GINO SEVERINI (1883-1966)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A SWISS PRIVATE COLLECTION
GINO SEVERINI (1883-1966)

Danse de l’ours

GINO SEVERINI (1883-1966)
Danse de l’ours
signed and dated ‘G. Severini 1913’ (lower right)
oil on paper laid down on canvas
14 3/8 x 10 5/8 in. (36.5 x 27 cm.)
Painted in 1913-1914
Yves de Solminihac, Paris, a gift from the artist in 1954-1955.
(Possibly) Mr & Mrs Sidney E. Cohn, New York, by 1961.
Marlborough Fine Art, London.
Galleria Internazionale, Milan.
Private collection, Italy, circa 1975-1976, by whom acquired from the above, and thence by descent; sale, Christie's, London, 4 October 2018, lot 127.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
D. Fonti, Gino Severini, Catalogo ragionato, Milan, 1988, no. 202, p. 178 (illustrated; with incorrect medium).
(Possibly) New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Futurism, May - September 1961, no. 109, p. 147 (titled 'Dancers' and dated '1912'; with incorrect medium); this exhibition later travelled to Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, May - September 1961; and Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum, January - February 1962.
Turin, Mole Antonelliana, Ricostruzione futurista dell'universo, June - October 1980, p. 24 (illustrated; with incorrect medium).
Como, Fondazione Antonio Ratti, Arte svelata. Collezionismo privato a Como dall’Ottocento a oggi, September - October 1987, no. 66, p. 101 (illustrated p. 80; dated '1913' and with incorrect medium).
Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Gino Severini, The Dance 1909–1916, May - October 2001, no. 39, p. 144 (illustrated p. 145; with incorrect medium).
Rome, Museo del Corso, Dal futurismo all’astrattismo, April - July 2002, p. 62 (illustrated p. 63; with incorrect medium).
Traversetolo, Fondazione Magnani Rocca, Gino Severini. L’emozione e la regola, March - July 2016, no. 31, p. 168 (illustrated p. 101; with incorrect medium).
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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. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Lot Essay

"The dancer is not a woman who dances ... but a metaphor", wrote the symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé at the end of the nineteenth century, anticipating the reflection on the nature of the dance that years later would thrill poets and philosophers like H. Hofmannsthal (1874 -1929) R. M. Rilke (1875-1926) and Paul Valéry (1871-1945); his researches on the origin of human expression had led him to identify in dance the most effective means of communicating transcendent truths (the Idea), superior, for its quality of abstract writing in space, to verbal and musical languages. This particular manifestation of the spirit of man had attracted, in a much more intuitive way, the painter Gino Severini to move to Paris already in 1912, and had pushed him to make this the main subject of a series of pictorial Futurist works, inspired by the fashionable dances that had been dazzling Paris since the end of the nineteenth century. But it was especially towards the end of 1913 that the artist evolved his research on the subject, by abandoning precise references to the environment and the rhythmic-dynamic transcription of the dances then in fashion (the "Pan Pan", The Argentine Tango, "La Danse de l’Ours"), seeking instead to transfer the idea of dance to the canvas in an increasingly abstract expressive dimension. The theme of the dancing figure gradually abandons any descriptive reference, evolving towards a pure musical rhythm that, at the end of 1913, is enriched by the profound suggestion of ever more abstract forms, which allude to the incessant cosmic movement, translating the "Orphic" exaltation of light into pure dynamism. Thus Severini strives to transfer to the canvas an all-encompassing sense of universal dynamism, now free of any natural reference. "We need to enclose the universe in the work of art: objects no longer exist", he writes in one of the many drafts of a theoretical manifesto he worked on between the end of 1913 and the first months of 1914, but which would never see the light.

This text by Severini is also an attempt to bring into the orbit of Futurism the most advanced orientations expressed by the latest Orphic tendencies of French painting; it is interesting that the painter's efforts to establish a precise table of "correspondences" between the universe of sensations (visual, olfactory, auditory), and that of shapes, lines and colours. There will be so "light-forms", "noise-forms" etc. ... distinguished by "sound-forms" and "speed-forms"; in addition, the light-colour (naturally those of the prism) would be different from the sound-colours, speed-colour, smells-colours and so on (the sound of the waltz, he writes, is: "light blue, light violet, green emerald, la matchiche - another fashionable dance - is yellow, orange, violet "). Soon, at the end of 1913, new exciting pictorial possibilities emerge; the incentive comes indirectly from Marinetti (in an essay in the magazine "Lacerba", 15 November 1913) to expand the boundaries of his poetic expression "towards the infinitely small that surrounds us, the imperceptible, the invisible, the agitation of atoms, the Brownian movement; not as a scientific document, but as an intuitive element, I want to introduce the infinite molecular life into poetry ... ". How can one not recognize in these words the most direct source of inspiration for the splendid series of "Spherical expansions of light", executed exactly between '13 and '14? These are very happy works of extraordinary decorative quality, built on the contrast of brushstrokes of complementary colours; they translate in a dynamic key the Orphic theme of the exaltation of light, already addressed by Delaunay and soon expressed in a cosmic-esoteric key by Giacomo Balla in the series entitled "Mercury passing in front of the Sun". The forms, prisms and immaterial cylinders, magically interpenetrate in fast rotations, evoking the transparency of moving stars. But beware, what seems to be at first glance the representation of Universal Dynamism spun off from Matter, or - if we want - the Dance of Light, finds its origin, once again in something concrete, in the memory of a real figure, the American dancer Loïe Fuller who had enchanted the Parisian stages with her "abstract dances".

