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titled 'Bondage' (on the overlap); signed and dated '1993 MDumas' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
11 3/4 x 9 3/8in. (29.8 x 23.8cm.)
Painted in 1993
Le Case D'Arte, Milan.
Private Collection, Milan.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2018.
Marlene Dumas / Francis Bacon: The Particularity of Being Human, exh. cat., Malmö, Malmö Konsthall, 1995 (illustrated, p. 29).
P. Depondt, 'Al honderd jaar schijndood' in de Volkskrant, 9th June 1995 (illustrated, p. 19).
Pathologiae: sechs Frauen - ein Zufall - sei donne per caso, exh. cat., Bolzano, Museion, 1999 (illustrated in colour, p. 32).
Milan, La Galleria del Credito Valtellinese, La Normalità dell’arte, 1993-1994, p. 174, no. 2 (illustrated in colour on the cover & p. 107).
Venice, XLVI la Biennale di Venezia, Identity and Alterity Figures of the Body 1895/1999, 1995, pp. 454, no. 54 (illustrated in colour, p. 477).
San Marino, Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Luoghi: Alla ricera del territorio, 1997, p. 112 (incorrectly illustrated in colour, p. 59).
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

Shown at the Venice Biennale in 1995, Bondage (1993) is an evocative example of the potent intimacy and immediacy that define Marlene Dumas’ oeuvre. Rendered in a soft, pale palette of grey, blue and black, the artist presents an anonymous nude woman crouched on the floor, hands seemingly tied behind her back as she faces away from the viewer. Isolated in a closely-cropped composition, the lone figure crowds the canvas, pushing up against its edges in an act of dominance. Confrontational yet tender, and completely stripped of any type of narrative, Dumas’ canvas distils a private moment of intimacy in her subject, conjuring a disquieting sense of voyeuristic unease in the viewer. Painted using her signature wet-on-wet technique, a process which involves applying layers of thinned-out oil paint to the canvas, Dumas imbues her figure with a ghostly, immaterial transparency, allowing her form to float above the work’s surface. Whilst undoubtedly erotic, as suggested by its title, the sexual connotations of the work are conveyed through subtle signifiers—most poignantly the sitter’s nudity and the vulnerable position of her body. ‘[My work] is suggestive,’ Dumas has said, ‘it suggests all sorts of narratives, but it doesn’t really tell you what’s going on at all … I think the work invites you to have a conversation with it’ (M. Dumas, quoted in B. Bloom, ‘Interview’, in Marlene Dumas, London 1999, p. 12).

Painted in 1993, Bondage featured in the group exhibition La Normalità dell’Arte held at La Galleria del Credito Valtellinese, Milan that year. Showcased alongside Francis Bacon’s Head (1949), the work sparked a significant early dialogue with the twentieth-century master, highlighting their joint ability to capture the rich psychological drama of the human figure. Like Bacon’s subjects, Dumas’ models are culled from a vast archive of secondary sources, ranging from newspaper and magazine reproductions to film stills and personal snapshots of family and friends. It is within her painterly process, and the act of translation that this involves, that Dumas’ portraits gain their psychological suspense. ‘I am an artist who uses second-hand images and first-hand emotions’, Dumas has stated: her technique is skilfully exemplified in Bondage, in which the quiet sensuality she evokes in her subject is palpable (M. Dumas, Sweet Nothings: Notes and Texts, Amsterdam 1998, p. 80).

Recalling the nude female sitters of Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Dumas’ Bondage is in some ways a contemporary response to nineteenth-century Modernism. By depicting her subject crouched with her back turned away from the viewer, the work recalls Degas’ After the Bath, Woman drying herself (1890-95). Unlike her male predecessor, however, Dumas does not allow the viewer the comfort of pure voyeurism, instead trapping them in a position between intrigue and empathy. In this way, and by enabling the sitter to dominate the picture plane, Bondage suggests an entirely voluntary imprisonment. ‘The public display of nudity has always been one of my main artistic interests, as well as the reasons given to justify or banish it’, Dumas has said. ‘The traditional (male) painter uses it to promote higher aesthetic values, the fashion model uses it to promote clothes, the porn industry to promote masturbation, while film stars only do it if it’s part of the story. Most people don’t do it at all and the teaser makes you beg for it’ (M. Dumas, quoted in Marlene Dumas, op. cit., p. 139). In Bondage, Dumas neither pities nor glorifies her subject; rather, the captured moment belongs to a specific present where the artist is almost, yet never quite, a spectator herself.

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