Michaël Borremans - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, February 13, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Michaël Borremans, 'The Shirt', Lot 164

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, 14 February

  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Tokyo
    Phillips, London, 5 October 2016, lot 2
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Literature

    Michael Borremans: The Performance, exh. cat, S.M.A. K. Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent, 2005, pp. 10, 16

  • Catalogue Essay

    The Shirt, 2002, perfectly typifies the combination of mysterious imagery and painterly virtuosity that propelled Borremans to increasing international fame during this period. Looming out of the darkness, the torso of an anonymous, unidentifiable figure is shown, the image cropped to reveal only a striped shirt. Executed in lushly lavish brushstrokes, Borremans masterful handling of the eponymous shirt ekes out its details - the meandering pinstripes, the deep shadow of the creases and collar, are manipulated within a restrained sepia palette. From the point of view of pure painting, this is a sensual masterclass, a contemporary return to the mimetic, yet expressive detail founded by the Renaissance and Baroque masters of the art historical canon.

    Borremans owes more than technique to the Old Masters, his richly painted works incorporate familiar compositions and motifs but leave the viewer questioning and unable to quite decipher the iconography. The artist has cited the influence of both Flemish and Spanish painters Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441) and Diego Velasquez (1599-1660); both creators of some of the most highly analysed works in art history. In an interview in 2016, Borremans said ‘‘The first artworks I saw were reproductions of Van Eyck…They were windows on a strange world. As a child they fascinated me but frightened me too – and they still do, in a way.’ (Maggie Gray, ‘The Modern Mysteries of Michaël Borremans’, Apollo, March 2016). Arguably Van Eyck’s most important work, The Ghent Altarpiece, 1432, is housed in the cathedral of the same name in the town where Borremans lives and works and its distinctively stark, yet ethereal approach to reality seems to permeate through Borremans’ oeuvre.

    Similarly, Las Meninas, 1656, by Diego Velazquez, which depicts the creation of a royal portrait from the perspective of the sitters – The King and Queen of Spain – plunges the viewer into the midst of a mysterious narrative where the answers remain just out of reach. This is echoed in The Shirt where the picture is composed to only hint a contextual and narrative clues. The loosely-fitted garment, a short expanse of neck and the hint and shadow of a jaw, insists upon the anonymity of the subject. This theme is furthered in more recent works such as Black Mould/The Dance, 2015, where the viewer is left to draw their own conclusions on the relevance of the figures’ covered faces, black robes and differing postures. ‘With the paintings, at first you expect a narrative, because the figures are familiar,’ Borremans has explained ‘[…] The works don’t come to a conclusion in the way we expect them to. The images are unfinished: they remain open. That makes them durable’ (Borremans, quoted in David Coggins, ’Interview: Michael Borremans’, Art in America, March 2009).

    The figures in Borremans’ work are never portraits and their anonymity in his early paintings such as The Shirt is guaranteed as he often used found images, including photographs from the decades before the Second World War, as his source material. More recently, the artist, who originally trained as a photographer has orchestrated and photographed his own source material. Regardless of their origin, these works are filled with a suspense and air of surreal mystery, which teetering between the familiar and uncanny command the attention of the viewer transport them on a maze of visual signposts, where the answers lie one step ahead. Enigmatically the artist has explained ‘I make paintings because my subject matter, to a large extent, is painting’ (ibid.).


The Shirt

signed, titled and dated 'MICHAËL M.C.G. BORREMANS "The Shirt" 2002' on the reverse
oil on canvas
42 x 50 cm (16 1/2 x 19 5/8 in.)
Painted in 2002.

£150,000 - 250,000 ‡♠

Sold for £187,500

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Head of Day Sale, Director, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4065

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 14 February 2020