ALEX KATZ (b. 1927)
ALEX KATZ (b. 1927)
ALEX KATZ (b. 1927)
ALEX KATZ (b. 1927)
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A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection
ALEX KATZ (b. 1927)

Ada with Pink Hat

ALEX KATZ (b. 1927)
Ada with Pink Hat
signed 'Alex Katz' (on the overlap)
oil on linen
47 3/4 x 47 3/4 in. (120.1 x 120.1 cm.)
Painted in 1971.
Marlborough Gallery, New York, 1972
Private collection, 1973
Marlborough-Godard Gallery, Toronto, 1974
Private collection, Palm Beach
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2011
Art Now Gallery Guide, January 1999, n.p. (illustrated).
Toronto, Marlborough-Goddard Gallery, Alex Katz, February-March 1974.

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Lot Essay

Alex Katz’s Ada with Pink Hat is one of the artist’s masterful interrogations of the human figure conducted in the medium of paint. With an eye for crisp planes of color in service of his own stylized figuration, the artist made a name for himself early on as a new member of the New York School. However, rather than dive into Color Field painting or continue the evolution of gestural abstraction, Katz embraced earlier portrait traditions and married them with a modern sensibility. “I think of myself as a modern person and I want my painting to look that way,” he admitted. “I think of my paintings as different from some others in that they derive a lot from modern paintings as well as from older paintings…They’re traditional because all painting belongs to the paintings before them, and they’re modernistic because they’re responsive to the immediate” (R. Marshall, Alex Katz, New York, 1986, p. 22). Walking the line between the commercial aspects of Pop and the massive canvases favored by his Abstract Expressionist peers, Katz has continued to inspire countless artists with his knack for depicting intimate moments on a grand scale.

Rendered on a four-foot square canvas, Ada with Pink Hat is a particularly striking portrait of the artist’s wife. Festooned in a tall, bubblegum pink sun hat with a wide brim, the sitter is depicted looking out of the frame through large aviator sunglasses that sit askance on her nose. The hat itself ties into the artist’s larger visual vocabulary as he often worked with Ada or other sitters wearing similar attire. Her lips are painted the same shade as her headwear, and the collar and shoulders of a light blue shirt are just visible. Tan and glowing, Ada sports a shock of brunette hair tied in a ponytail. She appears to be sitting or standing on the bank of a river or lake. The ripples of water hitting the beach are visible to the left while a stand of grasses and reeds fills in the space behind the subject’s left ear. In the background, a still green expanse of water stretches out toward the distant forest shore. Influenced by the flatness of Japanese prints, Katz creates layers of color that separate the subject and ground. Cropping the scene close so that Ada is in the immediate foreground, he eschews the use of outline and instead deftly handles opposing shades to create visual detachment. By doing so, the painter harnesses a dynamism and immediate energy not typically seen in figurative painting until that time.

Born in Brooklyn in 1927, Katz came of age as an artist during the heyday of Modernism and the New York School. Resisting the push toward nonrepresentational abstraction and gestural vigor, the painter forged his own path that paid tribute to artists like Cezanne and Matisse. The latter was notably influential, and his work with cut-outs and collages spurred the young Katz into painting his figures visually separated from their backgrounds, a tactic that would increase as he evolved as an artist. Furthermore, he was also taken by the graphic work of early Pop artists who prioritized consumer and advertisement images that were emblazoned on billboards and printed in periodicals. Sometimes grouped with that cadre of artists, Katz was nonetheless distinct in his use of figuration to explore more personal subjects. Instead of appropriating ad images of soup cans and celebrities, the painter depicted his friends and family on a monumental scale in an effort to compete with the overwhelming canvases of his Abstract Expressionist cohorts.

Throughout his oeuvre, Katz has established a number of motifs that he returns to time and time again. Inarguably the most prevalent of these is the figure of his wife, Ada. Having painted her in portrait, profile, and full-figure repose hundreds of times, Katz highlights the singularly figurative nature of his practice and the ways in which it exists between painterly traditions and a more abstract approach to representation. “Though she is positioned in different places, she is not defined by them. It is as though Ada precedes these things, these moments. We are shown over and over that externals are extraneous, and that her demeanor is a constant” (A. Beattie, Alex Katz, New York, 1987, p. 39). Typified by works like Ada with Pink Hat, Katz positions the subject as discrete from the background. Though the clothing may match the scene, it is always about the personality rendered rather than situating the person within an environment. As the years pass, Ada has aged in real life and in the artist’s depictions. White hair replaces brunette but the sharp style and attention to an intimate depth remain. While the paintings and Katz’s renditions remain timeless, it is the figure of Ada that signals the progression of the artist’s life and career.

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