Marlene Dumas - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 16, 2017 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam
    Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1985)
    Thence by descent to the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Amsterdam, Galerie Paul Andriesse, The Eyes of the Night Creatures, March 12 - April 3, 1985, n.p. (exhibited; left panel illustrated)
    Musée d'Art Moderne Villeneuve d'Ascq, 6 Plasticiens contemporains des Pays-Bas, April 4 - June 1, 1986 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Jan van Adrichem, Paul Groot, Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen, “As Far as Amsterdam, Goes,” Flash Art, no. 128, May - June, 1986, pp. 68-70

  • Catalogue Essay

    “Night in the city is a fabricated thing where the stars are invisible. I like filmstars. Movies are shown in the dark. I like sitting in the dark especially during the day. Paintings are made in the dark.” – Marlene Dumas

    Confronting the viewer with its indelible presence, De gele vingers van de kunstenaar powerfully demonstrates Dumas’s career-long investigation of the human condition. In the delicate veils of translucent paint and sumptuous impasto we recognize the mark of a true virtuoso, the enthralling combination of color and distillation of form revealing Dumas’s instantly recognizable painting technique. De gele vingers van de kunstenaar, which loosely translates to the “The Artist’s Yellow Fingers”, flickers like a cinematographic montage in technicolor in front of our eyes and depicts Dumas’s close friend and eminent artist René Daniels, as well as a gallery assistant from the Galerie Paul Andriesse. Emerging from the depths of the ink blue background, the white and pale blue translucent figures are captured seemingly mid-scene as they smoke and drink – their gaze not quite meeting ours as they stare into the distant unknown. Into this surreal late night mise-en-scène, Dumas has sparingly injected flashes of color – from the red impasto blotches on the left figure’s forehead, to the yellow-orange modulation of his fingers, to the delicate swath of burgundy red in the right figure’s wineglass and the streak of crimson that trails from it.

    Executed in 1985, after a five-year hiatus from painting, the work marks Dumas’s triumphant return to painting. This diptych painting belongs to Dumas’s breakthrough series of portraits The Eyes of the Night Creatures that was exhibited at the Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam, in the same year. Other works shown in this seminal exhibition included Martha – Sigmund’s Wife, and Occult Revival, both in the collection of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Genetiese Heimwee/Genetic Longing, and Het Kwaad is Banaal/ Evil is Banal, in the collection of the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; and Emily, in the collection of Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Arnhem (all 1984). As with the two only other diptychs The Space Age and Occult Revival, both 1984, the present work consists of coupled portraits of two larger than life figures barely contained within the confines of the canvas.

    De gele vingers van de kunstenaar powerfully epitomizes Dumas’s acclaimed ability to explore the fraught relationship between representation and interpretation. Born in Cape Town in 1953, Dumas grew up in South Africa during the Apartheid regime and permanently moved to the Netherlands in 1976. As curator Rainald Schumacher observed, Dumas’ background as a white South African-born artist, “may have instilled some inner resistance to painting the world in black and white (Rainald Shumacher, “Marlene Dumas”, Flash Art, issue 256, 2009, online). Indeed, painting is a decisive moral act for Dumas. Functioning as a sort of visual reckoning with our time, Dumas’s practice focuses almost exclusively on the complex psychological portrayal of individuals. And yet, paintings such as the present ones are not portraits in the conventional sense. Like Francis Bacon, Leon Golub, and Alberto Giacometti, amongst others, Dumas is above all witness of modern life: she embraces the space of the canvas as an arena for psychological tension in which themes of alienation, memory, nostalgia and identity are played out.

