Articles dans la catégorie Artists
After secondary school, Debré took a degree in literature in 1938 and entered the architecture section of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He had been painting since childhood and this seemed to him to be the best means by which to express himself.
He painted his first paintings, in an impressionist vein, possibly influenced by his grandfather the painter Debat-Ponsan, showing these works in 1941 at the Galerie Aubry, in the rue de Seine: landscapes of the Touraine and the banks of the Seine. He attended the Grande Chaumière and met there Othon Friesz and Dunoyer de Segonzac and, a little later, Georges Braque. Georges Aubry showed Debré’s paintings to Picasso. Debré already wished to go beyond a simple transcription of his emotions. He began to consider creating an autonomous language. His first cubist paintings, derived from ‘synthetic’ cubism were exhibited at Aubry’s gallery in 1943. For several months Debré visited Picasso in his studio on the quai des Grands-Augustins and showed the master his work. Debré rapidly became convinced that the sign was central to everything else. Fascinated by the famous elder artist’s painting, he emulated Picasso’s expressionism retaining only the structure of the forms without any actual representation. He soon realised though that this means of expression still contained identification. This constituted the starting point of what still today remains Debré’s plastic quest: a belief that the sign should express his feelings, without representation or awareness, conveying fervour intact. Around 1944-1945, he began to think about the problème du sourire, as he described it (in 1978, he made a video L’alphabet du sourire, a list that can be compared to Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical studies), which then led him to consider at great length the signification of the sign, its role in plastic expression and its relation to writing. The sign which reflects facial expression is derived from thought. Through this projection, he succeeded in restoring reality to unreality. He believed that it was important to take painting as far as possible in the direction of abstraction and therefore to cut oneself off from reality: to accomplish this there was only one solution, namely writing, which is an insensitive formulation. Debré consulted the Phoenicians and interviewed Hebrew scribes whose writing corresponded to his approach of starting from the concept to arrive at representation. Writing from right to left, they bring the gesture towards themselves, and are therefore external to the world, a perfect definition of abstraction; cut off from their bodies, they remain in the world of the intellect. Painting is the exact opposite to this, defined as it is by the unavoidable involvement of the senses: a line, however abstract it is intended to be, involves sensitivity, through the gesture which remains connected to the body. It is this physical sensitivity which becomes a representation of the world. For Debré, abstraction as such does not exist in painting. He needed to become aware of his signs, whose signification varies according to their form and their relation to space: this is the picture plane. «With non imitative signs the artist, like the spectator, approaches the subject by what could be called the immediate ‘data’ of unconsciousness. It is one of the means of expression in this painting that has lost its external signification of representation» (Debré, Pierre Courthion. Musée de Poche, 1967). The conscious similarity which exists between the work of certain abstract painters, such as Mathieu and Degottex, and Far Eastern calligraphy, no longer needs to be demonstrated. The artist brings these signs to life through organised distortion. Having entered the world of the sign, Debré sought its signification, unlike Mathieu and Etiemble who sought non-signification. Debré provides a signification and acknowledges an area of sensitivity, hence his definition of the ‘painter of reality’. In 1947, he painted huge paintings: abstract landscapes derived from a description of reality. Debré continued analysing the relation to the sign. If we wish to live within the concept of reality, in general harmony with things and in complete fusion with the world, the phenomenon becomes inversed: man is no longer inside the sign but outside it and we move from the word of Israel to the image, the formulation of attitude and Greek philosophy. This is an image of man in which there is complete harmony between the individual and the world. Writing becomes an action that is lived carnally; the act of writing is now performed from left to right and the earlier relationship between form and signification no longer exists.
In order to counterbalance his temperament which encouraged him to make gestures, Debré analysed reality. This reference to nature is present in all his work, as is demonstrated by their titles which evoke the inspiration essential to his painting. Beginning with Signe de ferveur noir, (1944-1945, priv. coll.), painted directly from the tube, he attempts to transcend his expressive motivation through colour and integrating the line in the background. To distance himself from a treatment of space that is still too realistic and marked by the influence of cubism, Debré (and he was not the only artist at this period to do so) employs texture, form and colour to restrict the illusion of a third dimension. Worked by the knife, the canvas takes on an irregular surface in which the composition manipulates depth. There is a profound existential desire to manifest man’s presence. For Gindertaël this was «a materialisation of man’s experience of his environment and his space, without ever being able to attain an absolute identification with either the limits of the universe or its principle. In this way painting revived prolongs, in our time, its ‘natural’ immemorial path and rediscovers its fundamental purpose» (XXe Siècle, June 1960). Debré managed to convey this symbolically in his early work, up until Signes personnages, Signes musiciens in 1950-1951, which mark his search for signe de l’homme, as a significant sign of ‘his’ reality. Proof of this is furnished by the hundreds of drawings he made between 1951 and 1953 which, although full of life and truth, are nevertheless difficult to immediately identify. Of what Debré called ‘le signe du réel’, he only retained a few elements to which he gave however strength and truth. This accounts for the specific position which he occupied within the young generation of postwar abstract artists. Preoccupied by his research, he did not realise that de Stael was painting in exactly the same direction, to the extent that one might mistakenly say that Debré copied rather than the opposite. In fact Debré’s investigation was different and the similarity between the two artists’ work is not a fundamental one.
Debré seldom exhibited. After his beginnings at the Surindépendants, in 1948, he showed at the Salon d’Automne for the first time in 1949, becoming a member in 1966 as well as a member of the Comité français des Arts plastiques, and of the Salon de Mai, to which he remains loyal (he was a member of the Committee in 1990).
In 1949, Debré’s first one-man exhibition was held at the Galerie Bing, showing expressive, non geometric, extremely colourful abstract works. He met Schneider, Deyrolle, Dewasne, Atlan, Soulages and Hartung.
Around 1950, Debré began using subdued colours. Concert champêtre (1952, priv. coll.), shown that year at the Salon d’Automne, stands out as a work of transition. The symbolic becomes increasingly interiorised replaced by an architectural approach to the picture, with a simpler style of execution marked by a considerable freedom of action, and the frequent use of rich impasto. In 1952, Poliakoff visited Debré and suggested he interest himself in the work of two painters: Poliakoff himself and Sam Francis. The Signes personnages were to be a part of his work for nearly twenty years, with a peak from 1953-1959.
In 1953, Debré had his second one-man exhibition at the Galerie Facchetti. The works of this period illustrate what has been already discussed and which was related in an interview the artist granted to the author: the union between man and his natural environment and the consenting relationship between man and nature. The vertical frame imposes a standing position for these ‘figures’. The impasto of the forms and colours, which give the painting a distinctive relief, contrast with the lines of force in the drawing and signs. In 1953, a switch to landscape occurred (with mostly views of ports) with the introduction of individual space.
At the same time there were also still lives (1954-1955), illustrating an ‘enclosed space’. In both cases, the format was horizontal.
In 1956, Debré had a one-man exhibition at the Galerie Michel Warren, in Paris. This new gallery corresponded with a freer use of colour, which Debré granted a degree of autonomy on the canvas. The series Blanche anticipated what we may refer to as the ‘monochromes’. Debré’s approach was in no way deliberate and was sometimes still closely affected by his personal emotions that he controlled by the intellect. He was a part of nature, as nature itself was a part of him. He needed this identification with perceptible reality. He used the knife to work successive layers of coloured impasto with slight relief, transparency, lines and scrapings. This led, after 1960, to what Debré called ‘fervent abstraction’.
His recent work was twice exhibited in the U.S.A. with considerable success: in 1958 at the Phillips Memorial Gallery, in Washington, and in 1959 at the Knoedler Gallery, in New York, with a text by Pierre Courthion.
In Paris, in 1960, Debré exhibited at the Galerie Knoedler with a text by Dora Vallier (published in Cahiers d’Art, June). The lyrical transposition of his feelings about nature was accompanied by lighter texture and a more fluid spontaneity. In the organisation of space, the role previously played by impasto is now occupied by transparent colour, applied by the brush which now replaces the knife, the palette lightened by the addition of white.
The first attempts to decentre the composition appear in 1963, and then become predominant, with the colour attraction placed in a corner. In 1962, one-man exhibitions were held in Milan, at the Galleria Pagani del Grattacielo; in Lucerne, at the Galerie Ronca Hans and in Geneva at the Musée de l’Athénée (text by Pierre Courthion).
In 1963, the Galerie Knoedler showed his work in the Paris gallery, with a text by Francis Ponge, translated by Annette Michelson for the exhibition at the New York gallery a few months later.
With this return to nature, Debré confided: «I want to do abstract Courbet.» In 1962, he began to paint huge canvases (exhibited at the Palais Galliera in 1968, along with sculptures by Gilioli, with a text by Marie-Claude Dane). This was the beginning of his second major period, which continues to this day. He painted mostly out of doors, integrated in the landscape, attempting to transmit the emotion he felt. Abandoning his research into texture, he spread extremely liquid colour on the canvas. From now on he replaced the enclosed cubist spaces of his earlier work by open spaces. The sign derived from objectivity is abandoned. Debré approaches the dialectic of his work through favouring emotion. The canvas becomes the sign. Painting the instantaneous, the impression, the fleeting moment, the act of painting becomes a projection of the body, emphasising the importance of gesture and speed.
Debré endeavours to eliminate the distance which separates perception from transcription. The gesture becomes the painting, expressing an instant. (Olivier Debré, L’espace et le comportement, l’Œil, November 1973).
With its desire to investigate, Debré’s work offers us a field of vision constantly renewed by what he is attempting to achieve: a combination of emotion and analysis to give life to what he calls ‘mental matter’. He said: «At a given moment, something freezes in the matter, it is the reality of the emotion and it is inside me… There is a kind of over-lapping between the mental atmosphere and the real atmosphere… We are always both in ourselves and outside ourselves… I paint in the emotion of a reality that generates me…»
Among the group exhibitions in which Debré participated, we should mention: the Salon d’Octobre organised by Charles Estienne in 1952 and 1953. In 1950 he exhibited with Prassinos at the Perspectives Gallery in New York. In 1955 he participated in a group exhibition for the Prix Lissone. 1957 Galerie Michel Warren with Jacques Germain. 1959 Painters of Today, Palazzo delle Arti, Turin. 1961 invited to the Marzotto Prize; Dessins contemporains, Galerie Denise René. 1964 Premier Prix Biennale de Menton and exhibition of the winners of the Biennale, Galerie Synthèse, Paris. 1964, 2nd Festival des Arts plastiques on the Côte d’Azur; Pour une nouvelle conception du paysage, Galerie l’Atelier, Toulouse. 1965 Promesses tenues, Musée Galliéra. 1966 Dix ans d’art vivant, Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Participated in the Salon Comparaisons in 1954-1957 and from 1962 to 1965; in Réalités Nouvelles from 1957 to 1964. Invited to participate in l’École de Paris, Galerie Charpentier in 1960 and 1963.
