‘[Alex Katz] has known Ada for nearly sixty years, but every portrait of her, over 200 of them by now, presents her as if he has been thunderstruck for the first time.’ INGRID D. ROWLAND
Referred to as ‘the First Lady of the art world’ by poet Frank O’Hara, Ada Katz has charmed millions as her husband’s muse throughout his extensive and lauded career as a painter. With her photogenic beauty and charisma (she modelled professionally), Ada is a sitter perfectly suited to Alex Katz’s bright, breezy palettes and warm emotional range. Reclining is amongst Katz’s finest solo portraits of Ada. Katz positions his wife against a neutral background, her slender, long neck gracefully merging with her oval head, which floats comfortably against the white. Her longing gaze, which penetrates the picture plane, meets our own, but the downcast stare gives Ada a sense of dominance that heightens her power as muse. Although her lips are clasped shut in solemnity, the edges of Ada’s mouth slightly ascend, almost erupting into a knowing smile. With these careful figurative renderings, Katz sublimely captures a second in time; one of many indefinite moments shared with his beloved.
In Katz’s earlier work (from around 1959; the same year as their marriage), he presents the images of Ada from a close angle, so that the face appears larger-than-life on the canvas, a shrine-like icon glorifying his wife. Inspired by filmic camera angles and billboard advertisements, this magnification, as emblematised by Reclining, enables Katz to interpret his subject in immense intimate detail. Additionally, the filmic character of the piece elevates the totalising allure of her beauty; a cinematic star to succeed the breathtaking close-ups of Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn. Drawing from an endless well of inspiration to create homages to his most cherished companion, Katz succeeds in capturing the very essence of her beauty and personality. In 1966 Frank O’Hara foreshadowed a life-long interaction between artist and sitter, husband and wife, with the following words: ‘the heads and figures of [Alex’s] wife, Ada, give this beautiful woman, through his interest in schema, a role as abstract as that of Helen of Troy; she is a presence and at the same time a pictorial conceit of style. In each painting he finds new features of her iconography and new implications in those features’ (F. O’Hara, ‘Alex Katz’, first published in Art and Literature, Lausanne, no. 9, Summer 1966, reproduced in Alex Katz: Twenty Five Years of Painting, exh. cat., The Saatchi Gallery, London, 1997, p. 160).