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Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)

John Richardson The Eye of the Storm: Warhol and Picasso I arrived in New York for the first time in 1959 and within a year or two I met Andy. After that I saw a great deal of him. But nobody ever got to know Andy or, for that matter, Picasso: neither ever really opened up to anybody. Andy was often asking me about Picasso. I see Andy always at the Eye of the Storm. The Eye of the Storm where there is stillness, and all around is disaster. Here was Andy at the center of all this horror: the horror of modern life. Yet Andy was unaffected. He felt this, he sensed this, but he wasn’t one of the victims of it. By virtue of being in the Eye of the Storm he could see it. And he transmitted his feelings into these amazing images. When I gave the eulogy at Andy’s funeral I stressed the fact that Andy was a Catholic who went to Mass every single day of his life. So much of his work, including the Disaster paintings, comes out of that. The whole repetition of Andy’s imagery stems from the fact that he was Catholic. He went to church, he went to confession, he had to do ten Hail Marys, twenty Ave Marias, and all this is reflected in the way his imagery is repeated again and again and again. Picasso used to claim he was an atheist, but he was the least atheistic person I’ve ever met. He was deeply spiritual. Indeed, I see Guernica as a votive painting: it is an Ex Voto. And that seems to me the link between Picasso and Warhol: this deep, spiritual approach to their work. These Disaster paintings are not Andy reveling in disaster: this is Andy sitting at the Eye of the Storm, being the one still person among disasters, death, and horror. That is the key thing that these Disaster pictures were intended to convey. And that is why to my mind they are the most moving, and the strongest of all of Andy’s imagery. From an interview with Tobias Meyer, New York, October 2013 Screening History: Andy Warhol’s Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) To stand in front of this work of art is to bear witness to events that exist beyond description: it is to be in the presence of something phenomenal. To contemplate the sheer vastness of its achievement is to enter a realm of experience rarely encountered in Art History. Enlisting the dimensions of a specific narrative to achieve a fundamental human universality, this work belongs to that rarest elite of historic masterpieces which have occasionally altered our deepest perception. Like its illustrious forbears of the epic History Painting genre, this work stands as both the most astute allegory of its era and the vital mirror to our present. Here exists something utterly essential, something that has always been and always will be integral to our human story. Here is an arena that exists both inside and outside of the present, a place where time seems suspended. It is the proposition of both a definitive end and an unending beginning. On the left there is the final instant: the permanent flash where the possibilities of existence have been extinguished. Freedom and independence lie lifeless in wreckage as definitive lament to the hopes of the future. All this is repeated over and over and each version is unique: the tragic occurrence and recurrence is never identical. Yet, however the reel of life differs, here is the moment that it is conclusively severed. The screen turns blank. On the right there is an ever-shifting silver ocean of promise: a reflection to our ever-changing current experience. The specific, unalterable finality of the past meets the abstract, permanent continuity of the present. Stories told give way to stories as yet untold. Andy Warhol created Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) in the summer of 1963, at the turn of his thirty-fifth birthday. Composed of two canvases, each over eight feet high and together spanning in excess of thirteen feet, it ranked among the most monumental and ambitious works he had ever undertaken. Indeed, there exist only three other Car Crash paintings of remotely comparable scale: Orange Car Crash 14 Times, the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Black and White Disaster #4, Kunstmuseum Basel; and Orange Car Crash, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna. It represents the zenith of the Death and Disaster corpus, a body of work that was then Warhol’s total focus, and which surely remains his most significant and enduring contribution to the course of Art History. As Heiner Bastian succinctly declared: “Whatever the many different conclusions arrived at in art-historical observations on the significance of Warhol’s work in the context of his time and his contemporaries, it is the images of disaster and death that he started to make in 1963 that Warhol the chronicler gains his credibility and Warhol the artist explains the world.” (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Andy Warhol: Retrospective, 2002, pp. 28-9) In this groundbreaking year Warhol successively produced the series that comprise this seminal canon, which today read as a roll call of almost unfathomable artistic accomplishment: Suicides, Black and White Disaster, Early Serial Disasters, Silver Electric Chairs, Red Explosion, Tunafish Disasters, Race Riots, Burning Cars, 5 Deaths and Late Disasters. Of all the paintings in this spectacular outpouring of compulsive innovation, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) is truly exceptional. It is one of only seven in the monumental, double-canvas format: in addition to the three Car Crashes mentioned above are Red Disaster, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Blue Electric Chair and Mustard Race Riot. As denoted by the corresponding titles, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) stands out from this pantheon of immense Death and Disaster works for its exceptional silver color, providing the expansive surface with a constantly adjusting, reflective quality that is absent from the single color acrylic grounds of the other paintings. The incomparable nature of Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) is further confirmed by the remarkable heritage of its provenance. Three venerated collectors have previously owned this painting: Gian Enzo Sperone, Charles Saatchi and Thomas Ammann, each of whose eminent collections famously included some of the most outstanding artworks of the Twentieth Century. Subsequently this painting has been held in the same private collection for the past quarter of a century and has been publicly exhibited only once in that time, at the Fondation Beyeler in 2000. Having been rooted in heroic tales of immigration, American history evolved over two centuries through narratives of migration and ceaseless movement. Whether by horse, stagecoach, steam train or the automobile, this vast continental expanse was traversed by countless generations in the quest for opportunity and betterment. In the Twentieth Century there came to be no more potent symbol of the freedom and independence that are such monolithic cornerstones of the American Dream than the automobile. From John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road; Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night to Nicolas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause; Chuck Berry’s Get Your Kicks on Route 66 to the Beach Boys Little Deuce Coupe; America’s love affair with the automobile became profoundly endemic to its cultural identity. When Andy Warhol created this work in 1963, forty-four percent of Americans owned a motor vehicle, nearly double the number of just twenty years before. Seven years prior in 1956, the US Congress had authorized the largest and most ambitious public works enterprise of the postwar era: a nationwide interstate highway system comprising over 40,000 miles of high-speed roadways. Fittingly Time magazine declared the highway the “true index of our culture.” (“The New Highway Network,” Time, no. 69, June 24, 1957, p. 92) And in the eighteen years between the end of the Second World War and 1963, 620,000 Americans died in automobile accidents, on average almost one hundred people per day and more than the totals of all American casualties in the First and Second World Wars combined. Looming like an ever-present, seemingly indiscriminate scythe over Middle America’s new golden age of economic prosperity and everything it stood for, the car crash had quietly become the primal, devastating threat to an entire way of life. This work's execution belongs to an extraordinary shift in this most iconic of artistic careers, during which Warhol revolutionized the terms of popular visual culture. The ideal of the seminal Death and Disaster series, which was one of the most provocative, confrontational and brilliant projects undertaken by any artist in the transformative decade of the 1960s, this canvas epitomizes the monumental themes of Warhol’s career: namely an unprecedented artistic interrogation into the agencies of mass-media, celebrity and death. With deafening resonance Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) exclaims an immediately harrowing and intensely violent scenario: the instant aftermath of a brutal car crash. Within the composition the unmistakable corporeal outline of a single body is slung across the front seats of its deformed vehicle. The metallic expanse of the vehicle's massive form accentuates the flesh-and-blood mortality of its ill-fated passenger. Intertwined with the deformed metal superstructure and jointly sprawled across the asphalt concrete is this twisted victim: man and machine having become fused together through mundane catastrophe. In more metaphorical terms, the harsh division between the gleaming automobile and the spectacularly crushed chassis is mediated by the strewn body, caught at the point between organized construction and chaotic destruction. Thus one of the great symbols of 1950s and 1960s America, a facilitator of individualism and a key signifier of social mobility, the automobile, becomes the devastating delivery system of indiscriminate fatality. As Neil Printz relates, "the car crash turns the American dream into a nightmare." (Neil Printz in Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, p. 16) Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) offers the nightmare, but also concurrently normalizes this dystopian vision of sanitized suburban brutality. Here import is incited not only by subject, but also by method, process and context. Silkscreened on spray-painted silver, the cinematic silver-screen expanse is revealed on the left through the patterned gradations of anonymous dots. In addition, Warhol faithfully reproduces the composition of the photojournalist, replicating the foreign aesthetic of a found image. The nature of this rendering is strategically impersonal. Walter Hopps succinctly describes that "Warhol took for granted the notion that the obvious deployment of traditional rendering need not be revealed or employed, thereby expunging manual bravura from his work." (Walter Hopps in Exh. Cat., Houston, The Menil Collection, Andy Warhol: Death and Disasters, 1988, p. 7) Here the mechanical silk-screen dot and absence of manual bravura silence the subject, at once evoking the production of newsprint photojournalism and the unceasing everyday phenomenon that the car crash had itself become. In an interview with Gene Swenson in 1963 Warhol stated that "when you see a gruesome picture over and over again, it doesn't really have any effect." (the artist interviewed by Gene Swenson, "What is Pop Art?'', Artnews 62, November 1963, pp. 60-61) In his 1970 monograph, Rainer Crone discussed how, although the car crash photos "evoke the immediacy of the actual event... this decreases as such occurrences become more frequent." (Rainer Crone, Andy Warhol, New York, 1970, p. 29) Nevertheless, the raw power of this confrontational image remains urgently accosting, despite our immersion in supposedly desensitizing mass-media representations of violence and brutality. The tonal polarization of the silkscreen impression bleakly particularizes the mangled figure and dramatizes the finality of deathly stillness. The atrocity here is highly quotidian: it is a thoroughly everyday catastrophe, typical of what Hopps calls the "unpredictable choreography of death" amidst the "banality of everyday disasters." (Op. Cit., p. 9) Warhol, himself obsessively fixated with the fragility of existence, here scrutinizes the public face of a private disaster and questions why anonymous victims are elevated to celebrity through their unexpected encounter with death. The source was an unidentified newspaper photograph, and despite the horror of the scene before him, the photojournalist nevertheless intuitively cropped the image through the view finder to engender narrative and provide an aesthetically satisfying picture according to compositional convention. Warhol selectively accentuated lights and darks on this photograph to intensify the contrast of the reproduction on the screen when he ordered his mechanical, in order to improve its legibility as well as enhance the compositional polarization of the image. In purely formal terms, the composition is bifurcated in two by the vertical tree or telephone pole that proved the automobile’s undoing, invoking both the double take and before and after narratives in our reception. Our eye is drawn to travel side to side, up and down, and diagonally between the four principal arenas of pictorial data. Warhol's exceptional aptitude to seize the most potent images of his time defines him as the consummate twentieth-century history painter. Inasmuch as his canvas implicates our fascination with mortality and a certain voyeurism of death, as well as being sourced in the reportage of controversial contemporary events, Warhol’s masterpiece advances a heritage proposed by the likes of Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Marat, Francisco Goya’s The Third of May, Theodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. It continues this illustrious line of precedent as a defining History Painting of the Twentieth Century. On 5 July 1816 the French naval frigate Méduse ran aground off the coast of Africa, near today’s Mauritania. With insufficient capacity of lifeboats, at least 147 passengers and crew were forced onto a makeshift raft. After thirteen days’ drifting, all but fifteen of those souls perished, either by starvation, drowning, dehydration or cannibalism. When the twenty-five year-old Théodore Géricault heard of the widely-reported events he launched into an unprecedented undertaking that would culminate in one of the most celebrated paintings of all time, The Raft of the Medusa, which he finally completed in 1819. Interviewing survivors, visiting morgues and hospitals, working from severed limbs and creating a scale model of the raft, Géricault worked in isolation for eighteen months. Utterly dedicated to an uncommissioned, spectacularly controversial work that retold a highly-charged recent event, Géricault created a seminal History Painting that still thunderously resonates through its sheer evocation of unknowable human suffering and endurance. There perhaps remains no greater metaphor for, in the words of Christine Riding, “the fallacy of hope and pointless suffering, and at worst, the basic human instinct to survive, which had superseded all moral considerations and plunged civilised man into barbarism.” (Christine Riding, "The Fatal Raft: Christine Riding Looks at British Reaction to the French Tragedy at Sea Immortalised in Géricault's Masterpiece 'The Raft of the Medusa,'" History Today, February 2003) On 26 July 1937, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, German and Italian warplanes acting for Spanish Nationalist forces annihilated the village of Guernica in northern Spain, indiscriminately massacring innocent civilians with bombs and gunfire. The atrocity incited widespread outrage and having read the eyewitness account by British journalist George Steer in the French newspaper L’Humanité, Pablo Picasso, living in Paris and then Honorary Director-in-exile of the Prado Museum, conceived perhaps the most recognized artistic expression of anti-war sentiment ever to come into being, Guernica.  As memorialized by Michel Leiris, “In a rectangle black and white such as that in which ancient tragedy appeared to us, Picasso sends us our announcement of our mourning: all that we love is going to die, and that is why it was necessary to this degree that all that we love should embody itself, like the effusions of last farewell, in something unforgettably beautiful.” (Michel Leiris, Cahiers d’Art, 1937, Nos. 4-5, cited in Roland Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, 3rd Ed., Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1981 [first published 1958], p. 309) Like Géricault and Picasso before him, here Warhol created a painting for the ages, that would always speak something essential about humankind’s struggle with existence. Confronted by the tragedy of death and its incongruous by-product of celebrity, Andy Warhol nullified the news story zeitgeist through the effects of replication and multiplication, so undermining the manipulative potentiality of mass media. In keeping with his very best work, celebrity, tragedy and the absurdity of human transience inhabit every pore of this breathtaking painting, and this compelling work stands as a treatise on the emotional conditioning inherent to our culture. Scrutinizing the public face of a private disaster, it questions how anonymous victims are elevated to notoriety via the exceptional conditions of their demise, or as Thomas Crow describes, "the repetition of the crude images does draw attention to the awful banality of the accident and to the tawdry exploitation by which we come to know the misfortunes of strangers." (Thomas Crow, "Saturday Disasters: Trace and Reference in Early Warhol,” Art in America, May 1987, p. 135) The uncertain interplay between anonymous suffering and the broadcast exposure of bereavement is here locked forever into the silver and ink lamina of this masterwork. Left: signed twice and dated 63 on the overlapright: signed and dated 63 on the overlap

