Stanley Whitney - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 24, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Esso Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Emblematic of the artist’s fastidious and enduring investigation into the formal relationship between colour and space, Stanley Whitney’s Queen of Hearts represents a profound contribution to the history of painting. Structuring the surface of the canvas with a mesmerising grid of multi-hued blocks, enlivened by gestural marks and the nuanced layering of tones that seamlessly bleed to create superficial depth, Whitney intuitively balances and contrasts colours to uniquely reformulate the structuring of abstract space. Whilst Whitney has been an active proponent of colour field painting since the 1970s, the artist has operated largely under the radar for much of his career. However, recent institutional attention has affirmed his historic importance within wider public consciousness: following his seminal solo exhibition, Dance the Orange, at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York in 2015, Whitney was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2017. Perfectly scaled and resplendent with the key defining characteristics of his oeuvre – the four tiers of jubilantly coloured blocks and a poignantly evocative title –the appearance of Queen of Hearts at auction marks an early opportunity to acquire a preeminent work by an artist at the nascent stages of exponentially burgeoning recognition.

    Born in Philadelphia in 1946, Whitney developed his idiosyncratic style after moving to New York in 1968. In the wake of Abstract Expressionist predecessors, his colour block paintings grew in tandem with and contributed to the groundbreaking schools of Colour Field and Minimalist painting. Indeed, having taught Painting and Drawing at the Tyler School of Art for over 30 years, Whitney’s ongoing influence to contemporary painting cannot be denied. Whilst inevitably inspired by his original creative context, Whitney eschewed a totalitarian puritanism evident in contemporaries such as Mark Rothko, Josef Albers, Carl Andre and Kenneth Noland, instead seeking an intuitive and rhythmic use of colour blocking that equally paid homage to masters of European painting: ‘I felt they were all giving too much up. They gave the hand up, they were focused on being flat against the wall, what you see is what you get—I didn’t like that idea. I didn’t want to give up Courbet, I didn’t want to give up Goya, I didn’t want to give up Velázquez—I didn’t want to give up anything.’ (The artist quoted in Aruna D’Souza, ‘The Color Makes the Structure: Stanley Whitney Paints a Picture’,, posted 30 May 2017.) Whilst the present work evokes the flat collaged panels of Matisse’s iconic L’Escargot (The Snail) from 1953, Whitney has imbued his blocks with depth by layering washes of paint over one another with a gestural flare that resonates with the nuanced fields and delicately composed plastic depth of Cézanne.

    In the early 1990s, Whitney travelled to the Mediterranean. His experience of the ancient architecture of Egypt and in Italy – where decorative flourish is always supported by simple geometry – inspired the crucial structuring of abstract blocks that constitute his signature style. Summoning the monumental solidity of the pyramids and the Coliseum, here we see densely saturated blocks stacked upon one another like ancient brick work, reconceptualising the modernist grid for an effect that is both architectural and emotive. To begin these compositions, Whitney paints a single rectangular block of colour in the upper left of the canvas, proceeding intuitively to align and stack colour, adding blocks freehand as if writing a jazz score that is emphasised with vibrant contrasts and sonorous tonal harmonies. This is all enacted with varied brushstrokes, where the artist layers transparent washes so that a grounded red might ring out from underneath a tonally juxtaposed verdant green, whilst maintaining a matte sheen across his luxurious surface. It is only over time that the nuances of colour fully reveal themselves. Arresting our attention within this wall-like construction as such, Whitney gives form to his ultimate maxim for abstract painting, that ‘The color makes the structure.’ (The artist quoted in ibid.)

    As noted by Lauren Haynes, “Whitney’s colours take on lives of their own. They evoke memory and nostalgia. This orange takes you back to your favourite childhood t-shirt; that blue reminds you of your grandmother’s kitchen. Whitney’s paintings remind us, on a universal scale, of the ability of colour to trigger feelings and sensations.” (Lauren Haynes, ‘Orange That Blue’, Stanley Whitney: Dance the Orange, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, 2015, p. 28.) Whitney’s titles always speak of an epic historical consciousness, in this case alluding to the tradition of playing cards and the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s classic tale, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Yet, saturated with deep, impassioned reds, here Whitney takes us to our own psychological associations with the fabled Queen of Love’s greatest symbol.

  • Artist Biography

    Stanley Whitney

    American • 1946

    Inspired by Renaissance painting, Minimalist sculpture and jazz music, Stanley Whitney’s oeuvre has become central to the current discourse of abstract painting in the contemporary era. Following recent solo exhibitions at the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, the 72-year-old artist has only just received the critical acclaim he deserves. After moving to New York from Philadelphia at the age of 22, Whitney aligned himself with the Color Field painters, often working in the shadows of his contemporaries including Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland. Throughout the decades that followed, however, the artist soon established himself as a key player in 20th century abstraction, traveling the world and gaining recognition not only in the studio, but also in the classroom, where he has taught Painting and Drawing at the Tyler School of Art for over 30 years. As such, Whitney’s influence extends to a generation of new artists exploring the formal tenants of painting today.

    As Lauren Haynes, curator of Whitney’s solo show at the Studio Museum in 2015, aptly wrote, “Whitney’s work interrogates the connections among colors, how they lead to and away from one another, what memories they are associated with…Whitney’s colors take on lives of their own. They evoke memory and nostalgia. This orange takes you back to your favorite childhood t-shirt; that blue reminds you of your grandmother’s kitchen. Whitney’s paintings remind us, on a universal scale, of the ability of color to trigger feelings and sensations.”

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Queen of Hearts

signed 'Whitney' on the stretcher; further signed, titled and dated '2004 "Queen of Hearts" Stanley Whitney' on the reverse
oil on linen
137.2 x 152.4 cm. (54 x 60 in.)
Painted in 2004.

HK$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for HK$1,750,000

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 25 November 2018