“A more beautiful form than the eggshell? No. If so, the mussel shell. The hull. The hull. Two complete forms, balanced, teeming with germs. Two egalitarian forms. But we leave the mussels behind for another thread…Everything is eggs. The world is egg. The world was born of the great yolk, the sun”
Executed in 1966 and boasting an illustrious exhibition history, Peinture à l’Oeuf is a superb example of the artists early practice. Shortly after it was completed, the present work was included in the revolutionary show Peinture à l’Oeuf – Peinture à l’Oeuf at the Galerie Cogeime in Brussels. On the night of the opening Broodthaers installed boxes with live chickens in them on the street outside the gallery; a humorous touch referencing his own use of eggshells on the surfaces of the canvasses he included in the exhibition. The eggshells themselves were a cunning nod to the medium of painting and its weight and importance in art history – the Flemish Primitives who had worked in the very streets the artist lived and worked on had used egg as a binder to create their tempera. Eggshells, alongside mussels, came to be synonymous with the artist’s practice, with many early examples of works in these media housed in prestigious museums and private collections around the world.
A writer and poet, Broodthaers only started working as a visual artist in 1964, when in a radical move he decided to embed a collection of poems and critical text he had published in a mixture of plaster. The finished “object” had a surprising reception from viewers. According to the artist “…to my surprise the reaction of the spectator was quite different from what I had imagined…he saw the object either as an artistic expression or as a curiosity…no one was inquisitive about the text” (Marcel Broodthaers cited in: Exh. Cat. Minneapolis, Walker Art Center (and travelling), Marcel Broodthaers, 1989, p. 25). This accidental move into the realm of the plastic arts marked the beginning of one of the most subversive and fascinating practices of the 20th century, which Peinture à l’Oeuf perfectly encapsulates.
“…to my surprise the reaction of the spectator was quite different from what I had imagined…he saw the object either as an artistic expression or as a curiosity…no one was inquisitive about the text”
Brightly coloured fragments of eggshells cover the surface of Peinture à l’Oeuf, dancing like confetti captured in mid-air. Small clusters form alongside empty areas of canvas, lending the composition an organic and fluid quality. In its apparent simplicity the present work shares the ability to transport the viewer to the moment it was made with the work of painters such as Jackson Pollock or Lucio Fontana, whose compositions exude the feeling of movement. Here too, the viewer might imagine how the fragments of the shells cascaded onto the canvas, creating the ebbs and flows of bright colour contrasting against the dark background. Indeed, Peinture à l’Oeuf is an outstanding example of the work of an artist who pushed the boundaries of a centuries-old tradition, re-inventing and re-interpreting it to create works that challenge and amaze in equal measure.