Jean Crotti was a Swiss-born painter, husband and collaborator of Suzanne Duchamp, and brother-in-law to Marcel Duchamp. Beginning his studies at Munich’s School of Decorative Arts, Crotti moved to Paris and enrolled in the prestigious Académie Julian in 1901. Soon abandoning academic training in art, Crotti began to exhibit regularly in large public art exhibitions, the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Automne, between 1907 and 1909. After dabbling with primitivist and Fauvist painting, around 1912 Crotti’s work turned toward Cubism and Orphism, bringing him into contact with the Cubist artists in the Section d’Or, including Francis Picabia, Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, and his future brothers-in-law Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Jacques Villon. These associations deepened in 1914 at the outbreak of World War I, when Crotti and his then-wife Yvonne Chastel fled to New York City. Joining a community of expatriate artists including Picabia and Marcel Duchamp, with whom he shared a studio, Crotti began to experiment in a new Dadaist style based in the interplay of abstract forms and linguistic fragments. He exhibited works in this mode at New York’s Gallery Bourgeois and the Montross Gallery. In 1916, Crotti moved back to Paris and began a relationship with the artist Suzanne Duchamp, whom he married in 1919 and with whom he founded the two-person art movement they dubbed “Tabu.” Actively participating in the international Dada movement, Crotti’s paintings were reproduced in many Dada publications and he contributed to Tristan Tzara’s legendary (but unfinished) Dadaglobe project in 1921. In the 1930s, he developed the technique of gemmail, in which he constructed his post-Cubist compositions in shards of colored glass, intended to be illuminated from behind.
Crotti was one of the buyers of Cubist works at the important Kahnweiler sequestration sales. In this series of three auctions, held at the Hôtel Drouot between 1921 and 1923, the French government sold off works from the collection of the German-born art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler that had been seized during World War I. Crotti was among many figures of the artistic avant-garde—including André Breton, Picabia, and Le Corbusier—who seized upon the artificially low prices on offer to purchase works by Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris, and Fernand Léger. Crotti bought many works of art at these sales as speculative investments, with the intention to resell them later for a profit.
For more information, see
Bertoli, Jean Carlo. Jean Crotti: L’Oeuvre Peint, 1900-1958: Catalogue raisonné. Milan: 5 Continents, 2007.
Cooper, Douglas. “Early Purchasers of True Cubist Art,” in The Essential Cubism: Picasso, Braque, and their Friends, 1907-1920, Eds. Douglas Cooper and Gary Tinterow. London: The Tate Gallery, 1983, pp. 15-32.
Crotti, Jean. Jean Crotti: Inhabiting Abstraction
. New York: Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, 2010.
For the Jean Crotti Papers, 1913–1973, see: Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.