Luc Tuymans - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, June 26, 2019 | Phillips

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    Luc Tuymans, 'Schwarzheide', Lot 17

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 27 June 2019

  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Antwerp, Ruimte Morguen, Josefine c’est pas ma femme, 19 March - 30 April 1988
    Cologne, Galerie Maerz, Wahrheit und Dichtung: Vier aus Antwerpen, Danny Devos, Marc Schepers, Luc Tuymans, Stefaan Vermuyten, 9 June - 7 July 1989
    Ghent, Vereniging voor het Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Luc Tuymans, 1990
    Thiers, Le Creux de l’enfer - Centre d’art contemporain, Luc Tuymans, 14 December 1991 - 9 February 1992
    Kunsthalle Bern, Luc Tuymans, 14 March - 26 April 1992, pp. 13 and 43 (illustrated)
    Kassel, Aue Pavilions, Documenta IX, 13 June - 20 September 1992 (illustrated, p. 566; guidebook illustrated, p. 208)
    Toronto, Art Gallery of York; Chicago, Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago; London, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Philadelphia, Goldie Paley Gallery, Moore College of Art and Design, Luc Tuymans, 15 January - 23 April 1995, pp. 86, 88 and 90 (illustrated, p. 86)
    New York, David Zwirner, Francis Picabia and Luc Tuymans: Paintings, 3 May - 17 June 1995
    Philadelphia, Goldie Paley Gallery, Luc Tuymans: Paintings, 1978 – 1993, 6 September - 22 October 1995
    Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen – Albertinum, 4 x 1 im Albertinum, 15 December 1996 - 6 April 1997, p. 56 (illustrated)
    CAPC Musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux, Premonition: Dessins, 6 February - 11 April 1998
    Porto, Fundação de Serralves, Privacy Luc Tuymans/Mirosław Bałka 1958. 1998, 24 September - 22 November 1998, no. 25, pp. 104, 106 and 244 (illustrated, p. 106)
    Salzburg, Salzburger Kunstverein, Luc Tuymans, 29 July - 5 September 1999
    Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art, 12th Biennale of Sydney, 26 May - 30 July 2000, p. 116 (illustrated)
    Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, Luc Tuymans: Sincerely, 22 October - 28 December 2000, pp. 34 and 51 (illustrated)
    Berlin, Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart, Luc Tuymans: Signal, 4 April - 13 May 2001, p. 8 (illustrated)
    Kunstverien Hannover; Munich, Pinakothek der Moderne; Kunstverein St. Gallen Kunstmuseum, Luc Tuymans The Arena, 9 March - 16 November 2003, pp. 66 and 115 (illustrated, p. 66)
    London, Tate Modern; Dusseldorf, K21, Luc Tuymans, 23 June 2004 - 16 January 2005, no. 26, pp. 20, 22 and 61 (illustrated, pp. 20 and 61)
    Columbus, Wexner Center for the Arts; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Dallas Museum of Art; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Luc Tuymans, 17 September 2009 - 8 May 2011, pp. 74-5 and 208 (illustrated, p. 74)
    Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Tür an Tür. Polen – Deutschland, 1000 Jahre Kunst und Geschichte, 23 September 2011 - 9 January 2012, no. 19.27, p. 660 (illustrated)
    Villeneuve d’Ascq, LaM Lille Métropole Musée d’art modern, d’art contemporain et d’art brut, Luc Tuymans. Prémonitions, 30 September 2016 – 8 January 2017

