Cecily Brown - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "One of the main things I would like my work to do is to reveal itself slowly, continuously and for you never to feel that you’re really finished looking at something."
    —Cecily Brown 

    Weaving past and present, abstraction and figuration, Cecily Brown’s Angie immerses the viewer into an extravagant field of fervid brushwork, manifesting the artist’s virtuosity in channeling Old and Modern masters of the art historical canon through her singular painterly sensibility. Here, earthy and fleshy tones, alongside lavish hues of red, blue, and purple, all merge into a bacchanalian riot of tantalizing allusions, epitomizing the artist’s words: “The paint is transformed into image, and hopefully paint and image transform themselves into a third and new thing...I want to catch something in the act of becoming something else.”i


    [left] Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail), 1500-1505. Museo del Prado, Madrid [right] Willem de Kooning, Untitled XIX, 1977. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    "Brown’s paintings can speak to us because enough of her shorthand is also ours…We also get the glimpses of history as they flow in and out, whether through direct recognition of an image or through indistinct echoes of something familiar."
    —James Lawrence

    Drawing inspiration from the Renaissance and Baroque to Romanticism and Abstract Expressionism, Brown’s practice coalesces a host of art historical influences that materialize in Angie. In the present work, Brown transforms visions of the past into a contemporary kaleidoscope of painterly revels, conjuring a contemporary fusion of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights and Willem de Kooning’s vigorous brushstrokes, with the lustrous palette and flurried handling of Peter Paul Rubens and Eugène Delacroix. As the artist explained, “When I’m looking at paintings from the past, they always seem to be in the present to me; they resonate. I’ve never felt a sense of distance from the past that some people seem to. I find it impossible and actually uninteresting to be concerned only with one’s own time.”ii


    Eugène Delacroix, Lion Hunt, 1860-1861. Art Institute of Chicago. Image: Art Institute of Chicago, Potter Palmer Collection, 1922.404


    Indeed for Brown, a “distance from the past” is only necessary in the process of incorporating the past into her compositions. Deeply influenced by Francis Bacon, the artist uses photographs or reproductions of paintings, rather than the actual source work, to translate referenced imagery through her own painterly language, as Bacon did for his series of Popes. The present work further evokes her British predecessor in the distorted, haunting forms at the center of the composition, where the various faces rendered in profile and frontal view recall Bacon’s painterly studies of his lover George Dyer. Yet Brown’s fervent brushwork and tight packing of the composition blends such imagery to bury the identification of her figures into a spectacle of pigment. Here, myriad art historical allusions coalesce under her painterly hand, all of which emerge and retreat before the viewer’s eyes across the psychedelic surface of paint. 


    Francis Bacon, Three Studies of George Dyer, 1969. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark. Image: © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2022. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd, Artwork: © 2022 Estate of Francis Bacon/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

    "I’ve always thought of myself as a figurative painter…There’s always been a strong element of abstraction but it’s something that happens very naturally...if I paint a figure too completely, it disturbs me too much, I have to sort of break it down."
    —Cecily Brown 

    Ultimately self-identifying as a figurative painter, Brown works at the cusp of representation and abstraction, driving her works within the liminal space between identification and visuality, paint and substance. “I’m far more interested in a moment where figuration breaks down,” the artist elucidated. “I usually describe it as breaking down rather than abstract because it really is this back and forth. Some works...have far clearer graphic imagery and others really don’t. It’s always been important to me to have both, and some works walk the tight rope and have both within a painting.”iii Presenting at once clearly recognizable and subtle suggestions of both landscape and interiors, Angie ambitiously manifests this pendular relationship, particularly in the lower half of the composition where reflective pools of water and fragmented depictions of furniture and décor meet sudden orchestrations of painterly abstraction.


    "I take all my cues from the paint, so it’s a total back and forth between my will and the painting directing what to do next."
    —Cecily Brown

    Showcasing Brown’s bravura in engaging with the vernacular of painting itself, the present work embodies the artist’s delight in working with oil paint, which she described as “sensual [because] it moves, it catches the light, it's great for skin and flesh and heft and meat. I wanted to make something that you couldn't tear your eyes away from. I like the fact that because my earlier work [from the late 1990s] was so known for having erotic contents, I actually need to give very little now and it's seen as erotic or hinting at erotic.”iv Indeed in Angie, Brown presents an orgiastic frenzy not in subject but in her very application of paint and sensuous palette. Here, she displays the result of her dialogue with the medium, which she views as a source in itself in the process of the work’s creation. Immersing the viewer’s eye and imagination into a visual feast, the present work at once lures us into surreal figments of known realities and a colorful exuberance of fantasized realms, richly materializing the heart of Brown’s artistic investigations. “I am interested in the unfixed nature of things. I want the work to have a trapped energy so that the paint seems to vibrate in place. I want the viewing of it to approximate the experience of being in the world.”v 

    i Cecily Brown, quoted in Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith, “Painting Sensations,” in Cecily Brown: Paintings, exh. cat., Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, 2005, p. 55.
    ii Cecily Brown, quoted in “Cecily Brown in Conversation with Lari Pittman,” in Cecily Brown, exh. cat., Gagosian, New York, 2008, p. 25.
    iii Cecily Brown, quoted in “Cecily Brown Interview: Take No Prisoners,” Louisiana Channel: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, November 3, 2015.
    iv Cecily Brown, quoted in Derek Peck, "New York Minute: Cecily Brown," AnOther, September 14, 2012.
    v Cecily Brown, quoted in Dore Ashton, Cecily Brown, New York, 2008, p. 25.

    • Provenance

      Gagosian Gallery, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006

    • Exhibited

      London, Gagosian Gallery, Cecily Brown: New Paintings, March 31–May 27, 2006, pp. 58, 83 (illustrated, p. 59)

    • Literature

      Cecily Brown, exh. cat., GAM - Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin, October 17, 2014–February 1, 2015, p. 171 (illustrated, p. 34)

Property from a Distinguished European Collection



signed and dated "Cecily Brown 2005" on the reverse
oil on linen
85 x 89 in. (215.9 x 226.1 cm)
Painted in 2005.

Full Cataloguing

$4,500,000 - 6,500,000 

Sold for $5,959,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022