Lot 178
  • 178

Jan Schoonhoven

250,000 - 350,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Jan Schoonhoven
  • Relief
  • signed, titled and dated 1966 on the reverse
  • painted relief
  • 88 by 63cm.; 34 5/8 by 24 3/4 in.


Private Collection, The Netherlands (acquired directly from the artist)
Sale: Christie's, Amsterdam, Twentieth Century Art, 5 June 2008, Lot 180
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


The Hague, Gemeente Museum, Expo '67, 1967
Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Jan Schoonhoven, 1968


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate although the overall tonality is warmer in the original. Condition: This work is in very good and original condition. All collaged elements are stable and secure. There are some signs of light and even discolouration throughout and a small number of specks of loss to the extreme outer edges, which have occurred over time.
"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

Highly refined in its elegant and restrained monochrome appearance, yet captivating in the subtle play of form and light, Jan Schoonhoven’s Relief is not only a truly outstanding example from the artist’s impressive oeuvre, but a captivating work that perfectly embodies the radical ethos of an entire generation. Executed during a decade that witnessed the height of the artistic achievements of the ZERO movement, and indeed its eponymous counterpart in the Netherlands (the Nul group), the present work stands a compelling testament to their formal and philosophical considerations.

After the gestural aesthetic of art informel, which found expression in the Netherlands through the CoBrA group, artists from different parts of Europe felt the need to liberate themselves from the psychologically charged art of their predecessors. Fifteen years after the Second World War, it was time to look ahead again; to celebrate what had been achieved since and to embrace a bright future. Together with Henk Peeters, Armando and Jan Hendrikse, Schoonhoven explored this new direction both formally and conceptually through an investigation of unorthodox materials, and an objective, detached aesthetic. Like the German Zero group, the French nouveau réalistes and their Italian counterparts, the Dutch artists were interested in purity of colour and form, as well as an exploration of new, everyday materials – exemplified in the present work by the artist’s use of cardboard.  “The principal task of Zero is to show the truth in its essence, the true reality of materials, of localised objects in an isolated clarity” (Jan Schoonhoven quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Zero Internationaal Antwerpen, 1979-80, n.p.).

Jan Schoonhoven’s signature reliefs show similarities with the monochrome works of Gunther Uecker, Lucio Fontana, and Piero Manzoni, who all transgressed the two-dimensional picture plane of traditional painting and explored its physicality and three-dimensional potential. Explaining the progressive ethos of his work, the artist remarked: “I have the same feeling as Ad Reinhardt has with his black planes, they are the last possible things. [...] But with these possibilities you can fill a lifetime” (Jan Schoonhoven quoted in: A. de Visser, De tweede helft: beeldende kunst na 1945, Nijmegen 1998, p. 152).

Although Schoonhoven’s inventive reliefs indeed filled a lifetime, the artist would keep working as a civil servant in the post office from 1946 until he retired in 1979, devoting his evenings and weekends to his art. Alluding to the fragmented representations of the artist’s quotidian existence and his interest in the vernacular language of modernity, the reliefs magnificently capture Schoonhoven’s fascination with the poetic beauty of modern life – in the present work embodied by the reference to Venetian blinds. Relief is therefore not only an iconic and captivating example of his signature artistic discovery, but reflects the momentous achievements of the most celebrated decade of Jan Schoonhoven’s oeuvre, and by extension the radical explorations of European art in the 1960s.