  • Literature

    Luc Tuymans, exh. cat., Provinciaal Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Ostend, 1990, p. 19 (illustrated)
    Robert Van Ruyssevelt, ‘Luc Tuymans’, Kunst Nu, February 1990 (illustrated, cover)
    Documenta IX Liste der Ausgestellten Arbeiten, Kassel, 1992, n.p.
    Anne Milkers, ‘Schilderijen die zichzelf verzegelen: Het werk van Luc Tuymans’, Ons Erfdeel, no. 4, 1993, p. 549
    Positionen Beobachtungen zum Stand der Malerei in den 90er Jahren, exh. cat., Museum Folkwang, Essen, 1995, pp. 80 and 82 (illustrated, p. 82)
    Ulrich Loock, Juan Vicente Aliaga, Nandy Spector eds., Luc Tuymans, London, 1996, pp. 48, 50-51 and 117 (illustrated, p. 50)
    Francis Picabia: fleurs de chair, fleurs d'âme : nus, transparences, tableaux abstraits, exh. cat., Galerie Hauser & Wirth, Cologne, 1997, pp. 64, 66 and 129 (illustrated, p. 64)
    Luc Tuymans: Premonition, Zeichnungen/Drawings, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Bern, 1997, p. 42 (illustrated, p. 19)
    Burkhard Riemschneider and Uta Grosenick, eds., Art Now, Cologne, 2001, p. 166 (illustrated)
    Norio Sugawara, Luc Tuymans: Beyond Schwarzheide, Tokyo, 2007, p. 33 and cover (illustrated, p. 33)
    Het onbewaakte moment: de gecontroleerde ongecontroleerdheid bij het tekenen, exh. cat., Raveel Museum, Brussels, 2011, pl. 3, p. 34 (illustrated)
    Tommy Simoens and Donna Wingate, eds., Luc Tuymans: Exhibitions at David Zwirner 1994-2012, Antwerp, 2013, pp. 37, 39 and 44 (illustrated, pp. 37 and 39; installation view Francis Picabia and Luc Tuymans: Paintings, 1995)
    Dora Osborne, 'Archive and Memory in German Literature and Visual Culture', Edinburgh German Yearbook, Woodbridge, 2015, pp. 95-96 (illustrated, p. 96)
    Eva Meyer-Hermann, ed., Luc Tuymans Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings Volume 1: 1972-1994, New York, 2017, pp. 84-6, 422-4, 426-7 and 489 (illustrated, pp. 85, 423-4 and 426)
    Nina, Siegal, ‘Luc Tuymans, Master of Moral Complexities, Tries Something New’, The New York Times, 21 March 2019, online (illustrated)
    Jackie Wullschläger, ‘The dark art of seduction: Luc Tuymans in Venice’, Financial Times, 22 March 2019, online
    Harriet Lloyd-Smith, ‘In Venice, artist Luc Tuymans is going against the current’, Wallpaper, 2 April 2019, online
    Catherine Milner, ‘The Venice Biennale comes into view’, Financial Times, 19 April 2019, online

  • Catalogue Essay

    Dominating Luc Tuymans's monographic show La Pelle ('The Skin'), currently on view at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice, Schwarzheide, 2019, is the magnified reproduction of a seminal work of the same name that the artist made in 1986. Extended to a monumental scale and constructed entirely out of marble, this sumptuous mosaic was made to traverse the full expanse of the Palazzo's ground floor, serving as a literal foundation - or skin - to the rest of the show. It is one of this year’s most striking artistic manifestations concurrent to the Venice Biennale, and was based on the eponymous painting – more than twenty years its elder – by virtue of its crucial subject matter and delicately understated rendition. Having resided in the same private collection since its execution, the original Schwarzheide, 1986, revels in momentous conceptual and visual significance, and posits as one of Tuymans’s most prodigious masterpieces.

    Delineating the soaring silhouettes of diffident pine trees against an off-white, faded background, Schwarzheide presents the viewer with an image that is both compositionally soothing and atmospherically ominous. Though at first glance the painting’s invocation of natural elements conjures a passively peaceful atmosphere, – steeped in a withdrawn landscape devoid of geographic indicators – the void and silence that envelop the scene exude a more unnerving aura that betrays the heaviness of the composition’s subject matter. Taking its name from a World War II concentration camp, Schwarzheide belongs to a cycle of works that Tuymans commenced in the latter half of the 1980s, touching on themes of loss and violence in the context of the Holocaust. Among these paintings, Tuymans’s chilling Gaskamer (‘Gas Chamber’), illustrating the horrifically ordinary setting of a death room, was displayed alongside the present work at the artist’s major 2004 solo exhibition at Tate Modern, as well as during Documenta IX in Kassel in 1992, directed by Tuymans’s dear friend, Jan Hoet. More abstract and nondescript than the explicitly vicious Gaskamer, Schwarzheide is nonetheless replete with historic associations that compromise its seemingly simple and innocuous appearance. It presents the perspective of prisoners standing behind fences, looking outwards towards an unseeable, unreachable horizon, which itself provides a tragic echo to the similarly distant – if not entirely extinguished – realm of freedom situated beyond.