  • USAUSA
  • 2013-11-14
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Chariot

Giacometti's extraordinary Chariot is his masterpiece and ranks among the definitive achievements of 20th century art.  With its painted surface and rich, golden patina, the present sculpture is perhaps the most important bronze that the artist created. His biographer James Lord, while discussing what is considered Giacometti’s "great period" of the late 1940s and early 1950s, identified Chariot as his finest accomplishment: "There are many extraordinary sculptures of 1949 and 1950," he wrote. "Among them all, however, there is one, perhaps, more extraordinary than the others by reason of having required him to be extraordinary. It asks the beholder to be extraordinary, too" (J. Lord, Giacometti, New York, 1985, p. 304).  Chariot had a profound personal significance for Giacometti, reflecting an epiphany in his creative development. The image came to him in a memory from his Surrealist period of the late 1930s. Like other sculptures from those years, it was a product of his unconscious mind, an “automatic” image that arrived fully-formed and unmediated.  In accounts of its origin, the artist explained that Chariot derived from his souvenir of 1938 when, recuperating in Bichat hospital after an accident, he had "marveled" at nurses’ pharmacy wagons with their "tinkling" bells.  This sensory image stayed with him, and he drew several sketches that would lead ultimately to the present work.  As he explained in a letter to his dealer Pierre Matisse, “In 1947 I saw the sculpture before me as if already done, and in 1950 it was impossible not to realize it, although it was already situated for me in the past” (A. Giacometti, 1950, quoted in J. Lord, ibid., p. 306). When cast in bronze in 1950, Chariot would become a heroic emblem of Post-War renewal. Locked in place despite the large apparatus of propulsion, the figure is Giacometti's attempt to crystallize the Existentialist philosophy which dominated Post-War Paris. His charioteer exists in a state of perpetual immobility yet her strength remains intact.  She raises her arms in a commanding gesture, much like that of the gleaming sentinel in front of the tomb of King Tutankhamun.  A figure of perseverance and a beacon of hope, she stands for all eternity upon her chariot, steadfast in her mission. The spirit of victory prevails over adversity and with this glorious sculpture Giacometti made his triumphant mark on history. The genesis of the sculpture was in fact more complex than Giacometti implied. His hospital stay resulted after injuring his foot in a late-night traffic accident beside the gilded sculpture of Joan of Arc in the Place des Pyramides.  It was perhaps his remembrance of looking up at the image of the saint that inspired him to create this sculpture in gold. As Laurie Wilson points out in her biography, "gold was the substance of the magically alive mechanical servant girls of Vulcan who helped the lame smithy walk."  Wilson continues to describe Giacometti's work on this sculpture, which she likens to that of a goddess figure for the artist: "Implying movement in the charioteer cost Giacometti much effort, and he repeatedly revised the position of her arms. By raising her above the multitude, Giacometti made the woman of the Chariot into an object of worship.  She stands in direct contrast to his numerous immobile or encaged women of that year who were simultaneously enticing and threatening.... Giacometti momentarily triumphed over death with his contemporary image magic, just as ancient Egyptians believed that the shining sun triumphed every day over the darkness of night and death.... in 1950, at the height of his powers he could afford to carry out a project that secretly celebrated one of his profoundest fantasies – an apparently inanimate creature could be seen as vital" (L. Wilson, op. cit. p. 261). Scholars also note that Giacometti’s Chariot draws its formal inspiration from several art historical precedents.  Most obvious of these, according to Reinhold Hohl, is the Egyptian chariot that Giacometti saw at the Archeological Museum in Florence.  Another possible source, given his fascination with classical statuary, is the Delphic charioteer whose hands extend to hold the reigns in a manner similar to the figure in the present sculpture.  The idea of the obsolete wheel also invokes Marcel Duchamp’s famous Bicycle Wheel, which challenged the fundamental role of a utilitarian object.  But the most direct antecedent is Giacometti’s own Femme au chariot I, a 1942 sculpture of a woman standing on a small-wheeled dolly.  While the woman in that sculpture could not control her mobility, the rotating wheels of her cart could be moved by an exterior force.  For his 1950 Chariot Giacometti grossly enlarged the proportion of the wheels and precluded their motion entirely.  The woman on this chariot is going nowhere, yet she is a harbinger of times to come.  Over the following years, motionless women and aimlessly walking men became the main characters in Giacometti’s drama of humanity, and his identity as an artist became inextricably linked with these images. James Lord suggests the following interpretation in his biography on the artist: "Like a dream, the Chariot moves inward upon itself even as it seems to rush ominously forward, and in our perspective this motion signifies that the sculpture was not created by accident.  Art uses life, and the extent of the use gives the moral of the work. The Chariot leads us to look more closely than usual at this interaction. It is fascinating but frightening.  Where first there was nothing, suddenly there is everything" (J. Lord, op. cit., p. 307). The present cast of Chariot is among the rare sculptures that Giacometti painted meticulously to enhance the textural quality of the bronze, adding precise details of to the face, lips and body. This technique alludes to the polychrome empyreal funerary figures of ancient Egyptian statuary, whose timeless stance Giacometti also invokes. Only the present work and another in the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, are treated in this unique way. Perhaps inspired by the gilt of Joan of Arc, Giacometti favored an unusual golden patina for this composition. James Lord argues that this appropriate since “Chariot called for association with the metal most prized by man, the first to be worked in the pre-dawn of history, the one most often used to make or enrich the effigies of heroes, saints and deities (J. Lord, ibid., p. 306). The scale of his sculptures was an important component of Giacometti's creative vision and one that he discussed frequently with his companions.  Sculptures that were too big "infuriated" him because they relied too much on imagination rather than on existential experience.  On the other hand, he found works that were too small to be "intolerable" because they were difficult to handle and materially unsustainable.  The present work, standing about a meter and a half high, was purely a concrete object in a clearly defined space, relatable in scale to its viewer.  With its connotations of stoicism, resilience, strength, vulnerability, perseverance and stasis, it calls to mind a passage from Samuel Beckett's classic of Existentialism, Waiting for Godot: "Why are we here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come." Referring to the cast in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, curator Anne Umland has written about the significance of Chariot in relation to the Existentialist philosophy popular among intellectuals within Giacometti’s circle. “Giacometti was preoccupied with the elusiveness of contour, with the uncertain boundary between the object and the space that surrounded it. Jean-Paul Sartre influentially wrote about figures such as this as existing in some liminal state between being and nothingness. The figure's arms are tentatively outstretched; she diminishes as your eye travels up her rail thin legs to a slight swelling of the hips, to small breasts and head. No matter how close you get to her, she is always going to retreat thanks to the play of light and touch across the mottled, gnarled, knotty surface…. The pencil-thin woman is frozen in position, balanced on a platform attached to the axle of a chariot whose wheels are raised on tapered blocks. Yet her stance, with arm extended, looks unstable, raising the likelihood of sudden movement. But in which direction? Our uncertainty is heightened by the disparity in size between the figure and the huge wheels and pedestal. Looking at her, it's not clear if she's about to come toward us, or to move away. Paradoxically, the woman's reduced dimensions only add to her stature. We are drawn to her vague features. But no matter how carefully we look, we cannot quite make them out” (excerpt fromwww.moma.org). Chariot was cast in a bronze edition of six numbered 1/6-6/6, according to the Fondation Giacometti in Paris.  Of these six, only two bronzes, including the present work, remain in private collections.  The four other casts are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Alberto Giacometti-Stiftung, Kunsthaus, Zurich; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, MO. Inscribed with the signature A. Giacometti, with foundry mark Alexis Rudier Fondeur Paris and numbered  2/6

