Two letters from Claude Monet to Georges Clemenceau
The purchase by the Musée de l'Orangerie, in April 2021, of two 1925 letters addressed by Monet to Clemenceau sheds light on one of the most stormy moments in the long genesis of the Water Lilies.
The friendship between Claude Monet and Georges Clemenceau is well known, especially through their correspondence, and the Water Lilies, the masterpiece of the Musée de l'Orangerie. The two men met in the early 1860s and formed a bond that, as time passed, only grew stronger until the painter’s death in 1926. Monet shared republican ideas with Clemenceau, and Clemenceau’s taste for the arts was undeniable. On November 12, 1918, the day after the armistice, Monet wrote to Georges Clemenceau: “I am on the verge of finishing two decorative panels which I want to sign on Victory Day and I am writing to ask you if they could be offered to the State with you acting as intermediary.” The painter’s intention was to offer the Nation a true monument to peace.
In the first, dated January 6, Monet returned to his desire to give the State his Water Liliesas he had promised the day after the armistice, November 12, 1918: “My good friend, I am going to cause you pain, but I no longer have the strength to fight and I must tell the truth once. My life is a torture. I am no longer good for anything [...] and as long as I am alive, the promised donation will not be executed.” Clemenceau answered the painter immediately, with: “My poor friend. No matter how old and damaged he may be, a man, an artist or not, has no right to break his word of honor - especially when it is to France that this word was given [...] if you foolishly maintain your decision, I will also make one that will perhaps be more painful to me than to yourself [...].”
This exchange marks the beginning of an intense moment of tension in the difficult fulfillment of the project. Jean-Noël Jeanneney interprets this episode in his 2019 preface to the edition of the correspondence exchanged by Monet and Clemenceau as one of “those where the sharing of their souls seems close to breaking, because the stakes are, in the literal sense, of life or death.” However, in the second letter, written on June 27, 1925, when the two men were in the process of reconnecting, Monet announced the improvement of his health, a resumption of work and their reconciliation: “[...] at last I see everything again in its own color. I thus picked up my paintbrushes again. My first efforts were not fruitful, but I then started something else, and now you see me as full of enthusiasm as ever.”
The two letters join and considerably enrich a set of letters centered on the donation of the Water Liliesto the State. This correspondence was acquired by the museum ten years ago. It includes, in particular, Monet’s letter of October 31, 1921, in which he agreed to the presentation of the Water Lilies in the Orangerie of the Tuileries Gardens.
Marie Laurencin, “Portrait de Guillaume Apollinaire” [Portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire]
Acquired at a public auction on November 7, 2019, Portrait of Guillaume Apollinaireby Marie Laurencin completes the set held in the Walter-Guillaume collection of the Musée de l'Orangerie.
In May 1907, Pablo Picasso introduced Marie Laurencin to Guillaume Apollinaire at the Laffitte Gallery, where the young artist exhibited for the first time.
At twenty-four, she had already woven a network of relationships in the art world, with Georges Braque, Francis Picabia, Georges Lepape met at the Humbert Academy - which she attended from 1904 on, or with Henri-Pierre Roché, her lover and mentor, who was the first to take an interest in her work and contribute to the reputation of an independent and emancipated woman she cultivated.
She had a passionate relationship with Apollinaire until 1912 and with him frequented the Bateau-Lavoir, then Montparnasse, the heart of the Parisian avant-garde. Laurencin befriended Fernande Olivier, Max Jacob, André Salmon, along with Gertrude Stein.
In 1908, she paintedGroupe d’artistes [Group of Artists], a composition gathering Picasso, Fernande Olivier, herself and, in the center, Guillaume Apollinaire. Purchased by the American collector and patron Gertrude Stein, it is now housed in the Baltimore Museum of Art. This painting precedes a more allegorical tribute to the poet, Apollinaire and Friends, completed the following year, in which the same figures are grouped together with the poets Marguerite Guillot and Maurice Cremnitz as well as Gertrude Stein.
One of these studies, this small painting, anticipates rather than actually prepares for the two remarkably important paintings in the artist's oeuvre. It is painted in Laurencin’s characteristic manner around 1908. The subject is presented very directly, frontally, bare-chested, and without details. The portrait is drawn quickly with a firm and simplified line, with a simplicity that corresponds to Apollinaire's description of her paintings presented at the 1909 Salon des Indépendants. The accentuated frontality of the painting, the piercing gaze, the attention paid to the drawn, almost incised and painted mouth make this work a lively and moving evocation of the relationship between the two artists.
This work predates the set now held in the Walter-Guillaume collection of the Musée de l'Orangerie. It is a work that points to Guillaume’s early debt to Apollinaire, who was a guiding figure for the gallerist. More to the point, Marie Laurencin met Paul Guillaume before 1912 (the date of the first letter preserved in the museum's archives), no doubt thanks to Apollinaire, who constantly guided him until his death in 1918 and firmly and wisely advised him on the directions his gallery should take.
André Derain, “Nature morte aux fruits” [Still life with Fruit]
Acquired at a public auction on June 4, 2019, Still Life with Fruitby André Derain completes the rich collection of the artist's works held by the Musée de l'Orangerie, a testament to the ties that united the painter and the dealer Paul Guillaume, who initiated this collection.
In 1916, it was indeed in the Paul Guillaume gallery that Derain organized his first solo exhibition, at the initiative of Guillaume Apollinaire. He then signed an exclusive contract with the dealer in 1922 to purchase his works, their fruitful and prolific collaboration only ending with the sudden death of Paul Guillaume in 1934.
Still Life with Fruitfits perfectly with the homogeneous corpus of Derain paintings at the Orangerie, consisting of landscapes, still lifes, nudes and portraits, representative of Paul Guillaume's taste for the classicizing side of the artist.
After having been one of the instigators of the Fauvist revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century, Derain gradually made a stylistic shift. On the eve of the First World War, he affirmed his taste for the art of the Italian primitives, which had been taking shape since 1911. The Last Supper(The Art Institute of Chicago), painted that year, is evidence of this new approach. Drawing from the sources of “great” painting, Derain consolidated his archaizing, synthetic and flat aesthetic, whose chromatic dullness was opposed to the excessiveness of the Fauves.
Mobilized at the beginning of the war, Derain took up his brushes again in 1918 thanks to his leaves of duty. Stationed the following year in Mainz, he discovered the textile industry and the world of the stage, designing the sets and costumes for Claudel's L'Annonce faite à Marie [The Tidings Brought to Mary], before working on the sets, costumes and stage curtain for La Boutique fantasque, presented by the Ballets Russes at the Alhambra in London on June 5, 1919. Painted during this period Still Life with Fruitis dependent on this theatrical aesthetic, which sees a return to the style adopted by Derain before the war. Like a theater set, the composition is very pure and synthetic. The flat treatment of the leaves is characteristic of the artist's 1919-1920s, as is the tall, cylindrical earthenware pot. Derain’s interest in the decorative is combined here with his interest in Quattrocento painting. The light palette and stylized forms evoke the matte colors of the Sienese artists and the bird recalls the Sermon to the Birds, fresco executed by Giotto in the Basilica of Assisi. This motif was already present in The Bagpiperof 1911 (Minneapolis Institute of Art), a work representative of the artist's “Byzantine” or “Gothic” period.
Powerful and hermetic, of great formal simplicity,Still Life with Fruittestifies to Derain’s desire to reach the silent truth of things, building his works “according to a spiritual cosmogony.”
Lega statuette from the Paul Guillaume collection
The Musée de l'Orangerie acquired a Lega statuette from the Paul Guillaume collection after a private sale in Paris, on October 30, 2018.
