Lot 48
  • 48

Louis le Brocquy, H.R.H.A.

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
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  • Louis le Brocquy, H.R.H.A.
  • Image of Samuel Beckett (Opus 473)
  • signed and dated on the reverse: LE BROCQUY 1982; also titled and dated on the stretcher bar: IMAGE OF SAMUEL BECKETT/ 1982
  • oil on canvas
  • 69 by 69cm.; 27¼ by 27¼in.


Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris


Dublin, Guinness Hop Store, The Arts Council, Louis le Brocquy, Images of W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, F.G. Lorca, Picasso, Samuel Beckett, Francis Bacon, 1975-1987, 1987, no.39, illustrated in the catalogue p.56, with tour to Ulster Museum, Belfast, Festival Centre, Adelaide, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (1988), Museum of Contemporary Art, Brisbane (1988);
Seoul, Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee, Olympiad of Art, 1988;
Antibes, Musee Picasso, Louis Le Brocquy- Images 1975-1988, 1989;
Kamakura, The Museum of Modern Art, Louis le Brocquy Images, Single and Multiple 1957-1990, 5th January-3rd February 1991, no.35-b, illustrated in the catalogue p.61, with tour to Itami City Museum of Art and Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art;
Dublin, The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Louis le Brocquy Paintings 1939-1996, 16th October-16th February 1997, no. 89, illustrated in the catalogue p.102.


Original canvas. There is a tiny minor surface marking in the upper left corner and a very faint diagonal surface scuff to the white background upper right. Otherwise the work is in generally good overall condition. Ultraviolet light reveals pigments which fluoresce that are the hand of the artist. Held under glass in a painted wood box frame; unexamined out of frame. Please telephone the department on 0207 293 5575 if you have any questions regarding the present work.
"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

'...I'm simply trying to discover, to uncover, aspects of the Beckettness of Beckett...' (le Brocquy, October 1979, quoted in Louis le Brocquy Portrait Heads, Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, 2006, p.63).

le Brocquy first met Beckett in Paris in 1978 however, he first used Beckett as a subject in 1965 when he painted Reconstructed Head of Samuel Beckett (Opus no.171).  They became good friends during the last eleven years of Beckett's life and le Brocquy illustrated Stirrings Still which was published in 1988. He also designed the costumes and the set of Walter Asmus's production of Waiting for Godot in 1988, the year before Beckett's death.   Beckett was notoriously elusive and publicity-shy and therefore the series of images of him by his friend le Brocquy where he stares unflinchingly out of the canvas have gained iconic status.

le Brocquy first produced a series of heads after being inspired by what he saw at the Musée de l'homme in Paris in 1964.  He was particularly taken by the examples of Polynesian heads on display which were constructed in clay with cowie shell eyes and used in ritual to connect with the spirit of the individual.  The concept of encapsulating the spirit of humanity in one object ignited a creative force within the artist that spurred a period of activity to break his creative deadlock of 1963 when he destroyed around forty canvases. 

Although he had used James Joyce and Beckett as subjects in the 1960s, his focus on particular heads of iconic personalities stems from a commission in 1975 from the Swedish gallery owner, Per-Olov Börjeson who was producing a series of 33 aquatints of Nobel prize winners. le Brocquy chose to portray W.B.Yeats who he had known when he was a young boy.  In turning to Samuel Beckett, although le Brocquy was focusing on a particular person, he was not seeking to produce a portrait as an example of verisimilitude as 'I don't really think of them as portraits, since no one, still, definitive image can possibly reflect a person of our time.  What one gropes for I imagine, is rather an identity in motion, traversing the diverse elements composing it - elements reaching back into ancestral time and perhaps even forward...' (quoted in Anne Cremin, ' New Artists to Talk About- Lois le Brocquy,' Social & Personal, Dublin, December 1984)

As such, in tune with his earlier Ancestral Heads, what he was 'groping' for in his series of Portrait Heads, was in fact the very essence of man, the 'Beckettness of Beckett'. His probing investigations into his subject and their relationships within the greater context of time and place have resulted in the powerful imagery of the present work. Indeed, in order to truly understand his subject, the artist explained that '...I'm drawn to their work.. and in each case, before beginning to paint, I have tried to steep myself as deeply as possible in it...(le Brocquy, ibid., p.62). Both le Brocquy and Beckett demonstrated an un-nerving concern for the complexities of the human condition and as Colm Tóibín has pointed out, there are instances in Beckett's writing which could easily be mistaken as having been specifically composed in relation to le Brocquy's work, '...Traces blurs light grey almost white on white. Only the eyes only just light blue almost white. Given rose only just bare white body fixed one yard white on white invisible...' (Beckett, from Ping, quoted in C.Tóibín, 'Louis le Brocquy, A Portrait of the Artist as an Alchemist', ibid., p.13).

Anne Madden remembers fondly that, 'Sam bore up nobly when confronted with the artist's reconstruction of his handsome creviced face, his pale piercing eyes' and it is a testament to le Brocquy's extraordinary ability as an artist that the present Image of Samuel Beckett has the same striking immediacy as the day it was executed almost 30 years ago.