Marlene Dumas - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, June 26, 2019 | Phillips
  • Video

    Marlene Dumas, 'Losing (Her Meaning)', Lot 18

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 27 June 2019

  • Provenance

    Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam
    Erik Andriesse, Amsterdam
    Thence by descent to the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Kunsthalle zu Kiel - Christian Albrechts Universität, Marlene Dumas Waiting (for meaning), 10 August - 28 September 1988, backcover (illustrated)
    Amsterdam, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Waiting (for meaning), 25 October – 19 November 1988
    Edinburgh, The Fruitmarket Gallery, 6 Dutch Artists, 28 January - 12 March 1989, n.p. (illustrated)
    Kunsthalle Bern, The Question of Human Pink, 7 July – 20 August 1989, p. 37 (illustrated)
    Eindhoven, Van Abbemuseum, Marlene Dumas Miss Interpreted, 15 March – 3 May 1992, pp. 55, 115 (illustrated, p. 55)
    Kassel, Aue Pavilions, Documenta IX, 13 June - 20 September 1992
    The Arts Club of Chicago, Marlene Dumas, Works on Paper and Paintings, 1 February - 5 March 1994, n.p.
    Dublin, The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Chlorosis, 11 November - 17 December 1994
    Malmö Konsthall; Castello di Rivoli, The Particularity of Being Human: Marlene Dumas - Francis Bacon, 18 March – 1 October, 1995, p. 121 (illustrated)
    Kunsthalle Emden, Der Akt in der Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, 26 October 2002 – 26 January 2003, pp. 199, 267 (illustrated, p. 215)
    Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (KMSKA), Gorge(l): Beklemming en verademing in de kunst / Oppression and Relief in Art (1840-2006), 7 October 2006 - 7 January 2007, p. 137 (illustrated, pl. 48)
    Cape Town, Iziko South African National Gallery Johannesburg, The Standard Bank Gallery, Marlene Dumas: Intimate Relations, 7 November 2007 – 29 March 2008, p. 134 (illustrated, p. 70)
    Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art; New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Houston, The Menil Collection, Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave, 22 June 2008 – 21 June 2009, p. 265 (illustrated, p. 253)
    Dordrechts Museum, STOP MAKING SENSE: Nederlandse schilderkunst uit de jaren 80 - Nederlandse schilderkunst uit de jaren '80, 6 October 2013 – 19 January 2014, pp. 44 – 47 (illustrated, p. 45)
    Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; London, Tate Modern; Basel, Fondation Beyeler; Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden, 6 September 2014 – 13 September 2015, p. 186 (illustrated, p. 46)

