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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.

  • GBRGrande Bretagne
  • 2018-11-26
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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)

  • GBRGrande Bretagne
  • 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

  • GBRGrande Bretagne
  • 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
  • 2013-10-05
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Düsenjäger

oil on canvas Painted in 1963. Düsenjäger (Jet Fighter), 1963, is one of Gerhard Richter’s historic early works. Stretching two metres in width, it is one of the artist’s first Photo Paintings—cited as number 13-a in Richter’s self-edited list of recognised works—and dates from the dawn of German Pop art. Echoing concurrent artistic thrusts in the United States, Düsenjäger recalls Roy Lichtenstein’s Blam from 1962; yet, where Lichtenstein opted for melodrama with the same subject matter, Richter treated his subject in a deliberately understated manner. By 1963, when Düsenjäger was painted, Richter had honed a new and persuasive visual language which would become the cornerstone for his artistic development. During the course of that year, the success of his photorealistic works would see him involved in his first major exhibitions in Dusseldorf, as well as his first contract with an art dealer. It is a further tribute to the importance of Düsenjäger that it was formerly owned by the artist Günther Uecker. Düsenjäger is one of the first of a group of eight celebrated paintings that Richter made of warplanes during this period—only one other dates from 1963, with the rest made the following year. Of these, four are in German museum collections. Most of them also feature what subsequently became Richter’s main palette—the grisaille; with its combination of grey and pink, Düsenjäger is a rare exception, joined by only two works from 1964, Mustang-Staffel and XL 513. The latter work, now in the Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, shows a Cold War era British bomber, and shares the dusk-like blush of pink that features in Düsenjäger. With their combed brushwork, both pictures channel the power of the jets they represent, capturing a sense of the blur as they speed past. The use of colour in Düsenjäger was rare not only among Richter’s depictions of warplanes but across all the works he created during this important early period. The previous year, his Eisläuferin and Party had featured smears and spatter of red, adding a sense of near-violence to the works and echoing Art Informel. In Party, now in the Musuem Frieder Burda, a pair of legs is shown in flesh tones, prefiguring the link to realism and naturalism showcased in Düsenjäger. Similarly, in Schloß Neuschwanstein, also owned by the Musuem Frieder Burda, the greenery surrounding the eponymous castle is shown in colour, revealing the link to the photographic source that had tethered the flesh colour in Party. This was explored to vivid effect in Mund of 1963, now in the Art Institute of Chicago, which shows a vivid red mouth against the swirling flesh tones of an implied face. In that work, Richter used a palette that invoked photographic realism yet did so in a composition so reduced that it borders upon abstraction, revealing his interest in the mechanics of representation. Richter’s investigation of colour dynamics came to the fore in his later Colour Chart series, in which individual blocks of monochrome are shown next to each other, clinically isolated and juxtaposed. In Düsenjäger, the dynamism of colour gives a sense of motion that is accentuated by the cropping of the plane’s nose, as though it has sped past too fast for the original photographer to capture. Richter uses this to trick the viewer into inferring a sense of movement, when the paint itself is all too still. This process works in parallel to the disconnect between the high drama of Lichtenstein’s Blam and the slow process of its creation. It is in the tension between the explosive dynamism of Richter’s and Lichtenstein’s images and the slowness of their creation that some of their visceral conceptual power lies. The term Pop may have been used as early as the 1950s in Great Britain, but it was at the beginning of the 1960s that the concept took hold on each side of the Atlantic. While in the United States, artists such as Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol turned their sights on current media and consumerism as inspiration and subject matter, so too did Richter, alongside his friends Sigmar Polke and Konrad Lueg (later Fischer). The emergence of Pop Art in the States gave a further impetus to these artists; it was in a copy of Art International that Richter had seen an image of one of Lichtenstein’s advert-based paintings in 1962. Soon thereafter, he saw Lichtenstein’s works in the flesh during a trip to Paris in early 1963, when he and Lueg visited the gallery of Ileana Sonnabend. Richter has explained that these works did not provide his inspiration—he had already begun to incorporate found images into his paintings, first with a photograph of Brigitte Bardot. However, Lichtenstein’s work, along with his recognition and success, provided validation. Bolstered by this revelation, Richter and some of his contemporaries launched themselves into a distinctive programme of exhibitions and painting, including a show in Dusseldorf with Kuttner, Lueg and Polke, which gave Richter the occasion to publicly connect their paintings to Pop Art. Richter’s iteration of Pop Art saw the artist using found images in several ways. The slow process of painting, the painstaking attention to detail involved in creating his work by hand, the presence of the visible brushstrokes, all come into a new focus when married to an image from the media. Where Lichtenstein was fascinated by the nature of seeing, dismantling the entire process of looking at an image and the short-hand by which information was optically transferred, Richter was discovering a means to continue painting. Taking photographs and committing them to canvas through oils, the long process of applying brushstroke after brushstroke, allowed him to circumvent the long-proclaimed death