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Flash News: Degas on the motorway – Rediscovering Raoul Hausmann – Djamel Tatah

[02 Mar 2018]

A Degas found on the motorway

On 16 February during a random check at a motorway service station in Seine-et-Marne, France, customs officers found what appeared to be a wrapped painting in the luggage hold of a coach. As nobody aboard the coach claimed it, customs officers kept the work to conduct their own research and quickly discovered that it looked identical to a work listed as stolen by the OCBC (Office central de lutte contre les trafics de biens culturels). It appeared to be an original drawing by Edgar DEGAS (1834-1917), Les Choristes, loaned by the Musée d’Orsay to the Cantini Museum in Marseille as part of the temporary exhibition De la scène au tableau. It was stolen on 31 December 2009 without any evidence of a break-in or the alarm system being triggered. After initial expert opinion found it was an original, further examination conducted by the experts at the Musée d’Orsay determined that the drawing was indeed the one stolen and not a copy.

This remarkable work had been part of the permanent collection of the Musée d’Orsay since 1986. Before that, it belonged to the painter Gustave Caillebotte. When Caillebotte died, it was accepted as a legacy by the state and became part of the collection of the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris. It then went to the Louvre before becoming permanently part of the Musée d’Orsay’s collection. The Musée d’Orsay is all the more delighted by the reappearance of this work as it is currently organising an exhibition devoted to Degas and the opera, which will open in 2019 and of which Les Choristes will become the centrepiece.

Also called Les Figurants, this pastel on monotype (32 cm high and 27 cm wide) was estimated at €800,000 by the Réunion des musées nationaux when it was stolen. This estimate seems rather conservative considering the quality of this drawing. Some works of this calibre have indeed already reached the million-dollar mark at auction, despite their small size. In 2007 for example, Mlle Bécat aux Ambassadeurs (Café-concert), a pastel on lithograph (16.2 cm x 12.2 cm) sold for €1m ($1.4m) at Sotheby’s.

Rediscovering Raoul Hausmann

The photographic work of Raoul HAUSMANN (1886-1971) has long remained unknown and its quality underestimated”: this observation begins the introduction to the catalogue of the exhibition Raoul Hausmann, Un regard en mouvement, which opened at the Jeu de Paume in Paris at the beginning of February and continues until 20 May 2018. Indeed, exhibitions and publications about this artist are all too rare. The exhibition at the Jeu de Paume goes some way to addressing this, highlighting a miscellaneous photographic body of work boasting 140 vintage prints by the artist nick-named ‘Der Dadasophe,’ who lived through his art and escaped any classification.

A Dada activist in the avant-garde scene of 1920s Berlin, Hausmann, of Czech origin but born in Vienna, had his moment of glory before having to leave Nazi Germany, as he was labelled a ‘degenerate’ artist. In his exile, he left behind the prolific work of his early years, a collection of forgotten photographs that was found in his daughter’s apartment in Berlin 40 years later. Living in France, this inventive artist continued his multi-facetted work as a writer, philosopher, painter, publisher, as well as a photographer. His output in France includes a superb photographic series of nudes and landscapes of the coast, which were not ‘classic themes’ for him but express, to use his own words, an ‘Eccentric Sensoriality’, a new presence in the world. At the Jeu de Paume, chrysanthemums, dune landscapes, thistles or naked women lying on a beach hang alongside rare photomontages, which only a few museums and collectors are lucky enough to own.

Djamel Tatah meets the Old Masters in Avignon

For me, art is not fixed in time. The art I love is when I feel that it can transcend time.” Djamel TATAH (1959) says he draws on all styles of painting. His work gives Old Masters so much topicality that one ends up asking what era he is from. That’s why the exhibition in Avignon, where the artist has been living for several years, is so relevant. It could be confrontational, but it’s instead a quiet dialogue with the Old Masters. Until 20 May 2018, the exhibition Djamel Tatah. Echoes of classic paintings and drawings and monochromes from the Collection Lambert is showing recent works by the painter alongside the minimal paintings of Robert Ryman, Sol Lewitt, Brice Marden and Richard Serra on one hand, and Old Masters’ drawings on the other.

For years, Djamel Tatah has been creating work of amazing consistency. On monochrome backgrounds, he paints stationary characters with a translucent paleness and melancholic expression. The paintings are hung very low, the feet of the subjects are cut and the figures float as if in their own silence. Life size, they become part of us, sharing the space with visitors. In a spectacular series, Tatah paints ‘hitistes’, young Algerian idlers leaning against a wall, spectators of spectators. But the juxtaposition is even more relevant with his beloved Old Masters such as Corneille de Lyon, a great portrait specialist who used monochrome backgrounds. The School of Fine Arts in Paris, where Tatah teaches, lent a remarkable series of Old Masters’ drawings, exhibited alongside works from the Lambert Collection whose importance seems unfathomable. Drawing is indeed fundamental to the art of Djamel Tatah.

On each canvas, a fine white line remains to give substance to his images. The pure and unique line of a Henri MATISSE self-portrait, the dazzling draped fabric in a red chalk drawing by Andrea del Sarto, a drawing made on the spur of the moment by Delacroix, the theatrical poses of Poussin, the architectural figures of Fernand Léger… This exhibition of remarkable works creates relevant connections and relationships between artists. The highlight of the exhibition is in the last room in the basement: a clever display of large format works depicting standing men looking down, all different but in similar poses, on bright red, dark blue or lemon-yellow backgrounds, immediately reminding us of Andy Warhol’s series, Shadows (1978-1979).

Tatah has passed a commercial milestone since his retrospective at the Maeght Foundation in 2013. At the time, his sales record was €11,000 for 6- sans titre, sold in Paris (€13,300 including fees). In 2016, a large format painting on a blue background with a woman sitting in front of a man lying down, tripled in value, reaching nearly €34,000 (« Untitled »). This record at Christie’s in Dubai shows not only that his value is on the up but also that his market is now international.

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