Debré has since figured in many group events and regularly shows his work both in France and abroad.
He had one-man exhibitions in Japan from 1966 onwards and in Oslo from 1968.
His first retrospective was held at the Musée de Bordeaux in 1968. Catalogue, text by P. Courthion.
1969 Debré, rétrospective. Musée de Brest. Catalogue, preface by René Le Bihan, texts by R.V. Gindertaël, Georges Badin, Robert Marteau.
1973 Debré, rétrospective. Musée de Saint-Etienne. Catalogue published in 1975, numerous texts by F. Ponge, Marcel Pleynet, André Pacquement, Daniel Abadie.
1975-1976 Musée d’Art moderne Ville de Paris, catalogue text by Jacques Lassaigne, De la peinture au dessin, 1962-1975.
1977 Retrospectives. National Museum of Wales, Cardiff; 1978 Museum of Modern Art Aalborg, Denmark and Lyngby Kunstforening, Copenhagen; 1979 Maison de la Culture de Montbéliard; 1980 Fondation du Château-de-Jau.
1980-1981 Musées de Tours, Sainte-Croix in Poitiers and Strasbourg, Catalogue by S. Guillot de Sudmirant, J.M. Réol and N. Lehni, text by E. Jabès.
1986 Musée de Metz, Catalogue by Bernard Noël.
1988 Musée Ingres, Montauban. Catalogue.
1990 Dessins 1945-1960. Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Saint-Denis. Catalogue by Bernard Noël. Adam Biro.
The painting of large works derived from his sense of space led to the realisation of monumental works: 1965 for the Collège de Royan, 1966 for the French Pavilion at the Montreal Exhibition. It is not possible to mention most of these works here, as they go beyond the scope of the period under study. Among the most recent, we should however mention the two stage curtains for the Comédie Française in Paris (1987) and the stage curtain for the Hong Kong Opera inaugurated in 1989.
Debré made tapestry cartoons and sculpture. He also made prints and lithographs, techniques which he had practised throughout his life as an artist.
Debré’s work is held in many museum collections both in France and abroad. Paris, Musée d’Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou and Musée Ville de Paris – Le Havre – Tours – Strasbourg – Saint-Etienne – Nantes – Antibes – Marseilles – Bordeaux – Lyons – Dunkerque – Colmar – Grenoble – Toulouse – Perpignan – Sables-d’Olonne – Brest – Evreux – Caen – Liège – Montreal – Rio de Janeiro – Jerusalem – New Delhi – Copenhagen – Oslo – Aalborg – Cardiff – Lausanne – Boston – Washington – St Louis – Houston.
In Paris, Debré has shown at the Galerie Daniel Gervis since 1972, the Galerie Ariel since 1973, the Galerie Daniel Templon since 1979 and Leif Stalhe in Paris and Stockholm since 1985.
Debré’s painting has attracted many critics and writers. A complete biography is to be found in the important monograph by Bernard Noël: Olivier Debré, Flammarion, 1984.
- Guy Weelen: La Jeune Ecole de Paris, Le Musée de Poche, 1958
- Jean Grenier: Entretiens avec dix-sept peintres non figuratifs. Calmann Lévy, 1963.
- Pierre Courthion: Debré, Le Musée de Poche, G. Fall, 1967.
- Pierre Courthion: Olivier Debré ou la peinture signifiante, XXe siècle, March 1974.
- Daniel Abadie: Olivier Debré mais à dessein. Cahiers théoriques de l’Abbaye Sainte-Croix, May 1974 during the exhibition of drawings at the Musée des Sables-d’Olonne.
- Gérard Xuriguera: Les Années 50. Arted, 1984.
- Pierre Cabanne: Olivier Debré. Cercle d’Art, Paris, 1991.
Bissière spent many years searching for a personal style, which he did not really find until 1947 and his exhibition at the Galerie Drouin (his last exhibition had been in 1928 at the Galerie Druet), which included 30 oil paintings and 7 tapestries. He was by now fifty-nine years old. The result of several years work done in his house at Boissiérettes, to which he had withdrawn in 1939, this ensemble slowly developed in solitude and silence is derived from his return to his family land which enabled him to re-connect with his roots, his only «confidants myself and a few quiet cows whom I took to graze in the meadows beside the woods, beneath the sun and the clouds,» as he wrote in his preface to the exhibition (T’en fais pas la Marie. T’es jolie…, 1947). With his doubts, and the ordeals that he faced, he established secret connections with his surroundings. This return to his roots was a form of reconciliation with the world and it generated an osmosis in which the harmonious countryside is reflected by his chromaticism, in which rhythms and colours conduct plastic, visual and sensory exchanges. Bissière identified entirely with his painting, devoting his life to his work.
Bissière’s paintings, whose titles add to their pastoral, poetic, almost Virgilian, effect (Pastorale, Clair de lune, Hommage à Théocrite, Eglogue, Le Vacher… in other words: «the beasts, the trees, the wind and the sun, everything that the little brother of Assisi loved so much, all that has taken on a new meaning for me, its real meaning… It was simply necessary to satisfy a desire to confess. And the only point of a confession is to be entirely open…» (Préface. Op. cit.). This revived an archaism that disconcerted the public. A new thematic introduces rupestrian images, evoking primitive tapas, diagramatic figures, resurgences of Roman tradition, an ancestral art indissociable from this land of the langue d’oc: (Saint-François d’Assise, Cathédrale aux deux anges). This is nothing less than a sublimation of the texture and colours whose visual enchantment calls out to each of us. «Lying in the grass, in the strong green light, the thick woods, meadows, the gleaming pond and the beasts with their light coats, all that no longer exists. Under my eyelids there was an iridescent mass, where colour and light penetrated and generated and an entire unknown poetry arose, reducing my previous experiences to nothing.» (Bissière, preface. op.cit.). This humility, before what appeared to him to be an unavoidable statement, was on a par with a lucidity, intelligence and knowledge of painting, with a full awareness of the many movements from which modern art sprung. Cubism to start with, whose historic limitations he assessed and which he rapidly gave up. This pictorial knowledge was visible in Bissière’s many writings on aesthetics which appeared in the review L’Esprit Nouveau (1920-21, notes on Seurat, Ingres, Corot). Haunted by scepticism, considering that the act of painting sufficed in itself, he was reluctant to exhibit. This is what he said about his time at the Académie Ranson where he taught between 1923 and 1937:«I believe in neither education nor experience, only in the most primitive instinct which comes from the depths of time. The only thing which it is necessary to transmit to others, is precisely that which is untransmittable and which lies in the depths of mankind and which no other than he can capture,» a premise which applied to his painting about which he said: «I lull myself with improbable stories on which I place colours.» What a breeding-ground his studio in the rue Joseph-Bara was, however, producing major names that today embody the French school: Gruber, Manessier, Bertholle, Le Moal, Garbell, Vera Pagava… who, in the master’s words, were never pupils, simply friends who came there to work with him: «They gave me as much as I gave them» (R.V. Gindertaël, Cahiers d’Art, 1953-1).
In 1947, on his return to Paris, Bissière resurfaced in the art world showing his recent works at the Galerie Drouin – an event which was preceded by l’Hommage à Bissière organised as part of the first Salon de Mai in 1945, at which he again showed in 1958. Nevertheless, he continued to live and work at Boissiérettes, restoring and making habitable an old ruined presbytery inherited from his mother; he decorated it, making and painting his own furniture. Between 1940 and 1944, he practically did not touch a brush, devoting himself to various types of manual work such as building an oratory that he painted with frescos or making sculptures from scrap material: bone, wood, iron, which he assembled (for example Christ, c. 1942). This taste for salvaged materials, which stimulated his creative imagination, can also be found in the tapestries exhibited in 1947. «I had neither a brush nor oils, so I made my paintings with rags and bits of colour…» With his wife, Mousse, he made hangings with pieces of used fabric, bits of embroidery, knitwear, such as Le soleil (Musée national d’Art moderne), Chartres, a tapestry today in the collections of the Musée d’Unterlinden in Colmar, which houses the Grunewald Issenheim altarpiece, a work which Bissière greatly admired when he saw it in 1956 purchasing a reproduction for his studio. Destiny had brought them together. «Paintings like the others, made of fabrics placed side by side, torn and intertwined» (Bissière, preface, op. cit.), «in placing these pieces of fabric side by side, I learned a lot.» He «realised to what extent placing a clear tone over another tone transforms the whole…” (G. Boudaille, Cimaise, 1961).
During these years of isolation and poverty, Bissière became aware of truly pictorial resources. His son Louttre worked with him in his studio. A personal event now completely transformed his work. Suffering from glaucoma, he began to loose his sight, putting off, however, the idea of an operation. Several years of uncertainty ensued during which Bissière scarcely worked. He did make, however, a few works painting with egg. His experience of tapestry encouraged him to employ bright colours — his research into colour dates from 1944 — the whites take on a brightness and the line becomes less precise. In 1950, he finally decided to go ahead and be operated and the operation proved a success.
He spent his convalescence on the Ile de Ré, in the house of a doctor friend, where he painted with egg a series of small works on various media: used paper, planks, used canvases. Image sans titre 1950-1951, group of small works included in his first exhibition in 1951 at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher where he now exhibited and which are a song of recognition, a hymn to life. Although the signs and marks suggest huge expanses of beach swept by the wind and glowing with sunlight, with a bannered jetty appearing in the distance, Bissière distanced himself from representation in order to suggest it with more effect. After 1947, the lines become blurred, freeing unexpected coloured stains, blues, yellows, greens, reds, ochres with rarely more than two or three stains at once. Prepared directly on his palette, the coloured powders retain a surprising, luminous chromatic vibration despite their mat aspect. Bissière possessed a sense of values which, while enabling him to create space, install the picture plane. The drawing forms a pattern based on squares, rectangles and circles containing a hieratic silhouette, naïve, with symbolic hieroglyphics. This elimination of the subject could suggest Bissière’s adherence to abstraction. As he himself explained, this was not, however, the case: «I have constantly repeated that, although I am non figurative, I absolutely refuse to be abstract. For me a painting is only valid if it has a human value, if it suggests something and if it reflects the world in which I live, the landscape which surrounds me, the sky under which I move, the morning or evening light. I do not seek to imitate all this, but unconsciously I adapt it and re-establish it in what I do… I try to recreate my own world, composed of my memories and emotions, which contains the smell of the forests that surround me, the colour of the sky, the light of the sun and also the love that I feel for everything that lives, plants, beasts and even men and their miserable condition.» (Letter published by Georges Boudaille in Lettres Françaises, 6-12 January 1966).
