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This lot is being sold by a charitable organizatio… Read more Property Sold to Benefit POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Portrait of a Lady (After Louis Leopold Boilly)

Portrait of a Lady (After Louis Leopold Boilly)
signed and dated twice ‘Ewa Juszkiewicz 2019’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
78 5⁄8 x 63 in. (200 x 160 cm.)
Painted in 2019.
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Private collection, New York
Donated by the above to the present owner
E. Troncy, "Détournements," Numéro, no. 212, April 2020, n.p. (illustrated).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Domestic Horror, September-October 2019.
Special notice
This lot is being sold by a charitable organization with proceeds intended to benefit American Friends of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and a US taxpayer may be able to claim a deduction for any amount of the purchase price paid in excess of the mid-estimate.

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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis Head of Department

Lot Essay

Known for her adept appropriations of historical portrait paintings, Ewa Juszkiewicz’s surreal alterations and biting commentary on the depiction of women have seen the artist become one of the most insightful interrogators of the art historical canon. Portrait of a Lady (After Louis Leopold Boilly) is an exquisite example of the artist’s masterful brushwork and keen questioning of gender and class representations within the realm of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European painting. Regarding her choice of subject matter, Juszkiewicz noted, “While looking at classic examples of portraiture from the past, I felt a kind of dissonance in the way I perceived them. On the one hand, those paintings attracted me and fascinated me because of their artistry and technique. On the other hand, I noticed that many of them present women according to a particular formula or convention. [...] Their poses, gestures, and facial expressions were very similar and showed no deep emotion or individuality. As a result, I developed a strong need to reference those portraits, and to establish a dialogue with them. I was driven by a desire to revitalize history, or rather to create my own story on the basis of it” (E. Juszkiewicz, quoted in C. Selvin, “Painter Ewa Juszkiewicz Wants to Shatter Conservative Ideas About Beauty”, ARTnews, Nov. 25, 2020, online). By honing in on the system of representation and using it to create something both familiar and strange, the artist is able to lay bare the assumptions one brings to images of women and how this learned classification alters our viewing and understanding of the subjects themselves.

Rendered in the classic style of French Neoclassicism, Portrait of a Lady is a near-faithful reproduction of Louis-Léopold Boilly’s 1807 Madame Saint-Ange Chevrier. Boilly’s painting, which is held in the collection of the National Museum in Stockholm, and is typical of the French artist’s society portraits in the early part of the 1800s. A young woman in a bright white dress with an empire waist sits in an idyllic clearing of soft trees and distant waterfalls. Clutching a sunhat, her pale, bare arms are offset by the inclusion of a mulberry red sash and a large cloak of some heavy, velvety material in the same color. All is quiet and proper within Boilly’s composition, but Juszkiewicz takes the recognizable scene and subverts it by replacing the sitter’s head with a mass of contorted fabrics, protruding leaves, and an errant lock of hair. As if the very trappings of society had rebelled to smother the sitter, the textiles completely obscure any individuality Madame Chevrier had shown in her face as the woman is reduced to an anonymous amalgamation of her adornments.

Completed in the same meticulous manner as the original, Portrait of a Lady is a testament to Juszkiewicz’s ability to deftly mimic historical styles in an effort to problematize and reframe depictions of women. Curator Lisa Small notes, “Obliterated facial features can symbolize psychic erasure, and Juszkiewicz’s images visualize, with both the clarity and the strangeness of a dream, the regimes of fashion and comportment that have constrained women’s lives. But her project isn’t only about amplifying negation or limitation” (L. Small, in “Ewa Juszkiewicz”, Gagosian Quarterly, Winter 2020). By creating surreal scenes that focus on the structure of women’s dress and self-fashioning in historical imagery, Juszkiewcz brings attention to the artifice of fashion and beauty. By obliterating the visages of her subjects and sourcing from extant imagery, the painter is able to create a conversation around the system at large without being beholden to the individual depicted by the original artist.

Juszkiewicz was born in 1984, and lives and works in Warsaw, Poland. She studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdansk, and received a PhD from the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. Harboring a deep knowledge of the historical tropes and styles inherent to classical portraiture informs her approach to highlighting and altering portrayals of high society. “I look through old albums and art books, and try to find portraits in them that cause me to feel something—ones that fascinate or move me. It would seem that the emotions they evoke are very important here because they allow for some kind of symbolic demolition of the canon these works represent. By taking something from them, destroying their original subject matter in a certain way, I build something new, I tell my own story” (E. Juszkiewicz, quoted in L. Longhi, “Classical Female Portraiture and the Art of Constraint: An Interview with Ewa Juszkiewicz”, Berlin Art Link, Mar. 1, 2019, online).

Employing an intensive mode of detournement, the appropriative technique championed by Guy Debord as a method of subverting accepted imagery and challenging the overriding power of canonical images, Juszkiewicz is able to challenge stereotypes and bring awareness to the portrayal of women throughout history. By presenting the audience with something recognizable and seemingly neutral and then infusing it with a shocking surreality, works like Portrait of a Lady wake viewers from their sleepy perusal of art history in order to confront and question the systems we all take for granted.

Proceeds from the sale of Portrait of a Lady will be used to benefit POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Voted European Museum of the Year in 2016, the institution houses an engaging and persuasive core exhibition, along with temporary exhibitions, educational activities, conferences, academic and artistic residencies. It is a vibrant platform for dialogue and spreading knowledge of Jewish history and heritage.

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