Luc Tuymans - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, October 2, 2019 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Video

    Luc Tuymans, 'The Exorcist', Lot 13

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 2 October 2019

  • Provenance

    Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Antwerp, Zeno X Gallery, Luc Tuymans: Les Revenants, 21 April - 2 June 2007

  • Literature

    Eric Rinckhout, 'Tuymans schildert de macht der jezuieten', De Morgen, 21 April 2007, p. 72
    Hans Theys, 'Van oude spoken en dingen die niet voorbijgaan', H-Art, May 2007, p. 3
    Norio Sugawara, Luc Tuymans: Beyond Schwarzheide, Tokyo, 2007, p. 11 (illustrated)
    Pablo Sigg and Tommy Simoens , eds., Luc Tuymans; Is It Safe?, London, 2010, pp. 78, 94, 127 and 214 (illustrated, p. 78)
    Philippa Snow, ‘The Tuymans Rule: Spitting Fire, Drinking Turpentine, and the Art of Being Luc Tuymans’, Modern Matter, no. 3, Autumn/Winter 2012, p. 78
    Luc Tuymans: Zeno X Gallery, 25 Years of Collaboration, exh. cat., Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, 2016, pp. 125 and 270 (illustrated)

    This work will be included in the forthcoming Luc Tuymans Catalogue Raisonné, Volume Three (2007-2018), no. LTP 392, p. 24, being prepared by Dr. Eva Meyer-Hermann, Yale/David Zwirner Books.

  • Catalogue Essay

    In Luc Tuymans’ The Exorcist, painted in 2007, a supine body is seen levitating over a vacant bed, controlled by the spiritual conviction of a priest raising his arms. Rendered with frosty hues of blue, purple and black, the composition is akin to a ghostly screen, oscillating between ethereal realism and eery fiction. Both mimetic and atmospheric, it encapsulates Luc Tuymans’ exquisite storytelling abilities in painting, most often informed by pre-existing narratives in photography, film and illustration. Existing amidst Tuymans’ narrative-driven body of work, The Exorcist draws its core image from the eponymous movie directed by William Friedkin in 1973, in which a young girl becomes inhabited by evil forces as she approaches puberty. Tuymans’ painterly reproduction, drawing from a specific exorcism scene from the film, posits as a thrice-removed simulacrum: it mimics Friedkin’s cinematic iteration, which itself was based on a best-selling novel inspired by true events. A copy of a copy of a copy, The Exorcist presents an imagistic appropriation exacerbated through additional degrees of separation.

    Forming part of a series of nine paintings that Tuymans created on the occasion of a solo exhibition at Zeno X Gallery in Antwerp entitled Les Revenants in 2007, The Exorcist orbits around a subject matter that he continuously referred to throughout his practice: religion, and the potent power of the Jesuit Order. Tuymans had long been fascinated by the Jesuits’ influence on the socio-political landscape of European history, namely the ways in which it seeped through such decisive structures of power as politics, education and media representation. Of the nine works, Three Moons resides in the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, three paintings have been included in Tuymans’ monographic exhibition currently taking place at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, and one – Seal, the painterly reproduction of a Jesuit cachet – appeared in the artist’s first full-scale American survey at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2009.

    In The Exorcist, a form of detachment is made evident by the composition’s cold, bluish tones. Inspired by the pictorial austerity of Léon Spilliaert’s mute, almost monastic canvases, and El Greco’s theatrical treatment of light, Tuymans sought to similarly achieve an ‘extreme image’, reduced to the point of utter clarity. Quoting a lineage of artists who employed powerfully atmospheric language before him, Tuymans additionally infuses his work with a distinct contemporary tone, informed by his appreciation of film and modern cultural icons. With The Exorcist, the link to cinema is evident: culled from a well-known movie, the composition uses filmic codes that Tuymans had relished experimenting with during a five-year hiatus from painting in 1980. During this time, Tuymans’ focus on film allowed him to learn techniques that would heavily inform his subsequent body of painterly work. Here, the slow rise of the little girl’s body and the palpable tension of the encounter suggest movement and motion. Using techniques of enlargement and cropping, Tuymans transforms The Exorcist 's seemingly flat image into a moving still, able to evoke the source image’s layered story with ominous splendour.

    Reflecting The Revenants’ overarching theme, the presence of spirituality takes centre stage in The Exorcist as Father Damien Karras enters the scene, coming to the aid of Regan, the 12-year-old protagonist inhabited by evil spirits. In Friedkin’s film, Father Karras along with his fellow Father Merrin attempt to ward off Regan’s possessor with a Bible, a crucifix and other religious icons. One after the other, they die from wrestling with the force that is haunting the young girl. Here, the single priest standing at the end of Regan’s bed is shown in full command of the situation before the fatal failure; through crystallising this moment, Tuymans upturns the film’s power dynamic: it is no longer Regan’s possessor who is in charge, but Father Karras, whose body language betrays victorious – and supernatural – strength.

    Despite notoriously achieving his works in one day, Tuymans is known to conduct heavy research in the preparation of his paintings. It would not have been lost on the artist that The Exorcist's cinematic predecessor had been influenced by its director’s affinity towards the Jesuit Order. After having witnessed an exorcism at the Vatican, Friedkin had intended his movie to be an ominous tale, as opposed to a gratuitously horrific story. ‘I do believe in the teachings of Jesus’, Friedkin had written. ‘I believe they are incredibly profound and beautiful and we know that this character existed… the supernatural aspect I leave to each person’s conscience and belief system’ (William Friedkin, quoted in ‘Exorcist director says Vatican allowed him to film real ceremony’, The Guardian, 19 May 2016, online). As a result, many choices he made – notably regarding casting – were somewhat tinged; he chose the little known Jason Miller to interpret Father Karras, whom he had initially hired to advise on the accuracy of religious representation in the film. In his eyes, Miller’s spiritual conviction was more persuasive than the comedic talent of any other film star; in his favour, he evinced the likes of Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson and Paul Newman.

    Through its thematic importance and pictorial supremacy, informed by iconography both old and new, The Exorcist stands as an undisputed gem from Tuymans’ Revenants series. Its enigmatic conceptual significance and prodigious graphic rendering, enabled by Tuymans’ superb command of space, light and contrast, captures the crux of the artist’s unique painterly practice, and encapsulates the core tenets – namely the artist’s proximity to cinema on a dual level – that hail him as one of the foremost painters of his generation.

Property from a Private American Collection


The Exorcist

signed and dated 'Luc Tuymans 007' on the reverse
oil on canvas
84.8 x 118.4 cm (33 3/8 x 46 5/8 in.)
Painted in 2007.

£700,000 - 900,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £675,000

Contact Specialist

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


Rosanna Widén
Director, Senior Specialist
+44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 October 2019