Emilio Pettoruti (Argentinian 1892-1971)
Emilio Pettoruti (Argentinian 1892-1971)

L'oiseau noir (L'essor)

Emilio Pettoruti (Argentinian 1892-1971)
L'oiseau noir (L'essor)
signed and dated 'Pettoruti 58' (lower right) also signed, dated and titled 'Pettoruti XII-58, L'oiseau noir, L'essor (on the reverse) and inscribed '12, rue mabillon- Paris VI' (on the back stretcher)
oil on canvas
31 7/8 x 12¼ in. (81 x 31 cm.)
Painted in 1958.
Private collection, Paris.
Private collection, Buenos Aires.
Chart Gallery, Paris.
Exhibition catalogue, Homenaje Nacional a Emilio Pettoruti, Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1962, no. 3 (illustrated).
C. Córdova Iturburu, Buenos Aires, 1981, p. 74 (illustrated).
R. Squirru, J. Lassaigne et al., Pettoruti, Buenos Aires, Fundación Pettoruti, 1995, no. 449 (illustrated).
London, Molton Gallery, 1959, no. 26.
Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1962, no. 14.
Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Cinquante Ans de Peinture, 1964, no. 108.
Basilea, Kunsthalle, 1969, no. 59.

Lot Essay

This work is sold with a certificate of authenticity from the Fundación Pettoruti, signed by Mr. Tomás Roberto Díaz Varela and dated 30 September 2008.

During the 1940s and 1950s, artists in various countries throughout Latin America, notably Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela, undertook experiments with geometric concrete and neo-concrete abstraction. Many, like Pettoruti in 1953, gravitated to Paris where some participated in international movements that explored visual perception, viewer participation, organic abstraction, and collective action. Pettoruti, who had not collaborated with the abstract Madi or Arte Concreto/Invención groups that worked in Argentina, pursued his own brand of abstraction that emerged from his early experiences with Futurism and Cubism.

The tension between figuration and abstraction was a recurring concern that marked his great harlequin, tango musicians and still-life series for which he is best known. In the renowned series where he depicted Commedia del'Arte and tango musicians, Pettoruti brought this to the foreground, playing on the flatness of the canvas and pointing out the artifice behind Western perspective. In 1953, he traveled to Europe, settling in Paris in 1953. During this period, he returned to abstraction, initiating his final series, which preoccupied him until the end of his life, in 1971. Like L'Oiseau noir, many of these series' titles made reference to nature--particularly birds and butterflies. In so doing, he retains a link to the strategy employed in his great still life and figure paintings of the 1920s-1940s which included recognizable components as well as elements of abstraction. Such juxtapositions were one way in which Pettoruti signaled his preoccupation with examining qualities particular to painting, and his critique of mimetic realism. A comparison between the vertical left hand sections in El cantor (lot 12) is a case in point.

Besides this link between his abstract and figurative series, Pettoruti also revisited his earliest abstract works, for which he has been called a pioneer in Latin America. In these works on paper and paintings dating from the teens, Pettoruti examined natural forces such as the movement of the wind, or patterns of light and color in landscapes. Such works, among them Vallombrosa of 1917, foreshadow the faceted geometric forms, subtle color graduations and radical flattening of pictorial space that mark his last abstract series. The use of linear elements where lines are interrupted through shifts in color, also first make their appearance in the teens.

Just as he had in his figure and still-life paintings, Pettoruti used variations of color, line and geometric shapes to examine visual perception, the flatness of the picture plane, and the play between figure and ground. In abstract paintings such as L'oiseau noir these concerns become central. Shadows are banished, but in their place, subtle color gradations lead the eye to seek depth then frustrates any vestige of illusionism. Pettoruti's brilliance as a colorist, first developed during his youthful studies of mosaic, is perhaps most evident in these abstract works. In L'oiseau noir, varied shades of turquoise and navy blue, inky black, brick, chocolate brown and celadon co-exist. Slight variations of the lighter shade of blue appear to overlap, the partial ovoid shape is lightest in hue and painted with a lighter touch, revealing through the artist's fine draftsmanship and brushwork that the precise geometry was executed by hand. The points where the shapes intersect at first glance suggest figure and ground, yet again, and again, such certitudes disappear and are among the many rewards when closely observing this highly analytic and lyrical work. L'oiseau noir is a notable example of this series, a culmination of Pettoruti's life-long examination of color, perspective, line, luminosity, and abstraction found in nature.

These abstract works date from the period in which Pettoruti's international recognition was consolidated. Between the 1950s and his death in 1971, his work was shown in important gallery and museum exhibitions of abstract art internationally, and was included in shows of Latin American art in the US, such as South American Art of Today, (1959) at the Dallas Museum of Art and Precursors of Modernism: 1860-1920 at New York's Center for Inter-American Relations (1967). In 1955, he was included in Le mouvement dans l'art contemporain where he was shown in a section devoted to "the precursors, "Balla, Boccioni, Carrá, Severini, and Soffici." The following year, he received the "Premio Continental Guggenheim." His work was shown in the Salon des Realites Nouvelles held in Paris in 1959 and 1961. The Parisian gallery Denise René, which also showed the work of Jesús Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz Diez, Almir Mavignier and other artists that explored abstraction and visual perception, included Pettoruti in Structure. L'art abstrait constructif. Des pionniers a nos jours. A series of one man shows were held in Europe and Latin America including one at the 1971 São Paulo Biennial. His work has been included in important exhibitions since, among them Futurismo & Futuristi (Palazzo Grassi, 1986) The Latin American Spirti: Art and Artists in the United States (Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1988), Art d'Amerique Latine: 1911-1988 (Centre Georges Pompidou, 1992), Abstract Art from the Río de la Plata, Buenos Aires and Montevideo, 1933-1953 (Americas Society, 2001), and Arte Astratta Argentina (Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Bergamo, 2002), and Artistas modernos rioplatenses en Europa, 1911-1924, La experiencia de la vanguardia (MALBA, Colección Costantini, 2003). Pettoruti's work is in the collections of many museums in Argentina, as well as institutions abroad including The Museum of Modern Art.

Dr. Miriam Basilio, Assistant Professor of Art History and Museum Studies, New York University.

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