacqueline was accepting of the notoriously temperamental artist and his obsession with his art. Her unflappable support and willingness to sacrifice herself on the altar of his ego won the artists heart. Picasso married Jacqueline in 1961 and as William Rubin noted, Jacquelines understated, gentle, and loving personality combined with her unconditional commitment to [Picasso] provided an emotionally stable life and a dependable foyer over a longer period of time than he had ever before enjoyed (W. Rubin quoted in Picasso & Jacqueline, The Evolution of Style (exhibition catalogue), Pace Gallery, New York, 2014-15, p. 190). The relationship between Jacqueline and Kaboul was apparently very close. Boris Friedwald writes, As of 1960, Lump [Picassos dachshund] had a new companion, Kaboul, named after the Afghan capitaland rightly so, because he was an Afghan Greyhound. Jacqueline Roque, whom Picasso had married in 1961, was in love with Kaboul. And soon the animal, which was to accompany Picasso up to the end of his life, was appearing in several portraits of Jacqueline Roque. No wonder the features of Kaboul can be subtly traced in her visage (B. Friedewald, Picassos Animals, New York, 2014, p. 56). To this point of visual similarity between hound and human, Picasso himself described the difficulty of separating the two in his mind: Often, if he comes into my mind when I am working, it alters what I do. The nose on the face I am drawing gets longer and sharper. The hair of the woman I am sketching gets longer and fluffy, resting against her cheeks just as his ears rest against his head (quoted in ibid., p. 51). In all, Picasso would paint six oils of Jacqueline seated with Kaboul. These range from the most fully worked examples including the present work and Femme et chien sous un arbre, now at The Museum of Modern Art, New York to more instantaneous, looser compositions where the shape and execution of both Jacqueline and Kaboul is less precise (figs. 2 & 3). The present picture, which Picasso began in November 1962 and completed the following month, belongs to a series of depictions of Jacqueline in an armchair. The motif of a seated woman in an armchair occurred repeatedly throughout Picassos oeuvre. While varying in style and depicting different women that marked each period of the artists life, these figures, seated and fully attentive, generally served as a vehicle for expressing the palpable sexual tension between the painter and his model. From soft, voluptuous curves of Marie-Thérèse Walter, to the fragmented, near-abstract nudes of his surrealist work and the exaggerated rendering of his later years, Picassos seated nudes have a monumental, sculptural presence, and are invariably depicted with a powerful sense of psychological drama. It is perhaps no accident that the present work features prominently in the background of a portrait of the couple taken in 1962 (see fig. 4). Unlike many other figural artists who employed professional models or negotiated with strangers and slight acquaintances to sit for them, Picassos figures always revolved around those who inhabited the closes portions of his personal life It is characteristic of Picasso, writes Marie-Laure Bernadac that he takes as his modelor as his Musethe woman he loves and who loves with him, not a professional model. So what his paintings show is never a model of a woman, but woman as model. This has its consequences for his emotional as well as his artistic life: for the beloved woman stands for painting, and the painted woman is the beloved: detachment is an impossibility. Picasso never paints from life: Jacqueline never poses for him; but she is there always, everywhere. All the women of these years are Jacqueline, and yet they are rarely portraits. The image of the woman he loves is a model imprinted deep within him, and it emerges every time he paints a woman (Late Picasso. Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972 (exhibition catalogue), The Tate Gallery, London & Musée national dart moderne, Paris, 1988, p. 78). It was not just the women in his life who dominated his canvases. In his years with Olga, Marie-Thérèe and Gilot their children with Picasso take pride of place in his artwork. Jacqueline is depicted with the beloved hound Kaboul and, two years later, in a series of images, both clothed and nude, with their cat. This is not to say the animals take the place of children in these worksGilot was depicted with dogs in various instances (see fig. 5), but rather belie the daily surroundings of life and the prime actors within their world at this time. By 1962, Picasso and Jacqueline had decamped from the increasingly chaotic Villa La Californie in Cannes. After a brief period of time spent in the too-remote Vauvenargues Castle, near Aix-en-Provence, they settled in Notre Dame de Vie, a Mas in the town of Mougins, perched in the hills high above the coast. Notre Dame de Vie, Gert Schiff relates, is a spacious eighteenth-century farmhouse surrounded by cypresses and olive trees, with a view extending down to the Bay of Cannes. The artists wife Jacqueline organized his life for him. She provided him with unlimited time for his workand with inspiration (G. Schiff, Picasso. The Last Years, 1963-1973, New York, 1983, p. 12). Femme au chien, in its bold use of color, complexity and completeness of composition and monumental scale ensure that his canvas is one of Picassos most evocative portraits of his wife during their years at Notre Dame de Vie and a masterpiece of the artists late period. Signed Picasso (upper left); extensively dated (on the reverse)

  • USAUSA
  • 2019-05-14
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Study for a Head

Trapped as if manacled to an electric chair, the ludicrously drag-attired subject is jolted into involuntary motion by external forces or internal psychoses. The eternal quiet of Veláquezs Innocent is replaced by the involuntary cry of Bacons anonymous, unwitting, tortured occupant in the hot seat. One could hardly conceive of a more devastating depiction of postwar existential angst or a more convincing denial of faith in the rea that exemplified Nietzsches declaration that God is dead. (Hugh M. Davies, Bacons Popes: Ex Cathedra to In Camera, in Exh. Cat., San Diego, Museum of Contemporary Art, Francis Bacon: The Papal Portraits of 1953, New York, 1999, p. 12) Study of a Head from 1952 broadcasts Francis Bacons most celebrated and recognizable iconography, which today remains one of the most pertinent, universal, and affecting visions in the history of art, the full force of which is trapped forever on the surface of this sensational painting. Here, we witness the zenith of Bacons first subject a subject that spanned over twenty years until 1971 with Study for a Red Pope, Second Version and the indomitable articulation of both Bacons love affair with Diego Velázquez and his will to expose the fallacy of such images for a world living in the dim light of Nietzsches declaration of Gods death. The present work sits alongside significant masterpieces that announced the arrival of the artists genius and primary subject: the human-animal as unadorned, despairing and alone. Having remained in the Seattle-based collection of Jane Lang Davis for over forty years, Study for a Head is of seminal importance to Bacons history with the American audience, as it was originally purchased from Beaux Arts Gallery by American author, art critic and Jackson Pollock biographer B. H. Friedman, making the present work one of the first Bacon paintings to enter a private American collection. Erica Brausen was instrumental in establishing Bacon as one of the foremost contemporary British painters in the United Kingdom and abroad after she signed the artist for her newly created Hanover Gallery in 1947, which was established with the financial support of Arthur Jeffress, the American-born son of Albert Jeffress, Deputy Chairman of British American Tobacco. American interest for Bacons work undoubtedly began in the most spectacular of fashions, with his Painting 1946 a work Brausen had purchased upon her first studio visit with the artist in the year of its execution being acquired by Alfred H. Barr, Jr. for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This acquisition in 1948 was not only the first occasion of a Bacon painting to enter an American institution, but also the first Bacon painting to enter any museum globally. The early 1950s proved to be a key period for Bacons international standing, and the establishing of his presence in New York with critics and collectors alike. His inclusion in both Knoedler Gallerys The Last Fifty Years in British Art, 1900-1950 in October 1950 and The Pittsburgh International at the Carnegie Institute in 1950 precipitated his first solo exhibition at the prominent Durlacher Brothers Gallery in 1953, sending eight Studies for Portrait (after Velázquezs Portrait of Innocent X, circa 1650) to his American debut in October of that year. To American audiences, the dramaturgy of his portraits that brazenly refashioned the iconography of Velázquez through the artists interest in the compositional dynamism of cinematography was in stark figurative polarity to the Abstract Expressionism of the New York School. The present work is hugely significant in demonstrating the confluence of enthusiasm for American and British painters of the period. As art historian and Bacon biographer Michael Peppiatt has commented: this impressive venting of emotion was taken by the critics to signify the oppressed as much as the oppressors; and from there it was only a short step, in the angst-ridden years of the Cold War, to seeing Bacons figures unequivocally as dramatic expressions of the guilt, unease, and solitude of modern man. (Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London, 2008, p. 171) The timeliness of Bacons portraits would not be lost on American audiences for whom the specter of war and dictatorial evocations of the artists depictions of the papal subject undeniably elicit. Such was his notability in New York, his work garnered interest from major institutions in the country throughout the 1950s, with MoMA notably acquiring Dog (1952) and Study for Portrait VII (1953) in 1953 and 1956, respectively, and the Art Institute of Chicago adding Figure with Meat (1954) to its collection in 1956. In 1952, Bacon embarked on what would be an increasingly significant category in his output, the head-and-shoulders portrait. That summer, he painted in the studio of Rodrigo Moynihan at the Royal College of Arts six small paintings of heads that demonstrate the advancement of his suited businessmen and the 1949 seminal painting Head VI. Although the title of the present work is unspecific, this forceful painting presents the iconic and tortured scream of Bacons best known Popes. The six small portrait heads represent either Popes or businessmen, and each displays the full panoply of Bacons techniques: The variety of the color schemes and brushwork that [Bacon] employed betokens a determined effort to explore new ways of painting the head and to expand the range of techniques at his disposal by which these representations might be achieved. (Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: Catalogue Raisonné, Volume II 1929-1957, London, 2016, p. 264) The subject in this series morphs between a Pope, his variations of the subject, and a non-specific secular figure, as in Study for a Portrait (Tate Britain, London). In the present work, Bacon retains the iconic motif of the shattered pince-nez, the distinctly papal purple mozzetta, and is thus most aligned to Study for a Head (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven). Painted with supreme bravura and energy, the visceral physiognomic intensity of the contorted features and flashing teeth of the gaping mouth in the canvas, so deftly fashioned by the artists daubs of writhing paint and the incorporation of sand on the left cheek, achieves a heightened psychological import shooting the desperate papal cry straight into the realm of the viewer. Bacons painting here is unleashed and urgent, unencumbered by any stodgy deliberation or revision, and his unbridled protagonist delivers a primal clarion call that summons Georges Batailles potent proclamation: Terror and atrocious suffering make the mouth an organ of searing screams. (Georges Bataille, Dictionnaire Bouche, Documents, No. 5, 1930, pp. 298-99) Into the present work, Bacon poured his fixation with corporeal mutilation and glistening mouths, his obsession with Sergei Eisenstein, his indistinguishable preoccupation with terrible patriarchy and the history of twentieth-century conflict. Mediated by the vicissitudes of biography, Study for a Head is an incredibly pioneering and unique work that marks the very formation of Bacons painterly genius. Signaling the terrible and silent metamorphosis from inchoate bestiality towards the realization of nightmarish patriarchy, with these works, Bacon shifted from mythological creatures and theatrical ornament to portraits probing the depths of humanity. Very much aligned with the experiential enthusiasm no doubt inspired by his stays in South Africa in 1950 and 1952, Bacon here displays his evolution from his earlier series of monkey paintings; snarling, writhing, and contorted, these encaged beasts bear a more immediate affinity with the artists treatment of human subject. Dramatically fixed around the open mouthed bestial scream, the quintessential leitmotif Study for a Head represents a unique and pioneering articulation of the dialectical zone of indiscernibility between man and animal vitally intrinsic to Bacons astounding legacy. (Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, London, 2003, p. 16) Bacon outlined his interest in monkeys as stemming from the fact that like humans they are fascinated with their own image, and that their interest in themselves is displayed with an abandon and relish rarely equaled by men. (The artist cited in Martin Harrison, In Camera Francis Bacon: Photography, Film, and the Practice of Painting, London, 2005, p. 200) This abandon is expertly deployed in the present work as Bacon depicts a moment of volatile release; frightening, spontaneous, and primal, the scream is the epicenter of drama and the point at which animal and man converge. Perhaps more than any other theme associated with his canon, the threat of mortality inhabits every facet of Bacons art. Danger, violence, and death constantly linger in the recesses of his canvases, acting like a continual incantation of his deft maxim: Consciousness of mortality sharpens ones sense of existing. (The artist in conversation with Hugh M. Davies in 1973, in Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen, 2009, p. 96) Many of Bacons later works became directly associated with the sudden and brutal deaths of his respective lovers Peter Lacy and George Dyer, but in fact, the risk of impending fatality imbued his existence and artistic practice from its most formative stage. Michael Peppiatt has suggested that the trauma of Bacons early life and his exile from home had a part to play in the sadomasochistic reiteration of violent persecution redolent in his various crucifixion themed works, as well as informing his undoing of dominant masculinity through the image of the Pope. Similarly, in painting the ultimate figure of patriarchy, the Pope, Bacon can be seen to confront the tyrannical father as epitomized by his own disciplinarian father. A retired army captain and racehorse trainer with a militant puritanical streak, Bacons father tyrannized the entire household, and in particular a son with whom he was at odds. Allergic to his fathers horses, asthmatic, and unashamedly effeminate, Bacon was expelled from the family home after being caught admiring himself in the mirror wearing his mothers underwear. That the Pope, the Holy Father, was to be Bacons first subject when he reached artistic maturity, is perhaps in part owing to his coming to terms with his own trauma. (The artist in conversation with David Sylvester, 1971-73, in David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, New York, 1981, p. 71) Significantly, it was 1952 the year of the present works execution that Bacon first met Peter Lacy, the violent, tortured lover whom Bacon purportedly loved most because he made him suffer the most. Intriguingly, Lacys bold features can be distinguished in the obsessively painted pantheon of 1950s Popes. The archetype Bacon appropriated as a starting point for his Pope series was Diego Velázquezs extraordinary Portrait of Pope Innocent X from 1650, held in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome, a painting about which Bacon felt Haunted and obsessed by the imageits perfection. (The artist in conversation with Hugh Davies, June 1973, in Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Francis Bacon, New York, 1986, p. 23) It has previously been noted that Bacon had not at this stage in his career seen the Velázquez painting in Rome firsthand, and for this initial series of papal portraits he worked from a black and white illustration of the work; this in turn has been suggested as the cause for the purple color of the garments in these paintings differing from the original cardinal red. While Bacons extensive enlistment of and reference to photographic sources is beyond question, however, it also seems more than likely that the artist was familiar with another version of Velázquezs painting, one that has resided in Apsley House, the seat of the Duke of Wellington in London, since the beginning of the nineteenth century. This smaller Velázquez was gifted to the Duke of Wellington by the King of Spain in 1816, together with over 150 other paintings from the Spanish Royal Collection in recognition of his defeat of Napoleonic forces and liberation of Spain in the Peninsular War. The British commander had recovered these works from the fleeing carriage of Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, after the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. Under the Duke of Wellingtons great-grandson, Apsley House and its art collection opened to the public in 1952, the centenary of the first Dukes death and shortly before Bacon initiated a grand cycle of papal portraits, including the present work. That Apsley House sits at Hyde Park Corner, roughly fifteen minutes walk from the Royal College of Art where Bacon had his studio between 1951 and 1953, readily invites the hypothesis that he was able to study this highly accomplished work in person. The Velázquez painting, however, is merely a template that becomes a delivery system for Bacons radical and unrelenting reinvention. Bacon replaces the subjective idiosyncrasies of the grand state portrait with an intimate visage of pain and suffering that stands as proxy for the torment of the human race. His source for this all-encompassing cipher was provided by a film still of a screaming female character in Sergei Eisensteins 1925 movie The Battleship Potemkin. Bacon had first seen the movie in 1935 and viewed it frequently thereafter; it was this specific still that was reproduced in Roger Manvells 1944 paperback Film, though Bacon also kept additional reproductions of the startling image. The frame shows an elderly woman wearing a pince-nez, commonly referred to as a nurse, shot through the eye and caught at the instant of death. The image belongs to the movies massacre sequence on the Odessa Steps which, though it veers wildly from historical accuracy, remains one of the most iconic pieces of propagandist film ever made. Within its remorseless tragedy, it is this character, part blinded and dying while simultaneously witnessing a baby in a pram being brutalized by the sword of a Czarist soldier, which embodies the conception of absolute, crippling horror and the abandonment of all hope. By supplanting Velázquezs portrait of Innocent X with this twentieth-century essence of ultimate despair and its tortured last gasping breath, Bacon unites two extremes of enduringly vehement imagery that together embody the trauma and anguish of the post-war years. The drama of this corporeal expression is greatly intensified by the artists complex framing of the composition and the many facets that define an uneasy sense of flux and unknowable dimensions within the canvas. Bacons overlapping linear schema here act as cage-like space frames that enclose this papal figure inside its solitary nightmare. Indeed, the present work proves to act as prototype for Bacons consequent declaration: I like the anonymous compartment, like a room concentrated in a small space. I would like to paint landscapes in a boxIf you could enclose their infinity in a box they would have greater concentration. (The artist in conversation with Hugh Davies in 1973, in Martin Harrison, ed., Francis Bacon: New Studies, Göttingen, 2009, p. 111) Into this pantheon of papal imagery, Bacon poured his fixation with corporeal mutilation, militant atheism, his deep knowledge of artistic tradition, and above all, his reverence for Diego Velázquez. Colored by his sadomasochistic delight in terrible patriarchy and grounded in the disasters of twentieth-century conflict, the papal portraits rank among the most inventive and searing images in the history of art. The aggressive animalism of Study for a Head formatively underscores an obsessive preoccupation with the mouth as bestial center and agent of the primal scream. Belonging to the very earliest paintings centered on the locus of the existential scream, this extraordinary painting marks the inauguration of Bacons major subject matter. Immediately presaging his magnum opus Pope paintings produced the following year, this work occupies a critical position at a moment that would come to define Bacon as a major artist. As Michael Peppiatt notes: Bacons Popes are not only the centerpiece of all his paintings in the 1950s, but a centerpiece of the whole of twentieth-century art. (Michael Peppiatt in Exh. Cat., Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (and travelling), Francis Bacon in the 1950s, 2006, p. 28) Inscribed with artist's symbol