    While Schwarzheide’s discreet composition gives no precise indication of space and time, it nonetheless emanates a sense of familiarity that, through uncertain strokes and bilious tones, evokes the nostalgic aura of ancient documents. Culled from a contraband drawing made by Alfred Kantor – a concentration camp survivor whose published book of sketches has been a constant source of material for Tuymans – Schwarzheide lives as a reference to the drawings that captive Jews made in labour and concentration camps during the war. Often, these secret drawings would be stripped and scattered to avoid confiscation from guards, yet in Kantor’s case, a few sketches were kept safe, hidden under the floorboards of his barrack. 127 drawings – some originals and some reconstituted from memory upon liberation – were assembled in a book called The Book of Alfred Kantor, accompanied by short texts providing context for each image. While the few surviving originals Kantor made in camps are extremely simple, immediate and understated in appearance, made with a pencil and lined paper, the reflective drawings that followed his liberation brim with added colour, text, and narrative, conjuring a more explicitly violent appearance that nonetheless feels more distant in content. The two original sketches that most obviously served as models for Schwarzheide, – carrying the same trees and deafening sense of silence – are pictorially reduced, unremarkable and muted to the point of eeriness, as if essentially relaying lived experiences with no voice or filter.

    Schwarzheide was in fact the third and last camp that Kantor experienced during the war. Having first been sent to the Terezin ghetto in 1941, at the age of 18, he was then moved to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944, and later to the labour camp at Schwarzheide, north of Dresden, where he worked grueling 12-hour shifts to help rebuild a German synthetic-fuel plant. At the end of his imprisonment in Schwarzheide, Kantor participated in the death march to Theresienstadt, which eventually led him to freedom in May 1945. He was one of 175 prisoners out of 1,000 to survive this march.

    The sketches Kantor made across his three experiences illustrate the daily routine and environments of a Jew during the Holocaust, and, more specifically, of a Jewish man held captive in Terezin, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Schwarzheide – three of twenty main concentration camps in countries occupied by Nazi Germany. Kantor had written: ‘My commitment to drawing came out of a deep instinct of self-preservation and undoubtedly helped me to deny the unimaginable horrors of that time’ (Alfred Kantor, quoted in ‘Depicted Life in Nazi Camps’, The New York Times, 26 January 2003, online). As such, the source image from the present work may be understood as a found document from a desperate moment in history; a shy witness to unfathomably cruel and threatening forces. The black lines puncturing the scene’s vista – the literal reproduction of the paper’s idiosyncratic lines – act as reminders to the oppression that weighed on the lives of insiders during their imprisonment. Their soft, unobtrusive rendition reminds the viewer of how easily this oppression went unseen.

    Crucially, Tuymans notes that the yellowish backdrop coating the surface of Schwarzheide drew from the similarly toned sketches he engaged with in the creation of his work. ‘Schwarzheide is about representation and debt, and the agent object had to be incorporated directly in the work’, the artist remarked. ‘I needed the yellowness and the understatement to be revealed in the painting not as a gimmick, but as a true assessment of reality and time’ (Luc Tuymans, in conversation with Marianne Hoet, 5 June 2019). Similarly, the blueish hue reflected by the pine trees’ green colour serves as a reference to the available materials that were presumably added to the detainees’ drawings – such as charcoal – which Tuymans states produced a kind of glowing shimmer.

