Lot 13
  • 13

CECILY BROWN | A Swan Comforting a Snake

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
1,209,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Cecily Brown
  • A Swan Comforting a Snake
  • signed and dated 2014 on the reverse
  • oil on linen


Gagosian Gallery, New York

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Paris, Gagosian Gallery, Cecily Brown, October - December 2014, illustrated in colour on the cover, and n.p., illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Cecily Brown’s recent work is undoubtedly the very best of her acclaimed career thus far. Through a confluence of brushwork in which a whirlwind of colour and gesture summons recognition and just as quickly dispels it, these works posit an extraordinary command of the most contested and debated art form in the history of the later Twentieth Century: painting. Indeed, after so much theorising and conceptual navigation in the face of our pervasive image culture, her work proves that the art of oil on canvas has lost none of its miraculous power to entrance and conjure. Executed in 2014 and pinpointing a shift away from the orgiastic abandon of her earlier work, A Swan Comforting a Snake is an allusive painting of exuberant fluency and riotous colour in which the viewer is invited to project their own interpretations onto the neither fully abstract nor figurative forms. Brown’s mastery of paint resides in her commanding yet elsuive power of suggestion. As explained by the artist, and as wonderfully evident in the present work: “the place I am interested in is where the mind goes when it’s trying to make up for what isn’t there” (Cecily Brown cited in: Robert Evrén, ‘A Dispatch from the Tropic of Flesh’ in: Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, Cecily Brown, 2000, p. 8).

Rooted in a depiction of the human form, Brown’s work has ceaselessly sought to illuminate the extraordinary potential of painting to unpick the human experience of seeing. As multi-sensorial beings, we do not experience sight as a series of two-dimensional compositions contained within the parameters of a photograph or cinema screen; more accurately, vision is an admixture of our sensorial faculties. In her work Brown looks to unpick, condense, and depict in paint the synesthetic collusion between the hand, eye, and ear as the brain processes the truly disorderly reality of what we see. Following a century of photographic reproduction, this may sound like an anachronistic pursuit or even a fitting description of Claude Monet’s late Impressionism or the oeuvre of Paul Cezanne and his proto-cubist legacy. However, not only is Brown heir to this late nineteenth-century inheritance, she is also acutely entitled to, and aware of, everything that has come since. As art historian Terry Myers has resoundingly argued, following Abstract Expressionism, painters such as Joan Mitchell were beginning to reverse the flow from Impressionism, “returning in some ways to a more objective interest in light, nature and the materiality of paint. Then Pop came in and cut everything off prematurely with, for example, Lichtenstein’s cartoon brushstrokes scoring a direct hit. Then there were the Germans: first Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, then Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen, each finding ways to navigate painting in the midst of a pervasive image culture. Cecily Brown is the beneficiary of all of these struggles but she hasn’t taken them lightly or, worse yet, as a progression. That, today, is a limitation, a capitulation to a desire for art historical order that important painting always resists. She has stuck to painting, reminding us in no uncertain terms why it will not go away” (Terry Myers, ‘Slip swiping away’, in: Exh. Cat., Berlin, Contemporary Fine Arts, Cecily Brown: The Sleep Around and the Lost and Found, 2015, pp. 14-16).

In A Swan Comforting a Snake we detect a tangling of bodies: pink flashes of arms, legs, backs, nipples, and navels are tempered and corralled by streaks of verdant green and vigorous blue. This painting conjures Cezanne’s Arcadian landscapes, Renoir’s timelessly voluptuous bathers, Manet’s curiously modern Dejeuner sur l’herbe (1862-63) or Suerat’s progressive Bathers at Asnières (1844); while the carnal tumult of Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (1503-15) is similarly at stake in a reading of this painting. Its title – A Swan Comforting a Snake – implies classical mythology: perhaps the canonical legend of Leda and the Swan, the trails of Hercules and Prometheus, or even the Biblical origin of man in Genesis. Rarely specific, however, Brown’s poetic titles, like the melding of anatomical and abstract forms in her work, imply a melding of sources – be it literature, classical painting or even references to popular films. Indeed, much like the edited onslaught of images and sounds in a movie, the present work sews together and fights to tie down a tumultuous host of visual clues and inferences. Art historian Robert Evrén has cogently described this effect: “The paintings are like doors flung open suddenly to reveal something shocking. Because they are so energetic they might also be viewed as moments of a movie whose sudden arrest causes the mind’s eye to trip over itself in its own voracity, tangling in dense webs of coloured light, striving to make order of intense and disordered sensations” (Robert Evrén in: Exh. Cat., Rome, Gagosian Gallery, Cecily Brown, 2011, p. 1). Extolling this extraordinary feat with a chromatic and formal brilliance, A Swan Comforting a Snake is the invention of a painter unlike any other working today.