acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne de Paris, Centre Pompidou, Andy Warhol: Retrospective, 1990
Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Gunter Sachs - Retrospektive, 2003
Leipzig, Museum der Bildenden Künste, Gunter Sachs, 2008
London, Gagosian Gallery, Warhol: Bardot, 2011, p. 45, illustrated in colour
"A year with Bardot was worth ten with anyone else" Gunter Sachs declared in his candid autobiography Mein Leben in 2005; indeed, such depth of feeling and intense passion was expressed by Brigitte Bardot in 1966 when she avowed, "I have never known a man like him. I feel mad, serene, wonderstruck. I have arrived at the end of a long journey" (Brigitte Bardot cited by Dennis Hevesi, NY Times, 9 May 2011). Sachs was the poster boy for the original Jet-Set while Bardot was the silver screen pin-up for the sexual revolution: together they epitomised the zenith of 1960s glamour, wealth, fame, celebrity and sex-appeal. Married at the peak of Bardot's fame on Bastille Day 1966 in Las Vegas, this explosive union, though set to last only three years until 1969, not only exemplified, but would help propel and steer the direction of the most sustained tenet of Andy Warhol's iconic production: the Society Portraits. Belonging to the series of eight works commissioned by Sachs, Bardot's radiating golden visage stands as natural successor to the stellar trinity of Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy beatified by Warhol's immaculate silkscreen technique in the 1960s. Superbly manifest of the artist's obsession with fame, celebrity and popular culture, Bardot's movie-star status, Siren-like beauty, flawless physiognomic symmetry and radical eroticism mark her as the consummate Warholian muse. A potent cultural phenomenon in her own right and original symbol of female sexual freedom, Bardot's canonization into the pantheon of Warholian idols powerfully encapsulates the spirit of the epoch dually defined by these two icons of the Twentieth Century. As the last from the series of eight paintings belonging to the Sachs family ever likely to appear for public sale, the presentation of this remarkable work with such depth of historical import denotes an extraordinarily rare auction moment.
Following Warhol's first major retrospective exhibition in Hamburg during 1972, an effort largely initiated by Sachs himself, the set of eight paintings of Bardot were commissioned to hang as pendants to a corresponding series portraying Sachs. Intended to adorn the walls of his ostentatiously decorated 'Pop Art apartment' in the tower of the luxurious Palace Hotel, St Moritz, these portraits are unique within Warhol's oeuvre both in scale and choice of source imagery. Typically Warhol kept the standard format of 40 inches for his 1970s Society Portraits, taking his own Polaroids with his ubiquitous Big Shot camera; however for Bardot, the portraits were executed in an unusual large format and based on the acclaimed photographer Richard Avedon's iconic 1959 photograph culled by Sachs from the pages of a magazine. Divergent from the brushy and almost expressionistic application of paint familiar to Warhol's large corpus of society portraits, Bardot evokes a retrospective appropriation of the earlier hard Pop style of unmodulated colouring and closed contours to emphasise a machine-like touch. In both painterly approach and style Bardot is visually aligned to the earlier iconic silkscreens of Jackie, Liz and Marilyn whose images were collected from the press. As such, Bardot's portrait represents a coming-together of worlds for Warhol.
By the 1970s the artist's upwards social mobility meant that he no longer admired his screen-idols from a distance but instead frequently associated with the rich and famous; indeed Warhol had by this time attained celebrity status in his own right. In meeting Bardot for the first time in 1967 however, Warhol was undeniably star-struck. Though they would later become friends, Warhol's adulation for the screen-siren long predated their initial acquaintance as well as the artist's foray into film making. While John Giorno was the model featured in Warhol's first film Sleep, Gerard Melanga recalled that it was Bardot whom Warhol ideally envisaged as the slumbering subject of his lens. Warhol clearly placed Bardot on a pedestal as an abstract ideal of seductive celebrity. The glamour and supreme star-quality of Bardot the matinee idol is clearly redolent within the present work. Detached from the sobering presence of death in the portraits of Marilyn and intimated at in his depictions of Jackie and Liz, Bardot is sheer screen magnetism incarnate.
