with Arthur Tooth & Sons, London.
Edward James and his Estate in Sussex had a profound impact on the life and art of Pavel Tchelitchew. Along with a sparkling coterie of British patrons, enthusiasts and admirers, including Peter Watson (1908-1956), Sir Cecil Beaton (1908-1980) and Dame Edith Sitwell (1887-1964), Edward James – like his fellow ‘Tchelitchevians’ - was drawn to the esoteric neo-classicism of the artist’s oeuvre and, seduced by the Russian’s charisma, began to acquire his work apace in the early 1930s.
The extensive archival correspondence relating to Edward James and his collection corroborates that he was a key supporter of Tchelitchew, regularly acquiring works from his dealers, including Julien Levy (1906-1981) and R. Kirk Askew (1903-1974) of Durlacher Brothers, and lending significant works for exhibition. Some of the works from this impressive selection were included in Tchelitchew’s major solo shows at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1942 and the Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art in 1964. With examples from every major period and in every conceivable medium, from silverpoint to oil adorned with sequins, the magnitude of Edward James’s collection of Tchelitchew was perhaps only rivaled in importance, but not in scope, by the collection formed by Charles (see lot 50) and Ruth Ford (1911-2009).
As one would expect given the close relationship between patron and artist, there are numerous fascinating linkages between the biography of Edward James and Tchelitchew’s oeuvre within the collection. One such connection is that, according to Parker Tyler, the origin of the tree in Tchelitchew’s masterwork Hide-and-Seek (1940-1942, Museum of Modern Art, New York) was a ‘…striking, not very large tree shorn of its leaves, found by the artist on Edward James’s estate in Sussex in 1934 (P. Tyler, The Divine Comedy of Pavel Tchelitchew, New York, 1967, p. 59). This visual reference is recalled by lot 38, Leaf children, executed in 1939 in preparation for this major work.
Tchelitchew’s theatrical works further reflect links between the two men as it was through ballet that Edward James truly forged his relationship with the artist. In 1933, following his marriage to the dancer Ottilie (Tilly) Losch (1903-1975), Edward James sponsored Les Ballets, a new dance company founded by George Balanchine (1904-1983) with Boris Kochno (1904-1990) at the helm as artistic director. With the backing of Edward James, Tchelitchew was commissioned to create the entire concept, scenario and design for a new ballet showcase for his wife. Set to a theme from Franz Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy arranged by Franz Liszt, L’Errante (see lot 48) charts the psychological journey of its heroine through a shadow-world created by lights and back projections on to white muslin. Tchelitchew designed a glittering green sheath dress for Losch, with a train so long that movement was a challenge; a typical Tchelitchevian sacrifice of practicality for the higher purpose of aesthetic form.
Five years later, Tchelitchew worked on Nobilissima visione, a ballet set to Paul Hindemith’s orchestral work and choreographed by Léonide Massine for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Depicting episodes from the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, the work was completed in February 1938 and premiered at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London on 21 July 1938. The opening night was a great success, as Charles Henri Ford wrote to Parker Tyler: ‘There were 21 curtain calls, screams for Tchelitchew who was dragged shyly onto the stage twice; then...Edward James and I went backstage to kiss him...and the Russian-Jewish promoter yelled at us to get off: I told him to shut up and […] Pavlik, already disgusted for many good reasons with said promoter, went into a barrage of Russian, mostly curses, beat the man’s fat face with the ballet program, said he would never again set foot in the theatre and he didn’t. We got a taxi and home to bed. Lights out: came a scratch on the hotel room door: Edward: rather bewildered to find Pavlik in bed before midnight with ‘everybody’ in London talking about his triumph […] (op. cit., p. 412-413). Lot 47, a costume design for the production, is even more revealing of the event described. According to a declaration signed in jest by Edward James and witnessed by a solicitor on the reverse, Tchelitchew, in fact, kicked the stage manager in the Adam’s apple while remonstrating “Take your banker’s nose out of my painted business” and “You should stand before me as a dead tree”. This comical scene, in which the players are all figures known to us through biography, exemplifies the remarkable provenance that highlights the group of Tchelitchews as a whole. Each work is part of the mythology of the artist and patron. Tchelitchew would have approved.
Exhibition catalogue, Paintings, Gouaches, Drawings by Pavel Tchelitchew, London, 1933, no. 17.
J.T. Soby, Tchelitchew: Paintings and Drawings, New York, 1942, illustrated p. 61, no. 36.
Exhibition catalogue, Pavel Tchelitchew, New York, 1964, listed p. 60, no. 121.
P. Tyler, The Divine Comedy of Pavel Tchelitchew, New York, 1967, p. 132.
N. Coleby (ed.), A Surreal Life: Edward James 1907-1984, London, 1998, no. 55.
Exhibition catalogue, Surreal Encounters: Collecting the Marvellous, Edinburgh, 2016, p. 206.
London, Arthur Tooth & Sons, Paintings, Gouaches, Drawings by Pavel Tchelitchew, 23 February-18 March 1933, no. 17 (label on the stretcher).
New York, Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art, Pavel Tchelitchew, 20 March-9 April 1964, no. 121 (label on the frame).
Brighton, Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, A Surreal Life: Edward James 1907-1984, 25 April-26 July 1998, no. 55 (label on the stretcher).