Medium: Oil On Canvas
Size: 65 x 54 cm
Signed: and dated on reverse: G. Severini/nature morte/Paris 1917.
Léonce Rosenberg Gallery, Paris, 1917; Van Lier Gallery, Amsterdam circa 1931; Acquired there by A. Guermonprez (a prominent photographer associated with the Bauhaus) and Trude Jalowitz Guermonprez (died 1976, who worked as a fabric designer and weaver for the Bauhaus); 2nd husband of Trude Guermonprez, and to their children in California.
This recently discovered Still Life is one of several medium-sized canvases painted by Gino Severini in early 1917. The composition follows one of the most widely used Cubist schemes, comprising different everyday objects. These are placed along a descending diagonal line that leads the viewer’s eye from the upper area to the lower, and from the foreground to the planes behind. Progressing down from the upper portion, we can distinguish the geometric forms of a pitcher with a handle, against a red background, alongside the silhouette of a long bottle; in the center, on the surface plane of a table, another pitcher, bluish-gray in color, with a triangular spout and a handle on the right side, alongside a tavern glass against a green background and a prism-like object against a gold-toned background. The surface plane of the table is superimposed on the edge of the tablecloth. The latter appears highly stylized on the left side and noticeably more volumetric and defined by chiaroscuro toward the front edge in the cloth in the areas behind the glass.
From a compositional point of view, this work can be compared to some others from the same period, already documented in retrospective exhibitions and in the Severini family photographic archives. One may observe obvious affinities in the compositional rhythm of several of the still-lifes from this date. A rhythm is developed through the assembling of objects that are sometimes not easily decipherable, de-constructed and simultaneously re-constructed, by bringing together totally abstract chromatic planes and silhouettes, suggesting a rising volumetric impulse. Note, for example, the formal analogy between the vase in the upper section of Nature morte: Quaker Oats,(London, Estorick Collection, Fonti no. 283), de-composed on the right, and re-composed on the left half in the rhomboidal shape and with an isolated object in the middle. Other works from 1916 and 1917 show the same subtle graphic elements, alluding to the persistence of volume. The tablecloth, which is fully volumetric on the forward plane, but becomes thinner on a bi-dimensional plane towards the back, is also present in Le pot bleu (Venice, Cini Foundation, Fonti no. 291). Both the compositional analysis and the possible points of comparison lead us to assign the painting to the year 1917, in the context of a series of paintings in which Severini recovers a concave space within which to lace ‘rational’ objects, de-composed in the manner of geometric cubism as well as naturalistic details. The inscription confirms this dating, ‘1917,’ written in the artist’s hand on the reverse.
The color scheme of this work has other echoes in paintings of the same period. Severini abandoned the chromatic burst of dust colored with primary colors in 1915, typical of the abstract futurist ‘dancers,’ and turned towards a more sedate palette, where white, gray, and earth tones prevail, juxtaposed and enlivened by contrast with livelier and brighter fields. In this context, the Still Life being examined here can appropriately be compared to the Tulips of 1916 (fig. ), surprisingly close to it also in its compositional elements, with its analogous musical cadenza of whites and grays with red high lights.
The artist uses tenuous color and a thin layer of paint where he draws the most abstract chromatic planes, as Daniela Fonti has observed. In general the brushstrokes are steady and uniform, moving from top to bottom. Sometimes when a reference is made to volume, the brushstrokes follow the shape of the form alluded to, becoming thicker and more perceptible (as in the ‘gray’ base of the pitcher with handles against a red background). In other parts the oil acquires greater body and the brushstrokes are irregular, full of pigment and more obvious; this technique conveys an almost tactile sense of volume and material (as in the tablecloth in the foreground). In some other areas the artist mixes different sizes of grains of sand with the colour. The sand is blended with the oil, creating a ‘material’ support for the form. This procedure is clearly visible in the trapezoidal gold shape in the foreground, and is used in exactly the same manner in Nature Morte à la cafetière (location unknown, Fonti,. No. 284), while obvious analogies with the way in which the paint is gilded are to be found in Nature morte: Quaker Oats.
The inscription is traced on the back of our painting in large dark letters, probably with a brush and is from Severini’s hand. The signature in the lower right-hand corner of the composition is in the author’s own hand; and comparable to other works of the period. The canvas has two paper labels affixed to its stretcher. The first, on the upper right side, is inscribed ‘Kunstzaal Van Lier Amsterdam’, and under that printed inscription it has a stock inventory number, hand-written in pen, ’12 (2)’, followed by ‘Sev.’ The small size of the label indicates that it refers to a numerical inventory related to Severini’s work, whose unabbreviated name could not fit on the label.
Daniela Fonti’s records do not show the Van Lier Gallery in Amsterdam among those in the Netherlands previously known to her to have shown paintings by Severini, either in solo or group exhibitions. Severini, however, established a successful and continued market for himself in Holland, from the Futurist period onwards (thanks in particular to the patronage of some Dutch collectors residing in Paris), and this became more extensive, especially in Amsterdam, during the 1930s. In 1931 a large retrospective exhibition was held in that city, showing dozens of his works, and Severini’s work appeared in several Dutch galleries in that decade.
The second label seen at the center of the crossbar of the stretcher is torn and not clearly legible, but it demonstrates that shortly after its execution this work was deposited with and probably listed in the inventory records of the Rosenberg Gallery for an unknown period. It was then apparently sold or given subsequently to a collector or to another dealer.
The purchaser of the painting in Amsterdam, Mrs. Trude Jalowitz Guermonprez (1911-1976), was a prominent member of the weaving school of the Bauhaus (Weimar) and the wife of a well-known Jewish photographer and artist who lived and worked in the Netherlands, after studying in Germany where he was killed during World War II. After his death, his widow left Europe and moved to the West Coast of the U.S.A., bringing Severini’s painting with her. Trude Jalowitz Guermonprez lived in San Francisco until her death in 1976, upon which her estate, including the Severini, was left to her second husband. After his death, the painting was inherited by his children in California, who sold it to the present owner.
Dr Daniela Fonti, author of the Catalogue Raisonné of Gino Severini’s paintings, after a direct examination of the painting, and after studying both the photographic evidence and the recorded documentation, has confirmed that the painting is an original work by Gino Severini, painted in 1917. (Adapted from a text by Dr Daniela Fonti, 1999-2001, and authorized by her)