In 2010, the Modigliani oil painting Nu Assis Sur Un Divan (La Belle Romaine) also of 1917 sold at Sotheby’s New York for $69 million. In 2014 his 1911–12 sculpture Tête achieved $70.7 million at Sotheby’s New York, which was the second highest price for the artist at auction prior to this evening’s sale.
Painted a century ago, Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) is the greatest work from the iconic series in which Amedeo Modigliani reinvented the nude for the Modern era. Upon their debut exhibition in 1917, these striking and sensual images quite literally stopped traffic and prompted the police to close the show. Today, the series is recognized as one of the seminal achievements in Modern painting. The shock and awe that Modigliani’s nudes continue to elicit was evident during Tate Modern’s recent celebrated retrospective of the artist’s work that included Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) as its cover star.
Of all the 20th-century Surrealists, few were as idiosyncratic and willful as Pavel Tchelitchew, the Russian-born painter, stage designer and costume designer. The Chagall of noir, he was celebrated for his eerie geometric studies of heads and sexualized anamorphic landscapes.
A group of 17 works by Tchelitchew from the collection of Seymour Stein, co-founder of the pioneering label Sire Records which signed Madonna, features in our Russian Pictures sale in London on 5 June, works that provide links to figures close to the artist: his longtime partner, the poet Charles Henri Ford; Tchelitchew’s biographer Parker Tyler; and friend and fellow Surrealist, Edward James. Below are seven facts to help illuminate this most mercurial of artists.
1. He had a nomadic sensibility
Born in Kaluga Province – into an aristocratic family of landowners – Tchelitchew left Russia following the 1917 revolution, moving first to Berlin then Paris, later taking American citizenship while living in New York. He also spent periods in Kiev, Sofia, Istanbul and London. He died, however, in Rome and his ashes were interred in Paris. His oeuvre was equally restless, shifting between abstraction, eroticism, Futurism, Neo-Romanticism and outrageous Surrealist fantasies.
Tchelitchew and Beaton met in 1931 and for several decades enjoyed/endured an on-again, off-again, friendship. “Tchelitchew at first intimidated me (he could be devastating in his disapproval) but soon cast an almost hypnotic influence over me,” recalled Beaton. As a pot calls a kettle black, Beaton said that Pavel was “apt to be touchy and fractious”.
3. He made muses out of literate ladies
His formative period in Paris during the 1920s was spent in the salons of the poet Dame Edith Sitwell and the American playwright and art collector Gertrude Stein – he produced unflattering portraits of both. And towards the end of his life he befriended Isak Dinesen, aka Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa.
His most famous painting, Hide and Seek (1942), is a nightmarish fantasy of figures entwined in branches inspired by a tree he saw while walking in Edward James’ Sussex estate. It has had an unlucky history: a hole was accidentally punched in the canvas during an exhibition tour and in 1958 a fire at New York’s Museum of Modern Art left its surface baked and covered in soot. The work was later restored.
5. He was a frustrated dancer
His career as a ballet designer, from 1919 to the mid-1940s, found him working for theatres as far afield as Istanbul and Buenos Aires and with talents such as the Ballet Russes, Orson Welles, Sergei Diaghilev and George Balanchine. “Re-create a forgotten world,” he declared, “a world you have never seen, so that the audience will gasp with surprise.” He liked to imitate the illustrious ballerinas featured on the stage, performances that one friend described as looking like a bluebottle in flight.
Tchelitchew was convinced that most visitors to museums will fondle the private parts of statues if they are left alone in the galleries. As a result, he claimed, curators have to regularly wash the fiddled bits.
The cultural calendar in London comes alive in the summer months, with fascinating exhibitions opening at galleries, museums and parks across the capital. Permanent fixtures such as the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and the Serpentine Pavilion are this year joined in the line-up by appearances by some of fashion and music’s most iconic figures and muses; from Michael Jackson and Azzedine Alaïa to Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe. With so much to see, we’ve put together a handy guide to the very best shows and experiences on offer, so you needn’t miss a thing…
The V&A is well-known as the go-to destination for all things fashion, but this exhibition goes a little deeper than merely a look at Frida Kahlo’s clothes. Featuring items from the artist’s personal archive, many that have never been seen since her death in 1954, Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Upis an intimate journey through the life of the Mexican icon. Kahlo herself was often the subject of her own artwork, and her image, art and troubled personal life were entirely intertwined in the careful construction of her outward appearance. The importance of dress as part costume, and part protection are just some of the themes explored in this powerful exhibition, including clothing, prosthetics and cosmetics.
Whilst more widely known for his expressive paintings of the natural world, flowers and trees were not the only subject matter that fascinated Monet, who remains one of the most revered figures in the history of art. This comprehensive exhibition explores his interest in man-made structures and the famous landmark buildings in London, Paris, Venice and beyond.
