Allen Jones (British, born 1937) Portrait of Barbara 1957

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Lot 23AR
Allen Jones
(British, born 1937)
Portrait of Barbara
1957

Sold for £ 43,750 (US$ 61,053) inc. premium
Allen Jones (British, born 1937)
Portrait of Barbara
1957

signed on the reverse
oil on canvas

76.5 by 51 cm.
30 1/8 by 20 1/16 in.

This work was executed in 1957.

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Gift from the artist to the present owner circa 1957



    Today, Allen Jones is recognised as a painter who has striven to reinvent art. No stranger to controversy, his work has inspired and challenged generations of commentators, collectors, and fellow creators, stimulating critical acclaim and scholarly attention in equal measure. In 2014, his long career was celebrated in a major retrospective at London's Royal Academy, an exhibition which demonstrated the breadth and diversity of this output. But while Jones' art may have continually innovated, agitated and surprised over the last six decades, at its heart has lain a vital element which has defined his oeuvre: a profound understanding of the human figure, particularly the female figure. It is this key element which has persisted throughout Jones' artistic life, and ensured his longevity. For while other trends have come and gone, Jones' undeniable skill for portraying the human form has ensured that his reputation has not just endured, but continually flourished.

    Portrait of Barbara from 1957 reveals that Jones' interest in the female form, and his unique ability to capture its intriguing nuances, stretches right back to the very beginnings of his artistic journey. As a rare early work, this portrait offers the opportunity to witness the development of the artist's nascent style, and locate some of his most important (and unexpected) influences. The painting dates to a time when the artist was living in Ealing and studying at Hornsey College of Art in North London, and portrays his then girlfriend, another student at the college. The work was ultimately to form part of Jones' application to the Royal College of Art; indeed a paper slip including details of the application is still affixed to the back of the canvas. The present lot has remained in the same private collection ever since its creation, when it was gifted to the current owner. A similarly executed self-portrait from the same year suggests that the works were created to be viewed as a pair.

    Even in the late 1950s it was clear that Allen Jones was a name to watch, and Portrait of Barbara more than justifies this early confidence. The deft handling of paint we see here reveals a young artist already in command of his medium, and its self-assured palate hints at the importance of colour in Jones' later work. But while Allen Jones is now be regarded as a fearless pioneer, more classical influences can also be detected in Portrait of Barbara, 1957. There is an obvious debt to Modigliani, both in the form of the figure and in the tones chosen to represent it. The sitter is restrained, and yet undeniably elegant, her demeanour is coy and her posture gracefully sinuous, all traits common in the work of the Italian master. Even that pale blue background, apparently empty but in fact busy with the bustling gestures of painterly brushstrokes, brings to mind the Portrait de jeune fille brune assise from 1918 by Modigliani four decades previously.

    Although it was the heightened eroticism of Jones' 1960s work which was to challenge contemporary mores and cause no small amount of critical debate, it was the more traditional aspects of his early work which were to lead to confrontation with his college tutors. His classical influences, those echoes of Modigliani and latterly the Fauves, may have outraged his tutors and brought an early end to his time at the Royal College of Art, but they drew admiration from his peers, who included David Hockney, R.B. Kitaj and Patrick Caulfield. This was the era of Abstract Expressionism, a time when abstraction was seen as the future of art and figuration was apparently on the wane, but Jones' belief in the importance of the human form was unflagging: "The problem with figurative art at the time was that it had run out of steam, but the polemic was that you couldn't do it any more, which seemed absurd after 4,000 years of people making representations of each other" (the artist, quoted on spectator.co.uk, November 2014). The impact of his subsequent figurative work, and its inescapable influence, demonstrates the veracity of this prophetic approach.

    The present work provides us with a fascinating glimpse of early Allen Jones. It is a work which is reassuringly accomplished and carefully classical, both traits which originally marked it out as surprisingly forward-looking. In painting the human figure, in his celebration of the female form, Jones was bravely bucking the trend and allying himself with a new generation that was ultimately to spearhead the emergence of a distinctly English brand of Pop. If 1950s London was a rather drab place, then the work of these emerging painters was anything but. That Jones' later work was based upon the obvious insight into humanity that we witness here, and his inherent skill as a painter, is clear; this painting was an early milestone in an incredible career that has now lasted almost sixty years.
    His Royal College tutors may not have been able to foresee the rapid ascendance of his paintings into the twentieth-century Pop canon, but with the benefit of hindsight and the evidence presented by Portrait of Barbara, his subsequent prominence as one of our greatest figurative painters seems entirely predictable.
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Allen Jones (British, born 1937) Portrait of Barbara 1957
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