Julie Curtiss - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

  • "I enjoy associating humor with darkness, the uncanny and the mundane, grotesque shapes to vivid colors…"
    —Julie Curtiss

    Painted in 2016, Three Widows epitomizes Julie Curtiss’ psychologically driven paintings that explore femininity and the uncanny through a stylized, surrealist lens. Three veiled figures are spotlighted against a flat blue background in a tightly cropped compositional frame with an uncanny cinematic quality. Though turned away from the viewer, Curtiss anthropomorphizes the figures’ hair and backs, engendering an enigmatic puzzle as to the figures’ true orientation. Showcasing the artist’s signature rope-like tresses of hair, erotic suggestions, and concealed faces, the present work is emblematic of the hallmarks which have come to characterize Curtiss’ celebrated oeuvre.


    René Magritte, Rape, 1934. The Menil Collection, Houston, Image: Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    René Magritte, Rape, 1934. The Menil Collection, Houston, Image: Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    "I avoided working overall complex compositions and instead cropped my subjects very intimately, leaving a lot of the action outside the frame. I wanted to convey a bit of a cinematic feel, and it ended up almost surreal."
    —Julie Curtiss 

    From 18th- and 19th-century French painting to the Chicago Imagists’ dreamlike graphic imagery, Curtiss draws upon a vast range of art historical influences in her practice. In the present work, she culls a fusion of artists who she has noted as specific inspirations—the illustrative quality of Christina Ramberg’s surrealist-pop female figures, Édouard Manet’s portraits of Berthe Morisot in mourning, Gustave Courbet’s well-known Burial at Ornans, and René Magritte’s leitmotif of obscuring the countenance. Filtering these evocations for her own painterly agenda, Curtiss explains in her artist statement, “My artworks are psychological....I like to depict...objects that evoke a domestic, tamed image of women. On the other side, organic, ambiguous body parts allude to a darker archetype of a woman fused with nature. Through faceless portraits of women, I want to reflect on identity, as it is defined by nature and culture, and as something that is ever-changing.”i


    Paul Gauguin, Vision of the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel), 1888. Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Image: © National Galleries of Scotland, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

    "Sometimes I think of my paintings as self-portraits, they represent the multiple hidden facets of myself."
    —Julie Curtiss

    Having moved to Tokyo in 2006, when she began developing a more graphic, comic book-like aesthetic, Curtiss later moved to New York, where she solidified her signature mode of painting. “My art went through a new phase a few years after I settled in New York,” Curtiss elucidated.ii “My art became lighter and more in phase with new life challenges: affirming myself as a woman, embracing the multiple facets within myself, engaging more with the outer world.”iii Her propensity to present elements in twos or threes at once reflects her aim to “extend the body through objects, forms, and figures” and present the various shades of self through “[exploring] the ideas of dreams, parallel worlds, and synchronicity.”iv


    Heightening this allusion while challenging the very nature of a portrait, the facelessness of the figures is the device through which Curtiss channels the personal to embody the universal. “My work is deeply personal....My figures are a mixture of personal experiences, of projection, archetypes, borrowed elements and observations,” she explained.v “These portraits are almost self-portraits, but without the face you don’t actually know. They are all forms of portraits, just without the face. Anyone can project into them.”vi


    Andy Warhol, Nine Jackies, 1964. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Image: © Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    "Hair itself is amorphous, but you can shape it; it's inert and alive at once....What I like about hair in painting is the pattern and repetitiveness, which is hypnotic and attractive."
    —Julie Curtiss 

    Julie Curtiss, Pas de Trois, 2018. Private Collection, Artwork: © Julie Curtiss

    Since the beginning of her career, hair has been a hallmark of Curtiss’ oeuvre and her key strategy to transpose personal experience into a broader empathy on womanhood, as well as the universal human condition of mortality. On her fascination with the motif, the artist expressed, “Hair started interesting me ever since I was a teenager when I discovered old braids of hair belonging to my mother and my aunt in my attic. I realized there was this part of us that would remain long after we are gone....It's also interesting to observe how some people recoil at the presence of human hair, as if in the presence of a corpse.”vii Through the subject of death, the present work signals to this very observation and ultimately captures Curtiss’ core investigations: “[Hair] has a function but it is also an ornament, and that encapsulates two of my favorite subjects: nature and culture.”viii


    i Julie Curtiss, former artist statement, Dialogist, vol. 4, issue no. 3, 2019.
    ii Julie Curtiss, quoted in Marie Zemtsova, “Piecing the Puzzle in Julie Curtiss’ Paintings,” Art Maze Mag, February 15, 2019, online.
    iii Ibid.
    iv Julie Curtiss, quoted in “Julie Curtiss,” Work in Progress, June 2017, online.
    v Julie Curtiss, quoted in Marie Zemtsova, “Piecing the Puzzle in Julie Curtiss’ Paintings,” Art Maze Mag, February 15, 2019, online.
    vi Julie Curtiss, quoted in “Julie Curtiss,” Work in Progress, June 2017, online.
    vii Julie Curtiss, quoted in Evan Pricco, “Julie Curtiss: Where The Wild Things Are,” Juxtapoz, April 15, 2019, online.
    viii Julie Curtiss, quoted in Emily Burns, “Q&A with Julie Curtiss,” Maake Magazine, 2017, online.

    • Provenance

      The Hole, New York
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, The Hole, Post Analog Painting II, April 6 – May 14, 2017

    • Artist Biography

      Julie Curtiss

      Born and raised in Paris, France, Julie Curtiss (b. 1982) now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Curtiss studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts, Paris.

      The artist draws on a history of figurative painting including 18th- and 19th-century French painting, as well as the Chicago Imagists and the ‘pop’ imagery of comic books, manga and illustration. Frequent subject matter focuses on the deconstructed female body and symbols of stereotypical female aesthetics. There are similarities between Curtiss’ work and the painters of the female Surrealist movement of the early 20th century in the use of distorted perspectives, dreamscapes, and humor to reflect upon the female experience.  

      Curtiss’ work is represented in a number of museum collections, among which are Bronx Museum, New York; Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio; High Museum, Atlanta; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Maki Collection, Japan; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Yuz Museum, Shanghai.


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Property from an Important East Coast Collection


Three Widows

signed, titled and dated "Julie Curtiss 3 WIDOWS, 2016." on the reverse
acrylic and oil on canvas
30 x 30 in. (76.2 x 76.2 cm)
Painted in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

$110,000 - 150,000 

Sold for $466,200

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021