Contemporary Art

George Condo's 'Rainy Day Butler' is a Modern Masterpiece

By Sotheby's

S otheby’s is proud to present George Condo’s modern masterpiece Rainy Day Butler2012, as a defining highlight in our upcoming Contemporary Curated sale on 2 March in New York. Fresh on the heels of our record setting auction of the artist’s Compression IV for $4,066,600 against an estimate of $800,000–1,200,000 in November 2017, the present work embodies the maturation of the artist’s career spanning narrative gestures and artistic strategies. 


Leading a suite of three works by the artist in our March auction, including 1998’s Rescue Scene and the commanding work on paper Group of Women, Condo’s Rainy Day Butler brings together a heady concoction of psychological intensity, astute draftsmanship, and encyclopedic painterly references in one unified and explosive composition. 


Like the most desirable paintings from Condo’s body of Drawing Paintings, Rainy Day Butler incorporates cubist painterly strategies in an all over composition and pushes at the border between figure and ground. Condo describes these works, which bring together the traditionally disparate processes of drawing and painting into one fluid gestural expression as: “about freedom of line and color... beauty and horror walking hand in hand. They are about improvisation on the human figure and its consciousness” (the artist in “George Condo: Drawing Paintings,” Skarstedt Gallery, 4 November 2011). 


Condo was critically engaged throughout the eighties in the inauguration of a new form of figurative painting that stylistically blended the representational and the abstract. Condo coined the terms ‘artificial realism’ and ‘psychological cubism’ to define his hybridization of art historical influences, specifically to portray his fusion of the Old Master subject with the distorted geometric perspectives of Cubism. Through a prolific output of uniquely distorted portraits, Condo established himself by the turn of the century as one of the preeminent figurative painters of the contemporary era.


Rainy Day Butler epitomizes Condo’s ability to synthesize the styles and techniques of masters old and new into an artistic product that feels singularly his. The artist’s signature motifs and characters dominate the work, including the fumbling butler Jean-Louis, identified by his large ogling eyes and gimmicky bow-tie, as well as the waiter-valet Roderigo who is identified by his cadmium red jacket sleeve and pegged as “a kind of lowlife, the one who parks your car” or “the piano player at a wedding, doing the worst song you’ve ever heard” (the artist in Calvin Tomkins, “Portraits of Imaginary People: How George Condo Reclaimed Old Master Painting,” The New Yorker, 17 January 2011). 


These unseemly characters have figured into Condo’s compositions for the past quarter century, implying narrative, but also acting as proxy for his complex psychological universe. In the words of the artist: “I try to depict a character's train of thoughts simultaneously – hysteria, joy, sadness, desperation. If you could see these things at once that would be like what I'm trying to make you see in my art” (The artist in Stuart Jeffries, “I was delirious. Nearly died,” The Guardian, 10 February, 2010).  Rainy Day Butler embodies that emotional range, enduring as a formal and emotional triumph in the artists body of work. 


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