Cecily Brown - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 12, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Cecily Brown, 'Girl Eating Turtle Dove', Lot 23

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 13 February

  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, New York
    Blain|Southern, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2012

  • Exhibited

    Klosterneuburg, Essl Museum, Cecily Brown, 20 June - 7 October 2012, pp. 62 and 74 (illustrated, p. 63)

  • Catalogue Essay

    With Girl Eating Turtle Dove, 2011-12, Cecily Brown replicates the act of reading in the form of painting. Compelled to move from one painted surface to the other, the viewer’s eye roves from left to right in the hope of finding, and indeed deciphering, the scene elucidated in the work’s title. Yet it is perhaps upon digesting the general animation taking place within the composition that one might come closer to discovering the eponymous action. Vibrant and explosive, the canvases devise a plethora of thrashing paint gesturing inwards and outwards. Together, these compose an entirely abstract composition, nonetheless evincing an obvious sense of movement and immediacy, characteristic of Brown’s best work. In this sense, the titular girl and turtle dove dissolve into a vortex of indistinct formations, embodying the visceral nature of their interaction rather than the realistic representation of it. Included in Brown’s important monographic show at Essl Museum in 2012, Girl Eating Turtle Dove is a splendid diptych that unites the twin impact of two visceral canvases, demonstrating the artist’s unique ability in conveying the multifaceted nature of human experience. Further cementing Brown’s oeuvre as one of the most exhilerating outputs of its time, the artist’s work will occupy the sumptuous premises of Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, from April to July 2020.

    Oscillating between unintelligible sections and part-discernible movement, Girl Eating Turtle Dove explores the frontiers that separate figuration from abstraction. ‘All my work is a conflict between [...] my desire to paint the figure, and my refusal to allow the figure to remain', the artist once said. 'As soon as the figure gets too clear, I find it gets too close to describing something’ (Cecily Brown, quoted in ‘Cecily Brown at Essl Museum’, theartVIEw, 20 June 2012, online). Despite eluding verisimilitude, an adventurous verve is made abundantly clear within the present image, powerful enough to supersede the scene Brown had in mind when beginning to paint. ‘The more time you give to the painting, the more you get back’, the artist hinted (Cecily Brown, quoted in Perri Lewis, ‘Cecily Brown: I take things too far when painting’, The Guardian, 20 September 2009, online). With this in mind, one can muster the formation of water puddles between abstract thickets of colour, living creatures behind cascading lines and an overarching natural environment, fading into the depths of the paint itself.

    Awash with a dense layering of thick impasto and teasingly tangible brushstrokes, Girl Eating Turtle Dove furthermore reveals the meandering movements that the artist undertook as she tackled different areas of the two canvases. As a result, the work is utterly haptic upon first impression, its electric sensuality only heightened by Brown’s chosen material. Oil ‘moves, it catches the light, it's great for skin and flesh and heft and meat’, the artist elucidated. ‘I wanted to make something that you couldn't tear your eyes away from. I like the fact that because my earlier work 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’ (Cecily Brown, quoted in ‘New York Minute: Cecily Brown,’ AnOther, 14 September 2012, online). Brown’s deployment of oil paint, paired with marks that are at once elegiac and precise, results in a wonderfully promiscuous visual lexicon that has its origins in the art historical traditions of abstract painting.

    Sharing an affinity with the Old Masters, such as Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens, but also the Abstract Expressionists including Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell and Willem de Kooning, Brown bolsters her compositions through a multitude of sources. Girl Eating Turtle Dove specifically echoes the textural quality of Krasner's swirling compositions, transpiring through her incisive and tactile movements straddling thin washes and thicker, fluid marks. Similarly, Philip Guston’s animated canvases are brought to mind, notably his neo-expressionist paintings of the late 1950s, which conjure a sense of activity and relentless movement, embodied by vivified strokes of earthy colour.

    Bisecting the image in two separate entities, Girl Eating Turtle Dove establishes a physical dynamic whereby one canvas morphs into the other, thus producing a diptych where vibrant tornadoes of swirling pigment occur alongside lyrical outbursts and bright accentuations. Quasi-figurative, Girl Eating Turtle Dove displays a dizzying array of marks and gestural inscriptions that result in a rebelliously enigmatic pictorial field. It namely evokes sky and land, indicated by its moody blues and greens, while simultaneously alluding to a strong sense of sensuality. A diptych endowed with a life of its own, the present work lives as proof that close to none have interpreted the medium of painting with such virtuoso as Cecily Brown.

Property of an Important Collector


Girl Eating Turtle Dove

each signed, consecutively numbered and dated ‘Cecily Brown [1-2] of 2 2011-12’ on the reverse
oil on linen, diptych
each 78.7 x 58.4 cm (31 x 23 in.)
Painted in 2011-12.

£550,000 - 750,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £615,000

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099
[email protected]


Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 February 2020