Luc Tuymans - 20th Century to Now London Friday, June 30, 2023 | Phillips
  • "I have a high distrust for images, even my own."
    —Luc Tuymans
    One of the most influential and critically acclaimed artists of his generation, throughout his career Luc Tuymans has challenged the seemingly straightforward relationships between seeing and believing, interrogating the forms and functions of images and the ways in which truth and falsehood can become inextricably bound together. The three-panel diptych Illegitimate VII hinges on this point; magnified almost into abstraction, the closely cropped composition is not immediately legible, although it is clearly rooted in the observable world.

    During an era when his contemporaries were moving increasingly into abstraction, Tuymans cleaved to the representational, coming to prominence in the early 1990s with the strange and affecting images that explored history and its representation, the strangeness of quotidian objects, and the ways in which power, technology, and the image all work on us. Executed in the artist’s Antwerp studio in 1997 and one of the nine paintings that make up the Illegitimate series presented as a single exhibition with Zeno X Gallery in the same year, Illegitimate VII shares in the same light tones and softly diffused qualities that is so characteristic of Tuymans painting during this period.

    Working in broad brushstrokes, Tuymans achieved this effect by rubbing back the painted surface and applying further layers to the still wet surface; unvarnished, the atmospheric compositions take on the cognitive quality of memory or dreams, falling just beyond our full comprehension, even as we grasp their contours. This is, perhaps, the ‘illegitimacy’ at the heart of the title - a nod to the ways in which, while painting was itself deemed an 'illegitimate' art form at one point, all of the images that reach us are often second hand or mediated – even if only through our own layers of memory and perception. This quality is especially emphasised in the present work, where the composition is further fragmented across the three panels, leaving us to reconnect and complete the object in our own minds.
    “My paintings are not smack in your face, but there’s a history of violence not portrayed, but constantly there, at different levels: mutilation, disappearance, not showing things. Violence creates many more images than happiness will ever be able to.”
    —Luc Tuymans
    Highly cinematic, such visual devices prompt reflections on the nature of visual memory, and of the image and its interpretation, themes which were directly addressed when the work was included in the group exhibition Dedicated to an opposition presented at Extra City Kunsthalle in Antwerp in 2005. Meditating on the relationships between art and society historically and today, the exhibition took two art historical events as its framework – Edvard Munch’s 1903 intervention in curatorial practice when hung paintings against white walls for the first time, and Théodore Géricault’s 1818-19 execution of La radeau de la Méduse, the first painting to respond directly to a newspaper article focused on the scandal surrounding a shipwreck two years earlier. In this way, the exhibition asked viewers to consider the close relationships between art and the media, and to how and what information we receive through that medium.

    The relationship of art and image to history and memory was also a central component of Tuyman’s 2001 presentation for the Belgian Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia - Mwana Kitoko – Beautiful White Man - which confronted Begium’s colonial history by exploring the withdrawal of imperial rule in the Belgian Congo in 1960. Although Illegitimate VII was not included in this presentation, the full series was reproduced in the accompanying catalogue, drawing close stylistic and conceptional connections between these works which take quotidian objects and make them somehow strange in order to highlight the inherent treachery of images.

    Currently the subject of an exhibition of new paintings at David Zwirner in New York, Tuymans has been been honoured with major retrospectives including at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice, in 2019; the Museum aan de Stroom in Antwerp, which also travelled to the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2016; and Luc Tuymans, held at Tate Modern in London in 2004.  The present work was also included in a major three-part 2008 exhibition which travelled between Budapest, Warsaw, and Munich. Other works from the series are held in the collection of Tate Modern, London.


    Luc Tuymans – Studio Visit | Tate Shots, featuring works from the series

    • Provenance

      Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Thence by descent to the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Antwerp, Zeno X Gallery, Luc Tuymans - Illegitimate, 4 December 1997 - 24 January 1998
      Porto, Fundação de Serralves, Privacy : Luc Tuymans, Miroslaw Balka, 1958-1998, 24 September - 22 November 1998, p. 32 (illustrated, p. 36)
      Bonn, Bonner Kunstverein, Transmitter : Asta Gröting, Mark Manders, Luc Tuymans, Martin Walde, 22 September - 14 November 1999, pp. 62-63 (illustrated)
      Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, Luc Tuymans: Sincerely, 22 October - 28 December 2000, p. 9 and p. 90 (illustrated)
      Mexico City, Museo Tamayo, Tracing, 23 March - 20 June 2004, p. 13 (illustrated)
      Antwerp, Extra City Kunsthalle, Dedicated to a Proposition, 20 November - 20 February 2005
      Budapest, Műcsarnok Kunsthalle; Warsaw, Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Luc Tuymans: Retrospective, 15 December 2007 - 17 August 2008

    • Literature

      Eva Wittocx, ed., Luc Tuymans: Mwana Kitoko, Beautiful White Man, exh. cat., XLIX Venice Biennale, Belgian Pavilion; Ghent, Stedlijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, 2001, p. 29 (illustrated)
      Kristof Simoens, 'Hoe de duurste, levende Belgische kunstenaar van het moment zijn oeuvre beheert', Bizz, October 2004, p. 97 (illustrated)
      Axel Vervoordt, ed., Academia: Qui es-tu?, exh. cat., La chapelle de l' École national supérieure des beaux-arts, Paris; MER. Paper Kunsthalle, 2008, n.p.
      Frank Demaegd, ed., Luc Tuymans: Zeno X Gallery, 25 Years of Collaboration, Antwerp, 2016, p. 77 and p. 265 (illustrated)


Illegitimate VII

signed and dated 'Luc Tuymans '97' on the reverse of the centre part
oil on canvas, triptych
left part 59.6 x 38.2 cm (23 1/2 x 15 in.)
centre part 83.1 x 62.5 cm (32 3/4 x 24 5/8 in.)
right part 75 x 30.1 cm (29 1/2 x 11 7/8 in.)
overall approximately 83.1 x 160.8 cm (32 3/4 x 63 1/4 in.)

Painted in 1997.

Full Cataloguing

£250,000 - 350,000 ‡♠

Sold for £279,400

Contact Specialist

Leonor de Osma
Head of Sale, 20th Century to Now
T +44 20 7901 7912
M +44 7584 086 052

20th Century to Now

London Auction 30 June 2023