Nicolaes Pietersz. Berchem and studio, Jupiter disguised as Diana seducing the nymph Callisto (est. £30,000-40,000). Photo: Sotheby's.
Across the centuries, art has always been intrinsically linked to expressions of passion and sensuality. ‘Erotic: Passion & Desire’ will encompass representations of love and sex from antiquity to the present day, exploring themes from the beauty of desire to representations of the male nude, to the carnal act itself, stripped of metaphor. Featuring over 100 extraordinary works comprising 19th-century furniture, design, fine art, photography and contemporary sculpture, the exhibition will open at Sotheby’s New Bond Street Galleries on 11 February 2017 ahead of the auction on 16 February 2017.
The catalogue introduction has been written by Rowan Pelling, who first achieved note as the editor of monthly literary erotic magazine, the Erotic Review, and has since written countless columns devoted to discussions around sex.
“Art has always existed to tell a human story, and sex has always been a part of that story – whether it is there to compel, to shock or to seduce. Indeed, Eroticism in art has appeared in whatever form art has taken, and our exhibition will take the viewer on a journey through the centuries. This sale creates a stage on which we are able to bring together a fascinating array of artworks and objects across many disciplines – charting a history whilst also presenting stunning works by artists as eclectic as Picasso, Man Ray, Ettore Sottsass and Marc Quinn.” --Constantine Frangos, Head of Sale
WORKS ON PAPER
Pablo Picasso, Nu couché, 1972 (est. £60,000-80,000)
The Nude is a constant theme spanning every era and medium explored by Pablo Picasso, and this example demonstrates emblematic motifs of exaggeration of female attributes and his adoration of his numerous muses. The freedom and spontaneity of Picasso’s extraordinary drawings are testament to his natural flair as a draughtsman. This drawing was executed in 1972 when, aged 91, Picasso’s own physical stamina had inevitably waned, yet his focus on erotic subjects in his paintings and drawings only intensified.
Egon Schiele, Akt (Nude), 1917 (est. £180,000-250,000)
Egon Schiele was working in the context of the final years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where an atmosphere of respect for sex was being furnished by the research of Sigmund Freud and the sensual dream-like paintings of Gustav Klimt. Schiele is noted for his highly original vision and fearless depictions of the naked figure, which along with his technical virtuosity distinguish his nudes as being among his most significant contributions to modern art – never losing their devilish power to provoke, disturb or shock.
Executed in 1917, Akt (Nude) is a prime example of the artist’s late work when he returned to Vienna following his military service during the First World War. In a clear departure from his early nudes, Schiele no longer crops the figure radically nor does the drawing carry any overtly erotic connections. Rather, the body is portrayed intact with greater realism. Most of his effort is now directed towards capturing the plasticity of the human form, the density of the flesh and the solidity of the muscle. The artist sets the figure on the page with unflinching confidence, allowing her to be without support or visible context.
Gustav Klimt, Liegender Halbakt Nach Rechts (Half-nude reclining to the right), 1914-15 (est. £120,000-150,000)
Gustav Klimt once stated that ‘all art is erotic’. This powerful and arresting image of a female nude, in which the woman’s pose is unambiguously erotic, is presented without any assigned narrative - transforming the model into an object of the viewer’s desire. The sitter's unknowing expression, which suggests an innocence or even vulnerability, reflects the importance of the gaze of the artist and sharpness of his eye.
Jacques Loysel, La Grande Névrose, white marble, circa 1896 (est. £120,000-180,000)
The work of Loysel won the admiration of his contemporaries as the sublime representation of feminine grace and classical beauty canons. La Grande Névrose – considered until the end of his career as his absolute masterpiece – remained in the sculptor’s atelier until his death in 1925.
The fascinating ambiguity of Loysel’s masterpiece lies in the oscillation between carnal ecstasy and painful exaltation. Loysel was ostensibly depicting the theme of hysteria, as this was an unparalleled opportunity to represent a human body in total tension, yet its manifestation is of an eminently sensual character. In the Second Empire France, neurosis - a multifaceted affection of the nerves - was a widely spread condition. Its clinical manifestations, of which hysteria is the ultimate expression, were fascinating, frightening and obsessive, and were considered as the formidable consequence of the excesses of the decadent society of an excessive period. Throughout his work about the contemporary society’s critical analysis, the most prominent French writer of his day Émile Zola approached the manifestations of neurosis. Loysel acknowledged the influence of the works of Zola on this sculpture, stating that it represented the fatale and sublime outcome of hysteria in the heroine of his novel La Faute de l’Abbe Mouret. La Grande Névrose was also inspired by baroque interpretations of hysteria, stemming from Saint Teresa of Avila’s account of the painful pleasure of her mystical visions.
