Thus spoke the Raven / Le Corbeau (with a little help from Manet and Mallarmé)

books poe 1Édouard Manet illustration for Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849), Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898), and Édouard Manet (1832-1883), “Le Corbeau, The Raven: poëme,” Paris, Richard Lesclide, 1875. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 40,000-60,000 Euros. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2018 Paul Ben-Itzak

If ever proof was needed that the tastes of private collectors are more adventurous and archeologically enterprising than those of most museum curators/marketers, a comparison of current marquee exhibitions at three major Paris museums and an auction of relatively modest ambitions — Artcurial’s Thursday Books and Manuscripts sale in Paris — provide it.

At the Louvre, the first major Paris exhibition devoted to Delacroix in 55 years (running through July 28) seems less ambitious than a pair of simple but vivid Delacroix water-colors (of costumes for an early Victor Hugo drama) offered by Artcurial, France’s leading auction house, a couple of years back. Most of the reproductions of available press visuals make it hard to distinguish the master’s from any other musty parlor paintings that might have been hauled down from the attic. (Which is hopefully where the Louvre’s been storing them, what with the increasingly recurrent flooding of the Seine that make its basement storage problematic.) Meanwhile, over in the toney 16th arrondissement on the cusp of the Boulogne woods, the Marmottan Monet museum has decided to show the least flattering side of Camille Corot, displaying not the nature studies which made him a pioneer in outdoor painting who blazed the trail for the Impressionists (some of whom, notably Camille Pissarro and Berthe Morisot, took their first lessons in color values in Corot’s studio off the rue de Paradis), but his portraits, which, except for the ultimate, the 1874 Lady in Blue, belong back in the 18th century with their visages hard to distinguish from one to the other. (And I’m still waiting for someone to explain what those swastikas are doing etched on the bindings of the books in back of the Lady.) And the curators at the Orangerie museum in the Tuilerie Gardens are treating as a revelation the influence of Monet’s later Water Lillies and Japanese Bridge studies on certain American abstract painters, a connection which is plain to anyone who’s ever seen Monet’s twilight paintings in their permanent home at the Marmottan.

Into this breach of (mostly public) institutional imagination steps, once again, Artcurial, furnishing more artistic revelations than all these museum exhibitions combined — and this in an auction whose putative primary focus isn’t even art, but literature.

So while museums (around the world, not just in France) are treating as clever novelty the pairing of contemporary creators with the ancients, often by drawing nebulous neo-extrapalatory connections, Artcurial, by contrast, in just this one moderate-scale auction shows us vastly more interesting literary-painterly connections than even I, with my over-exposition to and immersion in art, knew existed. Specifically: Edgar Allen Poe / Stéphane Mallarmé with Edouard Manet; Fernand Léger with the gallivanting Blaise Cendrars; Guillaume Apollinaire with Robert Delaunay; André Breton with Pierre Molinier; Paul Eluard with Oscar Dominguez; Horace and the sculptor Aristide Maillol; and Anatole Le Braz with Mathurin Méheut, the Breton-born official painter of the Marine, whose sketches of what Hugo called “the workers of the sea” recall the realism of his Breton contemporary, the film-maker Jean Epstein. And these are just the highlights; I’ve left out literary-artistic collaborations in which I don’t know the literary work well enough to do the collaboration justice.

But enough ranting; let’s get to the literary art collaborations.

I’d just barely finished drying my tears at dropping the already heavy petanque ball and missing Artcurial’s Illustrated Books sale when the catalog for Books and Manuscripts arrived on my doorstep somewhere in the southwest of France Thursday.

books poe twoÉdouard Manet illustration for Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) , Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898), and Édouard Manet (1832-1883), “Le Corbeau, The Raven: poëme,” Paris, Richard Lesclide, 1875. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 40,000-60,000 Euros. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.

If you thought you had nothing left to learn about Edouard Manet, you probably haven’t yet heard about his drawings for the Paris publisher Richard Lesclide’s 1875 edition of “Le Corbeau, The Raven: poëme,” doubly-titled because Edgar Allen Poe’s original is doubled by Stéphane Mallarmé’s translation. (Realizing that Poe was translated by Mallarmé and Faulkner — “Requiem for a Nun” — translated *and* dramatized by Camus is enough to make any budding translator wonder if he has the literary balls for this work.)

The original edition on sale by Artcurial (one of 150 printed on Holland paper) includes four large lavis in black ink drawings hors-texte and autographed and two large black vignettes (the raven’s head on the first cover plate and the wings spread over the ex-libris). It’s signed by Mallarmé and Manet, with the four illustrations printed on China paper, and inscribed by Mallarmé to Léonie Madier de Montjau, a witness at the writer’s wedding with Christina Maria Gerhard and, later, his neighbor on the rue de Rome in Paris, near the Gare St.-Lazare.

books cendrars legerFernand Léger illustration for Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961) & Fernand Léger (1881-1955), “La Fin du monde filmée par l’Ange N.-D. Paris,” Éditions de la Sirène, 1919. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 1,500-2 000 Euros. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.

