Victor Brauner (1903-1966)
Property from the Collection of William Lindsay White
Victor Brauner (1903-1966)


Victor Brauner (1903-1966)
signed and dated 'VICTOR BRAUNER 7.XII.1945' (lower right) and titled 'NEPOTOPEN' (lower left); titled again '"NEPOTOPEN"' (on the reverse)
encaustic, oil and pen and brush and black ink on board
25 ½ x 19 ½ in. (64.8 x 49.5 cm.)
Executed on 7 December 1945
Julien Levy Gallery, New York.
Mr. and Mrs. William Lindsay White, Emporia, Kansas (acquired from the above, January 1948).
By descent from the above to the present owner.
New York, Julien Levy Gallery, Victor Brauner, April 1947, no. 3.

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Lot Essay

Samy Kinge has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Brauner was born in Romania and spent some of his childhood in the Carpathians, an environment crucial to the development of the personal mythology and iconography of his paintings. His father was a spiritualist and from a young age, Brauner too was closely involved with the occult. His dark childhood experiences were important to him in both his life and his art, which were profoundly connected. Brauner’s epitaph reads: "Painting is life, real life, my life."
Brauner left his homeland and settled in Paris in 1930, where he became deeply involved with the Dada and Surrealist review UNU and worked alongside Constantin Brancusi, Yves Tanguy, and Alberto Giacometti. Officially joining the Surrealist movement in 1932, Brauner derived much inspiration from the flatness of folk art, as well as from themes of spiritualism. Through his interest in arcana, Brauner became particularly obsessed with all matters related to eyes and sight and in 1931 he painted a self-portrait in which one of his eyes is deliberately gouged out (fig. 1). This remarkable portrait is more prophetic than anyone could have predicted for, eight years later, Brauner lost his eye intervening in a fight. On his way to the hospital he said he should never have painted the cyclopic self-portrait. Already a deeply mystic artist, this event confirmed, in his mind, the spiritual nature of his work and vision. The monsters that peopled his creations changed dramatically from this time. His paintings became imbued with a frantic vitality less evident in his earlier work and the strange creatures of his paintings became gradually more abstract and geometrically simplified.
During the war and for many years thereafter, Brauner experimented with the medium of encaustic, creating "candle paintings" using wax when he did not have ready access to oil paint and canvas. In the present work, executed in 1945, the medium is applied with particular heaviness. Titled Nepotopen, a palindrome with the rather cryptic meaning—"not submerged" or "undipped"—the central element in the composition can be read as a mysterious bird in one direction and as an arm with a hand clutching a scepter in the other direction. Eyes figure prominently, belying the artist's personal fascination with this element of human anatomy.
Of Brauner's oeuvre, Susan Davidson has written, "An erudite man of high intellect, Brauner made paintings that often have a naïve, folk art quality. Primarily focusing on figuration—whether human, animal, occult or mythological beings—his works conversely are often realized in boldly colored abstract shapes permeated by expanses of decorative two-dimensional patterning. While his paintings often seem thematically simple and straightforward, invoking images from a child's storybook, they are in fact underpinned by a lexicon of symbolism and archetypes that waves an intricate tapestry of meaning" (Victor Brauner, Surrealist Hieroglyphs, exh. cat., The Menil Collection, Houston, 2001, p. 9).
William Lindsay White, who purchased the present work from Brauner’s principle American dealer, Julien Levy, was the third generation of an important American family. His grandfather, Dr. Allen White, was a well-known politician in Kansas during the mid-19th century. His father, William Allen White, was an internationally renowned journalist, newspaper publisher, political pundit and Pulitzer Prize winning author who was posthumously honored by having his image placed on a postage stamp by the U.S. Postal Service in 1948. William Lindsay White continued in his father’s footsteps, becoming a noted international journalist, broadcaster, author and politician in his own right. He was on the staff of the Washington Post and Fortune magazine in the 1930s, became a war correspondent for numerous American newspapers and represented the Columbia Broadcasting System as European correspondent. He later represented the North American Newspaper Alliance and Reader’s Digest in London and became an editor of Reader’s Digest. He wrote three books that were made into movies, and John F. Kennedy once commented that he was inspired to volunteer for P-T boat service in the Navy after reading William Lindsay White’s book, They Were Expendable. Today, the White family home contains a collection that was accumulated over these three generations and the Kansas State Historical Society plans to maintain the house and contents. The home was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and was donated to the Kansas State Historical Society in 2001.

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