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Sir Peter Blake, R.A. (b. 1932)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Sir Peter Blake, R.A. (b. 1932)

Loelia, World's Most Tattooed Lady

Details
Sir Peter Blake, R.A. (b. 1932)
Loelia, World's Most Tattooed Lady
signed with carved initials 'PB' (lower right), signed again, incribed and dated 'PAINTED AT R.C.A. by PETER BLAKE. 1955.' (lower right)
oil and collage on panel; shaped
30 x 10¾ in. (76.2 x 27.3 cm.)
Provenance
Purchased by Fleur Cowles in the 1950s.
Literature
Exhibition catalogue, Peter Blake, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, 1973, pp. 10-11, no. 5, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Peter Blake, Hamburg, Kunstverein, 1973, p. 27, no. 5, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Peter Blake, London, Tate Gallery, 1983, pp. 80-81, no. 21, illustrated.
M. Livingstone, Pop Art A Continuing History, London, 1990, pp. 41, 265, no. 50, illustrated.
M. Livingstone, exhibition catalogue, Pop Art, Montreal, Museum of Fine Arts, 1992, p. 173, no. 121, illustrated.
N. Rudd, Peter Blake, London, Tate Publishing, 2003, pp. 15-17, 23, 88, no. 10, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Peter Blake: A Retrospective, Liverpool, Tate Gallery, 2007, pp. 27, 201, illustrated.
M. Livingstone, Peter Blake one man show, Farnham, 2009, pp. 31, 230, no. 21, illustrated.
Exhibited
London, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Five Painters: John Barnicoat, Peter Blake, Peter Corviello, William Green, Richard Smith, January - February 1958, no. 11.
London, Portal Gallery, Works by Peter Blake and Roddy Maude-Roxby and Objects by Ivor Abrahams, March - April 1960, no. 20.
Bristol, City Art Gallery, Peter Blake Retrospective, November - December 1969, no. 18.
Edinburgh, Richard Demarco Gallery, 1971, catalogue not traced.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, British Council, Peter Blake, September - November 1973, no. 5: this exhibition travelled to Hamburg, Kunstverein, December 1973 - January 1974; Arnhem, Gemeentemuseum, March - May 1974; and Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts.
Hamburg, Kunstverein, Pop Art in England: Beginnings of a New Configuration 1947-63, February - March 1976: this exhibition travelled to Munich, Stadt Galerie im Lenbachhaus, April - May; and York, City Art Gallery, May - July.
London, Tate Gallery, Peter Blake, February - March 1983, no. 21: this exhibition travelled to Hanover, Kestner-Gesellschaft, April - June 1983.
Montreal, Museum of Fine Arts, Pop Art, October 1992 - January 1993, no. 121.
Liverpool, Tate Gallery, Peter Blake: A Retrospective, June - September 2007, not numbered: this exhibition travelled to Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes, March - June 2008.
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.

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Lot Essay

Loelia, World's Most Tattooed Lady is one of Blake's earliest and most multi-layered proto-Pop paintings, and as such occupies a key position in the history of British Pop Art. Painted when he was just 23 and still a postgraduate student at the Royal College of Art, it is a picture of astonishing sophistication and originality masquerading as a battered piece of clumsy folk art. All the elements of Blake's mature work are foregrounded here. The immediate impact created by this apparently heavily weathered painted plank of wood, into which the artist has inscribed his initials as a schoolboy might do on his classroom desktop, is all the more surprising given the picture's relatively modest dimensions. It is a picture that seems to hit the spectator right between the eyes, as indeed it does poor smiling Loelia, too, to judge from the deliberately abraded surface that has removed one of her own organs of vision.

The striking look of this piece of simulated fairground art owes much to the affectionate appropriation of a style of figuration associated with folk art and naive painting. Blake's love of Victoriana and old-fashioned typography, with all its attendant nostalgia for a sense of Englishness that was then already fading, is also much to the fore. There is a humility in the witty presentation of a newly made picture in the form of a battered and mutilated found object, a disguising of a technical virtuosity that goes hand in hand with a reticent authorship of imagery that is wholly invented by the artist but that is presented as if borrowed wholesale from a crass downmarket environment. Most explosively and influentially, Blake proposes in such pictures a lavish enrichment of fine art styles by reference to popular forms of image-making that had previously been disregarded by most artists as beneath contempt. He positively revels here in the brash and crudely delineated tattoos and in his loving recreation of the kind of sign painting found in the circuses, freak shows and fun fairs that he had frequented since his childhood.

Behind all the cleverness and double-bluff sleight of hand magic of the trompe-l'oeil technique lies something equally arresting but more touchingly human: a sense of identification with society's outcasts that has permeated Blake's art from the start. Loelia is on display, as the written inscription attests, as a kind of freak whose disfigurement of her own body is the very cause of our rapt attention. With her squat proportions and sturdy legs, she is unlikely ever to have been celebrated as a conventional beauty, yet her mane of blonde hair, her heavily made-up eye and a mouth caked in lipstick reveal her to be aspiring to a glamour similar to that of the great Hollywood goddess of that period, Marilyn Monroe. Her apparent failure to recognise just how far she falls short of that ideal adds a further note of poignancy. We can all identify with her need to be noticed and with her desire to make the most of her natural attributes. But it is Blake himself, the cripplingly shy young man who had grown a beard to hide the facial scars caused by a teenage cycling accident, who most closely identifies with the subject of his fantasy. Loelia's headgear is a kind of helmet bearing the evocative word LIBERTY, the very name Blake was to give to his first-born daughter 13 years later.

M.L.
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