(1885-1930)

wg pascin 1 281x300 Jules Pascin ★Julius Mordecai Pincas, known as Jules Pascin or the “Prince of Montparnasse”, was born in the Bulgarian town of Vidin on March 31, 1885. His father Marcus was a Spanish-Sephardic Jew, and his mother Sophie was of Serbian and Italian descent. The father was a successful grain dealer with 11 children, of which Julius was the eighth.

In 1892 the family moved to Bucharest, Romania, and Julius was sent to study at a Vienna school. When he turned 16, his father took him back to Bucharest to help with his flourishing business. The young boy, however, had other propensities – drawing and female bodies. He found shelter in a local bordello, the owner of which patronized him. The madam encouraged his drawing abilities and permitted Pascin to make portraits of young girls waiting for their clients. There Julius felt for the first time he was an Oriental prince surrounded by concubines in a harem. When his family learned what sort of sitters their offspring drew, to protect the father’s business reputation, they decided to send the 17-year-old Julius to study in Germany. For several years Julius lived in Munich, Vienna and Berlin, attending different art studios and academies. He earned his living primarily by drawing for German illustrated magazines. Thus, in early 1905 the well-known satirical magazine Simplicissismus signed a long-term contract with him for a monthly fee of 400 francs. Pascin successfully contributed to that magazine till the end of his life. It was at the Simplicissismus that he began to sign his drawings with Pascin, an anagram of Pincas, which is pronounced in violation of Latin pronunciation rules and confuses modern French antique dealers, some of whom believe that Pascin was Russian.

In the early 1900s, following the departure of Rudolf Levy, German artists began to migrate to Paris. German-speaking artists of the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, the Balkans and Scandinavia follow suit. Le Dôme Café became the place where those artists met in Paris, and the group itself was referred to as les Domiers. On the Christmas Eve of 1905 Jules Pascin becomes part of the artists’ circle.

In Paris Pascin works intensely, copying the Old Masters at the Louvre, attends drawing classes at the Académie Colarossi, makes sketches at café tables, often on napkins, adding coffee grounds or coffee beans to colors and thinning watercolors with seltzer water.

In 1907 the Paul Cassirer gallery of Berlin holds the first solo exhibition of Jules Pascin. In 1910 he gets a commission from Cassirer to illustrate Heinrich Heine’s Aus den Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewopski. In 1911 Pascin exhibits at Berlin’s Secession, and the following year at Sonderbund-Ausstellung of Cologne. Between 1908 and 1914 Pascin exhibits at every Salon d’Automne in Paris and the well-known Berthe Weill gallery.

The First World War broke out when Pascin was in Belgium, where he came in the spring of 1914 and where he worked on a portfolio of sketches entitled Ein Sommer that Paul Cassirer was preparing for publication (and which was published in 1920). Pascin decides against returning to Paris, which was convinced of his ties with the Germans and from where he could be deported and drafted into the Bulgarian army. He goes to London and from there to the United States. His lover Hermine David, a graphic artist and miniaturist whom he met in 1907, joins him in New York.

Within a few months Pascin’s solo exhibition opens in New York in January 1915. Pascin and Hermine spend four months on Cuba, where the artist produces an excellent series of pencil drawings of street life and cityscapes. When they return to the US, they travel across the southern states, where Pascin invariably makes sketches and pencil drawings. In New York he continues to associate with his German friends of Paris, which leads to his interrogation by US secret services. Nevertheless, Pascin seeks an American passport to return to France. On September 25, 1918, Pascin marries Hermine. On September 30, 1920, Pascin becomes an American citizen, and in October the married couple returns to Paris. They get quickly integrated in Paris life, even though the German artists are already gone from there.

He meets by chance Cecile (Lucy) Vidil, a model with whom he had a brief affair in the fall of 1910, and his feelings re-kindle. By that time Lucy had already married the Norwegian artist Per Krogh and had a three-year-old son. Pascin bends over backwards for the two families to become friends so as to spend more time with Lucy. In the spring of 1921 they resume their love affair, although Lucy tried her best to save her marriage. The Kroghs go to Norway for the summer, and the Pascins to Tunisia. When they return in the fall of 1921, Jules and Hermine break up. Pascin continues to assail Lucy with letters, threatening her to commit suicide and to start drinking. Lucy leads a double life, taking care of her home and the child in the morning and evening and spending the rest of the time with Pascin. In 1924 Per Krogh installed a separate household for himself and their son, yet Lucy did not move in with Pascin.

Pascin was the heart of Montparnasse art life. On Saturdays and special occasions he hosted parties in his spacious studio, where guests stayed up late into the night. Twenty people or so would come to dinner. He also organized summer picnics for artists by the River Marne, which were hugely popular. In general, when not working at his studio, Pascin enjoyed being surrounded by a lot of people. He also staged merry celebrations for his friends’ children. Surprisingly, he continued to be friends with both Per Krogh and Hermine, who took an active part in his undertakings. He supported Hermine morally and materially till his last days.

By the mid-1920s Pascin had become famous. The well-known American collector Albert Barnes bought his works for his museum. Galérie Pierre Loeb opens with a solo exhibition of Pascin. He regularly exhibits together with Braque, Legér, Derain, Miró, Soutine, Utrillo and Picasso. Lucy begins to sell his works to Galérie Bernheim-Jeune. She was very helpful, finding premises for studios and contracting models to sit for Pascin. Lucy understood him well both as an artist and a person. Their closeness is especially felt in Pascin’s letters to Lucy, in which he described in detail the events of his life, passed judgments and characterized people he came into contact. Like no other she was aware of the futility of attempts to change his life by curbing his promiscuity, putting an end to his drinking and having normal family relations. Lucy limited his communication with her son and decided to have no children by Pascin.

tumblr la7a8gnmmB1qcl8ymo1 500 234x300 Jules Pascin ★A brilliant draftsman and illustrator, Pascin was very particular about assessing his paintings. When he was in the States, he even offered the well-known American collector John Quinn to buy back his works that Quinn had purchased on Pascin’s request.

A large solo exhibition of Pascin was to open on June 2, 1930, in New York. Preliminary press reviews were negative and hurting. On May 31 Pascin attended the opening of his exhibition at the Paris-based Galérie Georges Petit. As nobody had seen him for the following few days, rumor spread that he had gone to Marseille. Feeling that something might have gone amiss, Lucy decided to have his apartment opened on June 5. She was accompanied by Pascin’s friend Moses Kisling, her friend Charlotte Gardelle and a locksmith with instruments.

Alcohol-induced depression and the early symptoms of syphilis led Pascin, a high-strung and easily hurt person, to commit suicide. No doubt, the decision was not spontaneous: he had made preparations for his departure. After he was gone, friends tried to retrace the events of his last days. It turned out that he went about restaurants repaying his debts to barmen, as if settling accounts. Somebody recalled that he had repeatedly said that he wanted his death to be an unusual rigolote. He left a note, in which he wrote that he was saving Lucy with his death.

The whole of Paris was stunned by the death of Pascin, the “prince of three mounts” (Montparnasse, Montmartre and Mount of Venus), the “Prince of the Orient” (his favorite costume at fancy-dress balls). A spirited and sociable man, who loved life in all of its manifestations, committed well-planned suicide in cold blood. He had put bed pillow on the floor and basins with water on both sides, then cut his left wrist and wrote in blood “Adieu Lucy” on the toilet door. Then he cut veins on his right wrist and put his hands into the basins, but blood clotted in the cold water. Then he finished it off Portuguese style by hanging himself on a door hook.

All the galleries stayed closed when he was buried on June 7. The funeral procession spread for 5 km from his house at 36 Boulevard de Clichy to the Saint-Ouen cemetery. Artists, musicians, barmen, waiters, gallery owners and models came to see him off. In 1931 Pascin was re-buried at the Montparnasse cemetery on the wish of his relations. The same year his posthumous exhibitions were held in Paris and New York.

Before committing suicide Pascin wrote a will, leaving all his possessions to Lucy and Hermine. Lucy rented a studio, where she began to sell pictures by Pascin and Hermine. Like Pascin did it in his time, she continued to support Hermine. The latter went on doing book design, was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honor in 1932, and in 1965 received a Grand Prix at the Dauville biennale for a series of watercolors. Lucy and Per divorced in 1931, Per returned to Norway, and their son Guy stayed with his mother in Paris. Later on Lucy opened the Galérie Lucy Krogh, where modern French artists exhibited their works until the early 1970s.

In A Moveable Feast (1960), which he wrote on the basis of the diaries he kept during his Paris life of the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway gave a vibrant portrait of Pascin the way the Paris bohemian world and café habitués knew him.

 

 

 

Sources:

Billy Klüver, Julie Martin. Kiki’s Paris: Artists and Lovers 1900-1930. Harry N.Abrams, Inc., New York, 1994

Yves Kobry, Elisheva Cohen. Pascin 1885-1930. Editions Hoёbeke, Paris, et Musée-Galerie de la Seita, 1995