Nicolas Party - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Friday, October 6, 2023 | Phillips

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  •  “I guess the word “still life” (or “nature morte”) is a good example of what art tries to achieve: merging two opposite notions into one object. Life is not still and nature is not dead, but maybe a painting can be.”
    — Nicolas Party


    Mesmerising and visually evocative, Still Life with an Olive is an exquisite example of Nicolas Party’s captivating interpretation of everyday objects and scenes. Set against a background of blue and light grey, a floral vase and plump fruits inject the foreground with life despite the lack of movement, their geometric forms evoking both reality and the surreal. Showcasing Party’s dexterity in colour application and painterly precision whilst injecting a unique refreshing twist, his biomorphic shapes form a lusciously vibrant arrangement that alludes to traditional painting genres and influential figures within the canon of art history.


    First unveiled at the artist’s 2013 solo show at The Modern Institute in Glasgow, Still Life with an Olive is one of a few oil works to ever be offered at auction, and one of Party’s few compositions to feature both fruits and flowers. Simultaneously embracing and moving away from the art historical canon, its harmonious balance between colour, composition, abstraction, and figuration is akin to the artist’s long-standing exploration into the relationships between human perception, the familiar and the otherworldly. Establishing a dialogue between the timeless genre of the still life and his reimagination of the material world, it is a masterful amalgamation of nature and fantasy that seeks to challenge the conventions of representational painting.



    Installation view of the current lot at Glasgow, The Modern Institute, Still Life oil paintings and Landscape watercolours, 6 April - 8 May 2013



    The Art of Re-working


    Known to favour soft pastel as a medium for the majority of his output, oil makes up a small yet greatly important portion of Party’s extensive oeuvre. Although the artist began his career in soft pastels, the present lot originates from an exceptionally rare group of works – it was one of seven pieces created for Still life oil paintings and Landscape watercolours, Party’s only exhibition to feature oil on canvas works. In contrast to the immediacy and responsiveness of pastel, oil’s slow-drying nature allows for prolonged manipulation of paint after application, an attribute that demonstrates pronounced refinedness. Concerned with the relationship between the materiality of oil and canvas, Party grounds his practice in the possibility of the medium itself.


    “For a long time, I was working with oil painting, but it was just very slow—I was struggling with the idea that a work could take a year and a half to complete. It was just too long.”
    — Nicolas Party 


    While the lengthy artistic process became a catalyst in Party’s switch to pastel, the act of reworking became a crucial element in his early works. Worked on over the course of ten to twenty months, like the present work, he constantly reorganises and modifies the composition to achieve his desired scene. Masterfully blending different shades and imprinting his brush strokes onto the canvas, Party’s handling of paint appears eerily smooth from a distance yet gestural up close. Visually pleasing and full of character, it reveals his sensitivity to colour and compositional efficiency in perfecting his static subjects.



     Distorting & Re-enchanting a Utiliarian Reality


    “Art is basically embracing that feeling and energy of needing to raise questions but only capturing that, and trying to create objects that can't be resolved. Magritte is a master at that: he creates this very clear enigma, but there are no answers. That to me is a successful artwork.”
    — Nicolas Party


    René Magritte, Les valeurs personnelles (Personal Values), 1952
    Collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
    © 2023 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Evoking the formal vernacular of René Magritte, Nicolas Party’s Still Life with an Olive encapsulates the same enigmatic quality as seen in the works by the Belgian Surrealist master. In Les valeurs personnelles (Personal Values), it shows a bedroom in the perspective with the front wall taken away, as though part of a dollhouse, with a myriad of objects painted at vastly different scales – on one hand, the bed on the left, the mirrored armoire on the right, two Persian rugs on the floor are sized naturally; yet on the other hand, he balances and places this giant tortoise-shell comb vertically against the bed, an oversized pink wooden match on the rug to the bottom left, a goblet that is twice the height of the bed but smaller than the comb, a bristled shaving brush that spills out over the edge of the armoire, and a gigantic bar of oval-shaped brown soap to the bottom right. The complex composition conjures up a great sense of mystery and verges on to become rather unsettling. Sharing a similar passion in exploring the concept of inanimate objects as well as scale, Still Life with an Olive emits an equally Surrealist intrigue, echoing Magritte’s means of visual expression. The fruits, the vase, the singular yellow tulip, and the olive are uncannily flat, almost as though the artist was intentionally allowing the work to oscillate between an optical illusion and eerie deception.