Nearly a decade after the death of Michael Jackson, and coinciding with what would have been Jackson’s 60th birthday, this ambitious display surveys the life and distinctive style of the superstar – from his Motown days in the Jackson 5, though to his later military-inspired dress, on and off stage. Works by more than 40 artists including Andy Warhol, Grayson Perry, Isa Genzken and David LaChapelle celebrate Jackson as a cultural icon and master of reinvention.
Since the inaugural Serpentine Pavilion commission in 2000, this oasis in the park has become a must-see destination on the London art trail. Designed by a different architect every year, this year’s commission is conceived by Mexico City-based Frida Escobedo. The pavilion will be a secluded courtyard with a central pool of water, offering a tranquil place for visitors to sit and reflect and to escape the crowded streets of London. Escobedo is the youngest architect to have undertaken the project, and the first solo woman to design the pavilion since the late Zaha Hadid in 2000.
Beginning on 8 June, Sotheby’s opens it doors for the summer sale season in the New Bond Street Galleries, with five weeks of exhibitions, exclusive events, talks and sales – presenting an array of artworks by the world’s leading artists from Picasso and Jean Arp to Damien Hirst and Barbara Hepworth.
As trends come and go in the fashion world, there are several figures whose designs truly stand the test of time. In a career spanning nearly 40 years, Alaïa’s handmade creations have graced the pages of magazines and red carpets the world over, and devoted fans include Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and Nicole Kidman. By displaying the exquisite dresses against specially designed architectural screens, the couture creations take on a sculptural quality. With the addition of archival photography, the exhibition goes inside the mind of the man and the brand – the legacy of which plays a starring role in the history of fashion. Azzedine Alaïa: The Couturier was co-curated by the designer himself, before his death in November 2017.
LINDA EVANGELISTA AND AZZEDINE ALAÏA PHOTOGRAPHED IN 1990 BY SANTE D’ORAZIO.
250 Years of the Royal Academy of Arts
After a major three-year renovation, the Royal Academy of Arts is reopening, and reinforcing it’s dedication to new art and ideas, as it has done since it first opened in 1768. With a host of events, exhibitions and artist projects, the new RA will be unveiled on 19th May. The aptly named The Great Spectacle, exploring the history of the institution’s exhibitions, and the Festival of Ideas will kick off the new programme, alongside the 250th instalment of the Summer Exhibition – showcasing works by one thousand artists, and this year curated by Turner Prize-winning academician Grayson Perry.
ARTIST BOB AND ROBERTA SMITH AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS.
Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art at Tate Modern
Tate Modern does blockbuster exhibitions well, and manages to toe the lie between crowd-pleaser and educational seamlessly; moving the art-historical conversation forward whilst allowing viewers access to works by the most significant artists of our times. From the early experimental photography of Man Ray and Alfred Stieglitz through to contemporary practitioners such as Thomas Ruff and Antony Cairns, Shape of Lightpresents an under-explored history of the relationship between photography and abstract art. Whilst visiting, you can also pop in to Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy on the 3rd floor of the Boiler House, which devotes ten rooms to Picasso’s ‘Year of Wonders’.
This exhibition brings together works by perhaps the most famous sculptor in history, and exquisite examples of the Greek artefacts that inspired his practice. On visits to the British Museum in the 1800s, Auguste Rodin was deeply inspired by objects in the museum’s collection, and these works are now displayed side-by-side in this major exhibition, including his most revered works –The Thinker and The Kiss.
The work of some of America’s most important artists are brought together in this bold exhibition, with many works being shown in Britain for the first time. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, many artists of the period were recording the changing world around them, whilst simultaneously experimenting with abstraction. The large-scale industrialisation of the country provided artists such as Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe and George Ault with plentiful subject matter, allowing them to produce images of an America on the on the cusp of wealth, prosperity and expansion.
Held in galleries, museums and public spaces all over Liverpool including the Bluecoat, Tate Liverpool and FACT, the art world will once again descend on the city for a four month festival of international contemporary art. Commissions and residencies by the most exciting talents working in visual arts and culture are accompanied by programme of talks, films and interactive installations – with a carefully curated online element, allowing people from around the world the opportunity to take part in the Biennial from any location.
As one of the founding figures of the St Ives School, Patrick Heron’s paintings are beautifully expressive studies of colour and form. Inspired by the light and landscape in his adopted Cornwall, Heron’s abstract canvasses will be exhibited in the town that nurtured the creative experimentation of many of British Modernism’s most significant figures.
Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary Art Highlights
Sotheby’s presents a global tour of highlights from the upcoming Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art sales in London this June. The exhibition will be on view in Hong Kong and Zurich.