Finally executed in 1974, Warhol's seductive portrayal of Brigitte Bardot stands as a creation almost eight years in the making. Alongside the pendant portraits of Sachs himself, the origins of the eight paintings after Bardot's iconic likeness can be traced to the couples' very first encounter with Warhol during the spring of 1967. Visiting the South of France to promote his film Chelsea Girls, Warhol first encountered Sachs at the Gorilla Bar in St Tropez. Though Warhol's attempts to host screenings of his film were abortive, the artist and his gang of Factory cohorts stayed to star-gaze and bask in the glamorous atmosphere. Famed for his lavish lifestyle and burgeoning reputation as visionary arts patron, Warhol made a direct bee-line for Sachs, Warhol made a striking first impression upon Sachs, for whom the encounter was "as unusual as Andy Warhol himself" (reference needed). For Warhol however, the most memorable aspect of the entire encounter was meeting Sach's wife, Brigitte Bardot. Documented in Warhol's 1960s memoirs in some detail, the artist remembered meeting Bardot in some detail: "We decided to hang around anyway and just have fun as that's what we were always good at, going to parties, water skiing, meeting the foreign movie people... we met Gunter Sachs, the West German heir who brought us home to meet his wife Brigitte Bardot. She came downstairs and entertained like a good European hostess, and I couldn't get over how sweet that was – to be Brigitte Bardot and still bother to make your guests comfortable!" (Andy Warhol and Par Hackett, POPism: The Warhol Sixties, London 2007, pp. 267-68). Warhol and his entourage spent an evening captivated by the newly-wed couple, however it was Bardot's grace, easy temperament and otherworldly beauty which truly left the group star-struck. Present among the company from Warhol's Factory, Ultra Violet recalled details of the evening spent in the company of Sachs and Bardot: "The party was half in the house and half on Gunter Sach's boat. The house was very nice. Minimal but in good style. He even had servers on the boat. The dinner was just delicious, and champagne galore. We were swimming and drinking champagne. Bardot was outstanding. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. She looked like a goddess, and Gunter was much in love. This was a new affair for them. Warhol was impressed by the whole setup. Of course he was a celebrity hound. We wound up at some club. I think it was called Vroom Vroom or something. Bardot was so gracious, and when she danced all eyes were on her. She didn't jiggle, she had grace. I think Gunter probably ordered the portrait then" (Ultra Violet in: Glenn O'Brien, 'And Warhol Created Bardot', Exhibition Catalogue, London, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: Brigitte Bardot, 2011, p. 18). For Warhol Cannes in 1967 represents a turning point; following the announcement of his 'retirement from painting' in 1965 and wholesale focus on the art of the silver-screen, Warhol realised, in the words of Glenn O'Brien, "that even if film was his future, painting was still the way to "bring home to bacon", and there were great portraits still to be made" (Ibid., p. 19). Indeed, of the work belonging to the next chapter in Warhol's career testament to his reinvigorated painterly appetite, the portraits of Bardot stand among the most elite and iconic.
By the time Bardot married Sachs in 1966, the actress had long since attained legendary status. At the age of only 15 she had appeared on the cover of Elle, and forged the blueprint for the original jeune filles and prototypical Lolita five years preceding the publication of Nabokov's eponymous novel; in 1956 Bardot shot to stardom almost overnight in the controversially provocative film directed by her then husband Roger Vadim, And God Created Woman - the film which scandalised America and earned her the status of sex-kitten extraordinaire; by 1959 the Bardot myth was truly cemented when she elicited the attention of France's existential elite as the focus of Simone de Beauvoir's article 'Brigitte Bardot and the Lolita Syndrome'. This essay recognised Bardot as the "locomotive of women's history" presenting her as the most liberated woman of post-war France, a status which would be nationally endorsed ten years later when Bardot was prestigiously asked to bestow her features as the first official incarnation of the traditionally archetypal Marianne – France's revolutionary icon of liberty and national symbol of le patrie. With the sweep of Warhol's silkscreen, Bardot's magnetic on-screen presence and intoxicating yet liberated sexuality was immortalised as the ultimate Warholian blonde-bombshell post-Marilyn Monroe. As outlined by Olivier Zahm, "BB, then, was the anti-Marilyn. Marilyn was the ultimate fetish, the planetary sex symbol moulded on a panopoly of male fantasies, while BB incarnated the emancipation of feminine desire" (Olivier Zahm, 'Films and lovers, nothing else...', Exhibition Catalogue, London, Gagosian Gallery, Andy Warhol: Brigitte Bardot, 2011, p. 28). Bardot presaged the advent of the sexual revolution, at once embodying the female beau ideal without compromising her own agency as a woman; she did as she pleased and lived life freely and provocatively. Through Avedon's photograph Warhol arrested in paint the very peak of Bardot's fresh-faced beauty; looming with unimpeachable facial symmetry, Bardot's signature full-lips and luxuriant golden mane radiates as the ultimate contemporary goddess and icon of star-power.
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