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  • “It's what I call artificial realism. That's what I do. I try to depict a character's train of thoughts simultaneously – hysteria, joy, sadness, desperation. If you could see these things at once that would be like what I'm trying to make you see in my art.” — George Condo

    American painter George Condo is best known for his provocative portraits of invented characters who present 'composites of various psychological states painted in different ways'. The Abducted Butler showcases Condo’s innate understanding of psychological iconography, and his remarkable ability to convey 'the madness of everyday life'.

     

     

    George Condo, Sketches of Jean Louis, 2006
    Sold by Phillips Hong Kong in June 2021 for HK$ 13,560,000
    © 2021 George Condo/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

     

    The butler and his fantastical secret life is a motif that recurs repeatedly in many of Condo’s works - The Fallen Butler (2009), The Butler (2007), Sketches of Jean Louis (2006), Jean Louis’ Girlfriend (2005), Jean Louis’ Wife (2005), to name a few. In Britain, the butler (predominantly male) was the most senior member of staff in the grandest households, whose distinct livery separated him from other servants. For many centuries the butler was a linchpin of such households, playing multiple roles as he strove to be discreet and unobtrusive, friendly but not familiar, keenly anticipative of his employer’s needs, and perennially dignified and graceful in executing his duties. In literature and the arts, too, the character of the butler was often deployed to play a key role – a figure of comedy, pity, repressed longing, ambition and/or tragedy. The humiliated Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the self-sacrificing Stevens in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, the long-suffering Carson of Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey – each of these characters concealed past lives and loves, compartmentalising their secrets, sacrifices and weaknesses behind a mask of pompous propriety. Inevitably the mask would slip at moments – an unwanted visitor from the past, a love too late to reclaim, disappointments beyond redemption – leading to precipitous moments of no return.

     

    The Abducted Butler is dedicated to and was previously in the collection of William Self, the famous English author whose satirical, grotesque and fantastical fiction is known for exploring mental illness and psychiatry - themes close to Condo's heart. The Abducted Butler captures Condo’s fascination with portraying complex and precarious mental states. Bulbous cheeked, ears pricked, hair receding but collar starched and bowtie perfectly centred, the butler’s image fragments into an inscrutable green cube. Only a tiny round eye on one corner indicates a human presence remains. His absurd appearance evokes a strange mixture of feelings – a poignant dignity offset by a ridiculous absence of half his face. 

     

     

    Pablo Picasso, Bust of a Woman, 1944
    Collection of the Tate, London
    © 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

    “Condo never lifts entire images, nor does he borrow ready-made styles. Instead, he assimilates his references into a seamless amalgam, so that we end up viewing one aspect of art history through the presence of another.” —Ralph Rugoff

    George Condo’s singular voice has been a cornerstone of American and European art for almost three decades. Emerging out of the dynamism of the early 1980s New York art scene, Condo developed a unique and provocative painting style, with his self-styled 'fake old masters' borrowing the virtuoso craftsmanship and paint handling of the Old Masters to depict the fantastical subjects of Condo’s imagination. Developing a reputation as the heir to Picasso, Condo’s exceptionally prolific body of work draws on inspiration as diverse as Diego Velázquez, Pop art and graffiti.

     

    Inspired by a course on Baroque and Rococo painting during his studies, Condo spent a year studying Old Master glazing techniques in Los Angeles and upon relocating to New York worked as a printer for Andy Warhol. He exhibited at the Pat Hearn Gallery alongside radical painters such as Mary Heilmann and Philip Taaffe, and became close friends with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Over the next two decades, he explored an astonishing variety of aesthetic styles, from Mannerism to Cubism, demonstrating a limitless knowledge of art history and popular culture.

     

     

    George Condo, The Fallen Butler, 2009
    Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York
    © 2021 George Condo/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

     

    Condo has exhibited extensively throughout his career, with his largest solo exhibition in Asia held in 2021 at the Long Museum in Shanghai. An acclaimed mid-career retrospective held at the New Museum in New York in 2011 later travelled to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Hayward Gallery, London; and Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt. Condo was also the subject of a museum-wide exhibition hosted at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in 2016 and selected to appear at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019 titled ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ and curated by Ralph Rugoff. 

     

     

    iRalph Rugoff, The Imaginary Portraits of George Condo, London, 2002, p. 9

    iiGeorge Condo, quoted in Stuart Jeffries, ‘George Condo: “I was delirious. Nearly died”’, The Guardian, 10 February 2014, online

    iiiGeorge Condo, quoted in Holland Cotter, ‘A Mind Where Picasso Meets Looney Tunes’, The New York Times, 27 January 2011, online

    • Provenance

      Collection of Will Self, London (gifted directly from the artist)
      Private Collection, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      George Condo

      American • 1957

      Picasso once said, "Good artists borrow, great artists steal." Indeed, American artist George Condo frequently cites Picasso as an explicit source in his contemporary cubist compositions and joyous use of paint. Condo is known for neo-Modernist compositions staked in wit and the grotesque, which draw the eye into a highly imaginary world. 

      Condo came up in the New York art world at a time when art favored brazen innuendo and shock. Student to Warhol, best friend to Basquiat and collaborator with William S. Burroughs, Condo tracked a different path. He was drawn to the endless inquiries posed by the aesthetics and formal considerations of Caravaggio, Rembrandt and the Old Masters.

      View More Works

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The Abducted Butler

signed, titled, inscribed and dated ‘"The Abducted Butler" for Will Condo Oct 2011 London Hotel Ritz’ on the reverse
oil on canvas
41.3 x 33 cm. (16 1/4 x 12 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2011.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
HK$1,800,000 - 2,800,000 
€204,000-317,000
$231,000-359,000

Sold for HK$4,032,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 29 November 2021