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Untitled

Emitting a transcendent aura of luminescent hue, Untitled, 1960 stands as a profound testament to Mark Rothkos extraordinary evocation of the sublime within pure, unadulterated abstraction. Executed at the apex of the artists career, this exquisite painting triumphantly embodies the ultimate creative crescendo and full maturation of Rothkos extraordinary artistic practice. Personally selected by Rothko himself for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Untitled, 1960 bears a prestigious provenance that includes two of the twentieth centurys greatest artistic heroes and further underscores the pivotal position the present work plays in Rothkos oeuvre. Peggy Guggenheim was an archetype for patronage, supporting such significant twentieth century artists as Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollock, and Rothko himself, having given Rothko his first solo show at Art of this Century in 1945. In 1946, Guggenheim gifted Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea to the present owner, where it resided until 1962; the largest and most ambitious of the early Surrealist works, Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea today resides in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Guggenheims championing of Rothko is superbly illustrated in the gifting of his work to significant institutions as exemplified by the present work an act of faith and supreme belief in Rothkos genius that solidified his position as one of the twentieth centurys most heroic artists. The present work has been exhibited at many renowned institutions worldwide including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Galleria Nazionale dArte Moderna in Rome, and the Museum of Modern Art in Wakayama, Japan, among others but has not been publicly exhibited since its inclusion in the 2008 show Abstract Expressionism: A World Elsewhere, which was curated by David Anfam, author of Rothkos catalogue rasionné. Presenting the breathtaking summation of the artists signature methods, the incandescent canvas of Untitled, 1960 heralds the spectacular union of color and form that has defined Rothkos singular and enduring legacy within the canon of twentieth century painting. A veritable treatise upon the absolute limits of painterly abstraction, the luminous canvas of Untitled, 1960 transmits an aura of the ethereal that is enthrallingly immersive, engulfing the viewer entirely within its utterly captivating compositional dynamism and chromatic intensity. The three clearly distinctyet inextricably intertwinedzones of radiant color imbue the canvas with a tangible magnetic charge that draws the viewer ever, irresistibly inward. Cast against the rich field of deep charcoal, a velvety expanse of creamy white anchors the bottom of the painting; built up of innumerable washes of hue, the feathery edges of the white passage bleed gently into whispers of crepuscular gray. A deep maroon rectangle floats above the flickering ivory form, the borders of each color commingling slightly in vaporous whisks of paint at an elegantly executed horizontal axis. Crowning this triumvirate of thrumming color is a shimmering zone of lighter crimson hue, whose soft edges only marginally distinguish it from the more saturated red below in a manner that both balances and, simultaneously, undermines the stability and distinction between both fields of color. The rich warmth of the saturated, sensuous reds is perfectly counterbalanced by the veins of cool, iron gray that flicker through, creating a painting that appears simultaneously to emit and absorb light. In the artists own words: Often, towards nightfall, theres a feeling in the air of mystery, threat, frustration, all of these at once. I would like my painting to have the quality of such moments. (The artist cited in David Anfam, Mark, Rothko: The Works on Canvas: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 88) The dramatic and elegiac confluence of maroon, white, and gray is exemplary of the meditative colors for which Rothko is celebrated, and indeed conjures the twilight mystery the artist sought to impart in his canvases. Untitled, 1960 evokes an ineffable tension struck between the tantalizing emotions conventionally evinced by the smoldering crimson hues and something implicitly more tragic lurking from within the dark background. Inasmuch as the elemental red invokes passionate impressions of flames and light, its juxtaposition with the dark ground conjures the inevitable cycle of dawn and dusk, of rise and set, and of our own continual demise and rebirth. One of just 19 paintings on canvas by Rothko from 1960nearly half of which reside in museum collectionsUntitled, 1960 represents a pivotal moment within Rothkos storied career and artistic development. While Rothko had already achieved significant international acclaim by the end of the 1950s, it was over the course of the following decade that the artist would push himself to produce the most emotionally provocative, astoundingly intimate, and visually awe-inspiring works of his oeuvre.  Created in the interim between the artists two career-defining projects of the Seagram Murals (1958-59) and the de Menil Chapel (1965-67), Untitled, 1960 crystallizes the transformative shift towards an exploration of deeper, more contemplative emotive experience that distinguishes the profound poignancy and dark beauty of the artists greatest masterworks. In its richly variegated palette of velvety red and maroon hue, the present work powerfully invokes the soaring canvases of Rothkos Seagram Murals, the extraordinary mural cycle that, begun in 1958, marked the initiation of Rothkos shift towards the refined, somber elegance of his later paintings. Initiated as a site-specific installation in the newly opened Seagram building in New York, Rothko considered the Seagram Murals to be amongst his greatest artistic achievements. Completed in 1960the same year as Untitled, 1960it was this commission that marked the artists irrevocable shift to a more elegant and mature style, in which the high-keyed colors of the 1950s works became more contemplative, the tonal differences within one canvas more subtle. While intended as a permanent installation of paintings at the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram building, upon completing the commission, Rothko refused to hang them, telling Katharine Kuh, curator of modern paintings and sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, that he did not wish for his largest body of work to date to hang in a restaurant as merely a decorative backdrop of the tastes and transactions of a society he abhorred. (The artist quoted by Katharine Kuh, reproduced in Susan J. Barnes, The Rothko Chapel: An Act of Faith, Austin, 1989, p. 29) Recognizing the significance and sanctity of the series, Rothko instead presented nine of the monumental mural paintings to the Tate Gallery in London, seeking an environment conducive to the lingering contemplation and introspection these soaring canvases invite. Painted in the same, richly sumptuous burgundy hues as the Seagram Murals, the lustrous forms of Untitled, 1960 invoke the same hushed grace and transcendent intensity associated with these legendary masterworks; speaking in terms highly reminiscent of the present work, the artists son describes: The Seagram commission pushed Rothko to create a new color scheme that was cohesive yet varied enough to stimulate the viewerhe could harness color and form to create an experiential unity whose power lay in its simplicity and its understated, unwavering presence. (Exh. Cat., New York, Pace Gallery, Rothko: Dark Palette, 2017, p. 17) Delicately variegated within layer upon layer of translucent hue, the subtle tonal variances of Untitled, 1960 lend themselves to extensive contemplation by the viewerwhile captivating upon first glance, the exquisite tonal intricacies of Untitled, 1960 reveal themselves slowly, shifting with light, environment, and angle. While deeply saturated at their core, the feathery edges of the colored forms engage in subtle transactions with the charcoal ground, allowing the transitions to be absorbed with greater intimacy, increased sensitivity, and at slower rhythms. In its exploration of a deeper plane of contemplative consciousness, Untitled, 1960 eloquently presages the solemn magnificence of the famed de Menil chapel, invoking the same aura of spiritual purity, transcendental mood and profound emotion associated with that reverential space. Following Rothkos courageous defiance of the original Seagram commission in 1960, the artist was introduced to John and Dominique de Menil, whose collection of American art already included three paintings by the artist; upon viewing the Seagram Murals, the de Menils were struck by the nuanced variances of red and somber mood exhibited by these paintings, and shortly thereafter commissioned the artist to create a series of canvases for the chapel they were to build at the University of St. Thomasa space that would, upon Rothkos acceptance of the project, come to be known and revered as the Rothko Chapel. The hazy, shadowy visage, color palette and date of execution of Untitled, 1960 tie it inextricably to the soaring, reverential canvases of the chapel, which would become the artists magnum opus; as in the Rothko Chapel, the velvety tones and veiled luminosity of Untitled, 1960 invite a deeper, longer engagement with the painting than in the effervescent canvases of earlier years, allowing the viewer to fully appreciate the fluctuating depth, ethereal boundaries, and reverberating pull of pulsating color. With especially close attention paid to the spaces between forms and the edges of the canvas, Rothko attains chromatic resonance here through the meticulous aggregation of translucent veils of brushed pigment. Of these paintings, Christopher Rothko notes of his father: Rothko has created a landscape where we may lose ourselves; a painting becomes almost a world of its own, where we find ourselves caught up and lingering beyond our conscious intention to stay. (Ibid., p. 42) The velvety expanses of burgundy, maroon, and cloudy white hue hovering upon the surface of Untitled, 1960 invite the gaze to beyond, presenting a visual and somatic experience that transcends the two-dimensional boundaries of the canvas: standing before the present work, the viewer is drawn towards an experience of exultation and solemnity, absence and presence, humanity and the divine. Within the simplified space of Rothkos purified abstraction, the immaculately balanced forms absorb and exude varying expressions of ethereal light, allowing a sense of unified wholeness to permeate the composition. In a 1959 Life magazine articlejust one year before the present work was executed Dorothy Seiberling described Rothkos mystifying output: Just as the hues of a sunset prompt feelings of elation mingled with sadness or unease as the dark shapes of our night close in, so Rothkos colors stir mixed feelings of joy, gloom, anxiety or peace. Though the forms in the painting seem simple at first glance, they are in fact subtly complex. Edges fade in and out like memories; horizontal bands of cheerful brightness have ominous overtones of dark colors. (Dorothy Seiberling, Abstract Expressionism, Part II, Life, November 16, 1959, p. 82) Widely exhibited and distinguished by an unparalleled narrative, Untitled, 1960 is profoundly moving in its poetic grandeur and stands at the apex of Rothkos metaphysical articulations of color, light, and form. Shimmering as though illuminated from within, Untitled, 1960 is amongst the finest manifestations of Rothkos desire to create an aesthetic language that transcends the furthest limitations of painting: to create an experience of pure color, spirit, and light. Signed and dated 1960 on the reverse

