Caroline Walker - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 13, 2023 | Phillips
  • “There is definitely a strong sense of voyeurism in my work… I don’t want the paintings to feel like pictures of something that’s happening somewhere else. I want you to feel like you’re involved or implicated in what’s going on.”
    —Caroline Walker

    Caroline Walker’s large-scale, enigmatic canvases invite us into private interiors. The Scottish-born artist has gained critical acclaim for her sensitive portrayals of the modern-day woman, and her painterly realism and command for composition create balanced works that make close and careful reference to the Western canon of art history. As a viewer, we are often afforded the position of voyeur; in Fragranced, we peer through a window to see a woman at work in a perfumery. Exhibited in a major 2021 institutional show Windows, at Kunstmuseum Den Haag (K21), the work is representative of her more recent tendency to highlight the everyday experience of the working woman, which has included shopworkers, bakers, nail artists and cleaners. Walker is one of the most sought-after contemporary painters today, and since her first institutional show at Pitzhanger Manor Gallery in 2013 she has held numerous others at Kettle's Yard, Cambridge; Fitzrovia Chapel, London; MAC, Birmingham; Nottingham Castle; KM21, The Hague; and K11, Shanghai. Her work is held in the collections of Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Kunstmuseum Den Haag, The Hague; Arts Council England; National Museum Wales, Cardiff; and Longlati Foundation, China.


    Perspective is carefully considered in Walker’s compositions. We are at once invited to partake in the scene before us, yet physical and architectural barriers, most frequently windows, prevent us from ever truly being involved. The woman depicted in Fragrance is alone in the shop, and we are permitted to trespass upon a moment of quiet, solitary work. This feeling of intrusion is a major motif within Walker’s oeuvre, and as a result her works are permeated with a tension that reflects the clandestine nature of our position as voyeur. ‘It probably stems from being nosey’ Walker has stated, ‘being delighted when I’m walking around in the evening and can see into houses’.i


    Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942, Art Institute of Chicago. Image: The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence


    Much like Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, Walker uses a juxtaposition of the warm interior and cool exterior – with the window acting as a physical barrier – to afford us an unobtainable glimpse into the scene before us. Her large-scale canvases and painterly brushstrokes give works such as Fragranced a soft-focus appearance, and she evokes dreamlike worlds that blur the lines between reality and fantasy: ‘there’s a sense that you could almost step into the scene’.ii Whilst works like Hopper’s may be considered to contribute to the ‘male-gaze’ of female depiction in art, Walker’s position as a woman adds a nuanced layer of meaning and understanding. We are challenged to reconsider both our position as a viewer, and the subjects we are engaging with.


    Piet Mondrian, Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue, 1921, Kunstmuseum Den Haag, The Hague. Image: © Kunstmuseum den Haag / Bridgeman Images


    Walker’s extensive art historical knowledge can be seen throughout her pictorial landscapes, usually including the likes of French Impressionist and Modernist masters Edgar Degas or Édouard Manet, or Dutch genre-painters Frans Hals and Pieter de Hooch. Nevertheless, Benno Tempel argues that Walker’s referential intelligence stretches to include the world of abstract art. In his essay accompanying the 2021 Windows exhibition catalogue, Tempel views the paned-windows featured in Fragranced as evocative of the grid-like structures of Piet Mondrian’s neo-plasticist works of the early 20th century.iii Certainly, the thick black squares of the windowpanes are reminiscent of the lattices created in works such as Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue. Moreover, a similar use of reds, yellows, blues and blacks in Fragranced’s palette provides a further ‘playful and ingenious nod to this work’.iv


    With exceptional presence, Fragranced represents a wonderful example of many themes Walker explores within her works: women, the working environment, and a nuanced reflection of art history. We are asked to reconsider women’s position within the wider Western art historical canon, alongside our own self-conscious feelings of intrusion. Her quiet, illusory depictions of women often provoke more questions than answers, and the small narrative snapshots we are gifted stay with us long after we have stopped looking.   


    Caroline Walker discussing the window as compositional device ahead of her exhibition with the Kunstmuseum Den Haag in 2021.


    Collector’s Digest

    • Since graduating from her MA with the Royal College of Art in 2009, Scottish artist Caroline Walker has been the subject of several solo exhibitions internationally, including Janet at Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh in 2020, Women’s Work at the Midlands Art Centre, Birmingham in 2021, and her most recent exhibition at K11 in Shanghai in November 2022.

    • Walker’s artwork is highly sought after, and Threshold achieved an auction record of £927,100 at Phillips’ London Evening Sale, on 2nd March 2023.

    • Walker’s works are included in a number of prominent public collections, including the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, The UK Government Art Collection, London, and Kunstmuseum in The Hague.



    i Caroline Walker, quoted in Chloë Ashby, ‘The Eyes of Caroline Walker: “It’s Different When it’s a Woman Looking at a Woman”’, Elephant, 13 May, 2022, online.

    ii Caroline Walker, quoted in Emily Spicer, ‘Caroline Walker: ‘Who we perceive to be the maker of an image affects how we consume it’’, studio international, 10 April, 2017, online.

    iii Benno Tempel, ‘A Day in the Life’, in Caroline Walker: Windows, pp. 6-7.

    iv Benno Tempel, ‘A Day in the Life’, in Caroline Walker: Windows, p. 7.

    • Provenance

      Grimm Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      The Hague, KM21, Caroline Walker: Windows, 28 August - 28 November 2021, pp. 7, 42-43, n.p. (illustrated, p. 43)



signed, titled and dated ‘FRAGRANCED 2019 Caroline Walker’ on the reverse
oil on linen
230 x 185 cm (90 1/2 x 72 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

£100,000 - 150,000 ‡♠

Sold for £565,150

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 October 2023