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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION

Looking Out

Looking Out
signed, titled, dedicated and dated 'SHARA HUGHES "Looking Out" 2016, For Rusalka'
oil, acrylic, flashe and dye on canvas
60 x 52in. (152.4 x 132cm.)
Executed in 2016
Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
M. Dugan, Shara Hughes / Landscapes, New York 2019 (illustrated in colour, p. 48).
New York, Metropolitan Opera, Shara Hughes - Rusalka: Lamenting, Sighing, Weeping, 2017.
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. Christie’s has a direct financial interest in this lot. Christie’s has guaranteed to the seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee.

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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord Senior Specialist, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Painted to accompany the 2017 production of Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, Looking Out (2016) is a sublime, atmospheric painting by Shara Hughes. Rusalka is a tragic fairytale that echoes Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid: a water nymph, Rusalka, falls in love with a prince and must sacrifice her voice to join him in the human world. Hughes made nine paintings for the show, which she titled Lamenting, Sighing, Weeping after the first lines sung by Ježibaba, the witch who grants Rusalka her mortality. Picturing Rusalka’s view from her lake towards the human realm, Looking Out vividly captures the opera’s magic and melancholy. At the painting’s upper edge is a vista of trees and meadows, flooded with bright sunlight; at the bottom is a dark pool bounded by a rocky shore, reflecting the colours above in its rippling surface. The two worlds are separated by an aurora borealis of cascading greens, yellows, blues and pinks, which Hughes created by staining dyes directly into the canvas, recalling the techniques of Morris Louis or Helen Frankenthaler. This luminous veil divides the mortal and immortal spheres; tendrils of golden impasto drip tantalisingly down from the upper world, but the two ultimately cannot meet. The scene is framed by dark, glittering purple borders to left and right, which conjure the presence of parted stage curtains.

In her final year at Rhode Island School of Design in 2003-2004, Hughes began to paint playful, fantastical interior scenes, which mirrored her search for her own space in art and in life. She continued to explore this theme for around a decade as she moved back and forth between New York and her native Atlanta. After settling permanently in New York in 2014, she turned from interiors to landscapes, which she says ‘opened a whole new world for me, one that was awesome and exciting’ (S. Hughes, quoted in K. White, ‘“Landscapes Opened a Whole New World for Me”: Artist Shara Hughes on How She Subverts the Tradition of Flower Painting’, Artnet News, 17 August 2020). No less than her interiors, Hughes’ landscapes present voyages into the self: they are entirely imagined, their topographies shaped and coloured by emotion and intuition. Working with a keen awareness of art history—Fauvism, Abstract Expressionism and David Hockney’s vibrant post-Cubist scenography all come into play in the present work—Hughes also toys cleverly with the formal tropes of the landscape genre. Looking Out juxtaposes different levels of figurative space within its painted borders, creating a succession of frames within frames, and pictures within pictures.

With its saturated, nocturnal palette and evocation of the grandeur and mystery of nature, Looking Out also parallels the work of nineteenth-century Romantic painters such as Caspar David Friedrich, who depicted dark forests, vast mountains and mighty seas overwhelming human onlookers with their power. Dvořák’s music can be understood as part of this same northern-European tradition: in Rusalka, he combined Romanticism’s emotional amplitude and emphasis on natural (and supernatural) themes with Slavic mythology and folk-music motifs from his native Bohemia. Hughes’ painting reflects the composer’s syncretic approach, assembling a spellbinding whole from myriad different sources and splendours. Its multiple framing also evokes the viewing of a theatrical performance, and the rolling over of stage-sets or screens. The canvas, like the stage, is a zone for illusion and the suspension of disbelief. Like the sunlit human realm for Rusalka, the scenes it holds are beyond our reach, stirring the wistful yearning for elsewhere that lies at the heart of the opera’s story. Aching with the poignancy of irreconcilable worlds, Looking Out also celebrates painting and performance as spaces for imaginative transcendence, where new realities—even if only for a moment—can come into being.

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