"The first thing you have to do is look – voir, c’est savoir – take everything in with the eye, like a musical composition," wrote Jan Krugier. "Let art open your mind rather than close it. You must see the quality – the side of the art inhabited by the artist. I have seen the worst in human beings. In art I am looking for the best – to see what transcends time."
Jan Krugier’s life was a magnificent testament to the redemptive power of art. Born into a Jewish art collecting family in Poland in 1928, he was a boy when the Second World War broke out, and was captured by the Nazis while a courier for the Polish resistance in 1943. He escaped from a train to Treblinka and spent about eight months in the forests, until he was found in the snow at the end of 1943. Eventually he endured as well as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dora-Nordhausen and Bergen-Belsen. "From a world of death, I came back to the living," he recalled. He was the only member of his family to survive the war.
In 1945 he was taken under the wing of a family in Switzerland, through whom he discovered a new hope for the future. He met the philosopher Martin Buber in Locarno and elected to pursue painting as his vocation, enrolling at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich. Art became for him a profound source of inspiration: "I discovered very young that there is a cohabitation of good and evil in human beings. I try to find something which sublimates this in the art I surround myself with. That is why I keep looking for the to be or not to be in art."
In 1947 he moved to Paris and rented Soutine’s studio. He spent summers in the Engadine mountains to paint, and on one of these trips he met Alberto Giacometti, whose studio in Stampa was close to his atelier in Majola. They became friends and when Krugier took a studio at the Cité Falguière in Paris, Giacometti was a frequent visitor and became a valued confidant. After some time Giacometti confessed that he thought painting was too agonising for Krugier and that he should instead become an advisor and open a gallery as an art dealer. Krugier followed his friend’s encouragement and became a consultant to private Swiss collectors. In 1962 he opened Galerie Krugier & Cie in Geneva, which was soon followed by the opening of a gallery in New York. Over five decades his galleries set a remarkable benchmark and the quality, intelligence, sensitivity and unexpected juxtapositions of the shows they staged became legendary.
Among Jan Krugier’s manifold achievements, his involvement with the work of Pablo Picasso is perhaps the best known. Krugier had met Picasso in 1947 when he himself was a young artist: "I was invited to Picasso’s studio in the south of France, thanks to Spanish friends who had been with me in the concentration camps. But I was so anxious, so nervous. Picasso was very kind with me, but he had such a look, such a powerful expression." Following Picasso’s death in 1973, Krugier was contacted by Marie-Thérèse Walter, Picasso’s longtime lover and muse. They forged a bond characterized by integrity and kindness, and subsequently Marie-Thérèse entrusted him to oversee her collection. In the fall of 1973 in Geneva, Krugier organised the first Picasso exhibition after the artist’s death, showing works belonging to Marie-Thérèse.
In 1976 Marina Picasso, the artist’s granddaughter, also asked Krugier to advise her and he became the sole agent for her share of her grandfather’s estate. Krugier set about arranging a world tour of the Marina Picasso Collection, which traveled to museums in Munich, Frankfurt, Cologne, Zurich, Venice, Tokyo, Melbourne, Sydney and Miami between 1981 and 1986. He also presented the Marina Picasso Collection at his galleries in New York and Geneva in 1986, 1987 and 1989, and organised the selection and sale of certain works to benefit the Marina Picasso Foundation. Thanks to the resulting sales, the Foundation established an orphanage in Vietnam alongside numerous other philanthropic endeavors.
Over many decades Jan Krugier was committed to the highest ideals in the understanding and appreciation of the arts. He was devoted to art and to sharing what he found with others. His incomparable knowledge was the result of a boundless curiosity and a disregard of convention. His imagination was captivated by Antiquities and Contemporary paintings, Renaissance drawings and Cubist collage, African and Oceanic sculptures and paradigms of the Enlightenment. His inspirational role as a connoisseur of both art and humanity was recognised by the French nation in 1996 when he was made Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres.
African sculptures on view with modern art at Galerie Krugier & Cie, Geneva, including lot 306
Jan Krugier began collecting African and Oceanic art seriously in the 1980s during the time of the exhibition of Marina Picasso's private collection at his gallery. Krugier and his wife Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski built a highly selective collection of art from primordial cultures engaging in a dynamic dialogue with his very personal collection of prints and drawings. A number of the Krugiers' African sculptures had originally been in Picasso's own collection, and are recorded at the Villa La Californie in a series of photos taken in 1974. The Krugiers kept their private collection of African and Oceanic works at home, only occasionally showing the sculptures at gallery exhibitions in juxtaposition to the works of the great modern artists, without offering them for sale.
It is Sotheby’s enormous privilege to be selling works from Krugier’s private collection. As the present catalogue documents, it contains a succession of works of superb quality. It is a fitting tribute to a life that began in the darkest tragedy and was redeemed by the sublime power of art.