Raoul De Keyser - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 12, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Raoul de Keyser, 'Hellepoort', Lot 36

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 13 February

  • Provenance

    Galerie Joost Declercq, Deurle
    Karel Geirlandt, Belgium (acquired from the above in 1986)
    Thence by descent

  • Exhibited

    Deurle, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Raoul De Keyser, 19 April - 25 May 1986
    Antwerp, Guillaume Campo, Hommage aan K. Geirlandt, 9 - 24 February 1990

  • Literature

    Steven Jacobs, ed., Raoul De Keyser: Paintings 1980-1999, Ghent, 2000, no. 482, p. 133 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    With its distinct planes of colour and its sparse gestural marks, Hellepoort, 1985, conveys Raoul de Keyser’s meditative visual language, hovering between landscape painting and instinctive abstraction. The title Hellepoort, signifying ‘Hell Gate’ or ‘Gates of Hell’ in Dutch, suggests a resonance with Auguste Rodin’s similarly titled sculptural group, depicting a scene from Dante Alighieri’s Inferno on a monumental scale. Yet, de Keyser’s Hellepoort eschews realism or any clear subject matter, and instead presents a congregation of floating elements drenched in varyingly bright hues. Split between convincing expanses of blue, maroon and light yellow, the canvas seems to have been initiated and then worked on again – numerous times and systemically – resulting in an intuitive surface boasting three monochromatic planes, and a collection of slim, layered brushstrokes. Esoteric, concise and eloquent, Hellepoort exemplifies one of the subtle shifts that de Keyser’s practice underwent in the 1980s, whereby colours became increasingly exuberant, and the artist’s experimentation with space more complex. Seven years later, he would participate in the highly acclaimed documenta IX, 1992, curated by Jan Hoet – and subsequently become a household name in Belgium.

    Acquired by Karel Geirlandt in the mid-1980s, Hellepoort captures a distinct snapshot in time, when the artistic scene in Belgium was burgeoning, and a few motivated, fore-thinking protagonists were championing contemporary production with great verve. Geirlandt was one such figure; he was a writer, an artistic pioneer, and the driving force behind the Ghent Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgium in the mid-1970s – an institute that would later become the S.M.A.K. under the impetus of Mark De Cock and Jan Hoet. Wishing to make contemporary art as accessible as Old Masters painting and traditional sculpture, Geirlandt envisioned a place akin to the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, that would depart from the temporal limitations under which most artistic institutions were constrained. Within this visionary vein, Geirlandt believed in the freshness of de Keyser’s painterly output, and the necessity of sharing it with the world.

    Moving beyond representational value and placing an emphasis on the act of painting itself, Hellepoort distinctly encapsulates the timeless, yet also deeply contemporary, quality of de Keyser’s work. Its confoundingly elegant aesthetic is just as additive as it is diminutive – a perspective through which Stephen Truax once compared his art to that of Giorgio Morandi. ‘The negative space between the objects is just as important as the objects themselves’, he wrote. ‘Through exhaustive repetition, they both empty out their work of whimsy. They forge new ideas through making and remaking. Most of the action occurs off the final canvas; the real work is in what was scraped away rather than what is presented’ (Stephen Truax, ‘Raoul de Keyser: Drift’, The Brooklyn Rail, May 2016, online). In this way, Hellepoort also brings to mind the mute pictorial universe of Nicolas de Staël who, through a similar balance of presence and absence, managed to convey a landscape, a natura morta, an abstract idea. The various layers of paint coexisting with one another in the present work namely recall the stratified formations dominating de Staël’s mature canvases, whereby vibrancy curiously met sensitivity, and instinctual roughness came hand in hand with noble beauty.

    Notably, Hellepoort prodigiously demonstrates how a sum of painterly fragments can come together as a single, cohesive whole. The composition’s different parts blend into one another seamlessly, yet elude the physicality of a pattern or a homogenised design. In this way, Hellepoort showcases the rare capacity de Keyser has in conveying an empirical image, where errors and hesitations are embraced as part of the final composition. It is this self-conscious vulnerability that sets Hellepoort apart, as the painting establishes its own rules, shifting and varying according to each viewer’s unique perception.

Property from the Estate of Karel Geirlandt



signed 'raoul de keyser' on the reverse
oil on canvas
167.3 x 124.2 cm (65 7/8 x 48 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1985.

£100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for £131,250

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