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-11-05
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La Gommeuse

Picasso's extraordinary La Gommeuse is among the rare and coveted pictures created during the artist's Blue Period (1901-1904). The painting dates from the second half of 1901, following Picasso's widely-praised exhibition at Vollard's gallery that June and amidst the sobering aftermath of his friend Casagemas' suicide earlier in the year. Just shy of 20, the artist was sharing an apartment in Paris with his Catalan anarchist friend Pere Mañach, and the two young men immersed themselves in the debauchery of the Parisian demi-monde.  This dizzying mixture of professional success and personal tragedy, along with the carnal pleasures of youth and the inexorable sadness of mortality, brought Picasso's creative genius to a climax. Central to this artistic narrative is La Gommeuse, a gorgeous cabaret performer whose very body defines the perverse beauty of the age.  Portrayed in an absynthian haze of sexual ennui, she is both temptation and downfall incarnate, a high priestess of melancholy and a siren of joie de vivre. In recent correspondence with Sotheby's, curator and Picasso historian Marilyn McCully has provided her interpretation of the picture, in which she states that it features an entertainer posed in front of a painting in Picasso's studio.  Art historians have also suggested that the composition depicts a cabaret perform in front of a stage, where a dancer appears to be swirling a floral skirt.  McCully has expanded on her analysis as follows: "The painting known as La Gommeuse represents a pivotal moment in Picasso’s artistic development in 1901, the year in which he had his first major exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery in Paris (24 June-14 July 1901). That show had featured more than sixty paintings and drawings, which reflected the young Spaniard’s immediate response to recent French art. The major influence was Toulouse Lautrec, both in subject matter – café scenes, prostitutes and dance halls – and, to some extent, technique, but Picasso’s subsequent focus on isolated figures and restricted, subdued palettes in his new works emphasized his own exploration of the theme of loneliness and his interest in formal experimentation. The depictions of syphilitic prostitutes and poverty-stricken mothers in his Blue Period of late 1901-1902 was in many ways anticipated in La Gommeuse and works related to it. Here the nude, who is placed at the left in the foreground, is enclosed with a strong defining outline to emphasize her self-containment within the composition. Her body, with its ochre and greenish hues, is set against a flat background divided between light and dark, in a way that is reminiscent of a similar formal device used by Gauguin to give emphasis to frontal figures. The slumped position of La Gommeuse, where her head obscures her neck and joins her rounded shoulders, is characteristic of a group of compositions by Picasso in which women, usually seated at café tables, are depicted alone. These “sisters” of La Gommeuse, painted from the late summer to the autumn of 1901– such as Woman with a chignon (Fogg Art Museum) – are, however, always dressed. And while these women often seem to have been of a generic, French type, La Gommeuse appears to have been based on a specific model. The woman’s black wavy hair, black curved eyebrows, straight nose, and downturned mouth are noticeably different from the others, whose red or dark hair is piled on their heads. The title La Gommeuse was probably given to this composition when it was exhibited, and the woman portrayed was presumably an entertainer. Around 1900 the word ‘gommeuse’ was popularly associated with sexily dressed – or underdressed – café-concert singers and with their songs. We know that in 1901 Picasso drew from life a number of such performers, including the celebrated singer Polaire, for the Paris journal Frou Frou, which published his drawings between February and September 1901.  Polaire, who is easily identified by her wavy black hair and diminutive features and often wore plunging necklines and even patterned scarves around her neck, may have been the inspiration if not the real model for this composition. Around the turn of the century, when Polaire was performing in Paris, she was referred to as “la gommeuse épileptique” because of the way her body shook as she shifted her feet from one side to the other during her songs. Picasso painted La Gommeuse in his atelier on the Boulevard de Clichy, and the painting on the wall behind the figure defines the setting as the artist’s studio, where the woman may actually have posed. In the painting on the wall we only see the lower part of what appears to be a large, predominantly blue canvas with a figure wearing a gauzy dress and red stockings, surrounded by loosely painted, bright colors – evoking another composition that Picasso had done earlier in the summer of 1901, Nude with red stockings (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons). The caricatural composition on the reverse of La Gommeuse bears the inscription “Recuerdo a Mañach en el día de su santo” – which reveals that the canvas was intended as a gift to Pere Mañach on his Saint’s Day (29 June), and this allows the completion of the canvas to be dated with accuracy. Pere Mañach, who shared the Boulevard de Clichy studio with the artist, was a Catalan who lived in Paris and worked as a runner for several dealers, scouting out new artists from Spain. He had been responsible for finding buyers for Picasso’s works in 1900 and had put him under contract when the artist returned to his native country at the end of that year. It was Mañach who organized for the artist to show at Vollard’s in the following summer, and Picasso’s bold portrait of his friend (National Gallery of Art, Washington) was one of the featured works in the Vollard show. In contrast to the rather conventional pose of Picasso’s formal portrait of Mañach, the painting on the reverse of La Gommeuse shows the moustached dealer wearing a turban, which is painted with yellow and red stripes, perhaps alluding to the Catalan flag.  Mañach’s nude body is adorned with necklaces, and the awkward posture suggests that he has assumed a sexual, if not Kamasutra-like pose. Picasso shows him urinating in an imaginary landscape, which is dotted with lotus flowers and unexplained symbols.  If, as we assume from the inscription, La Gommeuse was a gift to Mañach on 29 June 1901, the latter must have sold or given the canvas to Vollard at a later date" (Marilyn McCully, "La Gommeuse," in correspondence with Sotheby's, October 2015). Picasso's emasculation of Mañach here is not without significance, evidencing the whimsical spirit of the young Spaniard at a particularly vulnerable moment of his life.  Picasso's reasons for poking fun at Mañach's are not made explicit, but his outrageously wicked rendering of the man speaks volumes about the ribald exchanges that must have transpired between them.  Perhaps it is no surprise that Mañach did not retain this picture and it ended up with the more successful dealer Ambroise Vollard, probably sometime after 1906.  In later years, it came into the possession of the young New York dealer Lucien Demotte, who sold it to Josef von Sternberg (1894-1949), one of the most acclaimed Hollywood film directors of the 1930s.  Sternberg is best remembered as the director of the 1930 film "The Blue Angel," in which Marlene Dietrich made her screen debut as the louche caberet performer Lola Lola.  It seems that Sternberg acquired this work about one year after the release of "The Blue Angel," so the subject of La Gommeuse would have held great significance for the director.  In 1949 Sternberg sold this picture, along with over one hundred other objects from his collection of fine art, at Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York.  It was later acquired by Jacques Sarlie, a Dutch-born financier based in New York, who had befriended Picasso after the war and amassed a large collection of the artist's work from every period.  Sarlie sold this picture at Sotheby's in London in 1960, at which point it was acquired by a dealer for a private collection.  The picture was later offered for sale at Sotheby's in 1984, when it was purchased by William I. Koch, who has kept it in his private collection for the last 30 years. Having lived with this picture for three decades, Mr. Koch has interpreted  La Gommeuse to be slumped on a banquette or divan in the same fatigued posture of so many of Degas' ballet dancers post-performance. Her sad, contemplative expression and physical exhaustion inspire the viewer to think about what her life must have been like that evening. The verso of the picture, however, presents a whimsical character depicting Manach’s head on a woman’s body leaping like a dancer. The paradoxes presented by this dual composition will no doubt continue to intrigue generations to come. Sotheby's would like to thank Marilyn McCully for contributing to the catalogue essay of the present lot. Signed Picasso (upper left); inscribed Recuerdo a Mañach en el día de su santo and fully painted on the reverse

