Luc Tuymans - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 13, 2023 | Phillips
  • “I thought I had made something original, and then discovered that it was impossible. The idea of the original faded away and after a short crisis that gave me a new idea: all you can do is make an authentic forgery. I wanted the paintings to look old from the start, which is important because they are about memory”
    —Luc Tuymans



    One of nine works belonging to Belgian artist Luc Tuyman’s Les Revenants series, Rome explores the haunting power of images and their afterlife, giving form to the artist’s ongoing inquiry into the relationship between illusion and reality, seeing and believing, and the forms and functions of visual culture. Followed first by Forever: The Management of Magic, which centred on the Disney industry, and Against the Day which looked critically at reality television, Les Revenants was the first in a trilogy of series which dealt directly with the image as an instrument of power. Working from found and second-hand imagery, the series includes paintings of film stills (Exorcist; The Valley) and press shots of historic events (The Deal) in order to explore Tuymans long-standing interest in the history of the Jesuit Order, its influence on Europe’s socio-political landscape, and the persistence of religious power in society. Coming to auction for the first time, this important work has been on continuous long-term loan first to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and then the Kunstmuseum in The Hague.


    Giovanni Paolo Panini, The Interior of St Peter’s, Rome, 1750, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit. Image: Detroit Institute of Arts, Gift of Mrs. Edgar R. Thom, 56.43


    Captured from an elevated angle, sharply cropped, and executed in washes of pale pastel hues that evoke the faded quality of old photographs and film stills, Rome presents us with a cinematic snapshot of the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. The largest painting of the series, the scale of the composition lends itself to the monumentality of the scene, the thronging congregation dwarfed by the sheer size and majesty of the building and of the occasion, bearing witness to the elevation of Belgian Archbishop Danneels to the rank of Cardinal. Aside from the specifics of the historical moment pictured here, the architectural heft of the basilica - its walls flanked by enormous and beautifully carved sculptures, and twisted columns thrusting heavenward like billowing columns of smoke - speaks powerfully to the theatrical nature of religious ceremony, the vast weight of Catholic tradition, and the reverence that these spaces still inspire.


    As the title suggests, the impressive Basilica stands in a metonymic relationship to both the Catholic Church and to Rome itself, the larger city within which the bureaucratic engine of the Vatican is nestled. So embedded is the meaning of these messages that even the ghostly evocation of the building, here rendered in Tuymans’ characteristically muted palette, summons a network of associations to do with the structure of the Catholic Church and its systems of power – and, most importantly, the role of images in disseminating its more abstract ideas.



    Reimagining the Image

    ‘‘It was hard to get the values right, to decide how far the contrasts could go, how I could sharpen the blur and paint all those colours into each other while giving them that light-emitting power in their stratification.’’
    —Luc Tuymans

    Working from found and second-hand images that he photographs, manipulates, and then translates into paint, Tuymans calls into question the imagined relationship between the photographic image and truth, following the principle ‘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 directly onto the still-wet white ground of his canvases, Tuymans pushes his compositions to the point of dissolution, the bleached and blurred qualities of his paintings the result of flurries of small, narrow brushstrokes. Speaking directly about Rome, Hans Theys elaborates on Tuyman’s process: ‘The painting was made swiftly. It is extremely effective. It shows the power of the image as something leprous, something tattered, something perishable which at the same time can be magical. The work was based on a home-made print of a digitally compressed image, with the result that the coloration is reminiscent of illustrations in old textbooks. The reality has the air of a disintegrating cardboard theatre or thousands of scattered, tiny patches of light.'ii


    Gerhard Richter, Stadtbild, Madrid, 1973, San Franscisco Museum of Modern Art (long-term loan from a private collection). Image/Artwork: © Gerhard Richter 2023 (0210)


    In their mediation of second-hand images and interrogation into the relationship between history and its representation, visual technologies and power, Tuymans work follows similar lines of inquiry to those taken by Gerhard Richter in his innovative Photo Paintings. Like Richter, Tuymans cleaved to painting during a time when conceptual art had declared the medium dead, finding in it the only medium appropriate for an investigation into the questions of power, memory, and visual representation.


