Verso: Signed, titled and dated.
Christo Coetzee, born in South Africa and having spent a significant part of his artistic career in Europe, is recognised for what art historian, Esmé Berman describes as his “elaborate decorative compositions” (1993:200). Throughout his oeuvre, Coetzee experiments with space and shape— his work most notably characterised by an interest in concentric circular forms. Despite the circular leitmotif that runs throughout his work, however, Coetzee’s oeuvre remains richly varied. From his early period portraits and still lives, to his acclaimed rhythmic, abstract works Coetzee balances endlessly imaginative compositions with a subtle sense of order and cohesion.
“Eurasian Princess”, created towards the end of his life, combines his early portrait studies with his later, more typical free flowing forms. Unlike the major part of his oeuvre, “Eurasian Princess” is not captured using oil paint applied directly from the tube. Instead the watery enamel turquoise background mingled with hints of peach and rose render the work softer, its presence somewhat transient. However, the artist achieves a sense of continuity in the diversity of this portrait by dripping characteristically rhythmic swirls of enamel over the sitter’s face and torso.
Most striking about the work, in comparison to his abstracted spherical pieces of the 1960’s, is the ease with which the viewer can connect with the subject matter. As opposed to engage in a complex intellectual pursuit of meaning behind abstraction, the viewer’s immediate response is to revel in the whimsical beauty of the piece, enjoying the delicate wash of colour that floats across the composition. The intricacy of the jewels that adorn the neck of the princess, as well as the whispy folds that encircle her neck enable a tranquil and contemplative viewing experience.
It is difficult to think of another work of Coetzee’s which is as highly individual as this, yet at the same time so effortlessly appreciable. While the portrait is by far his most mature artistic expression, it maintains a certain lightness that is at once playful and childlike in nature.