Angels in Uniform
Oil and crayon on canvas
200 x 100 cm (78 3/4 x 39 3/8 in.)
Young girls, their childish faces taking form, are gathered around an adult, perhaps their teacher, wearing a long black dress. This large-scale painting by Marlene Dumas, a South African artist who has lived in Holland since 1976, is entitled Angels in Uniforms. Created in the context of an exhibition of the artist's work at the Palazzo delle Stelline in Milan in 2012, this work is linked to the history of the building: a former convent transformed into a hospital, which became an orphanage for little girls (the Stelline or little stars).
Marlene Dumas reinterprets a class photograph found in the school's archives and brings it to life through painting. In these faces with their almost ghostly features, anonymity, dreary daily life, and the pain of their stories surfaces and unsettles us. This work is also reminiscent of the paintings Dumas made in the late 1980s from photographs of her own class in South Africa.
As always, Marlene Dumas's paintings are made very quickly and seem to be “lightly painted.” The economy of colour is counterbalanced by the masterful, virtuosic, and strikingly effective paintwork.
Angels in Uniforms, 2012 was first shown at Punta della Dogana in the exhibition Prima Materia in 2013 and is part of the hanging of the exhibition Ouverture at the Bourse de Commerce in 2021.