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Hannah's bathroom

Hannah's bathroom
signed and dated 'LOUIS FRATINO 2018' (on the reverse)
oil and oil pastel on canvas
30 x 20in. (76.4 x 50.9cm.)
Executed in 2018
Galerie Antoine Levi, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Zwolle, Museum de Fundatie, Brave New World – 16 New Painters for the 21st Century, 2023, pp. 32 and 193 (illustrated in colour, pp. 33 and 193).
Hyères, 34th International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Accessories, Love my way, 2019.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Painted in 2018, Hannah’s bathroom is an enigmatic early work by Louis Fratino. Exquisitely rendered in oil and oil pastel, it depicts a man standing in a washroom. Behind him, another figure—the object of his gaze—is reflected in the mirror. Fratino positions the viewer between them, interrupting a deeply private frisson. Bathed in cinematic light, the work captures the intimate, voyeuristic tension that suffuses the artist’s practice. Much remains unsaid about the nature of the couple’s encounter: while the central figure resembles Fratino’s former partner Tristan—a recurring subject during this early period—the identity of his mirrored companion remains uncertain. ‘Hannah’ herself is nowhere to be seen. Setting the stage for Fratino’s exploration of the queer gaze, the work was unveiled in the exhibition Love my way at the 34th International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Accessories, Hyères in 2019. It was subsequently included in the group exhibition Brave New World—16 New Painters for the 21st Century at the Museum de Fundatie, Zwolle, earlier this year.

Contemporaneous with Fratino’s first solo exhibition in Europe, Hannah’s bathroom was made two years after he settled in New York. Since then he has been widely celebrated for his self-reflective figurative practice, which explores his queer identity through virtuosic technique and erudite art-historical play. The present work’s composition is particularly evocative of Edouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882), whose subject’s unseen companion is similarly revealed in the mirror behind her. Fratino had used this device in an earlier painting entitled Winter Morning (2017). Both works relish the contrast between the tactile, richly-worked physique of the main subject and the pale, distant reflection of his lover. Here, Fratino’s protagonist glows with visceral beauty, his skin animated by light and shadow. Every hair is rendered with crystalline detail; even the towel and toothbrush seem to take on a life of their own. In the mirror, however, is another world, where refraction and glassy illusions breed uncertainty. The viewer begins to question whether the reflected figure is simply a fantasy—a figment of the imagination, or a trick of the light.

The work also bears witness to a number of Fratino’s other influences. His frequent use of bathroom settings in his paintings conjures the work of David Hockney, whose early portraits of men in showers offer vital precedents for the present work. ‘I’m interested in artists, like me, that were gay and want to know why they drew a figure in the way they did’, he explains (L. Fratino, quoted in B. K. Jackson, ‘Queer Intimacy: Louis Fratino’s visceral work’, Art Basel Miami Beach, December 2021). Elsewhere, the painting’s complex interplay of geometries and perspectives bears witness to Fratino’s admiration for Pablo Picasso, while his meticulous attention to the textures of flesh and fabric stems from his engagement with the work of Lucian Freud. For all its historical grounding, however, the work ultimately captures the emergence of a distinctly personal and contemporary language, where the interaction between friends, lovers, memories and desires prompts new ways of seeing the world.

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