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Le Palais Ducal

When I looked at your Venice paintings with their admirable interpretation of the motifs I know so well, I experienced a deep emotion []. I admire them as the highest manifestations of your art. Paul Signac in a letter to Claude Monet Monets paintings of Venice all set water between him and the citys structures that he viewed from different distances. This maximised the Adriatic light as it both bounced back off the surface and reflected within it the buildings beyond. Richard Thomson in Monet & Architecture (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery, London, 2018, p. 192 Monets spectacular view of the Doges Palace on the Grand Canal belongs to the extraordinary series he created in Venice in the autumn of 1908. Painted from a moored boat, the scene depicts a close view of Palazzo Ducale, with its Byzantine fenestrations adorning the façade. The Ponte della Paglia and the prison building are visible on the right, while the column on the left of the palace marks the entrance to Saint Marks square. Monet painted two other views from the same vantage point one of which is now in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum in New York (fig. 1)  exploring the building and its reflection in the water in different light conditions. The artist and his wife Alice stayed in Venice from October to December 1908, a trip that resulted in thirty-seven canvases on a variety of Venetian subjects. On 19th December 1908, a few days after Monets return to Paris, Bernheim-Jeune acquired twenty-eight of them, although the artist kept the pictures in his studio until 1912 to give them finishing touches. After the death of Alice in 1911, Monet finally agreed on a date for the exhibition at Bernheim-Jeune, possibly as a memento of their holiday together. Writing about the present work, Daniel Wildenstein pointed out: After the 1912 exhibition, Monet wanted to take advantage of the fact that he had the two previous canvases before his eyes in order to finish one of them. The reference is apparently to this one (D. Wildenstein, op. cit., 1996, p. 814). More recently, Le Palais Ducal was included in the recent highly acclaimed exhibition Monet & Architecture at the National Gallery in London; discussing the present work and its companion-painting now in the Brooklyn Museum (fig. 1), Richard Thomson wrote in the exhibition catalogue: Light plays on the façade, vividly reflecting the long block of the building in the sea. Monet used contrasts of value economically to characterise the famous architecture, darker patches marking the arcades, galleries and windows along the forbidding frontage, light picking out the column at the left against shadow []. Paradoxically, given the enclosed, grimly private mien of the Doges Palace, Monet painted these canvases in sumptuous chromatics: angelica greens, banana yellows and turquoise blues (R. Thomson in Monet & Architecture (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 200). Monet and Alice travelled to Venice for the first time in the autumn of 1908 at the invitation of Mary Young Hunter, a wealthy American who had been introduced to the Monets by John Singer Sargent. They arrived on 1st October and spent two weeks as her guests at the Palazzo Barbaro, which belonged to a relation of Sargent Mrs Daniel Sargent Curtis before moving to the Grand Hotel Britannia on the Grand Canal where they stayed until their departure on 7th December. From the balcony of the Palazzo Barbaro, situated on the north side of the Grand Canal, they could see three of the great palaces Monet was to paint during his time in Venice: Palazzo da Mula, Palazzo Dario and the Palazzo Contarini. He then relocated to the Grand Hotel Britannia, which provided him with views of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore and the Palazzo Ducale. Monet painted the celebrated Doge's Palace from three different viewpoints: a close view seen from the water, as in the present work; a view across the canal from the islet of San Giorgio Maggiore (fig. 2) and one canvas showing the palace from the other side, looking west, possibly seen from a floating pontoon. Initially reluctant to leave his house and garden at Giverny, Monet must have sensed that the architectural splendours of Venice in their watery environment would present new and formidable challenges. His first days in Venice seemed only to confirm his initial fears but after several days of his customary discouragement, he commenced work on 7th October. In his study of Monet's work and the Mediterranean, Joachim Pissarro has given a detailed account of Monet's working schedule while he was in Venice: After so much procrastination, Monet soon adopted a rigorous schedule in Venice. Alices description of his work day establishes that from the very inception of his Venetian campaign, Monet organized his time and conceived of the seriality of his work very differently from his previous projects. In Venice, Monet divided his daily schedule into periods of approximately two hours, undertaken at the same time every day and on the same given motif. Unlike his usual methods of charting the changes of time and light as the course of the day would progress, here Monet was interested in painting his different motifs under exactly the same conditions. One could say that he had a fixed appointment with his motifs at the same time each day. The implication of this decision is very simple; for Monet in Venice, time was not to be one of the factors of variations for his motifs. Rather, it was the air, or what he called the envelope the surrounding atmospheric conditions, the famous Venetian haze that became the principal factor of variation with these motifs (J. Pissarro, Monet and the Mediterranean, New York, 1977, p. 50). Discussing the Venetian paintings of 1908 Gustave Geffroy attempted to define the approach Monet took to his depictions of the city, in particular making a study of the artists repeated portrayal of certain motifs: It is no longer the minutely detailed approach to Venice that the old masters saw in its new and robust beauty, nor the decadent picturesque Venice of the 18th century painters; it is a Venice glimpsed simultaneously from the freshest and most knowledgeable perspective, one which adorns the ancient stones with the eternal and changing finery of the hours of the day. Monets Venetian canvases transported Geffroy: in front of this Venice in which the ten century old setting takes on a melancholic and mysterious aspect under the luminous veils which envelop it. The lapping water ebbs and flows, passing back and forth around the palazzo, as if to dissolve these vestiges of history The magnificence of nature only reigns supreme in those parts of the landscape from which the bustling city of pleasure can be seen from far enough away that one can believe in the fantasy of the lifeless city lying in the sun (G. Geffroy, Claude Monet, sa vie, son temps, son uvre, Paris, 1924, pp. 318 & 320). Matisse is recorded to have noted: it seemed to me that Turner must have been the link between the academic tradition and impressionism (quoted in Turner, Whistler, Monet (exhibition catalogue), Tate Britain, London, 2005, p. 203) and divined a special connection between Turners works and Monets. Writing in the catalogue for the Turner, Whistler, Monet exhibition, Katherin Lochnan pinpoints the Venice pictures as the culmination of Monets discourse with those two painters: These beautiful and poetic works are portals through which the viewer can enter a world of memories, reveries and dreams. Fearing that they might constitute the final chapter in his artistic evolution, Monet sounded in them the last notes of his artistic dialogue with Turner and Whistler that had been central to his artistic development (K. Lochnan in ibid., p. 35). In Venice Monet continued to observe, as he had in the views of the river Thames he completed in 1904, how light reflected off a wide stretch of water dissolves and liquefies the solid, uneven surfaces of stone walls. In Venice, however, the closeness of the buildings to the water's edge led him to explore more abstract compositions, accentuating the interplay between the rhythms of the ornate façade, with its arched openings and horizontal divisions, and the rhythmic expanse of water. The glorious late canvases that Turner produced in the early 1840s, such as Venice, The Bridge of Sighs (fig. 4), present a Venice which is transfigured by light. Similarly in the present work Monet has suffused the very bricks and mortar with yellow, pink and purple tones. In his introduction to the Bernheim-Jeune exhibition, Octave Mirbeau observed that the atmosphere in Monet's views of Venetian palaces was mixed with colour as though it had passed through a stained-glass window (O. Mirbeau, quoted in ibid., p. 206). Monets thirty-seven canvases of Venetian subjects depicted views of the Grand Canal, San Giorgio Maggiore, the Rio della Salute, the Palazzos Daria, Mula, Contarini and the Doges Palace. The now legendary exhibition at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Claude Monet Venise, opened on 28th May 1912 and was greeted with considerable critical acclaim, not least by Paul Signac who viewed the Venetian canvases as one of Monets greatest achievements. Writing to Monet he states: When I looked at your Venice paintings with their admirable interpretation of the motifs I know so well, I experienced a deep emotion, as strong as the one I felt in 1879 when confronted by your train stations, your streets hung with flags, your trees in bloom, a moment that was decisive for my future career. And these Venetian pictures are stronger still, where everything supports the expression of your vision, where no detail undermines the emotional impact, where you have attained the selflessness advocated by Delacroix. I admire them as the highest manifestations of your art (P. Signac quoted in Turner, Whistler, Monet (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 207). Signed Claude Monet and dated 1908 (lower right)

