Cecily Brown

Cecily Brown's Really Great Year

In 2022, the brilliant, British-born painter wowed us with monumental canvases and much smaller studies too

With a deep understanding of art history, and a strong sense of the current moment, the British-born painter Cecily Brown was perfectly poised to make the most of 2022.

In February, the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy, inaugurated its 10-month exhibition, showing Brown’s monumental 2019 canvas, The Triumph of Death, as well as a series of preparatory sketches. The artist painted this work after visiting the renowned mid-fifteenth-century fresco The Triumph of Death located in the Galleria Regionale in the Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo and was excited to see her work in the country where she found inspiration. 

“It is a great honor for me to exhibit one of my works at the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, which boasts such an extraordinary collection,” Brown said. “Naples is my favorite city in my favorite country, and it’s always a thrill to show my work here.”

The exhibition curator, Sergio Risaliti, returned the compliment, saying, “Cecily Brown is an artist who knows how to reinvent the relationship between contemporary art and the great figurative tradition without indulging in sterile quotations of the past.” This sense of reinvention was also on display in Munich in June, when Brown’s show Dream Spaces opened at the Pinakothek der Moderne. For this show, the artist responded to works in the city’s collections by a diverse range of painters, including Franz Marc, Briegel, Cézanne and Michelangelo, to great effect.

Works from this summer show traveled to Berlin in September – in particular her interpretations of Marc’s 1907 interpretation of the Leda and the Swan myth – to form part of The Spell, Brown’s solo show at the Contemporary Fine Arts gallery in the German Capital.

  Cecily Brown's Really Great Year

CECILY BROWN - All the nightmares came today, 2012/2019

Though Brown’s historical influences were on display, this later exhibition focussed on her penchant for nudes and still lifes. In particular, the show featured a number of group nude images – a subject that the essayist Catherine Foulkrod explores in the show’s notes.

“It was the crowd that allowed her to paint the face,” as Foulkrod points out. “In comparison to painting the face of a single figure, painting faces within the group, the harem, the gang, ‘was freeing in a different way.’ It allowed the faces to be both singular and collective, to be points but not focal points. To be yours and mine and his and hers and theirs and ours all at once.” 

Figures of a very different kind made Brown’s year in the auction houses. At Sotheby's, four works breached the $1m mark during 2022, peaking in November with the sale of her 2001 painting, Eyes Wide Shut, which went for $4,527,00. Demand was equally strong at Christies, with the sale of her 1998 work, The Girl Who Had Everything, which breached the $5m mark, when it was auctioned in March in London.

None of this phased the artist herself. Brown rounded off the year by drawing her focus in, with a series of smaller works brought together for the show Studio Pictures, which opened in October at Thomas Dane gallery in London.

In the exhibition’s notes, the artist is quoted as saying that making these smaller works “is a quieter process, definitely. And, this is a cliché, but it is a lot harder to make a small painting than a big one.” It may feel hard to Brown, but from gallery goers’ perspectives, it all looks pretty effortless. 

If you missed out on any of Brown’s shows, you can, for now, still pick up one of works. The 2019 print of her 2012 work, All the nightmares came today, 2012/2019, is a prime example of the group nude mentioned above.