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-11-06
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Lesedi la ronathe largest gem quality rough diamond to be discovered

The rough diamond of high colour and purity weighing 1,109 carats and measuring approximately 66.4 x 55 x 42mm. It is a huge privilege for Sotheby’s to have been chosen by Lucara Diamond Corp. to offer Lesedi La Rona for sale. Indeed, it is a unique honour as no other rough diamond of even remotely similar size has ever been proposed for public auction. What has struck me personally, since I first held this phenomenal gemstone in my hands, is how well it embodies the symbolism that Man has invested in diamond since remote antiquity – ideas of permanence, indestructability, immutability, and of course, adamantine hardness. Just try to imagine the epic journey this stone has undergone to arrive with us. Having been formed as a result of unimaginable temperatures and pressures, soon after the birth of the earth itself – some two to three billion years ago – the crystal then waited until, by chance, perhaps a billion years later, it became associated with a volcanic eruption that carried it upwards a distance of over 100 miles towards the surface. Having survived that tumultuous passage it still had to undergo the dramatic explosions and crushers associated with the mining process before eventually seeing the light of day – and the gaze of man – on the 16th November 2015. Perhaps no other gemstone could have survived such a journey unscathed - certainly no other diamond of this size has been recovered in more than a century. Only a few months have passed since Lesedi La Rona’s adventure with man began. Perhaps it will be cut and polished into the largest, most beautiful stone the world has yet seen, to be admired by countless generations down the centuries to come. Or maybe, as the survivor it is, it will remain untouched and admired not only as one of the earth’s most beautiful creations but also as the supreme symbol of permanence in our constantly changing world. David Bennett, Worldwide Chairman of Sotheby’s International Jewellery Division FORMATION “The cleavage faces and sculpted surfaces on the 1,109 carat rough lead one to consider the remarkable story of a natural diamond’s growth and transportation to the earth’s surface. Between one and three billion years ago, at depths of more than 140 kilometres below the surface, intense and dynamic surroundings lent the circumstances necessary for a diamond to form. But the extreme heat and pressure were also mitigating factors – conditions that may have limited how large it could become. After the mineral formed, it undertook a tumultuous journey through the earth’s crust, forced upwards against unimaginable odds through volcanic conduits and pipes. Those mechanisms deposited the diamond near the earth’s surface, where it could have been uncovered through mining efforts, or separated from its volcanic host rock by erosion. Many diamonds fracture or crumble under the tremendous stress of this journey or the mining process; the fact that a crystal of this size withstood such conditions is a combination of ideal conditions in nature and good fortune”. Excerpt from the GIA letter DISCOVERY The outstanding 'Lesedi la Rona' diamond was uncovered in Botswana, in the Karowe Mine, on 16 November 2015. It is the largest rough diamond ever recovered through a hard rock diamond mining process. Diamonds were first discovered in Botswana in 1969; they have been the main force behind the country’s economic expansion. The Karowe Mine, meaning “Precious Stone” in Tswana, is owned and operated by Lucara Diamond Corp., headquartered in Vancouver, Canada. After acquisition, the mine was completed in 2012 and is expected to have a production life of fifteen years. The mine has a production of approximately 400,000 carats of gem quality diamonds, including many type IIa, and employs almost a thousand people. Botswana maintains a beneficial relationship with all its mine operators and established protocols for all to be corporate citizens and adhere to the highest environmental and sustainability standards. The country is a participating member of the Kimberley Process. Botswana, Lucara and the Karowe Mine are all involved jointly in the highest levels of responsible field practices, management systems in Environment, Health and Safety. The cleavage faces and sculpted surfaces on the 1,109 carat rough indicate that the stone was once larger and Lucara has indicated that pieces of this stone have been matched. Many diamonds fracture or crumble under the tremendous stress of surfacing or by the mining process; the fact that a crystal of this size withstood such conditions is a combination of luck and an endorsement of the success of the new Tomra large diamond recovery machine which utilises X-ray transmission sensors. ‘Lesedi la Rona’ is circa 2.5 to over 3 billion years old, it was extracted in a kimberlite pipe approximately 200 meters below the surface in the South Lobe of the Karowe Mine. The following day, two more colossal diamonds weighing 813 and 374 carats were also found. “Though the Karowe mine went into production just four years ago, it has already earned a reputation for producing many of the world’s finest colourless diamonds. The 1,109 carat rough crystal is the flagship recovery from the mine and now holds the honour of being the second largest gem-quality diamond ever recovered”. Excerpt from the GIA letter NAME The diamond was first given a generic name after the mine (Karowe) and the pipe (AK6) where it was found. On 18 January 2016, Lucara Diamond launched a competition to name this spectacular diamond. The competition was open to all Botswana inhabitants. Entrants were invited to submit their suggested name and the rationale for their choice. More than 11,000 entries were received. On 9 February 2016, Lucara Diamond announced that the stone had been named 'Lesedi La Rona' which means "Our Light" in the Tswana language spoken in Botswana. The winner of the competition stated that his reason for the name was that "the diamond is a pride, a light and a hope for Botswana”. William Lamb, CEO and President of Lucara Diamond, commented: "The outpouring of pride and patriotism shown by all the participants in the contest was incredible. The diamond industry has played a vital role in the country's development, allowing for significant and ongoing investment in world-class healthcare, education and infrastructure. "Lesedi La Rona" symbolizes the pride and history of the people of Botswana." AN HISTORIC DISCOVERY In terms of its size, the gem quality rough is exceeded only by the legendary ‘Cullinan Diamond’, recovered in South Africa, in the Premier Mine, in 1905. The 3,016 carat ‘Cullinan Diamond’ produced nine major diamonds that are part of the historic Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, including ‘The Great Star of Africa’ – currently the largest top-quality colourless polished diamond in existence, weighing 530.20 carats - set in the Imperial Sceptre of Great Britain. The other important diamond cut from the Cullinan is a cushion-shaped stone weighing 317.40 carats set in the brow of the British Imperial Crown. The provenance of the 1,109 carat ‘Lesedi la Rona’ is the most significant colossal gem quality diamond rough extracted through modern mining methods to date. The ‘Cullinan’, the only larger gem diamond rough, was exposed in blueground approximately 6 feet below the surface and was extracted by the superintendant of the mine during a routine inspection. Lesedi la Rona is therefore the largest rough diamond ever recovered through a hard rock diamond mining process and the largest gem quality rough diamond in existence today. “Approximately a century after the discovery of the 3,106 carat Cullinan Diamond, another large, high-quality rough diamond was found in the Karowe mine in Botswana: at 1,109 carats, it is the second largest gem-quality diamond that has ever been discovered.” Excerpt from the GIA letter “The 1,109 carat ‘Lesedi la Rona’ is historic and significant as the largest gem rough diamond mined since the discovery of the 3,106 carat ‘Cullinan’ in 1905. This is a centennial event.” Excerpt from the GCAL report   THE POTENTIAL OF THE STONE Sotheby's commissioned two independent reports from Diamex Inc./Crodiam Consulting DMCC and Gem Certification & Assurance Lab (GCAL) to explore and give their opinion on the potential yield of the stone. According to these reports, the Lesedi la Rona may have the potential to yield one of the largest top-quality diamonds that has ever been cut and polished. “This crystal had the potential to produce one of the largest top quality polished diamonds of any shape that has ever been cut and polished”. Excerpt from the Diamex Inc. report “According to our preliminary calculations, this rough diamond could possibly yield the largest D colour faceted and polished diamond known in the world”. Excerpt from the GCAL report “The possibilities of how this rough could be fashioned into faceted diamonds are infinite. Master diamond cutters will undoubtedly spend hundreds of hours studying this rough before it ever touches a diamond cutting wheel”. Excerpt from the GCAL report COLOUR This diamond possesses exceptional transparency and quality, as mentioned in the GIA letter. Independent reports on the potential yield of the rough have also stated that there is a high probability that the resulting polished diamonds will be D colour – the highest colour classification for white diamonds. “The stone has high potential to be a D colour. The stone was observed under a polariscopic light to have limited to no stress and there was no surface graining evident”. Excerpt from the Diamex Inc. report “The cleaved faces are windows into the diamond giving us a view into the centre of the crystal… The ‘Lesedi la Rona’ is an extraordinary rough crystal of exceptional transparency and quality… The centre of the rough crystal appears to be clean so far as our field examination permits. The colour of the rough is very high, which we estimate will be graded as ‘D’ if faceted”. Excerpt from the GCAL report “The crystal has the potential to produce one of the largest top quality diamonds that has ever been cut and polished”. Excerpt from the GIA letter  “The Lesedi la Rona is simply outstanding and its discovery is the find of a lifetime. It is a huge honour for Sotheby’s to have been entrusted with its sale. Every aspect of this auction is unprecedented. Not only is the rough superlative in size and quality, but no rough even remotely of this scale has ever been offered before at public auction”. David Bennett, Worldwide Chairman of Sotheby’s International Jewellery Division  “We are very excited to be partnering with Sotheby’s on this landmark auction. Lucara has made innovation the cornerstone of its development strategy and this has led to the historic recovery of the Lesedi la Rona diamond. The forthcoming sale presents a unique opportunity to present this extraordinary diamond to a worldwide audience”. William Lamb, President and Chief Executive Officer of Lucara Diamond Corp

