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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    I’m painting nurses. I like their hats. Their aprons. Their shoes. My mother was a nurse. My sister was a nurse. My grandmother and two cousins were nurses. I collect ‘nurse’ books. Paperbacks. You can’t miss them. They’re all over the airport. I like the words ‘nurse’, ‘nurses’, ‘nursing’. I’m recovering. RICHARD PRINCE

    (Richard Prince interview, “Like a Beautiful Scar On Your Head”, Modern Painters, Special American Issue, Autumn 2002, Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 68-75.)

    A contemporary master of the “series,” exemplified by his renowned Cowboys, Girlfriends, and Jokes, Richard Prince offers a meditation on American popculture by aptly focusing on a theme and stretching the boundaries of the original subject matter. The original pulp fiction paperbacks from the middle of the Twentieth Century are liberated from dusty shelves in vintage bookstores and given new life. The doting nurses are plucked from their yesteryear settings and re-imagined as formidableseductresses, conflating all the stereotypes of the too-attractive healthcare professional. In the case of our present lot, Runaway Nurse is based on the original novel by Florence Stuart (Macfadden-Bartell, 1964). With his choice of super title, Prince continues his dissection of American Pop Culture; fusing the nurse with the stock American character of the runaway, Prince shows us a new woman, one who flees the responsibilities that society imposes upon her.

    Through his Nurse paintings, Richard Prince transforms our notions of the nurturing and demure care-giver into freshly retro and shockingly wanton portraits of wicked and naughty femme fatales. The once servile characters become liberated and energized through Prince’s famed treatment: the appropriation of images from pop-culture ephemera. In this Twenty First Century series, Prince, a bibliophile and avid collector of first-edition 1950s and 1960s medical pulp fiction, first scans the evocative book jackets and then transfers the enlarged inkjet print to canvas. Once the image has been properly oriented and cropped, he applies layers of smudged and dripping paint, covering the surface in a messy and lush palette of lurid pigments. The original backgrounds, which once revealed some of the supporting characters and settings within the novels—a doting gentleman, an envious friend, a darkened bedroom—are entirely masked by the layers of thick paint, ranging from twilight blues, emerald greens, sunset oranges, and in the case of the present lot, bloodied reds. Prince furthers his manipulation of the subject by wholly transforming them into something bolder and lustier than one could ever imagine.

    Prince achieves his multi-medium canvas through obscuring the entirety of the background—a handsome couple and a starry night—behind viscous stratums of red pigment, and, at once, she stands alone as the paradigm of passion and lust. In the present lot, we are left alone with a stripped nurse, seductively leaning against a metal bed frame. As we begin to place the visual cues together, we wonder who has abandoned this nurse in such a state. Her blouse has furiously been torn open, revealing jet-black lingerie and a slightly raised, taunting shoulder. With her eyes downcast and her mouth covered by a semitransparent surgical mask, she cleverly conceals her expression. We are left only with her posture, curves, and scraps of clothing…and, of course, Prince’s glaring text in the upper left corner. And, just above the title, the enticing forward to the book glows through the bloody pigment; “Was young Nurse Winters enough of a woman to make the man she loved forget his past?” With this juxtaposition of text and the visual splendor of the nurse, we ponder the question posed by the author. Her smooth white skin, swelling bosom and tiny waist, makes us marvel at how this woman could ever be considered less than enough.

    When compared to the original cover illustration, Prince’s major alterations engender a completely new story. Originally, she appears demure and shy in her white uniform, coiffed blonde hair, and modest posture. She glances over her shoulder at the couple behind her, contemplating her own worth. Yet in Prince’s rendering, he has replaced her coiffure with that of a striking brunette’s. Her blouse has been torn open to reveal a raven black bustier. Instead of a white skirt, a deep crimson one takes its place. Her upper body no longer leans forward, but is pulled back with astonishing sexuality and violence. Prince situates her in a sinuous stance, causing our eyes to follow the twist of her hips, narrow waist and luscious shoulders. Her hands are no longer modestly folded behind her back, but are spread apart on the steel bed frame. The hell-scape behind her seems to circulate around her form, resembling ravenous flames. As the flames lick the contours of her body, she emerges from the surrounding glow with magnetic seductiveness and powerful allure. This dramatic transformation of Nurse Winters from Good Samaritan to naughty seductress prompts us to wonder if Prince may have had a more infamous character of Nineteenth Century painting in mind.