of painting and revive it in the modern world. Düsenjäger perfectly demonstrates this paradox. It is an easily-read image. It is filled with atmosphere, with motion and drama. But unlike Lichtenstein’s stencilled works and Warhol’s silkscreens, there is an emphasis on the materiality of the paint, which itself insists upon our recognition of the artist’s hand in its creation. This is in particular the case in the combed brushwork, which adds a tactile dimension to the surface and recalls the motion of Richter's seminal Zwei Fiat, housed in the Museum Frieda Burda, Baden-Baden. This, after all, is an appropriated image. It is ultimately a still life, a painting of a photograph—a fact that is underlined by the pale bands at the top and bottom of the canvas. ‘The idea that art copies nature is a fatal misconception,’ Richter explained. ‘Art has always operated against nature and for reason. Every word, every line, every thought is prompted by the age we live in, with all its circumstances, its ties, its efforts, its past and present. It is impossible to act or think independently and arbitrarily. This is comforting, in a way’ (Gerhard Richter, ‘Notes’, 1962, Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist eds., Gerhard Richter Text: Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, London, 2009, p. 14). Occasionally attempting to play down the importance of content in his paintings, Richter claimed that it was the act of reproducing a photograph by hand that was key; yet it is clear that many of his works contained pointed and even provocative references to the world around him. Taking the pictures of warplanes alone as an example, several of them show images of bombers from the Allied forces, either current or historic. In the latter case, these are essentially the bombers that had destroyed Richter’s former home of Dresden during his own childhood. It would appear to be no coincidence that only two of the images show overtly German planes— in Schärzler, a jet sporting the Luftwaffe insignia, and the dive-bombing Stukas in the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich. Violence is invoked in all the pictures of warplanes, whether presenting a bomber dropping its payload or, in Düsenjäger, displaying the gleaming force of a jet streaking past. In this sense, this is Pop Art less in the vein of Lichtenstein’s cartoonish images of aerial heroics than of Warhol’s contemporaneous images of Car Crashes and Electric Chairs. In Düsenjäger, the use of colour can also be seen as a parallel to Warhol’s ability to disrupt his subject matter. For example, in some of his images of the recently-deceased Marilyn or his gun-toting Elvis, the highly-keyed colours undercut the sense of violence. Similarly, the Electric Chairs and Car Crashes were shown in a rainbow of colours. Richter’s use of pink in Düsenjäger appears vaguely naturalistic, especially against the backdrop of the metallic-grey plane; yet at the same time, there is the sense that he has bottled an image of violence, of the kind of hi-tech weaponry that had fascinated him when he had been a boy, that is linked to machismo, manliness and aggression undermined in his use of pink. This is akin to Warhol’s images of Elvis pointing his pistol, which in his hands took on an association of high camp rather than menace. Richter’s ambivalent use of the machinery of war as subject matter would have been all the more pertinent in 1963, when he painted Düsenjäger. After all, this was a crucial moment of tension in the Cold War. Richter, who had only recently defected from communist East Germany to the capitalist West, and who had grown up under the National Socialist regime of Adolf Hitler, was all too aware of the danger of idealisms. While no date within the course of 1963 is ascribed to Düsenjäger, it is worth noting that Richter himself accorded it a catalogue raisonné number that placed it soon after one of the pictures thematically linked to the assassination of the American president, John F. Kennedy. This had taken place on 22 November that year—less than half a year after he had famously addressed a massive crowd in Berlin, declaring ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’ His presence in Berlin had itself underscored the gravity of the situation in the Cold War. Only a month before his death, American forces had also carried out Operation Big Lift, a highly-publicised exercise demonstrating that they could shift over 15,000 troops across the Atlantic from the United States to West Germany, as well as hundreds of tons of material. This was intended to showcase the agility of the NATO strike force. Düsenjäger, thus, was painted against the backdrop of some of the highest tensions since the end of the Second World War. In this sense, its subject matter was highly pertinent. The jet in Düsenjäger is a Fiat G-91, nick-named the ‘Gina’. This versatile jet had been specifically designed for use by NATO at the end of the 1950s and was adopted by the Luftwaffe amongst other air forces. A brilliant success then, it later became the subject of a novel franchise deal. Becoming the first warplane to be made in West Germany since the end of the Second World War, the ‘Gina’ showed an image of post-war reconciliation, of West Germany’s rehabilitation. Intriguingly, in the case of Düsenjäger, the plane shown appears to sport the extended cockpit of the G-91 T—the double cabin designed for training pilots, inculcating a new generation into the ways of war. Düsenjäger taps into the visual language with which the technology of warfare continues to be fetishised. Richter, despite the supposedly inscrutable deadpan of an appropriated photograph, approaches his subject matter from a point of view that both embraces and critiques this fascination. Düsenjäger was painted from the unresolved, and therefore all the more engaging, perspective of an artist who has lived under Nazism, Socialism and Capitalism, painted against the backdrop of an age that veered relentlessly from optimism to pessimism and back again. Historic, political and artistic tensions course through Düsenjäger, and these result in its becoming both very much of its time, and transcending the context of its own creation: a masterpiece of Pop.

