These Marlene Dumas Paintings Reached the Highest Prices in Auction
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.
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.
In the Beginning (1991)
One of the recurring themes in Marlene Dumas paintings is the theme of childhood. From the newborn to the toddler, to the teenager, Dumas had depicted them all. In the Beginning is one of Marlene’s masterpieces, not only for its large scale but for its subject matter as well. This painting depicts one of her signature toddlers, herself, painting her first piece ever. The bold lines and shapes blend with thick gestural brushwork and the washes, making the artwork simple, yet managing to present all the details necessary. The artist often described as “intellectual expressionist” is a master of simultaneously creating the feeling of intimacy and alienation through her provocative works. She is not interested in anatomy; she is interested in the childlike play that ignores the laws of reality. The proportions of the head in comparison to the body are irrelevant for her, as she chooses to depict what really matters in her paintings, and not the realistic representation of the human body.
In the Beginning was sold at Sotheby’s New York in May of 2007 for $1,608,000. Click here to see the whole painting and more details on the auction.
Adult Entertainment (2000)
In many of Marlene Dumas paintings, we can see the ladies of the night, the strippers, the women of the adult entertainment industry. So it is no wonder that a painting with this exact title has made it into our list, and why it is one of her most expensive works. Dumas is an artist who does not shy away from depicting women of, some would say, questionable morals, and is no stranger to presenting them as they really are, of course, through her own signature imagery. In Marlene Dumas’ works, there are no romanticized and glamorized images of the adult entertainers. She does not fall into the category of representations offered by Pretty Woman and similar movies and artworks. She offers the raw, unedited, real women and their real bodies which are not always smooth and wrinkle-free. She offers the woman, not the idealization of a woman, and that’s what makes her one of the most influential female artists of her generation.
This piece entitled Adult Entertainment was sold in May of 2006 at Phillips New York for $1,400,000. See more details on the piece and the auction here.
Wet Dreams (1987)
The piece painted in 1987 entitled Wet Dreams was exhibited at the Kunsthalle Bern is one of Marlene Dumas’ exquisite paintings. The portrait of a young man lost in his thoughts evokes the sense of intimacy and reminds one of Narcissus looking into his reflective pool. Dumas managed to create a masterpiece through the use of rapid brush strokes and a palette of aubergine, cream, mahogany, and wine. The captivating image of a man invites us to investigate his glowing, alabaster skin, and his soft chestnut hair. It makes us want to get in between his eyes and the spot he is staring at, to become a part of the painting and to find a way into his thoughts. The intimacy and the provocative title of the piece charge the artwork with erotic resonance, making the viewers wonder if the young man’s thoughts are of erotic or existential nature.
Wet Dreams was sold at Christie’s London in February of 2013 for $1,646,270. Find out more about the auction here.
The Schoolboys (1987)
The captivating image of four boys in school uniforms smiling with non-naturally colored and somewhat demonic-looking faces gathered outside the school gates is a two-meter long artwork from the important series of Marlene Dumas’ paintings depicting the school children. Painted in a range of dark hues that blend with deep viridian green, Prussian blue, and umber to create a shimmering plane of color, the piece levitates between figuration and abstraction and creates an almost hallucinatory image of the subject matter familiar to Marlene’s work. The smiling faces, the angular stripes of the blazers, the laid-back poses and the hands in pockets, all make The Schoolboys a representation of true playfulness that schoolboy gangs carry within.
The Schoolboys was sold at Christie’s London in 2011 for $1,766,740. Check out the details on the auction and the piece here.
The Dance (1992)
Continuing with the depictions of children, The Dance is one of Marlene Dumas paintings that offer the expressionist and gestural contemporary masterpiece. As we have previously mentioned, 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.
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.
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.
The Visitor (1995)
The unforgettable piece entitled The Visitor, painted in 1995, is one of Marlene Dumas’ most important paintings. 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.