  • USAUSA
  • 2016-06-29
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Nature morte, Vase aux marguerites et coquelicots

Teeming with visual drama and emotion, Van Gogh's richly-colored bouquet of wildflowers exemplifies the creative genius of the artist at the culmination of his career.  Depicting a bounty of sensory splendor from the fields of Auvers, this important picture captures the artist at the height of his mania and only weeks before his tragic end.  It was during this period that Van Gogh painted the most powerful pictures of his career, including his legendary Portrait of Dr. Paul Gachet and Wheat Fields with Crows.  An expressive masterwork, Nature morte, Vase aux marguerites et coquelicots transcends the boundaries of its genre and offers an insightful psychological profile. The present composition was painted in mid-June 1890 in Auvers-sur Oise, the town where the artist settled following his release from the asylum at St-Rémy in May 1890. "Auvers is very beautiful, among other things a lot of old thatched roofs, which are getting rare...really it is profoundly beautiful, it is the real country, characteristic and picturesque" (Letter 635).  Renting a small room at the Auberge Ravoux, he lacked a proper studio, which compelled him to go elsewhere to paint. He spent his days setting up his easel in the fields to paint the lush countryside, or visiting his physician, Dr. Paul Gachet.  The artist described his new living situation with enthusiasm, especially the close kinship he felt with the "rather eccentric"  art collector, Dr. Gachet, who offered him a quiet environment in which he could work.  As he told Theo in one of his first letters after meeting the doctor in late May, Gachet's house was filled with black antiques as well as Impressionist paintings including " two fine flower pieces by Cézanne."   Van Gogh found Gachet's environment so inviting that he pledged to "... gladly, very gladly, do a bit of brushwork here" (LT635).  Over the coming weeks, Van Gogh would paint his celebrated portrait of Dr. Gachet, along with several views of his flower garden and members of his family. The present work was painted at Gachet's house and probably came into his possession upon completion.   Van Gogh was inspired by the many objects that Gachet collected, including one particular Cézanne still-life that hung on Gachet's wall.  In that picture, the rounded edge of the table top and general arrangement can be likened to that of the present work.  On June 4, he told Theo that despite the clutter of the Gachet's accomodations, "there is always something for arranging flowers in or for a still life.   I did these studies for him to show him that if it is not a case for which he is paid in money, we will still compensate him for what he does for us."  The present work was one of the few works that Van Gogh sold or traded during his lifetime, and it was possibly given to Gachet in exchange for treatment.  Looking at this picture, we can imagine the artist traipsing through the fields on his way to Gachet's, gathering up armfuls of poppies, daisies, cornflowers and sheaves of wheat to squeeze into one of the modest vases in Gachet's antique-filled house. Indeed, several days later, the artist began work on the present composition as well as another painting, featuring the same earthenware vase.  Writing on June 16, he explained "At the moment I am working on two studies, one a bunch of wild plants, thistles, ears of wheat and sprays of different kinds of leaves -- the one almost red, the other bright green, the third turning yellow" (letter no. 642).   While his description most certainly applies to Still life, Vase with Field Flowers and Thistle (F. 763), the catalogue raisonné identifies the present work as being painted contemporaneously on June 16-17.  In comparison with the more reserved and academic still-lifes that he had completed in Paris in the mid-1880s, the present work evidences the dramatic shift in the artist's painterly style, now characterized by nfrenetic energy. "I am working a good deal and quickly these days," the artist wrote June 13,"in do doing, I seek to express the desperately swift passing away of things in modern life" (Letter W23). As noted in a recent biography of the artist, Van Gogh was flooded by anxiety in Auvers, and his agitation surely spilled over onto even his most optimistic canvases:  "It was a beautiful, alluring vision -- as much as paint and works could make it.  But real life for Vincent in Auvers was anything but idyllic.  He had arrived in May holding on to the thinnest thread:  terrified by the possiblity of another attack, still racked with guilt over the money diverted from Theo's new family, haunted by the stacks of unsold paintings in Paris.  He poured his despair into a letter so bleak that he didn't dare to mail it:  'I am far from having reached any kind of tranquility...  I feel a failure ... a lot that I accept and that I will not change ....  The prospect grows darker, I see no happy future at all'" (Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith, Van Gogh, The Life, New York, 2011, p. 838).  It is under this black cloud of despair, using flowers from the same fields in which he would attempt to take his own life only weeks later, that the artist painted this extraordinary composition. It is probable that Gachet either sold or faciliated the sale of this painting to Gaston Alexandre Camentron, the collector of Impressionist pictures, who eventually sold the picture to Paul Cassirer in 1911.  The picture remained with a series of private collectors in Germay until the mid-1920s, when it made its way to London and eventually across the Atlantic, where it was one of the first pictures by the artist to be sold in the United States.  In 1928, it was sold by the Knoedler Gallery in New York in 1928 to A. Conger Goodyear. Known as one of the principal founders of the Museum of Modern Art, Goodyear kept this work in his family's private collection.  It was eventually gifted by the Goodyear family in part to the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, where it was on display to the public for over thirty years.

