Surreal Valentine
Portrait of Arthur Rimbaud by Valentine Hugo Leads Bonhams Surrealist Sale

LondonValentine Hugo (1887-1968) is considered to be one the great forgotten women of the Surrealist movement. Despite her close relationships within the group and participation in some of the earliest Surrealists exhibitions, she was notably excluded by André Breton from his seminal book Le Surréalisme et la Peinture (1928). Their love affair years later seemed to seal her fate – ending in a punch in the face for him, a suicide attempt by her. Breton did however encourage Hugo to produce one of her best works – Portrait d'Arthur Rimbaud, which leads Bonhams The Mind's Eye / Surrealist Sale on Tuesday 8 March in London. The work has an estimate of £400,000-600,000.

Hannah Noel-Smith, Head of UK & Europe Impressionist & Modern Art, commented: "Arthur Rimbaud was a huge source of inspiration for the Surrealists, and is even considered by some to be the true father of the movement – a title more often attributed to André Breton. Dating from 1933, two years after Hugo and Breton had split, the work could be seen as an allegory not just of Rimbaud and his turbulent love affair with fellow poet Paul Verlaine, but also of the fated affair between Breton and Hugo. Following Hugo's work with the Ballets Russes, Jean Cocteau called Hugo his "little swan", and perhaps in this work she represents herself in swan form, looming over Rimbaud/ Breton; be it as revenge, an act of love, or to finally place herself within the movement. This captivating painting is a real masterpiece from Hugo's oeuvre with works from this key period extremely rare to the market. Thanks to the recent reappraisal of the neglected histories of women artists from the first generation of the Surrealist movement, we are sure that this work will finally receive the attention that it deserves."

Writing in Bonhams Magazine, Rosie Millard said: "The portrait seems calm, yet look a bit more deeply at it and violence is not far away. Sparkling rhinestones glitter from its surface; feathers turn into knife blades, blood spills from the surfaces and strange nautical objects speak of an underlying narrative...The painting is weirdly modern, looking almost as if it has been painted using an airbrush, and it also deeply Surreal, with strange liquid oozing from it and a river of blood swirling beneath the calm face of the poet."

Other highlights of the sale include:

• Max Ernst (1891-1976),Méduse circonflexe (Painted in 1933). Estimate: £250,000 - 350,000.

Max Ernst (1891-1976), But in Color (Painted in 1962). Estimate: £180,000-250,000.

John Armstrong (1893-1973), On the Promenade (Painted in 1947). Estimate: £40,000-60,000.

Victor Brauner (1903-1966), Sans Titre. Estimate: £40,000 - £60,000.

Yves Klein (1928-1962), Harry Shunk (1924-2006) & János Kender (1937-2009), Le Saut Dans Le Vide. Estimate: £30,000 - £50,000.

22 March 2022

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