Lot 6
  • 6

BRIDGET RILEY | Bright Shade

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
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  • Bridget Riley
  • Bright Shade
  • signed, titled, dated 1985 and variously inscribed on the overlap and the stretcher; signed and dated 85 on the side edge
  • oil on canvas
  • 156.2 by 133.5 cm. 61 1/2 by 52 1/2 in.


Juda Rowan Gallery, London
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1986)
Sotheby’s, London, 16 October 2010, Lot 149 (consigned by the above)
Private Collection, New York (acquired at the above sale)


Robert Kudielka et al., Bridget Riley: The Complete Paintings, Volume 2, 1974-1997, London 2018, p. 711, no. BR 281, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is brighter and 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

Executed in 1985, Bright Shade illuminates Riley's ground-breaking investigations into the optical potential of colour. Hypnotically evading perspectival resolution, the uncompromising rectangular canvas is articulated by alternating vertical stripes of vivid orange, pink, green, red, blue and yellow, which, when viewed from afar, create a dazzling chromatic experience that extends beyond the picture plane. Such dramatic visual effects have anointed Riley as the undisputed leader 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, extends Riley’s impact and influence on contemporary painting far beyond the confines of a single movement. Maintaining an unparalleled relationship to the formal, ‘plastic’ concerns of painting inherited from the likes of Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian, the British artist has developed a pictorial language that is remarkably unique. With Bright Shade, Riley has produced a visually compelling, technically adroit, and theoretically enlightened masterwork of pure chromatic sensation. In the winter of 1979-80, Riley travelled to Egypt where she visited the Nile Valley and the Pharaoh tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Inspired by the art which adorned ancient burial sites, Riley was especially drawn to the symbolic use of six hues – red, blue, yellow, green, black and white – which represented aspects of Egyptian life. The present painting is from the body of work made in the years following her travels, where Riley harnessed a range of intense hues – her own 'Egyptian palette' – within a formal linear arrangement. With Bright Shade, Riley engenders a dialogue between the formal structure of the stripes and notions of weight, density, brilliance and opacity. Constructive rather than descriptive, Riley's use of colour exploits its inherent instability, allowing her the freedom to create the visual interactions which would go on to dominate her work for the next decade.

It is between the dialectical fray of composition and perception that Riley situates her work. As a student, Riley made studies from the works of Georges Seurat, who was influenced by the empiricism of Charles Henry and his theory that mathematical formulation could directly explain aesthetic results. Rejecting Seurat’s meticulous pointillist technique, she instead concentrated on the artist's systematic distillation of colour and his balanced use of complementary hues to delineate light, shade, depth and form. Bright Shade includes echoes of this early exploration of colour, whilst also incorporating the vigorous structural emphasis of her early black and white geometric paintings. Inspired by the ‘all-over’ canvases of Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock, Riley refined their multi-focal vernacular into her own unique artistic language. This is gracefully embodied in the pulsating stripes of the present work, as Riley combines the rigid logic of early colour theory with a complete painterly engagement with the surface of the canvas, resulting in a visual sensation that oscillates between the ‘plastic’ neutrality of the stripe and the optical brilliance of her colour palette.