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Artists gain reputation and recognition for their unique style, but the beginning of their careers are often quite different. Here are five more rare early works by very well known artists.


6. JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT (1960 – 1988, US)

SAMO-confusing (2)Samo” graffiti, 1976-79

Jean-Michel Basquiat started painting on the walls of Manhattan in 1976 when he was only 16 and was completely unknown. With a friend he signed their cryptic aphorisms as SAMO. They became noticed, but soon fell out and the graffiti stopped.

Fame came to him after a group show in 1980. His work and style received critical acclaim for the fusion of words, symbols, stick figures, and animals.

Although his career was brief (he died of an overdose in 1988), he has been credited with bringing the African-American and Latino experience in the elite art world. In 2016 his work “Untitled”, 1982, sold for a record breaking $57,285,000.

basquiat (2)“Untitled,” 1982



7. MARCEL DUCHAMP (1887 – 1968, France)  

duchamp_ IvonaDuchamp (2)

Ivona Duchamp”, 1901, pencil, ink, water colour on paper

Marcel Duchamp was one of the few artists who managed to change the whole course of art history. However, in his early work he followed a more conservative tradition, assimilating the lessons of Cubism, Futurism and Symbolism. He painted the portrait of Ivona Duchamp, when he was 14.

He later gave up painting completely, explaining that “I was interested in ideas—not merely in visual products.” (Duchamp,as quoted in “Eleven Europeans in America,” James Johnson Sweeney (ed.), The Museum of Modern Art Bulletin (New York), vol. 13, no. 4/5, 1946, p. 20)

“Ready mades,” changed the definition of artist as a skilled creator of original work. Instead, “An ordinary object [could be]elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.” His “Fountain”, 1917, is regarded by art historians as the major landmark in the 20-th century art. The artwork was first rejected by the Society of Independent Artists, even though the rules stated that all work will be accepted from artists, who paid the fee. The original was lost, and 17 further replicas now exist, commissioned by Duchamp.  

larger (2)Fountain”, 1917/1964, glazed ceramic, black paint, 38.1 × 48.9 × 62.5 cm, SFMOMA, San Francisco


8. DAMIEN HIRST (b. 1965, Bristol, UK)

DHS1043_771_0 (2)Study after Delacroix (the Orphan Girl in the Cemetery)”, 1981, pencil on paper, 340 x 280 mm, private collection

Damien Hirst also started painting rather than mass producing and conceptualising. His “Study after Delacroix (the Orphan Girl in the Cemetery)“, 1981, is an example of a piece of academic drawing he did when he was 16.

The same year he gave up drawing, “I secretly thought I would have been Rembrandt by then.” – the artist commented in an interview. “Picasso, Michelangelo, possibly, might be verging on genius, but I don’t think a painter like Rembrandt is a genius. It’s about freedom and guts. It’s about looking. It can be learned. That’s the great thing about art. Anybody can do it if you just believe. With practice, you can make great paintings.”

His “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”, 1991, was commissioned and funded by Charles Saatchi. It cost around £50 000 to make. Saatchi later sold the work for an alleged £8 million.

DHS76_771_0 (2)The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”, 1991, glass, painted steel, silicone, monofilament, shark and formaldehyde solution, 2170 x 5420 x 1800 mm, private collection


9. SALVADOR DALI (1904 – 1989, Spain)

pic 1 figura-u-okna (2)Figure at the Window”, 1925, oil on papier -mâché,105 x 74,5 cm, Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid

Salvador Dali, the master of Surrealism, started painting early, when he was 10. He was an energetic, arrogant and flamboyant child. The “Figure at the Window”, 1925, like many of his early works features two of Dali’s favourite things – the Catalan coastline and a member of his family. Dali used his sister Ana Maria as his model. She would remain the artist’s only female model until his beloved Gala came along in 1929.

One of his most recognised works, “The Persistence of Memory”, 1931, was given by an anonymous donor to The MoMA in New York in 1934 and remains in its collection.

pic 2 salavador dali the-persistence-of-memory (3)“The Persistence of Memory”, 1931, oil on canvas, 24 cm × 33 cm, MOMA, New York



10. MARK ROTHKO (1903 – 1970, Latvia, US)

detail-three-nudes (2)Untitled (three nudes)“, 1933/1934, oil on black cloth, 40.3 x 50.5 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Mark Rothko moved through various artistic styles before he arrived at his most recognised style of “colour field” paintings.

Untitled (three nudes)”, 1933/1934, appeared when the artist was 30 and attended classes at the Art Students League in New York, briefly studying under Max Weber, who encouraged him to work in a figurative style reminiscent of Cézanne.

By 1949, under the influence of American Abstract Expressionist, Rothko had introduced a compositional format that he would continue to develop throughout his career. Comprised of several vertically aligned rectangular forms set within a colored field, Rothko’s “image” lent itself to a remarkable diversity of appearances.

His classic paintings of the 1950’s, like “Orange and Tan”, 1954, are characterized by expanding dimensions and an increasingly simplified use of form, brilliant hues, and broad, thin washes of color.

detail-orange-and-tan (2)Orange and Tan”, 1954, oil on canvas, 206.4 x 160.6 cm,National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC


Please find Part 3 of this article in Abode’s news section.

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