Alex Katz - Editions & Works on Paper New York Tuesday, October 24, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Intimate, delicate, and deeply atmospheric, Blue Umbrella 2, from 2020, highlights Alex Katz’s preferred model and muse, his wife Ada. Based on a 1972 painting of the same name, this sumptuous, moody print is exceptional both in pictorial rendition and subject matter. It employs Katz’s characteristic approach to figuration – cool in appearance and hyper-meticulous in design, while working within a theme that the artist has profusely alluded to throughout his career. Signifying the importance of the series within the artist’s oeuvre, the painting Blue Umbrella II was used as the front cover for the catalogue of Katz’s major solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art in 1986.


    Calm and composed amidst slanting drops of rain, Ada is here pictured close-up, her titular umbrella cropped at the margins of the canvas. She is as much the subject of the painting as her striking facial features and sartorial accessories that dominate the canvas. Ada represents a familiar subject imbued with an unnamable elusive quality; she is aloof, remote, disconnected from the torrential rain surrounding her, like an urban siren or a 1960s cinema star haloed by the camera’s captivated lens. “Such is [Ada’s] deep reserve that you can spend a very pleasant hour tête-à-tête with her and still wonder if you have ever really met,” wrote Leslie Camhi.1 Both warm and distant, Ada commands the viewer’s gaze in its beauty, poetry and mystery.

    The subject of Ada is of paramount importance in Katz’s oeuvre, so much so, that Katz painted his wife more than two hundred times since their marriage in 1958. Musing on the importance and prominence of Ada –– Robert Marshall contended that Ada can be read as the perfect, timeless muse: “a symbol of beauty, sorrow, mystery, coldness, or desire.”2 Decades after their wedding, Blue Umbrella 2 seems more assured than early portraits, both in form and content. Ada’s features are delineated with more clarity and conviction, and the colors are distributed more generously throughout the image. Presented close-up, the elements that constitute the present painting brim with an irrepressible cinematic gleam, that signals the solidified shift of Katz’s creative direction. Only adding to the work’s effect, Katz has placed the tilted raindrops surrounding Ada strategically, so that some of them appear to be running down her cheeks.

    Despite the vitality of Katz’s model, there is something deeply two-dimensional about the artist’s style of portraiture. In the 1950s, he was among the first to reduce the gestural brushwork that pervaded figurative painting, whilst maintaining the size and scale associated with Abstract Expressionism and Color Field Abstraction. As such, his compositions bore an ambivalent feel that aligned them with multifarious styles of painting, namely Pop and Abstraction, whilst retaining a unique formal inflection. Here, Katz has employed a rich color palette and striking contrasts to increase verisimilitude, yet a minimalist sense of flatness comes to the fore. Departing from the New York School’s hazy and energetic figurative style, Katz developed a clean, graphic, and vibrant visual language, influenced in part by the aesthetics of billboard advertising, a purely post-modern style that a number of his contemporaries, including Elizabeth Peyton, Peter Doig, David Salle and Richard Prince, are indebted to in their painterly work. Spotlighting Katz’s favorite subject, Blue Umbrella 2 is a sumptuous example from the artist’s oeuvre. It is conceived as an ode to his timeless muse, who, despite continuous changes in American society, remained her elegant self for decades – a feat that Robert Storr dubs “the mark of her musedom.”3




    Leslie Camhi, ‘Painted Lady’, The New York Times, August 27, 2006

    Robert Marshall, “Alex Katz,” New York, 1986, p. 22

    Robert Storr, Alex Katz Paints Ada, exh. cat., The Jewish Museum, New York, 2007


Blue Umbrella 2

Archival pigment print in colors, on Crane Museo Max paper, the full sheet.
S. 30 1/8 x 45 1/2 in. (76.5 x 115.6 cm)
Signed and numbered 89/150 in pencil (there were also 20 artist's proofs), published by Lococo Fine Art, St. Louis (with their and the artist's copyright inkstamp on the reverse), unframed.

Full Cataloguing

$30,000 - 50,000 

Sold for $76,200

Contact Specialist
212 940 1220

Editions & Works on Paper

New York Auction 24-26 October 2023