Kay Sage (1898-1963)
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Kay Sage (1898-1963)

The Seven Sleepers

Kay Sage (1898-1963)
The Seven Sleepers
signed, dated and dedicated 'à Germaine et Marcel, mes amis Kay Sage '47' (lower right)
oil on canvas
18 x 15 in. (45.7 x 38.1 cm.)
Painted in 1947
Marcel and Germaine Duhamel, Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist, and thence by descent.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 1992.
'Review of the Connecticut Contemporary Artists. Exhibition at Mattatuck Museum' in The Waterbury Republican, May 1948, illustrated.
S. Robeson Miller & K. Sage, The Biographical Chronology and Four Surrealist One-Act Plays, New York, 2011, section for 1947, p.55.
D. Marchesseau, Yves Tanguy, Paris, 1973, illustrated p. 67.
G. Durozoi, Histoire du mouvement surréaliste, Paris, 1997, p. 381 (illustrated).
New York, Julien Lévy Gallery, Paintings by Kay Sage, October - November 1947, no. 3.
Waterbury, Connecticut, Mattatuck Museum, Exhibition of Connecticut Contemporary Artists, May - June 1948.
Rome, Galleria dell'Obelisco, Kay Sage, April 1953, no. 4.
Paris, Galerie Nina Dausset, April 1953.
Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum, Yves Tanguy, Kay Sage, August - September 1954, Part II, no. 7.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Le Surréalisme. Sources, histoire, affinités, 1964, no. 281 (illustrated).
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Lot Essay

This work will be in cluded in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the Surrealist work of Kay Sage being prepared by Stephen Robeson Miller.

Kay Sage's The Seven Sleepers testifies to the importance of women artists within the Surrealist movement. Selling her jewellery to rent an apartment on Île St. Louis, Sage arrived in Paris in 1937. One year later she exhibited at the Salon des Surindépendants, where the unsettling tension of her works attracted André Breton's attention. He was startled to find out that those sharp and methodically constructed paintings were the work of a woman. In 1938, through her friend and German sculptor Heinz Henghes (1906-1975), Sage met Yves Tanguy, whom she married in 1940.

The Seven Sleepers was painted in 1947, a pivotal year in Sage's career. That year she begun exploring the enigmatic, scaffolding structures that would characterize her paintings from that moment onwards. In The Seven Sleepers, a mysterious, shrouded figure emerges from the scattered elements. Behind it, a strange labyrinth of walls is assembled. While the figure is tightly enclosed in the left corner of the picture, growing shadows in the background invite the viewer's eye to wander - and to imagine - the space behind this confined scene.

When compared with later works such as Hyphen - now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York - The Seven Sleepers appears as an important, decisive step towards the artist's mature style. The peculiar towers made of windows, recurrent in her late works, had already started to develop in The Seven Sleepers. The architectural style of the painting, moreover, is central to Sage's art. Whitney Chadwick argued that Sage's distinctive rejection of biomorphic forms set her apart from all the other Surrealists working in abstract style and from Tanguy in particular (W. Chadwick, Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement, New York, 1985, p. 166). This allowed her to explore not only intriguing and hunting spaces, but also subtle juxtapositions of tones. The Seven Sleepers remarkably orchestrates shades of silver greys, luminous muddy beiges and deep blacks.

The title - The Seven Sleepers - refers to the homonymous 1944 book of poems by Mark van Doren of which Sage owned a copy. Its source can also be found in an ancient legend, relating the story of seven young men, persecuted for their Christian faith by the Roman Emperor Decius, around 250 AD in Ephesus. Condemned to death if they refused to renounce their faith, the seven men gathered in a cave to pray, when they miraculously fell asleep, over hundreds of years, saving themself from martyrdom. The idea of a legendary dream in a cave would have been very enticing for the Surrealists. In The Seven Sleepers, Sage permuted the idea of enclosure, mortuary sleep and escape into an abstract, yet highly suggestive space.

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