Michaël Borremans - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 16, 2016 | Phillips
  • Provenance

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

  • Catalogue Essay

    "A painting is an object with complex character, and because of the historical dimension it is impossible to treat it impartially. In our reality, a portrayal is also always a reproduction."

    The highly acclaimed Belgian painter Michaël Borremans, is renowned for his ability to tread the line between realism and the surreal. As a painter from the Flemish north, Borremans is keenly aware of the art historical perspective this medium carries, and his style is heavily influenced by past masters from Manet to Velázquez. He notes, “All the imagery of the 20th century and earlier is baggage we have to deal with. My work is an answer to that, a dialogue with that.” ("Michaël Borremans and David Coggins,"Art in America, March 2009, pp. 89-90) Borremans deals with this “baggage” by refreshing his works with elements of ambiguity, mystery and tension. Whereas traditional portraiture often showed well-known characters and aimed to depict their personalities, Borremans uses nameless stereotypes, thus undermining the function of portraiture. Such depersonalized, ghostly figures are placed in indistinguishable surroundings, and, as a result, his paintings possess a strange unease between his painterly style and the surreal atmosphere of the pieces which challenges the sense of realism imposed by his predecessors.

    Michaël Borremans’ Sweet Disposition is a closely cropped depiction of a woman, perhaps a seamstress or carpenter, hunched over her work, the deep shadows obscuring any sense of individuality, locality, or temporality. Having originally studied photography and film, Borremans imbues his paintings with a sense of narrative, but does seemingly all he can to subvert and destroy any defined or strictly logical reading of his pictures. Much as with a film still, the painting delves into a psychological moment experienced by its character and translates inexplicable emotions onto canvas. Straddling the thin line between reality and a dream world, it remains unclear what exactly the figure here is doing.

    Borremans’ painting is characterized by a unique dialogue between the Old Masters he reveres and references and a contemporary disposition which informs the psychic charge that permeates his oeuvre. As opposed to depicting a distinct vignette in Sweet Disposition, Borremans poses more questions than he answers. The tactile handling of the oil paint, rendered in luscious layers, recalls his idols such as Manet, Goya, and Velázquez. The character is caught frozen in a mysterious action where everything seems to happen in a perfectly unclear environment. The depiction of the disembodied figure in Sweet Disposition – standing and working at a table, knife in hand, wedding band firmly upon her ring finger, cast in deep shadow – reveals nothing about her individuality. Indeed, she is less an individual than merely a figure, a psychological stand-in for whatever, or whomever, the viewer brings to the picture. Borremans is less a painter of specific subjects than that of psychic states, filled with introspection and narrative disjunction, and characterized by a sense of overt post-surrealist unease.


Sweet Disposition

signed, titled and dated "MICHAËL M.C.G. BORREMANS SWEET|DISPOSITION 2003"on the reverse
oil on canvas
23 5/8 x 31 1/2 in. (60 x 80 cm.)
Painted in 2003.

$500,000 - 700,000 

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Kate Bryan
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New York
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 5 PM EST