When Léger went back to his roots

On 30 January 2020, by Philippe Dufour

The painter of the modern world was inspired by nature in this 1939 work, which attests to a particular period when he returned to the great pictorial tradition.

Fernand Léger (1881-1955), Nature morte aux trois fruits (Still life with three fruits), 1939, oil on canvas, signed "F. LEGER", dated "39" in the lower right-hand corner, countersigned "F. LEGER", titled and dated "39" on the back, 65 x 92 cm.
Estimate €600,000/800,000

Fernand Léger’s Nature morte (Still Life) features three odd-looking fruits with stems and complex outgrowths lying on a green table. In the late 1930s, he often powerfully combined primary colours and vegetal elements with objects from everyday life. These were recurring motifs in his work, which composed a decorative grammar that included fruits, often cut in half, showing their delicate insides, seeds and pits, and walnuts, whose gnarled forms fascinated him especially. Foliage also overruns the painting. Tree trunks and torn roots appear, fairly symbolically, especially after 1940. From the animal kingdom, throughout 1938 Léger took the spindly figure of the spider, for, he said, "beauty is everywhere, in the object, the fragment, in purely invented forms." Here one appears on the right. Léger enjoyed collecting humble scraps of nature during his stays in his native Normandy, where he owned a thatched cottage at Lisores, in the Pays d'Auge hedgerow country. Walking through the woods, he would gather dead leaves, branches, flint, sheep bones and fallen apples, and soon integrated them into his paintings. Other times they were enlarged as though under a microscope and became a work’s only subject. Far from the mechanical aesthetics Léger explored in the 1920s, this painting perfectly illustrates the return to the figure and the human characterising the artist’s work before his exile in the United States. Listed as number 1056 in Georges Bauquier’s catalogue raisonné (Adrien Maeght éditeur, 1998), this vibrant still life boasts the additional advantage of coming from the collection of Frank Elgar, a famous Parisian writer and art critic whose real name was Roger Lesbats (1889-1978). An admirer of Cubism and the primary arts, he was a good friend of Léger’s, owning nine of his works. This one he acquired from the Galerie Louis Carré. It went on to have a brilliant international career, for it was shown at a 1951 exhibition at the Kunstforeningen in Copenhagen and the 1972 Léger retrospective at the Cultural Centre in Fukuoka, Japan.

A history of perspectives

On 06 March 2020, by Anne Doridou-Heim

The art critic Frank Elgar assembled a collection based on his encounters and impulses. A glance at a few pieces from this rich collection, seen through a magnifying glass.

Frank Elgar (1899-1978), Étude de l'œuvre de Picasso, Fernand Hazan Éditeur, Paris, 1955, with a pencil drawing on the title page, Portrait of Frank Elgar, de Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).
Estimate: € 6,000/8,000
© SUCCESSION PICASSO, ADAGP, PARIS, 2020

The 19th century was drawing to a close when Roger Lesbats, later known by the pseudonym Frank Elgar, was born on 20 July 1899. He took little interest in that century, concentrating on the artistic creation of the twentieth: a rich, diverse era he relished through his pen. His career as a journalist began in Nantes – and once he had started writing, he never stopped… On June 21, 1978, Le Monde devoted an article to him on his death, saying that this "likeable but grouchy man" (...) defended "with an accomplished, sensitive pen progressive artists of the time like Tal Coat, Pignon, Poliakoff and Music," which did not prevent him "from engaging in tremendous polemics against what he considered anarchy in painting."  Imbued with a strong humanist culture, Elgar also published books on Picasso, Van Gogh, Braque, Miró and Léger with Hazan. This shared history with the art of a fascinating era is now coming up for auction.

