Marlene Dumas. Jen. 2005

Marlene Dumas Jen 2005

  • Not on view

Dumas’s portrait Jen hovers between love and death. The painting depicts the head and chest of a prone, naked woman; her eyes are shut and her skin seems drained of color, except for touches of unnatural peach and green around her face and swaths of blue on her lips and eyelid. Against this ashen pallor, a strangely swollen pink-and-blood-red nipple appears to protrude from the canvas. Drastically foreshortened and closely cropped, the figure recalls Renaissance depictions of the dead Christ as much as the art-historical tradition of supine female nudes. It is hard to tell whether she is sleeping or lifeless.

The picture is in fact part of a harrowing series of portraits of corpses, but in this case Dumas borrowed the source image for Jen from a reproduction of a still from Yoko Ono’s 1970 film Fly, in which houseflies crawl over the body of a recumbent, slowly breathing actress. Dumas’s female figure thus traverses still and moving image, vitality and objecthood, arousal and burial.

Born in South Africa in 1953, Dumas has lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1976. She has painted people in vastly different places and states—whether being rounded up by police, or lost in thought, or tenderly embracing. She has said, “I want to portray people in all their complexity and never [as a] completely definable entity.”

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Additional text

Best known for her portraits in watercolor, Dumas here employs a richly toned palette of oil paint, punctuating the female subject's white skin with a deep red nipple and slashes of blue and black at the eye and lips. One of a series of emotive portraits of laid-out corpses, the woman's head is taken from a still from the 1970 film Fly, by Yoko Ono, which follows houseflies as they explore the naked body of an actress. Dumas, who aims "to portray people in all their complexity and never [as a] completely definable entity," has succeeded in rendering an image of provocative ambiguity through her use of color, cropping, and foreshortening.

Gallery label from What is Painting? Contemporary Art from the Collection, July 7–September 17, 2007 .
Oil on canvas
43 3/8 x 51 1/4" (110.2 x 130.2 cm)
Gift of Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis in honor of Klaus Biesenbach and Christophe Cherix
Object number
© 2021 Marlene Dumas
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].