  • Literature

    Renée Steenbergen, 'Dumas,’ NRC Handelsblad, 4 November 1988, n.p. (illustrated)
    IS in de HAL, exh. cat., Rotterdam: Stichting fonds voor beeldende kunsten, vormgeving en bouwkunst, 1989, p. 76 (illustrated)
    Catherine van Houts, 'Een plaatje van de atoomboom aan de muur,’ Het Parool, 10 February 1990, p. 49
    Ella Reitsma, 'Als je geen keuzes maakt, faal je ook nooit. Je kunt altijd zeggen dat het ding niet af is Beeld en betekenis in de kunst van Marlene Dumas,’ Vrij Nederland, 24 February 1990, pp. 18-22
    Ingrid Schaffner,'Erotische vertoningen van innerlijke verwarring. Marlene Dumas in het Van Abbemuseum/Erotic Displays of Mental Confusions: Marlene Dumas at the Van Abbemuseum,' Kunst & Museumjournaal, vol. 3, no. 6, 1992, p. 29 (illustrated, cover)
    Marlene Dumas, 'De muze is uitgeput,' Ik geef mezelf de horizon: kunstenaarsteksten tussen theorie en filosofie, Amsterdam Rijksakademie/Uitgeverij Perdu, 1992, pp. 41-49 (illustrated, p. 123)
    Cornée Jacobs, ‘Marlene Dumas en de erotische blik van de kijker,’ Utrechts Nieuwsblad, 31 March 1992, n.p. (illustrated)
    Ed Wingen, 'Dumas zet Sneeuwwitje in het verkeerde sprookje: Na het Van Abbemuseum naar de Documenta,’ De Telegraaf, 3 April 1992, p. 19
    Bert Bauwelinck, 'Wolfijzers voor psycho-analisten: Marlene Dumas in het Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven,’ Gazet van Antwerpen, 30 April 1992, n.p.
    Marina Warner, 'Marlene Dumas: In the Charnel House of Love’ and ‘Im Beinhaus der Liebe', Parkett, no. 38, December 1993, p. 77, 83, 92, 98, 114 and 118 (illustrated, p. 92)
    Marlene Dumas: Models, exh. cat., Salzburger Kunstverein, 1995, p. 10 (illustrated)
    Paul Depondt, 'Verwantschap in een Turijns knekelhuis,’ de Volkskrant (Kunst & Cultuur), 23 June 1995, p. 1
    Walter Barten, 'Zowel de wanhoop om, als het geluk van het bestaan,’ Het Financieele Dagblad, 9 September 1995, n.p.
    Neal David Benezra and Mirosław Bałka, Distemper: Dissonant Themes in the Art of the 1990's, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., 1996, p. 35
    Leontien Wegman, 'Chaos is mijn talent: Interview met de kunstenares Marlene Dumas,’ Elegance, November 1997, pp. 113-117 (illustrated, p. 114)
    Eight People from Europe: Marlene Dumas, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, Gunma, 1998, fig. no. 7 (illustrated, p. 25)
    Dominic van den Boogerd, Barbara Bloom, Mariuccia Casadio and Ilaria Bonacossa, Marlene Dumas, London, 1999, p. 32 and 238 (illustrated, p. 53)
    Marianne Theunissen, 'Naakte modellen,’ The Dummy Speaks: tijdschrift voor jongeren over beeldende kunst, no. 2, 1999, n.p (illustrated)
    Eline van der Vlist, 'Face Value,'Modern Painters, vol. 21, June 2008, pp. 82-87 (illustrated, p. 84)
    Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, 'Biting and Bruised,' Artnet News, 2008, online (illustrated)
    Annelie Pohlen, 'Marlene Dumas: Schillernde Models und müde Müde Musen oder wie die Malerei den Blick in Verlegenheit bringt,' Kunstforum International, no. 199, October/December 2009, pp. 234-245 (illustrated, p. 235)
    Victoria Sadler, 'Dark, Haunting and Extraordinary: Marlene Dumas at Tate Modern,' The Huffington Post, 6 April 2015, online
    James Cahill, 'Marlene Dumas Amsterdam, London and Basel,' The Burlington Magazine, April 2015, p. 279

  • Catalogue Essay

    An early masterpiece by Marlene Dumas, Losing (Her Meaning), 1988, draws the viewer into an ethereal scene beautifully painted in a sumptuous palette of moody blues and greens. A nude female figure floats in a pool of water, her luminescent body refracted in the dark waters as if illuminated by the moon. Painted in 1988, Dumas conceived of this work in tandem with Waiting (for Meaning) for her important international solo museum show at the Kunsthalle zu Kiel. Highlighted on back and front cover of the exhibition catalogue, respectively, these two paintings are widely celebrated as setting the conceptual and formal foundation for the discrete series of paintings of reclining female nudes that includes Snowwhite and the Next Generation, Centraal Museum, Utrecht, Snowwhite and the Broken Arm, Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, and The Ritual, Musées de la Ville de Strasbourg. While Waiting (for Meaning) entered the collection of the Kunsthalle zu Kiel, the present work was acquired by Dumas’s fellow artist and close friend Erik Andriesse. Remaining in the same family collection since his passing in 1993, Losing (Her Meaning) has been included in all major Dumas exhibitions in the past three decades – from Documenta 9 and her seminal Miss Interpreted solo show at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven in 1992, to, most recently, The Image as Burden, which travelled from the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, to Tate Modern, London, and The Beyeler Foundation, Basel, in 2014-2015.

    When Dumas created the present work for her 1988 exhibition at the Kunsthalle zu Kiel, she had established herself as one of the leading post-conceptual painters in Europe alongside artists such as René Daniëls, Erik Andriesse and Luc Tuymans. It was in 1985 that Dumas triumphantly returned to painting after a five-year hiatus, developing a complex approach to figurative painting that took as a starting point her visual archive of art historical reproductions, news clippings, and photographic imagery. While Dumas based Waiting (For Meaning) on a 1970s photograph by David Hamilton depicting a female nude outstretched languorously on a bed, for the present work she took as a point of departure an image of a woman snorkeling from a thrift store nudist magazine, which her gallerist Paul Andriesse had gifted to Dumas for her archive.

