William Nelson Copley (1919-1996)
William Nelson Copley (1919-1996)

Fête de Dimanche (Sunday Party)

William Nelson Copley (1919-1996)
Fête de Dimanche (Sunday Party)
signed and dated 'cply 60' (centre right)
oil on canvas
31 7/8 x 25 3/8in. (81 x 64.5cm.)
Painted in 1960
Galleria del Cavallino, Venice.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Venice, Galleria d'Arte del Cavallino, William N. Copley, 1960.
Further details
This work is registered with the William N. Copley Estate.

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Paola Saracino Fendi
Paola Saracino Fendi

Lot Essay

‘Well, Paris is a grey city. But I got used to it. And I like grey cities because
you can invent your own colour.’
– William Nelson Copley

William Nelson Copley (1919-1996) was a true maverick. Artist, collector,
dealer and patron, he lived an almost improbably colourful life, marrying six
times, making and losing vast fortunes, and playing a major role in some
of the most exciting chapters of postwar art history. Born to parents who likely died
of infuenza, he was adopted at birth by the wealthy couple Ira and Edith Copley.
After attending Phillips Academy and Yale and serving in the army, he abandoned
the trappings of privilege for a life in art. His short stint as a gallerist in Los Angeles
– where he represented artists such as Joseph Cornell, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Max
Ernst, René Magritte, and his own close friend Marcel Duchamp, well before they had
gained any mainstream acceptance in America – saw him sell almost no paintings.
His personal guarantee of ten percent sales to all of his artists, however, led to him
assembling what would become one of the greatest collections of Surrealist art in
the United States. In 1979 these works were auctioned for $6.7 million, at the time
the highest total for an American single owner collection. A self-taught artist himself,
Copley – or his artistic alter-ego ‘CPLY’ – painted throughout his life, creating deeply
personal, eccentric, ribald and often politically pointed works. In 2016-17, the frst
comprehensive museum exhibition of his art, held at the Fondazione Prada, Milan,
and the Menil Collection, Houston, brought renewed attention to his singular style,
and to the infuential place he occupied in the burgeoning art world of his time.
Dominique de Menil, among many other key dealers and patrons, was a friend of
Copley’s and purchased many of his works for her own collection.
‘Extravagantly absurd, inventive, and self-expressive,’ writes Toby Kamps, ‘the
works of this stubborn original remind us of the deep-seated, intensely personal
nature of the artistic endeavour. Freud famously speculated that “The artist …
wants to achieve honour, power, riches, fame and the love of women.” Faced with
the challenge of realising his desires, he sublimates them into art in order to avoid
frustration. Copley, who realised many of the goals Freud enumerates, also poured
himself into his work, but he made little efort to repress his drives and neuroses.
Instead, he put them at the heart of his project, creating an alter ego and a parallel
universe that hold funhouse mirrors to his libidinal fantasies and rich and rollicking
life’ (T. Kamps, ‘William N. Copley: The World According to CPLY’, William N.
Copley, exh. cat. Fondazione Prada, Milan, 2016, p. 38). The present two works are
emblematic of two important periods in Copley’s unique output. Fête de Dimanche
(Sunday Party) (1960), like the closely related painting Place de l’Opéra (1956,
Tate Collection), displays Copley’s enthusiasm for France, where he lived from
1951 to 1963 after the closure of his LA gallery. Tricolour fags, a lattice of Parisian
cobblestones and tiny, teeming, frolicking fgures – a man in a suit and a nude
woman, a central Copley motif – jostle around a cartoonishly warped car, conjuring a
veritable Garden of Earthly Delights from the artist’s obsessions. The later work The
Silver Strumpet (Blue U) (1982), meanwhile, was painted after the artist had left the
chaos of New York for the relative peace of Roxbury, Connecticut in 1980. Here, he
moves on from his bold, comic painterly style to create an eerie, dreamlike vision of
a woman. She is visible only by her blue lingerie and disembodied lips, which hover
against graphic green and grey diagonals atop a graph-paper like grid. Surrealism
meets Pop: in a neatly fetishistic touch, Copley applies real lace to his canvas to
depict the underwear, materialising the very stuf of his desires. Playful, potent and
boldly innovative, these works capture the force of an unparalleled personality whose
contributions to American art are fnally receiving their due recognition.

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