Luc Tuymans - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, June 30, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'I wanted to make my paintings look old from the start, which is important because they are about memory.'
    —Luc Tuymans

    A work of quiet complexity executed on a modest scale in delicate, light brushstrokes and emitting an ethereal luminosity, Candy Container combines painterly traditions of portraiture and still life in its closely cropped depiction of a softly rendered pear - the familiar fruit made strange with its inclusion of a ghostly face in its centre. 


    Cutting against the grain as he cleaved to figuration in an era where artists tended towards a more abstract vernacular, Luc Tuymans first came to prominence in the 1990s with his strange and evocative images that explored history and its representation, the machinations of power, technology and the image, and the strangeness of quotidian objects. Executed in 1993, Candy Container dates from this decisive moment in the artist’s critical recognition, the year after his widely-acclaimed documenta presentation, and immediately preceding the first of many exhibitions with David Zwirner. Exhibited shortly after its creation at Tuymans’ 1993 exhibition with Galerie Paul Andriesse in Amsterdam, and traveling to the Hayward Gallery in London the following year for its inclusion in the group show Unbound: Possibilities in Painting, the present work is a striking expression of Tuyman’s painterly practice, and illustrates key themes that run across his oeuvre. 


    The Treachery of Images


    René Magritte, Souvenir de voyage, 1961, private collection. Image: Photothèque R. Magritte /Adagp Images, Paris, / SCALA, Florence, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022
    René Magritte, Souvenir de voyage, 1961, Private Collection. Image: Photothèque R. Magritte /Adagp Images, Paris, / SCALA, Florence, Artwork: © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022


    Engaging with fellow Belgian artist René Magritte’s notion of the ‘treachery of images’ most succinctly presented in his painting of a pipe which is, of course, not a pipe, Candy Container makes playful reference to the Surrealist’s iconic series of paintings and gouaches featuring apples obscuring human faces, or themselves obscured by masks. Creating an immediate visual tension between the visible and the hidden, the apple motif neatly illustrated a key component of Magritte’s Surrealism – a fascination with the limitations of the seen that comes into high relief in the human face and the conflict it stages between what is presented to the world, and what remains inscrutable. Like Magritte, Tuymans exercises a deep distrust towards the image, or of our assumption that what we see is to be believed, the central conceit of his work being  ‘that images are unreliable, that they can offer us no more than a fragment of reality and that our own memories, personal or collective, mislead us.’i


    Painting from source materials such as television, film, and photographs, Tuymans draws direct attention to this, developing a pictorial vernacular of dramatic cropping, softly diffused brushstrokes, and his distinctive, bleached palette of ‘mouldy pastels, cool greys and dead plaster white [making] for blurred, obtuse images’ that explore the fragility of memory, and the limitations of representation.ii Resting delicately on undulating folds of alternating grey tones, Candy Container draws on these formal elements, a cinematic close-cropping used to particular advantage in confounding our sense of scale. Much like in Magritte’s work, set in a starkly bare environment Tuyman’s anthropomorphic pear reads at once like a traditional still life, set upon the folds of a table cloth, and a monumental object set against a low horizon line. Referencing a trend amongst antique Christmas decorations that he also included alongside the present work in his 1993 exhibition with Galerie Paul Andriesse, Tuymans highlights the Surreal in the everyday, the strangeness lurking in plain sight. 


    Luc Tuymans, Still Life, 2002, The Metropolitan Museum, New York
    Luc Tuymans, Still Life, 2002, The Metropolitan Museum, New York. Artwork: © Luc Tuymans

    With a strong sense of historical consciousness borne out of his own family’s experiences of the Second World war, and a keen awareness for the ways in which power and the events of the 20th century have shaped the world we live in today, Tuyman’s work probes the complexities of memory, history and trauma. Although seemingly far removed from the horrifying realities of war and acts of terror, one of Tuyman’s most monumental paintings, Still Life, responds to the seismic events of 9/11 with a delicately rendered arrangement of apples, pears, and a carafe of water inspired by an unfinished painting by Paul Cézanne.


