Gino Severini (1883-1966)
Gino Severini (1883-1966)

Etude pour Autoportrait au canotier

Gino Severini (1883-1966)
Etude pour Autoportrait au canotier
signed and inscribed 'Gino Severini Mon portrait' (on the reverse)
charcoal, pastel, and white and blue chalk on buff paper
25 5/8 x 21 in. (65.7 x 53.2 cm.)
Drawn in 1912-1913
Kleeman Galleries, New York.
Arnold H. Maremont, Chicago (by 1961); Estate sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet Inc., New York, 1 May 1974, lot 10.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owners.
"Europa letteraria", 1961, vol. II, no. 8, p. 201.
D. Fonti, Gino Severini: Catalogo ragionato, Milan, 1988, p. 149, no. 145 (illustrated; with incorrect medium).
(probably) Berlin, Der Sturm, Sechzehnte Austellung: Gemälde und Zeichnungen des Futuristen Gino Severini, June-July 1913, no. 22 (titled Selbstporträt).
Chicago, Illinois Institute of Technology, The Maremont Collection at the Institute of Design, April 1961, no. 105 (titled My Portrait).
Washington, D.C., Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Treasures of 20th Century Art from the Maremont Collection, April-May 1964, no. 121 (titled My Portrait).
Milwaukee Art Museum, Selections from the Hope and Abraham Melamed Collection, September 1983-January 1984, pp. 5, 11 and 46, no. 44 (illustrated, p. 41; titled Mon Portrait).
New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery and Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, Severini futurista: 1912-1917, October 1995-April 1996, p. 79, no. 9 (illustrated in color, p. 78; titled Self-Portrait).
Sale room notice
Please note this work is signed and inscribed 'Gino Severini Mon portrait' (on the reverse).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

