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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction

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Marlene Dumas
B. 1953
EVIDENCE OF VIRTUE
signed, titled and dated 1992 on the reverse 
oil on canvas
60 by 50 cm. 24 5/8 by 19 5/8 in.
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Provenance

Galerie Isabella Kacprzak, Cologne
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Exhibited

Cologne, Galerie Isabella Kacprzak, Ask Me No Questions And I will Tell You No Lies, January - February 1992
Eindhoven, Van Abbemuseum, Miss Interpreted, March - May 1992, p.27, illustrated in colour
Kassel, Documenta IX, June - September 1992
Bonn, Kunstverein, Marlene Dumas, May - July 1993, p. 51, illustrated
London, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Marlene Dumas, July - September 1993, p. 51, illustrated
Philadelphia, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Marlene Dumas, November 1993 - January 1994

Literature

Ingrid Schaffner, 'Erotic Displays of Mental Confusion: Marlene Dumas in the Van Abbemuseum', Kunst en Museumjournaal 3, n. 6, 1992, p. 33, illustrated
Geerling Lee, Hennëtte Heezen, Christiane Schneider, Rob Smolders, Bert Steevensz, and Dominic van den Boogerd, 'Documenta IX Review', Metropolis M, August 1992, p. 30, illustrated
Benjamin Katz, Documenta IX Photographies, Stuttgart 1992, p. 156, illustrated in colour (in installation at the Documenta IX, Kassel, 1992)
Amine Haase, 'Marlene Dumas', Kunstforum International, n. 119, 1992, p. 289, illustrated in colour 
Annelie Pohlen, Marlene Dumas - Land of Milk and Honey, Hamburg 1993, pp. 3-4 (text)
Mischa de Vreede, 'Ik Ben Dat Meisje', Roodkoper, n. 3, April 1999, p. 27, illustrated
Dominic van den Boogerd, Barbara Bloom, Mariuccia Casadio and Ilaria Bonacossa, Marlene Dumas, London 2009, p.62, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

“I paint because I am a woman… I paint because I like to be bought and sold” (Marlene Dumas, ‘Women and Painting’, Marlene Dumas: Writings by Marlene Dumas no date, online). As blunt, ironic, self-aware and unflinching as her words on the position of the female painter, Evidence of Virtue encapsulates and ties together the many strands of Marlene Dumas’s remarkable artistic career. From issues surrounding the politics of the female body to an engagement with the predominance of the male gaze throughout art history, Evidence of Virtue is a forceful painting that is as frank as it is ambiguous.

Evidence of Virtue transports us to an intimate – if anachronistic – scene of a young girl presenting her chastity. She is isolated, left uncomforted in a space Dumas has rendered with conscious crudeness. Even in the way the layers of paint have been applied onto the canvas, allowing the coarse weave of the fabric to show through, the present work speaks to the raw physicality of the narrative. Here, and is typical of Dumas’s highly regarded works, a female figure is presented alone, set against an unadorned background which reinforces the unflinching and honest treatment of an uncomfortable subject matter. In her isolation, the viewer is left to wonder who the young anonymous figure is, and who she is presenting her chastity cloth to. This lack of pictorial resolution, the suggestion of a presence beyond the confines of the canvas, only serves to heighten the emotional tension of the work.

For a painter who deals so forthrightly with female existence as experienced in the contemporary age, the present work presents us with subject matter more commonly associated with the moral didacticism of the Victorian period. Working largely from photographs, Dumas has continually used historical source imagery to obliquely tackle the issues of the present. By merging past and present, and robbing her figures of a time or a place, Dumas forces the viewer to grapple with the full force of her subject’s humanity. Evidence of Virtue, in its historical force, also speaks to tradition of painting that takes in great paintings of Venus by Titian and Velázquez and perhaps more than any to Édouard Manet’s Olympia. Yet while all these antecedents present young women lying passively on top of a sheet white with purity, Dumas’s figure forcefully takes hold of it. Instead of lying, she is sitting, staring defiantly ahead, not conceding to the male gaze. This is an image of strength as much as it is an incisive remark the outdated virtue of chastity in today’s world.

The strength of its sociopolitical message is echoed and enhanced by the brilliance of Dumas’s handling of paint. Subtle highlights lend the figure form, while her bold use of outline lends the figure an unshakable sense of presence. Rendered with the confident speed of a true master, there is freshness to the work best seen in the way Dumas has balanced the differing textures of the canvas and paint to suggest the lightness of the figure’s chastity cloth. Her technique, so brilliantly refined to suit her subject matter, takes on an almost metaphorical power in line with the subject matter of the present work.

This stunning rendition of paintwork reflects not just Dumas’s stylistic versatility. It reflects Dumas’s engagement with the history of painting; it displays the singularity with which she believes painting’s authority as a means to communicate profound, often moral, messages; it showcases painting’s unrivaled ability to great a pictorial ambiguity that enlivens a work of art. Yet for all this, Evidence of Virtue perhaps most powerfully displays one of Dumas’s unique abilities, the ability to create paintings that speak to women and men in totally different yet equally powerful ways. In her own words: “I have painted more women than men / I paint women for men / I paint women for women” (Marlene Dumas, ‘ Women’, Ibid.).

Contemporary Art Day Auction

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