Lot 36
  • 36

Meret Oppenheim

20,000 - 30,000 GBP
197,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • La condition humaine
  • signed M.O and dated V.73; titled La condition humaine on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 90 by 100cm.; 35½ by 39 3/8 in.


Private Collection, Lausanne
Acquired by David Bowie before 1992


New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art; Miami Beach, Bass Museum of Art & Omaha, Joslyn Art Museum, Meret Oppenheim. Beyond the Teacup, 1996-97, cat. no.78, illustrated;
Bern, Museum of Fine Arts & Norway, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Meret Oppenheim-Retrospective, 2006-07, illustrated;
Vienna, Kunstforum; Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau & Lille, Lille métropole musée d'art moderne, d'art contemporain et d'art brut, Meret Oppenheim. Retrospective, 2013-14, illustrated;
New York, Sotheby's, Cherchez la Femme: Women and Surrealism, 2015. cat. no.2, illustrated.


Bice Curiger, Meret Oppenheim. Defiance in the Face of Freedom, Zurich, 1989, no.W205, illustrated p.214.

Catalogue Note

A major contributor to the Surrealist movement, Meret Oppenheim is considered to be amongst the most important female artists of the 20th century. A painter and sculptor of exceptional wit and imagination, her fame and importance has much to do with powerfully surreal works such as the Déjeuner en fourrure – a teacup, saucer and spoon covered in fur – and Ma gouvernante – a pair of high-heeled shoes trussed up like a chicken – both of which make provocative statements about the nature of sexuality and society.

Born in 1913 in Berlin-Charlottenburg, Oppenheim’s childhood was spent between Basel and Steinen. Although outwardly conventional and bourgeois, her upbringing was enriched by an artistic and intellectually inclined household – one that was thoroughly versed in Jungian psychoanalysis and avant-garde literature. As a young girl she made a habit of assiduously recording her dreams, but took a lackadaisical approach to her schooling. At the age of 16 she presented her father with an exercise book in which she included a pictographic formula informing him that x = a hare. Although intended to illustrate her dislike of maths lessons, this page was later reproduced in the magazine La Surréaliste même as an example of her precocious Surrealist tendencies.

In 1932 Oppenheim moved to Paris to formally study painting, although, in truth, she barely attended the Académie to which she was enrolled, preferring to work alone or visit Paris’ vibrant cafés. Oppenheim was introduced to the Surrealists by Alberto Giacometti and Hans Arp, and the following year she exhibited with them in the Salon des Surindépendants. Throughout the 1930s Oppenheim worked alongside some of the most important artists of the day, including Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso. It was during these years that she created some of her best known works including the fur-lined teacup and spoon.

The outbreak of war in Europe coincided with her decision to retrain as a painter at the School of Commercial Art in Basel, which led to painting subsequently becoming her main form of expression. Oppenheim’s painted work challenged the traditional conventions of figurative and abstract representation. In La condition humaine the pictographic indication of a human figure is placed in the centre of the composition, with little or no indication of landscape or topography. This brilliantly coloured void is open to interpretation and its undetermined nature is perhaps indicative of the inherent freedom found in the human condition.