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  • 2019-02-26
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THE MAGNIFICENT FLORENTINE PIETRA DURA, EBONY AND ORMOLU CABINET MADE FOR THE 3RD DUKE OF BEAUFORT

THE MAGNIFICENT FLORENTINE PIETRA DURA, EBONY AND ORMOLU CABINET MADE FOR THE 3RD DUKE OF BEAUFORT BY THE GRAND DUCAL WORKSHOPS (GALLERIA DEI LAVORI) AND BACCIO CAPPELLI, THE BRONZE FIGURES OF THE FOUR SEASONS BY GIROLAMO TICCIATI, CIRCA 1720-1732 The cabinet of massive architectural form, the main part in three sections divided by crisply profiled stepped mouldings, fitted with ten cedar-lined drawers surrounding a central door enclosing a removable section with three smaller purpleheart and ebony-veneered cedar-lined drawers mounted with satyr mask and drapery ring handles, each drawer mounted with a panel edged with ormolu and banded with amethyst quarz, inlaid in brilliantly coloured semi-precious stones with birds perching and in flight among sprays of flowers, framed by pilasters in the central register panelled with lapis lazuli and Sicilian red jasper, the ormolu capitals centred by grey chalcedony (calcedonio di Volterra) masks joined by swags of ormolu foliage encrusted with hardstone fruit centred by a grey chalcedony lion-mask repeated at the sides, below a band of amethyst quartz mounted with cartouches of lapis lazuli in the centre and agate at the sides, the upper and lower sections with vertical amethyst quartz panels, the upper headed by female masks suspending fruit, the lower by grotesque masks, the frieze with concave-centred and bow-ended panels of lapis lazuli, red and green jasper (verde di Corsica); the stepped pediment centred by a clock face, studded with fleur-de-lys dividing the numerals, the brass back-wound falseplate timepiece movement with screwed dust-cover to the rectangular plates, four bossed pilars, going barrel train of five wheels and recoil escapement with steel crutch and silk-suspended pendulum with holdfast clip within the cupboard framed by pilasters and richly encrusted down-curved swags, surmounted by the Beaufort arms, supporters and motto in ormolu, lapis and red jasper, the angles mounted with four lightly draped ormolu standing figures emblematic of the Four Seasons; the sides fo the cabinet each centred by a large and brilliant panel of birds and a spray of flowers tied with red and blue ribbon with smaller panels of birds above and below; the cabinet supported on eight massive square tapering legs panelled with lapis lazuli and red jasper mounted with ormolu, the eared moulded edge mounted with S-scroll and shell plaques and satyr masks INSCRIPTIONS AND LABELS ON THE CABINET The cabinet has a label pasted onto the back of the removable central section inscribed in ink Taken from the North Breakfast Parlour & Cleaned By John Smith William Williamson Thomas Butler By the Orders of the 6 Duke of Beaufort -1813- taken of above 250 Pieces of Bronze The cabinet is also inscribed in pencil (below the third drawer down from the top on the right hand side) J.J. Smith April 1903 Cleaned Cabinet all over for Morants Bond Street and (on the inside backboard behind the removable centre section) Cleaned Easter 1903 In addition above the removeable centre section there is a pen and wash stretch of the front of a horse Further inscriptions and labels which were revealed during the restoration at Hatfields include two labels to the interior inscribed Giacomo Faggiani maestro di cassa del duca di beaufort à disfato questo gabbineto e nettato, e messo a scieme novembre 20 1775 badminton and a second April 1903 9th Duke of Beaufort This cabinet was cleaned and renovated and the missing parts replaced at the time the Drawing room was redecorated by J.S. Wallis of Morant & Co. 91 New Bond St. London NW. The movement of the clock is inscribed John Seddon St. James's London 1748. The central pietra dura plaque is inscribed to the reverse Baccio Cappelli Fecit Anno 1720 nella Galleria di S.A.R. and the plaque on the top left drawer bears a paper label inscribed No 1 Baccio Cappelli Fecit. THE DRAWINGS OF THE BADMINTON CABINET PREPARED BY THE GRAND DUCAL WORKSHOPS 1. VIEW OF THE FRONT OF THE CABINET WITHOUT THE BASE inscribed Scala di Braccia due à Panno Fiorentine and with a scale; black chalk, pen and brown ink, watercolour on two joined sheets, watermarks encircled fleur-de-lys (2) 1055 x 770 mm. 2. VIEW OF THE LEFT AND RIGHT SIDES OF THE CABINET inscribed with a scale; black chalk, pen and brown ink, watercolour on two joined sheets, watermarks encircled fleur-de-lys (2) 1056 x 785 mm. 3. VIEW OF A LEG inscribed Celle icy est la Boule/de Cuivre doré que/l'on pourrá ajouter/si l'on veut.; black chalk, pen and brown ink, watercolour 648 x 240 mm. THE BADMINTON CABINET by Alvar González-Palacios THE DUKE OF BEAUFORT'S VISIT TO ITALY AND THE ORIGINS OF HIS COMMISSION The maginficent Badminton Cabinet is the last great work of art made in Florence under the Medici. Standing almost 4 metres tall, it is also the most spectacular piece of furniture in private hands, and is documented indirectly before it was made. We refer to an account book of incidental expenses, kept by Dominique du Four who accompanied the 3rd Duke of Beaufort on his long Continental travels as a member of his household, which informs us that His Grace left Paris on 28 March 1726 and arrived in Florence on 27 April, remaining there until 2 May (document 18). As there is no evidence that he ever returned to the Tuscan capital it is highly probably that the decision to commission the Cabinet was taken at this time. B. Ford and J. Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1707-1800, New Haven and London, 1997, confirms from other sources the same dates that we had established. Two years later in a letter of 3 June 1728, the Duke's Roman agent, the architect and stuccoist Giovanni Francesco Guernieri, hinted at the existence of something being made for his master in Florence under the watchful eye of Thomas Tyrrel. If, as we shall see, we are quite well informed about Guernieri's activities, nothing surely was known until very recently of this Tyrrel. It seems that Tyrrel was found as a boy begging in Prague by the last Grand Duke Gian Gastone de Medici who took him back to Florence and ennobled him subsequently. He became well-connected with important tourists and died in Florence in 1753. Tyrrel was instrumental for the making of the Duke of Beaufort's Cabinet (B. Ford and J. Ingamells, 1997, p. 961). Guernieri writes to the Duke however that he had given instructions to the said Tyrrel to get the Duke's things ready so that they might be packed and sent to Leghorn (document 1). On 9 July, Guernieri, who in the meantime had left Rome for Leghorn to ensure that His Grace's acquisitions left for England in good order, wrote bitterly that in Florence, where he had stopped first, nothing was ready. He had, in fact, been there on 28 June when he met Tyrrel who had been instructed to supervise the executino of a 'Cabinet' in the Workshops of His Royal Highness the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He went on to say that Tyrrel has told him that 'le dit cabinet' would not be ready until the end of October 1728 because of certain changes to the original plan, including an increased number of metal ornaments, framing elements, and additional work on the Ducal coat-of-arms (document 2). Guernieri's account of the unfinished state of the cabinet is confirmed by a note of 24 July 1728 from the Duke's shippers stating that more time was needed before 'the cabinet and other things' would be ready (document 3). THE SHIPMENT OF THE CABINET Some years later, early 1732, a number of payments to agents and a ship's captain in Leghorn for custom and transport charges, including 'Port for unshipping of Cabinet or 5 cases', appear, relating to goods belonging to His Grace (documents 14, 15 and 16). Once again Dominique du Four's account book helps to illuminate the sequence of events leading up to the final shipment of the cabinet. Du Four noted that he left Florence for Leghorn on 12 August 1732 with an unidentified cabinet-maker and his son, and that they remained there until the 20th, the day after 'Mylord Duc's' cabinet had been put on board. Finally, on 21 August 1732, Captain Daniel Pullam and the Oriana sailed for London with 'five large cases... containing the severall parts of a large Cabinett of his Grace the Duke of Beaufort', as stated by a receipt signed by the captain himself (document 19). Although there is no record where the Cabinet went immediately after its arrival in London, it is more than probable that it had always been destined for Badminton, especially as the note of 24 July 1728 mentioned above stated that it would eventually be sent 'on some good ship for London if none should offer for Bristoll about time' (document 3). This Cabinet is, therefore, likely to be the piece of furniture that gave its name to the Cabinet Room mentioned in a 1775 inventory of paintings (Badminton Muniments, RA 1/2/1). Here it was surrounted by carvings by Grinling Gibbons and a good number of Italian paintings: an Education of Jove and a satirical piece by Salvator Rosa, two canvases of ruins by Ghizzolfa (i.e. Ghisolfi), a Madonna and Child by Guernico, scenes of the life of Queen Esther by Pietro da Cortona, representations of the Liberal Arts by Trevisani, and a series of overdoors with ruins by Viviano (i.e. Codazzi) and a perspective view of the buildings of Rome by an anonymous artist. To finish up, on 30 May 1739, Captain Pullam petitioned the Duke to be reimbursed for financial losses which he had incurred during the shipping of the Cabinet when he had not only been forced 'not to take in any Ballast that should damage the cabinet' but had also had to buy a large quantity of cork to ensure its safety and this last he had resold in London much under cost (document 20). STYLISTIC ANALYSIS The research carried out, over the years, by the present author in the immense archives where the documents relating to the last Medicis and their financial administration are stored, has failed to yield any information about this cabinet, mainly because it is difficult to determine with any accuracy in which of the many departments of the Grand Ducal Administration documents about its commission and execution would have been recorded. It must be remembered that our Cabinet was paid directly by the Duke of Beaufort, a very rare occurance at the Galleria where everything was made for the Grand Duke, even if they were intended as gifts. Although it was not the habit of the Grand Ducal Workshops to accept work from private individuals, the Duke of Beaufort's exalted social position and the close political contacts which his family, known for its Jacobite sympathies, cultivated with highly placed personages, such as the Papal Secretary of State, Cardinal Lercari, undoubtedly