• The Art of The Surreal auction at Christies

    Sale 1506

    The Art of The Surreal

    4 February 2014, London, King Street

  • Lot 126

    Oscar Domínguez (1906-1958)

    Retrato de Roma

    Price Realised  


    Oscar Domínguez (1906-1958)
    Retrato de Roma
    oil on canvas
    47 5/8 x 35 in. (121 x 89 cm.)
    Painted in 1933

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    Ana Vázquez de Parga has kindly confirmed the authenticity of this work.

    Retrato de Roma is a historic painting by Oscar Domínguez, dating from the crucial moment just before he came into contact with the Parisian group of Surrealists. This picture has been widely published and exhibited and stayed in the hands of the same family for over seven decades, having initially been a gift from Domínguez to friends in Tenerife. It was presented to them in 1933, the year it was painted, only shortly before his 1934 introduction to André Breton and his circle. When he painted Retrato de Roma, Domínguez was staying in his native Tenerife, in the Canary Isles, having spent a great deal of time in his new base, Paris. Back in the Canary Islands, he had his first one-man exhibition, held at the Circolo de Bellas Artes de Tenerife, showing recent works painted largely in the French capital. It is an indication of the direction he had already adopted that Retrato de Roma was painted before his direct contact with the Surrealists, yet the picture is redolent with disjointed surreality, as well as the profound atmosphere of raw sexuality and violence that mark out the best of Domínguez' works. These qualities, as well as his incredible inventiveness, would lead to his being embraced so warmly by the Surrealists the following year. His works from this period served as a calling card for Breton.

    Domínguez had travelled to Tenerife in 1933 in the company of his lover Roma Damska, a Polish pianist. Roma's vocation is indicated in this Surreal portrait of her by the piano against which she leans-- and upon whose keys her dismembered hands continue to play, hovering in the air mysteriously. Roma is looking aside, gazing into a middle distance as though wholly unconcerned by the removal of her arms. She has a static grace in her attitude that recalls ancient statuary; indeed, the lack of arms and the pose both appear to refer to the Venus de Milo, the famous Hellenistic marble of the goddess of love from the Louvre, Paris. Meanwhile, the sheet music propped upon the piano seems to comprise of an image of a 'Dragon Tree', a species native to the Canary Isles and a motif that appeared in a number of Domínguez' works. His paintings from Paris often contained near-lunar landscapes and fragmentary allusions to the dragon trees of his native isle, tying him to his home; in the case of Retrato de Roma, he appears to be responding to the juxtaposition of his Polish lover and Tenerife, where they were staying. Intriguingly, the tree came to be identified with Domínguez himself: Breton would come to nickname him the 'Dragonnier des Canaries', in part in reference to his physical bulk.

    Looking at Retrato de Roma, it is clear that Domínguez has merged a number of influences. The piano is pertinent because of Roma's occupation, yet also appears to make reference to the works of his compatriot, the Surreal artist Salvador Dalí, whose own works had recently garnered much attention in Breton's circle. Looking at Retrato de Roma, with its floating, disembodied hands, one is reminded of Dalí's Hallucination partielle. Six images de Lénine sur un piano, painted two years earlier and now in the Musée National d'Art moderne, Paris. Domínguez has brought his own violence to the scene, perhaps more in keeping with the tone of the film that Dalí had made with Luis Buñuel, Un chien andalou, in 1929. In that film, two pianos crowned with dead donkeys are shown at one point, being dragged by a man intent on an assault; meanwhile, in another scene, someone is seen from above, prodding a severed hand in a street. Domínguez appears to have absorbed some of these influences, having already been exposed to the works of the Surrealists while in Paris during the period in which he was developing his own unique style; in Retrato de Roma, the viewer can perceive the extent to which he may have digested those other strands of Surrealism and blended them together to create something that is wholly idiosyncratic, that sings with the landscape of the Canaries and with his own life, celebrating his lover in her striking red dress yet also channelling the psycho-sexual violence that formed such a strong current in his own life.