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-11-05
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Femme assise

In May 1909 Pablo Picasso and his lover Fernande Olivier left Paris in order to spend the summer in the artist’s native Spain, arriving first in Barcelona. Having stayed there longer than initially intended due to Fernande’s ill health, in early June the couple arrived in Horta de Ebro (now Horta de Sant Joan), a remote Catalonian village (fig. 1) which could only be reached by mule, where they stayed until September. The summer months spent in Horta proved to be one of the most significant periods of Picasso’s career: he executed a number of portraits of Fernande, as well as several landscapes, which are today widely recognised as the true beginnings of Cubism. Femme assise belongs to a series of canvases based on the features of Fernande Olivier, which revolutionised Picasso’s working methods and developed a radically new approach to the representation of form, thus clarifying his path towards Analytic Cubism. The development of Cubism is inextricably linked to the friendship between Picasso and Georges Braque. Their friendship started in the winter of 1908 and their exchange of ideas had an immediate impact on their painting. Through continuous conversation and the exchange of letters, the two artists helped each other to invent an entirely new visual idiom. During the summer of 1909, while Picasso was at Horta, Braque had similarly left Paris in search of isolation and inspiration at La Roche-Guyon on the Seine. While Picasso simultaneously painted landscapes and portraits, Braque concentrated on landscapes depicting the castle and the surrounding forests using a remarkably similar palette of greens and greys and the towering, stacked compositions as his friend in Spain. William Rubin has described this period in Picasso’s œuvre as ‘the most crucial and productive vacation of his career. There in the pellucid Mediterranean light of his native Spain, he distilled from the material he had been exploring during the previous two years his first fully defined statement of Analytic Cubism’ (W. Rubin, Picasso in the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1972, p. 56). In 1907 Picasso made his major breakthrough, the celebrated Les Demoiselles d’Avignon now in The Museum of Modern Art, New York (fig. 2), a triumphant expression of modern aesthetic values, and arguably the single most influential painting created in the twentieth century. While working on this canvas he followed the traditional practice of creating countless sketches and small studies to help develop and refine the final composition. He continued to practice this method of working up to a single, monumental composition the following year, culminating in Trois femmes, now in The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. In 1909 Picasso’s working methods changed: rather than working up sketches and studies towards a single composition in which all of his latest developments were included, he produced a series of oils all of which were based on Fernande, but whose primary concern was the development of radical reinterpretation of pictorial form, largely influenced by paintings of Cézanne (figs. 3 & 8). Writing about the group of paintings inspired by Fernande Olivier, executed in Horta de Ebro from mid-June to early September 1909, Elizabeth Cowling observes: ‘He used several different formats, but […] no single painting is larger than all the others or designed as a “masterpiece”. Within the series as a whole there were mini-series devoted to the head only, the head and shoulders [fig. 4], and the head and torso or three-quarter-length figure [fig. 5]. […] Further variation is introduced through the angle of the head, orientation of the figure, degree of contrapposto in the pose, the hairstyle and clothing, lighting, colour and the extent to which the background and its content are subject to the same elaborate facetting. The other paintings done in Horta – views of the village and mountains [figs. 6 & 7], still lifes and two paintings of the head and shoulders of a man – relate closely in their structure and style to the paintings of Fernande, so that, for example, the sharply delineated, in-out thrusts of the facets of her head and neck resemble those of the cubic buildings packed together on the hillside or the crisp folds of the ruckled drapery in the still lifes. Picasso’s production during these months […] was thoroughly integrated, his approach disciplined: there is unquestionably a Horta style’ (E. Cowling, op. cit., pp. 211-212). Like the other Horta portraits, Femme assise is characterised by geometricised, broken down forms which allowed the artist to explore the sitter’s figure from multiple angles and to achieve a highly voluminous, sculptural feel. As John Golding has commented: ‘Picasso’s paintings of 1908 had been sculptural in appearance and intent and in some of them there are already hints or implications of the multi-viewpoint perspectives of early Cubism. This reached its first full, explicit expression in the work produced by Picasso at Horta de Ebro, a remote Catalan village, in the summer of 1909. Picasso had become interested in a sculptural approach to painting because of the physicality of his vision, because he wanted to touch and to mould and to handle his subjects. Now, with the abandonment of traditional single viewpoint perspective he was able to achieve his goal of taking possession of his subjects more completely and to give his canvases a dimension that in a sense already existed in free-standing sculpture: for clearly the essential property of sculpture in the round is that the sculptor impels the spectator to move around it and study it from all angles. With the adoption of multi-viewpoint perspective Picasso presented the viewer with a sculptural fullness or completeness on a two-dimensional support’ (J. Golding in Picasso: Sculptor/Painter (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 20). Having explored the possibilities of representing a three-dimensional figure on the two-dimensional medium of canvas painting, and having imbued his Horta paintings with a strong sculptural feel, it is no surprise that upon his return to Paris in September 1909 Picasso applied his findings to a three-dimensional medium, producing the celebrated Tête de femme (Fernande). Considered to be the first Cubist sculpture, Tête de femme (Fernande) was executed in two plaster versions and later cast in bronze. The richness of the sculpture with its countless ridges, recesses and protrusions and the multiplicity of viewpoints that it offered, inspired a number of photographers including Alfred Stieglitz (fig. 14) and Brassaï. Elizabeth Cowling discussed the relationship between the paintings that Picasso produced during the summer in Horta and the sculpture that followed immediately after: ‘Evidently he wanted to condense within a single work not only all the main angles and tonal variations explored in individual paintings in the series, but also the viewpoints (such as the head seen more or less in profile, from the back, or from above) which appear in none of them’ (E. Cowling, op. cit., p. 212). This sculptural quality is powerfully present in several features of Femme assise, particularly in the dramatic rendering of the figure’s elongated neck, the pronounced eyebrows and the ‘reversible cube’ of her forehead – the volume which can be read as both protruding and receding – and whose V-shape is echoed in Fernande’s characteristic upturned lips. While Femme assise and its companion canvases consistently take the image of Fernande as their motif, Picasso’s focus was centred around his painterly technique, as he explored his new methods to their farthest limit. Painting itself, rather than depicting his model, became the artist’s main focus. As Pierre Daix observed: ‘Painting itself now reigned supreme, blossoming with renewed vitality beyond all inherited assumptions as to its limits, subject only to the geometricizing demands of his refiner’s fire. In working in this manner, Picasso transferred to these portraits the monumentality acquired in his geometrization of the Horta landscapes, such as Houses on the Hill [fig. 7] and The Factory. [… Fernande] exists as little more than a “motif,” a springboard to the free improvisation of his geometric reconstruction of fragmented shapes. One can, of course, recognize Fernande’s voluminous head of hair and the general contours of her face, sliced into large masses […]. The portrait is no longer a naturalistic representation but has become everything that painting can appropriate from the model in order to transform it into what only painting can express. The portrait becomes the sum of all that Picasso’s plastic imagination can extract and transform from the model’ (P. Daix in ‘Portraiture in Picasso’s Primitivism and Cubism’, in Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York & Grand Palais, Paris, 1996-97, p. 276). Writing in the catalogue of the seminal exhibition entirely dedicated to Picasso’s Cubist portrayals of Fernande, Jeffrey Weiss distinguished several groups of portraits executed in Horta. The first group, which includes Tête de femme (Fernande) now in the Art Institute of Chicago (fig. 10) is according to Weiss ‘distinguished by a relatively fleshy treatment of the face […]. The second group of paintings from Horta consists of five canvases [including the present work], one of which has been destroyed in a fire. These images trade the softer anatomy of the preceding type for a construction that is articulated by blade-like edges and angular, interlocking forms’ (J. Weiss in Picasso: The Cubist Portraits of Fernande Olivier (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., pp. 8-9). While scholars have argued that Picasso probably regarded the group of Horta paintings as part of the same pictorial experiment, rather than a linear progression, it is clear that the present work, in which round shapes are replaced with more angular ones, can be regarded as a step further on the path of breaking up form and transforming the figure into a series of hard-edged faceting. A similar treatment can be seen in what can be described as a background of the present composition, in which the vase of flowers to the right of Fernande’s neck is depicted in a significantly more stylised, abstracted manner than the vase in Portrait de Fernande, now in Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf (fig. 11) or the still-life with a pear and cloth on a table-top in the Chicago picture. The extraordinary development that occurred in Picasso’s paintings of Fernande executed in Horta in the summer 1909 marked the arrival of Analytical Cubism (fig. 12), a style which opened radically new possibilities in pictorial treatment of form and would thus prove to be a pivotal point in the development of Modern art. As Weiss argues, however, ‘form in the Fernande sequence is not specific to painting and drawing – not, in fact, specific to any single medium. It belongs, instead, to the reciprocal relationship the artist established among a multiplicity of mediums, including sculpture and photography’ (ibid., p. 15). Belonging to this extraordinary opus produced over a short yet momentous and far-reaching period of Picasso’s œuvre, Femme assise stands firmly as an icon of Modernism. This work has been requested for the forthcoming exhibition Picasso Portraits, to be held at the National Portrait Gallery, London from October 2016 to February 2017 and at Museu Picasso, Barcelona from March to June 2017. Signed Picasso (upper left)

