Triptych paintings and their worldwide influence.
A discussion and explanation of triptych art, and some of their world wide influence in history
Triptych painting has been a particular love of mine for the last fifteen years, I enjoy the elegant look it can give to any room, large or small. Recently, I started looking into different countries traditions of triptych art, many countries have been influenced tradition, but it was only when I researched it , that i realised how far reaching triptych paintings influence had been on the world, from the Chinese work of Zhang Xiaogang to the Scottish triptychs of Ken Currie to the more recent British work of Francis Bacon which sold for a staggering $142 million dollars in New York
While researching this subject, I also discovered triptych influence in many media forms , including music videos, such as the Thompson twins, hold me now, from 1982 , a British music video where a musical trio is often split into 3 parts to give the video a modern contemporary split panel effect.
The Thompson Twins, 1982
I even found music that was classed as triptych for instance a Chinese inspired piece , by Composer, Juan Carlos Vaquez “A Chinese Triptych” which was composed from an in depth sound documentary, by the artist in cities such as Suzhou, Shanghai, Wuxi, Harbin, and Beijing during 2017.
Juan Carlos Vaquez
The piece overlaps music events from the industrial, digital and rural, in a single musical piece. Attempting to represent the contrasting ways of living in China. The form and proportion of parts is inspired by triptych art.
The Specifics of Triptych Art
The triptych format is a three piece artwork , usually a 3 part painting, split into three sections. It is therefore a type of multi panel art.
The triptych is a very accepted format in the arts for a variety of reasons and they're designed to be displayed together as a singular piece.
Triptychs may be small or large and they may be hinged for an upright standing display or hung apart on the wall. The format can be used in any art medium, including paintings, sculpture, drawings, models and photography to create a compelling piece of art or to tell a story.
Some artists choose to make all three panels the same shape and size. Others prefer two panels of thicker widths on the sides of a larger central piece. You can also progress from thin to thick panels if it's right for the piece you're designing.
Triptychs are typically hung in a horizontal format and viewed from left to right.
With the right subject and design, a vertical display can be quite the highlighted piece as well.
While artists often play with the length of the panel, the height is typically uniform. But again, the right piece may work well with the side panels a differant size if they're hung correctly on the wall.
The Significance of the Triptych
The word triptych (pronounced trip-tick) had its origins in the Greek 'triptykhos' meaning "three-layered." It is, quite literally, a set of three pictures or objects that is made into three parts. Other lesser known formats are, a diptych with two panels, a quadtych having four panels, and a polyptych with five or more panels.
Traditionally, the triptych was used for altarpieces. These included a larger center panel and two smaller panels painted inside two folding doors. As well as being functionally appropriate, the three-fold design reflects the religious symbolism of the number three. The three part structure can also represent a piece having a beginning , middle and end.
Christian art is where triptych artwork began , it gained popularity as a type of altar artwork, that started in the middle ages.
It ranged from the Celtic churches in the west to the eastern Byzantine places of worship. These triptych paintings were regularly used for ones own devotional usage, with other icon relics.
Renaissance artists such as Giotto di Bondone and Hans Memling used the form. Sculptors also enjoyed this way of working , triptych formats also allowed easier transport.
Reasons to use a Triptych in Art
The way each artist uses the three panels of a triptych can be very different. Some may wish the work to flow together to form a single unified scene or they may each be a separate painting. Typically, there will be a strong sense of visual consistency.
Any artist may use a triptych for any of these listed reasons:
To give the art a story , A beginning, middle, and end sense of a narrative.
To continue a theme across three pieces
To study a subject from various perspectives or with varying techniques and mediums
To show the movement of a subject, such as its growth or decline.
To highlight three separate subjects that are similar and complement each other.
To separate a very large piece for easier logistics, storage, and display.
Modern photographic triptych
A photographic triptych is a common style used in contemporary commercial artwork. The photographs are typically arranged with a plain border between them. The work usually consists of separate images that are variations on a theme, or may be one larger photo split into three parts.
What follows is some of my favourite worldwide triptych art and also some noteworthy triptych paintings that made an impact on the art world.
Famous triptych paintings
In 2013 one of English artist Francis Bacons triptych artworks sold for a record price of $142 million dollar in New York, the paintings were of his friend and rival British painter, Lucian Freud. Originally it was estimated to sell for over $85 million, Christies had estimated. When the bidding for “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” eventually stopped, after more than half a dozen fraught minutes, the overflowing crowd in the salesroom burst into applause, Christies auction house noted. They did not disclose the buyer, but the bidding was made by phone from one of Christie’s skyboxes overhanging the auction.
