Create your first list.

A way to share and manage lots.

  • Overview

    'I’ve always had the idea that birds are the angels of this earth and that they represent freedom. […] like a bird, I thought I was free.' —Tracey Emin

    Pairing neon glass lights with Tracey Emin’s immediately recognisable handwriting, Our Angels exemplifies the vulnerability for which the British artist has become known, at a moment when she only began to step onto the international scene ‘at a distance from the Young British Artists generation with which she came to prominence’.1 One of three, Our Angels is composed of two neons, one depicting a small bird resting on a blossoming branch, the other reading the sentence ‘Foundlings and Fledglings our Angels of this Earth’. Adorning the exterior wall of the Venice Biennale’s 2007 British Pavilion — for which Emin was selected as the sole exhibitor that year — Our Angels was seen free-floating on either side of the entrance, as if greeting visitors through the portals of heaven. In 2010, Our Angels resurfaced on the façade of the Foundling Museum as part of a group show with Paula Rego and Mat Collishaw, evidencing the work’s lasting visual and conceptual power within Emin's wider oeuvre. Currently, and until 30 May 2021, recent paintings by Emin can be found alongside masterpieces she selected by Edvard Munch, in a show entitled The Loneliness of the Soul at the Royal Academy, London.

     

    Tracey Emin's Our Angels installed at the entrance of the Venice Biennale's British Pavilion, on the occasion of the artist's solo presentation, Borrowed Light, 2007. Image: © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2021.
    Tracey Emin's Our Angels installed at the entrance of the Venice Biennale's British Pavilion, on the occasion of the artist's solo presentation, Borrowed Light, 2007. Image: © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2021.

     

    A Watershed Moment

     

    Importantly, Our Angels coincides with a watershed in Emin’s career, created as part of perhaps her most important solo presentation ever. In 2007, the artist became the second female artist to represent Great Britain with a solo show at the Venice Biennale, following from the footsteps of her fellow YBA peer Rachel Whiteread a decade earlier — both artists having been ‘discovered’ alongside in the breakthrough Sensation exhibition curated by Charles Saatchi in 1997. Marking a pivotal moment in Emin's artistic practice, Borrowed Light indeed propelled her output on the international scene, highlighting her multifarious abilities spanning painting, needlework, sculpture as well as her signature neon phrases and drawings which are directly transcribed from her hand. It moreover showcased her capacity to fuse difficult truths with notions of intimacy and tenderness — revealing the inner workings of her own persona through delicate, subtle, uniquely graceful artistic renderings.

    'The chance to exhibit at the Venice Biennale is a great honour and has helped me to redefine what my work really means to me. Borrowed Light is my most feminine body of work so far, very sensual but at the same time it is graphically sharp. It is both pretty and hardcore.'
    —Tracey Emin

     

    Finding a Nest

    'Like a wounded bird, I began to rebuild myself, using the experience of failure as my foundation.'
    —Tracey Emin
    Notably, the present work’s linguistic formulation accompanying the almost cartoonish delineation of a young bird to the right of the installation bears a multitude of meanings that seem to echo Emin’s psychological meanderings and rise to fame at the time of its execution. As the work’s first constitutive term, ‘fledgling’, refers to a young bird that has grown feathers and is learning to fly, one is able to understand the artist's analogous longing for a home ‘nest’ and a sense of belonging. At the same time, a ‘foundling’ can be defined as a young child abandoned and cared for by someone else. Through this ambiguous and paradoxical pairing of terms, Emin projects her own strife as a neglected child, further evidenced in her own words: ‘At the moment of my birth into this world, I somehow felt like a mistake had been made’.2 Torn between the traumas of the past and the prestige of her artistic career, Our Angels is symbolic, most strikingly, of Emin’s emancipation. Its display at the Foundling Museum in 2010, a space that initially housed Britain's first orphanage, further accentuates the symbolic and profound associations that surround Our Angels.

