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  • Overview

    Evoking a foreboding sea before a tumultuous storm, the eight horizontal bands of cool-toned crimsons, teals, and blues of Somebody’s Angel emblematise Sean Scully’s painterly union of internal and external truths, fusing deeply personal experience with the beauty of the natural world. Begun in 2013, the Landline series – including Somebody’s Angel – denoted a seismic shift in Scully’s practice, as the artist departed from a crisp, geometric visual language redolent of Piet Mondrian’s compositions, and embraced a looser and more expressive approach. The emotive magnitude of the Landline works has been celebrated in major shows at the Palazzo Falier and Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, which ran in conjunction with the 56th and 58th Venice Biennales in 2015 and 2019 respectively, and the series was also the subject of an exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., which travelled to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford last year.

    'I was always looking at the horizon line, at the way the end of the sea touches the beginning of the sky, the way the sky presses down on to the sea... I try to paint this, this sense of the elemental coming together side by side, stacked in horizon lines endlessly beginning and ending.'
    —Sean Scully

    In Somebody’s Angel, Scully coalesces the aesthetic tradition of European painting with a post-war American approach. Frequently working layer by layer, the artist’s process is evocative not only of Édouard Manet’s, in which the modernist would begin applying a second coat before the first had time to dry, but also of the paint handling of Gustave Courbet and Francisco Goya. While the Landline works have a formal affinity to these history paintings, they were the painter’s attempt to ‘rescue abstraction from the abstract’: the poignant undercurrents of Somebody’s Angel are perhaps most redolent of Mark Rothko’s colour fields, which Scully first came across in 1967.i The work’s monumental bands of melancholic hues are akin to the washes of colour that permeate Rothko’s canvases; both painters also grounded a painting’s palette in a single, fundamental shade from which harmonious pigments swell to the exterior edges of the composition. The resultant effect is one of intense sensitivity, as a sense of light radiates from the bottom layer to engender a sublime kinship between form and colour.

     

    No. 14 (Horizontals, White over Darks)
    Mark Rothko, No. 14 (Horizontals, White over Darks), 1961, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Sydney and Harriet Janis Collection. © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko ARS, NY and DACS, London. Image: The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence.

    Though Scully’s colossal Landline works appear to reduce painting down to its foundational building blocks of colour and form, at first glance the origins of their horizontality also bespeak an indisputable connection to the natural world and the art historical tradition of landscape painting. In this sense, Scully blurs conventional distinctions between abstraction and figuration by instilling in Somebody’s Angel a tangible point of reference: the actual scenery that inspired it. ‘I was always looking at the horizon line, at the way the end of the sea touches the beginning of the sky, the way the sky presses down on to the sea, and the way that line (that relationship) is painted,’ Scully explained. ‘I try to paint this, this sense of the elemental coming together side by side, stacked in horizon lines endlessly beginning and ending…’.ii Through this melding of abstraction and reality, geometry and natural landscape, Somebody’s Angel is redolent of Andreas Gursky’s The Rhine II, whose depiction of a stretch of the river Rhine outside Düsseldorf is equally reminiscent of modernist principles of horizontality.

     

    The Rhine II, 1999
    Andreas Gursky, The Rhine II, 1999, photograph, colour, chromogenic print, on paper, Tate Collection, London. © Andreas Gursky / Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin London / DACS 2020. Image: Tate, London.

    The Landline paintings are firmly entrenched in Scully’s perennial nostalgia; ever the nomadic painter, he actively retains studios in New York, London, Munich, and Barcelona, and the series is informed by memories of the natural environment from his international travels. Raised in London but born in Dublin, Scully has reminisced about the emotional gravity he once experienced upon looking at the Atlantic Ocean in his native Ireland, towards the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. This same sense of longing permeates Somebody’s Angel, whose soft bands and palette conjure an image of a person, landscape, or relationship left long in the past. ‘I painted [the first Landline work] on a quiet Sunday in Chelsea. There was an immense sadness in and around me. In the plants, the living things, the material of the studio,’ Scully expressed. ‘My life has been a story of great sorrow and great love. Landlines stand for edges’.iii

    'My paintings talk of relationships. How bodies come together. How they touch. How they separate. How they live together, in harmony and disharmony.'
    —Sean Scully

    i Sean Scully, quoted in Roger Caitlin, ‘Sean Scully’s Artworks Are a Study in Color, Horizon and Life’s Sorrows,’ Smithsonian Magazine, September 20, 2018, online.

    ii Sean Scully, quoted in Sean Scully: Horizon, exh. cat., Timothy Taylor Gallery, London, 2016, online.
    iii Sean Scully, quoted in Roger Caitlin, ‘Sean Scully’s Artworks Are a Study in Color, Horizon and Life’s Sorrows,’ Smithsonian Magazine, September 20, 2018, online.