The work, Danse de l'Ours, certainly painted between the end of 1913 and the beginning of 1914 is therefore part of a pictorial series for which Severini stands out in the European panorama for the precocity and happiness with which he ventures into territories of abstraction. The title it was given seems to resume, perhaps inappropriately, the theme of "The Dance of the Bear" that had previously been the centre of a highly successful series of Futurist works. There is no doubt, however, that this brilliant oil painting executed on paper and laid down on canvas is part of a precious series of pictures and works on paper of almost identical size, all painted between 1913-1914, in which the artist progressively develops the theme of the abstract and dynamic representation of the dancing light, abandoning, step by step, references to the body of the dancer under the lights. (These works - more than thirty - are listed in the Catalogo Ragionato dell’opera pittorica di Gino Severini, edited by the writer, Mondadori 1988, on pages 164-173; 178-179). The indeterminacy of the titles, which refer alternately to dance and light, has made it difficult to identify the historical exhibitions in which they featured; almost all of them, like this Danse de l'Ours, have been documented in the Catalogue Raisonné only since the fifties and sixties, when in Italy, as well as internationally, Futurism has known a significant revival of interest from critics and collectors that has not ceased growing since then.

Daniela Fonti

The modern dancer, caught up in the rhythm of the latest fashionable routine, had become a central focus of Gino Severini’s work following his move to Paris in the opening decade of the twentieth century. Dazzled by the feverish energy and fast pace of the buzzing metropolis, the young Italian came to associate dynamism not only with the innovations of modern machines and new technology, but also the pulsating, magnetic energy of the modern city. In particular, Severini believed that the vitalistic frenzy that emerged at night in the bars, dancehalls and cabarets of Paris perfectly encapsulated the modern experience, as professional and amateur dancers alike crowded into the most popular nightspots to perform the newest dance crazes. This glittering and engulfing atmosphere, with its riotous frenzy of movement, rhythm and noise, captured the artist’s imagination instantly, and – thanks to his own dancing talent – he quickly became a frequent visitor to the most thrilling nightclubs in Paris. In his autobiography, the artist describes the heady environment of these nocturnal revelries, recalling: ‘they were carnivalesque parties with carriages full of beautiful masked and undressed women, with showers of confetti, multi-coloured streamers, etc. The atmosphere was one of total frenzy, undoubtedly animated by quantities of champagne’ (Severini, The Life of a Painter, transl. J. Franchina, New Jersey, 1995, p. 54). Focusing his attention on the whirling, dancing figures that surrounded him on his nightly escapades, Severini began a series of compositions focusing on the dynamic movements of various forms of dance, in an effort to capture a sense of the heady joie de vivre that underpinned his experiences in the French capital.

Severini’s immersion in the world of Parisian café concerts and nightclubs gave him a rich insight into the popular fashions and dance crazes then sweeping through the city. The danse de l’ours, also known as the Grizzly Bear Dance, was an American import to the French capital, having first emerged in the dance halls of San Francisco before making its way across the Atlantic. So-called for its unconventional hold, which drew partners close together in an enveloping embrace, and featuring a series of heavy steps to the side, the dance was, alongside the Turkey Trot and the Bunny Hop, one of a number of routines during the period that took its inspiration from the movement of animals. Indeed, one of the most recognisable features of the dance came from the drooping position of the hands, which created a curved line from the arms to finger tip, echoing a bear’s paws. Set to the modern sounds of popular rag-time music, the dance sparked a frenzy in Paris when it was first performed on stage by the popular American society dancers Vernon and Irene Castle in the spring of 1911. Though the Castles only knew the step sequence from a series of newspaper clippings, their improvised rendition brought the audience to its feet, and soon the danse de l’ours was a permanent fixture in the city’s nightclubs.

While Severini had created a series of watercolours and pastel studies on the danse de l’ours in 1912, culminating in the oil painting La Danse de l’ours au Moulin Rouge (1913), in the present composition he proposes an entirely new vision of the subject. Abandoning any trace of figuration, the artist depicts the dancing couple in a highly abstract manner, fracturing their bodies into a series of vibrantly coloured fragments that radiate outwards from the centre of the canvas. Through this dematerialization of form, Severini aimed to create a visual representation of the energy of the performance, moving beyond a literal representation of the dancers themselves and instead focusing on the sensory impressions – the sounds, odours, light, colours and speed – that accompanied their movements. Explaining this evolution within his painterly style, he wrote in 1913: ‘the need for abstraction and for symbols is a characteristic sign of that intensity and rapidity with which life is lived today… Things possess neither integral form nor individual outlines. Our perception bestows on objects boundaries in space, and these boundaries are the outcome, of the multiple influences of remembrance, of ambience and emotion’ (Severini, quoted in S. Fraquelli & C. Green, Gino Severini: From Futurism to Classicism, exh. cat., London, 1999, pp. 12-13).

This search for a concrete visualisation of the ephemeral effects of perception and experience underpinned every aspect of Severini’s creative output during this period, from his painterly experiments to his theoretical writings. In Danse de l’ours, the colourful, fragmented, forms appear like fragments of memory cast on to the canvas, the fleeting impressions of a moment which have left their mark on the artist’s imagination. Eliminating all reference to the setting, Severini releases the movement from its environmental context, heightening the focus on the rhythmic effects of the dance itself, and the ways in which the bodies of the couple intersect and follow one another in a constantly shifting sequence of rhythm and movement. Distilling the figures down to a series of abstract shapes, he allows them to represent the collective dancer, one of the many individuals who spent their nights locked in the embrace of a fellow reveller in the Parisian nightspots, lost in the exciting, sensual movements of the Argentine Tango, the Turkey Trot, or the danse de l’ours – in other words, people like the artist himself.

The present work remained in the artist’s collection for over thirty years, as confirmed by Gina Severini Franchina in 1974, before being donated by the artist himself to Yves de Solminihac.
Danse de l’ours was acquired in 1975-1976 by the family of the present owner and has remained in the same private collection since.

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