A Roman Marble Group of Two Lovers, circa 1st/2nd Century A.D. (est. £180,000-220,000)
Marble sculptures depicting human couples engaged in lovemaking appear rarely in Roman art, and this work is one of only four known examples.
A Roman Marble Torso of Pan, circa 2nd Century A.D. (est. £40,000-60,000)
The ithyphallic sculpture of goat-legged shepherd deity Pan with his hands bound alludes to a mythological episode in which the Nymphs unite to punish him for his unwanted advances. Of two other known Roman marble replicas of this type, one is on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Marc Quinn, Maquette for Siren, 2008 (est. £70,000-90,000)
“It’s called Siren, because in a sense it represents everything that lures people to wreck themselves on the rocks: money, perfection, unattainable images – all these things."
Marc Quinn’s depiction of supermodel Kate Moss is of the definitive contemporary Venus - the epitome of luxury and desirability elevated to the status of a goddess from antiquity. The series is one of the most recognisable examples of contemporary British sculpture, and is emblematic of the status of celebrities and supermodels.
Antony Gormley, Pole II, 2012 (est. £280,000-450,000)
Gormley is one of the best known and most critically acclaimed artists working in Britain today. His sculptures focus on the dynamic relationship between the human body and the space it inhabits, probing wider concerns about our place within nature and the universe. In the complex interrelation between the blocks that comprise Pole II, the artist also turns the gaze inwards, exploring and exposing the body as a ‘place’ within its own right: the site for the self. Throughout his wide-ranging career, Gormley has worked from casts of his own body – literalising the concept of a body as a habitat, a ‘case’ for a human being.
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, First, 2003 (est. £60,000-80,000)
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye was born in London in 1977 and in recent years has been gained increasing recognition in the art world – shortlisted for the Turner prize in 2013 and celebrated with an exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in 2015. Using sources that are distinctly non-contemporary, her works are entrenched in the history of painting and devices of traditional portraiture - influenced by the likes of Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas and Walter Sickert. Yet where racial Otherness in the history of western art is largely silent or typecast, Yiadom-Boakye creates a pantheon of entirely fictional and imagined black characters. There is no backstory to her characters, the people in her paintings are all composites made up from different sources such as scrapbooks and drawings – leaving the narratives open-ended. This semi-nude smoulders with vivid red tones, and as with the remainder of her oeuvre the protagonist is unambiguously empowered.
Lucian Freud, Man Posing 11,27, 1985 (est. £15,000-20,000)
Lucian Freud, Blond Girl, 1985 (est. £40,000-60,000)
Lucian Freud’s highly expressive works were noted for their fullness of form and exacting honesty – exemplifying his contribution to the grand tradition of the nude.
The origins of erotic photography stem from 1839 when the first practical process of photography was presented to the Académie des sciences. Adopted as a new way to depict the nude form, these photographs initially followed the styles and traditions of the art form as at the time the prevailing moral climate meant that the only officially sanctioned photography of the body was for the production of artist's studies. The plethora of photographs in the auction present the progression and range of erotic photography since then, from Araki’s explorations of the power dynamic between photographer and subject and Newton’s towering goddesses.
Helmut Newton, ‘Domestic Nude III: In the Laundry Room at the Château Marmont Hollywood’, 1992 (est. £40,000-60,000)
Arguably one of the world’s most influential photographers, Helmut Newton revolutionised fashion photography through his inimitable erotic and provocative poses. Newton’s compositions are classically and subtly constructed in black and white, with a playful and voyeuristic style. He surrounded himself with gorgeous, stylish women, and his arresting images of them demonstrate their strength and potency. While they are often depicted nude or physically restrained, they have an unparalleled dominance. These women are confident, stimulating and in control of their sexuality. Newton may have been behind the camera but these women are in charge.
