Elizabeth Peyton - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 14, 2022 | Phillips
  • "I really like how people contain their time, in their faces."
    —Elizabeth Peyton
    Lyrically composed with broad, sweeping brushstrokes and a vivid, jewel-bright palette, Evan at the Reading Festival 1993 is a stunningly tender portrait from one of the finest figurative painters of her generation. Working primarily from photographs and printed media, Elizabeth Peyton is best known for her romantic portraits of rock stars, movie icons, and members of European Royalty, although the tone of her small-scale paintings moves far beyond celebrity adoration. Charged with emotion, these works collapse distinctions between realist painting and expressionist verve, and between the public performance of celebrity and the deeply personal relationships that we forge with them.


    A portrait of Evan Dando, the frontman of 90’s grunge band the Lemonheads, Evan at the Reading Festival 1993 is particularly emblematic of Peyton’s work, where, as Roberta Smith has suggested, ‘Each image is a point on entwined strands of artistic or emotional growth, memorializing a relationship, acknowledging an inspiration or exposing an aspect of ambition.’i


    The Lemonheads, 'Mrs Robinson'


    Executed in 1997, the year of The Lemonheads last appearance at the infamous UK festival before their 8 year hiatus (and of Peyton’s first solo exhibition in a major public institution) the work reflects a pivotal moment in both the artist’s career and in the cultural shift into the millennium. One of several portraits of Dando, he is shown here quietly contemplative, his long hair swept from his luminous face as he reads from the red book in his hands. Elbows leaning on crossed legs, his shoulders gently curved in concentration it is an image of quiet introspection and unguarded honesty that takes on the ethereal quality of a Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece.


    [left] Dante Gabriel Charles Rossetti, Day Dream, 1880, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Image: Bridgeman Images [right] Detail of the present work
    Left: Dante Gabriel Charles Rossetti, Day Dream, 1880, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Image: Bridgeman Images
    Right: Detail of the present work

    Intimately scaled, but possessing immense emotional power, the work is closely related to Peyton’s moving portraits of another grunge idol, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Although eluding the sense of tragedy and melancholy that pervades Peyton’s Kurt portraits, Evan at the Reading Festival 1993 shares in the same powerfully evocative sense of a specific cultural moment, and of the nostalgia that its recollection brings with it. While Peyton’s portraits ‘create a democracy or equivalence amongst their subjects’ akin to that of Andy Warhol who used modes of seriality and repetition in his silkscreened portraits of the most iconic celebrities of his own day, Peyton’s work marks a significant departure from Warhol’s fascination with the mechanics of celebrity and the image.ii

    "I guess what I’m interested in is the quality of my subjects being able to be themselves while occupying this extreme role in the public imagination. You can see their will, and that’s incredibly beautiful."
    —Elizabeth Peyton
    Coming of age in the 1980s when the Pictures Generation was in their ascendancy, Peyton’s first exhibition was held in a locked room of New York’s infamous Chelsea Hotel, featuring small-scaled portraits of famous historical figures including Marie Antoinette and Napoleon Bonaparte. These beginnings are telling, and even in Peyton’s more recent paintings of her friends, family, and close circle of art-world acquaintances, the artist’s interest in people as vehicles of history has remained consistent. Discussing this early exhibition some years later, Peyton explained: ‘Reading about Napoleon made me think how people make history. They are the way the world moves, and they contain their time.’iii


    Discerning no real distinction between those she knows personally and those she knows from history or through their music Evan at the Reading Festival 1993 is emblematic of Peyton’s finest portraits, presenting a moving statement on her deep emotional connection to music and literature. Moving beyond the purely representational on a journey inwards, Peyton’s portraits of musicians including John Lennon, David Bowie, and Sid Vicious act as a vehicle for her to explore the deeply personal and conflicted feelings that these found source images provoke, images of those artists and musicians who most inspire her, the ‘people who touch me, people who can help me feel my feelings.’iv


    ‘Elizabeth Peyton: Faces Contain Their Time’, Interview by Marc Christoph Wagner, at Edition Copenhagen, 2013 for the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art 


    Collector’s Digest


    • Executed in the same year as her first major solo show, Evan at the Reading Festival 1993 is a powerful example of Elizabeth Peyton’s painterly practice and contemporary reinterpretation of the tradition of portraiture.


    • Since her first UK exhibition in a South London pub in 1992, Peyton has had major retrospectives at the Whitechapel Gallery, Royal Academy, and The National Portrait Gallery, as well as numerous international exhibitions which have secured her reputation of one of the most important figurative artists working today.


    • The Museum of Modern Art in New York now holds 32 of Elizabeth Peyton’s works within its permanent collection.


    • Most recently, Peyton has channelled her sense of the mutual reciprocity existing between art forms and artists with a dazzling poster design for Luca Guadagninpo’s transcendent new film Bones and All, screened at the Venice film festival in September 2022.


    i Roberta Smith, ‘Elizabeth Peyton: The Personal and the Painterly’, New York Times, 9 October 2008, online
    ii Matthew Higgs, Elizabeth Peyton, London, 2005, p. 16. 
    iii Elizabeth Peyton, quoted in Calvin Tomkins, The Lives of Artists, Volume 5, London, 2019, p. 159. 
    iv Elizabeth Peyton, quoted in ‘I paint people who help me feel my feelings’, Conceptual Fine Arts, 19 December 2016, online.

    • Provenance

      Gavin Brown's Enterprise, New York
      Private Collection, Switzerland (acquired from the above)
      Thence by descent to the present owner

    • Literature

      David Rimanelli and Meicost Ettal, Elizabeth Peyton: Live Forever, Tokyo, 1997, n.p. (illustrated, p. 88)


Evan at the Reading Festival 1993

signed, titled and dated ‘evan @ the reading festival 1993 1997 Elizabeth Peyton’ on the reverse
oil on board
30.6 x 23.4 cm (12 x 9 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1997.

Full Cataloguing

£480,000 - 650,000 

Sold for £567,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 14 October 2022