France’s answer to Hemingway, if Blaise Cendrars’s 1913 collaboration with Sonia Terk Delaunay, “La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France,” illustrated and designed as a vertical accordion poem, is well-known, Cendrars’s 1919 “La Fin du monde filmée par l’Ange N-D” (The end of the world filmed by the Angel of Notre Dame) was not known to me until I opened up the Artcurial catalog to behold Léger’s illustration, one of 22 featured in this the second book he designed for the author (after “J’ai tué,” I have killed, in 1918). Here’s the translation of the text in the pages we’re sharing:

“God the Heavenly Father is at his American-style desk, hastily signing innumerable papers. He’s in his shirt-sleeves, his eyes covered by a green printer’s shade. He gets up, lights up a fat cigar, looks at his watch, nervously paces back and forth in his office, chewing on his cigar. He sits down again at his desk, feverishly pushes away….”

books breton molinierAndré Breton (1896-1966) & Pierre Molinier (1900-1976), “Poèmes.” Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 8,000-10,000 Euros. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.

The surprise of the auction, in more ways than one, is Pierre Molinier’s contribution to Breton’s “Poems,” published by Gallimard in 1948, one of 23 examples on Hollande paper, and one of three not released for sale, all marked “A.” In other words, this is Breton’s own copy, enriched by an original lead pencil drawing monogrammed by Molinier, “Hotel des Etincelles” (Sparkles Hotel). Apparently the Surrealist-in-Chief had slipped the drawing neatly into the book next to the poem of the same name — so subtly that the last time it was sold at auction, in 2003, the auction house didn’t even notice the Molinier work. (En quoi de nourrir every amateur art collector’s fancy to find a previously unreconnoitered Picasso secreted by Cocteau into his personal copy of “Les parents terribles.”)

As for Mathurin Méheut, as Artcurial puts it in the catalog, the 71 China ink drawings, enhanced with gouache before being engraved in wood for the book, and 72 additional illustrations created in watercolor, sanguine, charcoal, colored pencil, and other mediums for G. & A. Mornay’s two-volume 1923 publication of Le Braz’s “Le Gardien du feu” (The Fire Guard), constitute, “by the variety of techniques employed,” and subjects treated, a veritable testament to the unique and fecund oeuvre of the great Breton artist, official painter of the Marine, decorator of ships, ceramist, and book illustrator.

books meheut one

books meheut two

books meheut two and a half

books meheut three

books meheut fourAbove (all five): Mathurin Méheut, illustrations for Anatole Le Braz (1859-1926) et Mathurin Méheut (1882-1958), “Le Gardien du feu,” Paris, G. & A. Mornay, 1923. Two volumes. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 120,000-150,000 Euros. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.

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For sale, revolution / A vendre, mai ’68

In memory of Abbie Hoffman, for the obvious reasons.

PARIS — Fifty years ago today, in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, workers and students launched what Daniel Cohn-Bendit dubbed the Movement of March 22, sowing the seeds of the May 1968 student rebellion and general strike. Last week Artcurial — an auction house owned by Dassault SA, one of the largest military manufacturers in France and the owner of the conservative newspaper Le Figaro — auctioned off “May 1968 in 500 posters,” from the collection of Laurent Storch. Following are some of the works acquired. Among the posters that went unsold were Bernard Rancillac’s design of Cohn-Bendit over the words “Nous sommes tous des  Juifs et des Allemands.” (We are all Jews, we are all Germans.)

68 small 197

“Cinéma sur Mai 68. École Normale Supérieure,” May 1968. Imp. Spec. CL. Affiche non-entoilée. 61 x 42 cm. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 400 – 800 Euros. Sold for 1,040 Euros. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.

68 small 185“On vous intoxique,” May 1968. Atelier populaire. (People’s Workshop.) Affiche entoilée. 82.04 x 72 cm. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 300 – 600 Euros. Sold for 585 Euros. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.

68 small 444“Ne soyez pas des moutons” (Don’t be a  bunch of sheep), May 1968. Affiche entoilée. 76.03 x 60.01 cm. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 800 – 1,600 Euros. Sold for 2,470 Euros. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.

68 small 148

“Halte à l’expulsion de nos camarades étrangers” (Stop expelling our foreign comrades), May ’68. École Nle Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Affiche entoilée. 72 x 43.2 cm. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 300 – 600 Euros. Sold for 520 Euros. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.

