Genieve Figgis - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 23, 2019 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Almine Rech Gallery, Brussels
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2015

  • Exhibited

    New York, Half Gallery, Good Morning, Midnight: Genieve Figgis, 15 September - 25 October 2014

  • Literature

    Alison Gingeras, Genieve Figgis, New York, 2017, pp. 98-99 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    I love looking at ideas of the past in Old Masters. They were made to tell you a story. Some of the portraits have the authority and theatricality... I enjoy looking at people from the past and how they portrayed themselves.” Geneive Figgis

    Painted in 2015, A Social Portrait is nastily entertaining, distinctly representative of the artist’s interest in pursuing and exploring history as a constant starting point for her work. With an interest in Irish-English subjects of the fifteenth century, Genieve Figgis precisely turns to this in A Social Portrait, painting a traditional aristocratic family portrait in an indoor domestic setting, reminiscent of the drawing room in a Georgian country house. Throughout the canon of art history, from the early Renaissance to eighteenth century portraiture, male artists have championed the notion of the home as a way of reflecting lineage, as well as to embody the hierarchical system of virtues of how women should behave as in Sir Joshua Reynold’s 4th Duke of Marlborough and Family created in the seventeenth century. Contrary to this and as suggested in the title, A Social Portrait, while taking to history as a source of inspiration, Figgis puts her own contemporary spin on the classical subject, knocking down the ideals of the ‘stiff’ domestic setting through the pose, appearance and attire of her figures. Blatantly refusing to portray three generations of one family or to put emphasis on a maternal pair enthroned in a damask chair, Figgis instead renders all of her historic characters with equal importance, confronting the viewer directly with a haunting yet humorous gaze. From the women on the far left to the dog in the center and the men on the right, each character is painted with skull-like and animalistic features, bathed in rich colours that bubble, ooze and marbleize into a creamy pool, calling to mind spectral creatures and leering ghouls. Figgis dresses her characters in distinctly Georgian attire yet deliberately picks the dresses and hairstyles that were considered to be progressive and contemporary of the time – painting the women in 18th century-style chemise gowns, deemed to be immodest and informal, but considered as in fashion by forward-thinking aristocrats; and the men, bewigged and dressed in dark, well-cut and fitted overcoats. A Social Portrait reflects a fascinating moment, in which her figures are masked under the different cosmetics of time.

    In true contemporary fashion, Figgis’ career began on Twitter in which her display of artworks on the platform caught the attention of celebrated American artist Richard Prince, introducing her into the New York art scene. After starting a family, Figgis only began studying Fine Arts at the Gorey School of Art in Wexford at the age of 30, mesmerised by the experimental nature of painting and the medium’s long attachment to history and representation to the figure. “Painting is about pleasure. If it weren’t pleasurable, I wouldn’t do it. For a long time I’ve been pouring paint – the medium’s unpredictability is the addiction for me…” explains Figgis (the artist quoted in Olivia Parkes, “The Irish Artist Attacking the Female Figure with Paint”, Vice, 23 October 2015, online). To Figgis, the painting is her stage and the story she paints happens by chance, allowing her to invent and direct as she goes along, with no idea of how it will end. Influenced by a wide array of female artists such as Jenny Saville, Marlene Dumas, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Figgis strikes a balance between figuration and abstraction, bringing home her distinct style of a combination of apparent pictorial banality with an underlying otherworldly quality, at once funny and subversive.


A Social Portrait

signed and dated 'genieve figgis 2014' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
58.4 x 99.1 cm. (23 x 39 in.)
Painted in 2014.

HK$120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for HK$1,875,000

Contact Specialist
Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 24 November 2019