Nature Morte (Still Life with a Coffee Pot)
(Gino Severini)


This recently discovered Still Life is one of several medium-sized canvases painted by Gino Severini from early 1917. The composition follows one of the most widely used Cubist schemes, comprising different objects of everyday use. These are placed along a descending diagonal line that leads the viewer’s eye from the upper area to the lower, and from the foreground to the planes behind. Progressing down from the upper portion, we can distinguish the geometric forms of a pitcher with a handle, against a red background, alongside the silhouette of a long bottle; in the center, on the surface plane of a table, another pitcher, bluish-gray in color, with a triangular spout and a handle on the right side, alongside a tavern glass against a green background and a prism-like object against a gold-toned background. The surface plane of the table is superimposed on the edge of the tablecloth. The latter appears highly stylized on the left side and noticeably more volumetric and defined by chiaroscuro toward the front edge in the cloth in the areas behind the glass.

From a compositional point of view, this work can be compared to some others from that same period, already documented in retrospective exhibitions and in the Severini family photographic archives. In particular, see the Catalogue Raissonné of Gino Severini, compiled by this writer (Milan, 1988), to which the reader is referred for all later comparisons: no. 283, Nature morte: Quaker Oats (London, Estorick Collection); no. 284, Nature morte á la cafetière (lost); no. 291, Le pot bleu (Venice, Cini Foundation).

We can see obvious affinities in the compositional rhythm of all three of the above-mentioned canvases. This rhythm develops through the assembling of objects that are sometimes not easily decipherable, de-constructed and simultaneously re-constructed by bringing together totally abstract chromatic planes and silhouettes, suggesting a rising volumetric impulse. Note, for example, the formal analogy between the vase in the upper section of no. 284, de-composed on the right, and re-composed on the left half in the rhomboidal shape and with an isolated object in the middle. Present in no. 284, as also in no. 283, are the same subtle graphic elements, introduced in 1916, which, through their transparency, allude to the persistence of volume. Finally, the tablecloth, which is fully volumetric on the front planes, but becomes thinner on a bi-dimensional plane towards the back, is present both in the Cini painting (no. 291), and in the one examined here. Both the compositional analysis and the possible points of comparison lead us to assign the painting to the year 1917, in the context of a production of paintings in which Severini shows a need to recover a concave space within which to lace ‘rational’ objects de-composed in the manner of geometric cubism as well as naturalistic details.

The color scheme of the work also finds other echoes in the paintings of that same period. Severini having abandoned the chromatic burst of dust colored with primary colors in 1915, typical of the abstract futurist ‘dancers,’ and turned towards a more sedate palette, where white, grey, and earth tones prevail, juxtaposed and enlivened by contrast with livelier and brighter fields. In this context, the Still Life being examined here can appropriately be compared to the Tulips of 1916 (23 5/8 x 19 ¾ inches / 60 by 50 cm.; no. 273), surprisingly close to it also in its compositional elements; and with Quaker Oats: a Cubist Still life of 1917 (24 3/8 x 20 1/8 inches / 62 by 51 cm., no. 283), with its analogous musical cadenza of whites and greys with red high notes.

The inscription is traced in large dark letters, probably with a brush. During this period, as also at later times, it is not uncommon to find the title and the author’s signature, written in the author’s hand, on the back of the canvas. This happened almost always in the case of a large shipment of canvases for an exhibition, where works with recurring titles and subjects might cause the gallery owner to make mistakes in printing the catalogues. As an example, we can compare the back of the work, examined here to the inscription of the back of no. 260 of 1916 (Nature morte; expansion centrifuge de couleurs); in no. 260 the signature is written in cursive, joining name and surname, while here it is in lower case block letters; but this way of doing things is frequent also during all of the artist’s periods. The inscription ‘nature morte’ is very similar in both instances, as is also the number ‘1’, drawn with a very long and firm upper stroke. Thus, an examination of the two handwritings leads one to believe that they are from the same hand, and that the latter is that of ‘maestro’ Severini.

The date inscribed, ‘1917’, also agrees perfectly with the period in which the work was painted, which, as we have shown above through our compositional and stylistic analysis, can be attributed to that year. Concerning the size of the canvas, a square-ish rectangle of 65 by 54 cm, it can be seen as similar to, although slightly larger than the other still lives of the period, whose sizes were approximately 24 x 19 ¾ inches/61 by 50 cm. (see ns. 283, 284, 290, 292, and 297 in the Catalogue Raisonné). The signature inscribed on the lower right-hand corner of the composition, appears to be in the author’s own hand; the handwriting is comparable to that of signatures on other works of that time.

