ETEL ADNAN (1925-2021)
ETEL ADNAN (1925-2021)
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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more JOURNEY TO MOUNT TAMALPAIS: IMPORTANT EARLY WORKS BY ETEL ADNAN
ETEL ADNAN (1925-2021)

Lumière 2

ETEL ADNAN (1925-2021)
Lumière 2
signed 'Adnan' (lower left)
oil on canvas laid on board
17 1⁄2 x 13 3⁄4in. (44.5 x 34.9cm.)
Executed circa 1960
Private Collection, USA (acquired directly from the artist circa 1960).
Special notice
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

Anna Touzin
Anna Touzin Specialist, Head of Day Sale

Lot Essay

The late, great Etel Adnan was a profound thinker and a singular artist. Hers was an incandescent, potent vision of the world. Born in Beirut in 1925, Adnan left Lebanon in 1949 to study philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1955, she moved to the United States to attend the University of California, Berkeley, and then Harvard. She wrote novels about Lebanese atrocities and verse in response to the Vietnam War. Only at the age of thirty-four did Adnan begin to paint. In part, she turned to visual expression as a means of escaping the French language, a protest made in solidarity with the Algerians fighting for independence. ‘Words are social,’ she once said. ‘I think it’s more natural if an event bothers you to express it in words. Art also is a kind of language—but it’s a language of feeling. When I paint, I am happy’ (E. Adnan, quoted in O. Basciano, ‘Etel Adnan Obituary’, The Guardian, 24 November 2021). Often intimate in scale, her work contained the whole cosmos. 

Adnan’s paintings are remarkable for their intensity of feeling, and Christie’s is pleased to present a selection of rare, early works affectionately given to her close friend and former roommate at Berkeley. The two became like family, exchanging letters and phone calls over the years even as they lived far apart; Adnan was godmother to the present owner’s son. This is a significant and highly personal collection of works, created when Adnan was living in the Bay Area and had just started painting; as she observed, ‘The first works, like the first notes in a piece of music, hold everything that one will do in the future’ (E. Adnan, quoted in ‘Etel Adnan in Conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Autumn 2011’, in A. Sfeir-Semler et al (eds.), Etel Adnan, Beirut and Hamburg 2012, p. 109). Included in the sale are a group of playful sketches which, on the reverse, contain letters from Adnan. Her friend recalled Adnan’s handwriting was ‘beautiful and fluid. Her letters are as insightful and powerful as her books, filled to the brim with observations… Each letter was more interesting than the last.’

Often abstract, Adnan’s compositions were nevertheless firmly embedded in her specific environs. Despite her upbringing in the Middle East and years spent in France, she thought of herself as a Californian artist, saying ‘The colours I use, the brightness—they are the colours of California’ (E. Adnan quoted in G. Coxhead, ‘California Dreaming’, Apollo, June 2018, n. p.). Adnan was drawn to the grandeur of the state’s topography, taking inspiration from its coastal outcroppings, the craggy peaks of Mount Tamalpais, and wide, bright sky. A series of intimate watercolours underscore Adnan’s love of this land, and the urgency she felt to document what she saw.

Painting in oil, Adnan used a palette knife to apply her pigments onto canvases laid out flat atop a table, a technique which yielded the impasto, vibrant geometries of this collection. Indeed, luminous colour characterises Adnan’s paintings: the patchwork colours of Lumière 2 (Post War and Contemporary Art Day Sale, lot 232) evoke floral blooms and waterfalls, while a strip of yellow blazes across a deep green expanse in Untitled (Post War and Contemporary Art Day Sale, lot 231). These are abstracted worlds that nevertheless feel as real and rich as our own.

Upon a metal disc—also untitled—solar reds erupt (First Open, lot 17). It is planetary, primordial, a reach towards the infinite. The circle itself was a recurrent motif for the artist, functioning both as an astral orb and a personal talisman. Adnan was enthralled by the sky, by the world’s vastness, by the poetics of place. Writing in one of her many letters to her beloved friend about her godson, Adnan said, ‘Some people (like Edgar Allen Poe and Baudelaire) were moon struck. Tonight, the moon was “oriental”. Shiny, sensitive, silky. I tried to draw it, coming out of a teacup … One day, he will know what it is to love the universe’.

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