These Marlene Dumas Paintings Reached the Highest Prices in Auction

August 12, 2019

Marlene Dumas paintings have always been something to talk about. Whether about their style or the subjects they depict, they are always a conversation piece and a discussion topic. Therefore, it is no wonder that those pieces reach pretty steep prices in auctions. Marlene Dumas is an artist and a painter born in South Africa who currently lives in works in Amsterdam. The Cape Town native now works primarily with oil on canvas and ink on paper, but in the past, she was no stranger to prints, collages, installations, and drawings. Marlene has attended the University of Amsterdam where she studied painting and psychology, a science which greatly influences her works as an artist. During the 1980s, Dumas has started to paint heads and figures, which are the works she is most famous for even now. She often investigates the themes of ethical intolerance and racism, especially when it comes to apartheid.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Marlene started to produce a series of works that tackle the notions of pregnancy and babies, inspired by the birth of her daughter Helena in 1987. She created a project called Stripping Girls in collaboration with the photographer Anton Corbijn, the subject of which were the girls from the famous Amsterdam peep shows and strip clubs. Her portrait works depicted various figures, from her family and friends, over strangers, to famous faces such as those of Naomi Campbell and Osama Bin Laden. The artist chooses to show these faces in a distorted, sometimes even disturbing fashion, which is the result of her use of thinned down paint, that creates smudged and washed out figures, very characteristic of her oeuvre.
Yes, Marlene Dumas is amazing, and to honor her as an artist we have compiled a list of top 10 Marlene Dumas paintings that reached the highest prices in auctions. So without further ado, scroll down to see these works.

Editors’ Tip: Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave

For all of our lovely readers who want to know more about Marlene Dumas and her works, this book is the one for you. The South African artist has focused on the human figure throughout her career, often exploring the themes of desire, confusion, love, and despair. She also fearlessly criticized political and social attitudes towards women, people of color, children, and other historically victimized groups. The authors of this book, Cornelia Butler, Richard Shiff, Matthew Monahan, and Marlene Dumas herself have all contributed in creating a reading which pleased the admirers of Dumas’ oeuvre. The book contains an illustrated exhibition history and biography of the thought-provoking artist, as well as texts written by the authors.

Angelique (2004)

Created in 2004, Angelique demonstrates the artist's mastery of a niche space between abstraction and figuration, intimacy and immediacy, exile and integration. It depicts a female portrait upside down, with a gaze which confronts the viewer with intimacy and awareness and pulls them closer. It is rendered in wide brushstrokes of black paint which construct the background while contrasting with the diaphanous whitewash of the figure’s skin. Referencing the work by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, which portrays a damsel caught in the midst of battle between a heroic savior and a snarling beast, the artist sought to subvert the canonical precedent by bestowing power upon the historically powerless figure.

The work was sold on May 19th, 2017 at Sotheby's New York during their Contemporary Art Day Auction for $1,550,000. More data on the work here.

The Dance (1992)

The Dance is one of Marlene Dumas paintings that offer the expressionist and gestural contemporary masterpiece. There was a time in Dumas’ career when she became captivated with the themes of pregnancy and babies, which led her to produce a number of pieces the subjects of which are children, from birth to early adolescence. Thus, in 1992 she painted The Dance. The deceptive title brings a joyful scene, the music, and lightness to the viewer’s mind. But instead of that, the artwork depicts children of various ethnicities in a bleak space, facing the wall and turning their backs to the viewer. The piece brings the feeling of melancholy of the environment in which the children are placed, but the beam of light are the clothes they wear and the vibrancy of the colors that stand out from the overall sad and unappealing surroundings.

This painting was sold at Christie’s London in 2007 for $1,914,870. Find out more about the auction by clicking here.