Baltasar Lobo (1910-1993), Jeune femme (Young Woman) ou Contemplation, 1956, bronze with black patina, Susse foundry stamp, no. 2/6, 38 x

Baltasar Lobo (1910-1993), Jeune femme (Young Woman) ou Contemplation, 1956, bronze with black patina, Susse foundry stamp, no. 2/6, 38 x 35 x 15 cm.
Estimate: €12,000/18,000

A primitive of modern times
He had a very special friendship with Fernand Léger. In 1949, while he was immersed in his exploration of stylisation, the painter executed a Portrait of Marguerite Lesbats (Portrait de Marguerite Lesbats) in oil on canvas, which he dedicated and gave to him. The lady's face is drawn with a black brushstroke against a background of coloured bands (€200,000/300,000). If Léger's style is obvious in this work, it is equally evident in the Still Life with Three Fruits (Nature morte aux trois fruits) of 1939, and can be compared with the Composition with a Green Plant (Composition à la plante verte) and the Composition with two alarm clocks (Composition aux deux réveils), which are expected to fetch between €600,000 and €800,000. A letter from Nadia Léger in 1956 touchingly describes the relationship between the two men (€200/300). The painter's widow, moved by Elgar's article on Léger in the Carrefour review, wrote to him: "Your article had the power to bring our wonderful Fernand back to life for me, and it gave me enormous pleasure."
 

Fernand Léger (1881-1955), Portrait de Marguerite Lesbats (Portrait of Marguerite Lesbats), 1949, oil on canvas, 46 x 38 cm.Estimate: €200

Fernand Léger (1881-1955), Portrait de Marguerite Lesbats (Portrait of Marguerite Lesbats), 1949, oil on canvas, 46 x 38 cm.
Estimate: €200,000/300,000

The critic's "little guys"
Great masters and lesser names rubbed shoulders in the writings of Frank Elgar, who experienced abstract painting as one listens to music, seeking to tap into profound emotions. This sale will make it possible to rediscover the work of some of them. A palpitating bronze woman by Baltasar Lobo (1910-1993) certainly catches the eye. A member of the FIJL (Libertarian Youth) and close to Spain's avant-garde artists, the artist was a Republican from the outset. In 1939, fleeing Franco's regime, he was interned in the Argelès camp, from which he escaped and made his way to Paris, equipped with a recommendation from Picasso. In the capital, he met Miró and Henri Laurens, who helped him get his papers in order. He quickly became known beyond the militant circle, with a style influenced by primitive archaic sculpture and Cubism, which he had thoroughly absorbed. His figuration was extremely simplified, as expressed in the curves of this Young Woman (Jeune femme) or Contemplation (€12,000/18,000). Small wonder that the critic was enchanted by them.

Mali, Bambara culture, 20th century. Tywara antelope in wood with brown patina, 52 x 51 cm.Estimate: €300/500

Mali, Bambara culture, 20th century. Tywara antelope in wood with brown patina, 52 x 51 cm.
Estimate: €300/500

Elgar's manifestos
Fascinated by his profession, the arts, other people and literature, Frank Elgar was a relentless worker who also wrote a number of books: all reference works. His Picasso. A study of his work (Étude de l'œuvre de Pablo Picasso) was published by Hazan in 1955. In gratitude for this reflective piece of writing, the master sketched the critic with a magnifying glass in his hand. And on the first page it says: "This copy was printed especially for Frank Elgar." This unique piece has an estimate of €6,000/8,000. In a special edition of the Resurrection of the Bird (Résurrection de l'oiseau) (Maeght, 1958), where his text accompanies the lithographs of Georges Braque, a watercolour signed by the artist is included (€3,000/5,000) as well as an envoi: "For Frank Elgar, this bird as the carrier of my compliments." Other books have dedications by Paul Eluard and René Char. A whole era thus rolls out before us, also taking shape in greetings cards and personal correspondence. Elgar's insatiable open-mindedness bordered on universality. The last and not the least of his passions was inspired by archaeological, primitive cultures. A Bambara antelope used to keep watch behind his desk, under Fernand Léger's still life. Perhaps, through his objects from elsewhere, he sought to understand what 20thcentury artists had discovered...

