Work by Giacomo Balla, Miquel Barceló, Gustave Caillebotte, Jean Dubuffet, Keith Haring, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Wayne Thiebaud
Work by Giacomo Balla, Miquel Barceló, Gustave Caillebotte, Jean Dubuffet, Keith Haring, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Wayne Thiebaud
Mercurio Passing in Front of the Sun
Tempera on paper on cardboard
9 x 6 3/4 inches
One of the pioneers of Futurism, Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) is best known for his dynamic paintings depicting movement and speed to convey the energy and pace of the modern era. In their search for a defining painterly style, the Futurists experimented with the techniques of Divisionism before adopting the overlapping facets of Cubism as a means to express dynamism and movement in their paintings. Inspired both by Cubism’s fracturing of an object into various planes and by E. J. Marey’s chronophotography that captured a rapid succession of shots on a single photographic plate, Balla began superimposing almost frame-by-frame images of an object in motion. By 1913, when Balla began signing his pictures "Futur Balla," his work became more abstract and he began depicting speed and velocity in planes of color that pushed the limits of representation. The Futurists strove to depict motion in their paintings as a tribute to the dynamic forward thrust of modernity—as such, racing cars, speeding trains and airplanes became favorite subjects of Balla and his contemporaries.
"We [the Futurists] seek to realize this total fusion in order to reconstruct the universe by making it more joyful, in other words by an integral re-creation. We will give skeleton and flesh to the invisible, the impalpable, the imponderable and the imperceptible. We will find abstract equivalents for all the forms and elements of the universe, and then we will combine them according to the caprice of our inspiration, to shape plastic complexes which we will set in motion."
- Giacomo Balla
Mercury Passing in Front of the Sun reflects Balla’s increasingly abstract depiction of motion, and also represents the merging of the artist’s interests in science and art. The work belongs to a series of around a dozen works—on canvas, board, and paper—that Balla dedicated to the subject of Mercury passing in front of the Sun in the fall of 1914. Transits of Mercury, as the astronomical phenomenon is called, take place when the planet passes directly in front of the sun, an event which can be observed from Earth around 13 or 14 times a century. During a transit, Mercury partially obscures the solar disk, becoming visible as a tiny black dot moving across the surface of the sun.
An amateur astronomer, Balla used his telescope, which was likely outfitted with smoked lenses, to observe the Mercury transit of November 7, 1914. Inspired by the rare and dramatic event, Balla sought to capture its pictorial equivalent in form, line, and color. According to his daughter Elica Balla, the works in this series depict two intersecting views of the partial eclipse, which occurred in full daylight—the transit viewed both through the telescope and through the naked eye. Given this doubled vision, Mercury appears as a small black dot on the upper rim of a shaded, semi-transparent black cone, representing the view from the interior of the telescope. In these complex, layered compositions, Balla depicts sequential moments in time as seen from two different vantage points, illustrating the transit with composite views from the naked eye and the enlarged views seen through the telescope.
In the present work, a particularly colorful example from the series, Balla used saturated, contrasting colors to heighten the drama of the moment. Surrounding the luminescent fiery orbs with heavy black shadows and vibrant orange and red tempera, Balla captures the intensity of the heat as it radiates off the sun. Flashes of pale green and white reflect glare and optical effects ricocheting from the brilliant white star in the upper left illustrating the blinding sun as seen with the naked eye. In the present work, Balla captures both the moment when the smaller orb of Mercury is about to cross, is crossing, and is passing through the sky, creating a distinctly Futurist composition with vivid intensity.
