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signed, titled and dated 'CHESS 2016 Caroline Walker' (on the reverse)
oil on linen
71 x 61 1⁄8in. (180.2 x 155.1cm.)
Painted in 2016
Lin & Lin Gallery, Taipei.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2017.
M. Livingstone, Caroline Walker: Picture Window, London 2018, p. 11 (source image for the present work illustrated in colour, pp. 2-3; illustrated in colour, pp. 201 and 305).
Taipei, Lin & Lin Gallery, Currents, 2017 (detail illustrated in colour, p. 14; illustrated in colour, p. 15).

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

In her large-scale oil painting Chess (2016), the Scottish artist Caroline Walker grants us an intimate view of a private life. The work depicts a woman leaning on a metal balustrade. Cigarette in hand, she looks towards an unseen point with poise and confidence. Walker veils her subject with the vertical lines of half-closed blinds. The foreground of the painting details a shadowy sitting room, with a chair, a sharp-leaved houseplant and a chessboard. The gleaming board bears a single black chesspiece, and adds a narrative tension to the work: perhaps the woman is plotting her own next move. Behind her, there is verdant greenery, a sun-kissed palm tree and a patch of azure that suggests a swimming pool. The work forms part of Walker’s Downtown LA series. Simultaneously a portrait of a person and of a place, Chess takes us on a virtuosic journey through a darkened interior to the Californian sun.

Walker’s Downtown LA works are set in Los Angeles, a city famous for luminous light, modernist architecture and the Hollywood film industry. Chess contains references to all three. The sun strikes the side of the woman’s head. A tall apartment block rises in the background, showing us that this apparent paradise is carved out of urban space. The picture’s elaborate composition—based on a photograph meticulously staged by Walker—echoes the films of Alfred Hitchcock, which feature unconventional angles and use furnishings such as curtains, blinds and staircases to create mystery and suspense. As when watching a film, the viewer becomes a spy or voyeur, privy to a private scene. ‘Some of the compositional solutions employed by Walker for presenting a scene partly obscured take the breath away,’ writes Marco Livingstone, ‘as in the use in Chess (2016) of a rhythmic pattern of half-open vertical blinds through which one spies a figure resting against a balcony railing with a large palm tree and densely planted garden beyond’ (M. Livingstone, Caroline Walker: Picture Window, London 2018, p. 11).

Walker has a lifelong interest in depicting domestic interiors: as a child she drew from a makeshift studio in a kitchen cupboard. The scenes she paints today often centre on women at work, at home or both. ‘I paint women because in some ways I am always painting myself, and my own experiences or anxieties,’ she explains, ‘but from a distanced objective position which can hopefully also reflect how we all encounter the world’ (C. Walker, quoted in D. Woodward, ‘Caroline Walker: In Every Dream Home’, AnOther Magazine, 19 July 2013). In this, Walker follows the precedent of 19th-century French realist and Impressionist painters like Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas, whose works often captured the relationship between humans and the modern city. In focusing on women within the home, she also extends an art-historical tradition that stretches back to Golden Age Dutch genre painters such as Johannes Vermeer. Like Vermeer’s works, Chess combines psychological penetration and pin-sharp detail to bring a moment in time to life.

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