Lynette Yiadom-Boakye - Modern & Contemporary Art: Evening & Day Sale London Thursday, June 27, 2024 | Phillips
  • “I’ve always thought in terms of the mark-making as a language and the painting itself as a language; it was never about describing an idea, or describing a time, or describing a situation, but allowing for a language that speaks of a feeling, and a place, and a person, and a history and an existence in itself.”
    —Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
    A contemporary master of static drama and narrative ambiguity, Turner Prize nominated Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s portraits continue to push against the boundaries of the genre, engaging with its rich history while challenging certain expectations and assumptions. Executed in 2022, Minotaur to Matador is an exceptional example of Yiadom-Boakye’s technical precision, remarkable painterly fluency, and virtuoso command of colour and tone, its triptych format a striking and unusual pictorial device used by the artist here to powerful effect. 

    Triptychs and Bullfights

    Originating in the Middle Ages, triptychs are most typically associated with religious subjects, depicting Biblical stories and originally functioning as devotional aids for a mostly illiterate lay congregation. Offering a powerful means of visualising the teaching of Christianity, the triptych form also enabled the inclusion of multiple narrative elements and characters into a single work. Enigmatic and alluring, Minotaur to Matador updates this visual language, introducing a strikingly cinematic quality to the presentation of the figure across three panels here, subtle changes in pose and dress anchored in the recurring bold striped pattern of the subject's trousers and unusually brightly rendered background. 


    Robert Campin, The Mérode Altarpiece (The Annunciation Triptych), circa 1427-1432, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1956, 56.70a-c


    Executed in stunning contrasts of cadmium red, brilliant blues, and iridescent gold tones against a softly shifting backdrop of warmer greys and pinks, the work’s chromatic consistency reinforces this sense of narrative progression, the tripartite structure providing a visual analogue to the typical narrative structure of beginning, middle, and end. The title too seems to imply a transition  from one state to another – charting an evolution from mythic beast to human master that works on both physical and psychological levels here. Cutting against the grain, the transition implied by the title encourages us to read the triptych from right to left, following the protagonist from a state of undress through to his transformation into civilised 'Matador', theatrically emphasised in the open sweep of his brilliantly red jacket.


    With the head of a bull and the body of a man, the Minotaur is a creature from classical mythology, incarcerated at the centre of a complex subterranean labyrinth by the order of King Minos of Crete. A story of cruelty, lust, and the consequences for disobeying the will of the Gods, the Minotaur’s creation was the result of an unnatural union between a bull and Minos’ wife Parsiphaë, bewitched by Poseidon as punishment for the King’s refusal to sacrifice the majestic creature in his honour. Typically depicted as a ferocious beast who feasted on human flesh, it was the young Theseus who eventually triumphed over the creature with the help of Minos’ daughter Ariadne. A foundational myth of western civilisation, the Minotaur also lends itself to more  psychological interpretations, often taken to symbolise the repressed fears and desires dwelling in the dark labyrinth of our subconscious. Given these contexts, Yiadom-Boakye’s Minotaur to Matador seems to quietly dramatise this conflict, charting a path from our raw, animalistic selves to the self-possession and mastery of the Matador, who slays the wild animal in a dramatic, performative fashion. 


    Édouard Manet, The Bullfight, 1864-65, The Frick Collection, New York. Image: The Picture Art Collection / Alamy Stock Photo

    While the figure of the Matador has a long art historical legacy including works by Francisco Goya, Édouard Manet, and Francis Bacon, the exchange between the figures of Minotaur and Matador were most profoundly explored across the career of modern master Pablo Picasso, appearing amongst his very earliest and latest works. Heavily autobiographical, Picasso treated the Minotaur as a potent symbol of masculine virility and brutality, featuring prominently in his erotically charged paintings from the 1920s and beyond. Dramatising the internal struggle between civilised man and wild beast, Picasso appropriated the potent symbolism of the mythical creature as a means of exploring the irrationality of the unconscious and of working through his own, turbulent love affairs of the period. Deeply embedded in the culture of his native Andalusia, Picasso was an avid fan of bullfighting, and of the stark contrasts between beauty and horror, dance and violence that the spectacle presented. Although Picasso turned to these sources throughout his career, the figure of the Matador made a significant and sustained appearance towards the end of his life, the older painter aligning himself with the skilled, heroic, and triumphant bullfighter who exists so closely to the line that divides life from death. Drawing on these rich art historical dialogues, Yiadom-Boyake takes a more subtle approach, her serene composition evading the brutality and overt eroticism of Picasso's treatment of the motif in favour of a more ambiguous and quietly introspective tone. 