    Justus Junker,  Birne mit Insekten, 1765,  The Städel Museum, Frankfurt
    Justus Junker, Birne mit Insekten, 1765, The Städel Museum, Frankfurt. Image: akg-images


    Representing the transience of life, the use of overripe and rotting fruit was a familiar motif employed in memento mori and Vanitas painting. A reminder not only of the inevitability of death, but of the need to consider our moral actions and the state of our souls in life, the traditional genre emerges as an unlikely but powerful framework for Tuymans to explore his themes. As the artist explains, ‘in a sense, what I do is quite traditional […] that’s exactly the point about painting: its essence is to be central and traditional.’iii Engaging seriously with a tradition of Northern European still life painting, the roots of which loom large in Tuymans’ native Belgium, Candy Container nevertheless embraces a note of absurdism, an ambiguous and compelling image that draws the viewer in to its strange world, giving weight to the suggestion that ‘According to Tuymans, the still life and the portrait are utterly interchangeable; depictions of people and things can tell the same story, as long as the tone is equally hushed, the perspective equally skewed, the cropping equally extreme.’iv


    Collector’s Digest


    • One of the most influential painters working today, Luc Tuymans at once defies painterly convention, and embraces painting as the most traditional of all artistic mediums.


    • Examples of Tuymans work can be found in major international institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, among others.


    • Alongside his painting practice, Tuymans is also an accomplished and active curator, especially showcased in the 2015 exhibition that he organised with London’s Parasol Unit, bringing together six painters of different ages and nationalities. 

    i Cristina Ruiz, ‘Luc Tuymans: “People are becoming more and more stupid, insanely stupid”’, The Art Newspaper, 27 March 2019, online
    ii Gareth Harris, ‘Why Paintings Succeed Where Words Fail’, The Art Newspaper, 1 September 2009, online.  
    iii Luc Tuymans, quoted in Donna Wingate and Tommy Simoens, ed., Luc Tuymans: Exhibitions at David Zwirner, 1994 – 2012, Brussels, 2012, p. 8. 
    iv Ulrich Loock, Luc Tuymans, London, 2003, p. 97. 

    • Provenance

      Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Amsterdam, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Luc Tuymans, 16 October – 24 November 1993
      London, Hayward Gallery, Unbound: Possibilities in Painting, 3 March – 30 May 1994, p.103 (illustrated)
      Berlin, Galerie Isabella Czarnowska, Paul Thek and Luc Tuymans: Why?!, 27 April – 28 July 2012, pp. 29, 112 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Frank-Alexander Hettig, ‘Luc Tuymans’, Kunstforum International, vol. 125, January 1994, p. 378
      David Lillington, ‘Zeitgeist’, Time Out London, no. 1228, 2 March 1994 (illustrated)
      Tim Hilton, ‘Every Which Way but Forwards’, The Independent, 6 March 1994 (illustrated)
      Waldemar Januszczak, ‘A State of Confusion’, The Sunday Times, 13 March 1994
      Adrian Dannatt, ‘London by Numbers: Three Painting Shows’, Flash Art, no. 177, Summer 1994, p. 121 (illustrated)
      Jonathan Turner, ‘Under the Skin: Luc Tuymans’, Tableau, February 1999, p. 84 (illustrated)
      Tim Ackermann, ‘So sehen Sieger aus’, Welt am Sonntag, 29 April 2012
      Frank Demaegd, ed., Luc Tuymans, Zeno X Gallery: 25 Years of Collaboration, Antwerp, 2016, p. 262 (illustrated)
      Eva Meyer-Hermann, ed., Luc Tuymans: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume 1: 1972-1994, New York, 2017, no. LTP 146, pp. 334, 488 (illustrated, p. 335)

Property from a Distinguished Private Belgian Collection


Candy Container

signed and dated ‘Luc Tuymans ’93’ on the reverse; signed and dated ‘Luc Tuymans ’93’ on the stretcher
oil on canvas
74.5 x 60.1 cm (29 3/8 x 23 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1993.

Full Cataloguing

£250,000 - 350,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £352,800

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
+44 7391 402741


Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 30 June 2022