Alice Rahon - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Thursday, May 19, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "In earliest times painting was magical; it was the key to the invisible. In those days the value of a work lay in its powers of conjuration, a power that talent alone could not achieve. Like the shaman, the sibyl and the wizard, the painter had to make himself humble, so that he could share in the manifestation of spirits and forms."
    —Alice Rahon

    Executed in 1944, Dans la nuit du commencement, is an enigmatic painting by the French American Surrealist and poet, Alice Rahon, showcasing her deep connection to the mystical Mexican landscape and its ancient cultures. She was invited to join the Surrealist group by André Breton in 1935, under the recognition of her poetry. Throughout her career, she was always deeply interested in prehistoric cave paintings. The combination of Surrealism with her interest in prehistoric art fused in a unique oeuvre of works full of meaning, mythology, and symbolism – a beautiful encounter of figurative and abstract art. 


    While living in Paris in her 20s, she became friends with Joan Miró, through whom she met her future husband, the Austrian-born artist and critic Wolfgang Paalen. Paalen soon invited her into the circle of the Surrealist artists led by Breton, and in 1936, Breton authorized her first publication À même la terre (On the Bare Ground), with an engraving by Yves Tanguy on the cover of the book. Under the suggestion of Miró,  Rahon and Paalen visited Altamira in Spain in 1933, where she became deeply interested in prehistoric cave paintings. Soon after that, she met Frida Kahlo, who invited her to Mexico. With the second World War developing in Europe, she decided to head there with Paalen and the Swiss photographer, Eva Sulzer. They started their trip in British Columbia, traveling down the Pacific West Coast, where she started making drawings inspired by the prehistoric totemic carvings and the Indigenous cultures she encountered, later settling in Mexico City. It was here where she began painting under the tutelage of Paalen, and the company of other Surrealist artists like Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo. Inspired by the Altamira caves as well as her surroundings in Mexico City, she began incorporating various media into her paintings, like sand, feathers, and leaves; creating images of the Mexican landscapes intertwined with mythological and prehistoric symbols. Dans la nuit du commencement brings together all these elements, a true example of her celebrated practice and demonstrative of her position among the most prominent Surrealist artists of the time. Currently, her work is included in the Venice Biennale’s main exhibition The Milk of Dreams

    • Provenance

      Manuel Parra, Mexico City (gifted by the artist, while Parra built the artist's studio in San Angel, Mexico City)
      Thence by descent to the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Mexico City, Museo de Arte Moderno, Alice Rahon: Una surrealista en México (1939–1987), 2009, p. 15 (illustrated)
      Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, Alice Rahon: Poetic Invocations, November 26, 2019–March 29, 2020, p. 33, 62 (illustrated, p. 33)
      San Francisco, Gallery Wendi Norris, Alice Rahon, 2021, p. 57


Dans la nuit du commencement

signed, titled, inscribed and dated "Alice Rahon Mexico 44 "Dans la nuit du commencement"" on the reverse
oil and sand on canvas
25 7/8 x 22 in. (65.7 x 55.9 cm)
Executed in 1944.

Full Cataloguing

$50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for $69,300

Contact Specialist

Annie Dolan
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
+1 212 940 1288

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 19 May 2022