    In this respect, while sharing a lively dialogue with the work of other contemporary artists who take the Black figure as their primary subject including Amy Sherald and Jennifer Packer, Yiadom-Boakye’s portraits establish quite a different set of temporal relations. Formally speaking, in making overt reference to certain pictorial devices and tropes familiar from Western art historical traditions, Yiadom-Boayke draws herself into dialogue with these traditions, although her beguiling characters and the sense of theatricality that they embody moves her work to a more nuanced exploration of humanity as collective experience than the tradition of portraiture might typically be understood to uphold. 

    Reflecting on her practice Yiadom-Boakye has eloquently described her work as rooted in the imaginative, allowing her to ‘build a language that didn’t feel as if I was trying to take something out of life and translate it into painting, but that actually allowed the paint to do the talking. The other thing that came out of that process was this idea of the infinite possibility of blackness, of black life.’i  For Yiadom-Boakye’s these two points are intimately connected. Liberated from the need to tell specific truths about individuals limited by real-world constraints, through her confident brushstrokes, rich palette, and Baroque flourishes Yiadom-Boakye creates a world apart, not in order to simply insert Black bodies into space historically occupied almost exclusively by representations of Whiteness – although they certainly challenge on this point – but to open up an expansive space of imaginative possibility and infinitude, not within the canvas itself, but within the imaginative exchange between artist, painting, and viewer. 


    Collector’s Digest 


    • One of the most technically accomplished and critically celebrated figurative artists of her generation, British painter Lynette Yiadom- Boakye is well-known for her enigmatic portraits of fictional Black figures, removed from any specific time or place. 

    • Shortlisted for the prestigious Turner Prize in 2013, Yiadom- Boakye has been the subject of major international solo exhibitions at the New Museum in New York, the Haus der Kunst in Munich, and her critically celebrated exhibition Fly in League with the Night, hosted by Tate Britain in London, amongst others. 

    • Examples of her work are held in important institutional collections internationally, including the Tate Collection in London and The Museum of Modern Art in New York. The present work is a rare example of the artist employing a triptych format in her portraiture. 


    i Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, in interview with Antwaun Sargent, ‘Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Speaking Through Paint’, Tate etc, 13 October 2020. 

    • Provenance

      Corvi Mora, London
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

      British • 1977

      Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is a British painter who is a leader in the contemporary renaissance of portraiture. Her subjects are typically depicted with loose brushwork, floating against muted, ambiguous backgrounds that contribute to a sense of timelessness. Known for the speed of her work, she often completes a canvas in a single day and considers the physical properties of paint to be at the core of her practice. 

      Yiadom-Boakye was born to Ghanaian parents in London, where she continues to live and work today. In 2013, she was a finalist for the Turner Prize and she was selected for participation in the 55th Venice Biennale. In 2018, the artist won the Carnegie Prize for painting. Her work can be found in the permanent collections at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Studio Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among many others. 

      View More Works

Property of a Prominent Private Collection


Minotaur To Matador

signed, titled and dated 'Minotaur To Matador 2022 Lynette Yiadom-Boakye' on the reverse of each part
oil on linen, triptych
each: 109.8 x 70.3 cm (43 1/4 x 27 5/8 in.)
overall: 109.8 x 220 cm (43 1/4 x 86 5/8 in.)

Painted in 2022.

Full Cataloguing

£900,000 - 1,500,000 ‡♠

Sold for £952,500

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Associate Specialist
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Modern & Contemporary Art: Evening & Day Sale

London Auction 27 June 2024