Cecily Brown - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 7, 2024 | Phillips

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  • “I often avoid using the terms figuration and abstraction because I’ve always tried to have it both ways. I want the experience of looking at one of my paintings to be similar to the process of making the painting – you go from the big picture to something very intense and detailed, and then back again.”
    —Cecily Brown


    Animated by a frenzied sense of vitality and movement, Cecily Brown’s 2013 Luck Just Kissed You Hello exemplifies the tensions between motion and stasis, figuration and abstraction, representation and sensory experience that lie at the heart of the artist’s practice. Included in Brown’s eponymous 2013 exhibition with Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills and coming to auction for the first time, Luck Just Kissed You Hello playfully elides the more overt eroticism of the artist’s earlier work, continuing her formal investigation into art historical tradition and the subject of the nude ensemble in painting to stunning effect. As the artist noted in 2009, it is the boundaries of paint itself that continues to excite her and the question of how, within the limits of ‘the same old materials – just oils and a canvas […] trying to do the same thing that’s been done for centuries’, something new and exciting can be drawn out.i


    Vibrantly realised in raucous notes of tangerine, turquoise, and warm peach tones, the work seamlessly integrates the bold colours and gestural mark-making of Abstract Expressionist artists such as Willem de Kooning and Joan Mitchell with the fleshy voluptuousness of Old Masters’ canvases by the likes of Titian and Reubens, masterfully harnessing the energy and immediacy of the former to draw out the latent eroticism and sensuality of the latter. Such radical interventions into the histories of painting and of the nude are underpinned by Brown’s energetic brushwork, the entire surface of her composition here activated as bodies emerge and recede, as if the artist is chasing the figures around the canvas, ‘discovering the image, disrupting it, and almost deliberately losing it and pushing it around.’ii


    [Left] Peter Paul Rubens, Bacchanalia, circa 1615, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. Image: Photo Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Scala, Florence
    [Right] Willem de Kooning, Woman I, 1950-52, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence, Artwork: © The Willem de Kooning Foundation/ARS, NY and DACS, London 2024

    Keep Swinging


    Coming to prominence in the 1990s, Brown was somewhat out of step with her British contemporaries and the coolly detached, subversive, and conceptually driven approach to artmaking pioneered by the ‘Young British Artists’ such as Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas. Committed to paint and the physical pleasure of painting itself, Brown transformed her canvases into restless and shifting surfaces, her fluid treatment of painterly form approximating sensorial experience in deeply affecting ways. Encouraging a very active mode of looking here, snatches of figures standing, bending, and embracing fill the impressively scaled canvas, although these more legible elements quickly dissolve into the space surrounding them, the rapid exchanges between smooth, static form and rippling movement creating a powerfully turbulent and dynamic composition that complicates any one coherent reading. As the artist has explained, ‘The place I’m interested in is where the mind goes when it’s trying to make up for what isn’t there.’iii


    While Brown’s interest in the nude ensemble draws on many art historical referents, in its compositional organisation and rich palette of verdant greens and earthy ochre tones Luck Just Kissed You Hello seems particularly indebted to ‘the grand tradition of theatrical landscapes filled with figures allegorical, historical, or observed […] a visual play on scenes of Arcadia.’iv Here, the darker, vertical forms to the right edge of the canvas especially recalling the tall, slender trunks framing Paul Cézanne’s late groups of bathers, themselves directly informed by the artist’s approach to creating depth and volume within an illusionistic space, and his own deep appreciation for classical and Renaissance art. Brown has also spoken at length about Edgar Degas' influence on her work, notably his Young Spartans Excercising from 1860 whose groupings of crouched and stretching figures are compellingly reinterpreted in this dynamic scene. 


    Paul Cézanne, The Large Bathers, 1900-1906, The Philadelphia Museum of Arts. Image: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund, 1937, W1937-1-1

    In a playful nod to Brown’s own fluid treatment of paint and the human form here, the title is borrowed from a line from David Bowie’s 1979 song ‘Boys Keep Swinging’. While seemingly a celebration of youthful masculinity and the benefits afforded to young men, Bowie’s more ironic treatment of gender identity and its cultural construction throughout the song is emphasised in the accompanying music video, in which the singer performs both as himself and the three backing dancers dressed in drag. This blend of pop culture with a studied appreciation of art historical tradition is typical of Brown’s work, notably in the contemporaneous series of paintings based on the controversial album cover of Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Electric Ladyland, examples of which were exhibited alongside the present work in 2013.


    David Bowie, ‘Boys Keep Swinging’, 1979


    Collector’s Digest


    • Now based in New York, Cecily Brown was born in the UK and studied at the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art and is an internationally recognised and defining figure of contemporary art.


    • Coming to auction for the first time, the present work was first presented in Cecily Brown’s eponymous 2013 exhibition with Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills which brought together a group of recent works blending pop culture and art historical references in their investigations into the tradition of the nude ensemble in painting.


    • Brown has been the focus of solo exhibitions around the world, including the significant Where, When, How Often and with Whom held at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark in 2018, and the recent mid-career retrospective Death and the Maid held at The Metropolitan Museum in New York in 2023.


    i Cecily Brown, quoted in ‘Cecily Brown: I take things too far when painting’, The Guardian, 20 September 2009, online.

    ii Cecily Brown, quoted in ‘Art in Conversation: Cecily Brown with Jason Rosenfeld’, The Brookyn Rail, December 2017, online. 

    iii Cecily Brown, quoted in Robert Evrén, ‘A Dispatch from the Tropic of Flesh’, in Cecily Brown, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2000, p. 8.

    iv Johanna Drucker, ‘Erotic Method’, in Cecily Brown: Paintings 2003-2006, New York, 2005, p. 9.

    • Provenance

      Gagosian Gallery
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Los Angeles, Gagosian Gallery, Cecily Brown, 6 September-12 October 2013, pp. 6-7, 78-79, 87-89 (partially illustrated, pp. 6-7, 88-89; illustrated, p. 79)

Property of an Important Private Collection


Luck Just Kissed You Hello

signed and dated 'Cecily Brown 2013' on the reverse
oil on linen
170.2 x 165.4 cm (67 x 65 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2013.

Full Cataloguing

£1,500,000 - 2,000,000 ‡♠

Sold for £1,500,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

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


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2024