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Indepth Arts News:

"The House for Cubism: The Raoul La Roche Collection"
1999-07-17 until 1999-11-29
Museum of Fine Arts, Basel
Basel, , CH Switzerland

Raoul La Roche belongs to the most important patrons of the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel (The Public Art Collection of Basel). Thanks to his endowments, an important selection of Cubist art of great international significance was added to the holdings of the Kunstmuseum (Museum of Fine Arts) between 1952 and 1963. The Museum now has the pleasure of devoting a major exhibition to the collector Raoul La Roche, to his incomparable collection and to his residence, built in Paris by Le Corbusier. The exhibition is part of a project launched by the Schweizerische Kunstverein (Swiss Art Association) to highlight ten important private collections in Swiss museums on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation. The series of exhibitions has been organised in response to the extraordinary interest shown at the end of our century in the evolution of the great collections: in their characteristics, their history and meaning, and in the motives of their creators.

Raoul La Roche, born in Basel in 1889, went to Paris as a young banker in 1911. There he cultivated close contact with his compatriots, including the architect from La Chaux-de-Fonds, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier), whom he met in 1918. Through him and his friend, the painter Amédée Ozenfant, La Roche was introduced to the contemporary art scene in Paris. A turning point for La Roche was the joint exhibition of the two friends in December 1918 in Paris, and the publication they issued that same year, Après le cubisme (After Cubism). The latter expounded the theoretical principles underlying their Purist painting, which had initially attracted the budding collector’s attention. In 1914 the collection of the influential German collector Wilhelm Uhde and the holdings of the Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler Gallery were confiscated in Paris as enemy property. The works of art were subsequently sold off in a series of auctions between 1921 and 1923 for purposes of reparation. Substantial groups of works by Cubists Picasso, Braque, Gris and Léger, which La Roche acquired on those occasions, laid the foundations for what probably became the world’s largest private collection of Cubist art. Up until 1928, La Roche purchased additional works through Léonce Rosenberg at the Galerie de l'Effort Moderne, rounding out his collection with paintings by Braque, Léger, Gris, Le Corbusier and Ozenfant, and sculptures by Jacques Lipchitz. Raoul La Roche paid close attention to the discussions among the artists around Le Corbusier, read their publications and supported the endeavours of the now world-famous architect-urbanist. Between 1920 and 1925, his financial support was instrumental in the publication of Esprit nouveau, edited by Le Corbusier and Ozenfant, an internationally influential journal that propagated the synthesis of art, architecture and industry. Raoul La Roche, an extremely modest, discreet and industrious person, did a great deal for his compatriots through his generous patronage of charitable Swiss institutions in Paris. In consequence of his selflessness, little is known about the life and person of this great collector. During World War II, he was compelled to take up temporary residence in Lyon while his collection remained behind in occupied Paris. In 1962 he returned to Basel, where he had always maintained close contact with his family. That same year the University of Basel awarded him the honorary degree of doctor. Raoul La Roche died in Basel in June 1965. The Collection Raoul La Roche was 29 years old when he began collecting in 1918. Ten years later he owned some 160 works. So clear was the concept that defined his collection that he no longer added to it when other styles and movements began to hold sway. He stopped collecting in 1928, at which point the following artists were represented in his holdings: Pablo Picasso, 12 works (11 paintings and 1 papier collé) Georges Braque, 50 works (26 paintings, 15 papiers collés, 9 drawings) Fernand Léger, 21 paintings Juan Gris, 26 paintings Le Corbusier, 14 works (11 paintings, 2 drawing, 1 album of drawings and watercolours) Amédée Ozenfant, 27 works (25 paintings, 1 drawing, 1 portfolio of 20 watercolours) Jacques Lipchitz, 4 sculptures Walter Bodmer, 1 relief André Bauchant, 2 paintings. The Residence In 1923, wanting to give his collection a suitable context, La Roche commissioned his friend Le Corbusier to build a residence in Auteuil in the west of Paris. Today it is considered one of the founding icons of Modern Architecture. Among its most salient features are the large vestibule with its several views as it extends through the house from top to bottom; the interior colour scheme; and the gallery space, set at right angles to the body of the building, for which Le Corbusier’s first made use of stilts (pilotis) to raise a structure off the ground. In designing the villa for La Roche, Le Corbusier spoke for the first time of a promenade architecturale, which was to become a key concept of his œuvre. The La Roche Villa immediately attracted widespread attention upon its completion; it was soon visited by such people as architect Adolf Loos, artist Fernand Léger, architectural historian Sigfried Giedion, and all those interested in the New Architecture. In fact, the house drew so many visitors that Raoul La Roche officially opened it to the public for two days a week. When he returned to Basel in 1962, he gave the villa to the Fondation Le Corbusier; it now houses the architect’s papers and archives, which are accessible for research. The Endowment La Roche donated almost half of his collection to the museum in three stages. The first two endowments were made in 1953 and 1956, the third in 1963 following his return to Basel. Having bestowed upon his native city one of the most outstanding collections of Cubism in the world, Raoul La Roche invested the museum with great international importance in the field of classical Modern Art. The endowment consists of 3 paintings by Picasso, 19 works by Braque (8 paintings, 7 drawings, 4 papiers collés), 17 paintings by Léger, 12 paintings by Gris, 4 sculptures by Lipchitz, 7 paintings by Le Corbusier, 7 paintings and 1 portfolio of 20 watercolours by Ozenfant, and 1 painting by Bauchant. In 1955 Georg Schmidt, the then director of the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, exchanged one painting each by Picasso and Braque for Picasso’s Les Demoiselles des bords de la Seine, d’après Courbet, 1950. Not all of the works in the collection found a home in Basel; La Roche gave some to other museums: the Musée national d’art moderne in Paris, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, and the Kunsthaus in Zurich. Still others were bequeathed to family and friends or sold for other reasons. However, he gave the body of the collection to his native city to make it permanently accessible to public view. Exhibition Concept The exhibition demonstrates the extraordinary achievements of a single-minded and noble-hearted collector. It shows a reconstruction of the collection in terms of its highlights in conjunction with a presentation of the La Roche villa with its unusual gallery space. The works donated to the museum by La Roche are supplemented with some 20 to 25 works on loan from international museums and private collections. The villa is represented through the famous series of photographs taken by Fred Boissonnas in 1926, as well as models, sketches, and documents on the colour scheme of the interior. Catalogue A wide-ranging, richly illustrated catalogue contains essays by international specialists on the artists and their works, on the La Roche villa, and on the history of the collection and the endowment. Writers will include Picasso specialist Pierre Daix on the Ventes Kahnweiler, Franz Meyer on Picasso, Mark Roskill on Braque, Eric Michaud on Léger, Kurt W. Forster on Gris, Stanislaus von Moos on the architect and artist Le Corbusier, Tim Benton on the La Roche villa, Malcolm Gee on avant-garde collections in Paris in the twenties, Françoise Ducros on the journal L’Esprit nouveau, and Didier Schulmann on the endowment at the Musée national d'art moderne in Paris. Ancillary Events A number of events will be organised to further elucidate the interplay between collector and architect and between painting and architecture. They will explore the panorama of artistic activities undertaken by Cubism, Purism and Esprit Nouveau, as reflected in painting, architecture, music and literature.

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