Lot 111
  • 111

Roman Opalka

350,000 - 450,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Roman Opalka
  • 1965/1-∞, Detail 3864278-3881551
  • signed and titled on the reverse
  • acrylic on canvas
  • 196 by 135cm.; 77 1/8 by 53 1/8 in.


Galleria Mara Coccia, Rome
Acquired directly from the above by the late owner


Colour:The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the catalogue illustration fails to convey the details and nuances of the painted numbers apparent in the original. Condition:This work is in very good condition. Close inspection reveals evidence of minor wear to the upper left and right and lower right corner tips, and light handling in places along the extreme outer edges. There is a very slight darker area of pigment towards the center of the composition which is visible in certain lighting. No restoration is apparent when examined 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

There was no distinction in Roman Opalka’s life between the man and the artist. He was consumed by his creation from 1965, when he began his project of painting numbers from one to infinity on canvas, to his death in 2011, after painting his final number 5607249. Starting in the top left-hand corner of the canvas and finishing in the lower right, the minute numbers were painted in horizontal rows. Each new canvas, which the artist called a 'detail', took up counting where the last left off, and all are identical in size (196 by 135cm.) - the same dimension as his studio door in Warsaw. Many of these canvases, in which he radically rejected what he calls ‘the vanity of novelty’ in his aesthetic and ethical choices, are now held by prevalent public collections such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

On top of a grey background, Opalka has painted the numbers in white paint and the continuing presence of the artist is established by the unquestionably human script. As the figures progress along each line, their chromatic intensity periodically wanes as Opalka’s brush contains less and less paint before being replenished. The intricate repetition of this process leads to a dynamic and visually compelling surface texture, while also serving as testament to the artist’s endless pursuit.

Before arriving at the Details series, Opalka had attempted, in a manner relating to the literary works of Samuel Beckett, to analyse and ultimately visualise the concept of time. Whilst executing this series, the acme of his career, he also used a dictaphone to record himself verbalising the numbers and took passport style photographs of himself each day as he confronted the ageing process. In adopting his final system on canvas, Opalka works in a similar field to other artists of the time who took mathematics and the use of systems to be the touchstone of their work, such as Hanne Darboven, Daniel Buren and On Kawara – all of whom are represented in Casagrande’s surveying collection.

Despite the number of rejections of tradition present in his work, and that many have struggled to define his work as anything other than ‘Opalkian’, the Details series does seem to find a place on the line of progression of art theory and forms. The artist himself said, ‘it’s by abstracting myself from the formal problems of painting that I place my concept on the chess board’ (Roman Opalka, quoted in Christine Savinel, Jacques Roubaud and Bernard Noël, Eds., Roman Opalka, Paris, 1996, p.11). As the numbers vibrate across the picture plane, the viewer is confronted by the interplay of the interminable issues of infinite time and perhaps continuing physical presence. Along with its rhythmic and serene qualities, this work conceptually resonates beyond its physical existence and remains a crucially important contemporary masterpiece.