Die Baba (The baby) (1985)

Die Baba is probably one of the most talked about Marlene Dumas paintings. The piece brings attention to the facial expressions and the gaze of the eyes of the baby, usually depicted as innocent and blissfully ignorant of the problems of the world and the heaviness of life. But in Marlene’s painting, the baby is not baby-like. It is not oblivious to the thoughts and sins we carry within. It is a baby that stares right through the very core, the baby that knows, the baby that silently judges, the baby that is simply – not a baby. Some described this painting as an early depiction of Hitler, the vilest figure of the modern history. While the actual facial features used as inspiration for Die Baba did not belong to Hitler, but to the artist’s brother, the work of art still raises the question: Are we born good and become evil later in life, or is it possible to actually be born evil?

Die Baba was sold in 2006 at Christie’s New York for $1,920,000. See the whole painting and more details on the auction here.

My moeder voor sy my moeder was (My mother before she became my mother) (2010)

Mother. The source of everything. The giver of life. The provider. The one who brings children to the Earth. The one who nurtures them. The one who loves them. The one who is always there for them. The one who is proud of their accomplishments. The one who cries with them. The one who is happy for them. The one who is always there. The one who helps them on their path through life. The one who eventually dies. Marlene Dumas’ mother died in 2007. Before her death, she told the artist not to paint her as an old woman. Thus, this Marlene Dumas painting is a depiction of her mother as a young woman, before she was a mother before she did not even know she would become one. The intimate depiction of the most important woman in everyone’s lives.

This piece was sold at Christie’s New York in 2011 for @2,000,000. See the whole piece and more details here.

The Pilgrim (2006)

Created in 2006, The Pilgrim depicts a close up of a bearded man, absent-mindedly staring into nothingness. His face is bathed with a pink twilight, with lush and vivid rose, orange and green brushstrokes on his forehead, nose and cheek. The title indicates no particular individual, but rather a type of person. Pilgrims undertake a journey, a pilgrimage to a holy place to find spiritual enlightenment or healing, prepared to endure physical misery for God’s sake.

The work was sold on March 8th, 2018 at Phillips London during their 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale for $2,053,918. More data on the work here.

Night Nurse (2000)

Marlene Dumas paintings bloom where words perish. Her images speak more than any words ever could. Night Nurse is one of those images. The artwork is a prime example of Dumas’ style, both in content and in form. In collaboration with Anton Corbjin, Marlene ventured onto the journey of depicting prostitutes from the famous Red Light District. She explored the themes of nudity, eroticism, and sexuality, and in this painting, those themes are represented through the image of a barely-clothed subject. The piece suggests a number of narratives but does not tell us what is the exact story behind it. Elusive and sophisticated, the painting is a perfect representation of Dumas as an artist, and thus it receives the third place on our list.

Night Nurse was sold at Phillips New York in May of 2016 for $2,517,000. See the whole painting and additional details here.

Magdalena (Dark Polychrome) (1995)

Another work from the famed Magdalena series created for Venice Biennale, Magdalena (Dark Polychrome) plays on the biblical myth of Mary Magdalene, who, according to legend, lived a secluded life clothed only by her hair. Fusing historical paradigms with images of the supermodel Naomi Campbell, the artist depicted a figure with full-lipped pout framed by curtains of flowing black hair, a trait that marks this painting out from the full cycle of twelve paintings. The body occupies a completely abstract realm of space, set against the dark blue ground against.

The work was sold on March 5th, 2019 at Sotheby's London during their Contemporary Art Evening Auction for $2,478,555. More data on the work here.

Red Head (2001)

A sensorially stimulating example of the artist’s profound investigation into the role of the painted figure in an increasingly image-driven society, Red Head presents an Edenic woman emerging from the luscious resonance of a vibrant sunset spectrum. Continuing a dialogue with one of her most enduring subjects - the female nude, it recalls the great female nudes of art history, but also a contemporary subject that she has engaged with in her most iconic works of the mid-1990s - supermodel Naomi Campbell. With features seemingly drained of identity, drifts between the realms of subject and object.