Examples from the series belong to the Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Gianni Mattioli Collection in Milan; The Museum Moderner Kunst, Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna; and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
Mixed media on canvas
38 1/8 x 63 1/2 inches
Throughout his career, the Spanish artist Miquel Barceló (born 1957) has explored a variety of styles, from neo-expressionist canvases to colorful still lifes and pale, thickly textured abstract paintings. An artistic nomad, Barceló draws inspiration from his time spent in varying locations; though he always returns to his native Mallorca, over the years Barceló has also worked in Barcelona, Portugal, Palermo, Paris, Geneva, New York, the Himalayas, and West Africa. Working across a wide range of mediums, including paintings, works on paper, ceramic, and bronze, Barceló has continued to experiment with the materials of his art, sourcing his own pigments from across the world for his paintings. Across this diverse body of work, there are several recurring themes. He has continued to be fascinated by the natural world, creating richly textured canvases that recall the earthly materiality of Catalan painters such as Antoni Tapies and Joan Miró, as well as compositions that study the effects of light and the ever-changing colors of the sea. He has also explored the history and traditions of painting, exploring the medium’s traditional subjects and technical challenges through his experimentation with the treatment of light, color, perspective, and composition.
“This is my world, my land, and my sea, I have known it always. All of the fish and fruits I know by memory, they have formed part of my cultural landscape since I was a child.”
- Miquel Barceló
Voiliers sur la Seine à Argenteuil
Oil on canvas
28 7/8 x 17 inches
Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) has a dual role in art historical memory, as both painter and patron. An independently wealthy member of the Impressionist circle, he became the group’s financier—sponsoring shows, purchasing works, providing studio space for his fellow painters—in addition to painting and exhibiting alongside his Impressionist peers.
By 1888, Caillebotte had left Paris for his country house some twenty miles down the Seine from Paris in Petit-Gennevilliers, where he increasingly focused on his interests in horticulture and sailing. Caillebotte was an avid yachtsman, rower, and boat designer; he raced in regattas as a younger man, and when he was older began building his own boats. Living just across the river from Argenteuil—where he had painted alongside Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir in the 1870s—from his residence Caillebotte enjoyed a view of the water and sailing scenes became one of his preferred subjects at this time.
In paintings such as Voiliers sur la Seine à Argenteuil, he combines his passion for painting with his love for sailing and boatbuilding. The sailboat in the present work is the “Roastbeef,” a small vessel of the artist’s own design. The “Roastbeef” skids across the Seine at Argenteuil, where the famed Paris yacht club Cercle de la Voile de Paris (CVP) was located (Caillebotte was briefly Vice President of the club). Precariously leaning on its edge, its white sail billowing as it catches the wind, the “Roastbeef” is at the center of the composition. Its mast tilts across the canvas reaching its uppermost edge, a bold perspective and closely cropped angle that perhaps reflect the painter’s interest in Japanese woodblock prints. The boat’s shadow glides across the rippling water, which Caillebotte has articulated in light blue with bravura dashes of navy, embellished with yellow and white highlights, making heavy use of impasto.
Two men sit in the boat with their backs to the viewer. They ignore us and focus on their sailing, looking out towards another boat in the distance. Caillebotte’s true subject is not the two men, or even the boat, but the effect of the sun on water, faithful to the Impressionist fascination with capturing the brilliant effects of light.
Nos Vieilles Terres
Oil on canvas
38 1/4 x 51 1/8 inches
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) had at first a halting engagement with the practice of art, working for nearly two decades in his family’s wine business before devoting himself exclusively to art in 1942, while living in occupied Paris during the war. In 1945, Jean Dubuffet began collecting art made by those at the margins of history— people from so-called “primitive” societies, children, those confined to psychological institutions, and more generically outsider art—which he termed “Art Brut” [“raw” or “rough” art]. He believed Western civilization and culture to be stifling in its decorum and conformity, and looked to the raw and uninhibited expression of Art Brut as a fresh alternative and inspiration for his painting.
Inspired by the art of children and other, non-western sources, Dubuffet’s early landscapes often feature a high horizon line and flattened perspectival space, employing a childlike vantage point in defiance of western art history’s tradition of naturalistic space. His works from the early ‘40s feature vibrant colors, but by 1945, he had abandoned his colorful palette for earthier tones and gritty, textural surfaces.
