The works in this collection come from the descendants of Ihnno Ezratty a business man who was a close friend of the artist from her Paris years and legal executor of her estate. Ezratty had taken painting lessons from Exter in 1929-1930 around the time that, for reasons of economy, the artist and her husband left Paris for a small house in the suburbs out at Fontenay-aux-Roses. The two maintained a close friendship and during the Second World War Exter hid Ezratty, a Sephardic Jew, from the occupying German forces during the mass arrest of Jews in France in 1942. The War years were difficult for Exter too, she suffered much from ill health, isolation, and poverty and her husband died in 1945. To help her back on her feet and in gratitude for all she had done for him, Ezratty begun buying her paintings and found her a studio enabling her to resume painting and earn a living again by accepting commissions. On her death Exter bequeathed to him a number of artworks and as executor he was charged with organising for the remainder to be sent to Simon Lissim, her old friend and former pupil from Kiev.
Ezratty had always had a keen eye for design. His smart Paris boutique supplied fabrics to the leading couturiers of the day, including Christian Dior and he cut a dash driving through the streets of Paris in his Delahaye convertible. He designed the interior of his immaculate apartment in the rue Médéric around the pieces in this collection, including much of the furniture and a futuristic bar disguised in a wall.
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.
Music and dance are to some extent present in all the works in this collection. Even if static, the figures often appear to have been caught mid-movement, and there are numerous musical instruments. Much as the guitar and violin had been favoured motifs of the Cubists, the ‘cello, which here appears in Nudes in an Emerald Forest with a Cello, was of the Purists.
This synthesis and incredibly broad knowledge of all of the arts, as testified to by her former pupils, was one of Exter’s most defining features as an artist, but it is also particularly Russian, in the poet Alexander Blok’s 1921 sketch Without a Deity, Without Inspiration he described it thus: ‘Painting, music, literature, philosophy, religion, social activity, even politics, are indivisible in Russia. Together they form a united and powerful force which carries the precious burden of our national culture.’