Pat Steir - New Now New York Wednesday, March 4, 2020 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Fuller Godeen Gallery, San Francisco
    Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1986)
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Thomas McEvilley, Pat Steir, New York, 1995, p. 125 (illustrated)
    Doris von Drathen, Pat Steir: Paintings, New York, 2007, p. 166 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Pat Steir’s monumental The Wave (after Courbet, as though painted by an Italian Baroque Painter), 1986, combines the artist’s art-historical sensibilities with the physicality of her painting process. One of just four works from Steir’s Wave series, each of which is inspired by Gustave Courbet’s moody seascapes such as The Stormy Sea, 1869, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, this painting is both an homage and a redefinition of naturalistic landscapes from the art-historical canon. In her Wave series, Steir characteristically pulled from both Eastern and Western traditions. For this aptly titled work, she relied on the chiaroscuro color palettes of Baroque masters, as exemplified by the dark central pigment resembling the shadows of Caravaggio and the surrounding graphic, circular motions akin to Hokusai’s Japanese woodblock prints. Together, this fusion of styles perfectly captures the spirit of Steir’s self-coined “quotation art,” which does not copy nor appropriate. As she explained in 1985, such “quotation lets me have a living relationship with art history” (Pat Steir, quoted in “The Wave—From the Sea—After Leonardo, Hokusai and Courbet”, Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986–88, London, 1996, online).

    In harkening back to the paintings of her predecessors, Steir is one of many contemporary artists whose practices are at once informed and inspired by modern masters. However, in works such as the present one, Steir has uniquely honed her exploration of the past into a single motif: water. Her first depictions of water in the mid-1980s, specifically waves as in this painting, helped her perfect her distinctive pouring technique. This process has now come to define her contemporary practice, as in her celebrated waterfall paintings. In 1987, the transformation from wave to waterfall was realized in the similarly-scaled masterpiece Last Wave Painting (Wave Becoming a Waterfall), 1987–1988, belonging to the artist’s own personal collection.

    The naturalistic phenomenon of the wave lent itself not only to the artist’s own bodily painting process, but also to her belief in the cyclical nature of life. As Steir said just a couple of years after the making of this work, “The Wave was really more about fear and death, terror of death, than image, and I think in the artists I took it from it’s about that too, in the Hokusai, in the Courbet…Hokusai’s little print and the Courbets that are so small still carry tremendous emotional terror. How uncoincidental it is that feelings haven’t changed so much!” (Pat Steir, quoted in Pat Steir: Gravures. Prints, exh. cat., Musée d’art et d’histoire, Geneva, 1988, p. 11).


The Wave (after Courbet, as though painted by an Italian Baroque Painter)

oil on linen
84 x 177 in. (213.4 x 449.6 cm.)
Painted in 1986.

$120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for $275,000

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Sam Mansour
Associate Specialist, Head of New Now Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1219


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New Now

New York Auction 4 March 2020