This statement says everything about Bissière’s work. The exhibition of 1951 was a success. Nicolas de Stael admired the paintings of beaches. A sound friendship was formed with Jean-François Jaeger who organised Bissière’s next exhibitions held at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher. In 1952, there was a further presentation of large paintings with egg, including Gris et rouge (Musée de Grenoble), Bleu (Amsterdam Museum), Jaune et gris (Musée national d’Art moderne), La Croix du Sud (The Hague Museum). The public was enthusiastic about this instinctive and introspective work.
In December of that year, Bissière was awarded the Grand Prix National des Arts. He made a number of lithographs and a few monotypes. In 1953, he painted elongated works, often vertical. From 1954, he gave up tempera and returned to oil painting, rediscovering chiaroscuro, and transparency. The network of lines began to resemble the mesh of a net: Composition gris (Bergen). Cultural references are abandoned leaving poetry to triumph.
Jeanne Bucher published Cantique à notre frère Soleil de François d’Assise, a work produced with the printmaker Fiorini: eleven woodcuts in colour, printed in copperplate (Paris, Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville).
In 1956, there was a new exhibition at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher with large canvases: Souvenir de Ville-d’Avray (Rotterdam, Boymans van Beuningen), La Forêt and Equinoxe d’été (Paris, Musée national d’Art moderne), Paysage égyptien (Zurich, Kunsthaus).
In 1958, he showed 34 small oil paintings on paper under the title Les quatre saisons, murmured confidences full of light.
In 1962, the Galerie Jeanne Bucher, which had opened new premises in the rue de Seine, showed 34 paintings of great intensity and an impressive meditative quality: Le jardin cette nuit, Agonie des feuilles. Mousse died shortly afterwards and Bissière stopped painting.
When in 1964 he exhibited his Journal 1962-1964, everyone understood that, reaching beyond death, the artist was continuing a dialogue with Mousse who had been inseparable from his creative path. That year saw the publication of Journal en images by Hermann, with a preface by François Mathey.
Bissière who had «always been against juries; against medals and rewards,» who hated «fairs», as he described the Salons which his work had so much difficulty fitting into, nonetheless accepted, on Jacques Lassaigne’s request to represent France at the Venice Biennial in 1964 (he had already showed eight works there in 1954). He considered that, faced by the establishment in Europe of American painting, France stood no chance. Facing Pop Art, Bissière received a Distinction from the jury, an honour that was never to be awarded again, although Rauschenberg received the Grand Prize. Indifferent, solitary and refusing any compromise he painted Silence de l’Aube, Silence de Midi, Silence de la Nuit, Silence du Crépuscule. Shortly before his death, he covered three large paintings with a white veil — voile de Véronique, miroir… — covered with black crosses. Bissière is buried with Mousse close to his studio in the garden at Boissiérettes.
In 1959, the Musée national d’Art moderne paid him a tribute with a retrospective accompanied by a catalogue prefaced by Jean Cassou.
This was followed in 1961 by Hommage à Bissière at the Salon d’Automne (Grand Palais).
In 1965, there was a solemn tribute to Bissière at the Musée national d’Art moderne de Paris, with an address given by Gaétan Picon and a retrospective at the Musée de Bordeaux, with a catalogue prefaced by Max-Pol Fouchet.
1966, retrospective at the Musée des Arts décoratifs. Pavillon de Marsan, Paris. Catalogue. Text by François Mathey, followed by Notes by Bissière.
Retrospectives were held at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Kunsthalle in Dusseldorf in 1960. He took part in the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in 1956, 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1967, with a tribute in 1965; l’Ecole de Paris, Galerie Charpentier in 1954, 1956, 1957, Gris et violet (Musée du Luxembourg) 1958 and 1963.
Exhibitions of Bissière’s work were held at several museums outside France: retrospectives in 1957 in Hanover, Recklinghausen and Lubeck; 1958 in Eindhoven and Amsterdam; 1962 Lucerne, catalogues. He was invited to show ten works at the 2nd Sao Paulo Biennial in 1955 and took part in Kassel Dokumenta I in 1955 and II in 1959. 1962 Tokyo Biennial where he received a prize for his prints.
Bissière’s work was included in all the group exhibitions presented by the galleries which defended young non figurative painting for which Bissière was considered the ‘father’: In 1952 the Salon d’Octobre, the series of exhibitions Situation de la peinture d’aujourd’hui at the Galerie Ariel in 1954, 1955 and 1957. Trente Peintres de la Nouvelle Ecole de Paris in 1955. Regard sur la peinture actuelle, Galerie Mathias Fels, in 1958. Permanence et actualité de la peinture, Galerie Raymonde Cazenave, in 1960, and the same year Hommage à Jeanne Bucher in the gallery of the same name.
Group exhibitions outside France.
Bissière made stained glass windows for the churches of Cornol and Develier (Swiss Jura) in 1958, as well as for the north and south transepts of Metz cathedral in collaboration with Charles Marq.
Bissière, who had never sought to revolutionise the world of painting, was the forerunner of the new non figurative generation which began after the war. His timeless work connects with our secret gardens, through its inner radiance and poetic qualities with their spiritual resonance that reconcile us with the world. Through his paintings everything becomes meaningful once more and hope is permitted. He said: «My paintings are images without titles for each person to attach their dreams… The material world has disappeared to give place to a marvellous world, peopled with angels and birds and flags in the wind. Painting for me has never been more than a desire for poetry… It was a need to pour out my feelings.»
Bissière left many writings about his painting.
1986 Bissière 1886-1964, Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, then shown in the Musées des Beaux-Arts of Dijon and Calais, in 1987. Catalogue by Patrick Le Nouëne. Complete biography and bibliography.
1990 Bissière, Paysages du Lot. Maison des Arts Georges Pompidou, Cajarc. Catalogue.
Bissière’s works are present in many museums in France and abroad.
- Max-Pol Fouchet: Bissière. Le Musée de Poche, G. Fall, 1955.
- Daniel Abadie: Bissière. Ides et Calendes, Neuchâtel, 1986.
Bryen was a poet. A poet of signs, words and colour, his poetry remains indissociable from his work as a painter. This conjunction between writing, drawing, print making and painting enabled Bryen to deepen his dreamlike quest and to capture «the outpouring radiating from unpredictable living reality». A constant discoverer, his continual search for a different world encouraged him to pursue every type of experience. The heir to Dada in his poetry, he found there a liberty necessary to his work which reinforced his revolt against doctrines, beliefs and restrictive ideological theories. He attempted to fathom the secret meaning of words and expected drawing to set free his inner world, allowing his instinct and urges to express themselves, defining the unity of his work characterised by the notion of «abhumanism», or, according to Bryen’s own definition, «the world without man… complete availability, the refusal to sanction the choice one has made, or has submitted to…» (abhumanist talk, Jacques Audiberti, Camille Bryen, L’Ouvre-boîte. Gallimard, 1952).
We will only discuss here the figure recognised as the «father of tachism» who, in his own words, «came to painting through anti-painting». The first automatic drawings (1934-1935) followed by the «functioning objects» (1935), which led to research into texture and the use of non traditional processes — coloured wax and candles, smoke marks — led to his first tachist work, Cire et bougie (1935) exhibited at the Surindépendants in 1936. This was a decisive experience, which revealed the artist’s sensitivity, perceptible in the coloured passages, the half shades and a feeling of space which led him to the ‘picture’. Fumée already contained this unexpected fantasy dimension within a structure alternating rigour and soft lines. A key work, it makes Bryen one of the initiators of lyrical abstraction.
In 1946, he had an exhibition in Basel, at the Galerie Suzanne Feigel, of his first tachist gouaches in the company of Arp. His Structures imaginaires were prefaced by Audiberti.
The following year, Bryen’s drawings were shown at the Galerie du Luxembourg, in Paris. In 1947, with Georges Mathieu, he created the movement Non-figuration psychique. The two artists organised an exhibition at the Galerie du Luxembourg which has become historic, L’Imaginaire, prefaced by Jean-José Marchand and in which Atlan, Hartung, Ubac and Riopelle also took part… Lyrical abstraction was born. Bryen gave the following definition of his painting which may be applied to lyrical abstraction in general: «Painting is the expression of life’s deepest manifestations and is organised as a cosmic function. Far from being restricted to sensory emotion, it acts likes magic approaching the clairvoyance not only of the eye, but also para-optical clairvoyance: not only the dimension of forms and colours, but that of absences, doubles, memories, psychic and physical ambivalences. Man is never alone before his painting; there is a splitting in two of his being… Painting is played out far from human values. Luxurious, and apparently useless, like a real natural phenomenon, it transposes the disoriented person into a new vacuum cleaner for exploring and living,» (Bryen jepeinsje, La Tour de Feu n°51, 1956).
The movement’s second exhibition took place in 1948, at the Galerie Colette Allendy: H.W.P.S.M.T.B. (Hartung, Wols. Picabia, Stahly, Mathieu, Tapies, Bryen). Bryen made his first prints.
In 1949, he had an exhibition at the Galerie des Deux-Isles, prefaced by Audiberti Camille Bryen poileur de pierres which included his first oil paintings. The following year the gallery showed his prints, and the series of drawings cuivres and plumes.
In 1950 Bryen had an exhibition at the Galerie Pierre, on which occasion he gave a talk.
He had an increasing number of one-man and group exhibitions. It is not possible to list all of these here: some should however be mentioned because they show Bryen’s importance within the art informel movement.
In 1951, there was a first exhibition of non figurative painters, at the Galerie Nina Dausset, at which Bryen met Mathieu, Hartung, Pollock, Riopelle, Russell, Capogrossi, de Kooning and Wols. This exhibition was titled Véhémences confrontées and presented by Michel Tapié. The following year the critic showed Les Signifiants de l’informel at the Studio Facchetti.
