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Courting controversy: Allen Jones' early portrait of girlfriend offered at Bonhams
Allen Jones, Portrait of Barbara, 1957. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- A major early work by Allen Jones, offering a very different vision of the artist to his controversial later work, is to be offered at Bonhams Post-War & Contemporary sale on July 1st. Jones painted the portrait of his then girlfriend Barbara Brownlee in Ealing in 1957, while studying at Hornsey College of Art. Barbara, who appears here in school uniform, was also a student there.

Jones submitted the painting as part of his application to the Royal College of Art, and the sticker still on the back of the canvas identifies it as Jones’s 'Testimony of Study' number 1 of 28; the work has been in the same private collection ever since. A matching self-portrait from the same year in a private collection, featuring Jones wearing a jumper knitted for him by Barbara’s mother, suggests that the picture of Barbara was part of a pair.

Portrait of Barbara is consigned by Barbara herself, now Barbara Burridge, and is estimated at £25,000-35,000.

Jones, whose work was the subject of a major retrospective at the Royal Academy from November 2014 to January 2015, is best known for his provocative ‘furniture series’ of women in fetish-wear posing as tables or chairs.

Another Jones work in the sale, estimated at £3,000-5,000, is a 1980 drawing for a stained glass window in an Oxfordshire village church, featuring a catsuit-clad dominatrix in killer heels. Jones was inspired by Alban Berg's opera, Lulu, which the BBC had recently broadcast for the first time in the closest incarnation to the composer's original wishes. The title character was a relentless femme fatale, using her sexual allure to leave a trail of male bodies in her wake. The study is trademark Allen Jones: Lulu’s shapely buttocks and elongated legs tower defiantly over a prostate city gent whose head is restrained between her ankles. Meanwhile, a serpent figure with horned features was perhaps intended to add a biblical element. The window was never made.

Portrait of Barbara may seem to come from a different world entirely, but Jones defines himself first as a painter, and certain continuities can be drawn between the painting and Jones’s later work, notably his preoccupation with figuration. Strange as it may seem, Jones’s insistence on figuration was seen as controversial by his Royal College of Art tutors. In a 2014 Spectator interview, Jones said: ‘The polemic was that you couldn’t do [figurative art] anymore, which seemed absurd after 4,000 years of people making representations of each other.’

Jones’s approach drew admiration from his peers, including David Hockney, R.B. Kitaj and Patrick Caulfield. In choosing to celebrate form, Jones and this new generation were to define a distinctly English brand of Pop. If 1950s London was a rather drab place, then the work of these emerging painters was anything but.

Ralph Taylor, Bonhams Senior Director of the Post-War & Contemporary Art department, said: “This major early work offers a priceless insight into the formative years of one of this country’s Post-War masters. At a time when Allen Jones’ vast contribution to the world of art is finally being recognised, this fresh to market, intensely personal canvas is a real gem and a star of our forthcoming sale.”

Also featured in the sale are Anish Kapoor’s Untitled from 2012, a giant magenta concave disc in stainless steel, estimated at £400,000-600,000, and two works by Banksy, Keep it Real from 2002 ( £40,000-60,000) and Rat with Umbrella (2004), estimated at £30,000-50,000.

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