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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

    Currently the focus of a significant career-survey exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, multi-lingual Etel Adnan was widely regarded as one the most significant voices of contemporary Arab-American culture. Born in Lebanon in 1925 to a Syrian father and Greek mother, her childhood was somewhat peripatetic, moving between Beirut and Damascus before journeying to Europe and the United States, first as a student and later as a lecturer and artist. Having gained notoriety at various points in her long life as a renowned poet and novelist, designer, essayist, and a professor of philosophy and aesthetics, Adnan found her voice as a painter in the early 1960s. Moving between different countries as fluidly as she has subsequently moved between mediums, Adnan’s practice matured to reflect this rich sense of cross-cultural and interdisciplinary exchange, one rooted in her intense engagement with the world around her. 

    'The gesture of looking at an image, and the way you read a poem, gets closer to an affinity between the arts. You understand that visual art is a matter of meditation, like a poem. I find that rather wonderful.'
    —Etel Adnan

    Emotionally expansive and resonating with a serene sense of hope and optimism, Adnan’s colour field compositions are nevertheless rooted to a traumatic sense of displacement and destruction that she bore witness to throughout her long life and would address more directly in her poetry and prose. Her intimately scaled canvases are especially adept at communicating a profound sense of the interconnected nature of place, memory, and identity, allowing Adnan to excavate the landscapes that had been lost to her. Drawing on an idyllic, imagined Smyrna, her childhood Beirut, and the ever-changing face of Mount Tamalpais in Sausalito, her instantly recognisable compositions tend to be dominated by ‘[h]ills overlooking distant lands, satellites circling colourful planets, and an immovable sun […] illuminating the beaches of her childhood in Lebanon.’i  


    Composed of three, broad bands of thick, bold colour crowned with a glowing butter-yellow disc, Untitled (#211) is typical of Adnan’s most recent work in its extreme distillation of the landscape into its constitutive parts of horizon, sky and dark, still expanse of sea or sand. The intensity of her palette here is indicative of her tendency to work with unmixed paints, applied directly to her small canvases with knives and spatulas. In pursuing a mode of abstraction that remains, nevertheless, tethered to a sense of physical specificity, Adnan’s compositional arrangement recalls the broad zones of flattened colour used to great effect in the landscapes of Milton Avery and pushed further into abstraction by colour field painters Mark Rothko and Richard Diebenkorn. Tellingly, Adnan aligned herself to these American masters, describing herself as a ‘Californian artist’, explaining that ‘the colours I use, the brightness – they are the colours of California’.ii 

     

    Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park, No. 79, 1975, Image:  Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with funds contributed by private donors, 1977, 1977-28-1, Artwork: © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation Paul Klee, The Harbinger of Autumn, 1922, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven
    Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park, No. 79, 1975, Image:  Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with funds contributed by private donors, 1977, 1977-28-1, Artwork: © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation
    Paul Klee, The Harbinger of Autumn, 1922, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven

    While her works often draw favourable comparison to Nicolas de Staël’s treatment of paint and composition, in its combinations of painting, tapestry, ceramics, and illustrated fold-out books known as leporellos we can also draw compelling parallels with the interdisciplinary work of Bauhaus pioneers Anni Albers and Paul Klee, ‘the first painter, Adnan says, she fell in love with.’iii

     
    Propelled into the public eye after showing at Documenta 13 in 2012, Adnan’s work is highly celebrated, having more recently been the subject of a series of international solo shows, including London’s Serpentine Gallery, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and her final exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. 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.  

     

    Etel Adnan: Light’s New Measure currently on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,
    New York. 

     

    i Kaya Genc, ‘For Etel Adnan, a show in Turkey is a symbolic homecoming’, Apollo, 3 June 2021, online
    ii Etel Adnan, quoted in Gabriel Coxhead, ‘The colours I use are the colours of California’, Apollo, 16 June 2018, online 
    iii Kaya Genc, ‘For Etel Adnan, a show in Turkey is a symbolic homecoming’, Apollo, 3 June 2021, online

    • Condition Report

    • Description

      View our Conditions of Sale.

    • Provenance

      Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Doha, Arab Museum of Modern Art, Etel Adnan: In All Her Dimensions, 18 March - 6 July 2014, p. 282 (illustrated, p. 283)
      London, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, Etel Adnan: The Weight of the World, 2 June - 11 September 2016, p. 134 (illustrated)

PROPERTY FROM AN ESTEEMED EUROPEAN COLLECTION

6

Untitled (#211)

signed and dated 'Adnan 2013' on the reverse
oil on canvas
24 x 30 cm (9 1/2 x 11 3/4 in.)
Painted in 2013.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£40,000 - 60,000 

Place Advance Bid
Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey
Specialist, Head of New Now Sale
+44 20 7318 4084
[email protected]

New Now

London Auction 9 December 2021