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signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated ‘Highriser LYB 2009’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
98 5/8 x 59 in. (250.5 x 150 cm.)
Painted in 2009.
Faye Fleming & Partner, Geneva
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2010
K. Rosenberg, ‘Portraits of Phantoms, Struggling to Stand Out,’ New York Times, 16 December 2010, section C, p. 38.
C. Grant, "Art just out of this world," The Times Literary Supplement, no. 6146, 15 January 2021, n.p.
Geneva, Faye Fleming & Partner, Manifesto, October-November 2009.
New York, Studio Museum in Harlem, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Any Number of Preoccupations, November 2010-March 2011, pp. 58 and 71 (illustrated).
London, Serpentine Gallery, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Verses After Dusk, June-September 2015, pp. 114 and 125 (illustrated).
London, Tate Britain, Stockholm, Moderna Museet; Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen; Mudam Luxembourg – Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean and London, Tate Britain, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly In League with The Night, November 2020-February 2023, pp. 32 and 178 (illustrated).

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Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s evocative painting Highriser is emblematic of her desire to understand and celebrate the act of painting. Measuring over eight feet tall, within its epic proportions the artist presents an astute and intense examination of the medium’s component parts: color, light, composition, and gesture. Included in every major exhibition of the artist’s work, including the recent critically acclaimed retrospective at Tate Modern in London, this monumental canvas presents a moment to consider and explore mood, movement and pose worked out on the surface of the canvas. Taking her inspiration from contemporary society as well as art history, Yiadom-Boakye is a collector of images, which she examines, dissects, condenses, and reinterprets to produce portraits of imagined characters, raising questions of identity and representation.

The present canvas presents an intense study of light and shadow, reminiscent of Gustave Courbet or Jean-François Millet. A tall, lean man steps toward us, entering our world or beckoning us to enter his. He is both a monument and a specter, somewhere between the timeless and the ethereal. Yiadom-Boakye skillfully renders affecting details, such as the figure’s white collar and sleeves peeking out from his otherwise black and blue clothes. Surrounding him are browns and blacks subtly deepened or lightened by the artist with skillful mixing. The figure’s blue pants, laden with shadow, become like a sculptural base. This effect recalls the modelling and deep shadows of Surrealist sculpture and photography, such as Man Ray’s Untitled Rayograph (1922) or Le Violon d'Ingres (1924). Yet Yiadom-Boakye’s paintings never feel removed or fantastical. We might recognize someone we know within them, and this familiarity has made the artist’s paintings of single figures, like Highriser, among her most cherished and sought-after works.

Highriser, with its expressive and intentionally loose marks, expounds upon the emotional power of Yiadom-Boakye’s process. Working the rapid tradition of celebrated painters like Picasso, she largely creates her paintings in a single day. She relies on scrapbooks of images, along with notes, memory, and stories, rather than biographical details and therefore her work oscillates between the documentary and the imaginary. This method evokes long art historical traditions, “Yiadom-Boakye’s rapid method and skill at documenting evanescent moods bring her closer to the nineteenth-century Impressionists, not only Cassatt but also Gustave Caillebotte and Claude Monet” (Y.M. Murray, “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens,” Artforum, April 2020, We might imagine Highriser hanging beside Monet’s equally monumental paintings of Rouen Cathedral. Both Yiadom-Boakye and Monet push the expressive effects of painting to their limits in search of truer and more universal emotions. Equally apparent here is Yiadom-Boakye’s ongoing inquiry into perception: how we are perceived, how others perceive us, and the line between fact and fiction.

What results from Yiadom-Boakye’s technical skill and poetic imagery is an emotional landscape that pays homage to and transcends genres and movements. According to critic Barry Schwabsky, “These imaginary portraits conveyed a timelessness, a sense that they might have been made either a hundred years ago or just the other day. Yiadom-Boakye’s work does not elicit mere nostalgia; it evokes a sense of inward reflection, less affected by immediate sensations than by what’s been brooding in the soul” (B. Schwabsky, “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Jack Shainman Gallery,” Artforum, April 2019,

Yiadom-Boakye’s work is held in numerous important public collections including Tate Modern, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 2013, she was shortlisted for the Turner Prize, and she was included in the inaugural Ghanaian pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale. The artist has also mounted a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao entitled No Twilight too Mighty, which will run from March through September 2023.

“These imaginary portraits conveyed a timelessness, a sense that they might have been made either a hundred years ago or just the other day. Yiadom-Boakye’s work does not elicit mere nostalgia; it evokes a sense of inward reflection, less affected by immediate sensations than by what’s been brooding in the soul.” - Barry Schwabsky

Highriser is indicative of Yiadom-Boakye’s natural intuition as a painter, writer, and observer. As acclaimed writer Zadie Smith observes, “For Yiadom-Boakye’s people push themselves forward, into the imagination—as literary characters do—surely, in part, because these are not really portraits. They have no models, no sitters. They are character studies of people who don’t exist” (Z. Smith, “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Imaginary Portraits,” New Yorker, June 12, 2017, Perhaps Yiadom-Boakye shows the world as it might be, rather than how it is. There is thus a universality to her work, even as each viewer can find community within the canvas

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