Lot 121
  • 121

Michaël Borremans

180,000 - 250,000 GBP
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  • Michaël Borremans
  • The Swan
  • signed, titled and dated 2006 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 40 by 49.5 cm. 15 3/4 by 19 1/2 in.


Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Budapest, Mücsarnok Kunsthalle; Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein, Michaël Borremans: Eating the Beard, February – June 2011, p. 177, illustrated in colour
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, AD Intérieurs, September - November 2014, illustrated in colour, p. 28
Paris, Galerie Daniel Templon, Belgique, November - December 2015, pp. 22-23, illustrated


Exh. Cat., Brussels, BOZAR, Centre for Fine Arts; Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum of Art; Dallas, Dallas Museum of Art, Michaël Borremans: As Sweet as it Gets, February 2014 - July 2015, p. 131, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate although the overall tonality contains fewer magenta undertones and more green undertones in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultraviolet light.
"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

Michaël Borremans’s work blends the magisterial technique of Old Master painting with a contemporary feeling of unease. His work elicits a quivering sense of isolation, conjuring an illusion of naturalism before the façade of realism fades away. These are not depictions of reality, nor does the artist have any interest in attempting to show reality. Rather, he aims to confuse and intrigue the viewer by seditious imagery. The Swan is a perfect example of this deceptive, Surrealist artistic bent.

The present work is also a testament to Borremans’ confident mastery of oil paint. The palette is reminiscent of the muted tones of a grisaille-palette, often used in Dutch and Flemish seventeenth-century painting; however the subject is not so easily legible. The opposition between the painting's title and its subject of a garment collar challenges the viewer to scrutinise visual appearance versus cognitive perception. Similar to René Magritte, who famously disavowed the relevance of the subject in his seminal work La trahison des images ('The Treachery of Images'), 1928-29, Borremans translates translates this sentiment into a contemporary context. By pulling figures and objects from their conventional order, the artist creates a new whimsical narrative. Painted from close-up view, the work almost appears cropped, a stylistic flourish characteristic of Borremans’ enigmatic style. The white, porcelain-coloured flesh of the figure could be that of a human-being, a mannequin, or indeed a swan, and stands in opposition to the lustrous, gleaming black of the collar, which in turn transforms the hackneyed image of a white shirt into a mysterious and haunting object. There is an uncanny mystery to The Swan which brings to mind questions of what we see when we look at a painting, and the degree to which we implicitly trust the artist.

Borremans’ idiosyncratic post-Surrealist paintings present complex, equivocal and highly staged still lifes. With his peculiar compositions and inquisitive narratives, the artist does not attempt to show actual situations, yet there is an evident identifiable dialogue displayed with previous art historical epochs. Borremans’ figures live in isolated captivity, far removed from the viewer. Their meaning is not to be found in their aesthetic forms, but rather in our own subjective reading.  Borremans’ work shows the infinite possibilities in twenty-first century painting. According to the artist “painting is old medium. It has so much gravity: it makes subjects sacred” (Michaël Borremans in conversation with Katya Tylevich, ‘Michaël Borremans – The Painters Song’. Elephant – The Art & Visual Culture Magazine, Issue II, Summer 2012, pp. 110-121).