When Axell quit a promising acting career in 1964 to pursue her passion for painting, she enlisted the famous surrealist painter René Magritte, a family friend, to be her teacher. Through her husband, who had just produced a documentary on Pop Art, she was also introduced to many of her British contemporaries - including Patrick Caulfield, Peter Blake and Allen Jones. Over the following years, Evelyne Axell absorbed these diverse influences and shaped them into her own unique visual language, which landed her a solo exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1967, barely three years after she started painting. Store Vénitien was prestigiously included in this important first exhibition for Axell, where it was acquired by the previous owner of the work. Bernard Giron, who worked for the museum and was closely involved with the organisation of the exhibition, singled out Store Vénitien as one of the best pieces which he acquired for his own collection. In a letter from March 1967, Evelyne Axell describes how the painting was prominently displayed in Mr Giron’s house, where she was complimented on it over dinner by Alexander Iolas.
Executed in the early years of her career, Store Vénitien perfectly captures Axell’s powerful aesthetic and uncompromising celebration of the female body. As one of the early proto-feminist artists of the 1960s, Axell’s work embraces female eroticism and desire at a time when women were predominantly objectified. As Pierre Restany observed: "The Belgian painter Evelyne Axell has joined the company of female power artists, with Niki de Saint Phalle from France, Yayoi Kusama from Japan, Marisol from Venezuela - and the list goes on. These women are living their sexual revolution as real women, with all the direct, unsurprising consequences: the other side is taking the initiative” (Pierre Restany quoted in: Jean Antoine, ‘Stages in a Life Cut Short. Biography of Evelyne Axell,’ Evelyne Axell: Du Viol d’Ingres au Retour de Tarzan, Saint-Étienne 2006, p. 17).
Evelyne Axell’s sexually charged depictions of the female body - usually, as in Store Vénetien, through the abstracted depiction of contours that highlight voluptuous shapes - mirror the sexual revolution of the 1960s and second wave feminism. Rather than being passive objects of male desire, this generation reversed the traditional gender roles and celebrated female sexuality - although many of Axell’s works also highlight the voyeuristic nature of the male gaze. The radical nature of her practice was poignantly demonstrated when Axell's Ice Cream from 1964, a painting of a woman licking an ice-cream that the Philadelphia Museum of Art had used as the announcement for their International Pop exhibition in 2014, became the centre of a dispute between the museum and Facebook, which took down the image from their website due to an excessive amount of suggestive content.
Perfectly capturing Evelyne Axell's unique aesthetic and important contribution to 1960s art-history, Store Vénitien is undoubtedly a masterpiece from her early oeuvre. Having been included in the important exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts a year after its creation, and having resided in only two private collections since, this is an outstanding painting by one of the key European Pop artists.
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