“For most western people, there are objects that are beautiful and others that are ugly; there are beautiful people and ugly people, beautiful places and ugly ones. But not for me. Beauty does not enter into the picture for me. I consider the western notion of beauty completely erroneous. I absolutely refuse to accept the idea that there are ugly people and ugly objects. Such an idea strikes me as stifling and revolting.”
– Jean Dubuffet, "Anticultural Positions," 1951
At this time, he began employing unorthodox, everyday materials—including sand, glass, plaster, cement, pebbles, and asphalt—to develop thickly built up, textural surfaces. These high impasto works not only evoke the textures of the earth, but also include materials from the earth itself, which is particularly evident in paintings such as Nos Vieilles Terres, 1951, where the artists incorporates sand and pebbles to achieve a dramatically textured surface. With the painting’s high horizon line and flattened perspectival space, the viewer seems to stare directly into the land, indeed a fresh and unconventional approach to the subject of landscape (which the artist would evolve further in his late ‘50s series of Texturologies, which abandon the horizon line entirely in favor of detailed views of the earth and its soils).
In Nos Vieilles Terres, the figures appear to have been gouged into the painting’s paste-like surface. Their crudely outlined forms evoke the aesthetic of graffiti, which was a source of inspiration for the artist (and indeed, he had made a series on graffiti walls in 1945). Dubuffet’s embrace of graffiti and other forms of “outsider” art would prove highly influential in postwar art history, resonating with artists in the 1950s and ‘60s such as Claes Oldenburg and Cy Twombly, and, in the 1980s, with the young Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Day-glo enamel paint on metal shelving
35 3/4 x 47 1/4 inches
Upon moving to New York in 1978 to enroll at the School of Visual Arts, Keith Haring (1958-1990) found a thriving alternative art community developing outside the gallery and museum system in the city's downtown streets, subways, and night clubs. He became friends with fellow artists Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as the musicians, performance, and graffiti artists that comprised the burgeoning downtown art community. In 1980, Haring found a highly effective medium that allowed him to communicate with a wide public by drawing with white chalk on the unused advertising panels in the subway stations. Over the next five years, as he showed in galleries and museums, he made thousands of these drawings—honing his distinctive lanugage of symbols and characters and achieving widespread recognition while maintaining his commitment to public accessibility. In his subway drawings, Haring developed the language and themes that would define the rest of his career, creating accesible, symbolic imagery which expresses universal concepts such as birth, death, love, sex, and war. Using a primacy of line and directness of message, Haring's art became a universally recognized visual language of the 20th century. He used his art to engage with contemporary concerns ranging from prejudice and the suppression of human rights to the prevalence of consumerism, capitalism, and the growing use of technology.
"There are some images that I will only use once, and not use again because they don't seem to really hit the nail right on the head, but there are some which are so strong they have to be reduced; sometimes just reusing them makes them stronger."
- Keith Haring
In striking shades of red and green Day-glo paint, Untitled from 1982 features two symbols that featured frequently in Haring's art: the flying saucer—also referred to as a UFO—and the pyramid. Referring to antiquity and symbolizing eternity, the symbol of the pyramid evoked the idea that images and hieroglyphs are a timeless, universal language. Representing cosmic energy and the popular fascination with outer space, Haring commented that flying saucers always symbolized positive energy and empowerment in his work. Haring engaged with both the pyramid and the UFO in a range of mediums from 1980 until his premature death in 1990, predominantly in the years 1981 and 1982. He often combined the flying saucer and the pyramid in an effort to create narratives of energy and acceptance.
Haring described his depiction of UFOs, “The flying saucers looked like Mexican sombreros, but they were my archetypal vision of what I thought a mythical flying saucer would look like. The saucers were zapping things with an energy ray, which would then endow whatever it zapped with its power. So these zapped things or people or animals would have these rays coming out all around them.”