Frank Elgar (1899-1978), Résurrection de l'oiseau (Resurrection of the Bird) , Maeght Éditeur Paris, 1958, illustrations by Georges Braque

Frank Elgar (1899-1978), Résurrection de l'oiseau (Resurrection of the Bird) , Maeght Éditeur Paris, 1958, illustrations by Georges Braque (1882-1963), copy especially printed on Rives paper for Frank Elgar with an envoi and watercolour by Braque.
Estimate: €3,000/5,000

Gods and men of the New World

On 11 March 2020, by Philippe Dufour

Like an inexhaustible mine, this American collection of pre-Columbian art is delivering some of its treasures to Drouot for the fourth time. It will also shine a spotlight on the mysterious world of the Olmecs.

Guatemala, Petén, Mayan culture, Late Classic period, 600-900. Figure sitting in a suit wearing a removable helmet, brown ceramic with traces of red, blue and yellow pigment, h. 12.4 cm with the helmet.
Estimate: €100,000/120,000

A great New York patron of the arts, now dead, built up a world-famous collection in just thirty years. In the fourth session of a mammoth sale – the first of which was held on 31 March 2017 - there are 79 pieces, much cherished by this truly "busy man". This selection has the speaking advantage of representing almost all the civilisations that arose in the territory of ancient Mexico. Further pieces illustrate the boundless curiosity of a collector who was also interested in South American artefacts.
 

Mexico, Middle Pre-Classic period, Olmec culture, 900-400 BC, "Bird monster" mask with bird crest and feline fangs, serpentine. 15.5 x 12.

Mexico, Middle Pre-Classic period, Olmec culture, 900-400 BC, "Bird monster" mask with bird crest and feline fangs, serpentine. 15.5 x 12.4 cm.
Estimate: €900,000/1,200,000

Founding art
The distant world of the Olmecs (1200 to 400 BC) comes to life again here through a collection of meticulously selected sculptures. There is a good reason for their quality, as expert Jacques Blazy tells us: "The New York aesthete chose one of the top specialists in this culture, the historian Peter David Joralemon, as the accredited curator of his collection. These pieces featured in landmark events like the one staged by the Princeton University Art Museum in 1995." That exhibition traced the history of Olmec culture. Today, after fifty years of extensive research, we know a little more about this people. In their sacred world, the spirits often adopted the features of hybrid beings, half-man, half-animal, as witness a "bird monster" mask of exceptional quality, with an avian crest and feline fangs (900-400 BC), carved in serpentine, which comes from the site of Las Bocas. The flagship piece of the sale, it has an estimate of €900,000/1,200,000. The supernatural creature represented is one of the most important in the Olmec pantheon, and can be assimilated with the sun god, the source of all fertility on Earth. "Like many pieces in the collection, this exceptional work was acquired from the Merrin Gallery, the reference in New York for pre-Columbian art," says Blazy. This also provided a hybrid half-jaguar, half-human face (€130,000/150,000) engraved on a limestone plaque, the big cat being considered the ancestor of man. On the secular side, Olmec society was dominated by sovereigns and lords, whose stone carvers left faithful representations, including a statuette of a member of the elite class, with the usual cranial deformation (Middle Pre-classic, 900-400 BC). You will need €300,000/400,000 for this.
 

Guatemala, Mayan culture, Late Classic period, 600-900. Nine Spirits of Plants and Monkey God, brown ceramic, h.14,3 cm to 38,3 cm.Estimat

Guatemala, Mayan culture, Late Classic period, 600-900. Nine Spirits of Plants and Monkey God, brown ceramic, h.14,3 cm to 38,3 cm.
Estimate: €400,000/600,000

Magic figures
The powerful Mayan civilisation flourished much later, with a Classic period lasting from 250-900 AD. From Yucatan in eastern Mexico to Honduras, it was divided into many kingdoms that were rivals in not only war but also art, and left us a wealth of elegant and inventive masterpieces. They include a series of brown ceramic effigies depicting the Nine Spirits of Plants and the Monkey God, from Guatemala. Dating from the Late Classic period (600-900), these statuettes illustrate the agrarian and solar religions practised in the city states. Be prepared to spend between €400,000 and 600,000 if you want to linger over all their sinuous lines. Another marvellous example of virtuosity is an "eccentric" flint from the same period. This 39.2 cm-high ritual blade sports the profile of a deity, from which emerge some incredible excrescences (€200,000/250,000). Contemporary with this strange shadowy figure, there is also a ceramic statuette of a figure sitting in a suit wearing a removable helmet! This is a very rare representation of a wrestler at rest (€100,000/120,000). Terracotta vases and dishes are also included, sometimes showing bloodthirsty scenes (inevitable in the Mayan cosmogony), like a self-decapitation being performed by a "way" or supernatural being on the side of a vessel (estimate: €60,000 to 80,000).
 

