Lot 2
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KAY SAGE | Journal of a Conjuror

120,000 - 180,000 GBP
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  • Kay Sage
  • Journal of a Conjuror
  • signed Kay Sage and dated 55 (lower right); signed Kay Sage, titled and dated 55 on the stretcher
  • oil on canvas
  • 31 by 26.4cm.
  • 12 1/4 by 10 3/8 in.
  • Painted in 1955.


Catherine Viviano Gallery, New York (acquired in 1955) Lee A. Ault, New York (acquired in 1956; until 1990)

Sale: Christie's East, New York, 26th July 1990, lot 154

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


New York, Catherine Viviano Gallery, Kay Sage, 1956, no. 11 Montreal, Musée du Château Dufresne, Mémoire des objets, Parcours de collectionneurs, Royal and Imperial Masterpieces from the de Bothuri Báthory Collection, 2014-17


Chantal Vieuille, Kay Sage ou le Surréaliste Américain, 1995, pp. 251-261 Judith D. Suther, A House of Her Own: Kay Sage, Solitary Surrealist, Lincoln, Nebraska & London, 1997, discussed pp. 166-167

Stephen Robeson Miller, Kay Sage Catalogue raisonné, 2018, no. P.1955.2 / SRM 168, illustrated in colour p. 289

Catalogue Note

Journal of a Conjuror belongs to the small number of works that Kay Sage made in the year immediately following the death of her husband, painter Yves Tanguy, in January 1955. Their relationship had been one of mutual support and love; as their friend Pierre Matisse observed they had been ‘very happy together’ (quoted in Double Solitaire. The Surreal Worlds of Kay Sage and Yves Tanguy (exhibition catalogue), Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, 2011, p. 27). They adapted the eighteenth-century farmhouse that was their home to create two separate but adjoining studios, living and working together as well as entertaining a wide circle of artists, poets and curators. In 1959, Sage would write to a friend: ‘I do not believe there has ever been such a total and devastating love and understanding as there was between us. It was simply an amalgamation of two beings into one blinding totality’ (quoted in ibid., p. 29). Journal of a Conjuror is eloquent in its expression of loss and grief. In this work, the scaffolding that was one of Sage's trademark motifs, becomes a cage and the draped material, a shroud. The monochromatic palette that is characteristic of her mature work is darker and more concentrated. As Judith D. Suther writes: ‘the claustrophobic enclosure of Journal of a Conjuror, with its shadowed ladder and spraddled metallic jungle gym spotlighted in the foreground, is a compendium of Sage quotations. These paintings are typically accomplished in technique and design and the dark mood they convey is easily recognisable… [they] reveal her own anguish as she tries desperately to renew her creative energy’ (J. D. Suther, op. cit., pp. 166-167).

Discussion of Sage and Tanguy has focused on their distinctness, on their artistic autonomy from one another. Emphasising their independence Renée Riese Hubert wrote: ‘the traces of each other’s presence discernible in their works are no more than modest borrowings or acknowledgements that can scarcely be construed as invasive or appropriative. Only the interplay of deep shadows, the absence of identifiable beings, and the resultant mystery of silence can be regarded as a binding link between Sage’s and Tanguy’s art’ (R. Riese Hubert, Magnifying Mirrors: Women, Surrealism and Partnership, Lincoln NE, 1994, p. 198). In Journal of a Conjuror we are witness to a different kind of binding link; stylistically it is unmistakably Sage’s work, yet Tanguy’s presence/absence is felt in every brushstroke, invoking a depth of emotion that is testament to their love.

The painting first belonged to the art dealer and publisher Lee A. Ault who was the man responsible for the famed magazine Art in America and a known collector of Modern artists including among others Picasso, Miró and Chagall. Journal of a Conjuror was acquired by the present owner in 1990.