Danzatrice in un restaurant (Café Américain) (Café Anglais)

Dancer in a Restaurant (Café Americain) (Café Anglais)

Artist Gino Severini

c. 1915

Accession year 1978-82

Oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm

Signed on the front, bottom right: “Severini”

Collection Fondazione Francesco Federico Cerruti per l’Arte

Long-term loan Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Turin

Inv. no. CC.13.P. SEV.1913.A167

Provenance: Mary Cockburn Mercer, Paris; Alexander Robinson, Paris; Sotheby’s, London, Impressionist and Modern Paintings and Sculpture, 5 December 1973 (lot 74, pp. 156-157 ill. [Café Américain – Paris, 1916]); Trivero Collection, Turin.

Exhibitions: Turin 1974c (np., no. 33, ill., with the title and date: Café Americain-Paris, 1916); Geneva 1977-1978a (p. 44, ill. detail, p. 45, no. 26, with the title and date Caffé Américan, 1913); Rome 1982-83b (np. , nn., ill., with the title and date Café Americain, 1913); Florence 1983 (p. 77, ill., p. 167, no. 26, with the title and date Caffè americano, 1915-16); Verona-Turin 1984-85 (p. 92, no. 74, ill., with the title and date Caffè Americano [Café Américain, Café Anglais], 1915).

Bibliography: M. Fagiolo dell’Arco, “Tutta la vita di un pittore”, in Cortona 1983-84, p. 35, ill. (with the title and date Café Americain, c. 1916); Fonti 1988, p. 204, no. 249, ill., np., pl.; The Cerruti Collection 2019, p. 42, ill.

This work on the subject of dancing is part of a whole series developed by Gino Severini as from 1911.

Alternatively referred to in the literature as Café Anglais, Café Américain1 and Danzatrice in un restaurant (Dancer in a Restaurant), this work on the subject of dancing is part of a whole series developed by Gino Severini as from 1911. Undated and sometimes attributed to the early 1910s, it can be assigned more plausibly to the middle of the decade above all on the basis of comparison with some charcoal sketches and paintings of the period displaying figures of similar solidity and compactness. Though less explored with respect to the previous period, the theme of the female dancer was taken up again by Severini during the war. In the winter of 1915, having returned to Paris with his wife, he accompanied works referring more explicitly to the war with others of this kind, expressing all the fascination of the wild night life of the city that had been his chosen home since 1906. Developed during a particularly dramatic period also marked by financial difficulties, Severini’s work on dancers is briefly recalled in his memories: “I worked quite a lot, not only painting subjects connected with the war but also returning to my female dancers and portraits.”2

In Danzatrice in un restaurant, Severini abandons the breakdown into planes and simultaneous effects of a markedly Futurist character in order to make both the subject and the setting more immediately recognisable. Placed in the centre of the composition, the dancer no longer blends into the surrounding space, as in the works of 1912-13, and the figures playing the tuba and the violin are clearly identifiable and endowed with spatial autonomy. It is precisely in its formal aspects that the work displays deep similarities to others of the same period, which move at the same time towards a greater degree of three-dimensional form that was certainly influenced by the contemporary developments in Cubism.3 Regular expanses of flat colour, like those of the contemporary “war paintings”, are accompanied by areas of thicker brushstrokes, especially in the dancer’s dress, to endow the composition as a whole with a vibrant and varied texture.4

A label on the back associated with the work’s first owner, the painter Mary Cockburn Mercer, gives what is probably the earliest version of the title: “Café Anglais, Paris”. This makes it possible to identify the setting as the restaurant of that name on the corner of the Boulevard des Italiens and Rue de Marivaux not far from the Opéra-Comique, a haunt of novelists and playwrights as from the Second Empire but closed in 1913. Severini appears to conjure up its interior through details such as the arabesque pattern of the fitted carpet and the cream-coloured woodwork on the walls, looking back, perhaps somewhat sadly, to a time of optimism and carefree nightlife that must have seemed very distant at the time.

Danzatrice in un restaurant is probably the work that Severini offered as a gift in 1920 to the gallery owner Giuseppe Sprovieri, who accepted it with reservations in a letter of 28 September: “Let us now turn to your offer of a small canvas (Danzatrice in un restaurant) […]. I accept it of course and with great enthusiasm but would prefer you to send me something of greater value […] in your own interest, because lots of people now visit me at home.”5 The identification of the work in the letter with the painting led to the title currently used, which in any case again indicates that the setting was a restaurant rather than one of the Parisian dance halls. The work was sold in the 1920s to the painter Mary Cockburn Mercer, resident in France and a collector of Marc Chagall, Kees Van Dongen and André Lhote. She was involved at the time with the American artist Alexander Robinson, who is also listed among the owners of the painting. After a period in the Trivero Collection in Turin, the work was bought by Francesco Federico Cerruti in the early 1980s6 and appeared in the major exhibitions and events held in 1983 for the centenary of Severini’s birth.7

[Alessandro Botta]

1 The title Café Américain appeared for the first time in an auction of 1973 and has been associated with the work ever since. The others are discussed in the course of this description.

2 Severini 1946, p. 238.

3 See in particular the Danseuse of 1915 (cf. Fonti 1988, pp. 203-204, no. 248) and the related graphic works, which display similar simplification of the figure to the point of making it look like a mechanical marionette. A connection has also been suggested between the female subject of Danzatrice in un restaurant and the drawing Danseuse (ibid., pp. 208, no. 256) of the same period.

4 Daniela Fonti regards these as technical choices informed by “memories of Futurist sequins” (D. Fonti, “Gino Severini. La danza”, in Venice 2001, p. 30).

5 Letter from G. Sprovieri to G. Severini, 28 September 1920; now in Omaggio a Severini 1970, p. 56. The measurements (“55 x 46”) of the painting offered to Sprovieri, as indicated by Severini in a note in the letter, are compatible with the work discussed here.

6 Certainly after the Du futurisme au spatialisme. Peinture italienne de la première moitié du XXe siècle exhibition of 1977-78 in Geneva, which records the owner as Trivero in the catalogue.

7 The work was loaned anonymously for the exhibition 1983. L’anno di Gino Severini, inaugurated in December 1982 at the Studio Mitzi Sotis in Rome. The Cerruti Collection Archives contain a copy of the accompanying brochure sent by the gallery owner with thanks for the temporary loan.