    Domínguez' tendency to violence is often recalled in particular in association with a self-portrait by the Romanian Surrealist, Victor Brauner, who showed himself with an eye missing. This would prove prophetic: during an argument with someone else, Domínguez threw a glass which hit Brauner and caused him to lose his eye. In a strange parallel, the violence of Retrato de Roma may also serve as a prelude to history as it played out: the catalogues of Domínguez' work often point out that Roma herself was shot as a spy during the Occupation of Paris.

    While Retrato de Roma has a brooding sense of violence, not least in the wounds to Roma's arms and hands, photographs taken during their time in attest to the fun that she and Domínguez had during their stay, not least those taken by the artist's friend Eduardo Westerdahl. It was Westerdahl, whose mother was Catalan and whose father was Swedish, who was the editor-in-chief of the Gaceta de Arte, a publication that would transcend its origins in the Canary Isles and become a major, cutting edge cultural publication during its brief existence, having been launched the year before Retrato de Roma was painted. Westerdahl was also instrumental in organising Domínguez' 1933 exhibition. Two years later, in part through the contacts that Domínguez forged in Paris, Westerdahl would also arrange the 1935 Surrealist exhibition at the Ateneo de Santa Cruz de Tenerife, on which occasion Breton himself visited the island. This reveals the speed with which Domínguez himself had risen to prominence within the Surreal group. In addition, he was one of the great champion of the objet surréaliste and the original Surreal pioneer of decalcomania, a technique that would be espoused by many of the Surrealists, and in particular Max Ernst. Retrato de Roma thus provides an intriguing insight into the streams of violence, place and sexuality that would soon come to cement his reputation during those trailblazing days of Surrealism.

    Special Notice

    Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.


    Anatael Hernández Izquierdo, Tacoronte, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, a gift from the artist in 1933, and thence by descent.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2006.

    Pre-Lot Text



    P. Waldberg, Les demeures d'Hypnos, Paris, 1976, p. 334 (illustrated).
    F. Castro, Óscar Domínguez y el Surrealismo, Madrid 1978, no. 6, p. 116 (illustrated; titled "Retrato de la pianista Roma").
    A. Zaya, Oscar Domínguez, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, 1992, p. 145 (illustrated).
    Exh. cat., Oscar Dominguez, Antológica 1926 - 1957, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 1995, no. 9, p. 252 (illustrated p. 93).
    E. Guigon, Óscar Domínguez, Tenerife, 1996, p. 165 (illustrated p. 35).
    Exh. cat., Éxodo hacia el sur, Óscar Domínguez y ek automatismo absoluto 1938-1942, Tenerife, 2006, p. 65 (illustrated).
    Exh. cat., Óscar Domínguez, El Surrealismo volcánico, Paris, 2006, p. 26 (illustrated fig. 1).
    Domingo Luis Hernández, ed., Surrealismo Siglo 21, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 2006 (illustrated).
    Exh., cat., Una existencia de papel, Madrid, 2011.
    E. Becerra, El Surrealismo y sus derivas: visiones, declives y retornos, Madrid, 2013.


    Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Museo Municipal, Oscar Domíguez, January 1968, no. 21.
    Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Oscar Dominguez Antolológica 1926-1957, January - March 1996, no. 9, p. 252 (illustrated p. 93); this exhibition later travelled to Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Centro de Arte La Granja, April - May 1996 and Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, June - September 1996.
    Madrid, Fundación Caja, Istmos: vanguardias espan~olas 1915-1936, Madrid 1998, p. 113.
    Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Huellas dalilianas, July - October 2004, illustrated p. 112; this exhibition later travelled to Vitoria-Gasteiz, Artium, November 2004 - February 2005.
    Marseille, Musée Cantini, La Part du jeu et du rêve, Óscar Domínguez et le surréalisme 1906-1957, June - October 2005, no. 10, p. 214 (illustrated pp. 87 & 214).
    Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Fundación Pedro García Cabrera, Islas rai´ces: visiones insulares en la vanguardia de Canarias, 2005, p. 328.
    San Cristóbal de la Laguna, Antiguo Convento de Santo Domingo, La obra de O´scar Domi´nguez en las colecciones privadas canarias, December 2006 - February 2007, no. 8, p. 107 (illustrated).
    Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, on loan 2008-2013.