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Earliest Known Work by Top International Female Artist, Marlene Dumas, to Sell at Bonhams
Marlene Dumas painted this charming picture of a girl for a student friend. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- The earliest known work by an artist acknowledged as one of today’s leading international female painters, Marlene Dumas, whose pictures sells for millions, will be auctioned by Bonhams on March 23rd in a sale of South African Art.

Dumas painted this charming picture of a girl for a student friend, Alida Louw, on the occasion of Alida’s 16th birthday in 1971. At the time they were both pupils at Bloemhof, an exclusive High School for Girls in the beautiful village of Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands. The work would be of no great significance were it not for the fact that the then budding schoolgirl artist, Marlene Dumas, now has an international reputation. The picture is estimated to sell for 7,000 to 10,000.

The birthday painting was created four decades before Dumas’ international reputation assured her work of six figure sums at auction, but its personal interest motivated by friendship and the message of good luck it comes with, all add to its value and interest.

Just recently the University of Stellenbosch presented Dumas with an honorary doctorate to acknowledge her huge international success and the pride the University took in claiming her as one of its own. This is despite the fact that Dumas has lived in the Netherlands for many years.

The birthday picture is now being sold after being nurtured by the owner for four decades. Alida comments: “When it was painted it seemed like a lighthearted work of moments, but 40 years later the student artist, Marlerne Dumas, is a major figure in the art world, and I am still greatly flattered that she took the trouble to capture this image for me. I would like to see this picture find a loving place between other Marlene Dumas’ in the home of a passionate collector rather than remaining in obscurity.”

Alida fondly recalls her student friend’s “angelic looks and carefree bubbly personality, characteristics that contributed to Marlene being loved by every single girl in the school as well as our very stern headmistress, the late Miss ElizeCoetzee.”

Marlene Dumas was born in South African in 1953 and grew up on a wine farm outside Cape Town in a tranquil rural setting.

The personal and the historical are both present in Dumas’s portraits. In Dead Marilyn (2008), a female corpse fills the expanse of a small canvas. This work marked the beginning of a group of paintings of mourning and weeping women, made in the year after the artist’s mother died.

Dumas’s treatment of this infamous image of Marilyn Monroe reveals layers of meaning beyond its original source, which was an autopsy photograph. Notions of celebrity, sensationalism, and the mystery of the actress’s own personal narrative come into question.

In The Pilgrim (2006), Dumas shifts her critical interests in the public notoriety to an image of Osama bin Laden, whose relatively peaceful eyes and mild smile greatly contrast with the media’s typical portrayals. Stripping her subject of his public persona and historical importance, Dumas leaves us with a critique of both politics and identity. She has said that her works are better appreciated as originals, to mirror the at times shocking, discomforting intimacy she captures with her works.

Her first major American museum exhibition, a midcareer retrospective entitled "Measuring Your Own Grave", opened in June 2008 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and moved to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The artist is represented by David Zwirner, New York.

Work by the artist is held in the public collections of various museums, including the Museum Schiedam, Schiedam, The Netherlands; Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent, Belgium; Tate Modern, London, England; and ZKM Zentrum fr kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe, Germany, as well as numerous institutions in the USA.

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