Lot 33
  • 33

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

10,000 - 15,000 GBP
68,750 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Louis le Brocquy, H.R.H.A.
  • Image of James Joyce
  • signed and dated 1981; also signed, titled, dated, numbered W 588 and inscribed on the reverse
  • watercolour
  • 59.5 by 44.5cm.; 23½ by 17½in.


Acquired directly from the Artist by the previous owner
Their sale, Sotheby's London, 22nd June 1994, lot 155 (as James Joyce - Study No.588), where acquired by David Bowie 

Catalogue Note

Louis le Brocquy’s career took a complex and varied path, from early Impressionist inspired works, through to a Cubist-style ‘Tinker’ period and then to the Head Series; as with many of the artists in David Bowie’s collection, he absorbed European trends within his own visual language. This language is at its most distinct in his celebrated and visually striking Head Series, to which the present work belongs.

The series began in the mid-1960s when the artist found a vital source of inspiration in Polynesian heads from the collection of Musée de l'Homme, Paris – ‘skulls in over-modelled clay and painted ritualistically to contain the spirit’ (the Artist, quoted in Louis le Brocquy Portrait Heads, (exh. cat.), National Gallery of Ireland, 2006, p.12). This kindled his interest in Celtic head culture, remarking, ‘like the Celts I tend to regard the head as this magic box containing the spirit. Enter that box, enter behind the billowing curtain of the face, and you have the whole landscape of the spirit' (Michael Peppiatt, ‘Interview with le Brocquy’, Art International, Lugaon, Vol.XXIII/7, October 1979, p.66). At first, the heads were non-specific, but the series developed following a invitation to be part of a portfolio of thirty three aquatints depicting Nobel prize-winners from the Swedish gallerist, Per-Olov Borjesson.

This inspired le Brocquy to paint a long series of evocative heads of literary figures and fellow artists, including W.B. Yeats, James Joyce and his friends Samuel Beckett, Francis Bacon and Seamus Heaney. Le Brocquy was primarily drawn to these figures because, ‘I don’t think of them so much as famous or brilliant men but as vulnerable, especially poignant beings who have gone further than the rest of us and for that reason are more isolated and moving. Above all, I was drawn to the journey they had made through life and the wide world of their vision’ (the Artist, ibid.).

Through a unique technique le Brocquy was able to achieve a new format of portraiture, as Anne Crookshank observed: ‘the traces of paper left between each stroke, which enhance the brilliancy of the colours, and the gleam of whiteness, which glows through the paint, all help to create the truly magical effect of images coagulating in front of your eyes, coming alive, mediating, speaking, and ultimately returning to their own imaginative genius’ (quoted in Louis le Brocquy, Paintings 1940-1990, Kerlin Gallery, Dublin, 1991). The image of Joyce that emerges from the present work possesses an ethereal quality which is both fleeting and eternal, vulnerable and pervasive.