Showcasing masterpieces from across three millennia of literary and artistic culture around the globe, including works by William Shakespeare; Pablo Picasso; Marlene Dumas; James Joyce; John William Waterhouse; Lucian Freud, and J.K. Rowling.
Christie’s announces The Art of Literature, part of London Now, an exhibition showcasing a selection of artistic masterpieces inspired by literature through the ages. From depictions of scenes from Virgil’s Aeneid by the Old Masters to the collaboration between artist Peter Doig and Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, the connection between the visual and literary arts has given birth to extraordinary objects and texts.
Artists and novelists, craftsmen and authors, painters and poets, have long referred to each other’s work for inspiration, creating a rich and venerable tradition that continues to this day.
Curated by the next generation of Christie’s specialists, co-curators of The Art of Literature, Victoria Gramm (Specialist, Post-War and Contemporary Art); Mark Wiltshire (Specialist, Books, and Manuscripts), and Annabelle Scholar (Client Advisor, Client Advisory EMEA) comment, ‘It has been a pleasure to explore the connections between art and literature over the centuries, from illuminated manuscripts and canvases depicting Classical myths to more contemporary connections between painting and poetry.
We have united a fascinating selection embodying some of these connections, and look forward to welcoming visitors to Christie’s King Street to enjoy an exhibition which unites literary and artistic greats.’
Presented in two separate chapters, the first, The Art of Literature: Loan and Selling Exhibition will run from 6 June to 14 July. Comprising 50 works, the exhibition is curated to present the finest examples of works from categories including 20th and 21st Century Art, Islamic Art, Books and Manuscripts, Old Masters, 19th Century Art, and Decorative Arts.
One highlight is Marlene Dumas, Magdalena (Venus), on loan, (illustrated below left) dating from 1995. The artwork of South African-born Dumas is inherently literary; her poems, which are written as a complement to her paintings, often tie together literary and artistic threads. In the case of Magdalena (Venus), the artist has written a poem with multi-layered allusions referencing Vladimir Nabokov, Sandro Botticelli, and Simone de Beauvoir. These contrasting sources point to the complexity of the presentation of the female body in the history of art and literature.
A unique illuminated manuscript of Aesop’s Fables in French dating from c.1495 is another exceptional highlight (illustrated below right). This literary masterpiece, combining text and painting in a single beautiful object, is the only known illuminated copy of Julien Macho’s popular French translation, with additional works by other fabulists, richly illustrated with sixty-six miniatures by an artist associated with the Master of the Chronique Scandaleuse.
All but one fable is illustrated with a miniature depicting a central episode, sometimes even two, of the tale. The scenes are animated and precise evocations of the famous fables.
Also of particular note is John William Waterhouse’s Tristram and Isolde (illustrated above). Often termed ‘the last Pre-Raphaelite’, Waterhouse painted this picture some 70 years after the formation of the Brotherhood.
It shows the enduring appeal of Arthurian myth – in this episode of the chivalric romance, Irish princess Isolde offers the Cornish knight Tristram a chalice containing poison so they will not be forced to part – which has been substituted for a love potion. Painted at the height of the First World War, the picture carries undertones of romantic nationalism.