• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 5389

    20th Century British Art

    16 July 2008, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 89

    Eileen Agar (1904-1991)


    Price Realised  


    Eileen Agar (1904-1991)
    signed 'AGAR' (lower right), signed again and dated '1947 EILEEN AGAR' (on the canvas-overlap), inscribed and dated again 'ONDINE 1947' (on a label attached to the stretcher), signed again and dated again 'AGAR/1947' (on the backboard)
    oil and pastel on canvas
    24 x 14 in. (60.9 x 35.6 cm.)

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Ondine has the shape of an amphora, dragged up from the bottom of the sea (a very Agarian theme), covered with lines and fragments of leaves. A neck and a circle at the top, which looks like the huge eye of a periscope give it a definitely human quality. Ondine, one remembers, is the French noun for a water deity, or nymph, - a word famously used by André Breton in his book Mad Love. Here, Ondine's single eye questions our own eyes, sending them so to speak on an endless confrontation with shapes echoing other shapes which lie deep down in our subconscious.


    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Gifted directly by the artist to the present owner.

    Saleroom Notice

    Please note that Eileen Agar's date of birth is 1899 and not as stated in the catalogue, as for lots 89 to 96 inclusive.

    Pre-Lot Text

    A Private Collection of Works by Eileen Agar (1904-1991)

    From the moment of her inclusion, by Herbert Read and Roland Penrose, in the 1936 London International Surrealist Exhibition, and her participation in practically all the activities of the surrealist group in England and abroad until 1947, Eileen Agar never varied from the path. She opened into the exploration of shapes and colours as a way to deny and transcend the conventional boundaries between the human, the vegetable and the mineral kingdoms.

    Indeed, it is not long before one realises deeper implications in her work; as a matter of fact, Eileen Agar's shapes are profoundly irruptive as much as disruptive, and take us to the edge of Time. Faces and profiles recur, as the places where the act of seeing is confronted with its own power of discovering and unifying the world around in a kind of self-amazement. Her faces are composite wholes, reflections of the inexhaustible wealth of nature, places where organic shapes, petals, leaves, fern tendrils, bird heads and butterflies encounter and espouse inorganic forms and geometric shapes such as rectangles, triangles, circles and sinusoids. What those faces appear to be compounded from, actually points to what lies behind them, and by way of consequence, behind the viewer's own face and eyes, deep down under his flesh and bones, in that region of the brain where archetypes have their mysterious birthplace.

    Her gouaches and drawings are places of conception, or rather, germination in the sense that lines happen to weave face-patterns, foliage-patterns, animal patterns, most of the time indistinguishable one from the other. We realise that human forms participate in vegetable growth, simultaneously appearing and disappearing.
    The superimposition of forms, both identifiable and unidentifiable - creates a radical instability in the eye. Whether they be proper faces and silhouettes, telluric shapes, bones, butterflies, fishes, vases or anything else, they all intimate a twilight- or dawn- world, outside time, between day and night, death and life, past and present, a world in which forms are re-forming, dancing, coupling, exuberantly. Ordinary things, rocks, plants, seashells, scraps of paper, pictures torn from magazines, pencil sketches are magically brought to a life above their own realities, as if Eileen Agar was constantly falling in love with reality so deeply that she couldn't but reveal the latent mutual attraction of its numberless components. The subtle, secret light which emanates from these works dissipates the greyness of our everyday life; it is the light of perpetual birth.

    We are very grateful to Michel Remy (University of Nice) for providing the above introduction and the catalogue entries for lots 89 and 94.

    Michel Remy is author of Surrealism in Britiain, London, 2001; and Au triezième coup de minuit - Anthologie de la poésie surréaliste en Angleterre, Paris, 2008.