1. The artist’s muse
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Tête de face (Portrait de Marie-Thérèse de face), 1934. Drypoint with aquatint on Montval laid paper. Estimate: £20,000-30,000. This work is offered in the Prints & Multiples sale on 15 March at Christie's London
Picasso met Marie-Thérèse Walter in 1927, when she was just 17 — living across the street from the 46-year-old artist and his first wife, the ballerina Olga Khoklova. Though she was still a teenager — and Picasso, married — the pair began an intense love affair. By 1931, Marie Thérèse’s distinct features appeared in sculptures, prints and paintings by the artist — the monograms MT and MTP alluding to their relationship in earlier works.
Picasso returned to portraiture throughout his career, depicting those closest to him — from family members and colleagues, to lovers and friends. For William Rubin, curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s landmark exhibition Picasso and Portraiture, he ‘took the genre to a new level, redefining the portrait as the artist’s personal response to the subject. He transformed the portrait from what had long been considered a primarily objective document into a frankly subjective one.’
2. A Hollywood icon
Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Marilyn, 1967. The complete set of 10 screenprints in colours, on wove paper. Estimate: £700,000-1,000,000. This work is offered in the Prints & Multiples sale on 15 March at Christie's London
Marilyn Monroe died in August 1962, having overdosed on barbiturates. A screen icon, the actress became the subject of a series of silkscreen prints by Andy Warhol — her tragic story encapsulating the artist’s interest in death and the cult of celebrity. Based on a publicity photograph for the 1953 film Niagara, Warhol’s repeated images were an evocation of her ubiquitous presence in the media — the gloomier regions of their brightly coloured surface often interpreted as a comment on Monroe’s mortality.
Marilyn became among the most famous of Warhol’s portraits — his other mega-star subjects including Elvis Presley, Ingrid Bergman, Mick Jagger and Elizabeth Taylor. A defining force in 20th century portraiture, for critic Arthur C. Danto, he did ‘more than any other artist to revitalise the practice,’ ‘bringing renewed attention to it in the avant-garde art world. He reflected the desires and dreams of a new decade and expanded his cast to include the latest characters from the world of sports, television and politics.’
3. The tainted revolutionary
Gerhard Richter (b. 1932), Mao, 1968. Photograph, laid down onto stiff cardboard, signed and dated in ballpoint pen. Estimate: £20,000-30,000. This work is offered in the Prints & Multiples sale on 15 March at Christie's London
In the late 1960’s, Mao became a subject of fascination for members of protest groups in the West, who adopted his image as a symbol of revolutionary progress. The association, of course, would later become darkly ironic, as the atrocities committed in the name of Mao’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ came to light.
Based on a 1967 newspaper photograph of ‘The Great Leader’, Gerhard Richter’s blurred portrait calls into question the ease with which the West adopted Mao’s image as a symbol of political hope — and, more broadly, the validity of any propaganda image. Though portraiture became one of the most significant aspects of Richter’s output, Mao was one of only two blurred portraits of iconic figures produced during the 1960’s — the other, made in 1966, depicting Queen Elizabeth II.
4. ‘A blazing comet’
Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), Madre che cuce, 1910. Etching with open-bite, on stiff cream wove paper. Estimate: £7,000-10,000. This work is offered in the Prints & Multiples sale on 15 March at Christie's London
This atmospheric portrait of Umberto Boccioni’s mother sewing is taken from the last series of etchings he produced — collectively described by artist Bellini as the incisioni scure, or dark engravings. Composed of densely etched lines, the work evoked the chiaroscuro technique of Rembrandt, while its domestic subject is reminiscent of the ‘kitchen sink’ experiments of the artist’s near-contemporary Emil Nolde.
Ceciliani Forlani Boccioni emerges as a recurrent subject of her son’s early works, appearing in drawings, paintings and sculpture — each new image a reflection of the artist’s rapidly evolving approach to production. In the same year this portrait was made, Boccioni signed the second Futurist Manifesto — the artist described as a ‘blazing comment’ by critic Grace Glueck, for his founding role in a movement that shaped 20th century painting.
5. Shock value
James Ensor (1860-1949), Mon portrait en 1960, 1888. Etching on simili-Japan paper. Estimate: £4,000-6,000. This work is offered in the Prints & Multiples sale on 15 March at Christie's London
This morbid and yet darkly humorous self portrait depicts the Belgian artist James Ensor as he imagined he would appear in 1960 — a slumped pile of skeletal remains, surrounded by a halo of wild hair. The skeleton is likely to have been one of several Ensor kept, dressed and arranged in his studio — his other subjects including carnival masks and puppets.
The work is typical of an oeuvre known for causing scandal, with many of Ensor’s early works — such as Christ’s Entry Into Brussels in 1889 – initially rejected for exhibition. Ensor’s talent, however, eventually earned him the affection of critics, his work considered a ‘forerunner of twentieth-century Expressionism’.
6. The artist’s wife
Rembrandt Harmensz. Van Rijn (1606-1669), Studies of the Head of Saskia and others, 1636. Etching on laid paper, without watermark. Estimate: £5,000-7,000. This work is offered in the Prints & Multiples sale on 15 March at Christie's London
Rembrandt first moved to Amsterdam around 1632, quickly establishing himself as one of the city’s most talent portrait painters. The central figure in this study, Saskia van Uylenburgh, would become a central part of the artist’s early life and career. Thought to have met at the home of her cousin, the art dealer Hendrick van Ulenborch, she married Rembrandt in 1634, and would become one of the artist’s favourite models.
Though he regularly portrayed Saskia — and relied on commissioned portraits as a source of income — Rembrandt is as much remembered for his fascination with the self-portrait as his depictions of others. Over four decades, he produced around 80 self-portraits — bestowing upon himself, in doing so, an element of the celebrity his sitters’ enjoyed.
7. A glimpse of an ‘inner life’
Lucian Freud (1922-2011), Large head, 1993. Etching on Somerset Satin textured wove paper. Estimate: £40,000-60,000. This work is offered in the Prints & Multiples sale on 15 March at Christie's London
Australian performance artist Leigh Bowery became one of Lucian Freud’s most recognisable muses, featuring in works by the artist from their first meeting in 1988, until Bowery’s death in 1994. Known for using extravagant costumes and makeup in his own acts, here Bowery is shown naked, devoid of props — Freud’s intimate portrait epitomising his desire to capture the ‘inner life’ of his sitter.
Though the style of his output changed, Lucian Freud returned to the theme of portraiture throughout his career — his work in the genre celebrated with the major exhibition Lucian Freud Portraits, which opened at London’s National Gallery shortly after the artist’s death in July 2011. A record of his sitter, Freud’s portraits were also glimpses into his own psyche, the artist having commented: “Everything is autobiographical and everything is a portrait, even if it’s a chair.”
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