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  • Video

    Marlene Dumas, 'Chained to the Bed for 15 Years', Lot 30

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 13 February

  • Provenance

    Gallery Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam
    Jack Tilton Gallery, New York
    Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1990)

  • Exhibited

    Kunsthalle Bern, The Question of Human Pink, 7 July – 20 August 1989
    New York, Jack Tilton Gallery, Lynch to Lucier, 2 - 27 October 1990

  • Literature

    Wouter Welling, 'Omtrekkende bewegingen: Citaten uit brieven van Marlene Dumas', Artefactum, vol. 6, no. 27, February-March 1989, p. 33 (illustrated, p. 33)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Chained to the Bed for 15 Years: Marlene Dumas and the Male Nude
    Text by Dominic van den Boogerd

    The drawing Chained to the Bed for 15 Years, made in 1986-87, marks a significant moment in the development of the work of South-African artist Marlene Dumas: it is the first large size work devoted to the subject of the male nude. It was included in the important solo-exhibition The Question of Human Pink in Bern, Switzerland, in 1989, where it was presented alongside several other drawings and paintings of reclining male and female nudes. The reason why Dumas’ male nudes have not attracted the same amount of attention as her female nudes can only be subject to speculation. That they deserve our attention alltogether is however without doubt.

    The present work shows a naked man lying on his back on a sofa. His head is tilted backwards; we cannot see his face. His ankles and his left hand are tied to the legs of the bed. The body and the bed take up most part of the image, the scene only just fitting within the frame. The man’s gently curved legs and his delicate feet look elegant and stylised, like those of athletes depicted on antique Greek vases. The torso seems to consist of individual parts: the well-trained musculature of the breast, the tummy which is tense and smooth, the crotch dissolving into a shade of blue. The title of the work, Chained to the Bed for 15 Years, sounds like a sensational headline culled from the Sunday papers, heralding a cheesy story of lust and crime. Fake news is real entertainment.

    The image is drawn in fluent lines, rough scratches and crosshatchings in black and brown, as well as lighter colours such as orange, blue and white. There is unrest and nervousness in the way the drawing has been executed. ‘Drawings are closer and quicker in conveying immediate feelings’, Marlene Dumas has stated, adding that drawings are ‘still to be found in toilets, too’ (Marlene Dumas, Sweet Nothings. Notes and Texts, London, 2014, pp. 66 and 73). Expressive drawings on sheets of paper, in washed ink, crayon, pencil, or a combination of graphic techniques, form a large part of Dumas’ internationally renowned oeuvre. The present work clearly reflects the directness and vividness typical for Dumas’ idiosyncratic style of drawing.

    Chained to the Bed for 15 Years dates from a period when the artist focused primarily on the possibilities of one motif in particular, that of the reclining nude. In the context of the politicised art world of the 1980s, fuelled by the feminist critique of the so-called Pictures Generation (spearheaded by Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Bloom), the representation of the female nude was controversial, to say the least. The naked woman, once the favourite muse of the artist, had become a ‘problem’, as curator Cornelia Butler put it (Cornelia Butler, ‘Painter as Witness’, Measuring Your Own Grave, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2008, p. 63). In the drawing series Defining in the Negative, 1988, Marlene Dumas demonstrated, in a hilarious way, the trouble with casting undressed ladies in art. Next to sketchily drawn nude figures are notes such as ‘I won’t pose for Mr. Salle’, ‘I won’t sleep in Mr. Fischl’s bed’, and ‘I won’t be hung upside down for Mr. Baselitz’. Not that Marlene Dumas had a problem with men who paint naked women, but as there were hardly any female painters active in this area, male artists simply constitued her only frame of reference (Dominic van den Boogerd, ‘Hang-ups and Hangovers in the Work of Marlene Dumas’, Marlene Dumas, London, 1999, pp. 30-85).

    Challenging the male-dominated tradition of the female nude in art history, Dumas questions whether or not the nude could still be a meaningful subject for painting today. What made her explorations of the genre exceptional is the fact that she did not limit her subject matter to the ‘second sex’. As one of the very few artists at the time, she focused on the representation of the male nude.

