Francesca Mollett - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 13, 2023 | Phillips
  • “Looking at Mollett’s paintings, we get the impression of a poised moment in which thought emerges from the pigment in the form of an image.”
    —Tom Morton

    Revisiting the subject once explored by Vincent Van Gogh in his very own Two Thistles painting from 1888, Francesca Mollett’s oil and acrylic on calico painted in 2021 departs from the image of two thistle flowers to draw one of her celebrated abstract interior landscapes. Here, boundaries converge between realms: the inner and the outer, the material and the intangible, the virtual and the real, the transient and the eternal, the earthly and the ethereal exist simultaneously, making unfeasible a conventional classification of subject matter with regards to her practice. The young British artist, amongst the leading figures of a new generation of women artists reinvigorating abstract art, presents here the intimate impression of a thought moment.


    Vincent Van Gogh, Two Thistles, 1888, Private Collection.


    Light and Surface


    The dense bright lilac heads of the thistle flowers emerge against the earthy and fiery landscape. Like in Van Gogh’s composition, the flowers intertwine, split, and multiply. This duality and splitting quality, evoked by the title and by the distribution of the flowers across the space, builds on Mollett’s recurrent exploration of reflections. Fascinated with the complexities of representing light on surface, the artist investigates the way light dissolves when in contact with water, air and other geological and biological elements. In her paintings, wells, tides, bodies of water and flora react to the changing weather and to the inner metamorphic qualities of water. Combining brushstrokes of hydrous acrylic and thin oil paint with sudden impastos of textured colour, her canvases oscillate between luminosity and solidity, and between transparency and opacity. As the artist describes, ‘I intend for marks to have agency, create their own edges, resist one another using oil and acrylic’s friction to create tense luminous surfaces.’i


    In Two Thistles, the ground becomes liquid, breathable, turning the surface into a fluid and malleable passage that distorts our perception of time and space. The almost tactile porosity of the landscape connects all layers at once: the deep and dark underground, the luminescent sky, and the ethereal realm of sensations. Mollett invites us through her personal portal to discover hidden connections, emotions and memories. As the artist manifests, ‘each painting wants to produce its own kind of shimmer, but it then also originates from a shimmer out in the world. The shimmer is both a visual seen effect and an intangible, close to revelatory moment.’ii



    Language and Time

    “Contemporary auto-fiction and streams of consciousness from literature are formative to how I perceive daily reality.”
    —Francesca Mollett

    Literature informs Francesca Mollett’s practice. Departing from fictional narratives, the artist discovers relational and emotional states that guide her artistic exploration. Often paired with poems, like Ella Duffy’s Surfacing written on the occasion of her solo exhibition Halves at Grimm Gallery, her works create a complex language that can’t be articulated through representation alone. Reminiscing Etel Adnan’s hybrid artistic practice that melds art and writing to meditate on our relationship with nature, the young British artist embarks us on a multidimensional and multisensorial voyage, in which painting opens new possibilities within its own medium, as well as provides new keys to read the world that surrounds us, to unlock hidden layers of meaning. In both artists’ practice, colour and texture become a language on their own, carrier of emotions and souvenirs.


    Etel Adnan, Arizona, 1964-65, M+ Collection, Hong Kong. Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2023


    Departing from a specific image, at a given place and time, like the flourishment of two thistle flowers in the wild, Mollett captures the elusiveness of a fleeting moment. A moment in which surfaces collide, boundaries dissolve, physical and spiritual bodies merge. By depicting those cathartic instances, spanning no more than a handful of seconds, they become everlasting, like Adnan’s landscapes painted from memory and encapsulating different moments of the day, in all seasons. As the artist quotes, they become ‘out of time and yet in time.’iii


    Collector’s Digest

    • Since completing her MA at the Royal College of Arts in 2020, Francesca Mollett has been the subject of several solo shows internationally, notably at Grimm Gallery in Amsterdam, at Pond Society in Shanghai, at Micki Meng in San Francisco, at Baert Gallery in Los Angeles, and at Taymour Grahne Projects and Informality Gallery in London.

    • Francesca Mollett has also been included in influential group shows including New British Abstraction at CICA, Vancouver; Considering Female Abstractions at Green Family Art Foundation, Dallas, and Sabrina, curated by Russell Tovey at Sim Smith, London.

    • Her works are in the collections of renowned public and private institutions such as the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; the K11 Art Foundation, Hong Kong, or the Kunstmuseum, the Hague.



    i Francesca Mollett, quoted in her artist statement at Royal College of Arts, online.

    ii Francesca Mollett, quoted in Artnet Gallery Network, ‘7 Questions for British Artist Francesca Mollett on How Fireflies, Canals, and Ancient Grottoes Inspire Her Light-Filled Canvases’, Artnet News, 1 June, 2023, online.

    iii Francesca Mollett, quoted in her artist statement at Royal College of Arts, online.

    • Provenance

      Pi Artworks, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Pi Artworks, An Ode to Orlando, 4 – 6 February 2022


Two Thistles

signed and titled ‘TWO THISTLES, FRANCESCA MOLLETT’ on the overlap
oil and acrylic on calico
200.3 x 150.1 cm (78 7/8 x 59 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2021.

Full Cataloguing

£25,000 - 35,000 

Sold for £254,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 October 2023