For over a hundred years the name Lefebvre-Foinet was synonymous with quality. France’s best-known supplier of artist materials was originally founded in 1880 by Paul Foinet, who started off selling his wares door to door quickly building a reputation for the quality of his hand-ground natural pigments. In 1902 he went into business with his son-in-law, Lucien Lefebvre, and the two set up shop in a permanent premises on the corner of rue Vavin and rue Brea in the Parisian artists’ quarter of Montparnasse.
The legendary oak-panelled shop with its abundantly stocked shelves of widely-sourced materials and its friendly proprietors, always ready to lend an ear or advice, became a haven for the artists of Paris. In addition to Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov, the list of their customers reads like a roll call of the greatest artists of the 20th century: Constantin Brancusi, Douanier Rousseau, Wassily Kandinsky, Amedeo Modigliani, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, and Henri Matisse. The family forged close friendships with many of their clients, whom they would allow to buy on credit and, if at the end of the month an artist couldn’t pay, they would often accept pictures in payment of debts. The three successive generations of Lefebvre-Foinets were a continuous presence at the centre of the Parisian art world and over the years amassed an outstanding collection of hundreds of works, many of them dedicated.
Lucien’s brother René was the one-time lover of Peggy Guggenheim and through this relationship he arranged for the collection to be shipped to America at the outbreak of the Second World War, where it remained until it could safely return. Maurice Lefebvre-Foinet was the charismatic son of Lucien who took over the reins in the 1950s and whose initials have been inscribed on every work in the collection, together with an inventory number, by the present owner. In addition to the numbering, each work also bears a stamp (fig.3). The Lefebvre-Foinet family have donated or sold numerous works from their collection to such august institutions such as MoMA (a bronze by Henri Laurens, Seated Woman), the Maeght Foundation (a drawing by Matisse), the Centre Georges Pompidou (two oils by Yves Tanguy) and the Tate Gallery (a Matisse bronze Back I (Inv. T00081)).