Lot 60
  • 60

Félix Labisse

20,000 - 30,000 GBP
60,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Félix Labisse
  • Premier voyage à l’intérieur du pays
  • signed Labisse (lower left); signed Labisse, titled and dated 1951 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 73 by 60cm.
  • 28 3/4 by 23 5/8 in.


Baron & Baronne J. B. Urvater, Paris

Acquired from the above by the parents of the present owners in 1976


Brussels, Galerie Dietrich, Félix Labisse, 1951

Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts & Liège, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Félix Labisse, 1953

Ostend, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 1954

Brussels, Le Rêve éveillé. Fantasmagie, 1955

Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Félix Labisse, 1973, no. 26, illustrated in the catalogue


Patrick Waldberg, Félix Labisse, Brussels, 1970, illustrated p. 189

Isy Brachot (ed.), Labisse. Catalogue de l'œuvre peint, 1927-1979, Brussels, 1979, no. 248, illustrated p. 135

Catalogue Note

Labisse first met James Ensor during a visit to the Belgian coastal town of Ostend in 1922 and this event would have a profound effect on his life and art, drawing him into Surrealist circles and encouraging him in the development of his own distinctly surreal aesthetic. He subsequently divided his time between Ostend and Paris, where he met and befriended André Breton, Max Ernst, André Masson and Oscar Domínguez among others. A talented polymath, alongside painting Labisse designed stage sets for ballet and opera, taught at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs as well as establishing the literary review Tribord and the Club du Cinéma d’Ostende which disseminated avant-garde films. Although never formally a part of the Parisian Surrealist group, he was influenced by its paintings and ideas, developing a body of work that explores themes of metamorphosis, eroticism and violence through vividly conjured dreamworlds. His paintings are particularly dominated by the female figure, which recurs as a central motif throughout his œuvre and is typically characterised as both alluringly sensual and distant or unemotional.

Painted in 1950-51, Premier voyage à l’intérieur du pays coincided with the artist’s first visit to Brasil and it is tempting to read the painting’s title as a reference to Labisse’s own exploration of this exotic new world. He was impressed by the vibrant natural world and the popular magic of the Brazilians and both of these elements find their way into the present work which uses a palette of vivid blues and greens to conjure a dense jungle populated by the enigmatic and almost sinister women that are familiar from his earlier work. Labisse’s disconcerting use of perspective, leaving the viewer dwarfed by the towering thorned vines and Amazonian women that fill the picture plane, adds to the quietly unsettling atmosphere that is the hallmark of the artist’s best work.

The first owner of this work was one of the most important Belgian art collectors of the mid-century, Joseph-Berthold Urvater (1910-2003). Born to a wealthy merchant family in Antwerp in 1910, he met his wife Gaëtane Consiglio, or Gigi, in 1947 and together they built a remarkable collection of Surrealist art including works by René Magritte, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Giorgio de Chirico and Salvador Dalí. The couple became friends with Felix Labisse, acquiring a number of his works and eventually commissioning a portrait of Gigi in 1958. It was Labisse who, on the occasion of a masked ball held by Marie-Laure de Noailles, designed a costume for Gigi from a living tree, and when the title of Baron was conferred upon Joseph-Berthold Urvater for his philanthropic work, he turned to Labisse to design a new coat of arms. Premier voyage à l’intérieur du pays was acquired directly from Baron & Baronne Urvater by the parents of the present owner in the 1970s and has remained in the same collection ever since.