Vase de Lierre
Charcoal on paper
22 x 14 3/4 inches
Though he had rejected the innovations of Cubism in pursuit of his experiments with color, in 1913 Henri Matisse (1869-1954) began subtly experimenting with the style. Living in Paris during the Great War—though he was eager to enlist, he was rejected due to a heart condition—his work took on an austere and somber tone, and were often dominated by a black and gray palette and a geometrical severity. While this shift may be most evident in his paintings, it is also reflected in his drawings.
As the curator and art historian John Elderfield explains, Mattise's still life drawings underwent an evolution in these years, inspired in part by his study of Cubism: "The newly monumental version of organic form that Matisse discovered in this period (and which climaxed in the great still-life paintings of 1916) owes its particular density to the increased gravity of his line, but also to a change in the manner of his visual address to objects.... As with Cubist drawing, the intervals between the parts are as conclusively present as the parts themselves, for it is in those intervals that the rigorously defined space forces itself on our imagination. Of course, Matisse had always paid attention to the pictoriality of the white ground. But now it is tensely charged in quite a new way, as positive and negative areas interchange in expressive importance" (John Elderfield, The Drawings of Henri Matisse, London, 1984, p. 68.)
“Of course Cubism interested me, but it did not speak directly to my deeply sensuous nature, to such a great lover as I am of line and of the arabesque, those two life-givers.”
- Henri Matisse
In Vase de Lierre, Matisse depicts an unusually shaped pitcher filled with serpentine ivy branches. Employing the expressive potential of charcoal, Matisse uses a range of tonalities to capture light catching the curves of the vessel's glass surface as well as the rhthmic, organic profusion of foliage. The present work can be related to no less than three still-life paintings from 1916-17, including examples which today belong to the collections of the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Tikanoja Art Museum in Finland. Matisse described his fascination with the glass pitcher in a letter to his dealer Leonce Rosenberg on June 1, 1916: “Another event ... a canvas representing a Spanish water jug in glass, in which I immersed a branch of ivy, (was purchased) by Alphonse Kann. It is a painting subject that I like a great deal... I have an ivy branch that is contorting itself in a harmonious fashion.”
Personnages sur la plage
Ink and goauche on paper
15 11/16 x 19 7/8 inches
In early July of 1933, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) arrived in Cannes with his wife Olga and their son Paulo for their annual seaside summer vacation. Though he and Olga had been married since 1918, the artist had felt restless in his marriage for years and had been engaged in a passionate, secret affair with the much younger Marie-Thérèse Walter since 1927. This affair had inspired a revelatory new chapter in his work, with his muse’s voluptuous features and statuesque, classical profile inspiring sensuous, colorful nudes and a remarkable new interest in sculpture.
Unable to join Picasso in the South of France that summer, as Picasso had discretely arranged in recent years, Marie-Thérèse remained ensconced in Paris while the painter vacationed with his family. Despite their distance, Marie-Thérèse’s distinctive figure and seductive imagery permeates Picasso’s work from this period of separation. Her sensuous figure appears sunbathing at the beach, in imaginary, surrealist confrontations with Olga, or in the form of a sculpted bust or classical nude model in the sculptor’s studio. Making no paintings over the summer, Picasso focused exclusively on a remarkable and revealing sequence of works on paper at this time, executing some thirty gouache, watercolor and ink works, all on sheets measuring around 15 ½ x 20 inches. Widely varied in style and mood, these Cannes drawings are at turns classicizing or radically surreal, ranging from a restrained sense of eroticism to a dramatic tone of violence.
"For me there is neither past nor future in art. The art of the Greeks, the Egyptians, and the great painters who lived at other times is not an art of the past; it is perhaps more alive today than ever."