  • GBRUnited Kingdom
  • 2016-06-21
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Nymphéas

Claude Monet’s Nymphéas are amongst the most iconic and celebrated Impressionist paintings. The profound impact the series has made on the evolution of Modern Art marks them out as Monet’s greatest achievement. The famous lily pond in his garden at Giverny provided the subject matter for most of his major late works, recording the changes in his style and his constant pictorial innovations. The present work, which dates from 1905, is a powerful testament to Monet’s enduring vision and creativity in his mature years. Monet’s Nymphéas from 1905-1907 are triumphantly achieved monuments of color; the water reflects the skies’ shifting hues and the lilies themselves are elegant touches of paint applied with bravura. As Daniel Wildenstein notes, it was in 1905 that Monet’s canvases took an especially close up view of the pond, with a number of water lilies in the foreground of their compositions, and no sign of the banks. This innovative approach can be seen in the present work and a closely related painting in the National Museum of Wales. By 1890, Monet had become financially successful enough to buy the house and large garden at Giverny, which he had rented since 1883. With enormous vigour and determination, he swiftly set about transforming the gardens and creating a large pond. There were initially a number of complaints about Monet’s plans to divert the river Epte through his garden in order to feed his new pond, which he had to address in his application to the Préfet of the Eure department: "I would like to point out to you that, under the pretext of public salubrity, the aforementioned opponents have in fact no other goal than to hamper my projects out of pure meanness, as is frequently the case in the country where Parisian landowners are involved […] I would also like you to know that the aforementioned cultivation of aquatic plants will not have the importance that this term implies and that it will be only a pastime, for the pleasure of the eye, and for motifs to paint" (quoted in Michael Hoog, Musée de l’Orangerie. The Nymphéas of Claude Monet, Paris, 2006, p. 119). Once the garden was designed according to the artist’s vision, it offered a boundless source of inspiration, and provided the major themes that dominated the last three decades of Monet’s career. Towards the end of his life, he obfuscated his initial intentions, perhaps with a mind to his own mythology, telling a visitor to his studio: "It took me some time to understand my water lilies. I planted them purely for pleasure; I grew them with no thought of painting them. A landscape takes more than a day to get under your skin. And then, all at once I had the revelation – how wonderful my pond was – and reached for my palette. I’ve hardly had any other subject since that moment" (quoted in Stephan Koja, Claude Monet (exhibition catalogue), Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, 1996, p. 146). Once discovered, the subject of water lilies offered a wealth of inspiration that Monet went on to explore for several decades. His carefully designed garden presented the artist with a micro-cosmos in which he could observe and paint the changes in weather, season and time of day, as well as the ever-changing colors and patterns. John House wrote: "The water garden in a sense bypassed Monet’s long searches of earlier years for a suitable subject to paint. Designed and constantly supervised by the artist himself, and tended by several gardeners, it offered him a motif that was at the same time natural and at his own command - nature re-designed by a temperament. Once again Monet stressed that his real subject when he painted was the light and weather" (J. House, Monet: Nature into Art, Newhaven, 1986, p. 31). In 1908 Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier visited Monet at Giverny and gave a thoughtful description of Monet’s working methods for the review Fermes et Châteaux: "In this mass of intertwined verdure and foliage […] the lilies spread their round leaves and dot the water with a thousand red, pink, yellow and white flowers […]. The Master often comes here, where the bank of the pond is bordered with thick clumps of irises. His swift, short strokes place brushloads of luminous colour as he moves from one place to another, according to the hour […]. The canvas he visited this morning at dawn is not the same as the canvas we find him working on in the afternoon. In the morning, he records the blossoming of the flowers, and then, once they begin to close, he returns to the charms of the water itself and its shifting reflections, the dark water that trembles beneath the somnolent leaves of the water-lilies" (quoted in Daniel Wildenstein, Monet or The Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne, 2003, p. 384). The unending variety of forms and tones that the ponds provided allowed Monet to work consistently on a number of canvases at the same time. The spectacular field of color presented by Nymphéas is created to elicit an instinctive emotional response rather than to record a particular location, temporal conditions or natural phenomena. Over the course of three crucial years, from 1905 until 1907, Monet experimented with different approaches and painting techniques. The paintings from 1905 were thickly painted with a dense surface and horizontally oriented, whilst those from 1906 interplay between rich impastoed areas with finer washes. In 1907 Monet used his canvases vertically and experimented with longer brushstrokes. Another important feature of the works from this period is how Monet removed the perspectival elements that had existed in his earlier renditions of the lily pond, so the banks and borders which were sometimes featured no longer informed the scope or scale of the works. Since the birth of Impressionism, Monet’s primary concern had been the sensation of color and its properties and these technical innovations underwrote his highly advanced theoretical approach. In Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, the narrator goes to visit a fictional painter called Elstir who was based in part on Monet. Here, in the studio the narrator begins to see Elstir’s new purpose for art. "But I was able to discern from these that the charm of each of them lay in a sort of metamorphosis of the things represented in it, analogous to what in poetry we call metaphor, and that, if God the Father had created things by naming them, it was by taking away their names or giving them other names that Elstir created them anew. The names which denote things correspond invariably to an intellectual notion, alien to our true impressions, and compelling us to eliminate from them everything that is not in keeping with itself" (quoted in Charles Prendergast, The Triangle of Representation, New York, 2000, p. 154). Monet’s Nymphéas fulfils the promise of Elstir’s intentions, managing to transcend paintings traditional, illusory function in order to create a new sense of purpose for art. Even in his earliest depictions of the Nymphéas Monet embraced a monumental scope, which would be most fully realised in his Les Grandes décorations, a sequence of monumental paintings of the gardens that took his depictions of the water lily pond in a dramatic new direction - the artist envisaged an environment in which the viewer would be completely surrounded by the paintings. In 1909 Monet was quoted by Claude-Roger Marx outlining his vision: "The temptation came to me to use this water-lily theme for the decoration of a drawing room: carried along the length of the walls, enveloping the entire interior with its unity, it would produce the illusion of an endless whole, of a watery surface with no horizon and no shore; nerves exhausted by work would relax there, following the restful example of those still waters, a refuge of peaceful meditation in the middle of a flowering aquarium" (quoted in Claude Roger-Marx, "Les Nymphéas de Monet," in Le Cri de Paris, Paris, 23rd May 1909). The present work and the others in this series eventually led to Les Grandes décorations, now in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, which are according to Daniel Wildenstein "the crowning glory of Monet’s career, in which all his work seemed to culminate"(D. Wildenstein, op. cit., 1996, p. 840). The present work was included in the seminal exhibition held at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1909, which the artist entitled Les nymphéas, série de paysages d'eau par Claude Monet. This long awaited show had been planned for many years, and delayed by Monet’s prevarication and his lengthy trip to Venice earlier in the year. The artist insisted on payment for almost all the works to be included in the show, resulting in Durand-Ruel, not having the funds to bankroll the whole exhibition, having to jointly acquire the pictures with the Bernheim-Jeune brothers. Monet and the dealers chose 48 canvases all of the same subject which were shown in three rooms and drew the attention and admiration of countless collectors, as Daniel Wildenstein notes: "These works perfectly matched the aesthetic of the first years of the 20th Century’ (D. Wildenstein, Monet or The Triumph of Impressionism, Cologne, 2003, p. 388). Their natural grace and exuberance related to the Art Nouveau. Writing on the exhibition at the time, Jean-Louis Vaudoyer stated: "None of the earlier series… can, in our opinion, compare with these fabulous Water Landscapes, which are holding spring captive in the Durand-Ruel Gallery. Water that is pale blue and dark blue, water like liquid gold, treacherous green water reflects the sky and the banks of the pond and among the reflections pale water lilies and bright water lilies open and flourish. Here, more than ever before, painting approached music and poetry. There is in these paintings an inner beauty that is both plastic and ideal" (J.-L. Vaudoyer in La Chronique des Arts et de la Curiosité, 15th May 1909, p. 159, translated from French). The lasting legacy of Monet’s late work is most clearly seen in the art of the Abstract Expressionists, such as Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollock and Sam Francis, whose bold color planes and rejection of figuration is foreshadowed by the Nymphéas. In recent years Gerhard Richter's monumental abstract canvases, such as Cage 6 from 2006, have carried on the tradition established by his artistic forebears. As Jean-Dominique Rey writes: "Late Monet is a mirror in which the future can be read. The generation that, in about 1950, rediscovered it, also taught us how to see it for ourselves. And it was Monet who allowed us to recognize this generation. Osmosis occurred between them. The old man, mad about colour, drunk with sensation, fighting with time so as to abolish it and place it in the space that sets it free, atomizing it into a sumptuous bouquet and creating a complete film of a ‘beyond painting’, remains of consequential relevance today" (J.-D. Rey, op. cit., Paris, 2008, p. 116). The first known owners of the present work were Emil and Alma Staub-Terlinden of Männedorf. Together they amassed one of the finest private collections of Impressionist art in Switzerland, much of it purchased over a short period of time around the end of the 1910s. Emil Staub inherited his families’ leather-working business and factories in 1890, and the substantial wealth that it provided allowed him and his wife to pursue the very best paintings by the preeminent artists of the day. Regular visits to Paris were taken up by trips to the galleries of Durand-Ruel, Bernheim-Jeune and Paul Rosenberg, often accompanied by the Swiss painter Carl Montag who acted as an intermediary between French artists and dealers and a number of Francophile Swiss collectors. Aside from the present work, the Staub-Terlindens acquired other highly important paintings, such as Cézanne’s La bouteille de menthe and Manet’s Des huîtres both now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and Monet’s La Gare Saint-Lazare, arrivée d’un train in the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University. The present work remained in the Staub-Terlinden’s possession for many years, before being subsequently acquired by the present owner in 1955. Signed Claude Monet and dated 1905 (lower left)

