PARIS – Some of the finest pages in the history of Decorative Arts have been written by people whose lives were overshadowed by turmoil. Take Chana Orloff – whose superb, elongated bronze will be offered at our sale of Arts Décoratifs du XXe siècle & Design in Paris on 22 May.

Orloff was a Jew of Russian origin, who spent most of her existence in exile. She was born in Ukraine in 1888, then fled the tsarist pogroms of 1905 to emigrate to Palestine with her family. Five years later she moved to Paris, where she made friends with artists at La Ruche like Ossip Zadkine, Chaim Soutine, Amedeo Modigliani and Marc Chagall.

Chana Orloff, Torso, 1912, brown-green patina, signed CH.Orloff, dated 1912. €70,000–100,000 ($97,000–138,000).

Orloff soon became recognised as an artist in her own right, making portraits of the intelligentsia – including her painter and sculptor friends as well as avant-garde architects like Auguste Perret, Pierre Chareau and Frantz Jourdain. The Second World War forced her to flee yet again, this time to Switzerland. After the war she spent an increasing amount of time in Israel.

The first retrospective devoted to her work was held in Tel Aviv in 1969, the year after her death. Despite a life burdened with trials and tribulations, Orloff remained true to Figurative Art; animals and the human figure, especially women with harmonious forms, were her favourite subjects. Her highly stylised sculptures and paintings alternate between a Cubist approach and refined stylisation. She worked in wood, stone, cement and bronze. 

Connoisseurs and lovers of beautiful works have always been swift to recognize her talent, with leading Orloff aficionados including Félix Marcilhac and Robert and Cheska Vallois. Another version of the current bust for sale, this time in cement, appeared at Sotheby’s sale of the Karl Lagerfeld Collection in Paris in 2003. Today works by Chana Orloff are keenly sought by Russian buyers and sophisticated aesthetes.

Cécile Verdier is Senior Director, Europe of 20th Century Decorative Arts & Design.