PER KIRKEBY (1938-2018)
PER KIRKEBY (1938-2018)
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PER KIRKEBY (1938-2018)

Sous les arbes (efter Monticelli) (Under the Trees (after Monticelli))(Modification)

PER KIRKEBY (1938-2018)
Sous les arbes (efter Monticelli) (Under the Trees (after Monticelli))(Modification)
signed, titled and dated 'PER KIRKEBY 1980 sous les arbes' (on the reverse)
oil and silver paint on found painting, in artist's frame
45 7⁄8 x 60 3⁄8in. (116.4 x 153.2cm.)
Executed in 1980
Birte Inge Christensen and John Hunov Collection, Copenhagen (acquired directly from the artist in 1984).
Thence by descent to the present owner.
A. Hejlskov Larsen, Per Kirkeby Paintings 1978-1989, Cologne 2016, p. 271, no. O 49 (illustrated in colour, p. 335).
Munich, Kunstraum München, Per Kirkeby. Übermalungen 1964-1984, 1984-1985, no. 51 (illustrated in colour, unpaged). This exhibition later travelled to Reutlingen, Spendhaus.
Aarhus, Aarhus Kunstmuseum, 'Vild' med kunst - fra Birte Inge Christensen og John Hunovs samling, 1986.
Randers, Randers Kunstmuseum, HJAELP! Jeg er samler. Birte Inge Christensen og John Hunovs Samlinger, 1994, p. 26, no. 190 (installation view of Kunstraum München).
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Lot Essay

Help! I am a Collector! Works from the Collection of Birte Inge Christensen and John Hunov

Christie's is delighted to present works from the outstanding collection of Birte Inge Christensen and John Hunov. Selected from the couple’s vast holdings of around 3000 works, the grouping bears witness to the breadth and depth of their collection, reflecting their remarkable connoisseurship and exceptional eye for quality, detail and significance. The works offered in the London Post-War & Contemporary Day Sale and First Open: Post-War & Contemporary Art Online follow the initial selection of 26 works presented at Christie's Amsterdam in April, with further sales due to take place in November 2022 and April 2023.

Hunov and Christensen began collecting in Denmark during the 1960s. Together, they developed close relationships with a number of artists including Georg Baselitz, Joseph Beuys, Imi Knoebel and Per Kirkeby, often before they took their place on the international stage. In 1972, Hunov opened his own gallery—the Daner Galleriet—in Copenhagen, and became a leading promoter of the emerging avant-garde scene in the city. Over the course of the gallery’s five successful years, he curated exhibitions by Danish artists such as Kirkeby and Poul Gernes, as well as international figures including Beuys, A. R. Penck, Hans-Peter Feldmann and Jörg Immendorff. Alongside his work as a gallerist, Hunov gained recognition as a curator, putting together over 100 exhibitions including a number of institutional shows. The couple’s own personal collection, in turn, would itself become the subject of several museum surveys, including Vild med kunst fra Brite Inge Christensen or John Hunovs samling at the Kunstmuseum in Aarhus in 1986, as well as Hjælp! Jeg er samler at the Randers Kunstmuseum in 1994.

As the works offered in London attest, the collection is particularly indicative of Hunov’s strong relationship with Kirkeby. Arguably one of the artist's most important patrons, and one of the first gallerists to exhibit his sculptures in the 1970s, Hunov became a leading authority on Kirkeby, and compiled the catalogue raisonné of his graphic work dating from 1958-1977. He would later commission the artist to design a mausoleum for him and his wife: it stands today in the Frederiksberg cemetery in Copenhagen, where the couple were laid to rest after their deaths in 2017 and 2020. 

Celebrated for his evocative, emotional approach to painting, Kirkeby’s art can be difficult to pin down, at once abstract, metaphorical, profane, and otherworldly. Indeed, the artist courted ambiguity and the inconclusive: reflecting upon his long career, Kirkeby noted how he ‘always thought that an artist should not be easy to "catch", to ‘put in a box’" (P. Kirkeby, quoted in O. Basciano, ‘Per Kirkeby Obituary’, The Guardian, 17 May 2018). Yet, no matter what one seeks in Kirkeby’s paintings, inevitably the viewer is returned to the form and materiality of the composition itself.

The two works offered in the Post-War & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Et minde om gamle dage (lot 721), and Sous les arbres (efter Monticelli) (lot 720), revel in their own indefiniteness. From the blazing expanse of Et minde om gamle dage, holographic, spectral figures surface. Beguiling and mesmeric, the painting marks the rise of Kirkeby’s star: two years later he would gain international recognition when he represented Denmark at the Venice Biennale. Equally evocative is Sous les arbres (efter Monticelli) which forms part of the artist’s series of overpaintings, a format Kirkeby began experimenting with during the 1960s. Using inexpensive reproductions of works by amateur artists, he would paint over pre-existing images to investigate the visual manifestations of memory. In the present work, flashes of saffron and turquoise dapple an autumnal scene, a chromatic wrinkle in time. Such experiments in the layering of image and history recall Kirkeby’s earliest academic pursuits: he studied arctic geology at the University of Copenhagen and went on expeditions to Greenland and the Arctic during the late 1950s. Indeed, both Sous les arbres (efter Monticelli) and Et minde om gamle dage summon a romantic experience of the world, evident in their sweeping, striated lines, organic forms, and earthy splendour.

Jacob Thage, Director of Museum Jorn, Silkeborg
John Hunov (1936-2017): the perfect bank clerk, gallerist, curator and collector

Few people would have guessed that the well dressed and polite bank clerk, who meticulously counted their deposits behind the counter, would lead a completely different life after opening hours. Without delay he would grab his bicycle and race to his home in the other end of Copenhagen. Here he would check if the postman had contributed to the never dry source of letters floating from the European artistic avantgarde. Afterwards he would leave again for his small gallery, 'Daner galleriet' (The Gallery of the Danes), which would be open one or two hours 3-4 evenings in the week. In the gallery he, from the early 1970s and on, introduced artists such as Joseph Beuys, Christian Boltanski, Annette Messager, A.R.Penck, Stanley Brouwn, to name only a few, to the Scandinavian art scene. That is if any visitors turned up at all. Not that it necessarily mattered. The friendships and dialogues with the artists came in first. Perhaps most important was his lifelong connection to Per Kirkeby. When you read the diaries of Per Kirkeby, which are preserved at the Museum Jorn in Denmark, you not only get a unique insight in a creative mind, but also get to meet the reliable friend Hunov, troubleshooting, supporting the artist by buying his works, when nobody else didn’t, always ready to lend a hand and an ear, a warrior who would happily confront high or low, if the expected standards were not met. Due to this, over the years, more than one museum director would have liked to lock him up in their deepest archives. Fortunately they never succeeded. If they had, European art would have missed one of its very important but by the broader audience little known personalities, always finding new fields to collect, always paving the way for young artists and making possible what we take for granted in the art world today.

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