    Playing with the manipulation of line, shape, and scale, Party dives deep into creating a unique visual world of his own, reimagining the inanimate objects as beautiful things. Instead of strictly observing the proportions of these everyday life objects, Party understands the relationships and distances between objects and begins his compositions with impulses from memory. Previously trained in 3D animation, his spatial understanding is perfectly translated in the present work, in which the fruits and objects in Still Life with an Olive appear as digital renditions of colours, shapes, and forms – the lack of shadow imbues them with the illusion of flatness; their artificiality enhanced by the smoothness of the defined contours; their clear lines and bright contrasting hues. Party’s geometric forms appear larger than life, transforming a once mundane subject into a paradoxical tapestry of creativity. Evoking the uncanny and masterfully blending worlds, the two artists seem to meet in their unique visual vocabulary, conjuring a striking sense of mystery and the resurgence of the marvellous, whilst aiming to show the beautiful side of things as well as to re-enchant a utilitarian reality.



    In Dialogue with History and Time: the “Still Life”


    “I really like the word “still life”. Something alive, but with no movement… And when you paint a flower, the same thing is happening: the object you look at is moving, it’s just that you don’t see it because it’s too slow. And if you were to observe the flower for two weeks, you would see that it’s moving and transforming (…) I guess the word “still life” (or “nature morte”) is a good example of what art tries to achieve: merging two opposite notions into one object. Life is not still and nature is not dead, but maybe a painting can be.”
    — Nicolas Party


    Party’s Still Life with an Olive is anything but still, with the vibrantly-coloured pears, the yellow tulip in the glass vase, and the olive imbued with playful energy on this expansive canvas. Here, we see Party’s unique take on the still life subject, which, by definition, includes all kinds of man-made or natural objects such as cut flowers, fruit, vegetables, fish, game, and wine. Throughout the discourse of art history, the still life first appeared in the Middle Ages and Greco-Roman art and was popularised in the 16th century during the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance. One of his very few examples to include both flora and fruit, the present work adheres to the compositional conventions of the still life, forming a pictorial structure with meticulously arranged colours and a set path for the viewer’s eye. Party’s choice of objects seems deliberate – the pears intending to portray the transient nature of human life, representing fertility, youth, and abundance; the tulip, a flower that is often associated with the Netherlands, not only is a nod to Dutch paintings, but is also a symbol of new beginnings and hope; the olive, originating from an olive branch, represents reconciliation and healing. The combination of flora and fruits is particularly important as it is a subject that Party constantly returns to and revisits, as recent as in his works made in 2020, in which he investigates the sub-genre of still life painting, ‘sottobosco’, devoted to the botanical and zoological life in nature’s darker regions.

  • Party echoes many of the artists who came before him. Under the genre of still life, a dialogue certainly exists between the assemblage of crops in the present work and the compositional strategies of a vast lineage of artists such as Caravaggio, Paul Cezanne and Félix Vallotton.

    ‘It’s a nice idea that your painting could somehow have a dialogue with another one,’ the artist shares. ‘Vallotton and I can’t have a conversation. But if you hang a Vallotton painting in the same room as one of my paintings, the two works will speak to each other.’i

    Whilst the traditional still-life painting is typically modest in size, Party enlarges his objects to imposing dimensions, breathing life into them as though they are figures. With little differentiation between inanimate and animate objects for him, the pieces of fruit, the tulip, and the olive here are filled with vivaciousness and are clearly alive, each imbued with individual personality. Rejecting the idea of inventing new subject matters, Party deliberately chooses to portray banal themes. As popular imagery depicted since the dawn of painting, fruits are especially present in his oeuvre due to their simplicity in form and meaning. Ready to be consumed with little effort, their appearance has remained constant throughout history. Recognisable by all audiences, his intuitive use of stable motifs allows for freedom to innovate whilst transcending time and space.