    As we study our Runaway Nurse, the pearly white skin, black bustier, bare shoulders, and provocative stance remind us of another femme fatale; no description of the tempting runaway beauty before us would be complete without noting her similarity to the pinnacle of lust herself, John Singer Sargent’s Madame X. This portrait of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau, has reigned as the quintessential rendering of unrivaled beauty and notoriety ever since its conception in 1884. Madame Gautreau was an unconventional beauty, with her overly fair complexion, reddened cheeks, sloping nose and auburn hair, yet she fascinated the painters and flâneurs with whom she surrounded herself and was sought after by many as a subject for pictures. The portrait of Madame Gautreau has remained to this day one of the most enthralling and titillating images in Art History.

    Sargent’s portrait is, in a word, daring. He achieves great tautness in her posture, as her neck and arm reveal the lines of muscles beneath her skin, accentuating her elegant contours. The contrast between her pale flesh tone and the dark colored dress further stresses the tension of the portrait. When the finished painting of Madame Gautreau, titled Madame X to preserve its sitter’s anonymity, was finally exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1884, it prompted a response no one had expected; viewers were scandalized and shocked by the brazenness of both subject and painter. Never before had a picture at the Salon revealed a woman of the aristocracy in such a provocative portrait, nor had a picture aroused so much heated opposition.

    As exemplified by Sargent’s Madame X, we find ourselves examining a portrait of oppositions in Prince’s Runaway Nurse; black versus white, figure versus background, and flesh versus fabric. The great expanse of white skin revealed in both portraits asserts its dominance in the picture; from both figures’ foreheads, down to their graceful necks and shoulders, and along their arms, their flesh fills the canvas. Both women are surrounded by a darkened and mysterious background, providing further contrast to their skin tones. However, what is disconcerting is the slight pink which is sparsely added to the skin, as seen in the tip of Madame Gautreau’s ear and the breastbone of the Nurse. This pinkish quality reminds us of raw and unadorned flesh. The artists chose their subject’s position carefully; half of Madame Gautreau’s face is hidden in profile, just as half of the Nurse’s face is concealed by a mask. This obscure rendering gives both subjects a power of mystery as well as a certain timidity, making their intentions ever more ponderous and their attitudes indecipherable. And while Madame Gautreau wears a crescent tiara above her auburn hair, the nurse’s brunette locks are crowned with a prim, starched hat.

    Richard Prince has long been hailed as the preeminent manipulator of traditional forms and figures, shifting subverted norms and preconceived notions into more complex narrative structures. Runaway Nurse, in all her desirability and wickedness, liberates the character of the nurse from notions of forbidden or restrained sexuality. The runaway we see before us is not merely a subordinate medical assistant, but an embodiment of the American drive to realize one’s own potential of self-discovery. The quiet reticent figure we see on the original Florence Stuart cover can no longer be doubted in her beauty and self-worth, but stands erotically in the forefront of the picture, declaring her solitary sexuality and independence. Runaway Nurse represents a piercing inquiry into the ethos of American vernacular in its menacing transformation of an innocuous character and its appropriation of one of the most famous and controversial portraits in Art History. Through this seminal work, Prince announces his reign as a leading manipulator of social and cultural symbols; he extracts a subliminal carnality from the original image and brings to the forefront suppressed truths about its meaning and its making.

  • Artist Biography

    Richard Prince

    American • 1947

    For more than three decades, Prince's universally celebrated practice has pursued the subversive strategy of appropriating commonplace imagery and themes – such as photographs of quintessential Western cowboys and "biker chicks," the front covers of nurse romance novellas, and jokes and cartoons – to deconstruct singular notions of authorship, authenticity and identity.

    Starting his career as a member of the Pictures Generation in the 1970s alongside such contemporaries as Cindy Sherman, Robert Longo and Sherrie Levine, Prince is widely acknowledged as having expanded the accepted parameters of art-making with his so-called "re-photography" technique – a revolutionary appropriation strategy of photographing pre-existing images from magazine ads and presenting them as his own. Prince's practice of appropriating familiar subject matter exposes the inner mechanics of desire and power pervading the media and our cultural consciousness at large, particularly as they relate to identity and gender constructs.

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Runaway Nurse

inkjet and acrylic on canvas
80 x 52 in. (203.2 x 132.1 cm)
Signed, titled and dated “Richard Prince, 2006, Runaway Nurse #2” on the reverse.

$5,000,000 - 7,000,000 

Sold for $6,802,500

Contemporary Art Part I

7 November 2011
New York