The couple, who became gallerists and collectors in post-war Paris, were lifelong supporters of Surrealist art and artists
The long-lasting impact and popularity of Surrealism can easily be forgotten. From its origins in Paris in the 1920s to its heyday in the following decade, it is sometimes assumed that the movement disappeared after the Second World War — but this is far from the case. Interest in Surrealism rapidly revived once peace was established in Europe and, thanks to the migration of many of its founders during the war, it became a worldwide movement.
In Paris this renewal was helped by art lovers such as Inna and Boris Salomon, whose collection is the subject of the upcoming auction Une passion surréaliste: Collection Inna & Boris Salomon, at Christie’s Paris on 30 March.
Boris Salomon was born in 1914 in the Russian town of Vologda, about 300 miles northeast of Moscow, where his father Gregory had been exiled in 1910 and became a fur trader. In 1920, following the Russian Revolution, the family emigrated to Paris, where Gregory successfully restarted his business. Boris inherited the family company and ran it from 1960 on until his death in 1979. It is now led by Yves Salomon, Boris and Inna’s son.
Inna (née Margulis) was the daughter of an actress and an engineer. She was born in the cosmopolitan Ukrainian city of Odessa in 1912 and died in 2015, just short of her 103rd birthday.
The origins of their art collection can be traced to the years the couple spent in New York during and after the Second World War. Here they formed friendships with writers and artists who had fled the conflict in Europe, including Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy and André Breton.
The Salomons frequently visited exhibitions and started buying art by the French Surrealists. After they returned to Paris in the 1950s they expanded the collection to include artists from further afield, such as the Cuban painter Wifredo Lam. They showcased their collection in their grand residence in the exclusive Villa Montmorency estate in the 16th arrondissement, where they also hosted parties that brought the city’s artistic and fashion circles together.
The couple opened a gallery called La Cour d’Ingres at 17 Quai Voltaire in 1956, and it prospered in several locations until 1976. They showed a mixture of Surrealist paintings, drawings and sculptures by their favourite artists alongside works from their own collection. Inna’s cosmopolitan flair and her discerning eye meant the gallery became a cornerstone of Surrealism in post-war France.
Besides the headline work by Francis Picabia, the auction comprises paintings by artists such as Ernst, Lam, Victor Brauner, Meret Oppenheim and Wolfgang Paalen, works on paper and sculptures.
Picabia’s Rubi (1929) is an outstanding example of the artist’s highly sought-after Transparences series, where he combined translucent and opaque layers to create ambiguous meanings and forms. Ernst’s Universaphrodite ou Naissance d'Aphrodite (1947), which once belonged to his fellow Surrealist Man Ray, combines references to landscapes, totems and sexuality, probably reflecting the artist’s interest in the work of Sigmund Freud.
The Salomons were keen supporters of Paalen (1905-59), who was born in Vienna and came to fame in Paris in the 1930s, and the auction includes eight paintings by him. Influenced by artists such as Fernand Léger, with whom he studied for a while, the works trace the development of Paalen’s style from symbolic landscapes to abstraction.
His later works, made after he emigrated to Mexico in 1939, show the influence on him of indigenous art, and often resemble ancient totems themselves. Breton was full of admiration for Paalen. He once wrote: ‘Wolfgang Paalen’s paintings are fundamental: the senses pierce through the wall separating the newly created vision of reality.’
Lam (1902-82) was perhaps the most famous Cuban Surrealist artist. Painted during his time in Paris in the 1930s, his gouache Le Couple (c. 1938) shows the influence Cubism had on his early work.
Lam’s fellow Cuban, the younger sculptor Agustín Cárdenas (1927-2001), arrived in Paris in 1955. He quickly connected with Breton, and he was given a solo show at La Cour d’Ingres in 1959. Influenced by artists such as Jean Arp, Constantin Brancusi and Henri Matisse, Cárdenas’s abstract sculptures combine form and emptiness in intriguing ways.
Une passion surréaliste: Collection Inna & Boris Salomon is a rare chance to engage with a couple who throughout their adult lives embraced Surrealist art and supported the artists who made it. It is an intriguing insight into both the heyday of the movement in France, its later spread across the globe and its impact on younger generations of artists.