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Property from a Private Boston Collection


signed, titled and dated 'Sean Scully 1984 HEART' (on the reverse)
oil on three joined canvases
39 x 58 3/8 in. (99.1 x 148.3 cm.)
Painted in 1984.
Juda Rowan Gallery, London
Galerij S65, Aalst, Belgium
Barbara Krakow Gallery, Boston
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1986
D. Eccher, D. Carrier and H.-M. Herzog, Sean Scully, exh. cat., Bologna, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, 1996, p. 41 (illustrated).
M. Price, Sean Scully: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume II, 1980-1989, Berlin, 2018, p. 114, no. 1984.08 (illustrated).
Aalst, Belgium, Galerij S65, Sean Scully: SchilderijenTekeningen, October-December 1984 (exhibited for partial duration).
London, Juda Rowan Gallery, Sean Scully: Recent Paintings and Drawings, November-December 1984 (exhibited for partial duration).


Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale


Titled after the green heart of his native Ireland and the all-too-familiar green heart of envy, Sean Scully’s Heart (1984) typifies the dynamic depth of vision achieved within the artist’s iconic confines of line, color and composition. In harmonizing geometry, Heart exemplifies Scully’s success in advancing the field of nonrepresentational painting by bringing a more intimate touch to the hard line of postwar American abstract painting and Minimalism.

Painted in 1984 and included in the artist’s catalogue raisonné, Heart represents an earlier example of Scully’s departure from Minimalism and lies at the very heart of his artistic practice. Heart draws from the artist’s memories, objects and places to arrive at a visual realm of poetry, allusion and metaphor. Executed on three separate joined canvases, a trifecta of line, color and structure coalesce on one surface, forming a dense optical field. The tactile properties of the oil paint and the trace of the artist’s own hand are immediately clear, lending depth, humanity and profundity to an otherwise abstract, conceptual canvas, thus approaching spirituality in a more visceral way than his hard-edged counterparts of the mid-20th century.

“My paintings talk of relationships: How bodies come together. How they touch. How they separate. How they live together, in harmony and disharmony…” (S. Scully).

The lines evident in Heart carry a gravitas within the work and within Scully’s practice more broadly. Far from exact, the slight spaces between the lines emphasize the role of the painter and artist in front of the canvas. In a departure from the era’s mechanical, straight-edge lines, the small nuances and inconsistencies of the artist’s hand highlight a more personal perspective and relationship with the canvas. Nevertheless, a tendency towards balance, order and equilibrium remain evident amidst Heart’s dynamic visual pattern. Though each of Heart’s three panels is restricted to two colors, such colors are almost narrative in nature, subtly revealing the inner layers of the deeper, richer hues within. Such depth is most visible in the luminous pink swath—elegant and ephemeral yet clearly grounded in a harder, darker, more masculine tone. This subtle underpainting underscores Scully’s artistic maturity, inviting the viewer to explore a depth beyond the surface to ultimately achieve a sense of both vulnerability and power.

Though his turn from Minimalism signaled an artistic determination to intentionally break down structure, Scully drew strong inspiration from Renaissance- and pre-Renaissance-era altarpieces and architecture; in fact, the present lot is imbued with such inspiration. The restricted vocabulary of the work’s lines and bands of color allude to architectural elements like portals, windows and walls, some granting access and others denying it. The vertical lines, constrained to their own canvases, abutting the canvas of horizontal lines emulate columns found within churches and temples, further exploring the motif of spirituality and humanity. Even still, Scully maintains the “democracy” of his triptychs, arguing that each panel has its own story to tell.

Like passages in a painting, every artist has his own story to tell too; born in Ireland in 1945, Scully was raised in a working class neighborhood of South London. With an early interest in painting, he trained at the Croydon College of Art in London before moving on to Newcastle University. In 1972, Scully was awarded the Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship to attend Harvard University, making his way to the United States and, in turn, New York City at a pivotal moment in art history. There, Scully met Robert Ryman, an esteemed artist at the forefront of the movement towards Minimalism happening in the United States. Scully’s early years in New York through the 1970s were informed by both his new, American Minimalist contemporaries, as well as the European Optical Art movement from which he had just departed. In this sphere, Scully began creating the overlays of line and grid that gave him his distinct graphic style. However, by 1980, Scully felt as though he had exhausted the limits of Minimalism. Like many postwar artists of the time, he traveled far and wide to Morocco and Mexico, inspired by the human elements of the lines woven into textiles and rugs. This yearning for a more personal, introspective energy began to inform Scully’s artistic style moving forward.

Heart was created at a pivotal time for Scully—both professionally and personally. Exhibited internationally, the work was painted in the same year as his inclusion in the New York Museum of Modern Art’s International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture, and, the following year, the artist would go on to have his first major traveling retrospective. On a personal level, the creation of the present picture also coincided with the death of Scully’s beloved teenage son, Paul, in 1983. Enveloping himself in the triptych nature of Heart, Scully used the tripartite canvases to “take refuge in the mystic power of the triptych to give form and place” to his sorrow. Taking on more somber tones and hues, he channeled his personal grief into working, creating and painting, making 1984 one of his most productive years of his career.

Executed on a more intimate scale than other works from this period, Heart, in body and in spirit, encapsulates the yearning towards geometrical equilibrium so pivotal to Scully’s oeuvre, as well as the artist’s deep connection to forces beyond his control. In synthesizing Scully’s unique personal perspectives with the larger practices of postwar art of the time, Heart achieves a delicate yet sincere sense of emotion and sentiment amid layers of color and heartfelt line.

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