1 More
4 More

Machine à coudre électro-sexuelle

Machine à coudre électro-sexuelle
signed and dated 'OSCAR DOMINGUEZ 1934' (upper left); signed and dated again 'OSCAR DOMINGUEZ 1935' (lower left)
oil on canvas
39 1/2 x 31 7/8 in. (100.2 x 80.8 cm.)
Painted in 1934-1935
Eduardo Westerdahl, Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
Galerie André François Petit, Paris, by 1966 and until at least 1971.
Galeria Biosca, Madrid.
Private collection, Spain, by whom acquired from the above circa 1975, and thence by descent; sale, Christie's, London, 24 June 2008, lot 74.
Private collection, Europe, by whom acquired at the above sale; sale, Christie's, London, The Art of the Surreal, 6 February 2013, lot 127 ($3,307,638).
Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.
Acquired from the above by the present owners in 2013.
E. Westerdahl, Oscar Domínguez, Barcelona, 1968, no. 23, p. 62 (titled 'Machine à coudre'; dated '1935' and with inverted dimensions).
Filipacchi (ed.), Oscar Domínguez, Paris, 1973, p. 21 (illustrated; dated '1934').
F. Castro, Óscar Domínguez y el Surrealismo, Madrid, 1978, no. VII, p. 118 (illustrated pl. VII; dated '1934').
Exh. cat., 10x Max Ernst, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, 1978 (illustrated p. 35; dated '1934').
A. Zaya, Óscar Domínguez: el infierno de la civilización me Ilama a gritos negros, Madrid, 1992, p. 146 (illustrated; dated '1935').
V. Bozal, Arte del siglo XX en España; pintura y escultura, Madrid, 1995, p. 591 (illustrated; dated '1935').
E. Guigon, Óscar Domínguez, Canary Islands, 1996 (Illustrated p. 43; dated 1934).
Exh. cat., Óscar Domínguez, surrealista, Fundación Telefónica, Madrid, 2002 (illustrated in situ p. 24).
V. Serrano & C. Migletti, eds., La Part de jeu et du rêve: Óscar Domínguez et le surréalisme 1906-1957, exh. cat., Musée Cantini, Marseille, 2005 (illustrated fig. 4; dated '1934').
K. King, 'Oscar Dominguez: La couturière, sources and symbols' in Art Journal of the National Gallery of Victoria, No. 55, 2016, (illustrated fig. 12; dated '1934-35').
J. C. Guerra Cabrera, Óscar Domínguez : obra, contexto y tragediaa, Canary Islands, 2020, (illustrated p. 31; dated 1934).
A. Susik, Surrealist Sabotage and the War on Work, Manchester, 2021, pp. 119-137 (illustrated pl. 3; dated '1934-35')
Santa Cruz, Círculo de Bellas Artes de Tenerife, La Exposición de Arte Contemporáneo, June 1936.
Tel Aviv, Museum of Art, Le Surréalisme, December 1966 - January 1967, no. 25 (dated '1934').
Hamburg, Kunstverein, Malerei des Surrealismus, April - May 1969, no. 37 (illustrated pl. 43.; dated '1934')
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Surrealism?, March - April 1970, no. 21, p. 109 (illustrated p. 75; dated '1935'); this exhibition later travelled to Gothenburg, Göteborgs Konsthall, April - May 1970; Sundsvall, Sundsvalls Museum, May - June 1970 and Malmo, Malmö Museum, June 1970.
Bordeaux, Galerie des Beaux Arts, Exposition "Le Surréalisme"', May - September 1971, no. 64, p. 53 (illustrated; dated '1934').
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Der Surrealismus, 1922-1942, March - May 1972, no. 112 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Paris, Musée des Arts décoratifs, June - September 1972, no. 106.
Madrid, Galería Biosca, Óscar Domínguez, October - November 1973, no. 13 (illustrated).
Barcelona, Galería Laietana, Óscar Domínguez, February - March 1974, no. 31 (illustrated).
Bern, Kunsthalle, Junggesellenmaschinen, Les Machines Célibataires, July - August 1975, p. 88 (illustrated p. 89; dated '1935').
Paris, Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Le siècle de Picasso, October - November 1987, no. 69 (illustrated p. 124).
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno, El Surrealismo entre Viejo y Nuevo Mundo, December 1989 - February 1990, p. 147 (illustrated; dated '1935').
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, El Surrealismo en España, October 1994 - January 1995, no. 50, p. 363 (illustrated p. 168; dated '1934').
Vienna, Kunsthalle, Das grausame Spiel: Surrealismus in Spanien, 1924-1939, May - July 1995, no. 54, p. 385 (illustrated p. 113); this exhibition later travelled to Dusseldorf, Kunsthalle, February - April 1995; Verona, Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Dalí, Miró, Picasso e il Surrealismo spagnolo, July - October 1995, p. 99 (illustrated).
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno, Óscar Domínguez, Antológica 1926-1957, January - March 1996, no. 17, p. 254 (illustrated p. 101; dated '1934'); 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.
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno, Máquinas, September - November, 2000, pp. 46 & 194 (illustrated p. 47; dated '1934').
London, Tate Modern, Surrealism: desire unbound, September 2001 - January 2002, pp. 245 & 329 (illustrated fig. 241, p. 244; dated '1934').
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, on loan from 2008 - 2012.
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. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.
Further details
La Asociación en defensa de Óscar Domínguez and Isidro Hernández, Curator of the Óscar Domínguez Collection (Tenerife), confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Sale room notice
Please note that La Asociación en defensa de Óscar Domínguez and Isidro Hernández, Curator of the Óscar Domínguez Collection (Tenerife), has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Brought to you by

