While Picasso, Matisse, and Gauguin popularized non-western art in 1920s Paris, the Ratton brothers began their own collection of African sculpture, recognizing its potential not only within the art market but as enriching works of art in themselves, crucial to art history. Through collecting, dealing, and organizing exhibitions, Charles and Maurice Ratton became pioneers in the field of dealing African art, establishing a family legacy in the process. Last year Lucas Ratton, Charles’s grandson and Maurice’s grand-nephew, opened his own African art gallery in Paris’s St. Germain-des-Prés neighborhood.
Maurice and Charles established themselves by befriending the avant-garde artists of Montparnasse and helping them develop their ethnographic collections; their clients included Breton, Apollinaire, Picasso, and Derain. Proponents of Modernism as well, the Rattons displayed African art alongside Modern painting and sculpture in their galleries and homes, a practice that was unheard of prior to their time. In fact, Man Ray’s well-known photographs featuring African sculptures and models were taken in Charles’s apartment.
Charles would become involved in several major museums exhibitions, which were fundamental in spreading African art to Western audiences, despite the fact that they were largely against the grain in terms of public opinion and taste. In 1932, he organized “Bronze and Ivory Pieces of the Kingdom of Benin,” at Paris’s former Trocadéro Ethnographic Museum, and in 1935, he was he was the major proponent behind the first major American exhibition of African art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Linking exhibitions, collecting, and his own expertise in the field, Ratton helped to energize discourse around African art and aided in many museum acquisitions.
Lucas’s passion for African art was inevitable. He developed an early taste for it, thanks to a childhood surrounded by his father’s collection; among his favorites was a collection of Tyiwara helmet crest antelopes. Philippe Ratton (Lucas’s father) took over the family gallery in the 1970s and prolonged the Ratton legacy through his extensive travels and resulting exhibitions. Lucas didn’t ride on the family coat-tails, however; he pursued graduate studies in African art and started his own business, beginning at the Porte de Clignancourt flea market (Les Puces). Just five months after opening his St. Germain gallery, he was one of six young dealers to participate in TEFAF Maastricht’s prestigious Showcase section. At The Salon: Art + Design this year, Ratton shows an exquisite collection of masks and statuettes from the Ivory Coast and the Congo.
Lucas Ratton, The Salon Art + Design 2013, Art, Booth A11, Nov. 15th–18th.