Neil Jenney - 20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | Phillips
  • “Abstraction and realism exist side by side, but one is always dominant", Neil Jenney has said. "For many years, realism dominated. But around 1900, with the passing of the French Academy, realism started to become impotent. Freud’s influence took artists further from realism and into Surrealism. Gradually, the cycle shifted to abstraction. In the 60s, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art mutated into Minimalism. Years ago, I predicted that a return to realism was inevitable. A realism that is a kind of expressionism.”

     Neil Jenney's work Lines and Tracks captures this unique vision of representational painting. Created in the late 1960s, the present work shows an artist consciously merging realism with abstraction. As he takes on a high vantage point for his rural scene, the different planes of the scene merge, allowing the sky, grass, and hills to appears though they are all on a singular flat plane. For Jenney, this is strategic as he roots his notion of realism in relationships— “things relating to other things, not just spatially, but through their identity as objects.”ii

    Simplifying his composition, through mechanisms of cropping and minimizing his color palette, Jenney focuses Lines and Tracks on the endless green fields, the blue sky, and the brown tracks and lines, presenting each component in its most essential form. In pursuing this, he highlights the similarities of the natural elements and the dichotomy of the natural world with that which is manmade, which he distinguishes as realism. In his embrace of abstraction, his painterly technique is most notable. Jenny consciously applies paint thinly, making broad, brushy marks and scratches. His development of a visually textural component to Lines and Tracks suggests that Jenney worked quickly.

    The artist’s embrace of content and narrative—his version of realism—was vastly different from the Pop art which dominated the period. Working with quick drying paint, Jenney’s iconic gestural and brash marks in his works became notoriously known as “Bad Painting” after being labeled such by critic Marcia Tucker in 1978. For Jenney, this title resonated with his objective—to capture the message, rather than an adequate artistic depiction.


    Property from the Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr.

    The present work arrives at auction from the collection of pioneering Virginia-based philanthropists Pamela and William Royall, prominent collectors of 20th century and contemporary art in the American South.  The collection reflects their broad interests, from well-known artists from the 20th century to emerging and established Black artists. Committed arts patrons and forces of change in Richmond, the Royalls spearhead the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’s recent acquisition of Kehinde Wiley’s sculpture Rumors of War as board members of the institution and were instrumental to the museum’s expansion of the diversity of its collection. Believing in a vision of greater inclusivity for Richmond, the Royalls established a non-profit art gallery for the collection, Try-me, which was open without charge to the public, which fostered a space for local artists and education.


    i  Neil Jenney, quoted in Paul Gardner, Neil Jenney: The Bad Years, 1969-70, New York, 2001, p. 6
    ii Neil Jenney quoted in Neil Jenney: Natural Rationalism, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1994, n.p. online. 

    • Provenance

      Holly Solomon Gallery, New York
      Waqas Wajahat, Ltd., New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owners

Property from the Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr.


Lines and Track

signed, signed with the artist's initials, inscribed and dated "This work is the best single image painting nj neil jenney nyc 1969" on the stretcher
acrylic on canvas, in artist's frame
58 x 64 1/2 in. (147.3 x 163.8 cm)
Painted in 1969.

Full Cataloguing

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $245,700

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York 8 December 2020