Etel Adnan - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips

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  •  “When the colour comes out of the tube I don’t want to mix it, because there’s such an immediate beauty
    about the joy of colour.”
    — Etel Adnan

     Painted in 2018—three years before the artist’s passing at the age of 96 in 2021—Untitled is a prime example of the distinct visual language of Etel Adnan, who is widely regarded as one of the most significant voices of contemporary Arab-American culture. Boasting impressive exhibition history, Untitled comprised part of the artist’s retrospective solo shows at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art between 1 September 2018 – 6 January 2019, as well as The Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg between 6 June – 8 September 2019.


    Installation shot of the present work (right) exhibited at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Etel Adnan: New Work, 1 September 2018 - 6 January 2019

    Born in Lebanon in 1925 to a Syrian father and Greek mother, Adnan spent her childhood between Damascus and Beirut before journeying to Europe and the United States to study philosophy at the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris, UC Berkley, and Harvard University. Having always been drawn to ‘the immediate beauty of colour’, Adnan first shifted her creative focus to visual art in the early 1960s, whilst teaching philosophy at the Dominican College of San Rafael in California. Already well established as a renowned poet and novelist, designer, essayist and lecturer of both philosophy and aesthetics, this expansion of Adnan's artistic expression demonstrated not only her remarkable fluidity to move between mediums, but also her profound sense of cross-cultural and multidisciplinary exchange, which was deeply rooted in her intense engagement with the world.


    Instantly recognisable as a work by Adnan, the first thing that strikes the viewer when looking at Untitled is its bright, powerful colours—with this particular composition inspiring a series of six other paintings Adnan produced in 2018. To create her paintings, Adnan would select colours intuitively, applying them directly out of the tube onto canvases laid flat on her desk, working quickly and decisively to form shape using a palette knife instead of a brush. Simultaneously energetic yet calming, blocks of royal blue frame Untitled along its horizontal edges, drawing the eye toward a stripe of sunshine-yellow and the intermixing areas of pastel maroon and forest green in the centre, which both contrast and balance. 


    Detail of the present work

    Reminiscent of earth tones, these rich hues nod to the intense connection Adnan felt to nature, as she once summarised: ’It is the power of nature that comes to us through colour’. Indeed, despite the absence of figurative components in her paintings, Adnan’s canvases are still connected to physical specificity through the inspiration the artist sources from actual landscapes, particularly Mount Tamalpais, which held significance for Adnan throughout her life in California.


    Etel Adnan discusses her practice

    Video Courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum


    At the same time, although critics often draw favourable comparisons between Adnan’s art and colour field painters such as Mark Rothko and Richard Diebenkorn, Adnan was also inspired by the influential practices of Paul Klee and Vincent van Gogh, who were both keen admirers of colour and nature themselves. Adnan once observed that ‘van Gogh really liberated colour. Because he accepted it as true', a sentiment which could easily also be felt while looking at Untitled. Adnan was recently honoured by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam for a posthumous retrospective of the artist’s work in the Fall of 2021.


    Paul Klee, Colorful Architecture, 1917
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Berggruen Klee Collection, 1984

    Praised for their ability to capture both the physical beauty of the world as well as its emotional phenomena, Adnan’s work propelled into the public eye after it was shown at dOCUMENTA (13) in 2012. Just two years later in 2014, Adnan was awarded the Orde de Chevalier des Artes et des Lettres by the French government in recognition of her creative vision and extraordinary contribution to literary and artistic culture. 


    Since then, her highly celebrated approach to abstraction has been the subject of a series of international solo shows, including at London’s Serpentine Gallery, the Mathaf in Doha, and her final exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Demonstrative of her profound legacy, 9 out of Adnan’s top 10 results at auction have all been set in the past 2 years.

    • Provenance

      Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2019

    • Exhibited

      San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, New Work, 1 September 2018 - 6 January 2019
      Luxembourg, Mudam, Etel Adnan et les mordernes, 6 June - 8 September 2019



signed and dated 'Adnan 18' on the reverse
oil on canvas
54.7 x 46 cm. (21 1/2 x 18 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

HK$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for HK$1,905,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 31 March 2023