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The Girl Who Had Everything

The Girl Who Had Everything
signed and dated 'Cecily Brown 98' (on the reverse); signed and dated 'Cecily Brown 98' (on the stretcher)
oil on linen
100 1⁄8 x 110in. (254.3 x 279.4cm.)
Painted in 1998
Victoria Miro, London.
Saatchi Collection, London (acquired from the above in 1999)
Anon. sale, Phillips New York, 15 November 2007, lot 25.
Private Collection.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 28 June 2017, lot 15.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
C. Saatchi and P. Ellis (eds.), 100: The work that changed British Art, London 2003, pp. 184 and 215, no. 90 (illustrated in colour, p. 185)
C. Lyin (ed.), After the Revolution Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art, Munich 2003 (illustrated in colour, p. 20).
M. Kim, One Break, A Thousand Blows!, London 2008, p. 22.
E. Booth-Clibborn (ed.), The History of the Saatchi Gallery, London 2011 (illustrated in colour, p. 582).
L. Jamison 'Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain' in The Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. 90, Spring 2014 (illustrated in colour, p. 115).
C. Martin, J. Rosenfeld and F. Prose, Cecily Brown, New York 2020, p. 158 (illustrated in colour, p. 29).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Cecily Brown: Paintings 1998-2000, 2000, p. 14, no. 1 (illustrated in colour, p. 15).
London, Saatchi Gallery, Damien Hirst, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Daniel Richter, Cecily Brown, 2003.
London, Saatchi Gallery, The Triumph of Painting, Part II, 2005, p. 130 (illustrated in colour, p. 131).
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. 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. Christie's has provided a minimum price guarantee and has a direct financial interest in this lot. Christie's has financed all or a part of such interest through a third party. Such third parties generally benefit financially if a guaranteed lot is sold. See the Important Notices in the Conditions of Sale for more information.

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Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Department

Lot Essay

Originally part of the Saatchi Collection, The Girl Who Had Everything is an exhilarating masterwork that stands among Cecily Brown’s finest early canvases. Painted in 1998, the year after her debut solo exhibition in New York propelled her to critical acclaim, it captures the euphoric flourishing of the carnal, gestural abstraction that would come to define her oeuvre. A sensual chorus of pink and red hues explodes across the canvas, oscillating between rich flesh tones and deep, dark crimson. Passages of white flash in and out of focus, illuminating half-sketched limbs and fleeting glimpses of human bodies. Paint accumulates in thick, lustrous layers and dissipates in scant rivulets, alive with its own seductive power. Moving away from her early artistic language, populated by cartoon-like bunnies and other characters, Brown carved out thrilling new territory for abstraction during this period, creating works now held in The Broad, Los Angeles, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and Tate, London. Combining an Old Masterly sensitivity to light and form with electrifying brushwork inspired by Francis Bacon and the Abstract Expressionists, The Girl Who Had Everything sees Brown’s practice take flight in a dazzling blaze of colour and texture, tantalisingly suspended between figurative reality and painterly illusion.

British by birth, Brown completed her studies at the Slade School of Art in 1993. Francis Bacon had died the previous year, and the spirit of the School of London weighed heavily upon the young artist’s shoulders. With many of the movement’s proponents still alive and working, Brown felt conflicted about starting her painterly career in London: all the more so, perhaps, as the subversive, conceptual Young British Artists were beginning to dominate the city’s art scene. In 1994, she moved to New York, where painting was undergoing something of a revival. Buoyed by her newfound milieu, she began to revel in the sheer sensual power of the medium, delving deep into its materiality and history. She mounted her first solo New York exhibition at Deitch Projects in 1997; the following year, she featured on the cover of Flash Art in an image by Damian Loeb, securing her place—according to editor Helena Kontova—as ‘the new face of American painting’. The magazine featured an article written by Brown herself entitled ‘Painting Epiphany’: in it, she enthused ‘[t]his is an intoxicating time to be painting, and New York an exhilarating and sympathetic climate. The mood is generous and open and eclectic’ (C. Brown, ‘Painting Epiphany’, Flash Art, no. 200, May-June 1998).

The Girl Who Had Everything stands as a totem of this ecstatic period: a time when paint once more seemed relevant, vital and full of potential. Across the canvas, Brown delights in its slippages, its inconsistencies and its unpredictability; colours merge and dissolve in the blink of an eye, while shapes blossom and recede within our line of sight, remaining eternally just beyond our grasp. Brown’s orgiastic bodily forms owe much to her fascination with Bacon, whose influence began to solidify in her works from this period. Thousands of miles across the Atlantic, his legacy seemed less of a daunting spectre, and—for Brown—the strength of his achievements started to crystallise. In her piece for Flash Art, she wrote that Bacon made it ‘easier (for me) to make paintings which use the only subjects worth painting—birth copulation and death’ (C. Brown, ibid.). Having trawled the depths of art history himself, mining Rembrandt, Soutine, Velázquez and others for inspiration, Bacon also served as a conduit to Brown’s own dialogue with the Old Masters, evident here in her sumptuous flesh tones, dramatic luminosity and sophisticated handling of three-dimensional space.

The work also captures Brown’s engagement with the American Abstract Expressionists: notably Willem de Kooning, who died the year before the present work. Inspired by his mantra that ‘flesh was the reason oil paint was invented’, Brown had first begun to look closely at his work during her time at the Slade, where she recalls browsing one of his catalogues with a group of friends. ‘Our game was to cover up the whole painting and look at just a detail, and marvel over the fact that even a detail would be an extraordinary painting’, she explains. ‘… It was just realising that every square inch of the canvas had a life, an energy and a strength. It was exhilarating to see somebody use paint in a way that appeared to be free, but obviously there was this great measure of control’ (C. Brown, quoted in ‘Willem De Kooning: Conversation with Cecily Brown’, Border Crossings, vol. 121, February 2012, n.p.). This influence is palpable in the present work, where hints of structured reality strain to be seen amid rivers of fluid gesture. The poet and critic Sue Hubbard, in a spotlight piece on the painting, also draws parallels with Cy Twombly’s Bacchus works, similarly defined by a perpetual jostling of chaos and order (S. Hubbard, ‘Significant Works: Cecily Brown, The Girl Who Had Everything, 1998’, Artlyst, 13 May 2021).  

The work’s title, like many of Brown’s canvases from this period, derives from a film: namely the 1953 Elizabeth Taylor romance The Girl Who Had Everything. The movies of the Hollywood Golden Age played upon Brown’s imagination during her early years in America, lending their titles to numerous paintings of the late 1990s. Though such references were not intended as visual or narrative clues, Brown would continue to look to songs, literature and cinema over the course of her oeuvre, seeking words and phrases that resonated with her paintings. The silver screen, in particular, would come to speak to her art on a deeper level: as Robert Evrén writes, her canvases resemble ‘moments of a movie whose sudden arrest causes the mind’s eye to trip over itself in its own voracity, tangling in dense webs of coloured light’ (R. Evrén, quoted in Cecily Brown, exh. cat. Gagosian Gallery, Rome 2011, p. 1). The present work certainly attests to this reading, its surface flashing and fading like a motion picture. Seen in retrospect, moreover, its title seems to harbour something of a prophetic frisson: in The Girl Who Had Everything, we witness a young artist poised to take her place on the global stage.

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