    All the works in Eyes of the Night Creatures were based on photographs, either reproductions in magazines or Polaroids which the artist made zooming in on the faces of friends, family and acquaintances. De gele vingers van de kunstenaar is based on snapshots Dumas took during a late night art world gathering among friends: on the left, eminent artist and close friend René Daniels is depicted holding a cigarette with yellow fingers, evocative of fresh paint, but also the staining that occurs from extensive smoking (“the artist’s yellow fingers”). On the right, a gallery assistant from the Galerie Paul Andriesse is shown drinking a glass of red wine. In many ways, this is a deeply personal work that speaks to Dumas’s “presence as an emerging artist in the international discourse of painting during the 1980s” (Cornelia Butler, “Painter as Witness”, in Measuring Your Own Grave, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2008, p. 55). Recalling the great lineage of French Impressionist bourgeois café scenes, De gele vingers van de kunstenaar speaks to a particular moment in time in which artist such as Dumas and Daniels were forging their own distinctive paths in painting within a broader context in which Neo-Expressionism prevailed. Here, the viewer is drawn in to a congenial scene in which the figures smoke, drink and talk – unaware of the camera.

    Yet, like Gerhard Richter, a central influence on the artist from early on, Dumas eschews the notion of painting as representation in favor for a more complex notion of painting as analogy. Taking the photographic imagery as a point of departure, Dumas has chosen to present the tightly-cropped individual portraits on roughly square canvases – a format that conjures the 17th-century courtly portraits of Frans Hals. The extreme close-up of these portraits also speaks to Dumas’s admiration for such films as Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928, Gustav Machatý Ecstasy, 1933, and Jean Genet’s Un chant d’ amour, 1950. As Dominic van den Boogerd has further observed, “There are parallels with the photographic work of Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon – particularly with the unsentimental way in which Arbus portrayed the singularities of others” (Dominic van den Boogerd, Marlene Dumas, London, 1999, p. 38). While the format of the frontal portrait appears to convey objectivity, it is the very purported truth of the photograph that Dumas seeks to disrupt through her complex painterly process. Transformative rather than mimetic, Dumas’s process of painting exploits the physicality of paint to undermine the original photographic source material. Characteristically working intuitively with fast gestures, Dumas has here transformed what were previously everyday snapshots of friends into more mysterious apparitions that emerge ghostlike from the darkness of a background that is bereft of any cues of the original narrative context.

    As is typical for Dumas’s associative creative process, the title De gele vingers van de kunstenaar and the pairing of the individual portraits was only decided upon completion of the paintings. While an earlier installation image at the Galerie Paul Andriesse shows only the left portrait installed, exhibited on its own due to space constraints, Dumas, did conceive them as a diptych. The figures, however, remain strangely disembodied and isolated even when occupying the same space. As Dumas explained of this series, “As the isolation of the recognizable figures increases and the narrative character decreases, the interpretative affects are inflamed. The titles re-direct the work; however do not eradicate the inherent ambiguity. My Night Creatures are alone” (Marlene Dumas, “The Eyes of the Night Creatures”, Miss Interpreted: Marlene Dumas, exh. cat., Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 1992, p. 30). Though the figures at first glance appear to regard the viewer with the sense of ease and familiarity one would expect of such a scene, the longer one stands in front of the looming faces, the more foreboding and piercing their gazes become. As Dominic van den Boogerd has overserved of the uncanny effect that arises from Dumas’s painterly transformation of the source imagery, “They are larger than life-size, but – accustomed as we are to the proportions of movie stars – that scarcely strikes the eye….Many of these paintings are confrontational, like a smack in the face. It as though someone else’s face is being pushed into ours; as though a stranger hold us captive with his stare” (Dominic van den Boogerd, Marlene Dumas, London, 1999, p. 38).

Property of a Distinguished European Collector


De gele vingers van de kunstenaar [The yellow fingers of the artist]

right: signed "MDUMAS" on the stretcher; further signed and dated "M DUMAS Mei 1985" on the reverse
left: signed "Marlene Dumas" on the stretcher; further signed and dated "M DUMAS 1985" on the reverse

oil on linen, diptych
each 49 1/4 x 41 1/2 in. (125 x 105.5 cm.)
overall 49 1/4 x 83 1/8 in. (125 x 211 cm.)

Painted in 1985.

$2,200,000 - 2,800,000 

Sold for $3,615,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 2017