Lot 16
  • 16


1,200,000 - 1,800,000 GBP
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  • Bridget Riley
  • Midi
  • signed, titled, dated 1983 and variously inscribed on the reverse; signed, titled, dated 1983 and variously inscribed on the stretcher 
  • oil on linen
  • 209 by 182.9 cm. 83 3/8 by 71 7/8 in.


Juda Rowan Gallery, London
Private Collection, London
Sotheby’s, London, 4 November 1992, Lot 119
Karsten Schubert Ltd., London
Richard Salmon Gallery, London
Robert Sandelson, London
Richard James, London (acquired from the above in 1999)
Christie’s, London, 20 June 2016, Lot 12
Private Collection, UK
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Narborough, Narborough Hall, Bridget Riley Paintings and Works on Paper, 1960s to 1990s, June - August 2006, n.p., illustrated in colour


Robert Kudielka et al., Bridget Riley: The Complete Paintings, Volume 2, 1974-1997, London 2018, pp. 638-641, no. BR 253, pp. 638-641, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although they appear more vibrant in the original. 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

The balanced composition and resplendent colours of Bridget Riley's large-scale painting Midi (1983) present a focused and exuberant demonstration of the artist's painterly interests. Hypnotically evading perspectival resolution, the films of colour recede and advance into illusory space in this work, extending the abstract field of vision beyond the flat picture plane. Such dramatic visual effects have anointed Riley as the undisputed spearhead of the Op art movement. Nevertheless, her preoccupation with the mechanical contingencies of colour, and the sensory and perceptive effects that can be produced through constructing a rational architecture of form in which colour resides, extend Riley’s impact and influence on contemporary painting far beyond the confines of a single movement. Indeed, Riley is unquestionably one of the most important artists of the present day. Maintaining an unparalleled relationship to the formal, ‘plastic’ concerns of painting inherited from the likes of Georges Seurat, Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian, the British artist has developed a pictorial language that is remarkably unique. Harmonising colour and form with the delicacy and elegance of a musical concerto, Riley has produced a prolific, visually compelling, technically adroit, and theoretically enlightened corpus of work over the course of a hugely celebrated career. It is between the dialectical fray of composition and perception that Riley situates her work. Her early output is exemplified by monochromatic paintings such as Fall (1963), housed in the Tate collection: channelling the dynamism of a descending line into a concentrated, spiralling pattern of motion in black and white, this work demonstrates, primarily, the evocation of movement through form. Riley’s mature style, by contrast, is characterised by vibrant, effervescing colour. Following an influential trip to Egypt in the winter of 1979-80, Riley’s synthesis of colour, composition and sensory unpredictability became refined, vivid, and more closely aligned with the field of colour theory and phenomenology. This is gracefully embodied in the pulsating stripes of Midi. Art historian Richard Shiff describes Riley’s evocation of the limits of perception thusly: “perception is alive. Wrestling with it, attempting to coordinate thought and sensation, we have no guarantee of success, as either artist or viewer… Riley’s respect for perception allows her to enter into dialogue with her own artistic process. Her work is very precise, like that of the Op artists with whom critics once associated her; but she never experiences total control of her vision. Nor would she wish to. The effects she seeks inhabit an illusive medium” (Richard Shiff, ‘Bridget Riley: The edge of animation’ in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Britain, Bridget Riley, 2003, p. 84). The precision that characterises Riley’s flawless technique provides a static architecture through which the artist is able to engage the complex experience of sight as a central concern of her practice. In the present work, the rigid logic of Riley’s vertical arrangement misleads the eye, generating a visual sensation that oscillates between the ‘plastic’ neutrality of the stripe and the optical brilliance of her colour palette.

Evoking the colours of a radiant summer’s day, the deceptively simple formality of Midi produces a powerful visual experience that Riley has always associated with her childhood memories of Cornwall. The horizon lines of sea and sky, reflections upon water, woods, valleys and coastline instilled in the artist an awareness of a landscape that was constructed of sequential passages of form and colour, appearing to the viewer as the innate, natural character of perception. In a spectacular rhythm of peace, orange, green, lilac and white, Midi engenders a harmonious structure that is analogous with the relationship between the component parts of a piece of music. This aggregation of high and low tones, of loud and quiet pitches, creates a field of vision that hums with a warm, self-generated glow. For Riley, suspending incongruent colours and polarising frameworks is the essence of aesthetic harmony: “this could sound like a paradox”, she writes, “but only if one thinks in logical terms. In painting, it seems to me, contrast is the basic relationship. Even that which appears to be harmony is actually a harmony of contrasts, be they spatial, directional, chromatic, tonal, etc.” (Bridget Riley in conversation with Robert Kudielka in: Robert Kudielka on Bridget Riley: Essays and interviews 1972-2003, London 2005, p. 96). In the present work, Riley composes a melodic unity through bands of colour that refract and funnel a cacophony of shifting sightlines between its vertical linearity. A paradigmatic work of pulsating geometry and colour, Riley's Midi is a compelling vision of abstract painting's closeness to human perception.