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19 April 2010  |  Contemporary Art   |  Article

Masters of Contemporary Figuration

Christie’s is delighted to offer a selection of outstanding works by four modern masters of contemporary figuration as part of the 11 May Evening Sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art in New York.

The subject of Gerhard Richter’s exquisite 1997 portrait, Kopf (Skizze), is his young wife, Sabine Moritz. Married just two years earlier, the artist’s intense emotion towards her radiates from this picture. He bathes his new bride's face in warm soft light that illuminates and accentuates her beauty. This sublime sense of spiritual simplicity is a product of Ricther’s exceptional painting style. The hazy, dreamlike appearance has been a signature of his work since the 1960s, but achieved the height of importance in his Kerze candle paintings of the early 1980s.

This work is unique among the small group of paintings of Sabine in that it is the only one in which Richter portrays her as an individual in her own right. His earliest portraits show her, face hidden from view, immersed in a book, seemingly unaware of the gaze of the viewer. Later portraits show her as a mother, cradling her new born son. In contrast, this 1997 portrait portrays a strong, confident Sabine, free of distractions or the responsibilities of motherhood.

This painting is the only Richter portrait of Sabine ever to have come to market and encapsulates his belief in the inherent qualities of painting. Richter’s distinct style imbues the work with an overwhelming sense of elegance. In immortalizing his new wife and the mother of his young family, this deeply personal portrait demonstrates that Richter still has all the energy and vigor that has made him of the most compelling and internationally admired artists of modern times.

Neo Rauch’s monumental Suche represents one of the finest and most complex paintings from a moment when his work began to take on a new scale and ambition, specifically looking at nineteenth century narrative painting. The title Suche means “Search” and for Rauch painting is a quest in its own right, an organic process by which the various elements on the canvas suggest themselves, rearrange themselves and finally coalesce to form a single dream-like narrative. The painting plunges the viewer into the artist’s idiosyncratic, oneiric universe. The beaked chimera has trailed its tail along a Germanic street, a sign around its neck with the title scrawled across it, like crazed street-herald of the Apocalypse. The sign also doubles as a limited list of specials of the day: the nineteenth-century dandy of a customer, possibly a scientist on his own quest, is awaiting some strange elixir from the waitress while inspecting minerals. Emblazoned above each door are insects, presented according to some arcane methodology, reinforcing that vestigial hint of scientific logic to this dream-like scene.

It was around the time that Suche was painted that Rauch began to turn to a richer, fuller palette more reminiscent of the Old Masters and shunning the deliberately faded mock- print colors of his earlier poster- like work. This invocation of tradition throws the contemporary issues upon the canvas into bolder relief, a tension encapsulated in the depiction of  the traditional townhouses using that same mock-print idiom. At the same time, the different techniques and aesthetics on display reveal the artist reveling in his own virtuosity, as he contrasts the highly-modeled features of the figures with the landscape and even with the almost-accidental gestural marks that articulate some parts of the canvas.

Adrian Walker, aritist, drawing from a speciemen in a laboratory in the Dept. of Anatomy at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver marks a key point in Jeff Wall’s career when he turned from producing works based on the artist’s imagination, to begin a more philosophical examination into the conventions of photography. Wall described the resulting body of work as his ‘paintings of modern life’, with this work being a quintessential example. The size and luminosity of these large transparencies mimic the grand history paintings found hanging in the great museums of the world or on the walls of Europe’s grand palaces. Instead of the heroes of long forgotten battles, Wall chooses as his subjects the delightfully ordinary and everyday, the effect of the light-box bestowing an almost magical quality and makes them objects that capture the imagination.

Painted in 1984, Eric Fischl’s Vanity was conceived partly as an in-joke between the artist and the New York Times art critic, Peter Schjeldahl. It depicts a woman sitting naked in a garden, engrossed in the act of applying her make-up. Between the spread of her legs in an edition of Vanity Fair opened at a feature article about Fischl, written by Peter Schjeldahl.

In Fischl’s paintings nudity, and by extension sexuality, is explored. Unexpected situations force us to confront some of our own thoughts and feelings about sex. Vanity is a brazen challenge to a notions of prudishness, depicting what is usually a very private moment taking place in a very public arena. Fischl’s painting mark, what many regard as, the return of the human body to contemporary painting. His painterly style and his portrayal of the human figure have drawn on the influences of a number of historical painters including Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas and American artists like Edward Hopper. With Vanity, Fischl has revamped the romantic notion of the female body with an inherently modern version of twentieth century femininity.

Related Sale
Sale 2314
Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale
11 May 2010
New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Related Departments
Post-War & Contemporary Art

Related Artists
Eric Fischl
Neo Rauch
Gerhard Richter
Jeff Wall

All - Paintings, Prints, Drawings & Watercolors
Eric Fischl
Neo Rauch
Gerhard Richter
Jeff Wall

Lot 50, Sale 2314
Kopf (Skizze)
Estimate: $1,200,000 - $1,800,000

© Gerhard Richter 2010

Lot 61, Sale 2314
NEO RAUCH (B. 1960)
Estimate: $800,000 - $1,200,000

© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Lot 73, Sale 2314
JEFF WALL (B. 1946)
Adrian Walker, artist, drawing from a specimen in a laboratory in the Dept of of Anatomy at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver
Estimate: $800,000 - $1,200,000

Courtesy of the artist

Lot 70, Sale 2314
Estimate: $1,000,000 - $1,500,000

© Eric Fischl