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A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection


signed and dated 'B Hendricks '71' (upper right)
oil on canvas
72 x 49 5/8 in. (182.8 x 127 cm.)
Painted in 1971.
Kenmore Galleries, Philadelphia
Janet and Joseph Shein, Pennsylvania
Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago
Private collection, Houston, 2013
ACA Galleries, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
New York, Karma, Kinder Gentler Nation, January-February 2018, n.p., no. 21 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

Painted when the artist was only 26 years old, Barkley L. Hendricks’s Stanley is a testament to a formative friendship. Hendricks and Stanley Whitney, the canvas’s eponymous subject, met while studying art at Yale University in the 1970s. Whitney, who would go on to be a legendary painter in his own right, looked up to Hendricks. He remembers, “I was so jealous of Barkley because he always knew what he wanted to paint, and I had no idea then” (S. Whitney, quoted in K. Crow, “The Friendship Behind a $5 Million Barkley L. Hendricks Painting,” Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2023). Their friendship became an aesthetic dialogue, evinced by this striking, monumental painting that presents Whitney as a Byzantine icon or one of Gustav Klimt’s ethereal, allegorical portraits. The pair could not have foreseen the afterlife of Stanley and its contemporary resonance. “All we wanted to do was talk about art,” Whitney said. “We had no idea we were doing anything historic” (S. Whitney, quoted in K. Crow, “The Friendship Behind a $5 Million Barkley L. Hendricks Painting,” Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2023). Yet Stanley was and remains historic. Both a likeness and a history painting, Stanley is the brainchild an idealistic and gifted student working within a generative moment in art and culture.

The life-size, six-foot-tall Stanley depicts the young Whitney as effortlessly cool, and casually dressed in dark bellbottoms and a forest green jacket. He wears a patterned hat composed of orange, purple, and green that mirrors his striped shirt. Like a Greco-Roman statue, he stands in contrapposto, both relaxed and prepared for motion. Whitney averts his gaze, thereby reminding us of the unknowability of every great portrait, and indeed every person. In fact, a central component of Stanley, perhaps paradoxically for a representational portrait, is the purposeful obscurity. We do not have full access to Whitney’s image or inner life. This is epitomized by Hendricks’s cropping, which, like a candid photograph, cuts off the full length of Whitney’s body. Caught in a cinematic moment, Whitney calmly smokes a cigarette, and he is self-assuredly indifferent to our gaze.

There is an almost surreal quality to Hendricks’s portraits, according to scholar of Black contemporary art Huey Copeland, “Ostensibly frontal, Hendricks’s paintings slyly induct us into a hall of mirrors and subjects who cast no shadows” (H. Copeland, “Figures and Grounds: The Art of Barkley L. Hendricks,” Artforum, Vol. 47, No. 8, April 2009, p. 148). There is so much beauty to this opacity. Stanley transforms Whitney from an individual into an archetype, a legend with a vast and uncharacterizable history. Noting this complexity, curator Thelma Golden told Hendricks in an interview, “You really were able to capture not only the profound sense of looking at someone but also at someone looking out in the world” (T. Golden, quoted in T. Schoonmaker, Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool, exh. cat., Durham, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, 2008, p. 59). Likewise, Whitney looks just outside the frame, and while he does not beckon the viewer’s eye contact, there is a thrilling possibility of connection.

Given his range of references and media, Hendricks’s work is interdisciplinary. His celebrated retrospective at the Nasher Museum of Art was titled Birth of the Cool, which refers to the legendary compilation album by jazz musician and painter Miles Davis. For the album, he gathered a group of musicians who sought to create an avant-garde sound, “[The participants] were developing a range of tools that would change the sound of contemporary music. In their work together, they relied on a rich palette of harmonies, many of them drawn from European Impressionist composers…[and] they adopted a more lyrical approach to improvisation” (T. Gioia, The Birth (And Death) of the Cool, Golden, Colorado, 2009, p. 83). The same is true of Stanley, which could be compared to Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s full-length Impressionist dancing scenes, like Dance at Bougival (1883). Hendricks uses techniques of an earlier era to timeless emotional effect. He sought to harness history as a tool without being subsumed to it, which is also a political gesture.

In Stanley, Hendricks mobilizes a deep art historical knowledge in order to create this contemporary portrait. “He would tell me, ‘Rembrandt painted his world, and I’m painting mine,’” Whitney recalls (S. Whitney, quoted in K. Crow, “The Friendship Behind a $5 Million Barkley L. Hendricks Painting,” Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2023). An interesting comparison might be Rembrandt’s Portrait of Maerten Soolmans (1634), a rare full-length portrait in the artist’s oeuvre. Portrait of Maerten Soolmans, like Stanley, was painted when the artist was in his twenties. Moreover, Hendricks and Rembrandt were also skilled at figure drawing and unparalleled draftsmen. Hendricks asserts, “I credit my early training of life model figures…I had the knowledge of how light works on the epidermis” (B. Hendricks, quoted in Z. Whitley, “American Skin: Artists on Black Figuration,” in Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, 1963-1983, exh. cat., London, Tate Modern, 2017, p. 195). His skill in drawing and painting has inspired a new generation of Black painters who have embraced the rigors of representation, like Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

With passion and technical virtuosity, Hendricks built an unparallel career of over 50 years. In 1977, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2008, he was awarded the United States Artists Ford Fellowship and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award. He was included in the landmark 1994 exhibition Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art, curated by Thelma Golden. His work was also featured in the historic touring group exhibitions 30 Americans (2008-2022), Blues for Smoke (2012-2013), and Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, 1963-1983 (2017-2020). His acclaimed retrospective Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool toured the United States, and he also mounted institutional solo shows at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT (2011), the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME (2017), and the Edward Hopper House Museum and Study Center, Nyack, NY (2020). His work is held in numerous international public collections, including the Tate Modern, London, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts, New York, and the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, Cambridge. He is currently the subject of a solo show at his longtime gallery, Jack Shainman, New York, and, later this year, Barkley L. Hendricks: Portraits at the Frick will open at the Frick Collection, New York.

Whitney succinctly summarizes Hendricks’s impact, “He wasn’t out to be revolutionary. He just wanted to paint people he loved…He wanted to see Black people exhibited in those museums” (S. Whitney, quoted in K. Crow, “The Friendship Behind a $5 Million Barkley L. Hendricks Painting,” Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2023). So often a painter of the people in his life, Hendricks’s medium could be described as friendship itself, which has so often driven the best painters from Impressionism to Pop. Stanley gives form to a friendship between painters, one invested in representation, the other in abstraction. Hendricks is one of the most important painters of the 20th and 21st centuries exactly because of this open-mindedness and emotional sensitivity. A romantic and a realist, Hendricks’s legacy will only continue to resonate.

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