The Delacroix Masterpiece That Unites Picasso, Lichtenstein, and Jose Dávila
What does a
For his upcoming show at Sean Kelly Gallery in New York, Dávila turns his attention to a single work:
To understand what links these three art-historical heavyweights, we must rewind almost 200 years to 1832, when Delacroix traveled with a diplomatic convoy to north Africa. The French painter was immediately enchanted: “I am like a man in a dream, seeing things he fears will vanish from him,” he wrote. Delacroix feverishly sketched the turbaned men, Jewish weddings, and harems he encountered. These travels would serve as inspiration for the rest of his life, resulting in almost 80 completed oil paintings. And it was a tour of an Algerian home, arranged by a converted Muslim who worked for the French government, that served as the source for two of the artist’s most enduring works. Both were titled Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement (the first version completed in 1834 and the second between 1847 and ’49) and offer a rare, sumptuous glimpse into the women’s quarters of a Muslim residence.
The 1834 version would set off a firestorm of lesser imitations when it was exhibited at the Salon in Paris that year, fanning the flames of orientalism in Western art. But this potency would extend far beyond Delacroix’s lifetime. A century later, while living in Paris, Picasso himself began to obsess over the painting. “He had often spoken to me of making his own version of Femmes d’Alger and had taken me to the Louvre on an average of once a month to study it,” Picasso’s muse (and artist in her own right)
The death of Version O went on to become the most expensive work sold at auction to date when it achieved a $179 million price tag at Christie’s in May 2015.
Less than a decade after Picasso had completed the series, it would serve as fodder for a young Lichtenstein seeking work to appropriate. Similar to the way in which Picasso had deeply (albeit begrudgingly) admired Delacroix, Lichtenstein revered the Spanish painter as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. “I think he had just more magic, more insanity, more images, more styles, greater production than many others,” the
When Dávila finally happened upon Lichtenstein’s work, he felt a particular affinity for this inherent seriality. “It was an image that had already been interpreted by different artists on top of each other,” he noted. “It’s like a fractal of what happened throughout time, throughout history.” Dávila’s previous works touch on similar themes, including sculptures that pay tribute to painter
This, says Dávila, is his contribution to this string of interpretations—an experiment in medium. Shifting between different modes of representation has been on his mind since his early days in the darkroom. “I always wondered why there was this pristine usage of photography without a notion of photography in physical terms, in terms of the paper itself,” he said. “I wanted to make a twilight zone between a two-dimensional work and a three-dimensional work, between a sculpture and representation.”
And with his “Femme d’Alger” series, that dichotomy begins to blur. “The more paper you cut out of an image, the more the paper starts to react physically to the fact that there are holes in it,” Dávila said. “The more I cut out of the paper, the more it reacts and twists. I want the paper to behave as a physical object, as a sculpture itself, rather than just a vehicle to carry an image.”
“Jose Dávila: Stones Don’t Move” is on view at Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, Oct. 28–Dec. 3, 2016.