Lot 4
  • 4


150,000 - 220,000 EUR
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  • Constant
  • Ville Noyée - Verzonken Stad
  • signed; signed, titled Verzonken Stad and dated '56 on the stretcher 
  • oil on canvas
  • 146 by 112 cm.


Acquired directly from the artist


Utrecht, Centraal Museum; Basle, Museum Tinguely, In Grirum Imus Nocte et Consimiur Igni - The Situationist International (1957-1972), December 2006 - March 2007; April - August 2007


J. Steiner, H. Stahlhut, a.o., In Grirum Imus Nocte et Consimiur Igni - The Situationist International (1957-1972), Zurich 2006. pp. 121, 247, no. 15, illustrated in colour 
J. Lambert, New Babylon Constant; Art et Utopie, Paris 1990, p 121, illustrated in colour


Colours: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the catalogue illustration does not fully convey the rich surface texture and impasto apparent in the original. Condition: Upon close inspection there is some very minor hairline paint cracking in the lower right corner. The edges are very slightly worn. Some spots of minor paint loss situated 2 cm from the right edge and 20 cm from the top edge; 25 cm from the left edge and 28 cm from the top edge. Some minor paintcracking in the area situated 59 cm from the left edge and 70 cm from the low edge (visible in the catalogue illustration). Otherwise in good condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

In London in 1952, shortly after the break-up of the CoBrA group the Dutch painter Constant became fascinated with the possibilities of the contemporary build environment. In the Netherlands the following year he connects to a group of Dutch architects, most notably the socially engaged Aldo van Eyck, and starts making spatial constructions. Building on the foundations of Ivan Chtcheglov Formulaire pour un Urbanisme Nouveau (1953), and fuelled by further contact with the French activist and philosopher Guy Debord and Constants fellow CoBrA member Asger Jorn the concept of New Babylon is born; the global city for the modern Homo Ludens, the nomadic, care-free and creative human individual.

In 1956, the year of this painting, Constant attends the First World Congress of Free Artists in Alba, Italy, organised by Asger Jorn and the Italian artist Pinot Gallizio. Here he makes his first New Babylon construction based on the notion of a gypsy-camp. The striking similarities between the vertical and horizontal constructive elements show the importance of the work in the development of the theme with which Constant is going to occupy himself over the next decade and a half.

In fact, Ville Noyeé is the seminal canvas marking the transition from figurative painting to the full emergence into the research for New Babylon. It is also a very important work seen in the light that Constant will stop painting all together, only to return to the medium in a much later phase, first in 1962 with a declaration never to paint again, later with works that reflect the spatial explorations he has undertaken in his constructions.

Ville Noyeé can therefore be seem as the single most important painting in the development of his primary ideas concerning New Babylon. If compared to his geometric abstractions of the early 1950s we can see that Ville Noyeé encompass the freedom and liberal style as well as the constructive fascination to with the artist has turned.

Quote; whenever utopian thinkers of the past half-century have addressed the adventure of new Urbanism - most notably Constant comes to mind - their projects have focussed on the attempt to override actual cities with cities that are elevated, superimposed meta-cities. This rewriting of the urban space has been quite literally stilted. 

Peter Sloterdijk; In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consimiur Igni- The Situationist International (1957-1972), exhibition catalogue.

Quote; There will be rooms more conductive to dreams than any drug, and houses where one cannot help but love.

Ivan Chtcheglov, Formulaire pour un Urbanisme Nouveau.

A creative train of thought is set off by: the unexpected, the unknown, the accidental, the disorderly, the absurd, the impossible. (Asger Jorn)