George Condo - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 13, 2023 | Phillips
  • “I believe that painting needs to transform in order for it to become interesting for each and every generation, but I think of it more in terms of being liberated by history. Liberated by what has come before.”
    —George Condo

    Wearing only black, thigh-high stockings and a sheer negligee, edged in knotted whorls of blue lace, George Condo’s Seated Harlequin meets our gaze with disarming directness, her provocative pose and grotesquely twisted features marking her out as a memorable addition to Condo’s cast of wildly inventive characters who reside within ‘a ribald world of crazed, comic engagement, theatrical logic, and a furious indifference to conventional niceties.’i Borrowing from the art historical traditions of the seated nude and the tragi-comic figure of the Harlequin, the artist plays very directly with questions of performance and  spectacle here, and of the absurdity and violence involved in the confrontation between viewer and subject as multiple, conflicting states of human consciousness collide.


    Detail of the present work


    Psychological Cubism


    Over the course of his forty-year career, Condo has made profound and lasting contributions to the genre of portraiture, voraciously absorbing a vast range of art historical and pop culture references that roam from the pictorial lessons of Old Masters Francisco Goya, Diego Vélasquez, and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, to cartoons and comic strips, pin up girls and playboy bunnies via the radical experimentalism of Pablo Picasso and Willem de Kooning. This devouring, digestive approach to visual culture was announced at the very outset of Condo’s career with his breakthrough group of ‘fake old master’ canvases which the artist described as ‘an artificial, simulated American view of what European painting looked like’.ii Already playing with the contradictions and tensions between seen and unseen forces, and of their convergence in a single image, Condo’s irreverent fusion of recognisably human and grotesquely exaggerated, cartoon-like features would continue to push against the boundaries of what figurative painting can visually represent, and the psychological depths which it is able to explore.iii

    “Picasso painted a violin from four different perspectives at one moment. I do the same with psychological states. Four of them can occur simultaneously. Like glimpsing a bus with one passenger howling over a joke they’re hearing down the phone, someone else asleep, someone else crying – I’ll put them all in one face.”
    —George Condo 

    In the late 1990s, Condo crystalised this visual vocabulary with the introduction of his ‘antipodal beings’, an invented species whose overly modelled faces not only explored more painterly questions related to form and volume but, in their vividly expressive features, invested the genre with a new psychological charge. Often taking on the menial roles of butler, maid, chauffeur, or janitor, this strange cast of characters allowed Condo to visually expose the tensions between the composed face a subject might have to present to the world, and the more complex internal feelings shifting beneath the surface. Often set within, sparse, empty environments, the violently contorted features of these figures swing between abjection, pathos and absurdity, conjuring dehumanised subjects who nevertheless seem ‘acutely aware of their own predicament […] disenfranchised characters helplessly resisting their own alienation.’iv


    [Left] Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Joséphine-Élénore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Béarn, 1851-1853, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913, 14.40.611
    Right: Pablo Picasso, Harlequin, 1915, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence, Artwork: © 2023 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Provocatively posed on the edge of a chair, her clothes accentuating her nakedness and exposing rather than concealing her, Condo’s Seated Harlequin is at once confrontational and passive, violent and vulnerable, these conflicting states all combined in a vivid expression of Condo’s brand of psychological cubism. Sitting upright, looking out at us with her hands crossed, the arrangement of her body here visually recalls Ingres’ well-known portraits, the vivid blue of her negligee, boldly contrasted to the rich, golden ground and dancing squares of orange and yellow behind her brining to mind his iconic Joséphine-Élénore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Béarn, displayed at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Stripped of the more gentile elements of her dress and rich surroundings, Condo’s Seated Harlequin exposes and dramatizes the underlying dynamics of Ingres’ presentation of a woman who – to paraphrase John Berger – watches herself be looked at.  


    A theme that Picasso would return to again and again, the seated woman is an extreme manifestation of this, and it is perhaps no surprise that Condo has referenced the Spanish painter’s 1932 Woman in a Red Armchair as an image that resonates deeply with him. Borrowing the bright red nails and sharp angularity of Picasso’s iconic portraits of Dora Maar, the face of the Seated Harlequin is fractured into a typically Condoesque mask, with bulbous nose, jagged overbite, and one bulging eye that contradicts the more typically feminine rendering of the other. Where Picasso fractured the picture plane to combine multiple viewpoints in a single image – notably in his own Cubist Harlequin pictures - Condo applies this pictorial logic in the construction of his arresting psychological portraits. Charged with the same shocking brutality as Picasso’s infamous Demoiselles d’Avignon, the characters animating these portraits are at once seductive and repulsive, embodying ‘a position that is simultaneously frightening and appealing.’ As Ralph Rugoff has emphasised, the power of these portraits comes not simply from the range of conflicting psychological states combined in a single face, but of the way in which ‘they solicit different kinds of looks from the viewer, how they often look back at us with eyes that don’t match or don’t even seem to belong to the same face.’v


    Making notable appearances in the works of Jean-Antoine Watteau, Paul Cézanne, and Picasso, the harlequin has its own art historical lineage, allowing Condo to blend his investigations into the art of the past with his characteristic flair for the theatrical and darkly slapstick comedy. A character who combines the extremes of comedy and tragedy in a single entity, the harlequin is perhaps the supreme embodiment of Condo’s artistic project, speaking directly to the artist’s fascination for simultaneous, conflicting, psychological states. Presented to us nude, starkly lit and posed on a chair for our close contemplation, the Seated Harelquin captures the objectification involved in this performance, and of the titular character’s own recognition of herself as an object – like painting itself – to be looked at.


    George Condo | Mental States | Hayward Gallery, 2011


    Collector’s Diest

    • A major figure of late 20th and 21st century painting, the influence of George Condo’s unique approach to figuration and the tradition of portraiture can be felt in the work of a diverse range of contemporary artists including Nicole Eisenman and Dana Schutz.

    • Since his major international travelling mid-career survey Mental States in 2011, Condo has continued to exhibit widely, representing the United States at the 2013 and 2019 International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia. 

    • Now represented by Hauser & Wirth, his paintings are held in important international collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., amongst others. 



    i Jennifer Higgie, ‘Time’s Fool’, Frieze, 5 May, 2007, online.

    ii George Condo, quoted in Ralph Rugoff, George Condo, Existential Portraits: Sculpture, Drawings, Paintings 2005/2006, New York, 2006, p. 8.

    iii George Condo, quoted in Ralph Rugoff, ‘The Mental States of America’, in George Condo: Mental States exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2011, p. 12.

    iv Ralph Rugoff, ‘The Mental States of America’, in George Condo: Mental States, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2011, p. 18.

    v Ralph Rugoff, George Condo: Existential Portraits: Scultpture, Drawings, Paintings 2005/2006,, Luhring Augustine, New York, 2006, pp. 8-9.

    • Provenance

      Andrea Caratsch, Zurich
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Musée Maillol, George Condo: The Lost Civilization, 17 April - 17 August 2009, pp. 123, 163 (illustrated, p. 123)

    • 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


Seated Harlequin

signed and dated ‘Condo 07’ on the reverse
oil on canvas
134 x 117 cm (52 3/4 x 46 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2007.

Full Cataloguing

£750,000 - 950,000 

Sold for £889,000

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