Elizabeth Peyton (b. 1965)
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Elizabeth Peyton (b. 1965)


Elizabeth Peyton (b. 1965)
titled 'WALT' (lower left); signed, titled and dated 'WALT Elizabeth Peyton 2003' (on the reverse)
coloured pencil on paper
8 5/8 x 6in. (21.9 x 15.2cm.)
Executed in 2003
Donated by the artist.
Elizabeth Peyton : Reading & Writing, exh. cat, Dublin, The Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2009 (illustrated, p. 93).
M. Higgs, Elizabeth Peyton, New York, 2005, p. 262 (illustrated in colour, p. 208).
Berlin, neugerriemschneider, Elizabeth Peyton, 2003.
New York, New Museum, Live Forever, 2009, p. 245 (illustrated in colour p. 184). This exhibition later travelled to Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, London, Whitechapel Gallery and Maastricht, Bonnefanten Museum, 2010.
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Lot Essay

‘In a picture of a person, in that person you could see the whole time they lived in… I understood that was what I wanted to do, that this is why I would make portraits.’
– Elizabeth Peyton

Elizabeth Peyton’s Walt, 2003, is a portrait of the nineteenth-century American poet Walt Whitman in blue colouring pencil. Based on a photograph of Whitman in early middle age, the work typifies the artist’s intimate and incisive drawing style - at once translating the image of the poet and (as the informal title suggests) evincing Peyton’s personal engagement with Whitman and his writing. Using soft blue pencil, Peyton captures Whitman at a moment predating his famous incarnation as an elderly sage with a long white beard. His still-youthful features are conveyed by short, intense lines, and he gazes out - from a historical remove - with a stare that is serene yet penetrating. Walt was included in Peyton’s acclaimed retrospective Live Forever, 2009, which toured internationally at institutions including the New Museum, New York, and Whitechapel Gallery, London. The drawing is one of many depictions of historical personae that Peyton has made, in a corpus spanning figures from her own life and those beyond it - from friends to musical and literary icons. Her pantheon comprises people from diverse epochs whom she finds emotionally compelling - whether as interior subjects or semi-mythic personae, or both - and whom she seeks to represent at their moments of becoming, when they ‘realize what they are and what they can be’. (E. Peyton interviewed by J. Cocker, Interview, November 26, 2008). This idea is vividly evoked by the image of Whitman in early maturity, on the brink of literary greatness. Although her portraits have been likened to works by Andy Warhol, Peyton’s true antecedents can be traced to Romanticism and the nineteenth-century Aesthetic Movement, which celebrated beauty and sensuality in a direct rebuke to Victorian Puritanism. In his embrace of sublime experience, Walt Whitman was similarly interested in human subjectivity, and his poems were the example par excellence of American Romanticism. As he wrote in Song of Myself, 1892, ‘I have said that the soul is not more than the body/ And I have said that the body is not more than the soul’ and in Peyton’s sensitive interpretation, Whitman is indeed captured as a dual entity - both physical and spiritual, intellectual and instinctive.

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