Queen of Hearts

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  • Provenance

    Esso Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Emblematic of the artist’s fastidious and enduring investigation into the formal relationship between colour and space, Stanley Whitney’s Queen of Hearts represents a profound contribution to the history of painting. Structuring the surface of the canvas with a mesmerising grid of multi-hued blocks, enlivened by gestural marks and the nuanced layering of tones that seamlessly bleed to create superficial depth, Whitney intuitively balances and contrasts colours to uniquely reformulate the structuring of abstract space. Whilst Whitney has been an active proponent of colour field painting since the 1970s, the artist has operated largely under the radar for much of his career. However, recent institutional attention has affirmed his historic importance within wider public consciousness: following his seminal solo exhibition, Dance the Orange, at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York in 2015, Whitney was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2017. Perfectly scaled and resplendent with the key defining characteristics of his oeuvre – the four tiers of jubilantly coloured blocks and a poignantly evocative title –the appearance of Queen of Hearts at auction marks an early opportunity to acquire a preeminent work by an artist at the nascent stages of exponentially burgeoning recognition.

    Born in Philadelphia in 1946, Whitney developed his idiosyncratic style after moving to New York in 1968. In the wake of Abstract Expressionist predecessors, his colour block paintings grew in tandem with and contributed to the groundbreaking schools of Colour Field and Minimalist painting. Indeed, having taught Painting and Drawing at the Tyler School of Art for over 30 years, Whitney’s ongoing influence to contemporary painting cannot be denied. Whilst inevitably inspired by his original creative context, Whitney eschewed a totalitarian puritanism evident in contemporaries such as Mark Rothko, Josef Albers, Carl Andre and Kenneth Noland, instead seeking an intuitive and rhythmic use of colour blocking that equally paid homage to masters of European painting: ‘I felt they were all giving too much up. They gave the hand up, they were focused on being flat against the wall, what you see is what you get—I didn’t like that idea. I didn’t want to give up Courbet, I didn’t want to give up Goya, I didn’t want to give up Velázquez—I didn’t want to give up anything.’ (The artist quoted in Aruna D’Souza, ‘The Color Makes the Structure: Stanley Whitney Paints a Picture’, artnews.com, posted 30 May 2017.) Whilst the present work evokes the flat collaged panels of Matisse’s iconic L’Escargot (The Snail) from 1953, Whitney has imbued his blocks with depth by layering washes of paint over one another with a gestural flare that resonates with the nuanced fields and delicately composed plastic depth of Cézanne.

    In the early 1990s, Whitney travelled to the Mediterranean. His experience of the ancient architecture of Egypt and in Italy – where decorative flourish is always supported by simple geometry – inspired the crucial structuring of abstract blocks that constitute his signature style. Summoning the monumental solidity of the pyramids and the Coliseum, here we see densely saturated blocks stacked upon one another like ancient brick work, reconceptualising the modernist grid for an effect that is both architectural and emotive. To begin these compositions, Whitney paints a single rectangular block of colour in the upper left of the canvas, proceeding intuitively to align and stack colour, adding blocks freehand as if writing a jazz score that is emphasised with vibrant contrasts and sonorous tonal harmonies. This is all enacted with varied brushstrokes, where the artist layers transparent washes so that a grounded red might ring out from underneath a tonally juxtaposed verdant green, whilst maintaining a matte sheen across his luxurious surface. It is only over time that the nuances of colour fully reveal themselves. Arresting our attention within this wall-like construction as such, Whitney gives form to his ultimate maxim for abstract painting, that ‘The color makes the structure.’ (The artist quoted in ibid.)

    As noted by Lauren Haynes, “Whitney’s colours take on lives of their own. They evoke memory and nostalgia. This orange takes you back to your favourite childhood t-shirt; that blue reminds you of your grandmother’s kitchen. Whitney’s paintings remind us, on a universal scale, of the ability of colour to trigger feelings and sensations.” (Lauren Haynes, ‘Orange That Blue’, Stanley Whitney: Dance the Orange, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, 2015, p. 28.) Whitney’s titles always speak of an epic historical consciousness, in this case alluding to the tradition of playing cards and the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s classic tale, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Yet, saturated with deep, impassioned reds, here Whitney takes us to our own psychological associations with the fabled Queen of Love’s greatest symbol.

  • Catalogue Essay


    惠特尼於1946年在美國費城出生,自1968年移居紐約後建立起其獨樹一幟的藝術風格。前輩專注於抽象表現主義藝術時,他的色塊繪畫逐漸成形,亦推動了突破性的色域和極簡藝術。的確,惠特尼曾在泰勒藝術學院執教油畫與素描長達三十年,因此他對當代繪畫的影響功不可沒。除了其本身創作背景的啟發,他並沒有像同時期藝術家馬克·羅斯科、約瑟夫·亞伯斯、卡爾·安德和肯尼斯·諾蘭一般,採取完全純粹的色域繪畫,而是尋找色塊中的自發性和韻律性,同時向歐洲繪畫大師致敬:「我覺得他們放棄太多了,他們把手感放棄了,完全專注於放在墻上的平面,你所看到的就是你所有的,我不喜歡這個理念。我不想放棄庫爾貝,我不想放棄戈雅,我不想放棄維拉斯蓋斯,我什麼都不想放棄。」(藝術家所言講,錄於 Aruna D’Souza,〈結構始自顏色: 斯坦利·惠特尼繪一幅畫〉,artnews.com,發佈於2017年5月30日)此作令人想起馬蒂斯的1953年作品《蝸牛》,該作品是一幅抽象平面拼貼畫作品,而惠特尼的作品不僅色塊,更以顏料重疊和動態筆觸加入了層次和深度,頗有塞尚作品中微妙的靜物深淺感之神韻。


    如 Lauren Haynes 所說:「惠特尼筆下的顏色擁有自己的生命,它們能激起回憶和思愁。這塊橙黃色令你想到童年最愛的T恤,那塊藍色又把你帶到祖母的廚房。惠特尼的畫作十分普世,提醒了我們顏色在觸發意識和情感的力量。」(Lauren Haynes,〈讓藍染橘〉,《斯坦利·惠特尼: 橘色舞動》,哈林工作室博物館,紐約,2015年,28頁)惠特尼作品的題目也總會勾起各種聯想,此作題目暗示撲克牌之印象以及路易斯·卡羅之經典故事《愛麗絲夢遊仙境》。然而,配以深湛熱情的紅色,惠特尼引領我們自己的想像力遊走到愛之女神的象徵。

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Ο ◆1

Queen of Hearts

signed 'Whitney' on the stretcher; further signed, titled and dated '2004 "Queen of Hearts" Stanley Whitney' on the reverse
oil on linen
137.2 x 152.4 cm. (54 x 60 in.)
Painted in 2004.

HK$800,000 - 1,200,000 

sold for HK$1,750,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 25 November 2018