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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more BIDDING FOR A GREENER FUTURE: PROPERTY SOLD TO BENEFIT CLIENTEARTH

There’ll be bluebirds

There’ll be bluebirds
oil on UV-curable pigment on linen
53 x 66 3⁄4in. (134.5 x 169.5cm.)
Painted in 2019
Donated by the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London.
Woodstock, Blenheim Palace, Cecily Brown at Blenheim Palace, 2020-2021, pp. 86 and 125 (installation view illustrated in colour, p. 84; illustrated in colour, p. 125).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. Where Christie’s has provided a Minimum Price Guarantee it is at risk of making a loss, which can be significant, if the lot fails to sell. Christie’s therefore sometimes chooses to share that risk with a third party. In such cases the third party agrees prior to the auction to place an irrevocable written bid on the lot. The third party is therefore committed to bidding on the lot and, even if there are no other bids, buying the lot at the level of the written bid unless there are any higher bids. In doing so, the third party takes on all or part of the risk of the lot not being sold. If the lot is not sold, the third party may incur a loss. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

Brought to you by

Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord Director, Senior Specialist

Lot Essay

The present lot has been generously donated by Cecily Brown and Thomas Dane Gallery as the first in a series of seven sales for Artists for ClientEarth: a landmark new collaborative initiative designed to propel the art world in the fight against climate change. ClientEarth approach the climate crisis in a systemic and unique way: challenging the worst-offending industries, advising governments on policy, and working globally to safeguard citizens’ access to the laws that defend them. The Gallery Climate Coalition and Christie’s have come together with ClientEarth to raise money, awareness and support from the art world for this essential work through the Artists for ClientEarth initiative. Further works by major international artists including Antony Gormley, Rashid Johnson, Beatriz Milhazes and Xie Nanxing will be placed for auction in Christie’s 20th / 21st Century marquee sales in London, New York and Hong Kong over the next year, generously donated by the artists and their galleries to raise funds directly in support of ClientEarth. A parallel programme of talks and education will provide collectors and art-world professionals access to the vital work that ClientEarth undertakes to create systemic change to protect the planet.


Created for Cecily Brown’s groundbreaking 2020 installation at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, Therell be bluebirds (2019) is an explosion of bold colour and elusive, unstable form. In the artist’s signature abstract-figurative idiom, aqueous strokes of pastoral green and blue frame a vortex of fierce flesh tones: tangled limbs and clashing bodies can be glimpsed in the chaos, while a pale hound rears up from the left. Down the dead centre of the canvas, what appears to be the titular bluebird plunges to earth like an incendiary missile. Indeed, the work makes for an ironic riposte to the sentimental song ‘(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover’, made famous by Vera Lynn during the Second World War. No chocolate-box English landscape, Brown’s vision is of a country in tumult, and sounds a note of ecological alarm. Reconfiguring the martial and hunting scenes that fill Britain’s most imposing baroque residence, this tempestuous picture dismantles art history in order to question the nostalgia that defines our relationship to the past, and to probe the violence this myth-making might conceal.

Proliferating stories are contained within the painting itself. As with several works from the show, Brown used a technique that arrests the work in progress, allowing her to explore different compositional paths: she captured a digital image that was then printed on linen in UV-curable pigment—in effect creating a scale replica—before continuing to paint in oils on top. This stopping and starting of time opens up the painting to a full flowering of potentiality, and layers multiple latent works beneath its surface.

Brown’s interventions at Blenheim each responded to different artistic and architectural features of the palace. In the Great Hall, her four Armorial Memorials took the Duke of Marlborough’s heraldic standard—which hangs above the door—and melted it into mirages of slippery, free-floating symbol. In the Red Drawing Room, The Children of the Fourth Duke reimagined the 18th-century Joshua Reynolds masterpiece behind it; the family patriarch dissolves, and Reynolds’ classical columns and arches crumble into ghostly ruin as nature takes over. Therell be bluebirds was installed alongside a sister painting, Spot the Spaniel, in the First State Room, which is hung with a series of tapestries glorying in England’s growing political power on the European stage. (The palace itself was built to commemorate the military prowess of the First Duke, who won the Battle of Blenheim in 1704). The two pyrotechnic paintings—shot through with a current of horror at the slaughter of humans and animals alike—tore to ribbons the tapestries’ scenes of valour, as well as answering the palace’s dramatic architecture. As curator Anders Kold remarks, ‘these wrecked yet truly beautiful compositions become a kind of sabotage of the notion of place, landscape, history, indeed of the very idea of documenting private lives and property that permeates British art from the early 18th century onwards—Blenheim’s time’ (A. Kold, ‘Dog is Life’, in Cecily Brown at Blenheim Palace, exh. cat. Blenheim Art Foundation, Woodstock 2019, p. 86).

In 1994, at a time when British art was dominated by the conceptual bent of the YBAs, Brown moved to New York, where she has lived and worked since. She found immediate acclaim there for her carnal approach to oil paint, which is as indebted to masters of flesh like Rubens and Rembrandt as it is to Abstract Expressionism. Some twenty-five years later, Brown saw in Blenheim an opportunity to revisit the idea of Englishness. The paintings were informed by her despair at the divisions caused by Brexit, and the ravaging of the environment: the fact that their exhibition coincided with (and was postponed by) the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic makes them feel eerily prophetic. With its sense of overlaid perspectives and violent fracture, Therell be bluebirds recalls the 1960s paintings of Georg Baselitz, who cracked and inverted earthy, pastoral motifs from his native Germany to reflect what he called a ‘destroyed’ societal order. As with Baselitz, however, there is hope as well as ferocity in Brown’s work. With its extraordinary, sensual surface, the painting stirs, unfolds and reveals its riches with extended viewing. Brown moves beyond the face value of the past to reveal quivering depths of nuance and ambiguity. Even the most solid-seeming foundations are not fixed forever, and the fluidity of paint, in Brown’s hands, holds the potential for change.

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