Lot 275
  • 275

Patrick Caulfield, R.A.

300,000 - 500,000 GBP
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  • Patrick Caulfield, R.A.
  • Sweet Bowl
  • signed with initials PC and titled 'SWEET BOWL' (on the reverse)
  • oil on board
  • 56 by 91.5cm., 22 by 36in.
  • Executed in 1966.


Robert Fraser Gallery, London


The following condition report has been completed by Philip Young of Philip Young Conservation. The painting is made on a relatively thick composite board, not hardboard in fact considerably thicker and more substantial than standard hardbaord, often used at the time. A non-origonial outer frame was removed, this covered the edges, and a new tray frame in black walnut made. The attachment of the timber battens to the back of the painting to allow fitting into the frame is done in a way with paper tapes and interleaves that is easily reversed and removed. Recently the painting was cleaned and some minor restoration carried out. The upper right corner, previously concealed by the frame rebate, had been crushed and roughly restored. This is now consolidated, filled and inpainted minimally. There is a small inpainting on the upper left corner. The occasional light scratch and surface mark or stain was spotted in, again using reversible media. Some traces of the contact with the previous frame rebate remain on close examination around the edges, and in raking light there are some light scuffs on the surface remaining, not apparent in normal viewing. There is no varnish in any area of the painting and the condition remains good and sound.
"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

'His pictures are indescribable of course, except that he was not a Pop artist but rather a very modern, up-to-date and cool maker of pictures which constantly refer to other art and to appearances of a kind which can be codified, such as cast shadows, preferably from artificial light.  His technique is so elegant and self-effacing that the sudden eruptions of perfect trompe l'oeil, particularly of flowers and joints of meat, seem shocking.  But the suppression of all autograph marks is moving and impressive: his paintings are the expression of a magnificent and noble temperament.' (Howard Hodgkin, ‘Remembering Patrick Caulfield’, The Art Newspaper, no. 163, November 2005, p.37)

Sweet Bowl was painted in the midst of a decade of optimism and increasing excitement in the London cultural scene. Fashion, cinema, literature, music and mass media blossomed and generated new modes of visual address.  By 1966, the year the present lot was painted, Mary Quant had already inaugurated a revolution in women’s fashions and given the world the miniskirt.  The British music explosion was well underway.  The Beatles were major recording stars and the Rolling Stones were establishing their reputation as rock celebrities.  Pop art, which had had its precursor in the 1950s Independent Group, was now at its height, and in architectural circles, members of the Archigram group were developing visions of a future derived from many of the same sources. Most significantly of all, social resolution saw London transformed into ‘Swinging London’.  With its kaleidoscope of exuberant colour, everyday subject matter and innovative style, Sweet Bowl, at first glance, seems to fit perfectly into this moment in time.

Caulfield delighted in the most banal and even corny subject matter, so familiar as to pass largely unnoticed. To create something arresting from the most unpromising materials was perhaps the challenge that most inspired him.  This focus on prosaic objects aligned Caulfield with many of Pop Art’s major proponents.  However, from as early as his student days at the Royal College of Art, where his contemporaries included David Hockney, R.B. Kitaj and Allen Jones, Caulfield maintained an uneasy relationship with this movement. Whilst much Pop Art was born in relation to the languages of commerce and advertising that were sweeping the world from America during the 1960s, Caulfield’s works are tinged with nostalgia for past vernaculars.  Defiantly at odds with many of his peers, he displays a confidence that relevant contemporary art could be made within a traditional art form abandoned by others.  Thus, his subject matter can be understood not as popular culture but rather as grounded in European culture and history and the tradition of still life painting.

In search of a precise and detached formal language, the work of Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger and, above all, Juan Gris, provided valuable inspiration for Caulfield. He said: ‘What I like about Juan Gris’s work is not that he’s dealing with different viewpoints, it’s the way he does it.  It’s very strong, formally, and decorative.  Those are the results, rather that the idea of putting different viewpoints on a two-dimensional surface’ (Patrick Caulfield quoted in Patrick Caulfield Paintings 1963-81 (exh. cat.), Tate Gallery, London, 1981, p.15). There is no mistaking Caulfield’s painting for a Cubist work.  However, there are similarities in the way in which his devices have been plucked from their original context and set flatly onto the surface of the canvas, thus negating their former function.  In the present lot a bowl of sweets resting upon a table top functions as protagonist. Caulfield has pushed the subject through wistful, archaic filters, flattening and buckling its contours in a manner loosely evocative of his Cubist forbears.  In simplifying the image Caulfield intensifies rather than reduces its potential for meaning.

The painter's surface and method of execution are entirely his own. There is both a self-effacing quality and a breath-taking confidence in his quest to remove any evidence of the painter’s mark in favour of flat planes of colour. He said ‘I wanted a very impersonal surface; I didn’t want any obvious brushstroke work that was visible.  It was more like a sign-painter’s technique’ (Patrick Caulfield quoted in '"Chicken Kiev by Candlelight", Patrick Caulfield in conversation with Bryan Robertson', a tape (with accompanying slides) made in the series 'Artists Talking' by Lecon Arts. The tape is undated, but the Tate Archive records its copy as having been produced 'between 1988 and 1990').  Likewise, he chose ‘to paint on hardboard because it was cheap … an anonymous surface, the nearest equivalent to the wall’ (Patrick Caulfield quoted in Frances Spalding, Arts Review, 11th September 1981, p.404).  The perfect paint surface, combined with the uniform hues bound by simple black outlines, the reductive geometries and subtly warped perspective imbued the painting with a sense of otherworldliness. The unlikely lushness of the colour, Caulfield himself pointed out, transforms an ordinary subject into something strangely extravagant.  The painting offers a glimpse into a hyper-real alternative world held in an eternal moment of suspense. In spite of the loud riot of colour, a stillness and emptiness pervade the scene. Caulfield has an amazing ability to convey mood and emotion through conjunctions of seductive hue, colour harmonies and a deft sense of placement. At first glance, Sweet Bowl’s flood of blue and radiant jewel sweets are blatantly appetising, even celebratory, and it comes as a shock to realise that it also has a strange stillness that evokes a lonely, melancholy or distracted mood.  Most viewers will find themselves pulled in opposite directions to the extremes of their own response.  The enveloping atmosphere of lush colour leaves the viewer staring into the void.

Shortly after Caulfield's death, Howard Hodgkin wrote an article entitled ‘Remembering Patrick Caulfield’ for The Art Newspaper in which he championed Caulfield; ‘He was such a connoisseur of spaces where people gather for pleasure, such as restaurants and bars, and he managed to convey in his paintings the melancholy that can haunt such spaces – born of emptiness and artifice.’ (Howard Hodgkin, ‘Remembering Patrick Caulfield’, The Art Newspaper, no. 163, Nov. 2005, p. 37).  Sweet Bowl is one of Caulfield’s early masterpieces. It reveals his skill as a painter of contemplation, emotion, and above all visual delight. In 1967, it was made into a screen print.  The Tate Gallery, London has a version of this print in its collection.