With a leg firmly planted in each camp, Gino Severini served as a perceptive and tactful mediator in the fray between Parisian cubists and Milan futurists when the Italians descended on the French capital–following a barrage of blustery manifestos–for their important exhibition at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in February 1912. He was able to explain the aims and means of each side to the other, while drawing key lessons from both movements toward the development of his own work. Having arrived in Paris during the fall of 1906, at the age of 23, Severini knew nearly everyone of importance on the cutting edge of modernism, whether in Milan or Paris. In 1910 he was a signatory to both the Manifesto of the Futurist Painters and the Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto, key documents which also bore the names of Balla, Boccioni, Carrà and Russolo. He became friendly with both founding fathers of cubism, Braque initially, then Picasso, and through them the leading writer on modernism in Paris, the poet and journalist Apollinaire. Atypically in those contentious times, Severini's outlook and affinities were magnanimously bipartisan.
On 28 August 1913, Severini married Jeanne, the daughter of the French poet Paul Fort. A few days before the wedding, the artist, attired as he appears in the present self-portrait, posed for a photograph with his bride-to-be. Apollinaire, the leading advocate of cubism, and Marinetti, the strident arch-manifestoist of futurism, acted as his best men. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Severini's new father-in-law declared, "C'est le mariage de la France avec l'Italie" (quoted in G. Severini, The Life of a Painter, Princeton, 1995, p. 127).
Daniela Fonti has related the present drawing to the oil painting Autoportrait au canotier, 1912-1913 (Fonti, no. 146). "This drawing, of considerable quality, could be considered an independent work," she stated, "stylistically close to Ritratto di Paul Fort [1912-1913; Fonti, no. 140], and executed between 1912 and the beginning of 1913" (trans. Allegra Bettini; op. cit., 1988, p. 149). Anne Hanson Coffin believes this work is the self-portrait Severini included in his exhibition at Herwarth Walden's gallery Der Sturm, Berlin, during June-July 1913; the aforementioned self-portrait in oil (Fonti, no. 146) did not figure in early exhibitions. The present drawing, as Hanson pointed out, "is larger than the painting, and the structure of the head and shoulders is much more resolved," which led her to believe that "it does not appear to be a preparatory study." She further observes, "in a letter to Walden (Paris, 2 May 1913) Severini explained that he was then making some new works to replace those sold from an earlier venue in London [the exhibition of his drawings and paintings at the Marlborough Gallery, London, April 1913] in order not to reduce the total number of works in the [Sturm] exhibition" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1995, p. 79). The present drawing was therefore likely done during the spring of 1913: "A self-portrait in charcoal, with the date 1913, Fonti noted, "was inserted into a list of futurist works Severini compiled at the beginning of 1925" (op. cit., 1988, p. 149).
This drawing demonstrates that Severini had entered during 1913 a crucial phase, moving from a style heavily inflected with the dense faceting of Parisian cubism–as evident in his carnivalesque painting of the Bal Tabarin (Fonti, no. 107), as well as another coupling of a self-portrait painting and related drawing, in which he is also wearing his straw boater's hat, done earlier in 1912 (Fonti, nos. 103 and 103A)–to a more freely expansive synthesis, strongly futurist, in which the subject has been largely subsumed within the artist's growing tendency toward abstraction, in forms Severini termed his "plastic analogies of dynamism." He stated in the introduction to the 1913 London catalogue: "An overpowering need for abstraction has driven me to put on one side all realization of mass and of form in the sense of pictorial relief... Each drawing is an objective study, an effort in the direction of synthesis and the absolute. I consider the Plastic Absolute to be in the communion, the sympathy which exists between ourselves and the center of things themselves" (quoted in J.C. Taylor, Futurism, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1961, p. 69).
The futurists had decried the essentially static character of cubist pictorialism, and the Parisians' inclination to so preoccupy themselves with their analysis of observable reality, in such conventional genres as the still-life, landscape and figure, that they had largely banished from their art the excitement, dynamism and–in the prevailing grayness of their canvases–even the vibrant colors of contemporary cosmopolitan life.
The Paris painters, for their part, resented the incessant, boastful self-promotion by which the futurists publicized their agenda, and considered their rivals' technique–indebted as it was to late Neo-Impressionism and Art Nouveau stylization–to be insufficiently developed, even passé. "The Futurists are scarcely interested at all in problems of plasticity. Nature does not interest them," Apollinaire observed, echoing the cubists' misgivings. "Their chief concern is the 'subject.' They want to paint states of mind. That is the most dangerous kind of painting imaginable" (L.C. Breunig, ed., Apollinaire on Art, Boston, 2001, p. 203).
At the same time, Apollinaire pondered why among the Parisian painters "such purely plastic concerns would not lead to an absolutely new art which would be to painting what music is to literature... The futurists have taught us–by their titles if not their works, that [art] can attain the fullness of a symphony" (ibid., pp. 203 and 204). It is to this exalted state that Severini aspired in his work during 1913.
"We want to enclose the universe in the work of art. Individual objects do not exist anymore," Severini wrote in The Plastic Analogues of Dynamism--Futurist Manifesto, during September-October 1913 (unpublished). "We must forget exterior reality and our knowledge of it in order to create the new dimensions, the order and extent of which will be discovered by our artistic sensibility in relation to the world of plastic creation" (U. Apollonio, ed., Futurist Manifestos, Boston, 2001, p. 118).
"With the interpenetration of planes and the simultaneity of environment," Severini continued, "we have been able to render the reciprocal influence of objects and the environmental vitality of the subject (intensity and expansion of object + environment); with plastic analogies we can infinitely enlarge the range of these influences, irradiations and contrasts of the will, the unique form of which is created by our artistic sensibility and expresses the absolute vitality of matter, or universal dynamism" (ibid., p.122).
"The prime source of energy in such images was light," J.C. Taylor observed. "Light, too, [Severini] now thought of as an abstract force expanding in space, linking all matter in its radial movement. It was the primary symbol of that energy which the Futurists felt activated all matter and which pushed out from its center with great centrifugal force or drew inwards to a dynamic vortex." The result is a "primal image...a universal rhythm of nature that knows no boundaries and recognizes no isolation of mind or matter. It is an image even beyond analogy" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1961, p. 72).
Artist Photo
Gino Severini and Jeanne Fort several days before their wedding in Paris, August 1913. BARCODE: 28864004
Fig. A Gino Severini, Geroglifico dinamico del Bal Tabarin, 1912. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. BARCODE: nyrphhsb
Fig. B Gino Severini, Autoportrait au canotier, 1912. The Art Institute of Chicago. BARCODE: 28864028
Fig. C Gino Severini, Autoportrait au canotier, 1912-1913. Kunsthaus Zürich, Johanna and Walter L. Wolf Collection. BARCODE: severini_fig_c
Fig. D Gino Severini, Expansion de la lumière (Centrifuge), 1913-1914. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. BARCODE: 28864011

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