“Three Studies of Lucian Freud”
Two dismayed bidders were seen leaving the bidding room. “I went to over $100 million but it did`nt matter,” said Larry Gagosian, the super-dealer who was attempting to buy the painting on behalf of a client. Another competitor was Hong Gyu Shin, the director at the Shin Gallery on Grand Street in Manhattan, who pronounced he was bidding for himself.
Francis Bacon in his younger days
“I was assuming it would go for around $80 to $90 million,” Mr. Shin said. Although he noted that he usually collects Japanese woodblock prints and aged master paintings, he found the multi panel painting by the Irish-born painter, who passed away in 1992, irresistible. “I adored that painting and I couldn’t resist it” he said. “Maybe one day I’ll have another chance.”
The Triptuch was painted in 1969, at London`s Royal College of Art, after his beloved studio was destroyed in a fire.
Mr Francis Outred, Leading auctioneer, and head of Contemporary Art at Christie's , pronounced the piece was "a true masterpiece and one of the greatest paintings to come up for auction in a current generation".
"It marks Bacon and Freud's friendship, giving tribute to the creative and emotional kinship between the two artists," he noted.
They originally met in 1945 and became close comrades, painting each other on a number of meetings, before their relationship cooled during the 1970s.
In the middle of the 1970`s the three panels were separated , and only put back together again in 1999 , being displayed in New Haven,
The complete work was displayed in New Haven, Connecticut in 1999. It wasn't displayed to the general public until oct 2013.
Germany , Max Beckmann 1884–1950
Max Beckmann painted many triptych paintings, dreamed up a worlds with actors, cabaret performers, heroes, and crooks, whose dramas unfolded on crowded streets, at masked balls and parties, and in candlelit gatherings. The painter himself is often part of the scene, usually costumed, but identified by his large head and scowling gaze. At a time when many of his fellow contemporaries were testing their artistic limits with abstraction, Beckmann was keen on pursuing the realms of figuration and narrative, dashing his paintings with fragments of fantasy, biblical stories, and opaque —often mixed with examples and imaginings from his life.
In the earlier 1930s, the National Socialist press of the time began attacking Beckmann’s work, in 1933, not long after Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, the painter was sacked from his teaching post at Frankfurt’s Städel Art School, and his painting works at the Berlin National Gallery were removed from display. It was at this time of progressing terror and fear that Beckmann began to paint the 3 piece triptych Departure (1932–35), in which he has juxtaposed restriction and freedom, compression and openness, anger and refuge. Its outer panels are consumed by scenes of torture in a dimly lit theatre, while in the centre panel primitive figures appear on a boat in calm seas under a peaceful, bright sky
Max Beckmann , Departure, Frankfurt 1932, Berlin 1933-35.
While the work is split into a three piece format, ie a triptych—a format traditionally used in Christian altarpieces, Departure’s symbolic message remains cryptic. Tied, mutilated, blindfolded, or squeezing their eyes shut, the figures in the outer panels are victims of harsh violence. However, their circumstances are unknown; perhaps they are acting on a stage, accompanied at left by such bizarre props as a tilted still life and a crystal ball. In the middle, passengers from another time and place, a king and queen with a child, a warrior figure, and a seaman—stand earnestly on a boat gliding on calm seas. The blue sky and net full with fish suggest good fortune.
Beckmann painted Departure in a time of growing fear and uncertainty, as Adolf Hitler gained more power in the artist’s home of Germany. The painting was completed over several years, during which the artist was forced to move to Berlin, then to Amsterdam. The Nazi party had announced Beckmann’s paintings to be “degenerate,” and he was one of hundreds of artists whose work was censored for alleged immoral or anti-German qualities. While the painting is usually considered an artistic response to this period, Beckmann stressed a universal message “Departure bears no prejudicial meaning—it could well be applied to all times.”
Ken Currie , Scottish Triptych artist.
Scottish painter Ken Currie studied at the Glasgow School of Art. He mainly focused on industrial Glasgow as the subject of his early work, with paintings that were modelled in block like form and linear. In the early 1990s, Ken was much influenced by humanitarian and political events in Eastern Europe. He began to depict decaying and damaged bodies as a response to what he felt was the harshness of contemporary society. Although still as aware socially as in his earlier work, his style moved away from being so linear. From the mid-1990s, Currie's paintings became less complex. He focused on individuals instead of groups and painted in , luminous haunting colours.
