- Cecily Brown
- The Nymphs Have Departed
- oil on canvas
- 170 by 211 cm; 67 by 82⅝ in.
Private Collection, Asia
Cecily Brown 1
Based in New York, British-born painter Cecily Brown achieved international fame for her highly-sexual and erotic paintings. Drawing inspiration from a variety of painters from Rubens, Goya and Velasquez to Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning and Francis Bacon, Brown renders the human body in a highly sensual method marked by an ingenuous handling of paint. Brown has established herself as one of the key figures in the resurgence of painting at the turn of the twentieth century. Her work has been collected by several prominent institutions including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York as well as the Tate Gallery in London.
Completed in 2014, The Nymphs Have Departed (Lot 1037) is a striking example of the artist’s characteristic style. Composed of saturated colours and expressive brushstrokes, the present painting lushly renders a strong physicality and turbulent emotion that is subtly disguised in its abstract yet figurative form. The inspiration for The Nymphs Have Departed can be seen to have arisen from one of the most famous themes in Western art history: Diana bathing with her nymphs. Many painters have revisited this subject as a pretext for depicting voluptuous female nudes. Being the most notable artist of Flemish Baroque art, Peter Paul Rubens’s imposing version Diana and her Nymphs Surprised by Satyrs, completed circa 1639-1640 and held in Museo del Prado in Madrid, might be one of the best examples of this subject matter that inspired Brown’s fleshy and luscious rendition. In her painting, Brown returns to the imagery of the Old Master while transcending the typical classical allegory and exploring the sensual possibilities of oil paint. In The Nymphs Have Departed, Diana is resting with her court of Nymphs in the woods when she is attacked by a group of Satyrs. The artist transforms the subjects in Ruben’s painting into a lush kaleidoscopic setting where distorted but sensuous bodies, trees, and landscape in the background all intertwine together into a complex composition of abstract, suggestive forms. By juxtaposing warm and cool tones, Brown uses the full potential of her electric colour palette to create a vivid world of hallucinatory visions.
The Nymphs Have Departed is also highly evocative of Willem de Kooning’s paintings. Just as de Kooning does not strive for resolution in his work, Brown seeks instead to capture the variable quality of life on the canvas to shatter the boundary between figuration and abstraction. The artist’s luscious swathes of radiant pigment generate the polychromatic effect of light and undulation and coarseness of the landscape and human form in the work. A young nude representing Diana the huntress is standing and gazing seductively with her arms raised on the right side of the canvas as if she is about to set off hunting at dawn and is ready to venture into the wildest parts of Nature. Commenting on her work, the artist once remarked: “sensual [because] it moves, it catches the light, it's great for skin and flesh and heft and meat. I wanted to make something that you couldn't tear your eyes away from. I like the fact that because my earlier work was so known for having erotic contents, I actually need to give very little now and it's seen as erotic or hinting at erotic.” 2
Except for a hint of eroticism in the standing nude and the painting’s title that gives away the subject of the composition, the viewer is unable to discern any explicit figuration in the work, but instead it is its gestural quality of the artist’s brushwork and paint that leaves the viewer with the sensation of a chaotic reality, which is exactly what de Kooning has done before that led him to his abstract work later on in his artistic career. In order to create depth on a flat plane, the artist dexterously applies wide-ranging colours such as subtle aquamarine blue, fleshy white and earthy hues with hints of green on her canvas, conjuring slippery forms which oscillate between figuration and abstraction. In spite of its abstract quality, The Nymphs Have Departed displays a calculated sense of tonal balance and compositional integrity, forcing the viewer to linger and engage in an intimate and condensed dialogue and focus on discovering the story hidden within the painting.
1 Quoted in D.Ashton, Cecily Brown, New York 2008, p.25
2 Cecily Brown in ‘New York Minute: Cecily Brown,’ Another, 14 September 2012