  • GBRGrande Bretagne
  • 2019-03-07
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AN EXCEPTIONAL EGYPTIAN PAINTED LIMESTONE STATUE FOR THE INSPECTOR OF THE SCRIBES SEKHEMKA

AN EXCEPTIONAL EGYPTIAN PAINTED LIMESTONE STATUE FOR THE INSPECTOR OF THE SCRIBES SEKHEMKA OLD KINGDOM, DYNASTY 5, CIRCA 2400-2300 B.C. Depicted seated, wearing a tight-fitting wig with rows of carefully-cut curls, his expressive face beautifully carved with subtly modelled brows, his eyes looking slightly downward, with a short nose and a softly modelled mouth, the slightly smiling lips outlined by a raised vermillion line, wearing a short pleated kilt with a knotted belt and a pleated tab angled above, holding a partially unrolled papyrus scroll on his lap with a hieroglyphic inscription listing twenty-two varied offerings, his powerful bare chest with clearly indicated collar bones, muscular arms and strong legs, his hands finely detailed, a hieroglyphic inscription on the seat reading: “Inspector of the scribes of the house of the master of largess, one revered before the great god, Sekhemka”; to his right, his wife in much smaller scale kneeling, her left leg bent elegantly beneath her right, her left arm tenderly embracing Sekhemka’s right leg, wearing a tight-fitting ankle-length dress, the accompanying inscription reading: “The one concerned with the affairs of the king, one revered before the great god, Sitmeret”; to his left a young man sculpted in raised relief, most probably his son, with an inscription reading: “Scribe of the master of largess, Seshemnefer”; the three sides of the cubic seat sculpted in shallow raised relief with a ceremonial procession of male offering bearers bringing a duck, geese, a calf, lotus flowers, unguent and incense 29 ½ in. (75 cm.) high; 12 ¼ in. (31.2 cm.) wide; 17 3/8 in. (44.1 cm.) deep

  • GBRGrande Bretagne
  • 2014-07-10
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