68 small 473Bernard Rancillac, “Cohn-Bendit, Nous sommes tous “indésirables”” (We are all ‘undesirables’), May 1968. Affiche entoilée. 55 x 43.04 cm. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 600 – 1,200 Euros. Sold for 845 Euros. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.

68 small 239 “Les conquêtes noyées. Les profits montent” (Social conquests drowned, profits rising), Caen, May 1968. Atelier populaire — Caen. Affiche Entoilée. 76 x 62,07 cm. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 400 – 800 Euros. Sold for 1,690 Euros. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.

68 small 448

“La beauté est dans la rue,” May 1968. Montpellier. Affiche entoilée. 65 x 47.05 cm. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 3,000 – 6,000 Euros. Sold for 3,380 Euros. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.

68 small 472Bernard Rancillac, “Cohn-Bendit, Changer la vie, 22 mars 1969,” March 22, 1969. Affiche entoilée. 57 x 85.07 cm. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 600 – 1,200 Euros. Sold for 650 Euros. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.

 

 

Max Jacob rolls the dice

Max Jacob dice cup artcurial Jean Hugo

Among the precious books and manuscripts sold off last week at Artcurial Paris were, above, one of a limited edition of 22 vellum copies of Max Jacob’s 1917 Surrealist classic “The Dice Cup” (Le Cornet à dés) with color gouaches by Jean Hugo (1894-1984; Victor’s great-grandson), in wood engravings by Jules Germain, Robert Armanelli, and André Marliat, published in 1948 by the Nouvelle Revue Française. Estimated pre-sale by France’s largest auction house at between 200 and 300 Euros, the book and its case sold for 227 Euros. Jacob (b. 1876), an intimate of Picasso, Cocteau (he is said to have introduced them), and Apollinaire who converted to Christianity before the first World War and actively proselytized, was arrested as Jewish in 1944 and died in the Drancy transfer prison outside Paris before he could be deported. Click here to read an example from the book. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

Women aren’t just Victims, II: The Tragi-Fabulous Destiny of Camille Claudel

claudel small abandonCamille Claudel, “L’Abandon,” large model, circa 1886. Bronze, brown patina, 24 3/8 x 22 7/8 x 9 5/8 inches. Signed “C. Claudel.” Last of a series of 18 cast from this model between 1905 and 1922. Estimated pre-sale by Artcurial at 600,000 – 800,000 Euros or $660 000 – 880 000; sold to a private international collector for 1,187,000 Euros or $1,412,530 including charges. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

“No, Joan, it’s not the priests who judged you. When those ferocious beasts gathered around you, their hearts full of rage and foaming at the mouth, those priests, those politicians, the Angel of Judgment who controls the scales, with a whistle he made the miter, the cowl, the frock tumble from their heads and arms.”

— Paul Claudel, “Joan of Arc at the Stake,” 1939 (Editions Gallimard)

“There’s always something absent which torments me.”

— Camille Claudel, Letter to Rodin, cited on a plaque affixed to the facade of 19, quai de Bourbon on the Ile St. Louis in Paris, where the sculptor lived and worked in a ground floor studio from 1899 until 1913, when she was committed to an asylum.

Dedicated to the memory and living legacy of Ruth Asawa, imprisoned by her government during World War II because of her Japanese heritage; Black Mountain graduate; sculptor; lithographer; teacher.

What do Hokusi, Hansi, Antoine Coysevox, Adolphe Cassandre, and Paul Claudel have in common — besides being men? You’ll find them all in the 1981 edition of the French encyclopedia “Le Petit Robert 2,” a bible of everything you need to know about French and world culture and history. You won’t find an entrée for Camille Claudel (1864-1943), assistant to, collaborator with, and lover of Auguste Rodin whose sculptures often exceed the master’s in their sophistication, intimacy, vulnerability, and heart-rending pathos. This was before the 1984 publication of a biography and Catalogue Raisonné by a descendant, Reine-Marie Paris, determined to resuscitate the reputation of the ancestor who spent 30 years in an asylum, possibly against her will, before dying of potentially hunger-related causes in 1943; several books published beginning in the 1980s, notably Anne Delbée’s 1982 best-seller “Une Femme, Camille Claudel”; two movies featuring Isabel Adjani and, more recently, Juliette Binoche as the sculptrice; a rage of exhibitions around the world; and the opening last spring of a museum dedicated to Claudel’s remaining oeuvre (estimated at between 80 and 99 works) in the remote Paris suburb of Nogent-sur-Seine, previously best known as the home of accordion legend Yvette Horner.

Camille Claudel’s ascendance — corresponding with the increased rarity of brother Paul’s plays on French stages — was capped by last week’s largest-ever sale at Artcurial Paris of works coming directly from Claudel’s descendants (via her sister Louise) for a combined total of nearly 3.6 million Euros or $4,283,048, more than three times the global pre-sale estimate, with a phenomenal 12 of the 17 lots by the artist on sale pre-empted by the State to go to French museums.

