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  • Overview

     

    Few contemporary painters have the ability to capture a moment – its realistic outlines, its poetic implications – as exquisitely as Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. In Luminary, the British artist paints the portrait of a lone man leaning on his cane, clearly delineated amidst an abstract background of dusky tones. While the setting against which the protagonist is set remains indistinct, one can infer the contours of a natural landscape – perhaps a desert, or an oasis. Known to complete her canvases in a single day, Yiadom-Boakye optimises the malleability of oil paint while it is still fresh, conjuring a tangible, intuitive image that sometimes lets elements ‘happen in the painting itself’.i Continuing a dialogue with masters of portraiture, Yiadom-Boakye draws on traditional painterly methods spanning the Old Masters’ sophisticated use of chiaroscuro to Paul Cézanne's allusive forms. Signalling Yiadom-Boakye’s cemented significance within the painterly canon and her influence on artists tackling the medium today, a major retrospective of the painter’s work will take place at Tate Britain from November 2020 to May 2021.

    'When I think of the figure, I think of immortality or an otherness that is just out of this world, representing an endless possibility.'  —Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

    Executed in 2011, just two years before her Turner Prize nomination, Luminary exemplifies the unique style of portraiture that Yiadom-Boakye adopted early in her career, and that quickly established her as a household name in the United Kingdom. The model at the composition’s centre, sinuously anonymous, is not an example of painterly verisimilitude; rather, he is subjective, suggestive, evocative – ever-intriguing to the uninitiated viewer. Behind him, environmental indicators seem to dissolve into a vortex of abstraction, as if the character had absorbed his surroundings through the sheer force of his presence. 'There is no context for them' curator and art historian Elena Filipovic wrote of Yiadom-Boakye’s portraits, 'except their very selves'.ii

     

    In addition, Yiadom-Boakye's mastery of her medium, and specifically of the type of paint she uses to produce her canvases, contributes to the ethereal atmosphere her works ultimately convey. ‘There’s something very particular to oil painting’, the artist explained. ‘It’s just very dirty, it’s very messy; it doesn’t always do what you want it to do. It’s fleshy and unpredictable—it has a kind of human quality to it’.iii In Luminary, it is the meandering colours surrounding the protagonist’s silhouette that endow the final picture with its distinctively atmospheric quality. Transitioning from browns to blues in wave-like motions, the painting’s moody backdrop recalls the meditative layers of colour composing the core of Mark Rothko’s canvases.

     

    Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1949, oil and acrylic with powdered pigments on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko ARS, NY and DACS, London. Image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence.
    Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1949, oil and acrylic with powdered pigments on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko ARS, NY and DACS, London. Image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence.

    Within the course of the Western canon, diverse codes have been employed to address male and female portraiture. While women have traditionally been portrayed in states of elegant poise or sensual languor – two aspirational traits associated with femininity both on canvas and in the outside world – men have typically been constricted to less poetic representational modes, summoning instead all the seriousness and superiority that they had themselves appointed to their gender. In recent years, following the evolution of wider discussions on the matter, painters have opened up the possibilities tied to the representation of masculine and feminine entities. Yiadom-Boakye, specifically, has focused on the gracefulness and intrinsic elegance of both her represented men and women, suggesting the human body’s overarching capacity to move, sway, dance. In Luminary, the protagonist’s legs cross in a self-embrace; his pointed toes and head tilted downwards denote an inherent awareness of his bodily appearance. In a similar fashion to Edgar Degas before her, Yiadom-Boakye channels her affinity towards dance to paint choreographed limbs and elegantly positioned silhouettes. Luminary is an exquisite example of this, and as a deeply conscious and sensible portrait of a man whose gender performance has not been imposed upon him, a profoundly human one. 

     

    Edgar Degas, Portrait of the playwright and librettist Ludovic Halevy and Albert Boulanger-Cave standing backstage at the Opera, 1879, pastel, Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Image: Photo Josse/Bridgeman Images
    Edgar Degas, Portrait of the playwright and librettist Ludovic Halevy and Albert Boulanger-Cave standing backstage at the Opera, 1879, pastel, Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Image: Photo Josse/Bridgeman Images

    In The Studio with Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

     

     

    i Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, quoted in ‘Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Fashionable Eye’, The New York Times Magazine, 15 November 2010, one.

    ii Elena Filipovic, 'A Passion To A Principle', exh. cat., Kunsthalle Basel, 2016, reproduced online.

    iii Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, quoted in Jason Parham, ‘Considering Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Borderless Bodies’, The Fader, 10 May 2017, online.

    • Provenance

      Corvi-Mora, London
      Private Collection
      Christie's, London, 12 February 2016, lot 126
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Senlis, Fondation d'entreprise Francès, La Fabrique de l'Esprit - Du regard à l'expérience, 23 February - 16 September 2018

    • 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. 

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Property from an Important French Collection

29

Luminary

signed with the artist’s initials, titled and dated ‘LYB 2011 Luminary’ on the reverse
oil on canvas
180.5 x 150 cm (71 1/8 x 59 in.)
Painted in 2011.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£250,000 - 450,000 

Sold for £315,000

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020