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Valentine Prax (1897 - 1981)

La Noce, 1925

Catalogue essay by Blanche Llewellyn

Valentine Prax and her husband Ossip Zadkine first crossed paths in the picturesque surroundings of Bruniquel, ultimately settling in the village of Caylus, where they purchased a modest home. Here, Valentine reconnected with the essence of the land, the timeless rituals of ancestral life, and the beauty found in simple objects. Valentine recounted how she would depart “laden with a roll of her canvases and Zadkine’s gouaches” and how she “began to paint with a somewhat new spirit”. Under the influence of neo-primitivism and artists such as Marc Chagall, her palette warmed, her materials softened, and her compositions grew denser and more refined.

In the summer of 1920, Tsugouharu Foujita (a famous French-Japanese painter) and Fernande Barrey welcomed Valentine to Collioure where she received a telegram from Zadkine: “Come. Let’s talk about marriage.” She immediately joined him in Bruniquel. They married on August 14, 1920. Valentine’s parents made the journey, and Foujita and his first wife were their witnesses. Zadkine wore espadrilles, Valentine wore a turban– a down-to-earth ceremony, “but the discovery of walks among the animals, secular houses, trees, and old stones compensated for the regret of not even having enough to buy wedding rings. We were lent some” she recalled.

After this event, Valentine Prax experienced a real commercial success with her paintings on glass, the “reverse-glass technique” requiring a backwards delivery of the paint, a complex technique used in “La Noce”. This method, was especially  popular in Italy during the 13th and 14th centuries and in China in the 18th century. Cennino Cennini, in his famous book “Il Libro dell’ Arte”, gave a detailed explanation of how to make such coloured glass paintings allowing the colours to remain fresh, vibrant and luminous.

In La Noce, “the wedding”, the similarity of the landscape to Bruniquel and the simple gathering possibly suggests that Prax was recalling her own celebration of love.

La Noce
x W58cm
Signed and titled on the reverse, oil on glass
Prax, Valentine Henriette

Valentine Prax (1897 - 1981)

Valentine Prax was a painter and colourist, who was born in Algeria to a Catalan family on her father's side and Sicilian on her mother's side. After studying at the École des Beaux-Arts d'Alger, she moved to Paris in 1919 where she designed porcelain and made fashion drawings. Shortly after her arrival she met Ossip Zadkine, a Russian sculptor, whom she married in 1920, and both became part of the vibrant artistic scene of Montparnasse. Exhibiting her naïve paintings of rural and town life variously at the Salon des Indépendants, la galerie La Licorne, the Salon des Femme Peintres and the Salon d’Automne, her work received critical and commercial success. She became particularly known for her luminous and colourful paintings on glass, a technique known as ‘fixés sous verre’. In the 1950s, the theme of music appeared in her work, in the form of instruments but also through a harmonious use of colours. After Zadkine’s death in 1967, Valentine Prax worked towards creating a museum in their shared atelier at rue D’Assas which was inaugurated after her death by Jacques Chirac, mayor of Paris, in 1981. Her book, Avec Zadkine. Souvenirs de notre vie - illustrated with drawings by Prax and Zadkine – was published in 1973.

Artworks by the same artist