Our partnership with the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation this week centers on a most unusual pairing: nuns and surrealism. Analysis of the artwork, as always, comes from Dusti Bongé Art Foundation Executive Director Ligia Römer.
Dusti Bongé Untitled (Surrealist Nuns), c. 1945, mixed media on paper, 15” x 21” and Dusti Bongé Untitled (Surrealist Composition with Nuns), c. 1945, oil on canvas 18” x 22”, and Dusti Bongé Untitled (Surrealist Composition with Nuns) in the Studio, c. 1945, photograph.
It is always fascinating to get a glimpse of what an artist may think of their own work. Did they like a particular work, and make a point to document it? Did they do preliminary sketches or studies? Did they muse about a certain theme or concept at one point and then revisit it again and again, or years later with a very different approach? In the long career that Dusti Bongé had, she did all of these.
Thus, we are sharing one example of a work for which Dusti Bongé did a study first, a subsequent painting, and which she documented as a work in progress by photographing it on her easel. It also features a thematic object, one she used in many of her surrealist works: a white bird. The work is Untitled (Surrealist Composition with Nuns).
Although many of Dusti’s surrealist explorations were inspired by dreams, she also often depicted everyday scenes, especially those that were somehow incongruous, such as nuns in full habit on the beach. This painting and its preceding sketch each depict three forms resembling nuns in black habits and white cornettes, as worn by the Daughters of Charity, along the waterfront.
In the sketch the figures are slightly more easily identifiable as nuns, in the painting they have achieved a certain degree of abstraction making the work more surreal. The white bird features prominently in both, in the upper left corner, becoming almost confused with the shapes of the cornettes, which incidentally were often referred to as wings. The sail boats in the sketch disappear in the painting. Finally, the reduced color palette of the painting adds yet another layer of abstraction, accentuated by the patterns of waves, stripes, and stippling replacing the water, sand, and greenery.