    First shown together at Zeno X Gallery in Antwerp in the 2007 exhibition of the same name, works from the series have been included in some of Tuyman’s most significant subsequent exhibitions, including his first major American retrospective in 2009, and his 2019-2020 Palazzo Grassi presentation. Only three works from the series have appeared at auction, with others being held in the esteemed Pinault Collection and Three Moons resides in the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich.



    Luc Tuymans | Studio Visit | Tate Shorts, 2012


    Collector’s Digest

    • The present work is one of the nine that Tuymans executed in 2007 as part of his Les Revenants series. Only three of the works have appeared at auction before, others being held in the esteemed Pinault Collection and Three Moons resides in the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich.

    • Most recently the subject of an exhibition of new works with David Zwirner Gallery in New York, Tuymans has exhibited widely, with major institutional exhibitions at National Portrait Gallery, London; Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and most recently at Palazzo Grassi, Venice in 2019.

    • Coming to auction for the first time, Rome was first exhibited with the full Les Revenants series at Zeno X, Antwerp, in 2007 and has been on continuous long-term loan first to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and then the Kunstmuseum in The Hague, since. 

    • 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.



    i Cristina Ruiz, ‘Luc Tuymans: “People are becoming more and more stupid, insanely stupid”’, The Art Newspaper, 27 March 2019, online

    ii Hans Theys, 'On Old Ghosts and Things that Don't Pass By', Hans Theys, 17 April, 2007, online.

    • Provenance

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

    • Exhibited

      Antwerp, Zeno X Gallery, Luc Tuymans – Les Revenants, 25 April – 2 June 2007
      Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum (on loan 2007-2010)
      The Hague, Kunstmuseum Den Haag (on loan 2012-2023)
      The Hague, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Luc Tuymans: Grafisch werk 1989-2012, 16 February – 2 June 2013

    • Literature

      Eric Rinckhout, ‘Tuymans schildert de macht der jezuïeten’, De Morgen, 21 April 2007
      Jan Van Hove, ‘The Jesuit pranks of Luc Tuymans’, De Standaard, 25 April 2007
      Wim Daneels, ‘The Jesuit pranks of Luc Tuymans’, Het Nieuwsblad, 25 April 2007
      Hans Theys, ‘On Old Ghosts and Things that Don’t Pass By’, H Art, May 2007
      Dorine Esser, ‘Ik slaag er niet in iets vrolijks te schilderen’, Isel, May-June 2007, pp. 19, 29 (illustrated)
      Jeroen Laureyns, ‘Geschilderde geruchten’, Knack, 6 June 2007
      Michele Robecchi, ‘Luc Tuymans’, Flash Art, October 2007, pp. 130-132
      Jan Koenot, ‘De macht van den jezuïeten en de onmacht van beelden: Trugblik op Luc Tuymans’ serie ‘Les Revenants’’, Streven, November 2007, p. 870
      Norio Sugawara, Luc Tuymans: Beyond Schwarzheide, Tokyo, 2007, p. 8 (illustrated)
      Pablo Sigg and Tommy Simoens, eds., Luc Tuymans: Is It Safe?, London, 2010, pp. 75, 215 (illustrated, p. 75)
      Frank Demaegd, ed., Luc Tuymans, Zeno X Gallery: 25 Years of Collaboration, Antwerp, 2016, pp. 125, 269 (illustrated)
      Luc Tuymans, Gottfried Boehm, T.J. Clark and Hans M. De Wolf, The Image Revisited, Belgium, 2018, p. 139
      Eva Meyer-Hermann, ed., Luc Tuymans: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Volume 3: 2007-2018, New York, 2019, no. LTP 387, pp. 14-15 (illustrated, p. 15)

Property of an Esteemed European Collection



signed and dated ‘Luc Tuymans 007’ on the reverse
oil on canvas
231.5 x 312.5 cm (91 1/8 x 123 in.)
Painted in 2007.

Full Cataloguing

£1,200,000 - 1,800,000 ‡♠

Sold for £1,500,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 October 2023