Bryen also participated in Charles Estienne’s Salon d’Octobre, in 1953; in the group exhibition Phases de l’Art contemporain, at the Studio Facchetti in 1954, and in Individualités d’aujourd’hui, at the Galerie Rive Droite.
In 1955 Michel Tapié showed Tendances nouvelles at the Kunsthalle in Bern and Colette Allendy showed Wols and Bryen in an exhibition titled 2bis.
Bryen exhibited his recent works in 1952 and 1953 at the Galerie Colette Allendy, in 1954 at the Galerie Pierre and in 1955 at the Galerie Edouard Loeb and, in 1956, wrote Jepeinsje. During this period, painting replaced his writing of poetry and he also illustrated a considerable number of books. In 1956, his style became more personal, with a more intense use of colour in his watercolours; this had already been noticeable in 1954 in a work such as Cris-gris. This gradual progression from writing to drawing did not however cause Bryen to break with his poetic world. The hand simply took over from the mind, the words disappearing leaving the picture plane to fill with a profusion of lines, enmeshed like a network of cells or spread in scattered forms. Beyond appearances, however, his mental process remained the same as we are reminded by the titles of each work: L’Apensée sauvage, L’Afocalypse, Pullulement informel,<
/em> underlining the correspondence between Bryen’s play on words, which disarticulates language, and linear dismemberment. An oscillating mechanism about which he said: «I draw so as not to write». The web-like watercolours that he exhibited in Geneva (1952), Lausanne (1953), Stuttgart (1953), Paris at the bookshop Les Amis des Livres (1953), London (1956), have coloured stains that contrast strong and weak areas among an interweaving of strong oblique lines. This structure is repeated in his paintings which, from 1956, adopt a chess board construction: Précambryen is a key work in this respect. Transparent shades and delicate Indian ink join to strengthen a sensation of fluidity and infinite space. Bryen continued exhibiting in France and abroad. In Paris, in 1956, at the Galerie Stadler. In 1957 in Milan at the Galleria Apollinaire (with a preface by Jean-Pierre Restany, Bryen, délirant, aventurier de l’inconnu). In 1958, in Vienna (forty drawings from 1934 to 1958). In 1956 he participated in a group exhibition at the Galerie Kléber, Phases. In 1959, his first retrospective was held Cent œuvres choisies, with a preface by Julien Lanoe, at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes; Lausanne (preface by Pierre Restany, Camille Bryen, poète du dessin), Milan (preface by Pierre Restany, L’espace dans l’homme) and a distinction for the Prix Lissone. In 1959 Bryen painted Feu de bengali, a new phase in the expression of his sensitivity, showing greater sensuality and calm. Paysage intérieur is a series in which the yellow, orange, ochre and white checks become larger while the graphic violence diminishes. In 1960, Bryen had an exhibition of recent paintings at the Galerie Cazenave to coincide with the publication of R.V. Gindertaël’s book Bryen. He participated in a group exhibition Antagonismes, at the Pavillon de Marsan, Musée Arts décoratifs, in Paris. In 1961, the Galerie R. Cazenave, showed twenty-four drawings. Bryen’s works became more and more ethereal. He was frequently present at major events: in 1960, for the Solomon Guggenheim Prize in New York and the Venice Biennial. In 1961, he was outside the competition for the Prix Lissone, Sao Paulo Biennial. In 1962, he participated in the Marzotto Prize in Rome; illustrated Vigies by Tristan Tzara. In 1962, he participated in a travelling exhibition l’Ecole de Paris, at the Tate Gallery in London, then shown in Cardiff, Liverpool and Aberdeen. 1963 exhibitions Ecole de Paris in Zagreb and Ljubljana. 1964 Galerie La Hune, Vingt œuvres graphiques; L’Atelier de Bryen, Galerie Argos, Nantes; Galerie Daniel Cordier, Paris. 1964 Cinquante ans de collage, Musée de Saint-Etienne, subsequently shown at the Pavillon de Marsan. In 1965 there was a presentation at La Hune of the audiovisual book Carte blanche à Bryen with a record and ‘Bryscopies’, original slides. 1965 Thirty-five contemporary painters in Japan, Tokyo; Ecole de Paris in Prague, Bucharest and Budapest. Bryen exhibited at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1956. Salon de Mai 1956. Member of the Salon d’Automne in 1963. An essential figure of the movement designated by Michel Tapié by the name ‘informel’, this critic naturally included Bryen in his book Un Art autre, sub-titled Où il s’agit de nouveaux dévidages du réel (1952). Two works reproduced: Hépérile (1953) and Tellurie, illustrating Bryen’s remarks in response to Jean Grenier who had asked him to give a definition of informel: «My research tends to bring the unconditional to life: I have wanted to dissolve form… I could only combat form by creating non-forms. I then noticed that form reappeared… I obtained what I called non-non-forms… It was an attempt at non figurative mysticism.» (Interviews by Jean Grenier of Dix-sept peintres non figuratifs. Calmann-Lévy (1963). 1967 L’atelier au musée, Bryen dialogue avec le public, Paris, Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville, l’A.R.C. 1970 Rétrospective, Musée des Beaux-Arts du Havre, preface by Geneviève Testanière. 1970 Bryen, œuvres 1965-1970. Galerie de Seine, Paris. Catalogue. 1971-1972 Travelling exhibition organised by the CNAC. Catalogue by Daniel Abadie. 1973 Retrospective, Musée national d’Art moderne, Paris. Catalogue, with texts by Jean Leymarie, Jean-Hubert Martin, Marielle Tabart. 1979 and 1981 Musée national d’Art moderne. Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. (Donation Bryen). 1988 Œuvres graphiques 1948-1960. Galerie Callu Mérite, Paris. Catalogue by Jacqueline Boutet-Loyer. 1990 Bryen, huiles, gouaches, plumes. Galerie Callu Mérite, Paris. Catalogue by Jacqueline Boutet-Loyer. Bryen’s works are present in a large number of public collections: Musée Dunkerque – Grenoble – Le Havre – Les Sables-d’Olonne – Lille – Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou – Rennes – Saint-Etienne – Strasbourg – Tourcoing – Valence, and outside France – Jerusalem – Lisbon (Gulbenkian Foundation) – Locarno – Rome – Schiedam…
/em> underlining the correspondence between Bryen’s play on words, which disarticulates language, and linear dismemberment. An oscillating mechanism about which he said: «I draw so as not to write».
The web-like watercolours that he exhibited in Geneva (1952), Lausanne (1953), Stuttgart (1953), Paris at the bookshop Les Amis des Livres (1953), London (1956), have coloured stains that contrast strong and weak areas among an interweaving of strong oblique lines. This structure is repeated in his paintings which, from 1956, adopt a chess board construction: Précambryen is a key work in this respect. Transparent shades and delicate Indian ink join to strengthen a sensation of fluidity and infinite space.
Bryen continued exhibiting in France and abroad. In Paris, in 1956, at the Galerie Stadler. In 1957 in Milan at the Galleria Apollinaire (with a preface by Jean-Pierre Restany, Bryen, délirant, aventurier de l’inconnu). In 1958, in Vienna (forty drawings from 1934 to 1958). In 1956 he participated in a group exhibition at the Galerie Kléber, Phases.
In 1959, his first retrospective was held Cent œuvres choisies, with a preface by Julien Lanoe, at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes; Lausanne (preface by Pierre Restany, Camille Bryen, poète du dessin), Milan (preface by Pierre Restany, L’espace dans l’homme) and a distinction for the Prix Lissone. In 1959 Bryen painted Feu de bengali, a new phase in the expression of his sensitivity, showing greater sensuality and calm. Paysage intérieur is a series in which the yellow, orange, ochre and white checks become larger while the graphic violence diminishes.
In 1960, Bryen had an exhibition of recent paintings at the Galerie Cazenave to coincide with the publication of R.V. Gindertaël’s book Bryen. He participated in a group exhibition Antagonismes, at the Pavillon de Marsan, Musée Arts décoratifs, in Paris.
In 1961, the Galerie R. Cazenave, showed twenty-four drawings. Bryen’s works became more and more ethereal.
He was frequently present at major events: in 1960, for the Solomon Guggenheim Prize in New York and the Venice Biennial. In 1961, he was outside the competition for the Prix Lissone, Sao Paulo Biennial. In 1962, he participated in the Marzotto Prize in Rome; illustrated Vigies by Tristan Tzara. In 1962, he participated in a travelling exhibition l’Ecole de Paris, at the Tate Gallery in London, then shown in Cardiff, Liverpool and Aberdeen. 1963 exhibitions Ecole de Paris in Zagreb and Ljubljana. 1964 Galerie La Hune, Vingt œuvres graphiques; L’Atelier de Bryen, Galerie Argos, Nantes; Galerie Daniel Cordier, Paris. 1964 Cinquante ans de collage, Musée de Saint-Etienne, subsequently shown at the Pavillon de Marsan. In 1965 there was a presentation at La Hune of the audiovisual book Carte blanche à Bryen with a record and ‘Bryscopies’, original slides. 1965 Thirty-five contemporary painters in Japan, Tokyo; Ecole de Paris in Prague, Bucharest and Budapest.
Bryen exhibited at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1956. Salon de Mai 1956. Member of the Salon d’Automne in 1963.
An essential figure of the movement designated by Michel Tapié by the name ‘informel’, this critic naturally included Bryen in his book Un Art autre, sub-titled Où il s’agit de nouveaux dévidages du réel (1952). Two works reproduced: Hépérile (1953) and Tellurie, illustrating Bryen’s remarks in response to Jean Grenier who had asked him to give a definition of informel: «My research tends to bring the unconditional to life: I have wanted to dissolve form… I could only combat form by creating non-forms. I then noticed that form reappeared… I obtained what I called non-non-forms… It was an attempt at non figurative mysticism.» (Interviews by Jean Grenier of Dix-sept peintres non figuratifs. Calmann-Lévy (1963).
1967 L’atelier au musée, Bryen dialogue avec le public, Paris, Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville, l’A.R.C.
1970 Rétrospective, Musée des Beaux-Arts du Havre, preface by Geneviève Testanière.
1970 Bryen, œuvres 1965-1970. Galerie de Seine, Paris. Catalogue.
1971-1972 Travelling exhibition organised by the CNAC. Catalogue by Daniel Abadie.
1973 Retrospective, Musée national d’Art moderne, Paris. Catalogue, with texts by Jean Leymarie, Jean-Hubert Martin, Marielle Tabart.
1979 and 1981 Musée national d’Art moderne. Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. (Donation Bryen).
