Genieve Figgis - New Now London Tuesday, July 13, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'The figures populating Genieve Figgis’s paintings emanate from some luminescent netherworld, suspended between life and death, or living life and death or life through death in a land of the willingly lost…'
    —David Rimanelli, Wonderful Party, Darling

    Vibrant and wickedly humorous, Genieve Figgis’s dark reimagining of historical society portraiture presents us with a world turned inside out, the smooth neo-classical veneer of Joshua Reynolds or Johann Zoffany peeled away to reveal what lurks just below the civilised orderliness of their surfaces. Picking away at broader notions of English civility as much as more historically specific attitudes to land, women, and conceptions of ownership, Family in the Grass embodies Figgis’s appropriation of visual codes associated with the eighteenth-century domestic family portrait or ‘conversation piece’ in order to gently ironise the socio-cultural ideals that it maintained.


    Johann Zoffany, The Dutton Family in the Drawing Room of Sherborne Park, Gloucestershire, c. 1774, oil on canvas, Private Collection. Image photo © Mark Fiennes Archive / Bridgeman Images
    Johann Zoffany, The Dutton Family in the Drawing Room of Sherborne Park, Gloucestershire, c. 1774, oil on canvas, Private Collection. Image photo © Mark Fiennes Archive / Bridgeman Images

    Conjuring up atmospheric narratives steeped in Gothic drama with remarkable economy, Figgis’s richly painted, liquid surfaces and confident use of heavy colour work together with her highly induvial approach to figuration to produce unforgettably macabre distortions of facial expression and form. Executed in carefully controlled palette of mossy greens, swirling whites and dense blacks in Figgis’s characteristic wet-on-wet application of acrylics, Family in the Grass places familial dynamics - and the tensions between their reality and appearance – centre stage.

    'My interest in history is about the storytelling. Art, music, literature, architecture, and archaeology all take you back in time. I use these as starting points and go from there. I became very interested in contemporary figurative painting because the figure is so present in the history of art. The idea of portraiture being used to flatter the ego seemed ancient.' —Genieve FiggisStanding possessively behind their five daughters, a couple in the manner of Jane Austen’s Mr and Mrs Bennett present us with their five daughters grouped obediently at their feet, the long line of their Regency robes wrapped underneath their legs in confident, fluid brushstrokes. Preoccupied with securing advantageous marriages and thus financial security for their children who, as daughters, would be unable to inherit their father’s estate and modest fortune, Mrs Bennett’s hysterical handwringing is amplified in Family in the Grass, the intense collisions of colour and ghoulish contortions of their faces humorously expressive of the absurd precarity of social status and fragility of appearances under such social conditions.


    Emerging as a favourite amongst critics and collectors alike, it is no surprise that Figgis’s Baroque approach to costume and historical detail has been cited as direct influence for costume designer Ellen Mirojnick’s imaginative approach to the phenomenally popular Bridgerton series. Sampling Regency fashion and mixing it with sumptuous fabrics and a heightened sense of colour and pattern, Mirojnick’s approach to the historical specificity of fashion and design clearly resonates with Figgis’s assertion that ‘Anyone approaching history is reinventing it.’i


    Scene from the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which the family react to news of Lydia’s engagement. 

    i Genieve Figgis, ‘Art that Sings: A Q&A with Genieve Figgis, Dodie Kazanjian, in Genieve Figgis
    New York, Skira Rizzoli, 2017, p. 146

    • Provenance

      Half Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      Donald Cumming, Below the Line, New York, 2015, n.p. (illustrated)


Family in the Grass

signed and dated 'genieve figgis 2015' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
120 x 100 cm (47 1/4 x 39 3/8 in.)
Painted in 2015.

Full Cataloguing

£70,000 - 100,000 ‡♠

Sold for £126,000

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey
Head of New Now Sale
+44 20 7318 4084

New Now

London Auction 13 July 2021