Contemporary Art

Live Auction, 16 February 2019

Contemporary Auction
  • Marlene Dumas; Naked Man

Lot Estimate
ZAR 1 500 000 - 2 000 000

About this Item

South African/Dutch 1953-
Naked Man
signed and inscribed 'Michaelis (1972 - 1975)' on the reverse
oil and collage on canvas
122 by 76cm excluding frame


A graduate of the Michaelis School of Fine Art (1972–75), Marlene Duma’s student work remains a durable monument to her interests and occupations as a painter. Despite the fact that abstraction dominated the painterly concerns of the early 70s, she notes that ‘the few paintings done in South Africa all used some sort of figuration…somehow I always returned to the figure in the end’.1 As one of the most widely admired living painters of her generation, Dumas is known for her intimate portraits that reveal a disciplined economy in the relationship between paint and surface.

As evidenced by the present lot, even at such an early stage in her career, Dumas exhibited an intuitive grasp of her materials; how a visceral medium like paint can evoke emotion as much as image. Often working with a tonally reduced palette, her works from this period are characterised by elements of distortion, concealment and erasure. In an excerpt from a Michaelis notebook, Dumas records her preoccupation with surface, saying ‘All I know is that I want to make marks’.2

Naked Man can be considered a foundational work in Duma’s oeuvre because it charts her future trajectory by exposing ‘the tension between the painterly gesture and the illusion of the pictorial image’.3 Here the viewer is confronted at once by the physicality of not only the image, but of the painting itself. It’s rough, scraped exterior obscures the figure whose eyes confront the viewer in a mode of disarming address.

Echoing these concerns almost twenty years later in a piece of prose titled Woman and Painting, Dumas writes ‘Painting is about the trace of the human touch. It is about the skin and the surface. A painting is not a postcard. The content of a painting cannot be separated from the feel of its surface’.4

  1. Marlene Dumas. (2007) Intimate Relations, Johannesburg & Rome: Jacana Media & Roma Publications. Page 3.
  2. Marlene Dumas. (2014) The Image as Burden, Basel: Fondation Beyeler. Page 7.
  3. Marlene Dumas. (2007) Intimate Relations, Johannesburg & Rome: Jacana Media & Roma Publications. Page 9.
  4. Marlene Dumas. (1993) Woman and Painting, Parkett, no. 37. Page 140.

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