Probably sold at La Croisière Noire auction, Hôtel Rameau-Versailles, 23 May 1967, lot 4 titled Les Porteuses
Hénoch Zwirblanski (painter and collector), Paris
Thence by descent to the present owner
Following the success of the first Citroën expedition to Africa in 1922, a second, even more ambitious trek was planned, which would cover over 20,000 kilometres from Algeria to Madagascar (fig.1). This crossing took eight months between 1924-5, with the aim of gathering important artistic, scientific and economic documentation; opening up the routes between different African colonies and undertaking various missions on the orders of national institutions ranging from the French Ministry of Colonies to the Natural History Museum. Joint heads of the expedition, Georges-Marie Haardt and Louis Audouin-Dubreuil, sought to enlist associates who would be able to undertake these different tasks. Thus, the elements of ethnographic study were assigned to Alexander Yakovlev, already well-known for the work he had brought back from Japan and China and described by Haardt as, "a powerful painter and tireless worker". Yakovlev would come back from his trip with over one hundred drawings, oils and sketches. Several of these served as the basis for large-scale compositions which he painted on his return. Precise and perceptive, Yakovlev was one of the first European artists to paint the African continent.
Dating from 1926, the offered lot is one of a number of large canvases which form part of the panorama of types, scenes and inhabitants of Africa. A smaller version of this subject in oil and gouache, which was exhibited in Boulogne in 2004 is likely to have been the preparatory study for this painting (fig.2).
On 7 January 1927, the second Citroën Centre-Afrique expedition reached Fort Archambault, the southernmost settlement in Chad. It was there that they came across the Sara people. The physical features of the women, tall, slender and of arresting appearance, instantly fascinated Yakovlev, whose brief on the journey was to study the different African tribes and ethnic groups. On their arrival, the explorers were greeted by the local governor who had organised various celebrations, races, wrestling matches and even a regional beauty contest which was won by the beautiful Daboa. Her looks were immortalised by Yakovlev on a large canvas which belonged to Georges-Marie Haardt and hung on the wall of his apartment on rue de Rivoli next to the offered lot (fig.3).
Footbridge at Fort Archambault has many striking characteristics: the precise way in which Yakovlev has analysed and rendered the human form, the structure of the land and the surrounding vegetation; the decorative and sumptuous beauty of these spectacular elements, in short the artist's skill for conveying psychological depth and realism to which this painting is testament. Yakovlev knew exactly how to capture the soul of the people he came across.
The offered lot shows an everyday scene from the life of the Sara, depicted with an attention to realism which allows the viewer to best imagine what the artist had been able to see. Joseph Kessel encapsulated this skill when he described Yakovlev's work in the catalogue of a retrospective exhibition: "What accuracy and energy his line possesses! What density and sculptural volume can be sensed in his shapes! What a gift for fathoming and transcribing muscles and faces! What a talent for transporting his viewer and presenting him with the fruits of a slow, difficult and perilous journey!" (J.Kessel in the exhibition catalogue Alexandre Iacovleff: Paintings-Watercolours-Drawings, Paris: Galerie Vendôme, 1965)
This lot will be included in the forthcoming Alexander Yakovlev catalogue raisonné prepared by Caroline Haardt de la Baume.
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