1988 Œuvres graphiques 1948-1960. Galerie Callu Mérite, Paris. Catalogue by Jacqueline Boutet-Loyer.
1990 Bryen, huiles, gouaches, plumes. Galerie Callu Mérite, Paris. Catalogue by Jacqueline Boutet-Loyer.
Bryen’s works are present in a large number of public collections: Musée Dunkerque – Grenoble – Le Havre – Les Sables-d’Olonne – Lille – Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou – Rennes – Saint-Etienne – Strasbourg – Tourcoing – Valence, and outside France – Jerusalem – Lisbon (Gulbenkian Foundation) – Locarno – Rome – Schiedam…
To discuss the work of Charchoune from 1945 onwards only, is to leave out essential landmarks that, from an early age, showed him to possess a very personal plastic language which never permitted him to be ‘devoured’ by the avant-garde currents at the centre of which he was always present: «My Slav nature with its insatiable curiosity determined that I literally throw myself at the most advanced art, the most advanced poetry and ideas, at everything which is the latest thing» (interview with Pierre Brisset in Le Petit Bonhomme, in March 1987 during the Tribute at the Musée de Pontoise). Refusing any compromise and never making any concessions, he had already established his identity: solitary, secret and silent like his painting. A confirmed bachelor, he devoted himself to his art, a true calling which forced him to accept, with indifference one might almost be inclined to say, a miserable condition endured for many years: «I am passive with great determination,» he admitted with considerable dignity. For ten years prior to the Second World War, Charchoune lived as ‘an unemployed intellectual’, in maids’ rooms without heating or electricity, painting only small works and often, for shortage of money, drawing on pieces of paper. The lack of recognition to which Parisian artistic circles abandoned him did not in any way alienate his belief in his calling or his faith in his work. With his Slav nature, he possessed a profoundly rooted taste for freedom. At the age of fifteen, despite his family’s disapproval, he chose to become a painter although, for many years, this calling vied with that of poetry, in which guise, to use his expression, he wrote as a «literary anarchist». Charchoune wrote throughout his life, composing as a young man aphorisms or short poems in which the spirit of dada was already apparent, and later texts most of which remain to be translated. «I free myself, I get it out of my system by writing. For me literature is a valve…» he confided (he referred to the diary he wrote in Russian, between 1958 and 1969, as La Soupape).
It was therefore perfectly natural that he should apply to the School of Fine Arts at Kazan; he was refused admission however. «I drew very badly. I have always hated drawing. Drawing and painting are in my opinion the greatest enemies» (op. cit.). His landscapes at this period were «lyrical», «done from nature», the generous nature of the banks of the Volga where he had spent his childhood. His painting was rooted in these surroundings and also impregnated by music, practised within the family circle, a habit for which he retained a feeling of nostalgia. Music permitted the soul to express itself, mirroring nature, fluid like water without whose presence he was unable to live. «Incapable of creating with premeditation,» he acknowledged owing everything to his «natural primitivism». His work was constructed by phases which, by their continuity, have a coherence that reveal to us the rigour of his artistic process. In 1909, he discovered the avant-garde in Moscow. Van Gogh, Gauguin, the fauves, the cubists and Rimbaud. Called up to do his military service, he however deserted, and in 1912 found himself in Paris where he worked at the cubist Académie La Palette with Metzinger and Le Fauconnier. In 1914, Charchoune travelled to Barcelona where he discovered pre-dadaism and the review 391 that had recently been launched by Picabia. He also developed a passion for azulejos, the Mozarabic art form which influenced him in the creation of his concept of ‘ornamental cubism’. In 1919, he was once again in Montparnasse, where he joined the Dada movement and met Picabia through Tristan Tzara. In Germany (he visited Berlin in 1922) he became interested in the experiments then being conducted by Schwitters. During this period he wrote a number of articles for reviews. He returned to Paris in 1923. In 1925, he took up Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy, a school of thought which influenced his entire work and personality.
Through André Salmon who, in 1929, wrote the catalogue introduction for Charchoune’s exhibition at the Galerie Percier, and to whom with Waldemar-George he said he owed his career as a painter, Charchoune met Jeanne Bucher who, in 1926, showed his work.
In 1927 Nadia Léger introduced Charchoune to Ozenfant whose purism influenced him for a while. Ozenfant wrote a text for Charchoune’s exhibition at the Galerie Aubier.
He gave up purism and began working on various series in which a dadaïst inspiration was again apparent: Les paysages élastiques and L’impressionnisme ornemental (1929-193l). Charchoune had found his path. A mystical character began to appear in his works, asserting itself during a period of poverty dictated by the great economic crisis (1932-1942). In 1942, he obtained a studio in the Cité Falguière where he lived until 1960.
In 1944, Edwin W. Livengood offered him his first contract and, in 1945, Charchoune began working with the Galerie Raymond Creuze with which he exhibited for twelve years: in 1944 (from 1946 to 1948 the violin became a new expressive vehicle anticipating the musical series), 1947, 1948 peintures de 1926 à 1931, 1949 cycle marin with the reappearance of colour, 1951 œuvres récentes, 1952 Charchoune, Venise, 1956 Œuvres récentes.
In 1954 and 1955 Charchoune was inspired by the writing of Kafka to make his series Métamophoses. Although, since 1912, he had been a regular attendant at the concerts Colonne, it was not until after 1956 that music became the sole media of his work: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaïkovski provided him with his «fuel». Intentionally, he gradually erased from his palette the earlier explosions of colour, favouring shades of ochre, often austere monochromes and shades of white from which emerged curves, signs, and furrows whose undulation from left to right recalled his relationship with water and music. He achieved a sobriety, where expressiveness and spirituality appear from the rich sensual texture. «Music gives me the subject. Listening to music, I can see the painting with my eyes closed, like a coloured thread unwinding, I see it first with primary colours and my painting starts out as very colourful. I listen and make telepathic marks on the canvas. It becomes ornamental. I begin to spit colour and it becomes decorative, very colourful.» (interview with Michel Ragon, Jardin des Arts, September 1966). His impatient desire to express on canvas his feelings while listening to music, led him to structure his composition with a sophisticated arrangement of brush strokes that achieve a synthesis in this series of works. In no way abstract, they have generous areas of pure painting, simultaneously luminous and sonorous. This is painting to enjoy and reflect on, but it has always had a limited success with the public, although his colleagues expressed their admiration. Jacques Villon: «I am delighted that I will soon be sharing your elegant sober work» (1941), Nicolas de Staël who every day contemplated the small painting which hung in his bedroom, Hosiasson: “What can one say about Charchoune who seeks the inexpressible…? Colour — when he uses it — is emptied of all resonance: his painting is inspired by murmurs… Whoever has glimpsed it will be unable to forget it…» (1957) and Picasso: «For me, there are two artists: Juan Gris and Charchoune». Nonetheless it is the adjectives «forgotten», «unrecognised», «ignored» that return to the pens of the most eminent writers and critics: Philippe Soupault, Alain Jouffroy, Charles Estienne, Gaston Diehl and Pierre Schneider… Nevertheless the exhibitions continued, even though fame was of little importance to the artist who stated: «I was and I remain a man of nature, but I was also born a man of Art, and these three elements, forest, river, music, rapidly became for me a pictorial harmony which I attempted to put on paper» (op. cit.).
Exhibitions in Paris in 1957, Galerie J.C. de Chaudun (catalogue) and Galerie Dina Vierny.
1958 Galerie Michel Warren, text by Patrick Waldberg. 1960 Galerie Henri Bénézit, Galerie Georges Bongers and Galerie Jacques Péron.
1961 Galerie Cahiers d’Art.
Georges Bongers showed his work again in 1966-1967.
1970 Galerie Jean-Louis Roque, text by Pierre Brisset and again in 1971 when he showed watercolours.
He illustrated several works of literature.
1970-1971 First retrospective at the Musée Saint-Denis in Reims, followed in 1971 by the Musée national d’Art moderne. (Catalogue Archives de l’Art contemporain n° 18, preface by Jean Leymarie and several texts).
1974 Galerie de Seine Charchoune, harmonies blanches 1924-1974. Catalogue, text by Alain Bosquet, documentation by René Guerra.
Abroad, he exhibited in New York (1960), Germany, Italy, Geneva and Luxembourg.
Among the main group exhibitions: 1948 Ecole de Paris, Boulogne-sur-Mer. 1951 Peinture d’aujourd’hui, Palazzo Belle Arti, Turin: France-Italie. 1952 L’Ecole de Paris, Librairie Hachette, Montreal. 1956 Dix ans de peinture française 1945-1955, Musée de Grenoble. 1957 Cinquante ans de peinture abstraite, Galerie R. Creuze; Art abstrait, Musée de Saint-Etienne. 1963 La grande aventure de l’art du XXe siècle, Château des Rohan, Strasbourg.
Charchoune participated in the Salon Comparaisons from 1956 to 1961, at the Salon de Mai since 1960 and at the Réalités Nouvelles in 1956 with 7e symphonie de Beethoven, in 1957 with Concerto pour piano de Tchaïkovski and from 1958 to 1963. He was given a tribute in 1976.
1980-1981 S. Charchoune peintures 1913 à 1965. Musée de l’Abbaye Sainte-Croix, Les Sables-d’Olonne. Catalogue, Cahiers de l’abbaye n° 39, Henri-Claude Cousseau, Michel Seuphor.
1981 S. Charchoune œuvres 1913-1975, Galerie des Ponchettes, Nice. Catalogue, text by Michel Seuphor.
1988 Charchoune œuvres de 1913 à 1974, Galerie Fanny Guillon Laffaille, Paris. Catalogue, text by Patricia Delettre. Biography, bibliography.
1989 Charchoune, Centre culturel de la Somme and Musée départemental de l’Abbaye de Saint-Riquier. Catalogue by P. Delettre.
Museums: Alès – Charleville – Dijon – Grenoble – Les Sables-d’Olonne – Nice – Paris, Musée national d’Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou and Ville de Paris – Pontoise – Reims – Roanne – Saint-Etienne – Strasbourg – Villefranche-sur-Mer – Villeneuve-d’Ascq and abroad.
- Raymond Creuze: Charchoune, R. Creuze, Paris 1975-1976 2 vol. Catalogue raisonné of the paintings in preparation by Patricia Delettre.
