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Details & Cataloguing

Art Contemporain Evening Sale

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Paris

Sam Szafran
1934 - 2019
L’IMPRIMERIE BELLINI
signed
pastel on paper mounted on board
138,5 x 100 cm; 54 5/8 x 39 3/8 in.
Executed in July-September 1972.
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Provenance

Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
Collection of William Louis-Dreyfus, Mt. Kisco, New York (acquired in 1975)
Acquired by the Louis-Dreyfus Family Collections by inheritance from the above in 2016 

Exhibited

Paris, France, Galerie Claude Bernard, Sam Szafran, pastels 1970-1972, 1972, no. XXVI, illustrated
Martigny, Switzerland, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Sam Szafran, 19 November 1999-23 January 2000; catalogue, p. 107, no. 53, illustrated in colour 
Saint-Paul de Vence, Fondation Maeght, Sam Szafran à la Fondation Maeght, 2000
Brühl, Germany, Max Ernst Museum, Sam Szafran – Dessins, pastels, aquarelles, 2010-2011; catalogue, p. 76, no. 31, illustrated

Catalogue Note

If creating a work means creating a world, as Kandinsky wrote in Concerning the Spiritual in Art, then Sam Szafran is surely one of greatest creative geniuses of the past century. 

Sam Berger was born in a family of Jewish immigrants on November 9th, 1934. A rebellious genius, he gave life to an exceptionally powerful and evocative body of work thanks to his incomparable determination and insatiable thirst for knowledge. Barely escaping the Vel' d'Hiv' Roundup on July 16th, 1942 and imprisoned for months in the infamous Drancy prison while he was still just a child, Sam “Szafran” not only found an escape but also a refuge in drawing.

At the very beginning of the 1950s, after several years of exile in Melbourne where his mother and sister had settled, Sam Szafran enrolled in drawing classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. He spent his time socializing in the cafés of the Montparnasse district where he would eventually meet his future mentor, Alberto Giacometti. He also grew close to Chet Baker, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Raymond Mason, Yves Klein – whom he helped come up with the famous IKB - Henri Cartier-Bresson and Jacques Kerchache, who became his first art dealer.

While abstraction was the trend of the moment, Sam Szafran dared to go against the current and challenged the status quo by taking on a figurative approach starting in the 1960s. At that time, the young artist discovered pastel, which became his favorite medium. He revealed to be an exceptional drawer and colorist, depicting and sketching ordinary elements from his environment, which he transformed into extraordinarily hypnotizing and vertiginous perspectives, in the vein of Piranesi.

Of rare intensity, the series of large format pastels started in 1972 at the famous Bellini print shop, a former synagogue of the 10th arrondissement morphed by the artist into an etching temple, is today considered as Szafran’s absolute masterpiece. Created in a sudden burst of inspiration, it synthesizes Sam Szafran’s magical world in a small body of works that cleverly bridge the gap between Caillebotte and Hopper’s scenes of urban life, Carl Grossberg’s industrial views and Alfred Hitchcock’s universe. Kept in one of the most prestigious American collections for several decades, Imprimerie Bellini is the first work of this series to ever be auctioned. Both contemporary yet classical, other works from the same highly sought-after series have entered the collection of the most prestigious museums in the world, including the Centre Pompidou, which acquired a soft pastel view of the Bellini print shop in 1983.

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Sotheby's is privileged to offer works from the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation and Family Collections. Amassed by Louis-Dreyfus over fifty years, the collection is a reflection of William's extraordinary foresight, compassion and dedication. A zealous yet thoughtful collector, a passionate supporter of artists, a published poet, and a lover of trees, William defied labels. Generosity was at the core of his belief system and he was relentlessly committed to the underprivileged.

William was born in 1932 outside of Paris to the Frenchman Pierre Louis-Dreyfus and the American-born Dolores Neubauer, who was of Mexican-Brazilian descent. After escaping Nazi-occupied France and moving to the United States, William attended Duke University in 1954 where he received a degree in English and later graduated from the university's law school. Louis-Dreyfus went on to practice law at Dewey Ballentine in New York City, and from 1969 to his retirement in 2006 he was the chief executive officer of the Louis Dreyfus Group, an international organization of diversified companies that had been wholly owned by the Louis-Dreyfus family since its foundation in 1851. Under his tutelage, he transformed the business into one of the leading global commodities trading platforms, in part because of his strategic recruiting, profit sharing compensation programs, and subsequent talent retention.

Louis-Dreyfus' diverse collection re-contextualizes the output of known artists while giving a voice to those whom he felt were unjustly underrepresented. He has been called unpretentious, charming, modest, and self-deprecating; guided solely by aesthetics, an artist's "notoriety" was of no consequence to William.

The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation and Family Collections span time periods and continents, spurring observations on the universal nature of aesthetics and the human condition. He took a particular interest in artists that captured political and social comedy including George Grosz, Honoré Daumier and Raymond Mason as well as those who relished in the amorphous and non-objective, including Jean Dubuffet, Joan Miró and Wassily Kandinsky. By following his instincts and building personal relationships with artists, he built what is arguably one of the most diverse and progressive collections in the United States.

In addition to his love of art, William had immense respect for the natural world and in particular loved trees. He felt a certain spiritual connection with trees, which he described in his poem "Adjusting": "I have a passion for the look of trees, their fixedness, their ecstasy in rising out of ground, arms up in praise of heaven and below, their random symmetry, the light they make that brings the seasons on, their contained thickness that accumulates frail, feckless Time. Where else is Time more materially revealed." He planted hundreds of new trees in the land surrounding his home in Mount Kisco, New York, and often hosted the public to his beautiful orchard and gardens.

 

A published poet and an essayist, Louis-Dreyfus also served as the chairman of the Poetry Society of America from 1998 to 2008. In 2014, he was awarded the Robert Mills Architect medal by The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Advancement of American Art award from the National Academy Museum and School. His lifetime work in poetry, Letters Written and Not Sent, was published posthumously in 2019.

A defender of social justice, William especially sought to improve the lives of people of color through philanthropy and was dedicated to educational initiatives including the Harlem Children's Zone, a pioneering nonprofit organization committed to ending generational poverty in Central Harlem. Part of the proceeds of sale for these works will go to support the Harlem Children's Zone and its work.

William Louis-Dreyfus died on September 16, 2016. 

Art Contemporain Evening Sale

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Paris