Lot 235
  • 235

Louis Marcoussis

180,000 - 250,000 GBP
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  • Louis Marcoussis
  • Nature morte au damier / rhum / bass
  • signed Marcoussis and dated 1912  (towards lower centre); signed Marcoussis and dated 1912  on the reverse
  • oil on card laid down on canvas
  • 55.8 by 47.4cm., 22 by 18 5/8 in.


Private Collection, Italy (acquired in Paris circa  1920s)
Thence by descent to the present owner


Executed on card laid down on canvas. UV examination reveals no traces of retouching. There is a small horizontal line of paint loss towards the upper left corner. There are two dents, one of which with associated paint loss, visible on the lower left corner of the red card and the other towards the centre of the right edge. Otherwise this work is in overall good condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The year 1912 was an extraordinary time in the life of Polish artist Louis Marcoussis. He began his painting career as an exponent of Impressionism. However, the penniless life of a painter did not become him and in 1907 he abandoned self-employment to earn his living by drawing satirical caricatures for various French publications such as Revue Parisienne. This more stable career, combined with his attachment to successful illustrator Marcelle Humbert, funded a comfortable bourgeois way of life. However, a chance encounter with poet Guillaume Apollinaire and painter Georges Braque at the circus in 1910 was to change his direction once again.

In 1910, the seeds of the Cubist art movement had been sewn and the first exhibition of Cubist works was to be held the following year at the Salon des Indépendents. Georges Braque, together with Pablo Picasso, was a founding father of Cubism. Marcoussis was enraptured by Braque and Picasso’s distinstive approach to representation and he and Humbert quickly became firm friends with both painters. The intimacy of their friendship peaked when Picasso seduced Marcelle Humbert (whom he fondly knew and painted as ‘Eva’). At this point, however, far from abandoning his new friends, Marcoussis in fact found himself liberated from his bourgeois lifestyle and he returned to a career in painting, fully emboldened by the appeal of Cubism.

The early stages of Cubism were centred on the graphic deconstruction of an object and its re-presentation from multiple viewpoints, typically in a limited, mainly brown palette. In 1912, Braque introduced another component that would become distinctive to Cubism:  typography – brandishing letters or words across his canvases. In the decades that followed 1912, Cubism would continue to re-emerge and be reinterpreted in waves. However it was these early years, in which the present composition was executed, which are considered to be the true crucible of Cubism and which established it as the most significant art movement of the 20th century, revolutionising the way we perceive the world.

The present work illustrates the immediate and glorious effect that Cubism had on Marcoussis - and his eagerness to execute works in this truly avant-garde style. The tertiary palette is delightfully punctuated by the small accents of colour from the playing cards and the strong monochrome pattern of the chessboard. The words Rhum and Bass are emblazoned across the upper half. There is a palpable energy to the present work, a kind of structured maze – at once frenetic and orderly. Nature morte au Damier/ Rhum/ Bass is noteworthy for both its role in the history of art as well its reflection on a moment of personal liberation, as Louis Marcoussis rediscovered the joy of painting.