    • Provenance

      Cheim & Read, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2017

    • Exhibited

      New York, Cheim & Read, The Horizontal, 6 July - 31 August 2017

    • Catalogue Essay

      Evoking a foreboding sea before a tumultuous storm, the eight horizontal bands of cool-toned crimsons, teals, and blues of Somebody’s Angel, 2017, emblematize Sean Scully’s painterly union of internal and external truths, fusing deeply personal experience with the beauty of the natural world. Begun in 2013, the Landline series—including Somebody’s Angel—denoted a seismic shift in Scully practice, forming a marked contrast with his earlier compositions reminiscent of the crisp, geometric visual language of Piet Mondrian. Embracing a looser and more expressive approach, these paintings epitomize the masterful yet sensitive wielding of color and form that has earned Scully international critical and institutional acclaim. The emotive magnitude of the Landline works has been celebrated in major shows at the Palazzo Falier and Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, which ran in conjunction with the 56th and 58th Venice Biennales in 2015 and 2019 respectively, and the series was also the subject of an exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., which travelled to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford last year.

      In Somebody’s Angel, Scully coalesces the aesthetic tradition of European painting with a striking post-war American approach. Frequently working layer by layer, the artist’s process is evocative not only of that of Édouard Manet’s, in which the modernist would begin applying a second coat before the first had time to dry, but also of the paint handling of Gustave Courbet and Francisco Goya. While the Landline works have a formal affinity to these history paintings, they were the painter’s attempt to “rescue abstraction from the abstract”: the poignant undercurrents of Somebody’s Angel are perhaps most redolent of Mark Rothko’s color fields, which Scully first came across in 1967 (Sean Scully, quoted in Roger Caitlin, “Sean Scully’s Artworks Are a Study in Color, Horizon and Life’s Sorrows,” Smithsonian Magazine, September 20, 2018, online). The work’s monumental bands of melancholy hues are akin to the washes of color that permeate Rothko’s canvases; both painters also grounded a painting’s palette in a single, fundamental shade from which harmonious pigments swell to the exterior edges of the composition. The resultant effect is one of intense sensitivity, as a sense of light radiates from the bottom layer to engender a sublime kinship between form and color.

      Though Scully’s colossal Landline works appear to reduce painting down to its foundational building blocks of color and form at first glance, the origins of their horizon form also bespeak an indisputable connection to the natural world and the art historical tradition of landscape painting. In this sense, Scully blurs conventional distinctions between abstraction and figuration by instilling in Somebody’s Angel a tangible point of reference: the actual environmental scenery that inspired it. “I was always looking at the horizon line, at the way the end of the sea touches the beginning of the sky, the way the sky presses down on to the sea, and the way that line (that relationship) is painted,” Scully has elucidated. “I try to paint this, this sense of the elemental coming together side by side, stacked in horizon lines endlessly beginning and ending…” (Sean Scully, quoted in Sean Scully: Horizon, exh. cat., Timothy Taylor Gallery, London, 2016, online).

      The Landline paintings are firmly entrenched in Scully’s perennial nostalgia; ever the nomadic painter, he actively retains studios in New York, London, Munich, and Barcelona, and the series is informed by memories of the natural environment from his international travels. Raised in London but born in Dublin, Scully has reminisced about the emotional gravity he once experienced upon looking at the Atlantic Ocean in his native Ireland, towards the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. This same sense of longing permeates Somebody’s Angel, whose soft bands and palette conjure up an image of a person, landscape, or relationship left long in the past. “I painted [the first Landline work] on a quiet Sunday in Chelsea. There was an immense sadness in and around me. In the plants, the living things, the material of the studio,” Scully expressed. “My life has been a story of great sorrow and great love. Landlines stand for edges” (Sean Scully, quoted in Roger Caitlin, “Sean Scully’s Artworks Are a Study in Color, Horizon and Life’s Sorrows,” Smithsonian Magazine, September 20, 2018, online).

Ο ◆21

Somebody's Angel

signed, titled and dated 'SOMEBODY'S ANGEL Sean Scully 2017' on the reverse
oil on aluminium
215.9 x 190.5 cm (85 x 75 in.)
Executed in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£600,000 - 800,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £1,014,700

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020