Josef Albers (American, 1888-1976) Untitled Variant/Adobe (Grey, Black, Red) 1947

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Lot 15
Josef Albers
(American, 1888-1976)
Untitled Variant/Adobe (Grey, Black, Red)
1947

Sold for £ 237,562 (US$ 327,876) inc. premium
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Josef Albers (American, 1888-1976)
Untitled Variant/Adobe (Grey, Black, Red)
1947

signed with the artist's monogram, dated 47 and variously inscribed in the margins
oil on blotting paper mounted on cardboard

43.5 by 58.5 cm.
17 1/8 by 23 1/16 in.

Footnotes

  • This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné currently being prepared by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, under no. JAAF 1947.2.27.

    Provenance
    London Arts Gallery, London (no. 141388)
    Acquired directly from the above by the previous owner in 1973
    Thence by descent to the present owner



    Josef Albers' Untitled Variant/Adobe (Grey, Black, Red) from 1947 is a work of delicate beauty and balance, painted in one of the artist's most exquisite colour combinations. Albers' legacy as an artist and theoretician was hugely significant, influencing the emergence of Colour Field Painting, Geometric Abstraction and Op Art. Appearing layered and complex, the immaculately rendered surface of greys over a rich venetian red is expertly painted in a single layer, projecting shadows and spaces across the work in a dynamic composition that evokes the Mesoamerican patterns that Albers was so captivated by.

    Untitled Variant/Adobe (Grey, Black, Red) is one of an incredibly small number of paintings on blotting paper that the artist personally laid down on board at the time of its making. Made during his study trips to La Luz, New Mexico and Mexico in 1947 whilst on sabbatical from teaching at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Albers was enthralled by the geometric, formal and chromatic range of designs in Native American and Mexican art. As the title of the present work suggests, Albers nods to the traditional houses built of adobe clay, acknowledging the inspiration that he found in native cultures, and elicits the deep, organic terracotta building material in its striking palette. Having produced at least 100 Adobe/Variant works in 1947, Albers subsequently destroyed or painted over many of these, making the present work a still more exceptional painting from this seminal passage of his practice.

    Inspired as he was by pre-Columbian and Pueblo Indian architecture and sculpture that he saw on his research trips, to Albers, "Mexico [was] truly the promised land of abstract art. For here it is already thousands of years old" (the artist in: Nicholas Fox Weber and Jessica Boissel, Josef Albers and Wassily Kandinsky: Friends in Exile: A Decade of Correspondence, 1929-1940, Manchester and New York 2010, p. 91). Such was the importance of Albers relationship to Pre-Columbian art, it formed the thematic imperative behind the major exhibition in 2017, Josef Albers in Mexico at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, who, alongside The Metropolitan museum in New York hold comparable works from the same series in their collections. Untitled Variant/Adobe (Grey, Black, Red) remains one of the earliest and most outstanding examples of Albers' painting from this period that eloquently investigates the phenomenology and psychology of perception as it pertains to light and colour.

    A teacher at the Bauhaus between 1923 and 1933 – before moving to Black Mountain College, where Josef and Anni Albers led the arts programme following their departure from Nazi Germany and the closure of the Bauhaus academy in Berlin in April 1933 – Albers was a central figure of the revolutionary school that was at the centre of burgeoning European Modernism in art, architecture and design. Examining the compositional and formal effects of colour and shape, Albers was fascinated by the versatility and fragility of perception, commenting: "every perception of color is an illusion [...] We do not see colors as they really are. In our perception they alter one another. [...] This play of colors, this change in identity, is the object of my concern. It leads me to change my color tool, my palette, from one picture to the next" (the artist in: Eugen Gomringer, Josef Albers, New York 1967, p. 104).

    In the present work, Albers draws the spectator's eye by creating the impression of transparency, fastidiously employing ingenious inflections of tone that wonderfully demonstrate the artist's lifelong, pioneering work in the field of colour theory; an effect that he referred to as "photo-illusion". As art historian E.H. Gombrich testifies, "what a painter inquires into is not the nature of the physical world but the nature of our reactions to it [...] conjuring up a convincing image despite the fact that not one individual shade corresponds to what we call 'reality'" (E.H. Gombrich, Art & Illusion: A study in the psychology of pictorial representation, New York 1960, p. 44). Predating his Homage to the Square series, Untitled Variant/Adobe (Grey, Black, Red) is an early, momentous example of Albers oeuvre, that encapsulates the dynamic phenomenological shift in abstract painting that was so pivotal for Minimalism and Op art.

    A foundational painting from a series that forms the basis for Albers' experimentations with light and composition, Untitled Variant/Adobe (Grey, Black, Red) is a painting from a storied and decisive moment in the artist's life. Fresh to the market, having remained in the same family collection for nearly 50 years, it represents an opportunity to acquire a work of outstanding history and importance.
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