Smoking II

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  • Condition Report

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  • Provenance

    Grace Hartigan and Dr. Winston Price, Baltimore (acquired directly from the artist)
    Christie's, New York, November 11, 1982, lot 139
    Edward F. Broida, Los Angeles
    McKee Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2003

  • Exhibited

    Boston, School of Fine & Applied Arts Gallery, Boston University, Philip Guston: New Paintings, March 15 - April 14, 1974, no. 17, n.p.
    Columbus, University Gallery of Fine Art, Ohio State University, Painters' Painters: Milton Avery, Philip Guston, Giorgio Morandi, March 26 - April 15, 1984, no. 11, n.p. (titled as Smoker II)
    Winter Park, The George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Bizarro World! The Parallel Universe of Comics & Fine Arts, March 17 - April 30, 2000, no. 65, p. 22 (illustrated)
    Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Plane/Figure: Amerikanische Kunst aus Schweizer Privatsammlungen und aus dem Kunstmuseum Winterthur / American Art from Swiss Collectors and the Kunstmuseum Winterthur, August 26 - November 19, 2006, no. 65, p. 244 (illustrated, p. 21)

  • Literature

    Harold Rosenberg and Philip Guston, "Conversations: Philip Guston and Harold Rosenberg: Guston's Recent Paintings", Boston University Journal 22, no. 3, 1974, p. 44
    Clark Coolidge, ed., Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations, Berkeley, 2011, p. 269

  • Video

    Philip Guston, 'Smoking II', Lot 11

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 October

  • Catalogue Essay

    “American Abstract art is a lie, a sham, a cover-up… Where are the wooden floors—the light bulbs—the cigarette smoke?” – Philip Guston

    A candid self-portrait from one of Philip Guston’s most celebrated series, Smoking II is emblematic of the radical, darkly humorous vulnerability that characterizes the figurative work from his mature period. Executed in a reduced palette of pink, scarlet, gray, and emerald, this fleshy and alert figure with Guston’s signature lima bean head—one of the very first he made—lies supine in a bed smoking, his one Cyclopian eye staring up at the ceiling. Though the artist was usually insistent upon not using the same composition twice, he felt motivated enough by the scene and aesthetic to paint approximately a half-dozen of these smoking insomniac self-portraits, several of which are held in preeminent institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Conveying the universal, throbbing sense of loneliness one feels when unable to sleep, Smoking II is an intimate portrait of Guston’s psychological crisis and contemplation of his own artistic paralysis.

    By 1973, Guston parted with Malborough Gallery in the wake of the poor critical and sales reception of his recent figurative works featuring cartoon-inspired Ku Klux Klan hoods, and after this departure, he only returned to Manhattan very infrequently to see exhibitions. Having left behind “the great New York art party,” according to art historian Edward Fry, Guston more than ever made Woodstock his home, and his studio in the town became the center of his private world (Edward Fry, Philip Guston: The Late Work, Sydney, 1984, p. 17). Besides monthly trips to Boston to teach as a professor or an occasional visit or phone call from friends, Guston lived and painted in voluntary relative isolation, abandoning the Klan heads and shifting his focus to a rawer form of self-portraiture. Plagued by chronic insomnia, Guston vigilantly worked and smoked late into the night, consuming two or three packs of unfiltered Camel cigarettes every day. “I started doing pictures of my wife and I in bed,” Guston recalled. “[A] whole series of paintings of smokers smoking; it’s me” (Philip Guston, Philip Guston, exh. cat., Timothy Taylor Gallery, London, 2004, p. 31). Guston kicked off the series with two cropped paintings centered on his head: the present work, which he sold to close associate and fellow artist Grace Hartigan, and Smoking I, which he chose to keep in his own collection until his death.

    Evocative of Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I, 1514, a reproduction of which he had taped on the wall of his Woodstock studio, Smoking II portrays the solitude, depression, and melancholy that Guston experienced in the last decade of his life. Robert Storr recalled that during this time Guston used to always quote a remark John Cage said to him in the 1950s: “When you are working, everybody is in your studio—the past, your friends, the art world, above all your own ideas—are all there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave” (Philip Guston, quoted in Robert Storr, Philip Guston, New York, 1986, pp. 62-63). It is ironic, then, that in the face of the most intense, excruciating loneliness he had felt in his life thus far, Smoking II did not empty out but rather became replete with the iconography and pictorial decisions from his past. While the subject matter—Guston in bed, unable to sleep—harkens back to Sanctuary, 1944, Estate of Philip Guston, the pervasive delicate pink tones freckled with scarlet can be linked to his early abstractions, such as Dial, 1956, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. More recently, the smoke, green window shade, and ambiguous red frame were staple motifs of his Klan hood paintings executed four or five years beforehand, such as The Studio, 1969, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark.