influenced the negociations leading to the commission. If, on the one hand, contemporary Galleria documents are of little help in establishing the background of this Cabinet, its figurative language, on the other, gives clear indications about its artistic origins. To begin with, simple stylistic analysis is all that is needed to identify the sculptor who executed the models for the statuettes of The Four Seasons, placed at the angles of the upper corners. He is called Girolamo Ticciati (died in Florence in 1744), and the waxes and their corresponding moulds figure in an inventory of models acquired by Carlo Ginori for the Porcelain Manufactory at Doccia, founded in 1743. The waxes have since disappeared but the moulds are still to be found in the Doccia Museum (fig. 1) and are listed in a well known document (K. Lankheit, Die Modellsammlung de Porzelanmanufaktur Doccia, Munich, 1982, p. 130). The unusual facial type of the Four Seasons on the Beaufort Cabinet is that found on Ticciati's only known bronze, the signed Christ and the Samari tan, executed in 1724 for the Electress Palatine and now in the Royal Palace, Madrid (J. Montagu, Gli ultimi Medici, exh. cat. Florence, 1974, no. 98 bis). It is certainly relevant to this argument that Ticciati's contemporary biographer, F. M. N. Gabburi, noted that the sculptor had prepared four busts of The Seasons which he had sent to England (K. Lankheit, Florentinische Barockplastik, Munich, 1 962, p. 230). TICCIATI AND GALLERIA PRACTISE Ticciati was a pupil of Giovanni Battista Foggini, who was Director, until his death in 1725, of the Galleria dei lavori, or Grand Ducal Workshops. The Beaufort Cabinet bears, moreover, all the hallmarks of that sumptuous style created by Foggini during the twilight years of the Medici dynasty: every one of the decorative motifs continues and, at the same time, develops the great artist's favourite forms, thus bringing the maximum splendour to the characteristic juxtaposition of ebony, gilt-bronze and hardstone of Florentine Court furniture. It should be borne in mind, when looking for the work of individual hands in such a piece, that during the years needed to construct this edifice destined for a room, no less than thirty craftsmen would have been involved. 152 in. (386 cm.) high; 91½ in. (232.5 cm.) wide; 37 in. (94 cm.) deep

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2004-12-09
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The Last Supper

Signed in Chinese and Pinyin and dated 2001, framed The Last Supper The Annunciation of a New Age “All along I wanted to find an artistic voice that belonged solely to me, without being affected by any great masters.” Zeng Fanzhi is an artist whose renown is unparalleled in the world of Chinese contemporary art. Beginning with an artistic career in 1991 with Western mediums, Zeng Fanzhi’s journey has stretched past two decades; transitioning from his earlier role as a young novice studying Western Expressionism, to culminating in quintessentially Chinese renderings. He has exhibited extensively abroad, including at a solo exhibition at London’s Gagosian Gallery at the end of last year, and is looking forward to a large-scale retrospective show at Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris at the end of this year, all of which are indications to his status as an artist whose heritage, while expressed in Western mediums, comes through in highlighting an individual Chinese flare. Zeng’s celebrated Mask series, which began in 1994, explored the plight of the modern city-dweller; serving as a valid portrayal of a decade’s worth of economic growth, exploring the quandaries and anxieties of the Chinese adapting to such urbanisation at the time. Stylistically, these works exude an air of Western Expressionism, and are sprinkled with the essences of British artists Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud; yet they are undeniably based on Zeng’s own personal memories, steeped in distinct Chinese symbols, a unique blend which has paved the way in allowing the Mask series to become one of the artist’s most recognisable and popular works. Within this series is the 2001 piece, The Last Supper, the largest work within the Mask series itself. Through deconstructing Leonardo's masterpiece, the work ultimately presents to us the existential condition of the Chinese people during the period when China entered the world market, and the absurdity within the destruction and rebuilding of a society. Measuring four metres long by two metres and twenty centimetres high, the work is stretched onto one single, vast canvas, and is a product of the artist’s most mature period; a pinnacle in the history of Chinese  contemporary art. The original work is also amongst one of the most important pieces in Baron and Baroness Guy and Myriam Ullens de Schooten’s private collection. The present The Last Supper is derived from its Italian Renaissance counterpart, the masterpiece crafted by the illustrious Leonardo da Vinci. The Last Supper by Leonardo, hailed as one of the most important artists of the Renaissance, is considered the inception of the entire Renaissance period. Leonardo, who is an artist deeply revered by Zeng himself, was also the first artist he was ever truly fond of. Many artists have sought inspiration from this piece so steeped in mystery; giving way to countless reproductions and renditions. The original The Last Supper is located on the north wall of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie’s refectory in Milan, and measures nearly nine metres in length. It depicts the narrative of Christ’s last supper with his twelve disciples, before his arrest by Roman soldiers. The piece captures the moment Jesus predicts his traitor, and encapsulates the shock on his apostles’ faces upon hearing this; while we glimpse Judas’ frenzy in great contrast to the benevolent Christ. Created in 2001, Zeng Fanzhi’s The Last Supper substitutes its prototype’s religious figures with mask-wearing Young Pioneers, while they dine on watermelons and don red scarves. The artist especially invited a group of youths to serve as models for the piece. After taking an individual shot of every posture, he would further render red scarves and service stripes above the compositional framework. On the other hand, the fierce calligraphic brushwork behind was inspired by famous scriptures often seen inside classrooms. The reinterpretation of a traditional religious setting into a classroom at once points to not only the dynamic of space in the work but also the overall notion of absurdity. The present piece is imbued with metaphors scrutinising Chinese economic growth; the red scarves representing Communist ideals and a symbol of “Collectivism”, while a golden-tie-wearing “Judas” is nestled in this cluster. To Zeng, this signified a departure from Communist ideals, commenting, “The golden tie represents money and Western capitalism, and China only started wearing these ties after the mid-1980s.” In this way, to wear a tie thus unwittingly symbolised a transformation in Chinese society. This is an intricate parallel to the 1990s, when China was in the midst of a fierce transformation period where enterprises moved away from collective ideals and turned towards the mode of individual entrepreneurship. Through this process, some immediately stood out among others with their skills and abilities, acquired greater wealth, and finally left behind the so-called collective lifestyle. For the artist, these people are the ones who have disrupted the already established direction of the society. Through using the image of Jesus, the artist in this work references to the leader of China when faced with the impact of an eventual “betrayal” of his people, predicting, “One of us here will go onto the path of capitalism.” This person is precisely the figure with the golden yellow tie. The acute red hues of the watermelon not only represent the Chinese nation, but also, similar to the Meat and Hospital series, refers to motifs of violence and desire. According to the drawing, the artist originally wanted to portray the setting of the work in the Great Hall of the People, where emblems of the Chinese Communist Party adorned the ceiling of the hall with several large red flags behind the figures. In the end, the artist decided to replace the scene with the classroom setting, which exceptionally expresses a much more profound approach in exploring the meaning of times. Zeng’s The Last Supper, with its air of splendour, has captured the societal and economic changes in China in the 90s, while at the same time documenting the ways in which the Chinese society faces the eventual arrival of capitalism, making it an immensely representative work within the realm of Chinese contemporary art. The Last Supper showcases an extremely mature and refined technique, as Zeng situates Western Expressionism within a heavily Chinese realm. The artist reveals, “All along I wanted to find an artistic voice that belonged solely to me, without being affected by any great masters.” Fittingly, Zeng returned to a traditional Chinese culture at the end of the 1990s, paying especial attention to Song dynasty paintings. During a period of exploration that would span over a decade, Zeng oscillated between Abstract paintings and Figurative renderings, before eventually arriving at an amalgamation of East and West, thus forging his own artistic path, emanating wave upon wave of the miao wu characteristic of Chinese shanshui works. All of which are great feats indeed, considering how this artistic expedition began in a much simpler time and place, with a Wuhan teenager’s sole desire to one day create. Youth, Expression, Desire Looking back towards the Hospital and Meat series from Zeng Fanzhi’s early Wuhan period, we are still undeniably captivated by the compelling images of the works. Born in 1964 in Wuhan, Hubei, Zeng had early on developed a very strong sense of individuality. In his twenties, the young artist had attracted critical attention with his graduation thesis project. Heavily influenced by Western Expressionism, the use of exaggerated figural proportions and striking visual contrasts by the artist effectively dramatised the suppressed emotions and anxieties of the Chinese people under the political pressures of the 1990s. Zeng’s early career is a true testament to reflect the artist’s insistence on creating his own artistic style under and against the collective norm. His failure to earn the red scarf as a Young Pioneer and isolation in school, combined with his introspective character, had fostered a subconscious resistance against social organisations on a whole. Zeng instead insisted on his own individual identity and distanced himself from others in his age group, especially after high school. Memory inspired him artistically, and his experience with the Young Pioneers has continued to affect his work. As the critic Karen Smith observed, “The Hospital and Meat series are naked expressions