The work was sold on May 11th, 2016 at Sotheby's New York during their Contemporary Art Evening Auction for $2,700,000. More data on the work here.

The Teacher (sub a) (1987)

As you have probably figured by now, Marlene Dumas paintings are not constrained by the shackles of reality. She does not care about what the world looks like, she cares about her own representation of it. Therefore, the piece entitled The Teacher does not offer a realistic image of a teacher and her class. The faces of the children and their tutor are, again, somewhat disturbing, disfigured. They do not offer a lot of detail, but they manage to depict a variety of emotions. Some are confused, some are deeply sad, some are smiling, and others are perplexed. The teacher has a strict facial expression, with eyes that gaze into the spot away from the imaginary lens. Everyone in this painting has their own personality, their own problems, even at such a young age. They are all together, but at the same time, all alone.

The Teacher was sold at Christie’s London in 2005 for $2,967,800. See more details here.

Magdalena (Underwear And Bedtime Stories) (1995)

This work is part of Dumas's major series collectively known as the Magdalenas. Created for her landmark Venice Biennale show of the same year, these larger than life, vertiginous paintings take on the trope of the ‘fallen’ woman as epitomized by the biblical tale of Mary Magdalene. These works portray femininity in a bold way, confronting the female body as a locus of pleasure and sin, asserting a catalog of empowered female embodiment. This exquisite example from this important series was based on an image of Naomi Cambell, with her seductive femininity preserving a Lolita-esque girlishness. The figure is cut off at the knees and her white t-shirt was replaced by long flowing locks of hair that half conceal the figure’s bare chest.

The work was sold on November 16th, 2017 at Sotheby's New York during their Contemporary Art Evening Auction for $3,000,000. More data on the work here.

De Gele Vingers Van De Kunstenaar [The Yellow Fingers Of The Artist] (1985)

Created in 1985, De gele vingers van de kunstenaar, encapsulates the very breakthrough moment in Dumas' career in the mid-1980s. It is part of the breakthrough body of work The Eyes of the Night Creatures that Dumas created after a five-year hiatus from painting, during which time she had primarily created works on paper. The debut of the series marked her triumphant return to painting and figuration. Based on a photograph, the work captures a late-night art world gathering of friends that smoke, drink and talk. It is also a tribute to her friend and artist René Daniëls, depicted on the left.

The work was sold on November 16th, 2017 at Phillips New York during their 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale for $3,000,000. More data on the work here.

Colorfields (1997)

Created in 1997, Colorfields features five heroically-scaled women, confronting the viewer with its bold chromatic arrangement. The title itself references the Color Field movement, but also the emotive nature of color harnessed and exercised by the Abstract Expressionists. The painting is based on a Vogue photograph of four models, Carla Bruni, Nadja Auermann, Shalom Harlow, and Karen Mulder, with an interesting addition of a fifth figure to the far right. While she draws influence from a myriad of sources, the artist insists she is most interested in maintaining an air of mystery throughout her body of work.

The work was sold on May 18th, 2017 at Phillips New York during their 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale for $3,500,000. More data on the work here.

The Visitor (1995)

The unforgettable piece entitled The Visitor, painted in 1995, is one of Marlene Dumas’ most important paintings - and the most expensive one to date. The large-scale image presents her painterly style and the choice of subjects. Influenced by the work of Degas, Matisse, and Munch, The Visitor ropes of innuendos and social commentaries. The artwork shows six young women surrounded by the claustrophobic environment of a confined room. The girls are facing the bright light coming from the open door, but their personalities are nevertheless cloaked in mystery, inviting the viewers to examine their faces more closely to raise the veil of anonymity. The viewer is faced with the shadowy room, behind a scene impregnated with the implications of taboo, ambiguity, and unclear narrative that evokes the feeling of unease.

The Visitor was sold at Sotheby’s London in 2008 for $6,337,340. To see more details on the auction and the piece, click here.

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