The painting “The Death of Charles Darwin”, an oil canvas by Romanian-born Adrian Ghenie, dated 2013, was sold on Saturday by the Sotheby’s auction house in Hong Kong for HK 54,920,000 (6,097,000 euros), sothebys.com announced.
The painting was exhibited in 2013 at the Pace Gallery in New York and was purchased by the current owner.
“Adrian Ghenie is a painter who knows how to create suspense, how to direct the scene and also how to provoke in the viewer, that magical mixture of anxiety and expectation that so many artists desire and only a few know,…,What can be felt before his painting is something similar to the feeling of being the supporting actor in a thriller, with very careful scripts and locations, almost designed with the intention of slowly introducing the viewer into the story, allowing them to be caught in each gesture,” reads the Sothebys’ catalogue note.
The famous auction house also says that The Death of Charles Darwin (2013) is amongst the artist’s most sophisticated portraits of the British evolutionary scientist, Charles Darwin, winning the artist both critical and popular acclaim. Since 2006, Ghenie has experienced a meteoric rise onto the international art scene, becoming one of the leading painters of his generation.
“Exploring the idea of “self” and identity in his canvas works since 2010, Ghenie incorporates the recognisable forms of historical figures—including Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin and Vincent Van Gogh—into his paintings, presenting an exceptional amalgam of the personal and the historical. Amongst the most iconic paintings of his widely renowned oeuvre are those in which he engages with Charles Darwin and his ambiguous legacy, as seen in his first exhibition with Pace in New York in 2013, New Paintings, and again in 2015, when the artist dedicated the Romanian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale to the impact of Darwin’s revolutionary discoveries and European post-war identity.”
The critic and curator Mark Gisbourne explains: “To Ghenie, the famous British evolutionary scientist represents another great before and after figure: there is a view of the world before Darwin, and another view of the world afterward.”
Born in Baia Maia, northern Romania in 1977, Adrian Ghenie graduated the University of Art and Design in Cluj-Napoca in 2001. After trying to make a living from art in Vienna and Sicily, he returned to Cluj-Napoca and set up the Plan B Gallery, next to Mihai Popin, in 2005.
Born in Romania in 1977 under the repressive Communist regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu, Adrian Ghenie grew up experiencing the enduring repercussions of World War II. Explaining, “We inevitably live in a post-WWII epoch, which means that we constantly have to look back to that watershed moment in order to understand our present condition” (the artist cited in Magda Radu, “Adrian Ghenie”, Flash Art, 2 November 2016, online), the artist looks to the past to better understand his present, and the future.
The Death of Charles Darwin is a compelling masterwork from Ghenie’s oeuvre, a leading example of the artist’s cinematic paintings in which he uses the historical figure of Darwin to reflect on his self-identity and the identity of mankind.