Lot 38
  • 38

Yves Tanguy

300,000 - 500,000 GBP
965,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Yves Tanguy
  • Certitude
  • signed Yves Tanguy and dated 39 (lower right); titled and dated 1939 on the stretcher
  • oil on canvas
signed, titled and dated 1939 on the stretcher
oil on canvas
30 by 40cm.
Painted in 1939.


Vilhelm Bjerke-Petersen, Denmark (acquired from the artist in May 1939)

Preben Holten, Denmark (acquired from the above circa 1940. Sold: Sotheby's, London, 25th November 1964, lot 190)

The Mayor Gallery, London (purchased at the above sale)

Gabrielle Keiller, Kingston-upon-Thames (acquired from the above in 1964)

Marlborough Fine Art Ltd., London

Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1982)

Thence by descent to the present owners


Kay Sage Tanguy et al., Yves Tanguy. Un Recueil de ses œuvres / A Summary of his Works, New York, 1963, no. 171, illustrated p. 95 (as dating from 1936)

Catalogue Note

The present work exemplifies the refined and personal language with which Tanguy transformed the boundaries of Modernist painting. Tanguy was invited by André Breton to become a member of the Surrealist group in 1925 and two years later he was a highly accomplished painter in complete command of a new and personal Surrealist language. Though Tanguy received no formal artistic training, his childhood summers spent near Finistère in Brittany, on the western coast of France overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, were to have a profound influence on his style that was to emerge by 1927, the year of his first one-man exhibition at the Galerie Surréaliste in Paris. It was during these stays that Tanguy had observed prehistoric rock formations and objects floating on the water or washed up on the shore, elements that, subjectively transformed, frequently appear in the dream world Tanguy celebrated as a mature painter. Also important was his trip to North Africa in 1930, where he observed natural geological structures and stratifications that were to appear in his paintings.

In late 1939 Tanguy arrived in New York and would soon marry the American Surrealist painter, Kay Sage. The formal complexities of his work from the 1930s entered a new maturity during his time in New York (figs. 1 & 2). His forms became more complex in their refinement and the horizon lines which had supported his earlier works gave way to atmospheric perspective. James Thrall Soby wrote of the particular splendour of the artist's works from this period: 'After his African voyage, Tanguy usually substituted mineral forms for the vegetal ones used in earlier works. His color became more complex and varied, with extremes of light and dark replacing the relatively even tonality of his previous pictures. At the same time he made more and more frequent use of one of his most poetic inventions - the melting of land into sky, one image metamorphosed into another, as in the moving-picture technique known as lap-dissolve. The fixed horizon was now often replaced by a continuous and flowing treatment of space, and in many paintings of the 1930s and 1940s, it is extremely difficult to determine at what point earth becomes sky or whether objects rest on the ground or float aloft. The ambiguity is intensified by changes in the density of the objects themselves, from opaque to translucent to transparent, creating a spatial double entendre' (J. T. Soby in Yves Tanguy (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1955, pp. 17-18).

Tanguy's pictorial forms are unique in the canon of Surrealist art, amorphous yet somehow recognisable to the viewer. André Breton commented: 'Until Tanguy, the object, whatever external shocks it had undergone, remained in the last analysis a distinct prisoner of its own identity. With Tanguy we enter for the first time a world of total latency' (A. Breton, quoted in Kay Sage Tanguy et al., op. cit., p. 16). The objects which inhabit the ambiguous space of Certitude indeed seem reliant upon objective reality and yet far removed from any specific reference. With a refined sense of mystery, Tanguy presents in this work a brilliant hyper-reality that embodies the aims of the Surrealist movement.  

From 1964 until 1982, when it was acquired by the family of the present owners, Certitude formed part of the celebrated collection of Gabrielle Keiller (1908-1995). Known to her friends as ‘Marmelade Queen’, Gabrielle Keiller (née Ritchie) married her third husband, a marmalade manufacturer Alexander Keiller, in 1951. A lady with many talents and great style, she was an award-winning golfer as well as a passionate gardener and art collector. An inheritance she received in the 1930s provided the funds for acquiring works of art, and she began buying Old Master paintings, antique furniture, silver and porcelain. During a visit to Venice in 1960 she was introduced to Peggy Guggenheim and saw her collection of Dada and Surrealist art, and also came across sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi at the Venice Biennale, which would change the course of her art collecting. She developed a passion for Dada and Surrealism and acquired works as well as books and manuscripts by artists including Magritte, Ernst, Delvaux, Dalí, Man Ray, Tanguy, Duchamp, Giacometti and Schwitters, as well as a painting by Bacon and a large number of Paolozzi sculptures for her garden. Her interest in art also led her to volunteer at the British Museum and as a guide at the Tate Gallery, and to serve as a member of the advisory committee of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. After a fire which forced her to leave her residence at Kingston-upon-Thames, some 180 Dada and Surrealist art works and books from her collection were exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy at the 1988 Edinburgh Festival. At her death, she bequeathed a group of 136 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, books and manuscripts to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, where, alongside works from the collection of Roland Penrose, they form one of the world’s greatest collections of Dada and Surrealist art.