Prints & Multiples: Artist & Muse

10/12/2021     Prints & Multiples

NEW YORK, NY -- Female muses are a tradition we see throughout art history—lovers, wives, assistants, friends—who inspired and often supported an artist, and were depicted over and over in their work.

American artist Alex Katz found his way in art at the same time he met Ada, his wife and muse of over 60 years. Ada is his most recognizable subject, whom we see featured in this monumental 1992 screenprint, Gray Day [Lot 84], of Ada on the beach near their summer home in Lincolnville Maine. To Katz, Ada is the perfect subject: a classic beauty who has personified every stage of his long career. Like the Pop artists, Katz was influenced by film, television and billboard advertising, as well Japanese prints, a reference reflected here in his cropped close up view and use of bold, flat colors and forms to evoke the essence of the figure and landscape. The forms and colors look deceptively simple when you consider that he actually used 28 different colors to create this print. Katz was interested in craft and technique, surface and appearance. In essence, how people looked, not their character or mood. Here, Ada appears cool, distant and stylish in her red cap and sunglasses, with just enough detail to make her recognizable.

Tom Wesselmann also had his muse, or rather two: his wife of 41 years, Claire, depicted in the screenprint entitled Nude (for Sedfre) from 1969 [Lot 196], and his longtime studio assistant and model, Monica, seen in the lithograph and linocut work Monica Lying on One Elbow with Robe from 1990 [Lot 198]. Wesselmann, like Katz, used flat planes of bold color and often cropped his subjects. Even so, Wesselmann utilized his own distinctly Pop visual language and differs from Katz in the sexualization of his nude subjects. He once said in an interview "Painting, sex and humour are the most important things in my life.” Monica was depicted again as the subject of an oil on laser-cut steel multiple, Monica Lying on One Elbow with Robe [Lot 197] based on unique, large-scale works in which Wesselman recreated his quick line drawings. Monica was a country singer, which delighted Wesselmann as he also wrote and recorded country music –- one track of which is part of the Brokeback Mountain movie soundtrack.

Will Barnet’s wife Elena was the muse for many of his most iconic works. Like Katz, Barnet fell in love with the quality of light in Maine and spent his summers there. He also emphasized line and bold forms, but his is a cooler palette of muted colors such as gray-blues and with a classical emphasis on balance and proportion as we see in his lithograph, Woman and the Sea [Lot 5] from 1973, which is part of a large body of work on this theme begun in the 1970s. Barnet was inspired by seeing his wife Elena standing one evening on the porch of their home in Maine. The work has quite a different mood than works by Katz and Wesselmann, evoking the unsettling feeling of women throughout time looking out to sea for signs of their loved one's return. Whereas Katz evokes cool style, and Wesselman sensuality, Barnet's depictions of his wife are often mysterious and contemplative.

The figure also features prominently in the work of British contemporary artist David Hockney. Well known for his images of pools and still lifes, such as his 1980 lithograph Black Tulips [Lot 76], he was also famous for his portraits depicting people he knew. A 1974 color etching and aquatint, Celia Seated on an Office Chair [Lot 74], is an intimate depiction of his good friend and frequent subject Celia Birtwell. A London-based textile designer, Celia often visited Hockney in Los Angeles. He is said to have drawn her portrait during each visit to celebrate.

Arguably the most influential artist of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso took as muses several lovers and wives. None was more significant to his work than Jacqueline Roque, who dominated the last 20 years of his life and art. She is represented in an offset lithograph after his Cubist painting, Jacqueline Accroupie (Jacqueline Crouching) from 1966 [Lot 145]. Picasso depicted Jacqueline in this pose in several paintings as it showed off her beautiful and strong profile.

Picasso met Jacqueline in 1953 at the Madoura pottery factory in the South of France, where she was a sales assistant. After his first visit to the factory he became hooked on ceramics, which he created with great zeal and in large quantity over the last 24 years of his life. Like so many of his ceramic works, this editioned pitcher from 1959, Chope Visage (Face Tankard) [Lot 153] appears to depict Jacqueline. Here Picasso playfully incorporates the three-dimensional nature of the medium into the design—the pitcher becomes transformed into a sculptural object, the entire body metamorphosing into the face, with the handle, rim and spout becoming part of her hair. These are just two of the many Picasso prints and ceramics we have in the sale, highlighted as well by this wonderful large pitcher, Visage aux Yeux Rieurs (Face with Laughing Eyes) from 1969 [Lot 160].

Prints & Multiples
Auction Tuesday, October 19, 2021 at 11am
Exhibition October 16-18