Mexico-Guatemala, Late Classic, 600-900, Mayan culture. "Eccentric" flint, brown flint, h. 39.2 cm.Estimate: €200,000/250,000

Mexico-Guatemala, Late Classic, 600-900, Mayan culture. "Eccentric" flint, brown flint, h. 39.2 cm.
Estimate: €200,000/250,000

The Chavin and Chimú cultures of South America
This collector also sought out pieces by other highly localised peoples. They feature some clay figures modelled by artists of the Veracruz culture. One of these highly realistic masterpieces is the statue of a Seated young dignitary found in Remojadas, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico (Classic period, 600-900), expected to fetch €50,000/60,000. Equally fascinating are a pair of Warriors with imposing headdresses in ceramic with traces of bituminous paint, from the same period (€20,000/30,000). Pre-Columbian South America also makes an appearance. Here, too, the collector targeted some very ancient and sometimes little-known civilisations. The original ceramics of the Chavin culture (900-400 BC), characteristic of northern Peru, produced some very singular forms, like a double face with fangs adorning a vase, estimated at €8,000/10,000. Also in this region, the Chimú culture flourished around its fortified capital Chan Chan, City of the Sun, from 1100 to 1450 AD. This produced a wooden funerary pole carved with a tomb guardian, which seems to watch over the sale (€80,000/90,000).

Fernand Léger/Frank Elgar: resonances

On 25 June 2020, by Claire Papon

This 1958 bronze by Marie-Thérèse Pinto and another, Astral colloquium, from 1962 (€300/500), close the sale of this collection.

Fernand Léger (1881-1955), Portrait de Marguerite Lesbats (Portrait of Marguerite Lesbats), 1949, oil on canvas, 46 x 38 cm.
Estimate: €200,000/300,000

Born in Chile, Marie-Thérèse Pinto studied sculpture in Italy and above all in Paris; under Constantin Brancusi and then Henri Laurens. During the Second World War, she explored pre-Columbian art in Mexico. On her return to Paris in 1950 she took part in various salons and received several State commissions. "With its elegance, pure forms, rigorous construction and firm structures, her art commands admiration for its secret warmth and palpable, contained passion," wrote the critic Frank Elgar, born Roger Lesbats, whose collection is now heading for the auction room. Also the author of books on Picasso, Braque, Mondrian, Cézanne and Miró, he developed a deep friendship with Fernand Léger, "that primitive of modern times". So it is hardly surprising that the artist lays a prominent role here. No fewer than ten ceramic pieces, drawings and paintings are on offer, led by a vibrant Still Life with Three Fruits, 1939 (€600,000/800,000), and a Portrait of Marguerite Lesbats. A man who deeply loved art and literature, the journalist assembled not only a library, but also African, Oceanic and pre-Columbian objects. He was interested in painters of his times like the American Expressionist Janice Biala (estimates range from €300 to €1,500). Baltasar Lobo (1910-1993) was also an artist he liked. His bronze with a black patina, Young Woman in Contemplation, is expected to make between €12,000 and €18,000.

Marie-Thérèse Pinto (1894-1980), Roof of the world, 1958, bronze with gilt patina, sand casting, 18.5 x 6 x 6 cm.Estimate: € 200/300

Marie-Thérèse Pinto (1894-1980), Roof of the world, 1958, bronze with gilt patina, sand casting, 18.5 x 6 x 6 cm, 7.2 x 2.3 x 2.3 in.
Estimate: € 200/300

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