A direct examination of the canvas by this writer has led to the following observations. The artist uses very tenuous color and a thin layer of paint where he draws the most abstract chromatic planes. In general, the brushstrokes are steady and uniform, moving from top to bottom. Sometimes when a reference is made to volume, the brushstrokes follow the shape of the form alluded to, becoming thicker and more perceptible (as in the ‘grey’ base of the pitcher with handles against a red background). In addition, in other parts, the oil acquires greater body, and the brushstrokes are irregular, full of pigment and very obvious; this conveys an almost tactile sense of volume and material (as in the tablecloth in the foreground). Finally, again, in some areas, the artist mixes different sizes of grains of sand with the color. The sand is blended with the oil, creating a ‘material’ support for the form. This procedure is clearly visible in the trapezoidal gold shape in the foreground, and is used in exactly the same manner and to the same formal effect in no. 284 (lower right section), while obvious analogies with the general way in which the paint is gilded are to be found in the other canvases mentioned above (nos. 283, 284, 291).

Finally, it must be noted that the passage of time has led to the formation of a fine craquelure across the surface. The canvas has two paper labels affixed to its stretcher. The first, on the upper right side, is inscribed ‘Kunstzaal Van Lier Amsterdam’, and under that printed inscription it has a stock inventory number, hand-written in pen, ’12 (2)’, followed by ‘Sev.’ The small size of the label leads us to believe that it refers to a numerical inventory related to Severini’s work, whose unabbreviated name could not fit on the label.

This writer’s records do not show the Van Lier Gallery in Amsterdam among those in the Netherlands previously known to her to have shown paintings by Severini, either in solo or group exhibitions. Severini, however, established a successful and continued market for himself in Holland, from the Futurist period onwards (thanks in particular to the patronage of some Dutch collectors residing in Paris), and this became more extensive, especially in Amsterdam, during the 1930s. In 1931 a large retrospective exhibition was held in that city, showing dozens of his works, and Severini’s work appeared in several Dutch galleries in that decade.

The second label seen at the center of the crossbar of the stretcher is torn and not clearly legible. The upper portion is worn, and does not permit a clear reading of the Gallery name, while the following portions of the inscription are legible: “Auteur……………ini (handwritten), Date………………1917……(written in pen) Photo N.” A comparison with the other labels documented in this writer’s records led to an identification of the label as belonging to the historic Rosenberg Gallery, with which the painter was associated by contract for many years. It has not been possible, however, to find a match – as has been the case in other instances – between the size of the work, the subject (still life) and the inventory records of the Rosenberg Gallery seen thus far, copies of which are in this writer’s archives, since the inventory records begin in the year 1918, that is, when a detailed contract was signed between the artist and dealer.

It would appear that, perhaps shortly after its execution, the work was deposited with, and listed in the inventory records of the Rosenberg Gallery for a certain period (the length of which will be difficult to establish until new findings are made among the Gallery’s records, which are kept at the Beaubourg Museum’s Library in Paris). It was then apparently sold or given subsequently to a collector or to another dealer.

The purchaser of the painting in Amsterdam, Mrs. Trude Jalowitz Guermonprez (1911-1976). was a prominent member of the weaving school of the Bauhaus (Weimar) and the wife of a well-known Jewish photographer and artist who lived and worked in the Netherlands, after studying in Germany where he was killed during World War II. After his death, his widow left Europe and moved to the West Coast of the U.S.A., bringing Severini’s painting with her. Trude Jalowitz Guermonprez lived in San Francisco until her death in 1976, upon which her estate, including the Severini, was left to her second husband. After his death, the painting was inherited by his children in California, who sold it to the present owner.

As author of the Catalogue Raisonné of Gino Severini’s paintings, after a direct examination of the painting, and after studying both the photographic evidence and the recorded documentation, this writer can confirm that the painting submitted to her for her expert opinion is to be considered an original work by Gino Severini, as shown in the signature and in the inscription on the back, and painted in 1917.”

Daniela Fonti, 1999 /2001

25 x 20 3/4 ins. 65 x 54 cm
Oil on canvas

Léonce Rosenberg Gallery, Paris, 1917;
Van Lier Gallery, Amsterdam circa 1931;
Acquired there by A. Guermonprez (a prominent photographer associated with the Bauhaus) and Trude Jalowitz Guermonprez (died 1976, who worked as a fabric designer and weaver for the Bauhaus).
2nd husband of Trude Guermonprez, and to their children in Califor


Daniella Fonti, Gino Severini, Supplement to the catalogue raisonnée, 1999, p. 75 (under no. 11).

Historical Period
Modern - 1890-1930
Still Life - Other
Italian - Other Regions
2001-European Paintings-From 1600-1917.
Baroque, Rococo, Romanticism, Realism, Futurism.

(Click on image above)
Price band
Sold or not available