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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Louis Marcoussis

Untitled Still-life, 1929, Louis Marcoussis                                        
Louis Marcoussis Self-portrait
It's difficult to overstate the profound influence that Pablo Picasso's Cubism had on the French world of art during the second decade of the 20th-century. Picasso wannabes crawled out of the woodwork like bedbugs from a discarded mattress. First of all, Cubism was easy to imitate. Second, there was a substantial demand for any type of painting that even so much a looked like it might be a Picasso. To a lesser degree, that's still the case today. Third, Picasso seems not to have cared about his imitators, apparently seeing imitation as the sincerest form of flattery. In fact, the more other artists copied his style, the higher prices for authentic originals rose. Moreover, for Picasso, Cubism was just a phase, a style of painting and a means of seeing, to be explored, explained, exploited, then expelled as he moved on to other phases (or periods) in his work. Picasso never stood still. Those who copied him did. One of those artists was the Polish-born (later a French citizen) Louis Marcoussis.
Still-life with Mandolin and Guitar, 1924, Pablo Picasso. Note the similarities between this a Marcoussis' work (above) but don't ignore the differences.
Louis Marcoussis (formerly Ludwik Kazimierz Wladyslaw Markus or Ludwig Casimir Ladislas Markus,) was born in 1878 (or 1883, depending upon who you listen to). The frequent name changes should give you some insight into his character. Marcoussis studied art briefly in Warsaw and Krakow before moving to Paris in 1903 (roughly the same time Picasso did). In the cafés of Montmartre and Montparnasse he got to know Apollinaire, Braque, Degas, and of course, Picasso. Except for Picasso's alter ego Braque, each of these men had their own, well-established painting style. Marcoussis did not. His earliest works were Impressionist, then he switched to German Expressionism; but mostly his art was limited to cartoons in French magazines. After a stint in the French Foreign Legion during WW I (1914-1919) Marcoussis came back to Paris. That's when he discovered Cubism.
Portrait of Erik Satie, Pablo Picasso
Lines In The Hand suite of 16 drypoints,
Gaston Bachelard, The Devins,
Louis Marcoussis
Marcoussis wasn't the only painter pounding the Paris pavement purveying Picasso's Cubism. Juan Gris, Juan Miro, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Robert Delaunay, Henri Le Fauconnier, and Fernand Léger played around with Picasso's invention. Some improved upon it slightly. Others came close to desecrating it. Marcoussis falls somewhere in the middle of this range. It might be going to far to refer to Marcoussis as a copyist but there are quite a number of Picasso paintings for which we can find a similar Marcoussis version. Even his drawings (above) bear a striking resemblance to those of Picasso as does his figural work (below) and landscapes (bottom). The man himself, even began to look like Picasso in their later years.

The Card Player, 1921, Louis Marcoussis
Figure Study, 1907, Pablo Picasso

Marcoussis died in 1941 shortly before the Nazis goose-stepped into Paris. All of this is not to say that most knowledgeable art appreciators would get the work of the two artists confused. There are definite and discreet differences, but if you're the type to announce, "if you've seen one Cubist painting, you've seen them all," you might want to take a second look.
Kerity Landscape,1927,
Louis Marcoussis
Landscape with Two Trees,
1907-08, Pablo Picasso


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