    Transformative rather than mimetic, Dumas’s process of painting exploits the physicality of paint to undermine the photographic source material. Like her predecessor Edvard Munch, Dumas relishes in the materiality of painting; here, she liberally layers paint to evoke the depth and darkness of the sea, while simultaneously covering the ground with loose brushstrokes, allowing for areas of the canvas to remain exposed. ‘I especially admire in Munch that each brushstroke can be traced,’ Dumas has written. ‘The canvas breathes anxiety, caused by the dynamic movements of his brushstrokes’ (Marlene Dumas, ‘Munch – And why I like him’, The Power of the Avant-Garde, Paris, 2016, p. 18). As with Munch, Dumas’s brushstrokes and moody colour palette infuse the canvas with an expressive immediacy and sensuality.

    Dumas has cited her encounter of Munch’s illustrated poem Alpha and Omega in 1981 as particularly formative. As she writes, ‘He paints modern love stories, not only between men and women, but also between us and nature. How we all struggle with affection, alienation and dying’ (Marlene Dumas, ‘Munch – And why I like him’, The Power of the Avant-Garde, Paris, 2016, p. 18). A similar existentialism permeates Losing (Her Meaning). It is almost as if Dumas here presents us with an imagined vignette of the lone figure in Munch’s Mermaid, 1896, frozen in time as she swims moonlit waters. Equally calling to mind the motif of the floating woman in John Everett Millais’s Ophelia, 1851-1852, the present work exemplifies how Dumas’s has here transformed an innocuous leisure image into a more charged apparition imbued with sinister undertones.

    While Dumas had previously focused on frontal portraits, works such as the present one exemplify how she shifted towards the motif of reclining female nudes – a loaded subject matter in the context of the politicised art world of the 1980s. ‘The paintings Waiting (For Meaning) and Losing (Her Meaning)…’ curator Cornelia Butler stated, ‘are pivotal in terms of unpacking the problem of the female body’ (Cornelia Butler, Measuring Your Own Grave, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2008, p. 63). As Dumas explained of this series, ‘After having used confrontational and frontal compositions for a long time (the big eyes and faces), it was time to turn the gaze away. "The death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world", said E.A. Poe…and a naked one even more so Roger Vadim could add’ (Marlene Dumas, ‘Waiting for Meaning’, 1988, in Miss Interpreted, exh. cat., Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 1992, p. 52). With Losing (Her Meaning), Dumas both plays into this tragic-romantic trope and challenges the male-dominated tradition of the female nude in art history at large.

    While challenging existing notions of beauty, this subject also served Dumas as the means to claim her status as a woman painter working within a largely male figurative tradition – evidenced at the time within the movement of Neo-expressionism. As Neal Benezra argued with regard to Waiting (For Meaning), ‘the combination of image and title suggests that the figure lies awaiting inspiration’. In the present work Dumas conversely, ‘replaces the bed with a pool of water and inverts the figure as if to drown her. Dumas’s unmistakable point here is that the role of the female model throughout art history…may be likened to that of the woman generally’ (Neal Benezra, Distemper, Dissonant Themes in the Art of the 1990s, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1996, p. 35).

    The female nude also serves Dumas as an analogy to interrogate the crisis of representation dominating the post-modern art discourse at the time. Reflecting on the status of painting, Dumas put forward: ‘…They are looking for Meaning as if it was a Thing. As if it was a girl, required to take her panty off. As if she would want to do so, as soon as the true interpreter comes along. As if there was something to take off’ (Marlene Dumas, ‘The Artwork as Misunderstanding’, 1999, Sweet Nothings, New York, 2015, p. 60). Dumas ingeniously delves into this desire for meaning with the present work. As James Cahill has indeed argued in relation to the figure in this work, ‘Whether she is diving or drowning is pointedly unclear. Poised between agency and passivity, the anonymous woman can be read as an allegory of Dumas’s art’ (James Cahill, ‘Exhibitions, Marlene Dumas’, The Burlington Magazine, April 2015, p. 280).

    Indeed, the open-ended image perfectly conveys the notion of indeterminacy and duality that lie at the core of Dumas’s practice. Dumas probes the fraught relationship between representation and interpretation through her pointed combination of title and image: the title Losing (Her Meaning) conjures a number of associations, but immediately it would appear to suggest the futility of ‘waiting for meaning’ thematised in its companion piece. Meaning is crucially made and re-made within each new context and with each viewer. While Losing (Her Meaning) then powerfully encapsulates the core tenets of Dumas's post-conceptual practice, it above all remains a beautiful ode to the sensuality and pleasure of painting – beautifully exemplifying the painterly virtuosity that has rightfully made Dumas one of the most preeminent figurative painters of our time.

Property of a Private European Collector


Losing (Her Meaning)

signed and titled 'Losing her meaning M Dumas' on the reverse
oil on canvas
50 x 70 cm (19 5/8 x 27 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1988.

£400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for £1,215,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén

Director, Senior Specialist
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019