Paris – Nearly one hundred paintings, drawings, and sculptures by Sam Ringer will be offered at auction on Wednesday 29 March at Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr in Paris, at 6 avenue Hoche with estimates starting at €800. Catherine Ringer, his daughter, has carefully preserved her father’s works, some of which she is now offering at auction.
Sam Ringer created a fantastical universe that Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr is pleased to reveal to the public. A selection of works will be exhibited at Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr in Brussels from Wednesday 8 to Saturday 11 March, and then in Paris on Friday 24, Saturday 25, Monday 27, and Tuesday 28 March 2023.
Catherine Ringer said: “My father, Sam Ringer, considered himself a surrealist artist. In his painting, he was able to combine various influences: his Slavic side blended with the world of Bosch and the Surrealism of Max Ernst. Above all a seeker, Sam Ringer ventured into the deep nature of beings. The relentless question of ‘abstract or figurative’ followed him his whole life, but for him, the abstract did not really exist. He thought that all forms from the infinitely small to the infinitely large were already in nature. I am happy today to make his work known through this auction at Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr.”
Daria Khristova née Chernenko, Head of Russian Art at Bonhams, said: “It is now time to shine a light on Sam Ringer’s work, which has long remained in the shadows. Sam Ringer’s work is characterised by a singular tone. Moving from haunted figuration of phantasmagorical characters to surrealist-inspired abstraction, not far from Bosch’s fantasy on some occasions, his work unwinds an inner story, haunted by familiar demons or tragicomic characters.”
Sam Ringer (1918-1986)
Born in 1918, Sam Ringer never knew his father and was raised by his mother and grandmother. Samuel Ringer grew up in Oswiecim, Poland (which became Auschwitz during the German occupation). In 1937, despite the prevailing antisemitism, he was enrolled at the Krakow Art School and in 1939 was awarded the first prize for drawing. Scenes made on tracing paper at the end of the 1940s illustrating Le Théâtre kasrilévien, after Sholem Aleikhem, prove his talent as a draughtsman and colourist. This collection is now kept at the MAHJ (Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris).
The German invasion interrupted his artistic studies. In 1940, he was forced to work in the construction of the Auschwitz camp and was deported to nine different camps. Having fallen ill at the end of the war, Sam Ringer was treated in Litoměřice in Czechoslovakia and then in Krakow. As a convalescent, he enrolled in his third year of study at the Krakow Art School. In 1946, he left Poland and arrived in France in 1947 where he studied at the École Beaux-Arts de Paris for six years. His teachers were Jean Souverbie in painting and Édouard Goerg in engraving.
At the École des Beaux-Arts, Sam Ringer met an architecture student, Jeanine Ettlinger, with whom he shared his life. He married her in 1957, just before the birth of their children, Catherine in 1957 and Luc in 1960. The artist devoted himself to painting while working on the side to support his family. Very imaginative and skilled with his hands, he created display furniture made of wood and metal, for the fitting out and decoration of shops. He remained a Polish refugee until he became a French citizen in 1980. In the 1980s, he performed live with a magic lantern of his own making at the first Rita Mitsouko concerts at the Gibus in Paris and created characters for the famous Marcia Baïla video.
Sam Ringer participated in group exhibitions at the Katia Granoff Gallery in 1975, at the Vendôme Gallery the same year and at the Georges Pompidou Centre in 1981. In 2005, the Musée du Montparnasse in Paris presented his work in an exhibition entitled Artistes d’Europe déportés. In 2016, the Musée de Granville showed together a selection of paintings in the exhibition Belles de Nuit.
The painter Jacob Markiel, who met him in the Gross Rosen camp, said of him: “The first time I saw him, Sam was sitting with the expression of an angel, drawing with a piece of charcoal on a cardboard the soldier who was guarding the entrance. He also knew how to make others escape, extracting them from the horror by doing shadow shows, or projections through a magnifying glass.”
The selection offered at auction will include paintings of various sizes and subjects from the 1950s to 1985. Sam Ringer loved paintings by great masters of Italian art and by Jerome Bosch. Influences from Max Ernst can be discerned as well in his work. In his small studio located rue Marcadet, he was interested in everything without preconceptions. His early works reveal the many influences of the École de Paris. Ringer developed a vocabulary faithful to the way he looked at the world in his engravings and drawings. He liked to depict imaginary or realistic street scenes filled with architecture or characters, which he then transposed onto canvas. Among the older works from the 1950s, an oil on canvas from 1955 with bluish tones identified as a view of the old train station of Saint-Denis (Ancienne gare de Saint-Denis) (Estimate: €1,200-€1,500) stands out.
In the 1960s he experimented with abstract or figurative subjects using ink and oil on paper or bristol board, which he then laid down on metal plates. Centrifuge is a series of gilded bristol board paintings laid onto metal plates, produced between 1964 and 1966 with estimates starting at €1,200. Le vieux Roi is a small figurative painting from 1964, estimated at €1,000-1,500.
The 1970s are also represented with Procession, a work from 1976 still using the very characteristic technique of ink and oil on cardboard mounted on metal foil (estimate: €1,500-€2,000).
Réminiscence, an oil on canvas from 1985, is a large format of 97×130 cm which is a tribute to his origins. The painter wanted to depict Krakow in the background on the right and the Polish eagle on the left. The figures include the artist’s mother in the foreground and his baby daughter Catherine on the left (estimate: €1,500-€2,000).
Another painting from the same year entitled Suite depicts imaginary characters at a party with a theatrical feel that may evoke characters by Leonor Fini (estimate: €2,000-€3,000).
The artist also liked to discreetly sketch portraits in the metro on sheets of paper which he then kept. The faces are stylised, and the characters are represented in all their psychological depth. Catherine Ringer, his daughter, says: “My father was a draughtsman, a painter-sculptor and an engraver. With his sketches, he was able to perceive people’s souls. In his sculptures, he was fascinated by organic matter. In the material, he found traces of vital energy.” Sets of these ink drawings will be offered at auction, signed, and dated between 1978 and 1977 (estimate: €800-€1,000).
Finally, a selection of sculptures will be presented, notably small cut stones and embossed metal faces, the latter reminiscent of the metal work of Line Vautrin, whom he knew.