At Large  April 8, 2023  Lily Williams

The Forgotten Collages of Jeanne Coppel

Courtesy Françoise Livinec, © ADAGP, Paris

Jeanne Coppel, Sans titre, 1968, collage, 50 x 36 cm

 

Even as the art world continues to make strides toward gender equity, its history still holds major gaps. One such gap is the work of artist Jeanne Coppel. The Romanian-born French painter was a trailblazer in the use of abstraction in the 20th century. Although her work is profoundly influential in the development of Modern Art, Coppel has been almost entirely overlooked in both scholarship and the art market. 

When one tries to learn more about Jeanne and her work, there is not much available by means of a simple Google search. In order to learn the true significance of her work, one must dive a bit deeper. Jeanne’s story begins in 1896 when she was born in Galatz, Romania. Throughout her childhood, she explored the arts, eventually under the guidance of the Italian artist Antonio Zumino. It was during these early years that Jeanne began her exploration of texture and color. She was taught classically by Zumino, learning how to prepare canvases, mix pigments, and how to mix multiple colors with one another. These factors created the professional foundation for her revolutionary career.

Courtesy Françoise Livinec, © ADAGP, Paris

Jeanne Coppel, New York City, 1968, collage and paint, 90 x 58.5 cm

 

By 1912, Jeanne left Romania for Berlin, where she first became engaged with the avant-garde movement. She continued her studies alongside Russian Cubo-Futurists Michel Larionov and Natalia Goncharova. Larionov and Goncharova are the founders of Rayonism, a movement that focused on representing objects not through form, but instead as rays of light. By rejecting the typical representation of objects, Rayonism is considered to be an early form of abstraction, as well as one of Russia’s first modern art movements. Also in 1912, the movement’s founders published their own Rayonist Manifesto, in a similar fashion to their futurist counterparts. It was during this time in Berlin that Jeanne was able to interact with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, a group often regarded as one of the most significant dance groups of the 20th century. This time in Berlin had a profound impact on Jeanne’s later work and career, with this early interaction with abstraction and unconventional artists leaving an invaluable mark on her work.

Jeanne’s career was drastically altered when Romania joined the Allied Powers in their efforts in World War I, with the nation officially going to war in 1916, two years into the war. The artist was forced to seek refuge in her home country of Romania, residing in Moldova. With art supplies and the paints that Jeanne was accustomed to using in her practice becoming unavailable during the war, she had to make some changes. She did not let the war stop her creative progression, instead turning to collage as a means of making art by using what she already had available to her. She made Rayonist compositions using pieces of colored paper and tissue, progressing the aesthetic to a point its founders hadn’t even reached. Even long after the war had come and gone, collage remained an integral part of Jeanne’s practice.

Courtesy Françoise Livinec, © ADAGP, Paris

Jeanne Coppel, DIM, 1967, collage and paint on newsprint, 60 x 43 cm

 

When World War I ended, Jeanne moved from Romania to France, the place where she spent the majority of her career. She joined the Academie Ransom, along with the likes of Edouard Vuillard, Maurice Denis, and Paul Sérusier. She also participated in the salon of the renowned Delaunays’, artists who pushed her to continue pushing her work into abstraction

Collage came back into Jeanne’s practice as a prominent medium during World War II, when she was forced to flee Paris to Aix-en-Provence with her husband and son, due to her husband having a Jewish background. Post-war, her work from this period began to garner critical acclaim and Jeanne began exhibiting with Galerie Colette Allendy and the Réalités Nouvelles group. Jeanne’s paintings and collages were favored by critics such as Michel Seuphor, who compared her collages to Braque. While often exhibited and in the permanent collections of various British museums, Jeanne’s work has rarely been put on view in the United States. The only major show featuring her work in the US was at the Museum of Modern Art in 1961. While underrepresented in the history of Modern Art, Jeanne Coppel and her body of work have been and remain influential.

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