Ottavia Marchitelli
Ottavia Marchitelli Senior Specialist, Head of The Art of The Surreal Sale

Lot Essay

In 1933, the Spanish writer Domingo López Torres heralded the arrival of an exciting new artistic talent in Spain, whose bold compositions had recently appeared in the annual exhibition of the Círculo de Bellas Artes de Tenerife: ‘Through the murky waters of the psyche, navigating between high sexual complexes – the door ajar to Freudian theory – comes Óscar Domínguez, a young painter, surrealist and one of the most promising stars of this island. […] In these paintings he achieves unexpected tonalities and transparencies. From the darkest corners the most audacious forms are prodigiously assembled. Secular forms deformed by an exuberant fantasy. Elongated figures; shadowy forms. The paintings of Óscar Domínguez […] – more restrained than those of Dalí – are silent, cold, like a blade in the chest of the viewer’ (D. López Torres quoted in Óscar Domínguez, Antológica 1926-1957, exh. cat., Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 1996, p. 275).
Machine à coudre électro-sexuelle is an iconic masterpiece from Domínguez’s early career, dating from the exciting beginning of his association with André Breton and the Parisian Surrealists. Filled with an audacious combination of sexuality, metamorphosis and mystery so characteristic of the artist’s unique visual language during these years, the painting is a testament to the maturity and originality of Domínguez’s artistic vision. The importance of Machine à coudre électro-sexuelle is reflected in its esteemed provenance and extensive exhibition history – it’s first owner was Eduardo Westerdahl, the publisher of Gaceta de Arte, and main figure within the small Surrealist movement that had grown in Domínguez’s native Canary Islands. A close friend of the artist, Westerdahl was an early champion of the European avant-garde, and was responsible for introducing Domínguez to Surrealism in the late 1920s. Shortly after its completion, Domínguez chose to include Machine à coudre électro-sexuelle in an important exhibition organised by Westerdahl – La Exposición de Arte Contemporáneo – in his homeland of Tenerife. Photographs from the exhibition show the artist standing in front of the present work, highlighting its position as an important statement by the young Surrealist.
Though he had been living in Paris for several years and working in a Surrealist vein since 1929, it was not until 1934 that Domínguez became personally acquainted with André Breton and the circle of artists, poets and writers that surrounded him. Attracted to the inventiveness of Domínguez’s enigmatic imagery, infused with memories, colours and forms from his native Tenerife, the Surrealists quickly embraced the young Spaniard, incorporating several of his works in their earliest exhibitions abroad. He rapidly became a key player in the movement, one of an important new generation of artists that Breton believed would help to revitalise Surrealism at a time when it was in danger of losing momentum. Domínguez in turn, threw himself into the movement, engaging enthusiastically in their discussions and debates, becoming involved in their plans for various exhibitions and delving into the dark recesses of the subconscious for inspiration.
Nicknamed ‘le Dragonnier des Canaries’ by his new acquaintances, Domínguez cut a powerful figure within the group, not least following his development of the automatic painting technique known as decalcomania, which Breton described as ‘the most electrifying… of his inventions’ (A. Breton quoted in Óscar Domínguez, surrealista, exh. cat., Fundación Telefónica, Madrid, 2001, p. 234). Spreading a thin layer of gouache across the surface of a sheet of paper, the artist placed another sheet or a piece of glass 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 process, which they believed transferred the basic principles of automatic writing into the painterly process in a novel way, introducing the random and the unconscious into their compositions.
The relationship between Machine à coudre électro-sexuelle and the Parisian Surrealists is clear from the theme itself, its title suggesting a twisted re-imagining of the celebrated phrase, ‘Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table.’ These words, taken from the Chants de Maldoror, the poems by the nineteenth-century writer Isidore Ducasse, the so-called Comte de Lautréamont, were considered a vital precursor of the Surrealist spirit. In Machine à coudre électro-sexuelle, Domínguez has taken one of the central mantras of Breton’s Surreal universe and reconfigured it in a new, unexpected way, in order to create an absorbing and haunting vision that cuts to the quick of the movement’s spirit.
