Cecily Brown (B. 1969)
Cecily Brown (B. 1969)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION
Cecily Brown (B. 1969)


Cecily Brown (B. 1969)
signed and dated 'Cecily Brown 2004' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 152.4 cm.)
Painted in 2004.
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Collection of Ed Cohen and Victoria Shaw, 2005
Their sale; Sotheby’s, New York, 2 March 2017, lot 27
Private collection
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Special notice
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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

Painted in 2004, Cecily Brown’s Bonus is a striking example of the artist’s unique blending of abstraction and figuration. Distinctly contemporary, yet with flourishes of the extravagant Baroque, her canvases are a vivacious combination of florid brushwork and evocative narrative. Bonus offers up a rich display of color and form, giving us a tantalizing glimpse onto an unknown scene before dissolving into pure painterly energy. Born in London, but now living and working in the United States, Brown is a leading figure in a generation of artists who revitalized the genre of figurative painting. She acknowledges a wide range of influences from leading Abstract Expressionists including Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman and Jackson Pollock, to Old Masters such as Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and Titian. Her vibrant canvases are held in many important private and institution collections including Tate Gallery, London; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

In Bonus, Brown assembles her signature conglomeration of animated brushstrokes. From passages of ruby and crimson red, to more subtle flourishes of pale blues and greens, the range and scope of the artist’s brushwork is extraordinary. Yet rather than being a collection of abstract marks, each becomes an actor on Brown’s painterly stage, and after jostling with each other for attention, they come together like the characters of a play to convey an ebullient narrative. Anchored by cluster of red and pink forms gathered in the upper left register, these substantial bodies of paint act as a focal point for the rest of the composition. Yet they refuse to dominate, almost becoming subsumed a lush backdrop of verdant greenery, evoking the mythical landscapes produced by many of the Old Master artists that Brown admires. In some works, she makes direct references to specific historical paintings, but here—in Bonus—we are left to conjure up our own narrative, to decipher her painterly marks to arrive at our own version of her painterly truth.

Emerging as a painter in London during the 1990s, Brown’s practice stood in contrast to the conceptual stance of her YBA (Young British Artists) contemporaries. Her work celebrates the qualities that are unique to oil painting alone, rejoicing in its inherent tactility, and the way it can reflect every subtle nuance of the artist’s touch. Brown uses the full potential of the palette, and demonstrates an intimate understanding of color by juxtaposing warm and cool tones in order to create depth and interest on a flat picture plane.

Engrossed with the physical properties of paint, Brown aims to induce the sensual process of image making in the viewer, creating disorientating compositions that do not materialize into a unified reality, but remain in a state of flux. In the present work, she marries the sensuality of paint with the sensuality of the body, uniting them in the oily-wet malleability of its voluptuous surface. In doing so, she evokes the classic maxims of two of her greatest artistic heroes: Willem de Kooning's assertion that flesh was the reason that oil paint was invented, and Francis Bacon's paraphrasing of Paul Valéry in “..what modern man wants...is the grin without the cat—the sensation without the boredom of its conveyance” (F. Bacon quoted in J. Rothenstein and R. Alley, Francis Bacon, London 1964, p. 21).

“The place I'm interested in,” Brown has said, “is where the mind goes when it's trying to make up for what isn't there” (C. Brown, quoted in J. Tumlir, “The Paintings of Cecily Brown” in Cecily Brown, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York & Los Angeles, 2002, p. 9). Offering the viewer a visual vocabulary full of evocative brushwork and ambiguous anatomy, Brown continues to play on the outskirts of figurative painting where subject blends with surface. “The boundaries of painting excite me,” she noted in 2009. “You've got the same old materials—just oils and a canvas—and you're trying to do something that's been done for centuries. And yet, within those limits, you have to make something new or exciting for yourself as well as other people” (C. Brown, quoted in “Cecily Brown: I take things too far when painting”, The Guardian, Sunday 20 September 2009). By reinvestigating one of the most traditional artistic media, Brown puts herself in conversation with a litany of artists past and present.

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