MacDougall Auctions 12-18 June 2008

12 June 2008

Artist Index / Full Catalogue


* 385. NEIZVESTNY, ERNST B. 1926

Untitled signed.

Acrylic on canvas, 121 by 160 cm.

Provenance: Purchased directly from the artist.
Private collection, Canada.

The majority of Neizvestny’s works from the 1950s onwards form three cycles, which have provided a common theme for many of the artist’s works over the years: Gigantomachy (from 1958), Images of Dostoevsky (from 1963) and Images of Dante (from 1966).

The series of five important works by the artist, here offered for sale, relate to the Images of Dante series. Their main subject, whether depicting Tityus chained to a cliff and torn to pieces by an eagle, Paolo and Francesca swept along by an icy wind or even three-headed Lucifer devouring sinners, is the human body which, in Neizvestny’s view, evolves with time, unlike artificial constructions. Bodies being formed or conversely being expressively deformed do not merely illustrate episodes drawn from the descent into Hell from the Divine Comedy, but express the intrinsically complex, metaphorical language, steeped in symbolism, that was characteristic of Neizvestny for whom pondering on the structure, space and visualisation of Dante’s Inferno is perhaps the most important theme in his work.

In a book of his lectures on art, literature and philosophy, Neizvestny wrote: “The space of Dante’s Inferno is not Euclidian, as his time is not real… The horizontal spirals, the structures of Hell on a vertical axis are punctured with giant bodies. Their legs, torsos and arms are parts of horizontal cross-sections of the circles of Hell. Souls in torment, centaurs, snakes, furies and demons recede into the background …before a sea of flesh…

In Dante, the body is in a dialogue between body and soul, the earthly and the divine. Dante’s Inferno consists of talking bodies, dismembered and deformed bodies. Each body part contains its antithesis. Dante’s body is both the perfect form of Apollonic man, and Dionysian movement destroying man. The body, like all the circles of Hell, is permeated with a spheral energy.

Some bodies thrust out of others. Tree branches are interwoven with anatomy. People grow like stones or dismembered and newly reassembled animals, one fusing with another.

Dante is a great anatomist. His sculptural bodies, writhing, groaning, crying out, distorted, are dissected by a strong and practised hand. His bodies are anatomical. His anatomy is symbolic and at the same time cosmological. The intertwining of bodies, the tension of distorted space, the multi-voiced and motley chorus create a powerful polyphony of order and chaos, uncontrolled temperament and cold mathematics”.

Notes on symbols:
* Indicates 5% Import Duty Charge applies.
Ω Indicates 20% Import Duty Charge applies.
§ Indicates Artist's Resale Right applies.
† Indicates Standard VAT scheme applies, and the rate of 20% VAT will be charged on both hammer price and premium.