Lot 33
  • 33


450,000 - 650,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Sigmar Polke
  • Untitled
  • artificial resin on polyester fibre
  • 117 by 137.8 cm. 46 by 54 1/4 in.
  • Executed in 1989.


Michael Werner Gallery, New York (acquired directly from the artist) 
Acquired from the above by the previous owner in 2006


New York, Michael Werner Gallery, Sigmar Polke: Polke - Bernstein - Amber, November 2006 - January 2007, p. 91, no. 55-58, illustrated in colour
London, Christie’s Mayfair, Richter/Polke, Polke/Richter, 2014 pp. 128-29, illustrated in colour
Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Red over Yellow, A Selection from a Private Collection, June - November 2017, p. 86, illustrated in colour  


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report.
"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

“Polke returned to painting in earnest in the 1980s, exploring new materials and pigments so voraciously that his studio became an alchemist’s playground.” Carol Vogel, ‘The Alchemist’s Moment: The Reclusive Mr. Polke’, The New York Times, May 2007, online.

Radiating with an ethereal glow, Sigmar Polke’s Untitled encapsulates the German artist’s experimental and highly influential practice. Executed in 1989, this double-sided work belongs to a body of paintings inspired by the mysterious and mystical qualities of amber. Captivated by its lustrous translucency as much as its art historical import, Polke sought to produce an enigmatic body of work driven by a refusal of iconographic or symbolic interpretation. To create the works in this series, Polke applied thick layers of resin to semi-transparent fibre, tilting the support to create swirling, arabesque-like forms on either side of the picture plane charged with an incandescent allure. The present work is replete with the historical awareness that defines Polke’s oeuvre, and indeed was exhibited in 2006 in an acclaimed show at Michael Werner Gallery, New York, which explored the artist’s paintings in relation to the symbolic significance of amber within the Renaissance and Baroque period. “When I was young I was interested in Renaissance art,” the artist recalled; “As a child I copied Dürer drawings and Bruegel. All this for me was very familiar” (Sigmar Polke cited in: Carol Vogel, ‘The Alchemist’s Moment: The Reclusive Mr. Polke’, The New York Times, May 2007, online). Just three years before the present work was created, Polke produced a cycle of eight paintings inspired by Dürer's famed 1522 print The Great Triumphal Chariot of Maximillian I, for the West German pavilion of the Venice Biennale. Instilled with a luminescent force that feels simultaneously prehistoric and otherworldly, Untitled seems influenced by this earlier series which won Polke the prestigious Leone d’Oro for Lifetime Achievement in 1986.

In Untitled, subtle layers of rich amber and deep umber hues oscillate on both the front and back of the picture plane, coalescing to project a spectral and resonating aura. Rendered in artificial resin on polyester fibre, this double-sided work exemplifies Polke’s pioneering use of unconventional materials and techniques. At once recalling aged parchment, photographs of deep space nebulas, a volcanic eruption, and the cave and landscape drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, Polke’s Untitled poetically transmutes its base materials into a potent and evocative atmosphere. The title of the artist’s 1986 West German pavilion exhibition was Athanor, the term for an alchemical kiln. Polke was renowned for his fascination with alchemy as a system of understanding nature beyond the confines of science, and indeed Untitled is imbued with a deep and mystic allure. Describing the glow that seems to emanate from within the layered strata of his paintings, the artist proclaimed: “I am trying to create another light, one that comes from reflection. Like celestial light, it gives the indication of new, supernatural things” (Ibid.).

A testament to Polke’s aesthetic innovation and technical mastery, Untitled draws the viewer into a state of profound contemplation. Its seductive resin hues entwine and enmesh across the recto and verso of the pictorial plane to form two immense abstract surfaces of phenomenal presence and enduring impact. Epitomising Polke’s deft manipulation of the qualities of light and transparency, the present work appears to have been inspired by a formative apprenticeship that the artist undertook in a stained-glass factory in Dusseldorf. Indeed, with its heavily saturated areas of luscious pigment contrasted by softer passages of glassy translucency, one cannot help but recall the divine and spiritual brilliance of stained-glass windows. Searingly beautiful and fundamentally revolutionary, Untitled stands as a superlative and spellbinding example of the artist’s eminent practice.