Artist’s letters recently acquired

The two Aristophil auctions in Paris, on the 1st and 2nd of April, were an outstanding opportunity to enrich the Fondation Custodia’s steadily growing collection of artist’s letters.

Several important pieces have been acquired at this occasion: letters by Greuze, Ingres (to the engraver Luigi Calamatta, on the engraving of the Vow of Louis XIII), Géricault, Delacroix (an early one, to his friend Félix Guillemardet), Degas (to his friend, the sculptor Albert Bartholomé), Manet (to Jules Guillaumet, portrayed by the artist, together with his wife, in Dans la serre in Berlin, Staatliche Museen), Matisse (to an artist friend, probably Jean Puy), an extensive correspondence by Millet to his daughters, and a series of eight letters by Kandinsky to a Dutch collector.

1. Théodore Géricault, letter to Pierre-Joseph Dedreux-Dorcy
London, 12 February [1821]
Photo Artcurial

Of the correspondence of Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) only some fifty letters have come down to us and the Fondation was fortunate to finally add, in recent years, two of these rare missives to its collections. They will now be joined by a long letter dated 1821 when the artist was in London, to his friend, the painter Pierre-Joseph Dedreux-Dorcy – in which he discusses his enthousiasm for lithography, his passion for horse themes but also a new love affair and the illness which, three years later, would cause his death (ill. 1).

Thirteen letters and postcards from 1913 by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) to the Dutch reverend Hendrik van Assendelft, collector of avant-garde artists, were sold in Berne in 1968, divided over several lots of which the Fondation could only acquire two at the time.

2. Wassily Kandinsky, letter to Hendrik van Assendelft
3 October 1913
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The series is now reconstituted, for the eight letters bought in the Aristophil sale are exactly those which had escaped the Fondation’s then director, Carlos van Hasselt, fifty years ago (ill. 2). Van Assendelft is today mostly remembered as one of the early admirers of Piet Mondrian, several of whose works he possessed and with whom he exchanged letters, a correspondance dispersed at the same Swiss auction of 1968. Whereas various letters have entered the Fondation’s collections in the meantime, in complement to the magnificent series of nearly a hundred letters adressed by Mondrian to the Rotterdam architect J.J.P. Oud, the six letters and postcards sold last week have been acquired by the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD) in The Hague, which also houses an important collection of Mondrian material and is now preparing the integral edition of his correspondance.

Two much older autographs, finally, will find their natural place among the exceptional array of documents from the Renaissance and Baroque periods assembled by Frits Lugt: the final settlement for the decoration of the Casa Pannini in Cento (now partly presented at the Pinacoteca Civica of the same town), drafted in 1617 by the supervisor of the project, the perspective painter Pier Francesco Battistelli (d. 1625), and signed by Guercino (1591-1666) – for whom this was one of his first major commissions – and his pupil Lorenzo Gennari (ill. 3), and a letter by Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669) to the Roman collector Cassiano dal Pozzo, friend and patron of Poussin, which will join the three specimens (of the six now known) from this correspondance the Fondation already possessed (ill. 4).

  • 3. Pier Francesco Battistelli, Giovanni Battista Barbieri called Guercino and Lorenzo Gennari, document
    9 July 1617
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  • 4. Pietro Berrettini called Pietro da Cortona, letter to Cassiano dal Pozzo
    Florence, 15 January 1645 (actually, 1646)
    Photo Artcurial