of his anxieties, emotional injuries, and sense of failure. His painting style originates from his internal turmoil.” After high school, Zeng Fanzhi had no interest in continuing a conventional education. Rather, he learned to draw and sketch at the local Youth Culture Palace at night. He visited Beijing several times to see exhibitions by Robert Rauschenberg, Zao Wou-ki and other masters, which inspired the young Zeng Fanzhi to apply to art school later. However when he finally gained admission to the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts, he was dissatisfied with its strict requirements and conservative pedagogical approach. “Before I went to art school, I would explore all possible creative means to achieve the effects I wanted, but in school new techniques were censured.” The institute largely followed the tenets of Soviet Socialist Realism, whose formulaic nature and lack of emotional investment were disparate from Zeng Fanzhi’s sensibilities. He soon rejected its instruction and pursued his own path. Zeng had always been most interested in Western modern art. German Expressionism, like Max Beckmann’s work (Fig. 4), especially inspired him. “I was interested in expressing an individual’s attitude and thoughts, and tried to do so in unmediated responses. My goal was to convey the individual’s expressions, emotions, thoughts, and my own feelings about him or her. I could capture these things and represent them in painting in a few hours, but not within the confinements of the classroom.” The pursuit of personal emotional expression was a necessary component of the artist’s search for artistic individuality. Zeng Fanzhi chose eyes—the windows to the soul—to express his subjects’ emotions and to emblematise his personal pictorial idiom. The haunting eyes in his later Mask series can already be seen in his few early works, such as the highly expressionistic Dusk Number One from 1990. Here a man is prostrate in the middle of the composition, with closed eyes and a painful expression, while another man in a mask stands with an umbrella on the right. The second man’s disproportionately large eyes are staring spiritedly at the viewer, prefiguring Zeng’s later Mask series. What truly distinguished Zeng Fanzhi as an artist was his triptych Hospital series of the early 1990s, the most important works in his early career. He exhibited the first triptych in his graduation exhibition at the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts. The work caught the eye of the critic Li Xianting, who invited him to participate in the then upcoming “China’s New Art Post-1989” exhibition. The second triptych was exhibited at the 1992 Guangzhou Biennial to well acclaim by national critics. Hospital Triptych No. 1 (Fig. 1) is composed of three hospital scenes. The left panel depicts a waiting room, with patients standing on the left and a row of patients seated on the right, with their gazes revealing their anxiety. The central panel shows an operating room where masked doctors holding knives are gazing intently at a patient and about to operate on him. It is unclear whether the patient, lying immobile on his back, will be saved or slaughtered. The rightmost panel depicts the interior of a hospital ward, with patients sleeping on two rows of iron-framed beds. A naked patient is seemingly convulsing in pain, providing a stark contrast with the smiling doctor in the foreground. These scenes are based on the Wuhan No. 11 Hospital near Zeng Fanzhi’s home. He was inspired by the hospital’s atmosphere and took many photographs there. He saw in the patients’ fragility and suffering the general existential conditions of the modern Chinese. “Every day I saw patients standing in line waiting to be seen. Every day I saw emergencies and desperate treatments. Suddenly I thought: here is the feeling I want to paint.” By depicting suffering of the flesh and soul, Zeng was able to paint in a fully expressionistic manner and release all his suppressed emotions. In Hospital Triptych No.1 Zeng has graduated from simple imitation of expressionism to developing his own unique style. “At last, when I painted the hands and heads in Hospital, I found the appropriate feeling. In the last panel I moved the brush in a reverse direction, and achieved the feeling I wanted.” Using the triptych format common in Western religious art, he sought to create a sense of dramatic tragedy and meditate on human suffering, sin, and absolution. Hospital Triptych No.1 opened new expressive possibilities for Zeng Fanzhi. In his subsequent Meat series, he took meat stalls as his subjects—metaphors like the hospital scenes. In Meat (Fig. 2), a representative work of this series, Zeng paints a bare-chested man standing in front of many pig carcasses in similar colours and technique, thus suggesting a connection or even conflation between the two. If human bodies are to be bought and sold like pork in China, what about souls? The Meat series also influenced Zeng’s subsequent development. Whereas Hospital Triptych No.1 is painted primarily in brown tones, Hospital Triptych No.2, painted in 1992 and exhibited at the Guangzhou Biennale of the same year, has a new blood-red palette. Hospital Triptych No.2 has the same format and dimensions as the first work, but is technically more sophisticated. The three panels are all compositions of healthcare workers and patients. Inspired by Michelangelo’s Pieta, the central panel poses a female nurse and a patient as the Virgin and Christ, further heightening the solemnity and piety inherent in the triptych format. An eloquent testament to the existential struggles between suffering and salvation, this important early work won an award of excellence at the Guangzhou Biennale, which gave the artist important encouragement. The Hospital and Meat series together constitute two major creative endeavours by Zeng Fanzhi in his early career and testify to his profound explorations of the human condition. It is in the next year, when Zeng Fanzhi moved from Wuhan to Beijing, that ultimately inspired the creation of the Masks series, earning the artist worldwide renown. Era of Masquerade The fateful move to Beijing was inevitable; it was in this flourishing art centre where Zeng Fanzhi believed his art would gain recognition from a wider audience. Tracing the hidden psychological distress of the Chinese population in the 1990s when China underwent series of rapid economic and social advancement, unbeknownst to Zeng at the time, Mask series would ultimately become the most significant body of works ever created in the history of contemporary Chinese art. The portraits of ominous masked figures not only unravel the pervasive sense of doubt and uncertainty underlying the seemingly celebratory moment in China’s history, but also document Zeng Fanzhi’s own inner struggle in understanding the convoluted modern world. Unlike artists of his time who rely on the mere power of formulaic symbols, the artist’s relentless pursuit of excelling his own artistic style has contributed to the dramatic aesthetics shift in the series, breaking away from the predominantly Expressionist features in his Meat and Hospital series. It is also through the Mask series that the artist truly heightened his own stylistic framework of the portraiture form, gaining recognition from scholars and critics across the international art front. The fast changing living condition and new social environment in the metropolis, especially the false dynamic between city dwellers, immediately daunted upon the artist at first sight. “Friends whom I can share feelings with were terribly few. Our interactions seemed too much a mere deed of socialising.” Zeng instead began to search for a thematic language that could appropriately express the feelings of isolation, confusion, and upset. What came through were series of portraits of stoic masked figures. “With masks,” Zeng explained, “people keep a certain distance from each other, closing the path of really knowing another. When everybody is hiding their true selves and desires, what they show to us is in fact nothing but a mask.” In the early works from 1994, the forceful Expressionistic brushwork from the Hospital series remained in the rendering of the isolated masked figures. However, as if attempting to disguise this layer of turmoil beneath, the artist would smoothen the surface of the paint with the palette knife, hiding away any lingering emotional traces. The number of figures on the canvas was limited to merely one or two. While they appear to go about their everyday lives, with some even showing affectionate gestures to each other, the undeniable presence of the mask so tightly clasped onto their faces boldly defies and shatters any notion of truth and sincerity. Furthermore, the huge protruding hands, hollowed eyes, and bloody skin tone are clear signs of betrayal to the almost perfect persona donned by these figures. In a way, the hollowness of the enlarged eyes strangely captures the awkward and expressionless ethos in other Western portraiture works such as Lucian Freud’s Portrait of John Minton (Fig. 16), in which a close up shot of Freud’s friend and painter John Minton is depicted. The prominent facial structure showcased through the shadows and lines in Freud’s work are suggestively re-interpreted in the scrawny hands of the figures in Zeng’s works. The expressive brushwork also resembles the powerful contours found in Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne (1966) by Francis Bacon. However, within this parallel, the heavy societal implications through the process within Zeng Fanzhi’s work have arguably far transcended the legacy set by the two visionary painters. “The scraper was able to remove the exciting strokes, entirely, and leave the calmness, hiding the excitement inside. I didn’t change the hand because I believe there are things in the world that can’t be really changed.” The Mask series is in essence a portrait of irony and paradox that exist within the mind and soul of every city inhabitant. The aesthetics transition is also a timely witness to the rapid modernisation of the Chinese society. When examined closely, the masks in the very early works are identical lifeless masquerades similar to cold crafted commodity. In Mask Series No. 1 (Fig. 3) from 1994, a man in the painting is seen holding onto a brown animal mask. The mask is clearly rendered as a separate entity from the figure, suggesting the incongruent notions of ennui and mischievousness in modern society. The alienated features of the mask also echo the primitive appearance of the African mask in Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (Fig. 9) from 1907. While Picasso’s piece explored the notion of Primitivism that was considered outside of the Eurocentric hemisphere, the peculiarity of the animal mask here instead questions the ideal of the norm within society. “No one appears in society without a mask. Or is this perhaps just the awkwardness of modern people?” Throughout the