MICHAËL BORREMANS (b. 1963)
MICHAËL BORREMANS (b. 1963)
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MICHAËL BORREMANS (b. 1963)

Portrait

Details
MICHAËL BORREMANS (b. 1963)
Portrait
oil on canvas
31 ½ x 23 5/8in. (80 x 60cm.)
Painted in 2005
Provenance
David Zwirner, New York.
Private Collection.
David Zwirner, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Exhibited
New York, David Zwirner, Michaël Borremans Horse Hunting, 2006 (illustrated in colour on the cover; illustrated in colour, unpaged).
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.

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Lot Essay

Shrouded in enigma, the present work is a masterful early example of Michaël Borremans’ celebrated portrait practice. Meticulously rendered with delicate, translucent layers of paint, an anonymous figure stares out of the canvas, his gaze flickering with unknown feeling. Pride, disdain, uncertainty and pity shift in and out of focus, his raised eyebrow and half-hooded eyes refusing to tell the whole story. Sumptuous warm tones, deep shadows and flashes of bright white chart the play of light across his face, demonstrating the virtuosic command of paint that first brought Borremans to public attention during the early 2000s. Illustrated on the cover for the catalogue of his solo exhibition at David Zwirner, New York in 2006, the work belongs to a series of paintings from this period featuring young male subjects. Closely cropped like passport photographs, each explores a different set of mental states, with visual information—from facial expressions, to art-historical cues—offered only in incomplete doses. While echoes of Goya, Manet and others hover on the surface, the present work’s subject ultimately exists in a strange, twilit realm, where time, place and narrative seem to stand still.

Borremans makes it clear that his portraits are not intended to be portrayals of real people—his subjects, even when painted from living models, remain deliberately unidentified. Instead, he conceives his works as portraits of the act of portrait-making: essays in paint’s capacity to capture body language, staging and lighting. Though frequently compared to artists such as Gerhard Richter and fellow Belgian Luc Tuymans—whose elusive, photorealist aesthetic finds much in common with his own—Borremans’ work remains firmly rooted in the lessons of the Old Masters. ‘The first artworks I saw were reproductions of Van Eyck,’ he recalls. ‘They were windows on a strange world. As a child they fascinated me but frightened me too—and they still do, in a way’ (M. Borremans, quoted in M. Gray, ‘The modern mysteries of Michaël Borremans’, Apollo, 5 March 2016). The artist also particularly admires Velázquez, noting his ability to create atmospheric depths from the most economical of means. Given the conceptual leanings of Borremans’ practice, it is perhaps appropriate that works such as the present look back to the golden age of portraiture, when its parameters were first truly defined.

Borremans works from a complex archive of visual material, including images from magazines, books and the internet, as well as photographs of live models that he takes in his studio. Rather than painting from life, the artist uploads these images onto a computer monitor, which he places at a set point away from the canvas. This act of distancing is essential to his practice, imbuing his works with the hazy, indefinite quality seen in the present work. It, too, has its links in the past, recalling Vermeer’s use of the camera obscura—‘he played with that in a very modern way’, explains Borremans (M. Borremans, quoted ibid.). At the same time—unlike Richter—the artist is adamant that his works are not intended to resemble photographs. In Portrait, Borremans relishes the visceral interaction of pigment and canvas, contrasting rich impasto with fluid, mottled skeins of colour. The result is a curious, otherworldly space, where reality and fiction—paint and portrait—slip in and out of one another’s grasp.

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