By the time he arrived in Paris, in 1955, Chu Teh-Chun was already a professional artist. His profound knowledge of painting combined with his astonishing technical mastery make him an exceptional representative of modern Western art. Born into a cultured family (his father was a doctor and art collector), he studied painting from a very early age, an imperious calling served by talent and an aptitude for hard work that soon led to his being considered one of China’s leading artists. A graduate of the School of Fine Arts of Hang-Zhou (1941), his ability to reproduce traditional masters while assimilating contemporary styles led to his being appointed professor at the Central National University of Nanjing from 1944 to 1949, and then at the National University of Taiwan from 1951 to 1955. He was already leaning towards Western painting which, in his opinion, was more suited to expressing a modern sensitivity, and was influenced first by Impressionism and then by Fauvism whose characteristics permeated the works he exhibited in 1954, in Taipei, in Taiwan.
In Paris, he hurried to the Louvre to see for himself the works that he already knew through mediocre reproductions. He installed himself in a hotel in the rue Lhomond and learned French at the Alliance française while attending classes at the Grande Chaumière. In the evenings, he painted in his room. Several decisive encounters then introduced him to the capital’s art world: Albert Féraud, who had won the Prix de Rome for sculpture and who was now back from Italy, and above all Père Régamey who put him in contact with Père Vallée, a Dominican at the couvent Saint-Jacques who, in 1954, had founded the Galerie du Haut-Pavé, at number 3 quai de Montebello where he showed the work of Bellegarde, Laubiès and Longobardi…
Sacha Klerx, the artistic director, was very enthusiastic about Chu Teh-Chun’s paintings and organised his first Paris exhibition in 1958. In the mean time, the artist had assimilated various art movements.
In 1956 and 1957, he exhibited some portraits at the Salon des Artistes français that were awarded a prize. The first retrospective of Nicolas de Stael’s work had taken place in 1956 at the Musée national d’Art moderne and Chu confided: «It was a real revelation of the freedom of expression to me. From now on I freed myself from my twenty years of figurative work to follow my path in non figurative painting. I slowly turned towards the inspiring thinking of traditional Chinese painting. I discovered the poetry in it and its way of observing nature which is close to Western neo-impressionist painting and particularly to abstract art. Working unconsciously on a synthesis of the two cultures, I suppressed emotion as the driving force and prolonged it through pictorial expression,» (interview with Gérard Xuriguera, Les Années 50, Arted, 1984).
These paintings were exhibited at the Galerie du Haut-Pavé and also shown at the Galerie de Beaune (1958). Around this time, he met Michel Ragon, then the artistic director of the Galerie Le Gendre. Replaced a few months later by Maurice Panier, he concluded a contract with Chu-Teh-Chun which lasted until 1963. Chu became friends with the gallery’s other painters: Arnal, Bott, Corneille, Revel and Sugai.
Three exhibitions were held: in 1960, 1962 and 1963 accompanied by a preface by Gérald Gassiot-Talabot who wrote: «His painting flows naturally, warm and vibrant, impervious to definitions… it is a lyrical offering murmured in the secret of a serious life of meditation or bursting out noisily like a hymn, when the artist rediscovers the phrasing of great T’ang layouts.» We observe a process which at the same time as it leads him to abstraction permits him to reconnect with his original sources and express himself with total freedom. His paintings invite us on an inner journey that evokes the primordial relationship between mankind and the universe. They are the visual symbol of the artist’s constant dialogue with nature. To start with, the forms are large dark stains that seem to be suspended in space, opening onto an emptiness that envelops us, arranged against backgrounds in a subtle range of greys, ochres and earth punctuated with red. His graphics are the other main element of his painting. Derived from ancestral oriental calligraphy, their lyricism invades the canvas. No symbolism, no ideogram is to be sought in what become dreamlike landscapes, appealing to our imagination. In this recreated poetic space, each spectator can see whatever he wishes. These works are governed by a plastic cohesion that gives a depth of vision, to be found in mirage and illusion, which makes Chu one of the most sensitive painters of the lyrical abstract movement.
In 1965 and 1967 there were exhibitions at the Galerie de l’Université. These were followed by a number of one-man exhibitions in Paris, the French provinces and outside France.
Among the group exhibitions that concern the period covered by this book we should mention: 1956 La peinture d’aujourd’hui, Palais Royal, Paris. 1958 Peintres de l’Ecole de Paris, Charlottenburg Museum, Copenhagen. 1959 Peinture d’aujourd’hui, Senlis, preface by Michel Ragon. 1960 Ecole de Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Paris; Expression d’aujourd’hui, Lunéville. 1962 Donner à voir, Galerie Creuze, Paris; L’œil de bœuf, Galerie 7, Paris; La boîte et son contenu, Galerie Le Gendre. 1964 50 jeunes peintres de la Nouvelle Ecole de Paris, Galerie Merlin, Athens. He took part in the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in 1958, 1959, 1965 and 1967; in the Salon de Mai in 1958, 1961 and regularly since 1971; in the Salon Comparaisons in 1956.
After 1974, Chu was regularly invited to take part in the Grands et Jeunes d’aujourd’hui. 1989 recent works at the Galerie Arlette Gimaray, Paris. Catalogue.
Retrospectives 1982 Musée des Beaux-Arts Le Havre. Peintures – Dessins 1955-1982. Catalogue. 1987 National Historic Museum of Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C. Book catalogue.
1992 œuvres des années 60. Galerie Arlette Gimaray, Paris. Catalogue.
Museums: Paris, Art moderne de la Ville, Fonds national d’Art contemporain – Dunkerque – Châteauroux – Nice – Le Havre – Marseilles – Fondation Septentrion – Mairie de Sochaux and abroad in Taipei – Mexico – Saint Louis – Liège.
- Hubert Juin: Chu Teh-Chun, Le Musée de Poche, 1979.
- Pierre Cabanne: Chu Teh-Chun, visite d’atelier. Cimaise n° 204. 1990.
Corneille settled in Paris in 1950.
Corneille had exhibited in the capital the previous year at the Galerie Colette Allendy, with Appel and Constant, co-founders with himself of the groups Expérimental and Réflexe that preceded the group Cobra which was joined by Alechinsky, Dotremont and Jorn (1948). At the time the Galerie Colette Allendy was a meeting place for veterans of the avant-garde as well as for young artists. In 1951 and 1952, for instance, Corneille saw there Picabia’s two last exhibitions. He also met Wols at the gallery, as well as Yves Klein, Atlan, Bryen, Doucet, O. Gauthier and Jacques Audibert. Corneille’s painting already reflected a very personal world. After studying drawing at the Fine Arts Academy in Amsterdam, he had taught himself to paint. On a visit to Budapest in 1947, he observed how nature had been mutilated by the world war. The theme of wild organic elements appeared giving birth to the series jardins which he showed at Europa Iskola. The work of Paul Klee was a further decisive revelation for him. This approach was soon completed by study of the works of Picasso and Kandinsky, and reading the works of Baudelaire, Lautréamont, Breton and Eluard who confirmed his intuition that everything is related. From 1948, his journeys to North Africa permitted him to live a carnal relationship with the cosmos: in 1949, in the South of Tunisia, he experienced the revelation of colour, which was to be a constant feature in his work: in 1952, he stayed at Hoggar searching for Antinea, then in 1956-1957 Central Africa enabled him to acquaint himself with myths, beliefs and rites closely linked to signs. Journeys to South America followed in 1958, and between 1962 and 1966 to Brazil and Cuba, sources which nourished his work and which had no equivalent in the Paris art world of the 1950s. We will not consider here the Corneille of Cobra, rather the Corneille who, without ever renouncing an adventure based on shared ideas, aesthetic commitments and friendship, lived in the shared studio of the rue Sauteuil, drawing an energy and a desire to create which permitted him to discover himself. Over the years, he built up a specific thematic vocabulary dominated by primordial forces: the stars, the clouds, the sea, the construction of the earth. For instance the circular form, head or sun — source of light, of life, cloud and sap which increases and generates movement. An explosion of forms gives birth to a network of tangled lines suggesting a labyrinth, the universe after chaos, after the golden age in which man faces conflicts, described by Jean-Clarence Lambert as «nature, landscape is no longer this maternal breast on which man finds happiness, the ease of paradise. It is the great silence which only answers the voice that questions it by an echo» (Corneille, Musée de Poche). Ordered or chaotic, it is a landscape that Corneille always attempts to tame: the surroundings of the city, the country landscapes of the 1950s, animated by little imaginary grotesque figures from the 1970s; lunar and mineral desert landscapes from 1952, with fossils, stones, white rocks which arrange themselves around an elementary organic structure: the cell. Multiplied in concentric circles it emphasised the strength of the whole (La forêt des pierres), constituting another leitmotiv. Another constant feature, and a memory of Hoggar, were minerals filled with seed, recording the artist’s wish for order confirmed by a visit to Spain in 1953 (with a stay in Majorca to which he returned in 1961, the year in which he began painting with his canvases laid out on the ground; between 1962 and 1966 he spent the summers at Cadaquès and made a series of gouaches: these were shown in one-man exhibitions in 1962, at the Galerie Mathias Fels, in Paris, with texts by Hubert Juin, Jean-Clarence Lambert, Jean-Jacques Lévêque and Lasse Söderberg and in 1964 at the same gallery). We should note the constant duality present in Corneille’s work in the 1960s, with a search for rigorous, disciplined construction, counterbalanced by spontaneity, wild forms and colours plunging into plant anarchy provoked by the action of rains and an abundance of fertile seeds. The colour in his work takes on an exhilarating quality. The titles of the canvases — themselves little poems — give us an indication as to his inspiration always related to a specific vision that he finds moving. Through the texture, we assist at a metamorphosis of everything round about: «An overall view of Corneille’s work reveals it as a continuous Dionysiac ode to the luxuriance of nature… Everything here is chaos in movement, but the elements of this chaos nonetheless combine in a cosmic relationship. The artist paints a changing world in which things have not yet become objects». F. T. Gribling (Corneille et l’opulente monotonie, Meulenhoff, Amsterdam, 1972. Coll. Art et Architecture aux Pays-Bas).
Corneille had his first one-man exhibition in Paris at the Galerie Collette Allendy in 1953, followed by a second exhibition the next year — on the desert and minerals — accompanied by a text by Charles Estienne D’un style de germination in which the critic wrote… «a style of painting on a level with the human ear.»
