There’s the upbringing by an unconventional mother, the novelist Shena Mackay. The discovery, at 21, that the acclaimed art writer and critic David Sylvester—a family friend—was her biological father. The years at the Slade School of Fine Art and in London, where the prevailing conceptual winds of the Young British Artists did not jibe with her desire to paint. The permanent flight to New York, which gave her the freedom she craved and relief from the shame of “doing things wrong.” A series of erotic drawings that brought her the attention of top-tier galleries. The subsequent fawning magazine profiles, and the realization she didn’t need all that as she forged on with one of the more mesmerizing explorations of painting in the 21st century. The legend of the British-born painter Cecily Brown has been carved into the lore of contemporary art.
After three decades of steady validation, and now 51, this former renegade of the London art scene has allowed herself to come full circle in two simultaneous exhibitions. A commission from the foundation of Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill and his family, the Dukes of Marlborough, for more than 25 works responsive to their ancestral seat, Blenheim Palace, returns her to England, where the paintings will be on view beginning December 3. And an exhibition of “Bedroom Paintings” at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York, running through December 12, returns her to intimacy. A new monograph exploring her formation and oeuvre, out this month from Phaidon, completes the picture.