    The most debated example perhaps is The Particularity of Nakedness, 1987, residing in Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven – a large and elongated painting representing a naked man. The horizontally stretched out figure, set against blue skies, is carressed by calmness and peacefulness. As he lays there flat on his back, his head sligthly bended towards us, we are able to look straight into his bright blue eyes. The title of the work stems from the essay ‘Ways of Seeing’, 1972, in which art critic John Berger draws a distinction between nudity and nakedness. Referring to Peter Paul Rubens’s portrait of his newlywed wife Helena Fourment (Helena Fourment in a Fur Coat, 1636-1638, also known as Het Pelske [Little Fur Coat], Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), Berger underlines the values of banality and imperfection: it is the softness of her chubby flesh that prevents her from turning into ‘a nude’. Whereas the nude is somehow impersonal, devoid of sexuality and often employed to embody ideals of high esteem, nakedness is controversial, first and foremost physical, bodily, and charged with eroticism. The somewhat bashful gesture with which Helena wraps the fur around her body to conceal herself from the public eye, pushing up her breasts unintentionally, contributes to the firm impression that Rubens’s depiction is erotic rather than academic, personal instead of generic, offering us ‘the promise of her extraordinary particularity’ (John Berger, ‘Ways of Seeing’, 1972). Clearly, Rubens’ scarcely clad spouse is of the same league as Dumas’ relaxing man, who, precisely because of his nakedness, is shrouded in an air of defencelessness and vulnerability.

    Chained to the Bed for 15 Years is the first of many larger works questioning the representation of masculine nudity. The source for this work can be found in a series of small drawings that Marlene Dumas had produced in 1986. A wooden box, containing 23 graphic works by 23 Dutch artists, De Slagersvriend 1 was the first in a series of art editions initiated by Amsterdam painter Eli Content. The number of copies was strictly limited to the number of participating artists, each individual artist receiving one number of the edition. Marlene Dumas’ contribution to the first portfolio consists of 23 handmade drawings in ink on paper, entitled Cultivated emotion – the art lover. Each one of them depicts a naked man, reclining on a bed, looking in ecstasy to a framed work of art on the wall. In these rapidly sketched, cartoonish drawings, love for art is linked to sexual ecstasy.

    The particular pose of the reclining man goes back to a reproduction of a classic sculpture which Marlene Dumas holds in her image archives since many years. It is a photograph of the Barberini Faun, 220 BC, a life-size marble statue that is permanently displayed in the Glypthothek in Munich. The sculpture is either a Greek original or a Roman copy of high quality, though its present form might largely be the result of successive restorations. Nudity in Greek art was of course nothing new; the blatant sexuality of this reclining faun however is unrivaled. Apparently drunk or intoxicated, his wantonly spread legs focus all attention on his genitals. Marlene Dumas captures the eroticism of the male nude, mostly absent in feminist art, but undeniably present in the work of artists such as Jean Cocteau and David Hockney (note that Dumas’ The Particularity of Nakedness has been criticised for being a ‘homosexual painting’). Dumas renders the chin and the throat of the reclining man as seen from below, a viewpoint similar to the camera-angle of many shots in Andy Warhol’s film Sleep, 1964, registering his lover John Giorno sleeping naked in a bed.

    Since 1988, the male nude has reappeared in Dumas’ work more than once: in the many drawings of (In Search of) The Perfect Lover, 1994, in the exhibition Youth and Other Demons at Gallery Koyanagi, Tokyo, 1996, in the series of drawings referred to collectively as Erotic Room, 1998, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, and in several paintings from the notorious MD-light series, 1999-2000. If the depicted men are sexually attractive, there is often a sleazyness to them – many are modelled after photographs of rent boys, male prostitutes, strippers and porn actors. Most recently, the male nude featured in Dumas’ acclaimed series of ink wash-drawings illustrating William Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, exhibited at David Zwirner Gallery in New York, 2018 – much to the surprise of visitors, unaware of the fact that Dumas’ naked Adonis has a history. A history initiated by Chained to the Bed for 15 Years.

    Dominic van den Boogerd is an Amsterdam-based art critic and tutor at De Ateliers. Among many publications in art magazines and exhibition catalogues, he co-authored the Phaidon monograph on Marlene Dumas.

  • Artist Biography

    Marlene Dumas

    South African • 1953

    Marlene Dumas was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and raised on her family’s vineyard in the countryside. After beginning her art degree at the University of Cape Town, she decided to continue her studies in the Netherlands: the country where she’d build her career as an artist, and still lives today. In 1995, she represented the Netherlands at the Venice Biennale. 

    Dumas is best known as a painter, using both oil and watercolor. She typically works from a reference photograph, which could be purchased, from her own camera roll or collected from print media. Her work focuses on the human body, and though figurative, she often distorts her subjects with loose, painterly brushstrokes to make plain their emotional state. Deeply influenced by growing up during Apartheid, Dumas’ work centers around themes of repression, misogyny, violence and sexuality. Today, Dumas is one of the most expensive living female artists at auction, with her work first selling for over $1 million in 2004. 

    View More Works

Property of a Distinguished Private Collector


Chained to the Bed for 15 Years

signed and dated ‘Marlene Dumas ‘86’ lower centre; further titled ‘Chained to the Bed for 15 Years’ upper centre
gouache and crayon on paper
118.4 x 291.8 cm (46 5/8 x 114 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1986-87.

£300,000 - 400,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £325,000

Contact Specialist

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099
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Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 February 2020