An early triumph of Salman Toor’s burgeoning career, the present lotpays a sophisticated homage to artists and centuries past while artfully exploring the alienating chasm of affluence and poverty. Painted for his first solo show in the United States of the same title,The Happy Servant is a prime example of the artist’s tantalizing series of portrayals of the relationship between servant and master that Toor completed in 2013. Here, the artist alludes to early iterations of his boisterous soirees and lyrical bodies that have since landed his works front and center in a highly celebrated solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Born in Lahore, Pakistan, educated in the midwestern United States, and now settled in Brooklyn, New York, Toor’s early style is one that reveals a formal training and deep awareness in Western art history. In Toor’s own words: “In my art history classes at college in Ohio I learned about the grimy peasants in David Teniers and Bruegel, the dark-skinned servants in Dutch genre paintings, the steely refinement of an Anthony van Dyck subject, the sordid nightlife of Impressionist Paris” (S. Toor, quoted in BOMB, 12 February 2021). Appropriately, Toor’s premature academic style is rendered in traditional oils of rich surfaces, sienna earth tones and informed compositions. Calling to mind Peter Paul Rubens’s own masterpiece, A Satyr Holding a Basket of Grapes and Quinces with a Nymph, the present lot’s protagonist carries the weight of the composition’s pictorial space along with a tray of delectable wines. Faint traces of silver highlights and glazes of thin, rose hues reveal Toor’s exceptional painterly skill and reverence for Dutch predecessors; here, the artist’s hand has rendered an illusion of crystal so faithful one could almost lift a beverage off of the attendant’s dish for his or her own indulgence.