L'accordeoniste signed 'Eug. Zak' (upper right) oil on canvas 91.5 x 60.9cm (36 x 24in). Painted circa 1925
PROVENANCE Galerie Zak, Paris (after 1926). The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Buffalo, New York (1928). Spencer Kellogg Jr., Buffalo, New York (acquired from the above, January 1929). Thence by descent to the present owner.
EXHIBITED Buffalo, New York, The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Albright Art Gallery, Paintings and Drawings by Eugenjusz Zak, Ceramics by Mika Mikoun, 21 October - 19 November 1928, no.24. New York, International Art Center (Roerich Museum), 1930, no.7.
LITERATURE F. Fels & P. Barchan, 'Eugene Zak' in Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, 1925-1926, vol.57 (illustrated p.389). S. Charles, 'L'Art en Pologne au XIX et XX Siecle' in L. Deshairs (ed.), L'Art: des origines à nos jours, Paris, 1932, vol.II (illustrated p.263). B. Brus-Malinowska, Eugeniusz Zak 1884-1926, exh. cat., Warsaw, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, no. 231 (illustrated p.165).
The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Barbara Brus-Malinowska.
Zak painted three versions of this composition, one recorded in Paris before 1926, a second in Berlin and the present work which, until its reappearance here, had been thought lost. Barbara Brus-Malinowska's catalogue raisonné incorrectly states that the Paris version of L'accordéoniste (op. cit., no.233, p.166), rather than the present work, was in the collection of Spencer Kellogg Jr. We are grateful to Ms. Brus-Malinowska for her help in elucidating the early history of this picture.
L'accordéoniste, painted circa 1925, belongs to the later phase of Zak's career when, returning to Paris from Berlin, he once again took inspiration from the vibrant artistic life of the city and particularly the Expressionist tendencies of the Ecole de Paris. Zak had first arrived in Paris from Poland in 1902, and in the latter part of that decade exhibited at the Salon des Indépendents and became close to other émigré artists of Polish origin such as Moïse Kisling and Mela Muter. He was attracted first to idyllic and Arcadian themes, and with many contemporaries was drawn to the simplicity of rural Brittany and the influence of Gauguin. He spent the war years in Poland, and by 1920 began to take inspiration from the altogether harsher themes of Picasso's Blue and Rose Period. He painted wanderers, gypsies and musicians particularly, using cold flat tones derived from Quattrocento frescoes.
These 'outsider' figures are principally characterised by their melancholic airs, elongated proportions and stylised poses. In L'accordéoniste, the subject assumes a vacant, pensive expression and is presented open mouthed as if singing a traditional lament. In accordance with other compositions from this period, the musician is also set against an empty space of subtly gradated colour to further heighten a sense of nostalgia and alienation. By divorcing his subjects from any context Zak seeks to express an attitude of escapism, where the viewer is projected into a world populated only by violinists, mandolin players and dancers.
At about this time, Zak also began to explore new technical possibilities in the expression of light and colour. Employing a syncretism that characterises much of his work, Zak here portrays the sitter through an unusual combination of simplified forms and carefully modulated areas of colour. Under the influence of Renaissance portraiture he harnesses nuances of tone to create an effect akin to chiaroscuro, and yet he retains an underlying flatness through the stylization of the figure, implementing techniques developed through an earlier engagement with Primitivism.
The first American owner of L'accordéoniste was Spencer Kellogg Jr. (1876-1944), heir to the Kellogg linseed oil dynasty in Buffalo, New York. Kellogg was expected to join the family business, but he is perhaps best remembered as a passionate admirer of the Arts and Crafts Movement, as well as an amateur printer. From an early age he had had an ambition to own a bookshop and to operate his own printing press, an ambition was eventually fulfilled when purchased the hand press once owned by William Morris, and founded the private Aries Press. He also served for two terms as Director of The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy.