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Jean Metzinger

Femme au café

Hammered for SEK 800.000 at Uppsala Auktionskammares Important Sale 13-15 June 2018

349. Jean Metzinger (France 1883‑1956). Femme au café. Signed J Metzinger. Oil on canvas, 82 x 54.5 cm.

Executed in the early 1920’s.

The private collection of Signe Schultz (1894‑1960), co-founder of Galerie Moderne in Stockholm.
Then by inheritance to her sister Alice Lagerbjelke (1900‑1986), co-founder of Galerie Moderne in Stockholm.
Thence by descent to the present owner.

Galerie Moderne, Stockholm, Vintersalongen, 1947.

Lars-Erik Åström, art chronicle in Expressen, 11 January 1947, mentioned p. 4.


One could ask what Cubism would have been without Jean Metzinger. Probably, the answer would be – not the same. The year of 1912 remarks a milestone for the French Cubism movement. This was the year of the first ground breaking exhibition that united the Cubist artists and for the first time presented them to the public. It was also the year when the French Cubist school decided to form the group La Section d’Or (The Golden Group) in order to exhibit together. But also, this was the year when Jean Metzinger and Albert Gleizes published Du Cubisme, the first and most comprehensive explanation dedicated to this revolutionary new way of depicting the world.

Many of the new ideas originated from weekly discussions in the home of Jacques Villon in a suburb of Paris. Metzinger and Gelizes were joined by the Duchamp-brothers, Delaunay, Le Fauconnier, Gris, Léger, Picasso and Archipenko, among others. Mathematics and geometry played a central role in the discussions, and Metzinger was the one who originally recognised the stylistic similarities in the paintings of, for example Picasso, Braque and Delaunay. The Cubist exhibition, which consisted of 180 works by 31 artists, took place at Galerie la Boétie in October 1912. It was successful and Cubism now became recognised as a new avant-garde movement. Much gratitude should be sent to Metzinger for this – since he not only contributed as an artist that practiced Cubism, but also as a writer who, to the yet unknowing public, explained how to understand these new ideas.

In the year after, Apollinaire wrote that Metzinger’s ”art, always more and more abstract, but always charming, raises and attempts to solve the most difficult and unforeseen problems of aesthetics.” (D. Robbins, Jean Metzinger: At the Center of Cubism, Jean Metzinger in Retrospect, exhibition catalogue, Iowa City, 1985, p. 44). The German art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who was of great importance for many of them, originally supported many of the Cubist painters. As was also Léonce Rosenberg, who inherited a gallery and a small fortune and in 1915 decided to open his Galerie l’Effort Moderne on rue de la Baume and started to collaborate with Metzinger, Gleizes, Hayden, Herbin and other avant-garde artists.

During the First World War Metzinger objected to active service, even though he came from a military family. Instead he was sent to the front as a medical aid, where he witnessed the disasters of the war. These experiences were of profound disturbance for Metzinger, being an avowed pacifist. When he had recovered from his wartime experiences, he searched for a new way in his artistic development, as did many others of his fellow artist friends. In a letter to Gleizes from July 4, 1916 he explains; ”After two years of study I have succeeded in establishing the basics of this new kind of perspective I have talked so much about. It is not the materialist perspective of Gris, nor the romantic perspective of Picasso. It is rather a metaphysical perspective – I take full responsibility for the word. You can’t begin to imagine what I’ve found out since the beginning of the war, working outside painting but for painting. The geometry of the fourth space has no more secrets for me” (D. Robbins, p. 21).

This newfound fourth space marked a significant shift in Metzinger’s approach to painting. In 1919 Rosenberger presented a solo exhibition with his works, in a series of exhibition to show that Cubism was still very much alive even though four years of war had passed. Since the Renaissance, the Cubist movement has investigated the most revolutionary spatial conventions of the perspective in the Western Art. This is, undoubtedly, the most important artistic movement of the 20th century, and has been of the greatest importance for following generations of artists.

From the 1920’s, Metzinger developed a more individualistic style where the forms became streamlined and contains of geometrically simplified elements that embody the Art Déco and the Purism. So did many other artists in the aftermath of the war – in a search for the classical beauty and balance. The painting ”Femme au café” included in this sale exemplifies this. The strong composition is enhanced by the different fields of colour in turquoise, white and black that contrast one another into a dynamic, almost rhythmical composition. This painting is an outstanding work by one of the most important artists of all times. ”Femme au café” comes from a distinguished private Swedish collection where it has been inherited for generations. This also includes the history of one of Sweden’s most prominent art galleries.

Galerie Moderne was located in the same building as the Royal Dramatic Theatre at Nybrogatan in Stockholm. Signe Schultz, who also was the director and ran the gallery from the 1930’s to 1957, founded it. As the name of the gallery reveals, they presented exhibitions with works by the international avant-garde as well as the most interesting young Swedish artists of the time, representing the new modernistic era. ”Femme au café” was part of Galerie Moderne’s Winter Salon in 1947, together with works by Raoul Dufy, Maurice Utrillo and different important Swedish artists. The painting then became part of Signe Schultz’ private collection and was later on inherited by her sister Alice Lagerbjelke, who also was the co-founder of Galerie Moderne. The exhibition was reviewed in the Swedish newspaper Expressen on January 11, 1947 by Lars-Erik Åström, here follows the introduction translated:

”At the Winter Salon of Galerie Moderne one is presented to the most beautiful things already at the entrance, the further one proceeds, the weaker the artistic appearance is. One exceptionally beautiful portrait of a woman by Jean Metzinger in his pure classical cubism with the typical tonality in green, grey-green and black is one of the highlights.”

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