    Unfathomably raw and potently suggestive, Kantor’s drawings that Tuymans based the present painting on are able to convey a world of atrocities through unmediated gestures and pure self-expression. Their medium’s inherently imperfect mechanisms and the fallibility of the artist’s hand exude more reality than the moving images of films ever could: they are drenched in the feelings and truth of the man who lived them. Schwarzheide reflects this essential approach and equally conjures an eerily real image, despite its pared-down appearance. Eluding the depiction of crime and violence, the painting visually encapsulates what the German-American philosopher Hannah Arendt called the ‘banality of evil’ – an expression she had used to describe the German-Austrian Nazi Adolf Eichmann. In Arendt’s terms, the banality of evil is ‘word-and-thought-defying’; it is the failure for evil to portray itself, its deeds and its enactors for what they truly are, through the demise of thought and reflection (Hannah Arendt, ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem, 5 parts’, The New Yorker, February-March 1963, online).

    Schwarzheide was painted 41 years after Kantor’s liberation, 23 years following Arendt’s assertion of the ‘banality of evil’, and just a few years after the first airing of Sophie’s Choice and Shoah – two films which brought the Holocaust back to the forefront of the public’s collective unconscious in the 1980s. Schwarzheide additionally came on the heels of Tuymans’s five-year hiatus from the practice of painting, which he had commenced around 1980 to focus on film. A number of film fragments from this period of experimentation informed the artist’s paintings to come; thence, he spent no longer than a day on his painterly creations, and began using techniques of enlargement and cropping. As a result, his images mixed impression, memory, real documents, and imagination; an amalgamation of sources that in turn conjured a confounding aesthetic akin to ‘studies in a kind of monochrome in which colors are subjected to an excess of light, fading whatever intense hue might have once been present to leave behind an indeterminate gray-blue-green-brown, the colour of institutional hallways and old newspapers’ (Helen Molsworth, ‘Luc Tuymans: Painting the Banality of Evil’, Luc Tuymans, Germany, 2011, p. 18). Schwarzheide illustrates this shift prodigiously through the work’s grizzled, almost Impressionistic aesthetic, which reveals the quick but careful gestures of the artist’s hand.

    It is noteworthy that Tuymans himself shares a proximity with the subject at hand. Born in Antwerp in 1958, just over a decade after the end of the war, his mother’s family had formed part of the Dutch resistance, while his Flemish father’s family counted a number of collaborators. Tuymans frequently mused on this historical period being a tough one to navigate psychologically, as it forced him to wrestle with a heavy dual heritage. He exclaimed: ‘It was lingering. A sort of phobia. I had a fascination with that time period, because I had clearly made a decision not to make art for art’s sake. I wasn’t interested in slotting into a tradition of modernism or postmodernism — to try to position myself in such a way was not an option. The only option was to work from the real, and to look at a time period that was close to mine, historically, and which was decisive. With the idea of the Holocaust comes a psychological breakdown. Those elements were culminating, and had to culminate in a lot of imagery’ (Luc Tuymans, in conversation with Jason Farago, ‘An interview with Luc Tuymans’, Even Magazine, Summer 2015, online). The choice of Kantor’s drawing of Schwarzheide as a subject is thus laden with meaning and symbolism; it echoes Tuymans’s own meditations and meanderings on his past, and the tragic circularity of history.

    An icon of painterly skill, conceptual complexity and historical importance, Schwarzheide is one of Tuymans’s most important works, epitomising his capacity to capture some of the most violent passages of history within a simple, understated image. Reflecting the painting’s lasting impact on both Tuymans’s opus and art history itself, Schwarzheide has been included in Tuymans’s most significant exhibitions, including his very first solo show at Ruimte Morguen, Antwerp, in 1988, and his major retrospectives held at Tate Modern, London, in 2004, and at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, between 2009 to 2011.

Property from a Distinguished Private Collection



signed ‘TUYMANS. LUC’ on the reverse
oil on canvas
60.6 x 70.5 cm (23 7/8 x 27 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1986.

£800,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for £1,215,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén

Director, Senior Specialist
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019