In the exhibition, a Russian audience is able to see for the first time a unique collection of paintings by leading artists of the School of Paris in the first few decades of the twentieth century, the collection has been assembled by their contemporary and patron Jonas Netter. Works by the most famous names and the most important showpieces of Netter’s collection will be on display: paintings by Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, Maurice Utrillo, and also works by Moïse Kisling, Maurice de Vlaminck, Andre Derain, Suzanne Valadon, and other legendary masters of Montparnasse.
The district of Montparnasse in Paris became the center of the city’s artistic and intellectual life shortly before the First World War and retained this unique atmosphere until the end of the interwar period. An integral element of Parisian life during this period was internationalism: artists, writers, politicians, and businessmen from all over the world gathered there and many ended up staying. For artists and poets who wanted to immerse themselves in the latest schools and trends in art, Montparnasse was a genuine place of pilgrimage: in the 1910s, the regulars in its many cafés were all leaders and ideologists of the European Modernist movement. Ilya Ehrenburg wrote about the famous café “de la Rotonde” located on the Montparnasse Boulevard: “Starting early in the morning, in the hot, stuffy, smoke-filled back room, at four or five tables sat Russians, Spaniards, Latin Americans, Scandinavians, people from all corners of the Earth, utterly destitute, wearing god-knows-what, starveling, where they talked about painting, recited poems, discussed ways they could get five francs, argued and reconciled. In the end, someone would inevitably get drunk and be ejected from the room.”
The new culture of Modernism, inspired by the optimism that followed the First World War and the subsequent economic upturn, made art even more relevant and popular. Paris, the geographic center of this movement, provided an atmosphere of unprecedented, boundless freedom. Fernand Leger writes that a man in those years "could finally lift his head, open his eyes and look before himself; he could shake off tension, and regain his taste for life, eagerly long to dance, throw money about, walk with a long stride, shout, wail, and squander." Montparnasse was thriving on free living, free love, and the freedom of the arts.
However, the Bohemian life of this era was far from carefree for those involved. Young artists – Modigliani, Soutine, Utrillo, and many others – lived in poverty. Their paintings were perceived by the public as scandalous and only rarely would they find buyers. Modigliani’s friends nicknamed him “Modi”, not only because of his surname, but because it sounded similar to the French word ‘maudit’, which means ‘cursed’. This nickname became entrenched both for him and the artists of his circle, whose lives were full of hardship and failures.
The first serious collector of their work was the entrepreneur and art-lover Jonas Netter. He played an enormous role in deciding the fate of these artists. He began to assemble his collection after being introduced to the art dealer Leopold Zborovsky in Paris in 1915. Zborovsky began working for Netter; communicating with artists, collecting, exchanging, and re-selling their works. With Netter’s financial backing, Zborovsky concluded agreements with artists, paid them salaries and gave them money to rent studios and purchase materials for painting and other supplies. In that same year, 1915, Netter and Zborovsky signed a contract with Modigliani, under the terms of which they paid the artist 300 francs a month, for which they would receive all the canvases he created. By 1917, the monthly amount paid to the artist had grown to 500 francs and, by 1919, it had risen to 1000 francs. Similar agreements existed between Netter and Zborovsky with Soutine and Utrillo. Netter's enthusiasm for their creativity, as well as for the works of Moïse Kisling, Suzanne Valadon, Andre Derain, and other masters, contributed to the emerging demand for artists of the School of Paris and created a new segment in the art market. Jonas Netter died in 1946, leaving to his heirs an invaluable collection of works by artists who are now recognized as the most important artists of the twentieth century. For more than seventy years Netter’s collection was not available to a wide audience, and only recently has it begun to be shown in Europe.
The masterpieces of Netter's collection are, undoubtedly, the piercing and refined portraits created by Amedeo Modigliani in the final years of his short life. Among these are two portraits of his muse, Jeanne Hebuterne. The artist first met the young woman during the carnival period in March 1917. Jeanne was nineteen years old, a student at a private art school. Despite the objections of her parents and Modigliani’s addiction to alcohol and various other drugs, Jeanne soon started to live with the artist, and subsequently gave birth to his daughter. Modigliani created more than twenty portraits of Jeanne. Their love story, embodied in the portraits he created, became one of the most famous romantic tales of the art world of the twentieth century. Jeanne shared all of Modi’s adversity and the day after his death (January 24, 1920) she committed suicide.
The exhibition is also featuring a wonderful selection of paintings by Modigliani’s close friend, Chaim Soutine, a Russian immigrant. Like his friend, Soutine lived and worked in poverty and was known to be a neurasthenic, morbid, and hypersensitive person. The feverish nature of the artist is fully embodied in his paintings and in the creation of his own version of Expressionism. Netter’s collection includes examples of all genres in which Soutine worked: portraits, still lives, and both urban and rural landscapes. Considering himself a successor of the old masters, Soutine claimed that the motif of animal carcasses was suggested to him by a Rembrandt painting "The Carcass of a Bull". Soutine painted his version of the picture from life, buying a carcass in a slaughterhouse and hanging it in his studio. The artist worked slowly, and the stench became so unbearable that his neighbors complained to the city’s sanitation service. In order to give Soutine the chance to finish his canvas, the sanitation workers offered to treat the bull’s carcass with formalin. A few days later, the meat, now dry, had lost its rich color so Soutine obtained a bucket of fresh blood from the same slaughterhouse. The bull, smeared with blood with the help of a brush, became "even more beautiful than it had been before."
The paintings of Maurice Utrillo are represented by an entire series of landscapes drawn from the best of his ‘White Period’. The first painting lessons Utrillo received were from his mother, the artist Suzanne Valadon, who had in her youth been a favorite nude model for both Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. Valadon’s works can also be seen in the exhibition. Utrillo became a master of monochrome, distinguished by a refined sense of the tones of urban landscapes, conveying a sense of loneliness and melancholy.
In stark contrast to Utrillo’s ephemeral work we find the color-rich paintings of Moïse Kisling, among which is a portrait of the collector himself, Jonas Netter. He had become friends with Kisling, which was not surprising as Kisling was said to be the true soul of Montparnasse, a man who, according to his contemporaries, radiated “energy in which vitality, love, sexuality and creativity were mixed.” He was a regular visitor to the cafés "la Coupole", “de la Rotonde” and attended numerous costumed balls, which were arranged in studios, private houses, and salons.
Altogether, the exhibition includes more than 120 works by artists of the School of Paris, which constitute the core of Jonas Netter’s unique collection.
The exhibition is organized by the Cultural-Historical Foundation "The Link of Times" and by the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg. The curator of the exhibition, Marc Restellini, is an art historian and one of the world's leading experts on the body of works of Amedeo Modigliani.
During the exhibition, the Fabergé Museum is open every day, with no holidays, from 10:00 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.
Tickets to the exhibition may be purchased in advance through the website tickets.fsv.ru
The Exhibition “Modigliani, Soutine, and Other Legends of Montparnasse” is recommended for visitors over 16 years of age.
Materials for publication:
Reproductions of a number of works that will be presented at the exhibition can be downloaded from the link:
Reproductions in high-resolution: https://cloud.mail.ru/public/LyBh/mJnmXYGFG
All images used are (c) Pinacothèque de Paris