Marlene Dumas: 'I use second-hand images, first-hand emotions'

Naomi Campbell and other highlights from 'Tronies: Marlene Dumas and the Old Masters', at the Haus der Kunst in Munich
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Marlene Dumas, Naomi (1995)

1 / 8 Marlene Dumas, Naomi (1995)

Marlene Dumas, Barbie, the Original (1997)

2 / 8 Marlene Dumas, Barbie, the Original (1997)

Marlene Dumas, Helena's Dream (2008)

3 / 8 Marlene Dumas, Helena's Dream (2008)

Marlene Dumas, Moshekwa (2006)

4 / 8 Marlene Dumas, Moshekwa (2006)

Marlene Dumas, Waterproof Mascara (2008)

5 / 8 Marlene Dumas, Waterproof Mascara (2008)

Cornelis Corneliszoon van Haarlem, Portrait of a fool, (c.1596)

6 / 8 Cornelis Corneliszoon van Haarlem, Portrait of a fool, (c.1596)

Jacob Jordaens, Head study (c.1620/21)

7 / 8 Jacob Jordaens, Head study (c.1620/21)

Michael Sweerts, Head of a woman (c.1654)

8 / 8 Michael Sweerts, Head of a woman (c.1654)


Drawn and painted representations of heads and figures form a constant in the work of South African-born painter Marlene Dumas, who moved to Holland in 1976. Taken from reproductions in books and magazines her works take the figure as a starting point to say something deeper about contemporary topics and the nature of the human form.

For Tronies: Marlene Dumas and the Old Masters, currently on show at Haus der Kunst, Munich (until 6 February), works spanning her entire career have been brought together with figure studies for works by 16th and 17th century Master painters such as Rubens, Rembrandt and Frans Hals. Known as 'tronies' - the word comes from the Netherlandish word for 'head', 'face' or 'countenance' - and only recently classified as a genre in their own right, the studies were painted from life and used as reference models for figures in historical paintings. However their expressive nature meant they were also particularly coveted by collectors as examples of an artist's signature and over the course of the 17th Century were increasingly created as independent artworks, available for sale on the art market.

By comparing these two initially distantly-connected bodies of work a number of parallels emerge; the expressive nature of both, the lack of context for the head or body on the canvas and, most prominently, the refusal of the works to be interpreted as portraits in any traditional definition of the word. Furthermore there is a direct dialogue between the two: Dumas has drawn specific inspiration from historical works from various eras in particular from works by the northern Netherlands' Haarlem school of painters. 

By comparing and contrasting works from the tronie movement with contemporary painting this dialogical exhibition transcends eras and disciplines, exploring both the changing and continuous nature of the depiction of the human form. 


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