Lot 8
  • 8

John Currin

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
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  • John Currin
  • Untitled
  • oil on canvas
  • 45.7 by 35.6cm.
  • 18 by 14in.
  • Executed in 1998.


Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2003


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate although the flesh tones are slightly warmer with more pink hues in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Very close inspection reveals some very minor wear to the bottom right corner tip. No restoration is apparent under ultraviolet 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

Untitled is a superb example of John Currin’s exquisite painterly practice, a stunningly executed work that magnificently combines art historical precedent with contemporary concerns. The subject of the portrait engages the attention of the viewer through her unabashedly direct gaze, lips parted slightly as though on the cusp of speech, whilst our attention is drawn to the woman’s hands and elegantly tapering fingers which are displayed to notable effect through their careful positioning at the base of the collarbone. The woman’s elongated neck dominates the centre of the composition, inviting associations with a traditional concept of beauty expressed within Renaissance masterpieces such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus: the face appears perfectly symmetrical, the entire effect one of ideal proportion. The result is a work of astonishing technical skill which re-interprets conventional notions of ideal feminine appearance for a modern-day audience.

Untitled was painted during a period of particular development and maturation within Currin’s art. Whilst his earlier paintings had sought to depict women primarily as blandly emotionless and exaggerated objects of male desire, the focus of the paintings began to change around 1998, the year in which Untitled was created. Currin’s depictions of women from this time are imbued with a greater sense of individuality and expressive potential, whilst the contortions of figure and shape that had been a feature of much of the earlier painting is minimised in favour of graceful idealisation. This change in style coincided with a settled and contented personal life for Currin: in 1997 he had married artist Rachel Feinstein who was to become his creative muse. Currin recalled the circumstances which encouraged his change in creative practice during this period: “Before I thought of myself as an expressionist artist who worked on negative expressionist impulses – anger depression, misery… After I met my wife Rachel, I no longer had the raw material of an expressionist artist… I had no interest in constructing a painting out of its references or ideas or out of grudges. That kind of resentment in my painting used to come naturally, but it doesn’t anymore” (the artist, cited in: Kara Vander Weg and Rosie Dergan Eds.,  John Currin, New York 2006, p. 42). Untitled results from this period of considered re-adjustment within Currin’s painting. Reflecting the artist’s newfound creative ideals in its celebration of feminine beauty, the present work preserves the hallmarks of his trademarks style yet is imbued with the vicissitudes of a renewed personal outlook.

In its remarkable delineation of contour and notable use of naturalistic colour tones, Untitled reveals Currin’s extraordinary painterly skill and adoption of a technique first perfected during the High Renaissance. During the period in which Untitled was created Currin had begun experimenting with the traditional practice of underpainting, in which preliminary layers of light or dark pigment are employed to make up the basic form of the composition prior to the inclusion of regular colour tones. The application of a white undercoat imbues the surface hues with a particular warmth and suggestion of depth: Alison Gingeras notes that this technique “allowed Currin to flaunt his growing virtuosity by generating naturalistic modelling and credible vitality…” (Alison M. Gingeras, ‘John Currin: Pictor Vulgaris’ in: Ibid., p. 41). The glowing skin tones and delicately flushed cheeks visible within Untitled indicate the remarkable effectiveness of this technique in suggesting life-like reproductions of flesh and facial attributes, resulting in a portrait of incredible verisimilitude. Currin pays further homage to art historical precedent in his utilisation of traditional manipulation and idealisation of forms. In its alteration of bodily proportion as a means to suggest beauty, Untitled reveals a particular relationship with masterpieces of Mannerism as well as the High Renaissance, with the work of Parmigianino, Bronzino and Tintoretto providing inspiration. Parmigianino’s Madonna of the Long Neck (c. 1534-40) displays an especially marked compositional relationship to Untitled in the graceful gesture of the arm, hand uplifted to rest in an almost identical position to that in the present work, whilst the extreme tilting of the neck finds undoubted parallel with Currin’s choice of pose for his subject. Ultimately, in its encapsulation of the artist’s key concerns at a time of significant creative development, Untitled should be regarded as a work of major importance within Currin’s oeuvre.