Gino Severini (1883-1966)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT EUROPEAN COLLECTION (LOTS 111 & 112)
Gino Severini (1883-1966)

Portrait de l'auteur

Gino Severini (1883-1966)
Portrait de l'auteur
signed 'Severini' (lower right); signed and inscribed '9 / Gino Severini / Portrait de l'auteur' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
39 1/2 x 28 7/8in. (100.3 x 73.4cm.)
Painted in 1916
Germaine Bongard, Paris.
Adolphe Tabarant, Paris, by 1937.
Galleria Farsetti, Prato (no. 6064).
Private collection, Florence.
Anon. sale, Finarte, Milan, 18 December 1997, lot 366.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

G. Severini, Tutta la vita di un pittore, Milan, 1946, translated by J. Franchina, The Life of a Painter, Princeton, 1995, pp. 161-162.
G. Nicodemi, 'Artisti contemporanei: Gino Severini', in Emporium, XCI, no. 546, June 1940, p. 288 (illustrated; dated '1917').
L. Venturi, Gino Severini, Rome, 1961, no. 37 (illustrated; titled 'Figura').
D. Fonti, Gino Severini: Catalogo ragionato, Milan, 1988, no. 266, p. 251 (illustrated).
(Possibly) Paris, Atelier de Mme Bongard, 1916.
Paris, Petit Palais, Les maitres de l'art indépendant, 1937, no. 44.
Milan, Galleria Santa Radegonda, Punti di partenza e punti di arrivo nell'opera di Gino Severini, 1946, no. 23 (dated '1915').
Cortina d'Ampezzo, Galleria Farsetti, Gino Severini, Opere dal 1907 al 1959. Centenario della nascita dell'artista, 1982 - 1983, no. VI (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Milan, Galleria Farsetti.
Florence, Palazzo Pitti, Gino Severini, 1983, no. 51 (illustrated p. 100; dated '1915-1916').
Alessandria, Palazzo Cuttica, Gino Severini dal 1916 al 1936, 1987, no. 2 (illustrated pp. II & 44).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
Sale room notice
Please note the slight change in dimensions for this work: 39 ½ x 28 7/8in. (100.3 x 73.4cm.)

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Mariolina Bassetti
Mariolina Bassetti

Lot Essay

One of the first and arguably most important of a group of Cubist portraits painted in 1916, Gino Severini’s Portrait de l’auteur dates from the moment when the artist moved from Futurism to embrace Synthetic Cubism, an idiom defined by faceted yet coherent forms, bright colour and a rhythmic, unified pictorial construction. Embodying these central stylistic and formal characteristics, Portrait de l’auteur therefore serves as a bold and confident manifestation of Severini’s new artistic direction. Shown in the midst of painting, palette in hand and brush raised up to his easel, Severini has portrayed himself as the quintessential artistic master, his signature chequered trousers and combed hair endowing what would otherwise be an anonymous male figure with identifying, idiosyncratic details. Since the beginning of his career, Severini had often turned to self-portraiture as a way of demonstrating his artistic allegiances or tendencies. In 1912, at the height of his involvement with Futurism, he had depicted himself bespectacled, his head fragmenting and disintegrating into a series of dynamic planes. Four years later, along with the present work, Severini also completed two further self-portraits. Both in pencil, one is naturalistically rendered, and the other more cubistically constructed (Fonti, nos. 259A & 259). Seen together, all three self-portraits serve as an embodiment of the spirit of discovery, exploration and plurality that define this landmark year in Severini’s career.

Severini had returned to Paris from Barcelona where he had been recuperating from tuberculosis and malnutrition at the beginning of 1916. Life in Paris during the war was sharply different from the spirited, halcyon years that had preceded it. A number of leading artists had been sent to fight, the burgeoning commercial and increasingly international art market had stalled, and the exhibition system halted; as Severini later recalled, ‘Paris, emptied of those elements we considered vital to artistic vigour, was dead as far as we were concerned’ (Severini, The Life of a Painter, The Autobiography of Gino Severini, trans. J. Franchina, Princeton, 1995, p. 148).

Confronted with the reality of war – in 1915, the artist had seen first hand trains filled with wounded troops returning from the Front passing his home in the French countryside – Severini, along with Carlo Carrà and Ardengo Soffici had begun to question the militant tenets of Futurism. The need for a new humanism became apparent, and Severini came to understand painting as a form of expression in and of itself, existing within the rational and tangible limits of the medium, and stripped of extraneous agendas and intellectual dogmatism.

