The Musée de l’Orangerie has acquired a Lega statuette from the Paul Guillaume collection through a private sale on 30 October 2018 in Paris.
This figurine, with its circular scarifications and the formal simplification, is highly characteristic of the productions of the Lega people who inhabit the forests of Central Africa. Advancing through the ranks within 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 insignia, spoons and figurines made from ivory or elephant tusk. These small statues all have a name and tell a story. During an initiation ceremony, the highest ranking members removed the ivory objects from their bags and coated them with oil to give them a golden sheen.
Statuette Lega (Congo). Ivory. Base by Kichizô Kichizô Inagaki (1876-1951) Hauteur : 14,7 cm. Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie © Christie’s 2018
Paul Guillaume, a student and friend of Guillaume Apollinaire as of 1911, collected sculptures from Africa and Oceania which he exhibited first in New York then in Paris. The “Annales coloniales” of 14 July 1912 announced the creation of the Société d’art et d’archéologie nègre (Society for Negro Art and Archaeology), with Guillaume presenting himself as its representative. In 1913, he also founded the “Société des Mélanophiles (Society of Melanophiles), of which Apollinaire, Marius de Zayas and Savinio were undoubtedly members.
The creation of these two scholarly societies attests to Paul Guillaume’s commitment, and that of Guillaume Apollinaire, to legitimise their interest in African art, to give it a scientific basis and to provide a historic and aesthetic examination.
Paul Guillaume sought to expand his collection by turning to artists for objects, visiting the Hôtel Drouot auction house and developing his own import business with “colonials”. He played an important role in making African art known and appreciated and had a lasting influence on collectors’ tastes. “I am a revolutionary”, he wrote. Although the revolution had already begun with Carl Einstein, Vlaminck and Apollinaire, he was in step with his time when he appeared on the French and international scene with his statement in the periodical Les Arts à Paris under the pseudonym Collin d’Arbois regarding the exhibition and the Fête Nègre held in 1919: “We have employed neither an ethnographic nor historic approach. We have looked at things from the point of view of art”.
On 9 November 1965, this Lega statue was sold along with rest of Paul Guillaume’s collection and stock of African art still in the hands of his widow, Domenica Walter. It was reproduced in the catalogue and also features in one of the two albums by Paul Guillaume exclusively devoted to non-European arts. These volumes, most likely produced in the 1930s, give us an insight into the objects in the art dealer’s possession.
Catalogue of sale of the former Paul Guillaume collection, Art Nègre [Negro Art], Hôtel Drouot, 9 November 1965.
Between 1915 and 1916, Modigliani produced four portraits of his patron. The first of these, conserved at the Musée de l'Orangerie, proclaims the special relationship between the art dealer and the artist in early 1915. Paul Guillaume, then aged just 23, posed for the painting in the apartment of Modigliani’s mistress, Beatrice Hastings.
Modigliani inscribed the art dealer’s name, as well as the humorous manifesto: Paul Guillaume, "Novo Pilota", new helmsman, in capital letters as common in advertisements and the canvases of his futuristic compatriots. Like a racing car driver or a aviation pioneer, he was depicted as taking over the helm of modern painting.
On a more personal note, Modigliani assigned the art dealer the role of artistic guide in his life: in the midst of war, at a time of great destitution, Paul Guillaume played the part of material and moral support.
Other than his painted portraits, Modigliani also produced several drawings of his art dealer and patron including the one acquired during the sale at the Ader auction house, directly related to the painted portrait.
The Portrait of Paul Guillaume, mid-thigh, with its clear lines, depicts the nonchalance of the model portrayed as an elegant young man, one hand on his collar. Although differing in its composition from the canvas conserved at the Orangerie, the inscription “NOVO PILOTA” in capital letters in the bottom left, topped by a cross in exactly the same place, establishes the link between the two. Although the drawing is not dated, these specific elements lead us to believe that the drawing was produced around the same time as the painting.
Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Paul Guillaume, mid-thigh
The acquisition of this work from the Paul Guillaume collection is a rare opportunity for the Musée de l’Orangerie as it has remained in the family of Domenica Walter, but also due to its close ties to the painted portrait already conserved at the Orangerie.