     

     

    When Flying

     

    Furthermore, Emin’s use of birds is recurrent throughout her artistic practice — both as metaphors and figurative elements alluding to themes of motherhood and freedom. In Strangeland, the memoirs she published in 2005, the artist writes, ‘A giant bird gathering food for her chicks. Mum loved us. She would do anything for us’.3 In a similar way to her important installation work In my Family When Someone Dies they are Cremated and their Ashes are Thrown Across the Sea residing at Tate, Emin imbues the present work with an emotional dimension that is reflective of her personal feelings and experiences. ‘Since 1992 I’ve been making a series of drawings, etchings and prints of birds’, she explained. ‘I’ve always had the idea that birds are the angels of this earth and that they represent freedom. […] like a bird, I thought I was free’.4 Confessional by nature, Emin delves into her trauma to find inspiration for her artistic practice, simultaneously bringing awareness to truths often overlooked by contemporary society.  ‘Over the last few years I have externalized everything...turned myself inside out’, Emin said.5 A wonderful product of this introspective mission, Our Angels brilliantly mirrors Emin’s resilience, her voice and her growth as an artist.

    'Flying is tough. But it’s like someone said to me once: “When you land, you have to wait for your soul to catch up."' —Tracey Emin 

    Tracy Emin, In my Family When Someone Dies they are Cremated and their Ashes are Thrown Across the Sea, 1997, plaster, Tate, London. Image: © Tate. © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2021.
    Tracey Emin, In my Family When Someone Dies they are Cremated and their Ashes are Thrown Across the Sea, 1997, plaster, Tate, London. Image: © Tate. © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2021.

     

    1 Andrea Rose, Commissioner for the British Pavilion, ‘Tracey Emin: Borrowed Lights’, United Kingdom, 2007, reproduced online.

    2 Tracey Emin, Strangeland, London, 2005, p.3.
    3 Tracey Emin, Strangeland, London, 2005, p. 13.
    4 Tracey Emin, Strangeland, London, 2005, p. 37.
    5 Tracey Emin, Strangeland, London, 2005, p. 201.

    • Provenance

      White Cube, Hong Kong
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Venice, LII Esposizione internazionale d'arte di Venezia, British Pavilion, Tracey Emin: Borrowed Light, 10 June - 21 November 2007 (another example exhibited)
      London, The Foundling Museum, Mat Collishaw, Tracey Emin & Paula Rego: At The Foundling, 27 January - 9 May 2010 (another example exhibited)

    • Literature

      Tracey Emin, 'Welcome to My World', The Independent, 7 June 2007, p. 1 (another example illustrated)
      Hans Werner Holzwarth, ed., Art Now vol. 3, Cologne, 2008, p. 159 (installation view of another example illustrated)
      Claire Armstrong, 'A Good Year: Tracey Emin', Art World, February/March 2008, p. 69 (another example illustrated)
      Judd Tully, 'Expect the Unexpected', Art + Auction, July/August 2012 (another example illustrated)
      Tracey Emin: Angel without You, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami, 2013, p. 88 (installation view of another example illustrated, pp. 89-91)
      Jonathan Jones, Tracey Emin: Works from 2007-2017, New York, 2017, p. 376 (installation view of another example illustrated, pp. 38-39)

    • Artist Biography

      Tracey Emin

      British • 1963

      Tracey Emin is a prominent member of the Young British Artists (YBAs), who rose to critical and commercial success in the London art scene of the 1980s and 1990s. Emin is known for the personal, confessional nature of her work, which explores various mediums such as drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, neon text and found objects. Similar to fellow YBA artist Damien Hirst, Emin’s early work was championed by dealer Charles Saatchi, who exhibited Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 in 1997; the piece was comprised of names appliqued onto a small tent. Two years later, Emin was shortlisted for the Turner Prize. Her exhibition My Bed at the Tate Gallery became one of her best-known works, cementing her raw, confrontational style and catapulting her to international fame.

      Born in Croydon, England, Emin currently divides her time between Spitalfields, East London and the south of France. As her career has progressed, she has become increasingly known for creating neon sculptures and editions, which pair neon glass light with her distinctive handwriting.

      View More Works

Property of a West Coast Collector

34

Our Angels

clear blue neon, in 2 parts
i) 105.5 x 236 cm (41 1/2 x 92 7/8 in.)
ii) 142 x 234 cm (55 7/8 x 92 1/8 in.)

Executed in 2007, this work is number 2 from an edition of 3 plus 2 artist's proofs. This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£200,000 - 300,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £226,800

Contact Specialist

 

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+ 44 20 7318 4060
[email protected]

 

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

+ 44 20 7318 4099
[email protected]

 

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 April 2021