27 May 2012
Petite fille au chat, signed.
Oil on canvas, 81 by 65 cm.
Authenticity certificate from the expert Claude Bernès.
Exhibited: Exposition Marie Vassilieff, poupées, sculpture, et peinture, chez Martine, Paris, 15 December 1922–15 January 1923, No. 45.
Literature: Exhibition catalogue, Exposition Marie Vassilieff, poupées, sculpture, et peinture, Paris, 1923, p. 14, No. 45, listed.
The celebrated Russian Parisian, Marie Vassilieff, is represented here by a splendid early work, Petite fille au chat. Vassilieff was in Paris from 1908, being one of the few artists who had emigrated before the Revolution, for cultural and aesthetic reasons unrelated to politics and the imminent horrors of both the February and October revolutions. Prior to 1922 when she exhibited Petite fille au chat, Vassilieff had acquired a rich exhibition history; while still in Russia she had shown her work alongside such masters as Jean Pougny, Nadezhda Udaltzova, Olga Rozanova and Lyubov Popova, and even exhibited with Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov in London in 1921. Marie Vassilieff of course owed her popularity to Henri Matisse, who took the Russian artist under his wing and followed her creative development with great interest. Matisse was especially captivated by her originality and her attraction to archaic forms couched in Cubist stylisation. The world-famous maître also introduced her to his distinguished colleagues Picasso, Braque, Léger, Gris, Delaunay and many others.
At the very end of the 1910s and beginning of the 1920s radically new tendencies manifested themselves in her work, which were linked with her passion for the art of Central and South Africa. Vassilieff did not restrict her activity to painting and graphics but was also interested in dolls, creating a great number, cut from wood and paper or sewn from fabric or leather, to give to friends and colleagues. This is clearly reflected in the change in her painting technique and the plasticity of her forms in this period. Images of childhood are interwoven with a world of toys and dolls, defenceless in its touching and primitive elaboration.
We know for certain that Petite fille au chat was shown with other works from her childhood cycle, at a 1922 exhibition organised by the Paris fashion designer Paul Poiret. The exhibition was an avowed success, illustrating the achievements of a fundamentally “new” Vassilieff, constantly on the look out for her individuality. The new genre scenes of children and toys were less dissected by aggressive planes (as were her rather mannered, imitative works of the 1910s) but had a distinctive and stylised “sub-Cubisation”.
We would like to thank Claude Bernès for providing additional catalogue information.
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