At the beginning of 1916, Severini arranged an exhibition of his recent work at the small Galerie Boutet de Monvel. This was to be his final Futurist statement. Instead, immersed in life in wartime Paris, Severini fell under the influence of the nascent ‘Return to Order’, a sentiment that called for artists and writers alike to embrace a rational, stable, unified aesthetic in their work, embracing tradition and Classicism as a means of promoting French cultural heritage. Though foreign, Severini was married to Jeanne Fort, the daughter of the deeply patriotic writer Paul Fort, and became close friend with Amédée Ozenfant, editor of L’Élan, a periodical that was unabashedly patriotic yet fervent in its support to modern art. In addition, Severini began visiting the revered French master, Henri Matisse, an experience he found revelatory, and was also keenly aware of the latest developments in the concurrent Cubism and Neo-Classicism of Picasso, as well as the Synthetic Cubism of Juan Gris, Metzinger and Lipchitz, all of whom were practicing this form of so-called ‘crystal’ or ‘classical’ form of Cubism.

It was of no surprise therefore that over the course of 1916, Severini moved away from the Futurist preoccupation with simultaneity and movement, and turned to an interest in cubist structure, geometry, space and subject matter. Perhaps his most overt anti-Futurist statement were two representational works from this year, Maternità and Ritratto di Jeanne (Fonti, nos. 276 & 279) that are astonishing in their embrace of naturalism, tradition and the past, modes that had been completely condemned in Futurism.

Severini left behind the fractured, fragmented mode of pictorial construction that defined his Futurist idiom, using instead the same flattened planes of rhythmically interlocking colour and pattern as in the synthetic compositions of Braque, Picasso and Gris. In addition to adopting the language of Cubism, Severini also embraced the subjects of the movement, primarily the portrait, a subject he returned to frequently over the course of 1916, and the still-life; a clear contrast from his ardent embrace of the subjects of modern life in his Futurist works. In Portrait de l’auteur, Severini has constructed his form from flattened planes, both geometric and organic, of unmodulated, carefully placed and proportioned colour, all of which impart of sense of stasis and grandeur to his depiction of himself.

This abstract mode of pictorial construction is ornamented with naturalistic components, not unlike the distinguishing attributes that Picasso added to his Analytic Cubist portraits. Severini has rendered his hands, the vehicle of artistic creation, with a stylised, illusionistic mode, which serves to emphasise this corporeal detail. He has also depicted the palette with a playful, trompe l’oeil accuracy, clearly revelling in the play of layers, capturing the texture of the wood with startling precision. Behind him stands a cubistically rendered jug, which serves perhaps, as a statement of his new cubist identity, a demonstration of the direction his art would now take.

While many of Severini’s works from the war and years following were first owned by Léonce Rosenberg, the renowned cubist dealer whom Severini first met in 1916, Portrait de l’auteur has by contrast a rare and unique early provenance. Soon after Severini finished this work, he gave it to Germaine Bongard, a fashion designer and collector who was the sister of the legendary couturier Paul Poiret. During the First World War, Bongard became a central figure within the avant-garde art world of Paris. At her atelier on the fashionable Rue de Penthièvre, she opened a small gallery on the ground floor, organising, with the help of her lover, the Purist artist and writer, Amédée Ozenfant, a series of exhibitions that showcased the latest works by Picasso, Léger, Matisse, Severini and Modigliani, among others.

At a time when support for contemporary art was hard to find, Bongard’s program, which included poetry readings, soirées and music concerts, provided an essential meeting place for artists, writers and socialites alike, filling a void left by many of the dealers and gallerists who had either enlisted or had been forced to flee. As one journalist reported, her atelier had become, ‘an artistic salon. An exhibition of paintings there has brought the elite of Parisian society running… The art of couture benefits from this. The painter Matisse is in ecstasy before the pleats in a skirt, he suggests the right kind of neckline essential to complete the architecture of a dress’ (quoted in M.E. Davis, Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism, Berkeley, Los Angeles & London, 2006, p. 101).

With her designs coveted by both wealthy socialites as well as women of the artistic intelligentsia, Bongard began an exchange agreement with a number of artists, including Matisse, Derain and Severini. In exchange for their paintings, she would give her dresses to the artist’s wives; as Severini recalled, ‘we established a friendly exchange agreement with Mme Bongard: we gave her paintings and she dressed our wives. Her dresses were often high fashion samples. The artists’ wives at that time were thus more elegant than they ever had been’ (Severini, op. cit., pp. 161-162). Portrait de l’auteur was one such work, and was possibly exhibited in one of Bongard’s atelier exhibitions in 1916. After Bongard, Portrait de l’auteur was acquired in the 1930s by another important figure of the Parisian artworld: the art critic and dealer, Adolphe Tabarant.

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