    Executed with gestural immediacy yet masterly sophisticated, Smoking II embodies what Thomas Hess called Guston’s “‘celestial stupidity’—the willingness to make ‘dumb’f shapes, inexpressive lumps, ugly or repellent blobs. It’s a kind of reverse Pop Art—instead of banal subject matter, he exploits banal pictorial units” (Thomas B. Hess, “Dumb is Beautiful”, New York Magazine, March 29, 1976, New York, p. 87). By using what Hess referred to as “banal pictorial units,” Guston manipulated his own image to the point of unrecognizability in Smoking II, depicting himself in a schematic, comics-like aesthetic undeniably redolent of R. Crumb’s Weirdo, though he was unaware of the magazine and the two arrived at these idiosyncratic iconographies separately. This pursuit to make himself unidentifiable is expressed by a well-known quote by the painter’s close friend, Clark Coolidge, that Guston wrote on a drawing of one of these self-portraits in bed: “One must become supersaturated in memory before one can recognize the unknown. The road to excess leads to one’s own forms. In order to discover [the unknown] one’s self must first be made unrecognizable.”

    Not only a revisitation of Guston’s oeuvre, Smoking II also invokes the artist’s career-long engagement with art history and the Old Masters. The painting is a manifestation of the same interest in the pictorial possibilities of smoke—its translucent cloudiness that can add a suggestion of ambiguity to otherwise perfectly intelligible forms—evident in Edvard Munch’s Self Portrait with Cigarette, 1895, Metropolitan Museum of Art and in a painting by one of the artists Guston most admired, Max Beckmann’s Self-Portrait in Tuxedo (Selbstbildnis im Smoking), 1927, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. On the other hand, Smoking II’s highly-worked salmon and red surface hint at Guston’s fondness for the flushed flesh of Titian’s figures. The most conspicuous of the work’s affinities, however, is with the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, which taught Guston how to furnish scenes that are parallel to reality; worlds that are slightly detached and eerily remote, but similar enough to convincingly comment on the real one.

    This ability to create an uncanny alternate reality became increasingly important to Guston towards the end of his life. Indeed, Smoking II encapsulates a self-contained protagonist and world that is a little strange, with the bedpost and square on the wall left outlined and the character’s skull seemingly impaled by the window shade’s lift cord due to the picture’s collapsed sense of depth. “When I leave the studio,” the artist himself articulated regarding this series of smokers in bed, “I like the feeling that I don’t have a painting in there, I’ve got a being in there… So the guy is in there, he’s in bed, he’s thinking. It’s like making a golem… And that’s really very exciting in painting, to make a duplicate of the world” (Philip Guston, quoted in Clark Coolidge, ed., Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations, Berkeley, 2010, p. 266). Guston also found a comrade in this in Franz Kafka, who he used to say had a virtuous capacity to realize in his writings an anxious world parallel to the one we exist in—“parallel, but not this world” (Philip Guston, quoted in Dore Ashton, A Critical Study of Philip Guston, Berkeley, 1990, pp. 124-125).

    In August 1974, Grace Hartigan mentioned to fellow artist and friend Fay Chandler that her husband, epidemiologist Winston Price, had won an award for an ambitious paper on the biochemistry of schizophrenia and that Price had used the prize money to purchase two paintings of Guston’s, one of which was Smoking II. Considering that the body of work Guston has produced since abruptly returning to figuration in 1968 had still not been fully accepted by the New York art world, it is astounding that the couple sought the polarizing work out. Regardless, Hartigan treasured Smoking II: as she had recently begun reinvestigating the possibilities of figuration herself, she found a kindred boldness in this painting by her dear friend. “He is doing more of what I am doing, picking fragments from the world,” Grace wrote. “You grab a little, you pick a snatch here and there, you throw it in and try to make some kind of order, some kind of meaning” (Grace Hartigan, quoted in Cindy Nemser, Art Talk, New York, 1975, p. 29). Smoking II was later acquired by Edward F. Broida, a real estate developer and perhaps Guston’s most ardent supporter, before entering the collection of the present owner where it has remained for almost two decades.

    An agonizingly frank confessional by a master of self-portraiture, Smoking II epitomizes Guston’s trademark investigation of the basic dilemmas and needs of mankind that imbue his works with an affecting sense of humanity. The antipode of Francisco de Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, the painting poignantly represents the existential—even catatonic—dread of wakefulness. “I’m more like Oblomov than ever,” Guston told his son of his crippling depression, likening himself to the protagonist in Ivan Goncharov’s novel who could rarely sum up the strength to leave his bed (Philip Guston, quoted in Musa Mayer, “My Father, Philip Guston”, The New York Times, August 7, 1988, p. 24). However, in Smoking II, Guston achieved the wholeness he had been so despairingly seeking. In a note to himself in 1972, he lamented, “there is nothing to do now but paint my life. My dreams, surroundings, predicament, desperation,” which is precisely what Smoking II captured (Philip Guston, quoted in Dore Ashton, A Critical Study of Philip Guston, Berkeley, 1990, p. 309).

Ο ◆11

A Discerning Vision Property from an Important Private Collection

Smoking II

signed "Philip Guston" lower right; further signed, titled and dated "PHILIP GUSTON "SMOKING II". 1973" on the reverse
oil on canvas
39 1/2 x 67 3/8 in. (100.3 x 171 cm.)
Painted in 1973.

Estimate
$6,000,000 - 8,000,000 

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Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 November 2019