Lot 41
  • 41


250,000 - 350,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Michaël Borremans
  • The Painting 
  • signed, titled and dated 2006 on the reverse 
  • oil on canvas
  • 40 by 50 cm. 15 7/8 by 19 5/8 in.


Zeno-X Gallery, Antwerp
Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above) 
Phillips, Hong Kong, 27 November 2016, Lot 29 (consigned by the above) 
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner


Stijn Vanheule, The Subject of Psychosis: A Lacanian Perspective, Basingstoke 2014, illustrated in colour on the cover


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although they are lighter and more vibrant overall in the original. The areas of beige and white in the figure's face, and towards the lower part of the composition are lighter in the original. The illustration fails to fully convey the layered nature of the paint surface. Condition: This work is in very good condition. Extremely close inspection reveals spots of minor wear and unobtrusive rubbing in a few places to the upper corners. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultra violet 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

“We are conditioned to read images in a certain way and if the image is not explaining, then you need an explanation. But that’s not what my work is meant for… I only build with the stones that are lying there. I have no idea what the purpose of my work could be.” Michaël Borremans cited in: Exh. Cat., Brussels, BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts (and travelling), Michaël Borremans: As Sweet As It Gets, 2014, p. 179. Arrestingly magical, Michaël Borremans’s The Painting (2006) offers a glimpse into the artist’s uncanny painterly universe. Created at a pivotal time in Borremans’s career, when he was particularly absorbed in Édouard Manet’s oeuvre, The Painting alludes to the nineteenth-century artist’s staged tableaus prominent in works such as Boy Blowing Bubbles (1867). The present work shows a young man leaning forward on what appears to be a length of draped white cloth in a state of silent contemplation. Perhaps giving the work its title, the material could be seen as an unstretched canvas, suggesting that The Painting depicts an artist reflecting on his work. However, as is characteristic of the artist’s practice, the figure’s gaze is averted from the viewer, amplifying a notion of inwardness and thus ensuring that the scene remains steeped in a haze of ambiguity.

Borremans took up painting at the age of thirty-three, having originally practiced etching and drawing for several years. By studying the techniques of the Old Masters, the artist assumed an undisputed command over various media to illusionistically render three-dimensional form and space. Influenced by Diego Velazquez’s masterly combination of loose and fine brushwork, the foreground and background of the present work dissolve into a symbiosis through the skilled application of paint. Borremans’s practice also spans photography and film, and the latter has had a tremendous impact on the development of his paintings, as is clearly visible through the cinematic quality of the present work. The Painting appears to be eternally still, as if the unfolding of time has been unexpectedly interrupted. It was Borremans’s film projects that allowed him to develop the sense of absolute timelessness that pervades his canvases, and to refine the use of light and space within his work. His paintings have in turn influenced his moving images, as the artist’s films often share the stillness of his paintings as well as the elusive absence of subjectivity and narrative. Thus, just as his soundless films resemble a moving painting, his paintings seem to transport the viewer into an unknown scene in a motion picture, in which the viewer has arrived too late to understand what has happened.

Stylistically, the present work draws from the tradition of painting established by artists such as Théodore Géricault and Manet, whose rediscovery of the Spanish and Italian Baroque made a decisive impact on nineteenth-century art. The Painting, however, offers an intangible narrative that prompts more questions than provides answers. By subverting form through omission, “Borremans embraces tradition – and then seizes the proverbial rug, and pulls it from under its feet” (Michaël Amy cited in: Exh. Cat., Brussels, BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts, Michaël Borremans: As Sweet As It Gets, 2014, p. 284). Moreover, where Manet focused on depicting his subjects mid-action, Borremans disorientates the viewer by depicting moments of stillness before or after action has occurred. Rather than showing particular scenes or individuals, Borremans’s works centre on social-political analysis providing a form of commentary on the cultural landscape of contemporary society. “I always paint culture. Even if I depict a human figure, it’s already the representation of a human figure that I want to represent,” the artist has explained (Michaël Borremans cited in: ibid, p. 33). Throughout his oeuvre, Borremans has used unusual angles, a subdued palette and secluded figures to heighten a sense of the incomplete and incomprehensible. A superior example from his practice, The Painting epitomises this artistic focus, inhabiting the deliberately hazy space between reality and imagination.