Oscar Domínguez (1906-1957)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Oscar Domínguez (1906-1957)

La vague

Oscar Domínguez (1906-1957)
La vague
signed and dated 'OSCAR DOMÍNGUEZ 1938' (lower right); signed, numbered and inscribed 'DOMÍNGUEZ VAGUE 5' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
21 5/8 x 18 1/4 in. (55 x 46.2 cm.)
Painted in 1938
Vicomtesse Marie-Laure de Noailles, Paris, by 1953.
Anonymous sale, Hôtel des Chevau-Légers, Versailles, 21 June 1962, lot 6.
Private collection, Cannes, by whom acquired at the above sale; sale, Cannes Enchères, Cannes, 25 June 2006, lot 188.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
I. Hernández, 'Crisálidas que viajan a través de los tiempos', in exh. cat., Cosmos: En busca de los orígenes, de Kupka a Kubrick, Tenerife, 2008, p. 251 (illustrated p. 250).
Ostend, Kursaal, Art Fantastique, July - August 1953, no. 43, n.p..
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Óscar Domínguez, November 1955, no. 1 (dated '1935').
Rome, Complesso Monumentale del Vittoriano, Dada e Surrealiasmo riscoperti, October 2009 - February 2010, p. 295 (illustrated).
Tenerife, Espacio de las Artes, Óscar Domínguez: Una existencia de papel, February - October 2011, pp. 33 & 372 (illustrated p. 35; illustrated in situ pp. 214 & 216 and illustrated on the cover).
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Lot Essay

Isidro Hernández Gutiérrez, curator of the Óscar Domínguez Collection, Tenerife, and the Comisión Consultiva de Expertos y en Defensa de la Obra de Óscar Domínguez (CEDOOC), confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Painted in 1938, at the height of Oscar Domínguez’s involvement with the Surrealist movement, La vague is a playful, enigmatic work, which toys with the expectations of the viewer to create a scene filled with incongruous juxtapositions. Using a subtle scale of blue-grey tones and fluid brushstrokes, Domínguez portrays the majestic, towering form of a wave as it reaches the height of its crest, rolling over on itself as it rushes towards land. However, the artist interrupts the natural flow of the water by introducing a series of rectilinear trenches into the surface of the wave, their forms echoing the thin rectangular cans used to store tinned fish. This allusion is reinforced by the manner in which the surface of the water has been peeled back in tight curling coils by the pins of a sardine can lid. Going against the flow of the tide, these metallic layers roll upwards towards the crest of the wave, at once mimicking its curl and standing in sharp contrast to it, complicating our understanding of its materiality. A pair of strange, otherworldly sardines add a further note of disquiet to the scene, as their forms float on the surface of the water rather than sinking into its depths, granting the wave a solidity that is at odds with the usual, fluid nature of the sea. In this way, Domínguez’ painting creates a vision at once solid and liquid, stationary and flowing, the in-between nature of the rolling wave adding a fantastical quality to the scene that transforms it into a dreamlike mirage.

The detail of the sardine tin lids being peeled open was a recurring motif within Domínguez’ work of this period, sometimes appearing in his objets surréalistes, such as Ouverture (1935) or in the bodies of the figures that populated his paintings, as in Femmes aux boîtes de sardines (Deux couples) (1937). Other works, such as L’ouvre-boîte (1936) go so far as to incorporate the sardine can opener into the structure of the painting itself, adhering it to the left hand edge of the frame in such a way that it seems the surface of the painting may be peeled back too, to reveal another image, another reality, beneath. As such, the motif may be read as a metaphor for the Surrealist vision, which allows Domínguez to peel back the veil that obscures a true understanding of the world. He is revealing a hidden, fundamental dimension that lurks beneath our own, calling for the scales to fall from our eyes. The hidden properties and forces of the universe are being exposed while the artifice, all that we take for granted, is being rent asunder. Nowhere is this more powerfully expressed than in the strange, mysterious landscapes which flowed from his imagination, where the introduction of the sardine can lids causes us to question our understanding of the world around us, revealed to us by the ‘keys’ the artist provides.

In paintings such as La vague, Domínguez’ unique vision relies on a combination of association, dreams, and his own strange and mysterious lexicon of images in a manner that faintly recalls the strange realities of a Magritte or a Dalí painting. From the outset, the artist’s fantastical landscapes had contained strange combinations of objects such as umbrellas and sewing machines, egg boxes and revolvers, phonographs and theatrical props, that had come into the artist’s possession and which would continue to feature throughout his later work. Other elements were plucked from the artist’s own memories and experiences, and then translated through his unique visual language to imbue it with an otherworldly strangeness. The powerful form of the wave, for example, may have been inspired by memories from the artist’s childhood in Tenerife. With its black sand beaches and stratified rock formations, the western coastline of the island, shaped by the daily pounding of the Atlantic Ocean into a series of dramatic cliff-faces, inlets and caves, left a powerful impression on the young artist’s imagination.

While Domínguez had originally come under the influence of the burgeoning Surrealist movement when he was living in Paris during the late 1920s, it was not until a meeting in 1934 with André Breton and Paul Éluard that he became a member of the official Surrealist group. From then on, Domínguez played an central role in their activities, and was an important figure in encouraging the dissemination of the movement in Spain. Perhaps his most lasting contribution to Surrealism was his development of the decalcomania transfer process, a technique in which a thin layer of paint was spread on to the surface of a sheet of paper, while another sheet was laid on top and pressed against the fluid pigment to create an irregular pattern and texture that evolved without the intervention of the artist. Domínguez’s Surrealist colleagues quickly embraced the new technique, which they believed transferred the basic principles of automatic writing into the painterly process, introducing the random and the unconscious into their compositions. The freshness and sheer expressiveness of this unique vision made Domínguez one of the most important of the second generation of Surrealists, reinvigorating the movement at a crucial moment, in which it was in danger of losing its momentum.

La vague once formed part of the collection of the Vicomtesse Marie-Laure de Noailles, an enthusiastic collector and patron of the arts who enjoyed a particularly close relationship with the Surrealists. Marie- Laure’s marriage to Charles, Vicomte de Noailles, in 1923 represented an important alliance between the aristocracy and the 19th-century financial élite of France, and the pair quickly became a power couple within Parisian high society. Together, they played a central role in the patronage of modern art and design in France in the 1920s, using their fortune to enjoy a self-consciously modern life style, and to encourage and collect the most advanced art of their time. Earning a reputation as daring and influential patrons, their collection was initiated in 1923 with a small work by Picasso: at the end of the decade it included Le jeu lugubre by Dalí and constituted a representative cross-section of the contemporary avant-garde, particularly that associated with Surrealism. They also sponsored projects such as Jean Cocteau’s first film, Le sang d’un poète, in 1929 and Luis Bunuel’s L’Age d’Or, in 1930. The Vicomtesse was among Domínguez’s most ardent supporters, enjoying a close personal relationship with the artist through the 1950s.

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