Lot 5
  • 5

Chris Ofili

150,000 - 200,000 GBP
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  • Chris Ofili
  • Blue Riders
  • signed, titled and dated 2006 on the reverse
  • oil, acrylic and charcoal on canvas
  • 278 by 200cm.; 109 1/2 by 78 3/4 in.


Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2006


Hanover, Kestnergesellschaft Hannover, The Blue Rider Extended Remix, 2006, p. 171, illustrated in colour 

London, Tate Britain, Chris Ofili, 2010, p. 121, illustrated in colour 


Peter Doig, et al., Chris Ofili, New York 2009, n.p., illustrated in colour 


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is lighter and more vibrant in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Very close inspection reveals some extremely minor wear to the bottom left corner tip and a hairline scratch to the lower-centre right. No restoration is apparent when examined 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

Composed of exquisite midnight hues and profound tonal depths of blue, Blue Riders forms part of Chris Ofili’s major series of the same name, which had its genesis following the artist’s move to Trinidad in 2005. Characterised by powerfully atmospheric nocturnal landscapes and an opulent palette of inky dark blues, the Blue Riders series marked a radical change in style from the vibrantly coloured and highly textured works of the previous decade. Ofili had recently completed a four year long commission for the Tate’s monumental thirteen panel masterpiece, The Upper Room, and by the time of his move to Trinidad was actively seeking a new form of painterly expression. Working with blue as the primary tone provided a particularly complex creative exercise for the artist, as he recalled: “Blue… was a difficult colour to work with… To work exclusively with blue was the biggest challenge… I was trying to find new ways to use a colour to the point of saturation, to the point where you don’t see it” (Chris Ofili in conversation with Thelma Golden in: Peter Doig, et al., Chris Ofili, New York 2009, pp. 243-44). Prestigiously featured in Ofili's retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain, the present work inhabits a place of utmost importance within this momentous cycle.

Trinidad’s sultry, exotic climate and the tropical island twilight also served as a source of inspiration for the series: “[Trinidad] has a mystical quality to it – the landscape is hilly, the vegetation is dense and you have the constant feeling that things are happening on the other side of the hill or deep in the forest. There are twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of night-time… so the night has quite a strong presence in the waking hours” (ibid., p. 243). The present work effectively succeeds in conveying the sensation of a humid, velvety night in the tropics whilst offering a hint of the mysterious and the unknown, with the shape of horse and riders seeming to emerge from the gloaming as though figments of an incantation or a curious magic.

The Blue Rider series was influenced by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc’s legendary early twentieth-century almanac of the same name, which sought to amalgamate different forms of creativity – artistic, musical and literary – into an aesthetic Gesamtkunstwerk: a complete and total synthesis of the arts. A loosely affiliated group of artists, including David and Vladimir Burliuk, Heinrich Campendonk and Robert Delaunay, coalesced under the aegis of the Blue Rider, exhibiting in two separate gallery shows in 1911 and 1912. Although the group never exhibited together again after these two shows, the impact of the Blue Rider manifesto on twentieth-century artists, writers and musicians proved to be profound and far-reaching. Christopher Zuschlag argues that the original Blue Rider would have appealed to Ofili for both philosophical and artistic reasons: “It is doubtless the idea of the synthesis of the arts, especially the strong reference to music, and the demand for the equal status of European and non-European art, or high art and folk art…” (Christopher Zuschlag, ‘The Blue Rider’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, Berlin, Contemporary Fine Arts, The Blue Rider, Chris Ofili, 2005, p. 5).

Chosen as the UK’s representative for the Venice Biennale in 2003, Ofili is one of the most popular and innovative artists of his generation. Effortlessly transcending social and philosophical boundaries, his work combines the sacred and profane with popular culture and contemporary beliefs. Examining and challenging conventional ideals of beauty, black culture, history and exoticism, his work draws on a wide variety of influences and is celebrated for its inventive interweaving of assorted, non-art media, ranging from balls of elephant dung and glitter to resin, map pins and magazine cut-outs. Ofili’s utterly contemporary utilisation of the original aims and ideals of the Blue Rider within this important series is not only a highly accomplished artistic homage, but also stands as a superb encapsulation of his extraordinary technical and painterly assurance.