Lot 9
  • 9

Bridget Riley

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
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  • Bridget Riley
  • Gala
  • signed, titled, dated 1974 and variously annotated on the reverse; signed, titled and dated 1974 on the stretcher; signed and dated 74 on the side edge
  • acrylic on canvas
  • 159.7 by 159.7cm.
  • 62 3/4 by 62 3/4 in.


Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Private Collection, Bermuda
Robert Sandelson Gallery, London
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Bridget Riley, 1975
A British Council Exhibition: Buffalo, Albright Knox Art Gallery; Dallas, Museum of Fine Art; New York, Neuberger Museum, College at Purchase; Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales; Perth, Art Gallery of Western Australia; Tokyo, National Museum of Modern Art, Bridget Riley Works 1959-78, 1978-80, p. 57, no. 46, illustrated in colour and p. 57, no. 37, illustrated in colour (Tokyo catalogue)
Atlanta, High Museum of Art, on extended loan, 1987-1996


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate although the overall tonality is brighter and more vibrant in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. No restoration is apparent under ultra violet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

"Riley's work from the mid-1970s until the end of the decade took her concern with colour interaction and its relationship with light to new levels of complexity. The vehicle for these developments was her adoption in 1974 of the curve form as the fundamental unit of her paintings."

Paul Moorhouse, 'A Dialogue with Sensation: The Art of Bridget Riley' in Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate, Bridget Riley, 2003, p. 20

"I saw that the basis of colour is its instability. Instead of searching for a firm foundation, I realised that I had one in the very opposite. That was solid ground again, so to speak, and by accepting this paradox I could begin to work with the fleeting, the elusive, with those things which disappear when you actually apply your attention hard and fast."

The artist interviewed by Michael Craig-Martin in: Robert Kudielka, Ed., Dialogues on Art, London 1995, p. 56

Bridget Riley's mesmerising 1974 canvas Gala harnesses all the lessons of her previous output and achieves incredible optical, chromatic and spatial effects through her sophisticated manipulation of line, colour and form. One of her most important paintings from her mature 1970s corpus, Gala establishes the curve as an organising principle and exposes the potential volatility in our perception of colour. Previously Riley had mostly used either straight lines of repeated colours or curved lines in wider spectrums of changing colour. However, while the linear pattern of Gala fundamentally destabilises the picture plane, the simple red, blue and green lines create the sensation of other colours such as orange and pink. We are presented not only with the paradox that is inherent to all Riley's most accomplished works - how can such seemingly simple pictorial means generate such magisterial and diverse effects – but also with a more intangible atmospheric quality that seems to loom out of the canvas towards us.

Encountered at a typical viewing distance the scale of Gala fills our field of view while the perfect symmetry of the square canvas provides a deeply satisfying sense of geometric order. We are immersed in the cascading movement of a powerful vertiginous visual effect. Indeed the simplicity of the picture's format contrasts perfectly with the sensation of flux and movement which is both contained within the square and pushes and pulls the boundaries of the canvas edge. The eighty-six pairs of colour lines within the composition run across the canvas in horizontal waves and, while the height of each curved line expands and contracts several times across the picture plane, the shape of each pair of lines is identical. However, the lines are progressively positioned slightly to the right of those beneath, which creates the impression of rolling movement and a pattern of striped bands running diagonally from bottom left to top right. Alternating fast and slow movement, the painting offers contrasting states of tension and release and these competing forces manifest what Riley dubbed 'Virtual Movement'.

With Gala Riley also changes the viewer's perception by manipulating the topographical arrangement of colour, an effect that is most noticeable in the case of the reds. Where a red line is backed against a blue line it appears much closer to pink and where one is backed against a green line it seems almost orange. The success of this effect is compounded by the complex sequence of colours: although two red lines always face each other across a band of white, they are backed variously by either blue or green in a protracted order. However, the high frequency of the repeated lines also amplifies the effect and when we scrutinise individual areas we lose focus. Through these techniques Riley effectively reclassifies colour as a transient and evolutionary phenomenon as opposed to a fixed point of reference.

Gala summates over twenty years of Bridget Riley's sincere interest in the possibilities of colour. In the 1950s she made studies from the Pointillism of Georges Seurat, who was influenced by the empiricism of Charles Henry and his theory that mathematical formulation could directly explain aesthetic results. Riley was also fascinated with the manipulation of colour by Abstract Expressionists, in particular Jackson Pollock whose work she visited both at Tate's Modern Art in the United States in 1956 and at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1958. Although her precise and graphic visual dialect is somewhat opposed to Pollock's improvised Action Painting, she was attracted to the multi-focal surfaces of his paintings which so revolutionised the single-focus perspective of the European tradition. Her interest in 'Virtual Movement' was, of course, also indebted to the rhythmic visual language of the Italian Futurists that she had seen at the XXX Venice Biennale in 1960.

Riley's early colour experimentations never left her studio while breakthrough works such as Blaze 1 of 1962 used binary black and white to set up optical illusions. Colour first appeared in the form of temperate greys in 1965 with Arrest 2 before it became a central protagonist in 1967 with her masterpieces Cataract 3, Chant 2 and Late Morning. Riley subsequently experimented with colour in various different compositions and, recognising that chromatic visual effect is heightened by the length of the edge between two colours, started to marry colour with the soft reiteration of a contracting and expanding curve. Thus Gala stands at the height of this investigative arc and embodies Riley's exploration of what line, colour, and form could achieve.

Despite the faultless fabrication of the calculated and diagrammatic Gala, the sense of swelling and contracting movement, rolling waves and flickering adjustments in hue is more evocative of phenomena found in nature, such as shifting patterns of clouds or the intangible play of light on rippled water. Indeed, by deconstructing the chromatic character of light, Riley's stunning painting creates an atmospheric space in front of the canvas, bringing the area for dramatic confrontation between the viewer and the canvas in front of the picture plane. This is reminiscent of the vast paintings by Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists, whose all-over gestural painting resulted not only in optical, chromatic and spatial effects, but also a more immediate and emotional sensory experience. By destabilising compositional architecture and fundamentally disorganising colour, the oscillating and evolving character of Gala imbues the beholder with pure energy. Riley's destabilisation of the image can be viewed as one of the most radical departures in the history of Post-War British Art, and with paintings such as Gala her art even surpasses mere visual experience.