Exceptional works by Zadkine and Foujita highlight Bonhams Impressionist and Modern Art sale
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Exceptional works by Zadkine and Foujita highlight Bonhams Impressionist and Modern Art sale
Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968) Femme allongée, Youki. Estimate: £500,000 - 700,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Rare and exceptional works by two key émigré artists of the radical École de Paris, Ephebus by Ossip Zadkine and Femme allongée, Youki by Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita, will highlight Bonhams Impressionist and Modern Art Sale on 26 March in London. Both works have estimates of £500,000 - £700,000.

In the early 20th century, Paris was the epicentre of the international art scene and attracted young artists from all over the world. Zadkine (1888-1967) and Foujita (1886-1968) were two such artists. They would become not only great friends – mingling in the same circles as Modigliani, Brancusi, and Picasso – but also leading figures of the École de Paris, which was formed largely of émigré artists who congregated in Montparnasse and Montmartre.

Head of Bonhams Impressionist and Modern Art Department, Hannah Foster, commented: “Zadkine’s Ephebus and Foujita’s Femme allongée, Youki are exceptional examples of rare works by the pioneering artists of the École de Paris in their prime.

“Early examples by Zadkine – such as Ephebus – rarely appear on the market, as most are in museum collections. Ephebus was formerly owned by the great collector and patron of Zadkine’s, Jean Mayen. It was acquired in 1924 and remained in his collection for more than 50 years. Ephebus is unique and is one of the finest wood carvings by the artist to have ever appeared at auction.

“Meanwhile, Foujita’s Femme allongée, Youki, defines a period in which the great Japanese émigré painter was enjoying the heights of his artistic success. Celebrated as an avant-garde master bridging Eastern and Western traditions amid the great wave of the modern movements, Foujita was already a key figure of the École de Paris when this work was painted. Appearing at auction for the first time in its history, Femme allongée, Youki, is a deeply sensual depiction of Foujita’s great muse Lucie Badoud (aka Youki). It has remained in private collections since its execution nearly 100 years ago and has been included in several seminal exhibitions of the artist’s work. It is one of the most exceptional works of its kind to be offered at auction.

“These important works perfectly encapsulate the “spirt of synthesis” that defined not only the École de Paris, but the friendship between these two radical artists, who were at the centre of the Parisian art scene.”

Ossip Zadkine was one of the pioneers of modernist sculpture. He was born in 1888 in Vitebsk, then part of the Russian Empire. After being sent to Britain by his parents to learn English, he settled in Paris in 1909, where he studied for six months at the École des Beaux-Arts. Often visiting the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro and the Louvre, Zadkine immersed himself in the city’s cocktail of nationalities and influences, exploring his affinity for natural materials whilst engaging with classical forms and undertaking intense experimentation. The First World War saw Zadkine serve as a stretcher-bearer in the Russian Ambulance Corps. The experience – which left him in poor health and disillusioned with the state of humanity – had a significant impact on his art.

Carved and painted in 1918, Ephebus, estimate: £500,000 - 700,000, takes its title from the Greek term for a male adolescent engaged in military service; yet Zadkine’s recasting deliberately eschews any resemblance to that of a young Greek hero. It is instead feminized and serene, retaining the bearing of a religious statue, and offering a contemplative counterpoint to a traditional homage to war. Zadkine created the work whilst sharing an atelier with his friend Modigliani and their mutual interests and influences are keenly felt in the tilted posture of the head, elongated limbs and empty, almond eyes. The work is sculpted into a block of wood, in accordance with the direct-carving method advocated by Brâncuși. Ephebus stands as a masterly and rare embodiment of Zadkine’s fusion of the classical and the organic and was selected by the artist himself to be a key part of his first solo exhibition in 1920.

Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita was born in Tokyo in 1886 and moved to Paris in 1913. Close friends with Zadkine and other artists of the experimental Parisian art scene, he likewise encapsulated the ‘spirit of synthesis’ that defined the émigré artists of the École de Paris. Blending both Eastern and Western canonical traditions, Foujita became one of the leading figures of the European avant-garde and one of the most significant figures to emerge from this period of cultural exchange.

Femme allongée, Youki, estimate: £500,000 - 700,000, was painted in 1923 and was chosen by Foujita to be exhibited in the Salon des Tuileries in 1924; the height of Foujita’s 'golden-age'. Noting that the nude was all but absent from Japanese art, Foujita made a conscious decision to focus on the subject, looking to the greats of the Western canon, for whom the female nude had been a cornerstone since the Italian Renaissance. In 1921 he travelled to Italy where painters such as Michelangelo, Titian and Raphael were to become as important for Foujita's artistic development as Picasso and Modigliani.

In 1920, Foujita moved away from the brighter palette he had adopted during the 1910s and developed a restrained palette of greys, browns, blacks and creamy whites; creating a technique called Nyhakushoku, or 'milky white', that he used to paint the skin of his nudes. The warm brown hair of the figure in Femme allongée, Youki, identifies the sitter as Lucie Badoud, or 'Youki' as she was called affectionately by Foujita. The close perspective takes the viewer into the bed itself – enveloped by the darkness of the intimate space, Youki gazes directly at the viewer, as if looking into the eyes of her lover.

Other highlights include:

• Two other works by Foujita from the same French Private Collection as Femme allongée, Youki will also feature in the sale:

• Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968) Paysage de banlieue, Malakoff (Painted in Paris in 1917). Estimates: £60,000 -80,000. A key example from one of the artist's most productive and pivotal periods, Paysage de banlieue, Malakoff has remained in private collections since its creation. This auction represents the very first time that the work has been presented to the market.

• Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968) Les grues (Painted in 1920). Estimate: £50,000 -70,000.

Leading the sale will be Couple aux têtes pleines de nuages (1937) by Salvador Dalí (1904-1989). Estimate: £7,000,000 – 10,000,000.

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