Exhibitions followed in 1956, at the Galerie Craven, with a text by Sandberg La peinture de Corneille; 1959 Galerie Le Gendre; 1961 Galerie Ariel, with a text by Jean Louis Ferrier: «for him, as for us, the world no longer just stretches, beneath our eyes, but it has seeped into us in the same way that we have crept into it… our relationship with reality adopts the full register of crossings, slidings, transformations, mutations… Corneille takes a lop-sided view of the world, affronting it, enclosing it, dragging it after him. Like Cézanne, he seeks ‘geological foundations’ in landscape, but based on a movement of opposition. He creates the definitive archetype from scratch, carrying it within himself; he makes his self an objective place.»
1963 Galerie Creuzevault, with a text by André Pieyre de Mandiargues; Six propositions pour un spectacle de la nature, Galerie Point Cardinal, Paris.
Numerous exhibitions outside France: Netherlands, London, Brussels, Stockholm, New York.
Corneille participated in a large number of group exhibitions including: 1950, Mains Eblouies, Galerie Maeght, Paris; Tendances, Galerie Colette Allendy; 1953, second Salon d’Octobre, Galerie Craven, with which he signed a contract. 1955 Trente Peintres de la Nouvelle Ecole de Paris, Galerie Craven; Paroles visibles, Galerie La Roue; Alice in Wonderland, Galerie Kléber, preface by Charles Estienne. 1956 Dix jeunes peintres de l’Ecole de Paris, Galerie de France; Présence du bleu, Galerie La Roue; Divergences 4, Galerie Arnaud. 1957 Expression et non-figuration, Galerie Le Gendre; Divergences 5, Festival de l’Art d’avant-garde, Cité Radieuse, Nantes and Galerie Arnaud, and in Berlin. 1959 Peintres du dépaysage, Galerie La Roue. 1961 Wols, Corneille, Galerie Mathias Fels. 1964 Quinze peintres de ma génération, Galerie Ariel; Signes, Galerie La Roue. He was invited to the Salon de Mai very regularly from 1951, and was also a member of the committee; he was invited to the Réalités Nouvelles in 1956, 1957, 1958 and 1959 with Songes des pierres and in 1960 with Jardin propice à l’oiseau; to the salon Comparaisons in 1958 and 1959. Salon Grands et Jeunes d’aujourd’hui in 1964. Biennale de Paris in 1957, Ecole de Paris, Galerie Charpentier in 1961 and 1963. Abroad: 1953 and 1959 Sao Paulo Biennial. 1954, Venice Biennial.
Corneille made prints from 1953, studying with Hayter, as well as ceramics with Mazzoti at Abbisole-Mare in 1954-1955 where he met Jorn and Baj.
Let us leave Corneille to speak about his painting: «My themes are in the texture, colour, nascent lines, interlacings, entanglements, stains… For me, the bird relates its own trajectory, it is movement or eye, recording other trajectories… The subjects interpenetrate, merge, forming a turbulent whole, crying or armed with a terrible silence… The painting is no longer the woman seen from the back, or front, the nude odalisque, cleverly reconstructed with the help of cubes, squares or stains, but a woman seen by the bird, imagined by the stone, framed on a lake, finely written in the sky, the sand, the bird…» (interview with Charles Estienne and José Pierre, Medium, 1955).
1966 Corneille, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Catalogue. Text by Max Loreau: Corneille l’arpenteur.
Museums: Amsterdam – Haarlem – Paris, Art Moderne.
- Hubert Juin, Hugo Claus: Seize peintres de la Jeune Ecole de Paris. Le Musée de Poche, 1956.
- Jean-Clarence Lambert: Corneille, Le Musée de Poche, Georges Fall, 1960.
- André Laude: Corneille, Le Roi-Image. S.M.I. Paris Diffusion Weber, 1970.
- Marcel Paquet: Corneille. Dellile, 1988
Herbin worked in a cubist style from 1909 and, in 1912, he participated in the historic exhibition of the Section d’Or. In 1931, he co-founded the association ‘Abstraction-Création’ with Vantongerloo, the headquarters of which was at Herbin’s flat at number 26 boulevard Masséna and which brought together the short-lived group Cercle et Carré that included most of the abstract artists. A militant of pure abstraction, Herbin had to wait until the postwar period to receive general recognition, with his first one-man exhibition at the Galerie Denise René held only in 1946. Other exhibitions followed in 1952, 1954 (paintings 1953-1954) and 1960 (catalogue text by Jean Cassou).
The principle of abstract painting on which he based his work is analysed in his book L’Art non figuratif non objectif (Galerie Lydia Conti, 1949). He added to a repertory of geometrical forms such as circles, squares, rectangles, diamonds and triangles, bright contrasting colours that owe much to Goethe’s Theory of colours and which were chosen according to their symbolic power. His pure sober work had a major influence on the younger postwar abstract artists and in particular on the practitioners of geometrical abstraction.
A founding member of the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, Herbin was a regular exhibitor there from 1946 until the end of his life and a member of the Comité Directeur until 1955.
Among the group exhibitions, we should mention: Tendances de l’art abstrait, Galerie Denise René in 1948 which, in 1950, also showed Quelques aspects de l’art d’aujourd’hui. In 1951 the Galerie organised Klar Form – Vingt artistes de l’Ecole de Paris, an exhibition shown in the Scandinavian countries and in Belgium. In 1952 he again showed at the Galerie Denise René in Paris in Douze tapisseries inédites woven by the Tabard workshops at Aubusson, with Kandinsky, Léger, Magnelli, Le Corbusier, Arp, Dewasne, Deyrolle, Pillet, Mortensen, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Vasarely, and in the exhibition Diagonale.
Herbin took part in all the group exhibitions organised by Denise René abroad: in Hamburg in 1953, in Liège at the A.P.I.A.W. with Bloc, Dewasne, Deyrolle, Mortensen, Poliakoff and Vasarely in 1954, in Rio de Janeiro in 1955, in Rouen Art 1955, Documenta Kassel 1955, in Grenoble Dix ans de Peinture française 1945-1955 in 1959 at the Leverkusen Museum, International Sezession 1956, Charleroi L’art du XXIe siècle 1958. In Paris Hommage à Léon Degand in 1958.
In 1959 the Galerie Simone Heller gave a first retrospective, followed by the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1956, and Fribourg in 1958.
Other one-man exhibitions, in 1958 at the Galerie Henri Bénézit.
1972 Herbin. Galerie Denise René Paris. Catalogue, text by J. Lassaigne.
Retrospectives at the Musée Cambrai in 1980 and Vitry-sur-Seine, works from 1905-1960. Catalogues.
Museums: Paris, Musée national d’Art moderne – Le Cateau-Cambrésis (salle Herbin Musée Matisse). Grenoble.
- P. Peissi: Hommage à Herbin, text of the talk given on 28 April 1952 during a lecture cycle organised by the Atelier d’Art abstrait 44 rue de Rennes, Hofer, Paris, 1952. Témoignage pour l’art abstrait. Art d’Aujourd’hui, Paris, 1952.
- Massat: Auguste Herbin. Coll. Prisme, Paris, 1953.
Otto Freundlich is considered as a forerunner of abstraction. «He was the very first German abstract sculptor already making, before 1912, the year in which I met him, non figurative works with excessive proportions or on the contrary minutely calligraphed sheets…» (Hans Richter).
Committed, both politically and artistically, he expressed a certain «awareness of the world» through his life and works, which were to «become the place where is set forth everything which contributes to the essence of the world: that of the Word» (Guy Tosatto).
He studied history of art, philosophy and literature in Berlin, then in Florence and Italy and, in 1907, executed his first works, in the Jugendstil style. In 1908, he paid a first visit to Paris, and rented a studio at the Bateau-Lavoir. He became part of the bohemian life of Montmartre that included Picasso, Apollinaire, Braque, Juan Gris, Max Jacob and André Salmon. For ten years he lived between Paris, Munich and Berlin.
In 1911 Otto Freundlich made his first abstract works, little by little developing a very singular pictorial vocabulary comprised of flat coloured areas, defined by straight lines and curves that cover the entire surface of the painting.
Fascinated by different techniques – mosaic, tapestry, stained glass – he drew inspiration from the last of these and conducted research. From March to July 1914, he worked in the stained glass restoration workshop of Chartres cathedral and wrote to his friend Karl Schmidt-Rottluff: «For five months I was prisoner of the world at Chartres and I have emerged marked for ever…».
He was equally impressed by the architectural dimension of Cézanne’s work and by Van Gogh’s strong colours. He studied the tensions and balances of power generated by geometric elements and chromatic variations and gradually managed to compose, as his worked developed, a powerful syntax which connects and gives energy to the groups of coloured units.
Very active on the art scene, he took part in many exhibitions: Die neues Secession in Berlin, in 1910 and 1911, Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon (first German Salon d’Automne) at the Der Sturm Gallery in Berlin. He wrote for various reviews, notably Die Aktion which, in 1918, devoted a special issue to his work. After the German revolution of 1918, he enrolled as a member of the Novembergruppe and, in 1919, organised with Max Ernst and J.T. Baargeld the first Dada exhibition at Cologne. In 1930 he was a member of the group Cercle et Carré then, in 1931, of the group Abstraction – Création.
As a theoretician of art, Otto Freundlich wrote in 1934 Die Wege der Abstrakten (The paths of Abstract Art). In 1936, in Paris, he founded a private academy called Le Mur where he taught painting, drawing and printmaking.
In 1937, Freundlich’s sculpture of 1912 L’homme nouveau figured on the cover of the catalogue of the travelling exhibition organised by the Nazis Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art), which denounced modern art. The exhibition included many Jewish artists. 14 of his works, in the collections of various German museums, were confiscated and destroyed.
When the war broke out, Otto Freundlich, who was of German nationality, was interned by the French authorities. Freed in 1940, mainly due to the intervention of Pablo Picasso, he took refuge at Saint-Paul de Fenouillet in the Pyrénées Orientales. Denounced and arrested on 23 February 1943, he was deported to Lublin in Poland to a concentration camp. He was killed on the day of his arrival, at the age of 65.
«The artist receives the transformations of the world, he senses them in his acts and thoughts, like driving forces, long before they manifest themselves in the outside world. He has the faculty to gradually detach himself, lastingly, from the forms and truths that are generally admitted. He executes the wish of a new reality.»
- Joachim Heusinger von Waldegg, Catalogue raisonné des travaux de l’Artiste, Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn, Rheinland-Verlag, Cologne, 1978.
A major figure of lyrical abstraction and one of the pioneers of abstract art acknowledged as the ‘father of tachism’. An originator of gestural abstraction, Hartung only really became known after 1945.