– Pablo Picasso
With three classical nude figures looking out to sea, the present work depicts a timeless Mediterranean beach scene, conflating the setting of Picasso’s beach holiday with an antique past. The reclining nude figure at left—with her strong classical profile and sensuous curves—is conspicuously that of Marie-Thérèse; her reclining pose recalls the archetypal nudes of art history, dating back to Renaissance Venuses and classical antiquity, while her sculptural profile references Picasso's own monumental busts of Marie-Thérèse of the previous years. Though the title is vague, the composition perhaps suggests the story of Odysseus, with a younger and older man positioned alongside a boat, longingly looking out to sea. The artist had long infused narratives of antiquity with his personal biography, making timeless myths his own, and indeed classical themes had inspired many of Picasso’s works that summer—including representations of Narcissus, Dionysus, and Silenus.
Oil on canvas
5 5/8 x 9 1/2 inches
Since the early 1960s, Wayne Thiebaud (born 1920) has been celebrated for his paintings of quintessentially American, everyday objects in bright colors with lusciously crafted impasto—such as cakes and pies, hot dogs and hamburgers, gumballs and lollipops, and jackpot machines. Over his remarkably long career, he has painted still lifes, landscapes, and portraits that are familiar and accessible, but also synthesize and reflect a wide range of influneces: the everyday subjects of Pop art, the painterly surfaces of Abstract Expressionism, the American tradition, the masters of art history, and the commercial language of advertising and illustration.
Experimenting with color, texture, light, and composition, he has repeatedly tackled the same subjects to challenge and explore the formal possibilities of painting. He continues to live and work in Sacramento today.
"Common objects become strangely uncommon when removed from their context and ordinary ways of being seen."
- Wayne Thiebaud
In the luminous early painting Hors d'Oeuvres, Thiebaud presents three neatly ordered rows of smartly topped crackers, a simple but elegant presentation of appetizers reminiscent of postwar recipes for homemakers. Despite its petite scale, the work has a striking presence, with everyday packaged crackers given spotlit focus and meticulous detail. Drawing from the techniques of advertising, Thiebaud presents the crackers against a pale background to heighten their intensity; the elevated vantage point and brilliant, dramatic cobalt shadows further endow his forms with presence and weight. At the same time, the painting is a study in the history and practice of artmaking, of the possibilities of paint and representation, and of geometry, color, and surface. His masterful application of the medium transposes the paint into creamy dips and cheeses and his juxtapositions of color achieve intense chromatic harmonies and a sense of radiant light. Combining the strategies of advertising with the potential of oil painting, he makes his images particularly seductive; as the artist explained, “I’m interested in foods generally which have been fooled with ritualistically, displays contrived and arranged in certain ways to tempt or seduce us.”
* * *
For nearly 100 years, Acquavella Galleries has sold major paintings and sculpture to private collectors and museums worldwide. After first dealing in Old Master paintings, since the 1960s Acquavella Galleries has been distinguished for its expertise in the fields of 19th, 20th and 21st century art. Today, the gallery regularly exhibits and deals in works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Amedeo Modigliani, Pierre Bonnard, Joan Miró, Fernand Léger, Alberto Giacometti, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Jean Dubuffet, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Lucian Freud. On the primary market, the gallery represents Miquel Barceló, Jacob El Hanani, Damian Loeb, and Wayne Thiebaud.
Through its exhibitions, Acquavella has also gained a reputation for organizing shows of particular note, both loan exhibitions and for-sale shows. Among the most significant over the past several decades include Lucian Freud: Monumental (2019), Californiia Landscapes: Richard Diebenkorn / Wayne Thiebaud (2018), Calder / Miró Constellations (2017, in collaboration with The Pace Gallery), Jean Dubuffet "Anticultural Positions" (2016), Jean-Michel Basquiat Drawing (2014), The Pop Object: The Still Life Tradition in Pop Art (2013), Lucian Freud Drawings (2012), Wayne Thiebaud: A Retrospective (2012), Georges Braque: Pioneer of Modernism (2011), Robert and Ethel Scull: Portrait of a Collection (2010), and Picasso’s Marie-Thérèse (2008).