A Scottish Triptych: Nightshift, Departure, Saturdays
One of his most celebrated pieces is "A Scottish Triptych: Nightshift, Departure, Saturdays "
In the format of a large scale figure painting, Currie examines subjects of physicality, violence and oppression, and this crucial work continues on from the previous industrial Glasgow Triptych of 1986.
The left panel, Night Shift, showcases the 'wandering man' totem , a now unnecessary trade unionist heading out to do odd jobs on a council estate. An evicted person and chained dog are portrayed in the background, with public house signage indicating how others spend their evenings.
Saturdays shows a stern faced young woman reading a political magazine as she pushes a baby buggy past an wryly-named, windowless tower block bar. She has been shopping at a cut-price shop and her son, features concealed, handles a toy plane and spaceship toy in an troubling manner.
Departure, the central piece, illustrates the same figure emblem in motion through a cold and broken landscape on the city outskirts at dusk. His bicycle light, roaring bonfire and pub glowing neon sign again pierce the gloomy landscape. The rucksack of books suggests the important theme of the autodidact message in Currie's painting.
Japan, a country of triptych painting.
Tsukioka is well known as the last great master of the ukiyo-e form's of woodblock printing and painting. He is also regarded as one of the genre`s greatest pioneers. His career spanned two ages – the late years of Edo period Japan, and the earlier years of modern Japan following the Meiji Restoration. Like many Japanese, Yoshitoshi was interested in new things from the rest of the world, including triptychs, but with time he became inclined to be concerned with the loss of many aspects of traditional Japanese culture, including traditional woodblock printing.
TSUKIOKA YOSHITOSHI (1839-1892)
Fujiwara Yasumasa Plays the Flute by Moonlight (Fujiwara Yasumasa Gekka Roteki)
Woodblock triptych, signed oju Taiso Yoshitoshi sha, with artist's seals Taiso and Yoshitoshi, printer's seal Suri Tsune, published by Akiyama Buemon, 1883
In his later years he was very prolific, with his wonderful series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (1885–1892), and New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts (1889–1892), additionally he crafted some masterful triptychs of kabuki theatre actors and scenes.
A Chinese record making triptych sold, for 7 Million Dollars
A painting entitled "Forever Lasting Love" by Zhang Xiaogang .broke the previous Chinese contemporary art record set by a Zeng Fanzhi work in 2008
Forever Lasting Love
It sold for 79 million Hong Kong dollars (£6.3m) - a record auction price for Chinese contemporary art.
This 1988 work, Forever Lasting Love, displays half-naked figures in an barren landscape surrounded by symbols, among them an scrawny ram.
It was one of over 100 artworks sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong by collector Baron Guy Ullens from Belgium.
They earned HK$427m (£34m), a breathtaking three times more than expected.
Forever Lasting Love broke the previous Chinese contemporary art record of HK$75m (£6m).
That was set by Zeng Fanzhi's canvas Mask Series 1996 No 6, auctioned in Hong Kong in 2008.
Tzadok, Amy Giamocelli, Amanda Dagg, Caroline Ashwood, and Paula Nizamas. The most famous of these artists is Osnat Tzadok
Evelyn Lin, Sotheby's leader of contemporary Asian art, announced Forever Lasting Love was "a monumental museum-quality triptych painting from a defining era of the Chinese avant-garde"
The auction set records for other Chinese artists including Zhang Peili - whose Series "X?" No 3 sold for HK$23m (£1.8m) - and Geng Jianyi, whose Two People Under a Light fetched HK$18.6m (£1.5m).
Kevin Ching, chief executive of Sotheby's Asia, said the works on sale represented "the entire spectrum of contemporary Chinese art".
"I think everyone would be honoured to be able to own a piece of that history, that process and a part of that vision," he quoted.
Baron Ullens, who with spouse Myriam set up Beijing's Ullens centre for Contemporary Art (Ucca), said the sale did not represent an abandonment for his support to the Chinese movement.
Ucca said in a quote that the baron's vision was to support and promote a younger generation of artists.
Osnat Tzadok is a Canadian painter. She began her career in 2001 by selling on ebay her work has also been featured on television shows such as prison break and netflix`s Zoo. Her triptych paintings can be found easily on https://osnatfineart.com
A triptych artwork by Osnat Tzadok
In 2012 Osnat was interviewed by Empty Easel, which can be read here