Miguel Covarrubias - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, May 27, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Ms. Keith Coppage and Dr. Eyler N. Simpson, Mexico City (acquired directly from the artist circa 1934)
    Mr. and Mrs. Frederic Fries, Mexico City (acquired from the above circa 1939)
    Private Collection, Austin (by descent from the above)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Returning to Bali in 1933 after becoming enamoured with the island during an earlier brief visit, Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias immersed himself in a detailed study and appreciation of Balinese life and culture. Culminating with the publication of his seminal anthropological work Island of Bali in 1937, Covarrubias distinguishes himself as an artist deeply invested in a desire to preserve and express the sophistication and pride of the Balinese way of life. This was particularly so in his depiction of the Balinese female form, a subject that inspired many Indo-European painters such as Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès, Rudolf Bonnet, and Willem Gerard Hofker. Conveying a sense of timeless, sculpted beauty, Covarrubias’ Balinese woman is at once stylised as well as exact.

    Having begun his career as a caricaturist, Covarrubias retained throughout his lifetime a preference for paper as a medium to afford his works a freshness and immediacy. Compounded by the difficulty of obtaining oils and canvases in Bali, paper became the ideal medium for Covarrubias to depict his subjects. The richly coloured and sharply detailed Balinese Woman expresses the key features of Covarrubias’ art that have become synonymous with the art from the region. Her serene expression and fluidly rendered posture suggest an effortless elegance that is presented as the central focus of the painting. A highlight of the painting is in the brightly coloured sarong that sensuously drapes the girl’s waist. Known for his use of colour to evoke mood and atmosphere, Covarrubias employs a combination of tropical tones to complement her deep olive skin – bringing her into harmony with the subtle blend of blues and greens in the background. The unity of people and land in the mythology and legacy of Bali is perhaps best expressed by Covarrubias himself:

    “The slender Balinese bodies are as much a part of the landscape as the palms and the breadfruit trees, and their smooth skins have the same tone as the earth and as the brown rivers where they bathe; a general colour scheme of greens, greys and ochres, relieved here and there by bright-coloured sashes and tropical flowers.” (Miguel Covarrubias, Island of Bali, Oxford, 1972, p.11).

    Through his paintings, Covarrubias realised his lyrical prose, and his vision of the unspoiled essence of Balinese culture.


Balinese Woman

circa 1934
signed ‘COVARRUBIAS’ (lower left)
gouache and watercolour on paper laid on board
55.9 x 38.1 cm (22 x 15 in.)
Painted circa 1934, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Adriana Williams and dated April 8, 2017.

HK$620,000 - 720,000 

Sold for HK$1,500,000

Contact Specialist
Jonathan Crockett
Deputy Chairman, Asia and Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Asia
+852 2318 2023

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+852 2318 2025

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20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 28 May 2017