    “If I paint an apple now, I know that the apple that Cézanne was painting was not the same one, but it didn't change. It's maybe a little bit more red now, but is more or less the same…But if you paint an iPhone and you're the only one to do it, in 50 years, nobody will know what it is.”
    — Nicolas Party


    Although Party’s work is unbeholden to time or place, stripped of background or additional detail, the titular objects in the present work exist purely in relation to their corporeal qualities and symbolism,. As a result, these pieces of fruit elicit a sense of timelessness – audiences in the past, present, and future can all understand their significance, albeit in accordance to differing contexts. By sacrificing originality, Party’s canvases pay homage to the enduring yet ever-changing appeal of what he represents; by painting with oil in lieu of ephemeral pastel, his subjects become immortialised for generations.



    Collector’s Digest


    • Still Life with an Olive is one of seven oil paintings created for and exhibited at Party’s 2013 show at The Modern Institute, Glasgow. Titled Still life oil paintings and Landscape watercolours and featuring custom mural backdrops, it was the artist’s first major solo exhibition in the UK. The work was also included in the 2013 group exhibition Nur was nicht ist ist möglich (Just What Is Not Is Possible) at Museum Folkwang, Essen.

    • A testament to the continuing strength of Party’s market, the artist’s top result at auction was recently achieved in Hong Kong in November 2022, and his top 10 results at auction have all been set in the past three years, half of which feature still life arrangements.

    • Among his latest exhibitions are Cretaceous at The Modern Institute, Glasgow (9 June - 23 September 2023) and Cascade at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels (27 January—​4 March 2023).

    • Work by Party is held in over 30 public collections worldwide, including K11 Art Foundation, Hong Kong; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Long Museum, Shanghai; Fondazione Fiera Milano, Milan; M WOODS, Beijing; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris; and the Rubell Family Collection, Miami.



    i Nicolas Party quoted in Rita Vitorelli, ‘Interview Nicolas Party’, Spike Art Magazine, Summer 2015, online

    • Provenance

      The Modern Institute, Glasgow
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Glasgow, The Modern Institute, Still Life oil paintings and Landscape watercolours, 6 April - 8 May 2013
      Essen, Museum Folkwang, Nur was nicht ist ist möglich (Just What Is Not Is Possible), 8 June – 28 July 2013

    • Artist Biography

      Nicolas Party

      Nicolas Party (b. 1980) is a Swiss visual artist living and working in New York City and Brussels.
      He received his BFA from the Lausanne School of Art in 2004 and his MFA from the Glasgow
      School of Art, in Glasgow, Scotland in 2009. Party’s works on paper and canvas are most often done
      in colorful soft pastel, the most common subject matter being fantastical still life and portraits.


      Recent solo exhibitions include Karma, New York (2021–22, 2017); Le Consortium,
      Dijon, France (2021); Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp, Cully, Switzerland (2021); MASI
      Lugano, Switzerland (2021); Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles (2020); Xavier Hufkens,
      Brussels (2019); Modern Institute, Glasgow (2019); M Woods Museum, Beijing
      (2018); Magritte Museum, Brussels (2018); Kaufmann Repetto, Milan (2018);
      Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2016); and Dallas Museum of Art (2016). Party’s
      work is represented in the collections of the David Roberts Art Foundation, London;
      Migros Museum, Zurich; Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany; and the Sifang Art
      Museum, Nanjing, China.

      View More Works

Property from an Esteemed Private Collection


Still Life with an Olive

signed and dated 'Nicolas Party 2013' on the reverse
oil on canvas
139.5 x 183 cm. (54 7/8 x 72 in.)
Painted in 2012-2013.

Full Cataloguing

HK$26,000,000 - 40,000,000 

Sold for HK$25,860,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 6 October 2023