Henk Peeters (Dutch, 1925-2013) Pirografie 59#21 1959

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Lot 4AR
Henk Peeters
(Dutch, 1925-2013)
Pirografie 59#21

Sold for £ 43,750 (US$ 58,412) inc. premium
Henk Peeters (Dutch, 1925-2013)
Pirografie 59#21

signed, dated 59 and inscribed 59#21 on the reverse
smoke on linen

100.5 by 80.8 cm.
39 9/16 by 31 13/16 in.


  • This work is registered in the Henk Peeters Archive in the ZERO Foundation, Düsseldorf, under no. 59-21.

    Collection of the Artist, The Netherlands
    Thence by descent to the present owner

    The Hague, Gemeentemuseum; Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Informele kunst in België en Nederland 1955-1960, 1983-1984
    London, The Mayor Gallery, Henk Peeters, 2011

    Henk Peeters could be considered one of the most significant artists in the Post-War European context yet to achieve the global recognition of his contemporaries. Fiendishly inventive and blessed with incredible vision, Peeters was not only instrumental in driving the Nul, ZERO, Gutai and Informel movements to the worldwide stage but he also experimented with myriad techniques during the creative heat of the 1950s and early 1960s that have since become foundations of Post-Modernism. Unlike Yves Klein, who went on to work with fire in the early 1960s, Peeters was not prolific and Pirografie 59#21 is one of only three surviving fire paintings on canvas dating from the artist's most significant early practice. Never seen on the market before the present work is also the earliest pyrography to ever be offered at auction and the only one on linen.

    Whilst Klein took a very spiritual approach to his work, Peeters' ideas were much closer to those of his friend and artist Piero Manzoni and to those of Lucio Fontana. His use of fire as a painterly medium was developed under the influence of Alberto Burri, whom he saw at the Venice Biennale in 1960. In Pirografie 59#21, Henk Peeters captured the ephemeral moment of a flame passing across a raw piece of linen; the event, so fleeting in its nature, has been trapped on the picture plane in the form of black smoke and soot. An element at once generative and destructive, has been transported into an artistic medium, and what remains are the traces of flames, licking the surface, forever caught in an immaterial realm in which meaning and emotion are of no consequence.

    In 1958, only one year before Pirografie 59#21 was created, Peeters and his contemporaries Jan Schoonhoven, Armando, Kees van Bohemen and Jan Henderikse formed the Hollandse Informele Groep (Dutch Informal Group). The movement ceased to exist in 1960 and Peeters, Hendrikse, Schoonhoven and Armando went on to start Nul, a group that was affiliated with the German ZERO movement, as well as the Japanese Gutai group, and Nouveau Réalisme in France. The Nul group set themselves in opposition to CoBrA, a more figurative Post-War movement, in wanting an objective art, a new beginning that was divorced from any emotional value, trauma and angst. "To change the world", Peeters wrote in an exhibition catalogue for the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1965, "is to start seeing the world. Then perhaps it can stay as it is" (the artist in: Henk Peeters, translated by Mike Ritchie, 'Untitled' in Katherine Atkins and Jennifer Bantz Eds., Zero: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s-1960s, New York 2014, p. 230).

    In his oeuvre, Peeters frequently selected materials that have a very tactile appeal such as cotton wool, feathers, rubber, foam, and fire; by doing so he paradoxically created a distinct untouchability, capturing the coincidence of everyday life, an essence of the immediate. Peeters sought to bring about a consciousness of one's environment and to visualize sensual emotions. He transitioned to the use of plastic foil very early on his creative practice, making the present early work on linen a precious rarity.

    Henk Peeters was arguably one of the most active members of the Dutch Nul group which ceased to exist around 1966. He was instrumental in in bringing together likeminded artists and in organising the historical international ZERO/Nul exhibitions staged at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1962 and 1965. He was also involved in planning the infamous Zero on Sea event that was supposed to take place on Scheveningen pier in the Netherlands in 1965 and to feature about fifty different artists from all over the world including the Gutai group; unfortunately, the ambitious project never materialized.

    To this day, works by Peeters' have been included in numerous group shows and several solo exhibitions, most notably in Zero: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s-1960s the recent landmark exhibition held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 2014 and his vast influence and importance has only just started to be reassessed.
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