Michaël Borremans - New Now London Thursday, December 8, 2022 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • “With the paintings, at first you expect a narrative, because the figures are familiar. But then you see that some parts of the paintings don’t match, or don’t make sense. 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.”
    —Michaël Borremans

    Charged with mystery and allure, Prospects is a superlative example of Belgian artist Michaël Borremans' blend of technical mastery and narrative ambiguity. Executed in 2003 in a deeply earthy palette offset by passages of striking luminosity, the present work depicts two figures absorbed in an unknown task, the artist generating an enigmatic yet palpable sense of tension in this characteristically sepia-hued composition.


    Born in 1963 in Geraardsbergen, Belgium, Borremans received his M.F.A from Hogeschool voor Wetenschap en Kunst in Ghent, where he currently lives and works. His artistic career began slightly later in life, following an earlier period where he trained in the graphic arts and experimented with other mediums, including photography. The artist’s oeuvre features a great number of works depicting anonymous and psychologically distant sitters who stubbornly refuse to meet the viewer’s gaze and that he insists are not portraits in the traditional sense. Adopting the immediacy of a snapshot, Prospects presents the two men in profile against a denuded background, the more unfinished areas in the lower right quadrant of the canvas emphasising the sense of narrative ambiguity generated by the anonymous and otherwise preoccupied figures at the centre.


    Indicative of its importance within the artist’s oeuvre, Prospects has been presented in several, significant exhibitions, including the artist’s first major solo show in Japan, The Advantage, the recent Fixture presented by the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga in 2015, and the 2011 travelling exhibition Michaël Borremans: Eating the Beard. Highly polished, Borremans’ technique here is in evidence, his confident mastery of light effects, chiaroscuro and sophisticated sense of theatricality evoking the works of great masters such as Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, Èdouard Manet and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.


    Mattia Preti, The Concert, c. 1630 – 1635, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain. Image: Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza/Scala, Florence


    Distilling a sense of drama into a deceptively simple composition, Prospects recalls the arrangement of paintings such as Mattia Preti’s The Concert painted between 1630 and 1635. Limiting the palette to key contrasts of light and dark tones, Preti’s carefully modelled figures arranged around a central table certainly offer an art historical antecedent to Borremans' closely cropped scene, the plain, dark background similarly focusing our attention on the mysterious activity of the figures. Presented in profile, his hand resting lightly on the table in front of him, the pose of the figure to the far right of Preti’s composition is also echoed in the more mature figure in the foreground of Prospects and yet, despite Borremans’ obvious interest in Old Master paintings, his strangely timeless works nevertheless feel at once historical and utterly contemporary.

    “I revere old artists who painted very quickly, like Goya and Caravaggio. In their work, the paint itself tells a story.”
    —Michaël Borremans

    Much of this operates on a technical as well as a stylistic level, the execution of Borremans’ work noted for being meticulous and time-consuming. Operating across a range of mediums, the artist first asks his anonymous sitters to pose for photographs, cultivating a carefully staged sense of distance between himself and his subjects - or the reality that they inhabit. This sense of a-temporality is further emphasised by certain cinematic qualities adopted by the artist, including the close-cropping of the composition, sepia tones, and stylised presentation of the sitters’ clothes and hair, small clues that anchor the painting in its open-ended narrative. As Borremans explains, ‘there is nothing there. On the one hand, all is there.’¹


    ¹ Jeffrey Grove, ‘Michaёl Borremans: Ventilating a Nihilist Vision’, in Michaёl Borremans, Paintings, Ostfildern, 2008, p. 5.

    • Provenance

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

    • Exhibited

      Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart; Műcsarnok, Kunsthalle Budapest; Kunsthalle Helsinki, Michaël Borremans, Eating the Beard, 1 May - 26 June 2011, p. 218 (illustrated, p. 207)
      Tokyo, Hara Museum, Michaël Borremans: The Advantage, 11 January - 30 March 2014
      Málaga, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga, Michaël Borremans, Fixture, 9 October 2015 - 17 January 2016, pp. 56, 133 (illustrated, p. 57)

Property from An Important Belgian Collection



signed, titled and dated 'Michaël M. C. G. Borremans - PROSPECTS - 2003' on the reverse
oil on canvas
49.9 x 41.9 cm (19 5/8 x 16 1/2 in.)
Painted in 2003.

Full Cataloguing

£200,000 - 300,000 ‡♠

Sold for £201,600

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Gibbs
Associate Specialist, Head of New Now
+44 20 7901 7993


New Now

London Auction 8 December 2022