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Aktis Gallery is exhibiting artists from as far afield as Russia, Japan and China at BRAFA
Leopold Survage, Cityscape (1926). Oil on canvas, 146 x 114 cm. Signed lower right.
BRUSSELS.- At the heart of the collection of works that Aktis Gallery is exhibiting at their fourth BRAFA are artists from as far afield as Russia, Japan and China, who over the course of the 20th century left their homelands to settle in Paris. One of the first to arrive was Léopold Survage (1879-1968) in 1908. Of Russian-Danish-Finnish origin, he had begun his studies in Moscow before moving to Paris where he became immersed in the artistic life of the city, studying at Henri Matisse’s school, sharing a studio with Amedeo Modigliani and experimenting with avant-garde ideas. In 1908, he exhibited with the Cubist group at the Salon des Indépendants, and went on to exhibit with the legendary Section D’Or group. He is represented here by three works, including Cityscape (1926), in which the artist combines elements of the natural and man-made worlds to construct a mysterious multi-chambered vision. The work presages the more surreal turn his practice took in the 1930s. During the Second World War, Survage remained working in Paris; he was awarded the Légion d’ honneur in 1963.

Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968) first found his way to Paris from Japan, where he was born and studied at the Imperial School of Art. Already successful in the East, he went to live in Paris in 1913 and discovered European contemporary art, becoming friends with Picasso and Braque. He had his first exhibition there in 1917, soon becoming part of the post First World War Ecole de Paris, and by 1924 was one of the most important exhibitors at the Salon d’Automne. After spending long periods in the Americas and Japan during the 1930s and ’40s, Foujita returned to France for the last two decades of his life. The works on paper here reflect this long career: a Cubist Composition (ink on paper), Tulips (dated 1920, watercolour and ink on paper), the witty Peacock ink drawings he made in New York, and the watercolour and pencil views of his adopted homeland that he made in the 1950s after his return.
Aktis Gallery is also presenting works by another recipient of the Légion d’honneur – Chinese painter Zao Wou-Ki (1921-2013), who arrived in Paris in 1948. Born in Beijing into a family of intellectuals, he was first taught calligraphy by his grandfather before studying at the Hangzhou Academy of Art. There, he mastered not only formal Chinese painting techniques, but also Western academic skills. This background is evidenced in the five works on paper at BRAFA, which range from the Untitled ink and watercolour works evoking intense bursts of an indefinable energy to his delicate depiction of The Towers of Notre Dame (1952-54). Zao Wou-Ki has just been named by Artnet as one the top ten sellers at auction in 2013, along with Picasso and Warhol, coming just above Monet with $158 million of sales in the year.

Another distinguished painter in this collection is Gao Xingjian (b.1940), also renowned as a novelist, playwright and critic; he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000. Born in Ganzhou, China, he studied painting and sculpture as a boy but chose to study French at university in Beijing and worked as a teacher, translator and writer. However, his works were banned from performance in China after he wrote about the Tiananmen Square protests, and he settled close to Paris in the late 1980s. His paintings employ classical Chinese ink on paper but they transcend tradition to pitch the viewer directly into the realm of feelings and experience. In paintings like Un rêve (2010) and Ailleurs (2003) the artist parts banks of clouds and opens up glowing chasms with his brush.

These artists are accompanied by several European painters who also gravitated to the French capital.

The Czech painter František Kupka (1871-1957) first studied in Lille before going to Paris in 1895. In the years before the First World War, he became involved with the avant-garde and his work became increasingly abstract. This continuing interest can be seen in Composition (c. 1930); he became the founding member of Abstraction-Création in 1931. Long collected in his homeland, Kupka is now attracting wider international interest.

Born in Quiévy, Auguste Herbin (1882-1960) went to Paris in 1901. He later became involved in Cubism and met Picasso, Braque and Gris. The four geometric, abstract watercolours here date from the 1920s.

Having served in the Red Cross and worked as a sign-painter, Geer van Velde (1898-1977) moved to Paris from the Netherlands in 1925 to join his artist brother, Bram van Velde (1895-1981); both men exhibited three times at the Salon des Independants. Geer’s painting Mediterranean (1941, oil on canvas) references the period he spent living at Cagnes-sur-Mer, during which he struck up a friendship with Pierre Bonnard. Bram’s abstract Untitled (gouache on paper) dates from 1963.

There is an opportunity to see two works by the French painter André Marfaing (1925-1987), who moved to Paris from Toulouse in 1949. Like his contemporary Pierre Soulages, he had a particular affinity with the colour black. Marfaing’s Composition (1971, oil on canvas) and Untitled (1973, ink on paper laid on canvas) are on view.

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