Kehinde Wiley - New Now London Tuesday, July 13, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'I think ideas are just as important as the material practice of painting.'
    —Kehinde Wiley

    Kehinde Wiley’s large-scale portrait unites figuration with bold decorative elements to explore the identity politics of representation. Perhaps best known for his presidential portrait of Barack Obama, the artist is deeply influenced by art historical sources. Working between New York, Beijing, and Dakar, Senegal, his paintings respond to the portraiture of Old Masters including Reynolds, Gainsborough, and, as the title of the present work indicates, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen’s Jean de Cardondelet. Here, the titular advisor to the 15th century Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, is replaced by the figure of a young Black man, cast by Wiley on the streets of Harlem, New York. One hand holds a single sports glove, reimagining the pair of gloves grasped in Carondelet’s fist, while the other hand of Wiley’s subject replicates the idiosyncratic pose of Vermeyen’s politician.


    Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, Portrait of Jan Carondelet, c. 1550 (oil on panel). Image © Brooklyn Museum of Art / Gift of Horace O. Havemeyer / Bridgeman Images

    The present work is one in a series of portraits first presented in Wiley’s 2004 breakthrough exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, Passing/Posing. The subjects of these works, dressed in everyday clothing to assert their contemporaneity, ‘assum[e] the poses of colonial masters, the former bosses of the Old World.’i The choice of pose and accoutrement are significant. The direct gaze and augmented scale of the carefully posed figures are set within ornate gold frames, appropriating the visual imagery of social power and prestige in European portraiture, here applied to Wiley’s exploration of contemporary Black American masculinity. In the course of the exhibition, this juxtaposition of the contemporary and the traditional was heightened in relation to the present work as both Vermeyen’s and Wiley’s Jean de Cardondelet portraits hung simultaneously in the Brooklyn Museum.


    The illusionistic technique employed by Wiley to depict the figure in his portrait is contrasted with the bold execution of the ornamental decorative border to make a political point. Drawing a comparison between the ostracization of the decorative arts and Black subjects in Western artistic traditions, he strives to foreground both in his artmaking practice so ‘what has been marginalised comes to occupy the very centre of the painting.’ii Since his Passing/Posing series, Wiley has extended the geographical borders of his project to paint subjects in varied urban landscapes across the world, appropriating and reconfiguring the painterly traditions of Western portraiture to powerfully assert marginalised experiences into the art historical canon.

    'There’s a type of tongue in cheek embrace of art history, but I think there’s also a very sincere desire to make respectful, beautiful images. And it’s an interesting tightrope to walk.'
    —Kehinde Wiley.

    Kehinde Wiley discusses the significance of art historical sources to his exploration of racial and gendered identity through portraiture.


    i Kehinde Wiley, quoted on the artist’s website, online
    ii Kehinde Wiley, quoted in Natasha Kurchanova, ‘Kehinde Wiley: “I think ideas are just as important as the material practice of painting,”’ Studio International, 27 February 2015, online

    • Provenance

      Simon Watson Arts, New York (acquired directly from the artist)
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Phillips, London, 7 March 2019, lot 5
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Brooklyn Museum, Passing Posing: Kehinde Wiley Paintings, 8 October 2004 - 5 February 2005

    • Literature

      Sarah Lewis, 'De(i)fying the Masters', Art in America, 1 April 2005, online

    • Artist Biography

      Kehinde Wiley

      Applying the language and devices of royal portraiture to unnamed archetypes of the Black American experience, Kehinde Wiley bestows the pride and prestige of history painting to groups that it has too often overlooked. Rather than depicting the European aristocracy, Wiley’s portraits d’apparats place African Americans against florid backdrops and atop rearing horses, retaining the pomp and opulence of his historical antecedents and situating Black men and women dressed in everyday clothing as the subjects of art historical aggrandization. Often the accoutrements of urban life lend themselves quite readily to historical genres of portraiture; Air Jordans and Timberland boots can be as appropriate to monarchist might as emerald and ermine. Wiley’s goal is twofold: by subverting outmoded forms of expression through the substitution of the sitter, the artist criticizes the historical neglect of adequate Black representation and glorifies undeservingly maligned representatives of modern American life, what he calls “the ability to create painting and destroy painting at once.”

      Wiley’s work has been the subject of universal acclaim. His work can be found in the collections of major institutions across the world, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford. Wiley was also selected in 2017 to paint the official portrait of President Barack Obama, the first Black artist to be given such an honor. Recently, Wiley founded Black Rock, an artist residency in Dakar, Senegal, bringing an important artistic resource to the African continent.

      View More Works

Ο ◆21

Passing/Posing, Jean de Carondelet

signed and dated 'Kehinde Wiley 04' on the reverse
oil and enamel on canvas, in artist's frame
270.5 x 209.6 cm (106 1/2 x 82 1/2 in.)
Executed in 2004.

Full Cataloguing

£120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for £151,200

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey
Head of New Now Sale
+44 20 7318 4084
[email protected]

New Now

London Auction 13 July 2021