Alexandra Exter (Russian, 1884-1949) Group of 16 illustrations for book of poetry by Sappho, 1944
Lot 41
Alexandra Exter (Russian, 1884-1949) Sappho, Poesies, Fontenay-aux-Roses, 1944, number 5 of 5 copies
each page: 32.5 x 25cm (12 3/4 x 9 7/8in)
Sold for £30,000 (US$ 49,732) inc. premium
Auction Details
Alexandra Exter (Russian, 1884-1949) Group of 16 illustrations for book of poetry by Sappho, 1944 Alexandra Exter (Russian, 1884-1949) Group of 16 illustrations for book of poetry by Sappho, 1944 Alexandra Exter (Russian, 1884-1949) Group of 16 illustrations for book of poetry by Sappho, 1944 Alexandra Exter (Russian, 1884-1949) Group of 16 illustrations for book of poetry by Sappho, 1944 Alexandra Exter (Russian, 1884-1949) Group of 16 illustrations for book of poetry by Sappho, 1944 Alexandra Exter (Russian, 1884-1949) Group of 16 illustrations for book of poetry by Sappho, 1944
Lot Details
Alexandra Exter (Russian, 1884-1949)
Sappho, Poesies, Fontenay-aux-Roses, 1944, number 5 of 5 copies
hand-painted book with calligraphy by Labusquière with fifteen illustrations, two hand-lettered preliminary leaves and hand-painted colophon by the artist, in original hand-lettered folder; board chemisé and slipcase
all illustrations signed in Latin (lower right)
gouache and ink over pencil on paper, cardboard slipcase
each page: 32.5 x 25cm (12 3/4 x 9 7/8in)

Footnotes

  • The present lot is a unique example of Les Livres Manuscrits that this talented artist worked on in the last years of her life. Rarely offered at auction and highly sought-after by collectors, these hand-painted books reveal yet another side of the multi-faceted artistic talent of this exceptional artist. The present book illustrates a poem by Sappho and consists of fifteen signed gouaches and several additional title pages. The marvellous drawings showing human figures, ancient Greek boats, small landscapes, warriors, and possibly even a portrait of Greek poetess Sappho, the incorporated text of the poem reminiscent of the ancient Greek theatre.

    Books and book illustration always were important to Alexandra Exter. At the beginning of her artistic career she painted the title pages for several issues of the magazine In the World of Arts, published in Kiev in 1907-1908, and in 1908 illustrated Olga Forsh's book The Knight from Nuremberg. Many futuristic books, illustrations for novels, covers for music editions, and children's book illustrations followed those projects. The first of Les Livres Manuscrits appeared in the early 1930s and were commissioned or given as gifts. They were not simple illustrations to poems but a pictorial representation of the poetic language of Aeschylus, Horace, Petrarch, Francois Villon, Pierre de Ronsard, André Gide, Anatole France or Sappho. Written in French or translated into French, these exquisitely painted books exhibited a harmonious union of literary and pictorial languages, presented a unified vision of words and plasticity of forms, colour and ornamentation. According to G. Kovalenko, these rare books were visions experienced by the artist while reading sacred poetry, a state of meditative creativity captured by the artist and transformed into a singular vision shared with the readers of these books. The scenes are not a direct illustration of the text, and the ornaments are not exactly connected with the scenes, but all of the elements are an artistic interpretation or a symbolic vision of one poetic whole, one harmonious theatrical performance, one extraordinary work of high art. Alexandra Exter, inspired by the poetry, blinded by its beauty and elevated to a new level of creativity, reached an unparalleled point of artistic expression utilizing all her prior experience of working in the theatre and book illustration.

    Poetic text in calligraphy by Labusquière is perceived as a decorative element and is inseparable from the painted images. It seamlessly connects the two in one highly decorative panel. In addition to the pages with poetry there are several pages featuring painted scenes and those images are striking in their saturated colours, elegant lines and laconic expression. They awake the majestic scenes of ancient Greek theatre with its heroic, larger-than-life characters and emotions expressed on a grand scale.

    The present lot is one of only five copies of poetry by Sappho completed by Alexandra Exter in 1944. Other copies are in private collections and rarely seen outside academic circles. Never before offered on the art market, this copy is an exceptionally interesting example of Exter's art, illustrating her exquisite artistic taste, an understanding of the art of book illustration, and the magic of the theatre.
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