JEAN METZINGER (1883-1956)
JEAN METZINGER (1883-1956)
JEAN METZINGER (1883-1956)
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JEAN METZINGER (1883-1956)


JEAN METZINGER (1883-1956)
signed 'JMetzinger' (lower right)
oil on canvas
45 5⁄8 x 35 in. (115.9 x 89 cm.)
Painted in 1928
Léonce Rosenberg, Paris (by 1931); Estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 25 June 1959, lot 13.
Anon. sale, Palais Galliéra, Paris, 16 March 1970, lot 44.
Private collection; sale, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, Inc., New York, 23 October 1980, lot 234A.
Private collection, Florida; sale, Sotheby's, New York, 3 October 1990, lot 90.
Anon. (acquired at the above sale); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 7 May 2003, lot 348.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
C. Kunstler, "Le motif antique dans la peinture moderne" in Art et Décoration, May 1931, vol. 59, p. 140 (illustrated).
Iowa City, The University of Iowa Museum of Art; Austin, Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery; The University of Chicago, The David and Alfred Smart Gallery, and Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, Jean Metzinger in Retrospect, August 1985-May 1986, p. 123, no. 236 (illustrated; titled Paysage imaginaire).

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Lot Essay

The subject of the caryatid is one that several modern artists were fascinated by. When Jean Metzinger painted this lively picture he certainly wasn’t the only one: Amedeo Modigliani’s drawings of women crouching down and Henri Laurens’ renderings in bronze, for instance, are only some examples of 20th century re-interpretations of this well-known motif from the iconography of Ancient Greece.
The caryatids were ‘maiden of Karyai’, a city in the Peloponnese region of Greece where women were known to take part in local traditional dances carrying baskets on their heads: the iconic motif of the caryatid as a female shaped pillar or column is thus believed to stem from this image. It made its way through centuries, from Greek Antiquity through the Italian Renaissance, all the way to modern art, in inspired works such as the present one.
Its classical imagery is the most crucial element that helps convey a sense of timelessness, one that is characteristic of works by Metzinger of the 1920s, during what is known as the Post-cubist phase of the artist’s work. Although their memory is still perceptible in some of the work’s details, when this work was painted, long gone were the days of the Section d’Or and of Metzinger’s theoretical writings on cubism. In his own re-interpretation of le rappel à l’ordre, and inspired in part by the work of Le Corbusier and Amédé Ozenfant, Metzinger was now moving towards a more conceptual art, almost metaphysical in flavor.
Here, the juxtaposition between classical motifs (the caryatid herself and the three heads of a snake resembling the ones of Hydra), the modernity of the electricity pole in the background, and its cross-like shape convey a number of questions in the viewers’ minds. The works of this period become populated by statues, books, columns and organic elements, all in a stimulating visual rendering facilitated by the use of sharp outlines, solid modelling and bright primary colors.
The shift beyond a purely cubist perspective was one that was fiercely supported by Metzinger’s gallerist at the time, famed art dealer Léonce Rosenberg. Ever since Metzinger signed a contract with him in 1916 and throughout the 1920s, Rosenberg endorsed the artist time and time again, exhibiting and buying several of his works—this picture was among them. Their close bond is exemplified in the portrait that the artist painted of Léonce in 1924; four years after, around the time that this picture was executed, Rosenberg held a successful solo exhibition on the artist.
There is no doubt that the present picture speaks of a particularly exciting and innovative moment in the artist’s career—one that was profoundly encouraged within the walls of Rosenberg’s Galerie l’Effort Moderne.

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