Elizabeth Peyton - 20th Century to Now London Friday, June 30, 2023 | Phillips
  • ‘‘There is no separation for me between people I know through their music or photos and some I know personally. The way I perceive them is very similar, in that there’s no difference between certain qualities that I find inspiring in them.’’
    Elizabeth Peyton

    For American artist Elizabeth Peyton, the zeitgeist of our past and present historical moments are most accurately conveyed through the individual. Her luminous, small-scale portraits are intimately penetrating in their fixation on presence and have portrayed a broad spectrum of historical and popular figures from Napoleon Bonaparte to Kurt Cobain over the years. Making a compelling case for portraiture's survival and importance in our own hyper-visual digital age, Peyton powerfully demonstrates how ‘people contain their time in their face’.i Taking as her subject primarily people whom she either admires or feels an affinity with, Peyton’s work evidences the deep connection she forges with them, her languorous brushstrokes of luminous colour offering us a decluttered, phenomenological approach to the portrait which favours psyche and character over the tropes of naturalistic depiction. So humanising in their effect and revolutionary in their aesthetic at a time when notions of beauty and grace had been written out of the conversation, Laura Hoptman contends that ‘there is no doubt that the creation and reception of Peyton’s paintings in the 1990s utterly changed the contemporary art landscape.’ii


    Prince Harry, September 1998 comes from one of her most iconic periods of work, when she captured the ethos at the turn of the 20th century through her depiction of popular figures from mediated images, drawing on ‘lives that are played out in the public arena of the mass media.’iii A subject which she has returned to time and again, the present work brilliantly illustrates the consciousness of the young prince on the cusp of adolescence, anxiously arriving at Eton for his first day of school - an intensely private, family moment that was made public through the nation's press. Working from this original paparazzi photograph, Peyton focuses her attention closely on the young Prince's face, restoring a humanising intimacy and fragility to this mass-reproduced and widely circulated image. 


    On this richly painted surface of luminous tones, Harry’s blood-red lips are powerfully affecting; sapping colour from his bleached cheeks, they draw on notions of composure and restraint as fundamental to Royal life, emphasised further in the young Prince’s expression here and in the knowledge of the recent, tragic loss of his mother. Peyton, with uttermost sincerity and compassion, depicts a young man caught in the passage between childhood and adulthood, private pain and public voyerism, depicting a singular moment when - for a split second - 'the fickle nature of fame and celebrity appear temporarily arrested.'iv

    ‘‘That’s what it’s all about – making art is making something live forever […] a way of holding onto things and making things go on through time.’’
    —Elizabeth Peyton

    Whilst Peyton’s work is materially linked to the tradition of panel paintings, particularly Lucas Cranach and Hans Holbein the Younger, the way in which she has manipulated the artistic tools at her disposal to revive popular art also alludes to the paintings of Gustave Courbet. As T.J Clark noted, Courbet ‘exploited high art – its techniques, its size and something of its sophistication – in order to revive popular art’, addressing his work ‘not to the connoisseur, but to a different hidden public.’v In the same way, Peyton’s exquisite paintings have restructured the contemporary landscape, using the materials of high art to not only revive portraiture and figuration, but to expand the scope and potential of these modes. Her choice of a hotel room for her debut exhibition in 1993, and then a pub for her first exhibition in London in 1995, both speak to her desire for her work inclusive and accessible, reinforced by the nature of her source material itself, drawn from a pool of mass-produced and widely circulated mass-media images available to all.


    Debuting her career in Room 828 of the Chelsea Hotel, New York, and then showing works featuring figures such as Kurt Cobain and Sid Vicious at the Prince Albert Pub, London, in 1995, Peyton has since realised solo exhibitions at public institutions such as the Royal Academy, London; the Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis; and the New Museum, New York, among others. Recently, her 2019-2020 show at the National Portrait Gallery in London made her the first contemporary artist to engage with the institution’s collection as her works were interwoven with historic paintings dating from the Tudor period to Victorian times. Other portraits of Prince Harry by Peyton can be found at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris; and the Kuntsmuseum Wolfsburg.



    i Elizabeth Peyton, quoted in 'Elizabeth Peyton: Faces Contain their Time', YouTube, online.

    ii Laura Hoptman, 'Fin de Scièle', in Elizabeth Peyton, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2008, p. 225.

    iii Iwona Blazwick, 'Excessive Life', in Elizabeth Peyton, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2008, p. 234.

    vi Matthew Higgs, 'Introduction', in Elizabeth Peyton, New York, 2005, p. 18.

    v T. J. Clark, Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution, New Jersey, 1982, p. 140.

    • Provenance

      Georg Kargl, Vienna
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1998

    • Exhibited

      Vienna, Georg Kargl, Elizabeth Peyton, 14 November - 12 December 1998
      Kraichtal, Ursula Blickle Stiftung; Salzburg, Museum Moderne und Zeitgenössische Kunst, Rupertinum; Bozen, Museion, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Figuration, 18 September 1999 - 5 March 2000, pp. 74, 97 (illustrated, p. 75)

    • Literature

      Rob Pruitt and Steve Lafreniere, 'Elizabeth Peyton', Index Magazine, no. 24, May - July 2000, p. 60 (illustrated)


Prince Harry, September 1998

signed, titled and dated 'Prince Harry, September 1998 Elizabeth Peyton, Elizabeth Peyton 1998' on the reverse
oil on board
26.1 x 21.1 cm (10 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1998.

Full Cataloguing

£400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for £488,950

Contact Specialist

Leonor de Osma
Head of Sale, 20th Century to Now
T +44 20 7901 7912
M +44 7584 086 052

20th Century to Now

London Auction 30 June 2023