Description: Mrs. oil on linen 85 1/2 x 52 1/2 in. (217.2 x 133.3 cm.) Painted in 1999.
Artist or Maker: Luc Tuymans (B. 1958)
Exhibited: Bern, Kunstmuseum, Eiszeit, September-October 2000.
London, White Cube, The Unthought Known, March-April 2002.
Langenthal, Kunsthaus, Sammlung Oberholzer, February-April 2003 illustrated, p. 9).
Geneva, Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain, Luc Tuymans: Portraits 1975-2003, June-September 2006.
Bern, Kunstmuseum, October 2000-September 2006 (extended loan).
Literature: E. Gerber, Zeit Fenster. Das Projekt Museum für Kunst der Gegenwart, Bern 2001, p. 151 (illustrated).
Provenance: Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2000
Notes: PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE SWISS COLLECTOR
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Shimmering mirage-like beyond our grasp, Mrs. is the manifestation of a fragmentary memory. Ambiguous and mysterious, the image of this Sixties-style woman with her handbag, painted in 1999, is a prompt to the viewer, yet deliberately limits the amount of information that it conveys. This subject has the faintest hint of Jackie Kennedy about her, yet she remains an inscrutable, unidentifiable, faceless Everywoman from the 1960s. She could be someone's mother, someone's wife-- someone's widow?
History and violence always lurk tantalizingly and threateningly beneath the surface of Tuymans' paintings. They are booby-trapped, and the awareness of that trap leads to a picture such as Mrs.--which shows only an elegant woman with a handbag--inducing an uncomfortable tension in the viewer. Even innocent images, in Tuymans' hands, are tainted by the mere possibilities of morbid histories that display the uglier side of human nature, that hold a mirror up to society and, by extension, to us. The distance between memory and reality, between the painting and the viewer, is a wide domain of potential--both for understanding and for misunderstanding-- and it is in this non-specific realm of interpretation and over-interpretation that Tuymans manipulates his image and his viewer. He creates a deliberately flawed and incomplete image that both illustrates and utilizes the limitations of its own pictorial nature in order to lend some faint substance to the disembodied memories that comprise our histories, both national and personal.
In Mrs., one of the first large-scale paintings that the artist made, the teasingly anonymous appearance of the woman leads the viewer to wonder whether this is a picture from a collective and cultural history or whether it is more personal. Little is revealed by the source images which exist on the back of an envelope from 1999, comprising a collage element and a sketched outline (the hair in Mrs. is based on a fragment of a photo cut-out from a magazine that would also be the source image for Tuymans' 2000 painting, Hair, in which the disembodied coiffure of the title is shown isolated on the canvas). Certainly, the deliberately pale palette that Tuymans has used mimics the sepia tones of an old, faded photograph, heightening the effect of the clearly vintage wardrobe of the woman portrayed. As Tuymans has explained, 'I wanted to make my paintings look old from the start, which is important because they are about memory' (Tuymans, quoted in R. Storr, 'A Worst Case Scenario', pp. 13-39, Luc Tuymans: Mwana Kotoko, Beautiful White Man, exh.cat. from 2001 Venice Biennale, Ghent, 2001, p. 21).