Emma Webster - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 13, 2023 | Phillips
  • “I’m trying to create a world that doesn’t exist.”
    —Emma Webster

    One of a suite of twelve paintings presented as part of British-American artist Emma Webster’s inaugural show with Carl Kostyál in 2021, Baptism represents the bold and innovative new directions in which the artist is pushing the genre of landscape painting in the digital age. Lusciously executed in swirling folds of highly saturated oil on linen, the bravura painterliness and immersive scale of the work is intoxicating, Webster’s mastery of light and form pushing this undulating, open vista into strange, hallucinogenic territory. Emptied of people and signs of human civilisation, Baptism seems to sit somehow out of time, a surreal, disquieting atmosphere made even stranger by Webster’s troubling use of space and the suspended twilight hanging over the scene.


    The World Landscape


    The title chosen by Webster for her presentation of these works – Weltlandschaft – refers to the Western pictorial tradition of showing fantastical, panoramic landscapes rooted in the imaginary, rather than the real. Typically featuring bodies of water, elevated viewpoints, and contrasts between souring mountainscapes and rolling lowlands, this mode of landscape painting grew increasingly popular in the 16th century, exemplified in the dramatic compositions of painters such as Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Often illustrating Biblical or historical narratives and created during an age of exploration and colonial expansion, these majestic landscapes work symbolically to reinforce the fantasy of man’s dominion over the natural world and the creatures within it.


    Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, 1563, Courtauld Gallery, London


    For the ecologically minded Webster, painting affords us the opportunity to rethink and remake our relationship to the world we inhabit as one of interconnectivity and enmeshment, evoking theatre as a powerful parallel for thinking about her approach to image-making. The complex spatial relationships activated in her compositions certainly speak to this, foreground and background passages exchanging places in unexpected ways, not unlike the trompe l’oeil effects used in painted stage backdrops. As the artist explains, ‘Theatre begs for immersion. […] When we hear “director” we think about actions, or relationships with actors and plot, but the role is also about setting conditions. A director of space, an architect.’i

    “Colour poses an interesting challenge. In reality, it’s reflected waves, but with sculpture, there’s tension between the painted surface and the light cast upon it.”
    —Emma Webster

    This sensitivity to the construction of space is central to Webster’s practice, whose landscapes are neither depictions of naturally occurring phenomena, or scenes painted directly from her own imagination. Instead, Webster constructs her compositions in dioramas – initially by hand using spotlit figurines and countryside miniatures operating in dialogue with collaged material borrowed from canonical landscape paintings. More recently, the artist has pushed this practice even further with her enthusiastic adoption of 3-D modelling software which allows her to create complex, three-dimensional compositions in a virtual space before projecting these simulated maquettes onto her canvases and transferring the image in paint. Introduced to these new digital technologies by Virtual Reality artist and former classmate Wyatt Roy in 2020, the present work comes from this period of intensive experimentation with cutting-edge digital tools, and the uses to which she might put them in her ongoing inquiry into the nature of the structured scene. As its title suggests, Baptism presents a new kind of landscape painting, sitting between the real and the virtual and affirming Webster’s growing reputation as ‘not a landscape painter but a painter of landscapes.’ii


    Postcards for Places you can’t Visit: Emma Webster, landscapes and VR, Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami



    Collector’s Digest

    • Recently announcing her representation by Paris-based Perrotin Gallery, Emma Webster is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale University, where she received an MFA in Painting in 2018. Her practice asks pointed questions about the construction of the image, and of our relationship to natural and virtual worlds.

    • The present work was included in Weltlandschaft, her first solo show in London, held at Carl Kostyál Gallery in 2021. Webster has also had solo exhibitions with Perrotin, launching the gallery’s new space in Gangham Seoul with her 2022 presentation Illuminarium, and more recently in her 2023 The Dolmens.

    • In 2021, Webster published Lonescape: Green, Painting, & Mourning Reality, a collection of musings on landscape and image-making in an increasingly digital world.  


    i Emma Webster, cited in Pearl Fontain, ‘Emma Webster paints Ethereal Landscapes from a Virtual Reality’, Whitewall, December 28, 2021, online.

    ii Emily McDermott, ‘Emma Webster is Reinventing Landscape Painting Using VR Technology’, ARTnews, September 2, 2020, online.

    • Provenance

      Carl Kostyál, London
      Private Collection, Europe
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Carl Kostyál, Emma Webster: Weltlandschaft, 11 March - 5 April 2021



signed, titled and dated ‘“Baptism” 2020 E. Webster Emma Webster’ on the reverse
oil on linen
170.3 x 280.5 cm (67 x 110 3/8 in.)
Painted in 2020.

Full Cataloguing

£80,000 - 120,000 ‡♠

Sold for £228,600

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Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
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Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 October 2023