series, these stoic masks would take on and embody various expressions from smiling to screaming, fitting seamlessly with the facial contours of hidden figure behind. From the mid to late 1990s, the outlines and costumes of the figures have become more refined in technique. The accompanying backdrops also became more eclectic, often rendered in bright hues such as pink, yellow, and blue, or into elaborate settings. Such a prime example can be seen in Mask Series No. 6 (1995) (Fig. 5), an especially sentimental piece to feature a lone masked boy standing amidst a flower garden. Behind him we witness a plane flying across the vast blue sky, leaving behind a stream of white diagonal smoke. The stylistic vibe of the flowers and the plane, symbols of prosperity and technological advance respectively, have departed into delicate shades and lines, creating an inherent detachment between the boy and his surroundings. Together with the drop of the two tears, this would serve as a direct antithesis to the red scarf and arm band adorned on the boy and the nationalistic ideal of the country. In the beginning of the millennium period, the composition and aesthetics subtly and gradually gravitate towards an increasingly abstract pictorial interest. The mature and magnificent work The Last Supper is certainly the epitome of this period’s creation. As can be seen in Mask Series (2001) (Fig. 8), where a lone masked figure is standing atop a grand landscape in a meticulously rendered black outfit. The extreme attention to details is shown through the reflection of the brimming background on the coat. At the same time, the skyline is no longer in one tone, but rather swims between shades of purple, black, and white, softly alluding to the buoyant hues within Mark Rothko’s paintings as exemplified in Blue and Grey from 1962 (Fig. 12). While Rothko stresses on the sense of the unknown and intimacy between human and nature, Zeng utilised this as a departure point in questioning the ephemeral virtue of human survival. At the same time, the composition and brushwork from the Mask series in this period would slowly move towards the abstract realm. This fluidity in the painterly surface as seen from Mask series (2001) has moved away from the earliest body of works, and as we will see later, contributing heavily to the increasingly abstract landscape works in the post-Mask series period. The ten year long journey in the Mask series has documented an important stage within Zeng Fanzhi’s career. From the initial struggle in understanding the meaning of individuality in the modern world, to breaking away from the barrier of self-doubt and misunderstanding, each work in the series is a piece to the puzzle that together form the complete facet of both the artist’s mental and artistic development. As Li Xianting noted on his works from the later period, “Zeng Fanzhi’s figures have learned to relax.” Boundless Landscapes At the turn of the millennium, Zeng’s canvases swelled to incorporate vast landscapes. His exhibitions would also look beyond the boundaries of China, starting with a Parisian exhibition in 2002 at the Pierre Cardin Centre. In transitioning into what would eventually become known as his Landscape works, Zeng consolidated his by-then well-known Expressionist inclinations with new, indiscriminately Chinese undertones. These works combine many elements of classical Chinese works, such as landscape drawings (shanshui hua) and the tradition of scroll paintings (shoujuan hua).  And yet, while looking into the past, the artist also tirelessly developed and perfected his own techniques, including the “wet-on-wet” method. Most notably, this period is characterised by Zeng’s complete trust in his own intuition and skill, as seen in stunning pieces of work that feature instances of miao wu (“marvellous revelation”) and luan bi; as stroke upon stroke is yet another reminder of the artist’s craft. In the early 2000s, Zeng produced a series of portraits that depicted figures covered in marks. Beginning with the We series, one sees the artist leaving behind his masks in favour of such circular loops. The figures in Zeng’s pieces were now veiled by loops and scours. This shift represented a vital transitional stage that looked both backward to and forward from his Mask pieces. In an attempt to grow apart from this identity of being merely the “Mask Artist”, Zeng went through a vital yet short transitional period of experimentation, first identifiable by faces that were covered in dizzying loops. This short series, which spanned a period of only two years, between 2002 to 2004, included works such as I from 2004 (Fig. 10), where a barely distinguishable face stares out from the canvas. In such works, Zeng left a minimal amount of features, as the spiral strokes obliterated all remnants of clear features. By using this technique, Zeng systematically erased any trace of individuality. This intermediate period was also filled with the experimentation of Zeng’s later “wet-on-wet” technique. In pieces such as The Composition of Fan No. 2 from 2002 (Fig. 14), the artist would use his palette knife to drag wet paint into the form of a fan, while vague outlines of Chinese calligraphy is semi-concealed in the background of this object. This is a heavy evocation of Zeng’s later preoccupation with Chinese culture, which he would begin to incorporate into canvases in the form of backgrounds of calligraphy. For instance, these calligraphic jottings peek through in the 2000 A Series No. 1 (Fig. 13), where included amongst red mountains are wisps of Chinese characters. Such calligraphy is remnants of Zeng’s childhood memories, where he grew up in classrooms adorned with political slogans. This time period also saw the emergence of works such as Zeng’s Great Men series that relays  characters in an abstract manner, as if alluding to the people rather than depicting them outright. While still working with the smearing and scraping techniques from his older works, the artist developed the aforementioned “wet-on-wet” technique in conjunction to this, which involves dragging paint, while still wet, to form more strokes. This method also involved layering paint upon paint, creating heavily tactile works that boasted both weight and depth. Just as this internal shift was taking place, Zeng suffered an injury to his right hand in 2002, which prompted the artist to begin experimenting with his opposite hand. Eventually this would result in the artist’s ambidextrous abilities, where two paint brushes in either hand would be used to paint simultaneously on canvases. Strangely and also rather fittingly, Zeng also developed a technique of painting with two brushes in one hand. While the former was governed by habit, training and control, the latter was left to intuition and chance. This method, also known as Zeng’s luanbi technique was poised between the conscious and subconscious; as the artist’s pieces took on a freer, more unbridled feeling. The real pinnacle of the artist’s expansion however was the years 2003 to 2004, when Zeng’s many experimentations so far would give way to a grounded technique; where abstract lines transitioned into order and control. According to art critic Lü Peng, it was truly during this time that the artist decided to look inwards, towards traditional Chinese shanshui hua. Shanshui hua, which is literally “mountain and water paintings”, is a quintessentially Chinese form of landscape painting. Executed in ink and water, traditional landscape paintings were symbolic of man’s connection to nature as well as the cosmos at large. As can first be seen from his Sky series, various individuals—from children to important figures such as Mao—would find themselves against blushing skies of pinks and reds, which would later evolve into cobalt blues and speckled greys. As the artist reveals, “The inspiration (for the Sky series) came from my childhood; merely looking up at it would ignite in me a wondrous imagination. The skies would stay by our sides as we walked down the roads, and until now, I can still hear the sounds it made; still smell its scent.” Zeng’s childhood thus finds echoes of itself in such works. Directly following this time, between the years of 2004 and 2008, Zeng entered the most mature movement of his artistic direction with the development of guohua, which is the contemporary name given to the traditional style of Chinese painting, literally meaning “national painting” or “country painting” in order to emphasise its opposition to Western works. The 2012-2013 “Zeng Fanzhi” show at the Gagosian in London further established Zeng’s alignment with traditional Chinese works. One can find aspects in the artist’s works, from the backgrounds of the paintings, the usage of shui mo and light-handed flicks of gongbi, seen in the concentrated clusters of strokes on his characters’ faces. Zeng was also especially intrigued by the use of lines in Tang Dynasty works, which were filled with emotion and texture. This use of contours predates its Western equivalents, and is particularly evocative of an Eastern spirit that Zeng was keen to express in his own works. One such set of examples can be seen in Zeng’s delicate interpretations of Western great masters. Starting with literally drawing his heroes, such as Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, and in so doing, appropriating renowned masters into his works, Zeng is aligning himself with an art history that he has irrefutably become part of. The care with which the artist reproduces renowned works can be seen in Zeng’s wispy furs of Albrecht Dürer’s Field Rabbit, or even the feathery beard of Head Study of an Old Man (Fig. 18), or perhaps yet, the veiny folds of Praying Hands, all of which were reproduced just last year by Zeng. Most peculiarly however, in spite of the oil medium that these great Western works are produced with, one senses the influence of not Expressionism or Abstract paintings, but rather, of guohua. By way of conclusion, one turns to the sense of tranquillity that now populates Zeng’s works. Drawn with a miao wu influence, Zeng’s works are freer, less trapped, and in spite of the seemingly desolate landscapes that inhabit his works, there is an undeniable sense of hope, glimmering beyond the pines and branches that veil his pieces. Zeng’s renown has not ceased growing, much like how his reputation has not diminished in the least since his Mask series, as can perhaps be seen from his upcoming exhibition in October of this year, at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, one of the most famous exhibition locations in the world. His works, which exhibit a shift from desolation to hope is indicative of a new movement for the artist; a new venture into newer, calmer lands where heaviness gives way to lightness, where a union of the two worlds that are central to Zeng’s art—East and West—is forged.

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2013-10-05
Hammer price
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