  • USAUSA
  • 2015-05-05
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Grande tête mince (Grande tête de Diego)

Giacometti’s extraordinary Grande tête mince, also known as Grande tête de Diego, is a robust personification of the Existentialist movement during the heated years of the Cold War.  Of all his representations of the human figure, this sculpture is without question Giacometti's most formally radical, visually engaging and emotionally impactful.  This imposing figure, parting his lips as if he is about to speak, embodies the anticipation of a moment yet to be realized.   The model for this profoundly expressive sculpture was the artist's younger brother Diego, who inspired numerous variations on the theme of head and bust sculptures of the 1950s and whose physiognomic similiarity to his brother invested these projects with an autobiographical narrative.  The powerful Grande tête mince is the most ambitious of a series of innovative sculptural portraits completed during this era and has since been considered one of the artist's greatest works. "To me," Giacometti once stated, "sculpture is not an object of beauty but a way for me to try to understand a bit better what I see in a given head, to understand a bit better what appeals to me about it and what I admire in it" (reprinted in Alberto Giacometti, The Origin of Space (exhibition catalogue) op. cit., p. 73).  By the 1950s, Giacometti shifted his attention from the spindly, elongated figures of his post-war years, like Homme qui chavire, and turned to figural sculptures that were more naturalistic in scale.  Most of these works were heads and half-length busts, completed between 1951 and 1957 and often executed from memory.  For the most part, these sculptures were solid, designed without a base, and executed with the matiére pétrie, or kneaded method, that heightened the expressiveness of the figure. The artist relied on an intensely hands-on process for this sculpture to create the indentations and the folds of Diego's jacket and in the sharp bridge of his nose.  "Each of these nebulous undergoing perpectual metamorphosis seems like Giacometti's very life transcribed in another language," Jean-Paul Sartre wrote when observing the artist at work on his sculptures in his studio (reprinted in ibid. 233). “These sculpted faces compel one to face them as if one were speaking to the person," Yves Bonnefoy has written, "meeting his eyes and thereby understanding better the compression, the narrowing that Giacometti imposed on the chin or the nose or the general shape of the skull. This was the period when Giacometti was most strongly conscious of the fact that the inside of the plaster or clay mass which he modeled was something inert, undifferentiated, nocturnal, that it betrays the life he sought to represent, and that he must therefore strive to eliminate this purely spatial dimension by constricting the material to fit the most prominent characteristics of the face.  This is exactly what he achieves with amazing vigor when, occasionally, he gave Diego's face a blade-like narrowness - drawing seems to have eliminated the plaster, the head has escaped from space - and demands therefore that the spectator stand in front of the sculpture as he did himself, disregarding the back and sides of his model and as bound to a face-to-face relationship as in the case of work at an easel.  As Giacometti once said, "There is no difference between painting and sculpture." Since 1945, he added, "I have been practicing them both indifferently, each helping me to do the other.  In fact, both of them are drawing, and drawing has helped me to see” (Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, A Biography of His Work, Paris, 1991, pp. 432-436). Giacometti's choice of his brother Diego as the subject of this significant sculpture was based on his comfortability and familiarity with his model.  "He's sat for me thousands of times," Giacometti said. "When's he's sitting there, I don't recognize him.  I like to get him to sit, so as to see what I see" (reprinted in Alberto Giacometti, The Origin of Space (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 140). Like the hauntingly beautiful paintings of his brother which Giacometti executed at the same time, Grande tête mince demonstrates the artist's fascination with the emotive power of the sitter's face.  The present sculpture is the artist's most ambitious experiment in representation of this most expressive part of the body and results in a work of art that captures the multiple incarnations of the model in one single form.  Viewed from different vantage points, the present sculpture can be seen as two distinct heads: the side profile is much more articulated and full-bodied than the elongated, nearly intangible frontal view. This duality calls to mind the bust portrait of Nefertiti that had fascinated Giacometti throughout his career, and here he has achieved that similarly disconcerting perceptual effect. Patrick Elliot has written about the stunning visual effect of Grande tête mince, “In conversations, Giacometti observed enormous differences between a side view and a frontal view of an object, as if the two were completely separate things that could not possibly be rendered in a single sculpture.  Giacometti normally represented figures as very frontal forms, and is reported to have said that : ‘when a person appeals to us or fascinates us we don't walk all around him.  What impresses us about his appearance requires a certain distance.’ The present sculpture is a remarkable instance of Giacometti's attempt to unite two very different views in a single work” (Alberto Giacometti, 1901-1966 (exhibition catalogue), Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; Kunsthalle, Vienna, 1996, p. 172). According to the Fondation Giacometti, the present bronze was cast in 1955 at the Susse foundry.  The first owner of this sculpture was Richard K. Weil (1902-1996), the St. Louis manufacturer and trustee of Washington University.  Weil and his wife Florence Steinberg Weil were avid collectors of modern art and major benefactor's of the University's Art Department and Gallery.  The couple acquired this bronze from Giacometti's European dealer Maeght in 1957 and sold it to the present owner in 1980. Inscribed with the signature Alberto Giacometti, with the foundry mark Susse Fondeur Paris and numbered 6/6

  • USAUSA
  • 2013-11-07
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A HIGHLY IMPORTANT IMPERIAL EMBROIDERED SILK THANGKA

A HIGHLY IMPORTANT IMPERIAL EMBROIDERED SILK THANGKA YONGLE SIX-CHARACTER PRESENTATION MARK AND OF THE PERIOD (1402-1424) This massive panel is exquisitely embroidered in gold thread and brilliant coloured silk threads on leaf-green jiang chou silk enriched with a regular pattern of dark blue medallions of curled leafy scrolls outlined with gold thread. The central image is of the wrathful Raktayamari, depicted in tones of red, standing in yab-yum embracing his consort Vajravetali. Her left leg encircling his waist, his right hand wielding above his head a khatvanga embellished with human heads in varying states and the vajra thunderbolt, his left arm supporting his facing consort and holding a kapala or skull cap in his left hand. The locked couple is trampling on the blue corpse of Yama, the Lord of death, wearing a tiger skin and crown, lying on the back of their mount, a brown buffalo recumbent on a multi-coloured lotus base. All below two rows of buddhas and bodhisattvas seated on lotus bases, the upper including Heruka Vajrabhairava on the far left and Manjusri on the far right, flanking the five Dhyani Buddhas, Ratnasambhava, Akshobhya, Vairocana, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi. The lower row with Green Tara and White Tara. On the lower panel is a row of seven offering goddesses dancing on lotus bases and holding aloft dishes as offerings below the couple. The thangka is bordered by an embroidered yellow-ground band of vajra. On the upper right side is the vertical presentation mark in gold thread on a red embroidered ground below the White Tara. Accompanied with a Qing dynasty silk surround now detached. 132 x 84 in. (335.3 x 213.4 cm.)

  • HKGHong Kong SAR China
  • 2014-11-26
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* Note that the price doesn’t correlate with today’s value, but only relates to the actual end price at the time of the purchase.