Lot Content

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Audrey Flack (b. 1931)
Property from the Estate of David Pincus
Audrey Flack (b. 1931)

World War II (Vanitas)

Audrey Flack (b. 1931)
World War II (Vanitas)
signed and dated 'Audrey Flack 1978' (on the stretcher)
oil over acrylic on canvas
96 x 96 in. (243.8 x 243.8 cm.)
Painted in 1976-77.
Louis K. Meisel Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1983
L. Meisel, Photorealism, New York, 1980, p. 253, no. 537 (illustrated in color).
L. Alloway, Audrey Flack on Painting, New York, 1981, pp. 78-88 (illustrated in color).
The Oakland Museum Art Department, The Museum of California, Contemporary American Realism Since 1960, May-July 1982, no. 49.
New York, The Jewish Museum, Jewish Themes/Contemporary American Artists, July-November 1986, pp. 15 and 56, no. 15 (illustrated).
Youngstown, The Butler Institute of American Art, Breaking the Rules: Audrey Flack, A Retrospective 1950-1990, June-August 1992.
Nassau County Museum of Art, Photo Realism: Painting and Sculpture, January-April 2004.

Lot Essay

"I grew up during World War II, with all the fear and excitement that living through that time period entailed, and always with that particular sense of being a "Jew" (while Jews were being murdered). My brother, drafted while still in his teens, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was one of two soldiers remaining alive out of an entire battalion. He returned home with years of personal horror stories. Images of the war were imprinted in my brain; this was a subject I knew I had to deal with some day. The war ended in 1945 and I did not start the painting until 1975: it took thirty years to paint World War II.

In 1975 I became aware of the fact that, although much was written and photographically documented, I could not think of any major painting on the subject. Why? Guernica dealt with the Spanish Civil War, Picasso's people; what about my people? I had to do something about it. I spent the next year collecting props, researching and thinking about nothing but World War II and the structure of my future painting.

'My idea was to tell a story, an allegory of warof lifethe ultimate breakdown of humanitythe NazisI was convinced of the existence of pure evil as well as the existence of beautiful humanity as exhibited by many of the survivors of the concentration camps.
I want to create a work of violent contrasts, of good and evil.I decided to use a Margaret Bourke-White photograph of the Liberation of Buchenwald. The prisoners in their striped uniforms-hollow faces-stunned beyond expression as an example of Nazi brutality. I chose specifically not to show blood or injury. Too much blood has been shed already. I did not want to capture the audience that way. But I wanted to shock. I did this by contrasting the image of the survivors with the sickeningly sweet pastries. I found a quote from a Hasidic rabbi in Roman Vishniac's book Polish Jews that deeply touched me. The innocence, the beauty and trust in God and humanity was overwhelming. I decided that would be a good contrast to the Bourke-White photograph' The painting is about survival, the clock will soon strike twelve, these prisoners will survive, they will be liberated and will go on to tell their story.

(Audrey Flack as quoted in Jewish Themes II/Contemporary American Artists, ex. cat., The Jewish Museum, New York, July-November 1986, p. 14)

Audrey Flack photographed by Martin Brett Axon.

More from Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session

View All
View All