Russian Art

The Artist Who Hid Her Future Patron from Nazis

By Sotheby's

O ne of the highlights of the Russian Pictures sale in London on 28 November will be a single-owner collection of works by Alexandra Exter. The present owners inherited this collection from Ihnno Ezratty, a close friend of the artist from her Paris years and executor of her estate. Ezratty arranged for the majority of the estate to go to New York to Simon Lissim, the main beneficiary, but he himself inherited a number of pieces in addition to those he had bought during her lifetime.

ALEXANDRA EXTER, CARNIVAL IN VENICE.  ESTIMATE: £180,000-250,000

According to family lore, Exter hid Ezratty during the mass arrest of Jews in France in 1942. To help her back on her feet and in gratitude for all she had done for him, Ezratty began buying from her and found her a studio enabling her to resume painting and earn a living again by accepting commissions.

This group of 14 works has remained in Ezratty’s family ever since and is now being offered to the market for the first time.

A central figure of the Russian avant-garde and an essential link between artistic developments in the East and West, today Alexandra Exter is best known for her revolutionary work in theatre art and stage design.

ALEXANDRA EXTER, MASKED FIGURES BY THE BANKS OF A VENETIAN CANAL. ESTIMATE: £100,000-150,000

Before emigrating permanently in 1924, Exter had been a regular visitor to Paris from 1907 and had participated in numerous exhibitions in France, Germany and Italy. She was well acquainted with Gertrude Stein, Henri Bergson and Guillaume Apollinaire as well as with all the artists of the day. As Fernand Léger said of her: “It seems to me that I have met no one in my life who is so much impregnated with theory and yet so profoundly cultured as Exter.” In 1925 he and Amédée Ozenfant invited her to join their recently founded Académie de l’Art Modèrne where Purism reigned supreme and where she taught courses in composition, colour theory and theatre design, with a particular emphasis on Greek tragedy.

ALEXANDRA EXTER, NUDES IN AN EMERALD FOREST WITH GUITAR. ESTIMATE: £60,000-60,000

The pieces in this collection all date to the artist’s post-emigration period and the elegant, simplified forms and neo-classical aesthetic are entirely in keeping with the return to order sought by so many European artists at the time.

To this however Exter brings her own distinctive feminine sensibility, and as this group so clearly demonstrates, her extraordinary catholic influences ranged from Greek tragedy, to the Commedia dell’arte to Persian miniatures.

With works in oil and on paper, including examples of theatre and book design, this collection showcases the scope of Exter’s talent and the sheer variety of the work she was producing in Paris in the 1930s.

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