Untitled (from the serie: Penthésilée)
Vintage gelatin silver print on Agfa-Brovira paper. 27.2 x 39.5 cm. Dated and inscribed in pencil 'Groupe III, montage solarisé', numbered in ink '12' as well as annotated in an unknown hand on the verso. Unique - Matted.
In his surrealist phase, photography constituted an important artistic medium for Raoul Ubac. In 1933, he began occupying himself with photography, in 1934, he installed his first darkroom. Ubac's work on his Penthésilée series, based on the tragic female figure from Greek mythology which Heinrich von Kleist adapted in his tragedy, dates back to 1937: Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons, comes into conflict with the laws of her own people, that tolerate no men in their midst, when she falls in love with Achilles. In order to win him as a lover without breaking her own laws, she must defeat him in battle. A chain of tragic circumstances leads her to kill her lover in delusion and finally - when she realises the extent of her deed - to follow him to her death. The play is about sexuality and violence, reason, madness, and death, themes that profoundly occupy Ubac and the surrealists in his circle.
Ubac used nude photographs that he had taken of his wife Agui and a mutual friend as the source material for this unique photograph from the Penthesilée series. The print is the result of a complex montage process. With the help of solarisation, superimposition, reflection and the shifting of slides and negatives against each other, Ubac created the special, relief-like effect of photography. 'Through ingenious experimenting with the physico-chemical foundations of photography, Ubac had found a method that allowed him to extend the familiar phenomenology of photography with completely new levels of expression. André Breton was full of enthusiasm and reproduced two copies from the series Combat de Penthésilée 1939 in the appendix of his essay 'Des tendances plus récentes de la peinture surréaliste' in the Minotaure journal. They were regarded as evidence for the theory that photography as a means of expression of a surrealist world outlook was no less suitable than painting and graphic art. (as cited by Herbert Molderings: Ubac und die Fotografie des Formlosen, in: Adam C. Oellers, Raoul Ubac. Skulpturen. Gemälde. Zeichnungen. Photographien, exhib.cat. Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum Aachen i.a., Aachen 1996, p. 32)
Estate of Raoul Ubac; Dorothy and Eugene Prakapas collection, New York
Christian Bouqueret, Raoul Ubac. Photographie, Paris 2000, ill. p. 238