Sean Scully - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 15, 2021 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • 'I want my brushstrokes to be full of feeling – material feeling manifested in form and colour.' —Sean Scully 

    One of the most admired and widely respected painters working today, Irish-born Sean Scully has been credited with having ‘single-handedly taken Abstract Expressionism into the 21st century’.i  In his stunningly beautiful and meditative paintings, Scully strips back the relationships between light, colour, and from, using the simple shapes of the square and the stripe to create intense emotional resonance. 


    Resolutely abstract, Green Yellow Figure nevertheless conjures certain representational associations: walls, windows, and even the suggestion of two standing figures anchored against three vertical bands of alternating earthy tones of orange and red. Executed in 2002, the present work balances geometric precision with a profound expressivity that is typical of Scully’s finest works. Defined by an exceptional lightness of touch and fluid treatment of paint, the compositional relationships established here between individual blocks of colour generates a remarkable sense of rhythmic movement, playing with deceptively simple geometries which explore the painterly legacies of abstraction. 

    'As I impact with the paintings, and I hope as others impact with the paintings, so the divisions within the paintings impact and form relations with each other. This movement of us coming together within the painting, as the painting remakes its own relationships, within its own borders, is meant to be a moment of emotion.' —Sean Scully 

    Legacies of Abstraction 


    Blending the modernist grid exemplified by Piet Mondrian with the diffused washes of colour used to such powerful emotional effect in Mark Rothko’s deeply meditative canvases, Scully deftly blends a tradition of European modernism with American post-war abstraction. Hypnotically rhythmic, Scully’s interlocking squares and stripes possess a remarkable vitality, his thinned paints applied with such forceful expressivity that the fluid blocks of colour merge and bleed into one another. 


    Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1969, The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois © Art Institute of Chicago / Gift of the Mark Rothko Foundation / Bridgeman Images © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko ARS, NY and DACS, London 2021
    Josef Albers, Homage to the Square, 1956 – 62, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas © Museum of Fine Arts, Houston / gift of Anni Albers and the Josef Albers Foundation, Inc. / Bridgeman Images © The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / DACS 2021

    Presenting a canvas set within a canvas, Green Yellow Figure is wonderfully representative of Scully’s innovative use of carefully fitted inserts, endowing the work with a striking sculptural quality. This is further emphasised by the multidirectional rhythms of the brushstrokes, producing wonderfully energetic intersections of vertical and horizontal elements. 


    Connected through their intense palette, rich painterly treatment, and deceptively simple geometries, Scully’s works from this period present close-laid ‘bricks’ of fluidly painted colour, as is clear in Green Yellow Figure. Much like Paul Klee many years before, a visit to Morocco would prove to be highly significant for Scully’s approach to light and colour in the years following 1969. Inspired by the novelty of the richly patterned materials and environment that contrasted so vividly with the Dublin of his youth, Scully began to incorporate these features into his work with increasing sophistication. A later visit to Mexico would prove to be equally influential, the distinctive quality of light as it hit the stacked stones of ancient Mayan monuments directly informing his substantial Wall of Light series, to which the compositional structure of the present work refers. As the artist has described: ‘the way I’m painting directly affects the weight of the paint and thus the colour. Everything is painted into its place, as the title ‘wall’ implies I’m building a surface, but I’m building out of feeling directly, and this feeling has rhythm.’ii  

    'I’m always trying to combine morality, which I see manifested in structure, with high emotion, manifested in beauty.' —Sean Scully 

    Combining the weight of ancient architectural monuments with Cezanne’s architectonic treatment of landscape, Scully nevertheless imbues his works with a warm and diffused light. His paintings from this period distil a remarkable sensitivity to natural and architectural forms, as his more recent Doric and Landline series explore in more depth. With no clear distinction between figure and ground in these utopian visions, ‘there is no visual hierarchy because every element is equal to every other.’iii At once monumentally physical and atmospherically abstract, Green Yellow Figure exemplifies the raw power and narrative capacity of Scully’s work, speaking to his ability to succinctly capture a sense of place while conveying emotion through colour, light, and solidity. 


    Sean Scully painting, clip taken from the documentary Unstoppable: Sean Scully and the Art of Everything, 2019


    Collector’s Digest 


    •    Sean Scully has exhibited around the world, most notably in his stand-out 2006 exhibition Wall of Light -at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 


    •    Scully’s work can be found in the permanent collections of major museums worldwide, with the Philadelphia Museum of Art devoting an entire room to his work. In 2015 the artist opened a permanent exhibition of his works in a renovated monastery in Montserrat, outside Barcelona. 


    •    As well as recent exhibitions of new work with Lisson Gallery, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth presented the substantial survey exhibition Sean Scully: The Shape of Ideas earlier this year. 

    i David Carrier, Sean Scully, London, 2004, p. 17. 
    ii Sean Scully, quoted in Kevin Power, “Questions for Sean Scully”, April 2003, online
    iii David Carrier, Sean Scully, London, 2004, p. 193. 

    • Provenance

      Galerie Lelong, Paris
      Private Collection, Germany (acquired from the above in 2002)
      Sotheby's, London, 13 February 2013, lot 136
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner


Green Yellow Figure

signed, titled and dated 'Green Yellow Figure Sean Scully 2002' on the reverse
oil on canvas
147.3 x 139.5 cm (57 7/8 x 54 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2002.

Full Cataloguing

£400,000 - 600,000 ‡♠

Sold for £567,000

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+44 7391 402741


Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2021