Wim Delvoye, Pipe 1, 2000 (est. £6,000-8,000)
Nobuyoshi Araki, ‘Untitled, (Hotel Rooms)’, 1993-4 (est. £6,000-8,000)
Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Bow and Arrow’ (Lisa Lyon), 1981 (est. £6,000-8,000)
Bow and Arrow by Robert Mapplethorpe, one of the great masters of art photography, is a highly stylised black and white nude that condenses Mapplethorpe’s search for aesthetic perfection.
FURNITURE & DESIGN
An exceptional carved mahogany bed, second half 19th-century (est. £500,000-800,000)
Like no other country in Europe, France had a ripe tradition of magnificent courtesans of varied backgrounds – ladies belonging to a demi-monde where they were able to use their lovers’ funds to transform themselves into impeccable hostesses of the capital’s finest salons. The precise history of this unique commission remains shrouded in history, yet it has traditionally been associated with the legendary Hôtel de la Païva, the ChampsElysée love nest of Esther Lachmann - the richest and most notorious demimondaine of the Second Empire.
The matchless bateau-lit found its way into ‘La Fleur Blanche’ notorious and celebrated brothel at 6 Rue des Moulins. Frequented by international high society, it was most notably the maison de close in which artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec famously set up his easel - in whose biography the bed is described in detail. Following the closure of all brothels after the Second World War, the contents of La Fleur Blanche were dispersed at auction in 1946.
Made in Cuban Mahogany, the bed stands apart for the true uniqueness of its bold fluidity, as it anticipates the modern and graceful lines of Art Nouveau.
Ettore Sottsass, ‘Shiva’ Vase, designed 1973 (est. £200-300)
Breaking with the minimalist aesthetic that characterised furniture design in the 1970s, Ettore Sottsass and the Milan-based Memphis group revolutionised cutting-edge design, introducing fun, humour and strikingly bold colour combinations. This cutting-edge design with no limits and no boundaries resulted in countless irreverent designs such as the Shiva vase – named after one of the principal deities of Hinduism.
Nicolaes Pietersz. Berchem and studio, Jupiter disguised as Diana seducing the nymph Callisto (est. £30,000-40,000)
This elegant scene of seduction is inspired by an episode recounted by the poet Ovid in Metamorphoses. It depicts the bare-breasted nymph Callisto, Diana’s favourite, embraced by the god Jupiter in the guise of the goddess herself. The son of renowned still-life painter Pieter Claesz., Nicolaes Berchem was an important and influential figure of the Dutch Golden Age.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses, with its vivid descriptions of the lives and loves of the gods, enjoyed considerable popularity. The appeal of this particular episode for its intended audience lies as much in the ambiguity of gender roles as it does in any moralising content about adulterous adventures or easy seduction. Indeed, the subject inspired a number of artworks by artists including Rubens, Boucher and Fragonard.
THE SILK ROAD
Japanese Erotic (Shunga) handscroll Edo Period, late 17th-century (est. £30,00040,000)
Free from any Christian identification of sex with sin, Japanese Shunga art was explicit about sex creating a luxurious ‘utopia of pleasure’.
A couple making acrobatic love on a lake, Mewar, North India, 18th-century (est. £2,000-3,000)
The treatment of love in Indian art is as diverse as the literature on the subject, whose topics range from the secrets of love, to the light of love, the garland of love, the sprout of love or of course the well-known Kama Sutra.
A Green Glass Fertility Talisman, Persian, 10th-Century (est. £4,000-6,000)
Of characteristic phallic form, this talisman draws on an ancient cult tradition centring on fertility, whose potency endured in the Islamic period.
Pavel Tchelitchew, Bathers, 1938 (est. £300,000-500,000)
Pavel Tchelitchew was born in Russia at the end of the 19th-century but fled following the Revolution of 1918. He eventually found his way to Paris where he lived in the artistic neighbourhood of Montparnasse and moved in intellectual circles that included Edith Sitwell and Gertrude Stein, his most significant patrons. Bathers depicts the artist’s partner, the writer and publisher Charles Henri Ford – recognisable on the left wearing his incongruous pink hat –and centre stage, the aggressively foreshortened figure of the New York City Ballet dancer Nicholas Magallanes. The painting once hung on the bedroom wall of one of the 20th-century’s most famous grands horizontals and a first-hand account recollects that it was occasionally hung upside down or upon the ceiling.