Combining elements of semi-automatism with precisely rendered details and figures, Domínguez creates a powerfully fantastical, dream-like image, in which a series of unusual vignettes and elements intrigue and confound in equal measure. A group of wooden planks lock together in a rough configuration in the foreground, atop which lies the prone form of a partially concealed female nude, her head draped in a white cloth, the soft contours of her torso and buttocks fully exposed to the viewer. Above, emerging from a fluid, amorphous cloud, a horned, devil-like figure with blood red lips casually smokes a cigarette, while a stream of pigment that seems to originate in its form flows outwards to the right, solidifying into an animal’s hind leg before ending in a small hoof. As the eye moves downwards, the grassy step on which this foot rests transforms into a verdant green plant with large petals, that appears to be devouring the woman’s legs. A viscous scarlet fluid, meanwhile, drips menacingly onto her spine, its bright colour suggestive of blood or paint, funnelled down from the two palettes that cling to the whirl of colour from which the devil-like figure emerges.
In the background, a precisely rendered arcade-game appears on a rippling promontory, its grapple claw hovering over a bizarre arrangement of objects, waiting for an unseen player to choose their target from the prizes on offer. On the roof of this familiar, everyday game, sits an incongruous magnet hanging from a plant, its petals gathered inward in a shape that mimics the claw below. Teetering on the brink of our understanding and yet remaining determinedly elusive, this slanted approximation of an object from our own universe heightens the sense of the uncanny that is at work in the picture. The carnivorous plant in the foreground, meanwhile, may offer a further meditation on Lautréamont’s famous phrase, its form echoing the shape of a half-closed umbrella. Throughout his career, the unique landscape, moon-like topography and alien-seeming plants of the Canary Islands informed many of Domínguez’s pictures; just after Machine à coudre électro-sexuelle was painted, several members of the Parisian Surrealist group visited Tenerife, in part arranged by Domínguez, and were astonished to find the strange almost lunar volcanic landscape and the alien-seeming Dragon Trees. It appeared that the Surrealist landscape had somehow bled into reality. Here, the luscious green plant appears at once familiar and strange, ordinary and menacing, inducing a similar sensation of surreality in the viewer.
However, it is the inherent eroticism of the painting that highlights Domínguez’s place at the forefront of Surrealist intellectual debates during these years. As Jennifer Mundy has noted, ‘The word desire runs like a silver thread through the poetry and writings of the surrealist group in all its phases … In the late 1920s and early 1930s, however, desire – specifically, though not exclusively, erotic desire – came much more to the fore in surrealist art…’ (J. Mundy, ‘Letters of Desire,’ in Surrealism: Desire Unbound, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2001, p. 11). An increased awareness of the writings of Sigmund Freud along with the growing popularity of the objet surréaliste among artists, brought sexual pleasure, erotic games and fetishization to the forefront of Surrealist art during these years. Salvador Dalí, for example, played with the suggestive power of a series of found objects in his Objet scatologique à fonctionnement symbolique (Le Soulier de Gala), to elicit ‘a particular sexual emotion’ in the viewer (S. Dalí quoted in Dalí/Duchamp, exh. cat., Royal Academy, London, 2017, p. 114).
Working along a similar vein, Domínguez’s sculpture Jamais, which featured in the infamous Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in Paris in 1938, altered a quotidian gramophone by the addition of fragmented female body parts – a pair of shapely legs wearing high-heeled shoes protrude from the machine’s horn, as if their owner has been sucked in by the gramophone, while the needle has been replaced by a hand that delicately caresses the gently domed turntable. In Machine à coudre électro-sexuelle, Domínguez’s transformation of the traditional sewing machine into an erotically charged device is tinged with suggestions of pleasure and pain – the woman takes the place of a piece of fabric, being fed-through the machine, while the red fluid becomes the thread, leaving its mark on her form. Together, the different elements are assembled and juxtaposed to generate a strange, otherworldly effect, conjuring a complex, multi-layered meditation on erotic pleasure, sexual gratification and fetishization, the exact details of which remain an enigma.

More from The Art of the Surreal Evening Sale

View All
View All