To receive the complete article, including more images, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager for just $29.95/year by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to the DI/AV Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances and art on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $99 (institutions). Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com.

The Permanent Humanity of Marcel Gromaire

Gromaire Sculpteur 1949 lot 133 smallLight & matter: In Marcel Gromaire’s 1949 oil on canvas “Sculptor,” measuring 31 7/8 x 39 3/8 inches and on sale today in Paris for Artcurial’s Impressionist and Modern Sale, a grid seems to be imposed over the torso of the live model, the clay has already assumed her curvy proportions, the figure of the sculptor is ephemeral, and the light (and outside world) filters from a large window. Signed and dated lower right; signed, dated, and titled on the back. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 30,000 – 40,000 Euros. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

The universe of Marcel Gromaire (1892 – 1971) – as confirmed by a number of the 10 Gromaire oils and inks available in the November 28 Impressionist and Modern Sale at Artcurial Paris — is a universe in which there is almost always light. Construction workers, soldiers, nude models, stairways on narrow somber streets, rooftops; even if it’s not the central subject, a patch of sky is usually hovering somewhere, a reminder of the larger world in which the scene is taking place. The result is that nothing is detached from life. “My mission as a painter,” Gromaire once explained, “is to give art a permanent and humane image.” If, viewed with a post-feminist (using the term ‘post’ loosely) sensibility, the native of northern France’s nude ink sketches and paintings (many sexually suggestive), with their visages frequently indistinct and even smudged, the bust always ample, the positions often not simply neutral but provocative, can be justly taxed with objectifying women, they can also be viewed as humane, the conniptions of the body and the head often suggesting an inner turmoil. In lieu of Lotharian intentions, perhaps it is simply that, having commenced his artistic career by sketching the rat-riddled trenches of World War 1 (for a series published by the revue Le Crapouillot in almost real time, and later issued in a very limited edition book) in which he was embedded and which reeked of the putrid stench of death, he simply wanted to focus, a la Courbet in “The Creation of the World,” on the source of life, the perfume of sex, the elixir of rejoicing, the nourishment (in the breast) of sustenance. (The drama of the nudes also owes something to his cinematic eye; Gromaire authored, in 1925, the first treatise on the manifestation of painterly values in the nascent medium of motion pictures.)

To receive the complete article, including more images, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager for just $29.95/year by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to the DI/AV Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances and art on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $99 (institutions). Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com.

La mystere de Stael

de stael smallIn the month before he threw himself off a building in Antibes on March 16, 1955, Nicolas de Stael churned out 350 paintings. And yet even if de Stael’s life had ended 11 years earlier, when he was just 30, he still would have shattered the art world with the oil “Astronomy – Composition,” painted on a 90 1/2 inch long, 40 1/2 inch tall slab of wood in Occupied Paris, the same year de Stael held his first major exhibition at Jeanne Bucher’s seminal abstract art gallery on the Boulevard Montparnasse. Looking at just a photo of this phenomenal, precise oeuvre — on sale in tonight’s Artcurial auction of Post-War and Contemporary Art in Paris — even makes one re-think the appellation “abstract,” which implies the opposite of “concrete” or, in the construct of the post-War battles for aesthetic hegemony, “figurative.” What one sees here, though, is a painting in which the observer’s universe figures into the calculation of the meaning. One can only hope that the State will calculate the oeuvre’s importance and pre-empt its sale. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 700,000 – 1,200,000 Euros. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial. — Paul Ben-Itzak

If you have a lemon tree, make art: Foujita in Montparnasse

foujita lemon pickers small

As an illustrator, Kees Van Dongen can’t be beat. (Check his ethereal covers of Proust’s gossamer ladies for Folio’s editions of “Remembrance of Things Past.”) But I just can’t see what makes “The Tall Doe in Black Stockings,” a 40 x 32 inch oil of a thin naked flapper painted in 1922-23, worth between 1.2 and 1.6 million Euros, Artcurial’s pre-sale estimate for tonight’s Impressionist and Modern auction in Paris. So if you’re looking for a representative of the Montparnasse epoch of the School of Paris — in all its international splendor — we propose instead Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886 – 1968), whose 1918 “The Lemon Pickers,” an 18 1/4 x 12 inch watercolor, ink, and gold and silver leaf on paper, is estimated at a paltry 100,000 – 150,000 Euros. Not just for its intrinsic value, but because Foujita, born in Japan and artistically flowered in France, in the hybrid nature of his oeuvre defies the false debate current among some French pundits between “multi-culturalism” and “national identity,” demonstrating that far from being antithetical, they have forged the synthesis that is the cosmopolitan French and Parisian culture. Signed in French and in Japanese (of course) at lower right. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.