The circle-shaped scarifications and formal simplification make this figurine very characteristic of the productions of the Lega people living in the heart of the forests of Central Africa. Moving up the echelons in this society involved a series of initiations accompanied by gifts and payments. Some ceremonies were marked by the unveiling of the “basket of power,” which contained badges, spoons and statuettes made of ivory. Small in size, the statuettes all have a name and tell a story. During a new initiation, the great initiates would take the ivories out of their bags, set them up and rub them with oil which gives them a beautiful warm golden patina.
Paul Guillaume, trained by Guillaume Apollinaire, whom he befriended in 1911, collected African and Oceanian sculptures and mounted exhibitions of which first in New York and then in Paris. The “Annales coloniales” of July 14, 1912 announced the creation of the “Société d'art et d'archéologie nègre” (Society of Negro Art and Archaeology), of which Guillaume presented himself as the delegate. In 1913, he also founded the “Société des Mélanophiles,” of which Apollinaire, Marius de Zayas, and Savinio were undoubtedly members.
The creation of these two learned societies realized Paul Guillaume's and Guillaume Apollinaire's desire to legitimize their interest in African art, to give it a scientific basis and to bear witness to a historical, as well as an aesthetic, perspective.
To build his collection, Paul Guillaume sought objects around the artists, visited the Hôtel Drouot and developed his own imports with the “colonials.” He contributed to the popularization of “Negro art” and had a lasting influence on collectors’ tastes.“I am a revolutionary”, he wrote. Even if the revolution had already begun with Carl Einstein, Vlaminck or Apollinaire when he appeared on the French and international scene, he was in step with his times, stating about the exhibition and the Fête nègre of 1919 in his magazine Les Arts à Paris under the pseudonym of Collin d'Arbois: “We didn't do ethnography or history. We only considered the art.”
On November 9, 1965, this Lega statuette was sold along with the entire collection and stock of Paul Guillaume's African art that was still with his widow, Domenica Walter. It was reproduced in the catalog and also appeared in one of Paul Guillaume's two albums devoted exclusively to non-European arts. These volumes, probably made in the 1930s, provide a glimpse of what might have been in the hands of the dealer.
Amedeo Modigliani, “Portrait de Paul Guillaume à mi-cuisse” [Portrait of Paul Guillaume at mid-thigh]
In addition to his painted portraits, Modigliani made several drawings of his dealer and patron. The one acquired at the auction at the Maison Ader on March 24, 2017 relates directly to the painted portrait.
Between 1915 and 1916, Modigliani made four painted portraits of his patron. The first of them, held at the Musée de l'Orangerie, proclaims the privileged relationship between the dealer and the artist in this early 1915. Paul Guillaume, who was only twenty-three years old at the time, poses in the apartment of Modigliani's friend Beatrice Hastings.
In capital letters, on the model of advertising signs - as well as of the paintings of his Futurist compatriots - Modigliani writes the name of the dealer, as well as inscriptions, in a manifesto tinged with humor: it's Paul Guillaume, “Novo Pilota,” [New Pilot] who gives the direction. In the manner of an automobile pilot or an aviation pioneer, he takes the destiny of the young painting into his own hands.
On a more personal note, Modigliani invokes him as a new guide to his life as an artist: in the midst of war, in a moment of deep destitution, Paul Guillaume assumes the role of material and moral support.
The Portrait de Paul Guillaume à mi-cuisse, with its clear line, sketches the model's nonchalance as a dandy, one hand holding his collar. Different in its composition from the painting held at the Orangerie, it is directly related to it by the inscription in capital letters "NOVO PILOTA" in the lower left corner, surmounted by a cross, in the exact same place. If the drawing is undated, these precise elements lead us to propose a contemporary dating of the canvas.
The acquisition of this work directly from the Paul Guillaume collection is a rare opportunity for the Musée de l’Orangerie, since it remained in the family of Domenica Walter, but also due to the close link maintained with the painted portrait already held at the Orangerie.