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Paul Lombard at Artcurial: Doing Justice to Art History

lombardacleger90detail smallFernand Léger (1881-1955), “Project for  Paul Eluard’s ‘Liberty, I write your name'” (Detail), 1953.  Gouache, ink, and collage on paper, 13 x 51 1/8 inches.  Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 80,000 – 120,000 Euros. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

It’s a pity that Paul Lombard was too busy becoming a lion of the law — among other celebrated cases, working on the Chagall, Picasso, Balthus, and Bonnard successions and valiantly defending one of the last men to be executed in France before it banned the death penalty in 1981, Christian Ranucci, in the belief that his client was innocent — to take up a third career (he also wrote books) as a curator. Judging by the breadth and intrepidness of the late Marseille-born advocate’s collection, which goes on sale Tuesday evening at Artcurial in Paris, Lombard was not only an expert in various domains of the law (notably authoring a book on divorce), but could have given seminars to the major museum curators, whose ethos in recent years (with the exception of the Pompidou) seems to be driven by marketing concerns at the expense of curiosity, archeology, and preservation (of art history, I mean), most exhibitions repeatedly trotting out the same artists in new conceptual configurations or combinations.

A perusal of the Artcurial catalog for the Lombard auction confirms that in building a collection which documents several through-lines of art history between them spanning more than 200 years, Lombard, who died in January at the age of 89, was guided by two principles (both familiar to defense lawyers): Explaining (in this case, the sources of artistic movements and individual artists’ inspirations), and shedding light (here, on previously obscure aspects of artists we thought we already knew everything about).

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Isadora for sale

lombardacisadora smallAmong the eclectic collection of the late French lawyer Paul Lombard to be auctioned off by Artcurial in Paris October 10: André Dunoyer de Segonzac (1884-1974), “Danseuse, Isadora Duncan – 1910.” Ink on paper, 9 x 13 3/8 inches. Signed and dated lower right. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 300 – 400 Euros. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

L’univers va danser

lombardacleger94 smallAmong the phenomenal collection of the late French lawyer Paul Lombard to be auctioned off by Artcurial in Paris October 10: Fernand Leger, “Camarades!” (Portrait of Jacques Decour), 1951. India ink on paper, 19 1/4 x 12 7/8 inches. Jacques Decour was the nom de plum of Daniel Decourdemanche, French author, German scholar, and editor of Louis Aragon’s revue Commune and of the  Resistance newspaper La pensée Libre, executed by firing squad on Mount Valérien by the German occupiers on May 30, 1942, at the age of 32. It’s not surprising that this particular work should have attracted Lombard,  unafraid of championing lost causes. Originally a gift to Decour’s sister,  Denise Decourdemanche, the inscription says, in part: “Comrades, we won’t let this happen. Today the universe is going to dance.” In a letter to his family written on the day of his execution, Decour wrote: “As I am not religious, I’ve not been dwelling on death. I think of myself a bit like a leaf which falls from the tree to turn into compost. I want to speak to the young people of France, in whom I place all my hope.” Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial. (Letter cited in “La vie à en mourir, lettres de fusillés 1941-1944,” Taillandier, 2003, and quoted in this Wikipedia article.)