Hartung was born into a family of doctors and amateur musicians from whom he inherited a particularly developed musical sensitivity which encompassed both baroque and dodecaphonic music, and which in a way served as a constant echo to his painting.
His early vocation was placed under the manifestation of instinct, speed and the mark. Natural elements presided over the elaboration of his future work’s plastic vocabulary rooted in his intense feeling for introspection. He later confided: «Painting has always meant for me the existence of reality, a reality embodied by resistance, fervour, rhythm and pressure, but which only exists for me if I capture it, define it, immobilise it for a moment that I would like to last for ever…» (Autoportrait, Monique Lefèbvre, Grasset, 1976). His desire to draw began when, aged six, he was frightened by a storm. He described a flash of lightning, a clap of thunder and the storm’s violence: «I caught the flashes of lightening as they appeared in one of my school notebooks. I had to finish drawing their zigzagging on the page before the thunder burst. Like this I managed to ward off the thunder. Nothing would happen to me if my line could follow the speed of the lightening. These flashes of lightening enabled me to understand the speed of the line, the desire to capture, in pencil or brush, the moment and they made me understand the urgent nature of spontaneity…» (op. cit.)
This passion for drawing never left him. In the schools attended by the nobility and upper classes in Basel, Leipzig and Dresden (1921-1924, Baccalaureat in Latin and ancient Greek), his masters observed: «You are again making your horrible ink stains to form the subject… In drawing after drawing, I had succeeded in no longer figuring anything…» (op. cit.). He made completely abstract portraits of his school friends in which they were able to recognise themselves through the lines and rhythms. He was also fascinated by astronomy and photography, anticipating his future plastic concerns. He made his own telescope with a camera attached to it. He observed fragments of reality despite their abstract appearance. Through photography, which he practiced throughout his life, he was able to capture the ephemeral, portions of reality visible to the eye (the first major exhibition of Hartung’s photographs was held at the Centre Noroit in Arras in 1976). Attracted by nature and religion, he considered becoming a minister. However, the call of art was stronger. He saw the work of Rembrandt for the first time and was profoundly affected. «Looking at the folds of the mother’s dress (The Family) I discovered that Rembrandt also made stains, stains that have their own existence, rhythm, colours and expressiveness. I knew then that I would become an artist.» (op. cit.).
Hartung also studied Goya, Hals, El Greco and, in 1921 and 1922, the German Expressionists such as Nolde and Kokoschka who deformed appearance in order to achieve pure expression. The image gradually fades replaced by stains and tension. The subject is already of little importance. Unaware of the work of the great artists of the previous generation (Picasso, Braque, the Delaunays, Kandinsky and Klee …), Hartung’s first abstract watercolours, painted in 1922, can not be compared to anything that had been done before. With complete spontaneity the young artist marvels at the symbolic language of his line, inks and colours. He subsequently continued to use colour in a structured manner employed as a dynamic factor. These watercolours were shown as reproductions in an album published in 1966 with an introduction by Will Grohmann. They were followed in 1923-1924 by a series of charcoal and red chalk drawings in which speed of execution is already the decisive factor.
In 1924, Hartung began to study philosophy and art history at the Beaux-Arts in Leipzig. In 1925, he met Kandinsky at a lecture given by the latter, and discovered another form of abstraction, although he remained critical about Kandinsky’s research which was opposed to geometrism and equally innovative. He turned away from the Bauhaus, refusing the avant-garde work of Mondrian, to whom he preferred the Beaux-Arts of Dresden (1925-26) and Munich (1928) where he continued to study classical tradition and techniques (his only figurative works, later destroyed during a bombardment). In 1926, Hartung received a fresh shock upon discovering modern painting as it was practised beyond Germany’s frontiers, during a visit to the International Exhibition in Dresden: impressionism, fauvism and cubism. He was particularly interested by the work of Matisse, Braque, Picasso and Rouault. He continued to make numerous copies of the works of the masters in museums and from reproductions. In the summer he made a bicycle tour of Italy. He decided to visit Paris, arriving in October 1926 and remaining in the city until 1931. This stay was interrupted by several journeys (to Barcarès near Perpignan in 1927, and to Holland and Belgium). He studied the works of Cézanne, Van Gogh and the cubists who were an influence on his work until 1932. He considered the relationship between aesthetics and mathematics (distances, proportions, rhythms). He ignored the free academies and visited museums and exhibitions. Extremely solitary, he had no contact with other artists. His meeting with a young Norwegian woman, Anna-Eva Bergman, broke this isolation however. In September 1929, five months after first meeting, they were married.
The first exhibition of Hartung’s works took place in November 1931 at the Kühl Gallery in Dresden, and was followed the year after by an exhibition with his wife at the Blomqvist Gallery in Oslo. During this period the couple lived on an island in the south of Norway. He was deeply affected by the death of his father, in 1932, and, faced by the rise of Nazism, he leftGermanyto take refuge in theBalearic Islands. Passing through Paris, he left a few works with Jeanne Bucher. He built himself a small house near Fornells, a fishing port onMinorca, where he and his wife spent 1933 and 1934, a period that was to be highly productive.
Abandoning cubism, Hartung now returned to the spontaneous experimentation of his early years. He did not give these works a title, simply dating them, after the letter T, or more rarely G, so that we are able to place them in chronological order. As his assets had been blocked in Germany, he travelled to Berlin to try and arrange his financial situation. He continued to push his work to its utmost limits and both artist and work became identified in a total quest. In 1935, refusing to comply with the rules for art dictated by Nazi political propaganda, he fled from Berlin and its police with the help of Will Grohmann and Christian Zervos. Hartung now settled permanently in Paris, finding a studio at number 19 rue Daguerre. He became friends with Jean Hélion and Henri Goetz, and also met Mondrian, Kandinsky, Magnelli, Domela, Miró and Calder with whom he exhibited at the Galerie Pierre. Up until the war, he took part in the Surindépendants. Between 1934 and 1938 he painted several series titled taches d’encre. All the characteristics of his mature style are already present here: contrasting masses and lines, stains and hatching, supported by a technical control in which improvisation remains ‘on probation’. It was this disconcerting style with its complete freedom, at the time entirely new to the abstract movement, which years after the war made him famous. Further financial difficulties obliged him, however, to move into a smaller studio at number 8 rue François Mouthon. A difficult period commenced, during which he drew on paper tablecloths in bistrots. His wife fell seriously ill, they divorced and Anna-Eva returned to Norway. Housed for a year by Henri Goetz, Hartung worked in the studio of his friend the sculptor Gonzalez and himself began to sculpt.
An artist of exceptional stature, Hartung always remained true to his beliefs. In the political domain he continued his struggle against Nazism, enrolling on the list of volunteers against Hitlerism and, late in 1939, joining the Légion étrangère. In July of that year he married Roberta Gonzalez and, on demobilisation, lived in the Lot with the sculptor’s family, although Gonzalez himself died in March 1942. When the Germans occupied the zone libre, Hartung fled to Spain, with the help of Picasso. In Spain he spent a while in Franco’s prisons, before once more joining the Légion. He was seriously wounded during the assault on Belfort and had to have a leg amputated. In 1952 the two spouses met again, by chance, at a retrospective of Julio Gonzalez’s work at the Musée d’Art moderne in Paris. «It was the final day and crowded. Suddenly I recognised a familiar silhouette. I remained nailed to the spot, my heart beating wildly. Anna-Eva and I advanced towards each other.» (op. cit.). The power of destiny… Hartung remained convinced that «a work of art is a parallel manifestation of the artist’s life, an externalization of the forces within him, of everything which comes into play to push him into action, of everything which involves his impulses, his tendencies and experiences» (op. cit.). Roberta Gonzalez stepped aside and Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman took a studio in the rue Cels.
On his return to Paris at the end of 1945, Hartung began to paint again and also became a French citizen. This introduction concerning the period which precedes that studied in this book is justified by the continuity in an œuvre that is already mature and in which Hartung continued to develop an innovative language, paradoxically to be overshadowed by the postwar abstract generation. It should also be pointed out that, because of his intentional isolation, «Hartung’s work has practically no repercussion between 1921 and 1945» (Mathieu, De la révolte à la renaissance, Gallimard, 1973).
Despite an exhibition of his work in 1939 — the first to be held in the capital —with works by Roberta Gonzalez, at the Galerie Henriette, art lovers attending the first Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, in 1946, discovered an unknown artist. Hartung was not a frequent participant at this Salon, preferring the Salon de Mai. He was in contact with Poliakoff, Schneider, Marie Raymond and Domela, showing his work with the latter in premises in the rue Cujas. This sufficed for him to be noticed by a number of well-informed critics, such as Charles Estienne, Wilheim Uhde, Léon Degand and Madeleine Rousseau, who in 1949 published in Stuttgart the first book about the artist, with prefaces by James Johnson Sweeney and Ottomar Domnick.
It was equally Madeleine Rousseau who wrote the catalogue introduction to Hartung’s first one-man exhibition, held in Paris in 1947 at a small gallery named after its owner, Lydia Conti, and which had opened for this event at number 1 rue d’Argenson. Thirteen paintings were shown, dating from 1935 to 1947. Charles Estienne remarked on their tragic ‘intensity’. Up until 1957 Hartung’s works possessed a rebellious character. From 1945 onwards the grey stains appear and, around 1947-1948, the strong supporting line signals a new direction. It should be mentioned that until the end of the 1950s Hartung would work simultaneously on drawings and paintings. To be more exact, he worked on sketches, pastels and preparatory drawings for the paintings. When he began the final painting, however, the line remained just as elegant. Although Hartung’s work sometimes presents a similarity to ideograms, the artist always denied having been influenced in any way by oriental calligraphy. His line is indeed more emphatic and does not share the ideogram’s decorative character.
In 1948, Hartung had a second exhibition in Lydia Conti’s gallery, showing drawings done between 1922 and 1948. Alain Resnais directed a film about the artist which he showed in Germany and at the Galerie La Hune in Paris in 1950.
A number of group exhibitions during the period revealed this totally new form of painting. These were heroic years for abstract art whose practitioners were shown in the new galleries. In December 1947 an exhibition was organised by Georges Mathieu at the Galerie du Luxembourg in the rue Gay-Lussac, which Eva Philippe had opened the previous year. Under the title L’Imaginaire the artist presented works by Hartung, Atlan, Wols, Bryen, Arp, Riopelle, Ubac, Vulliamy, Brauner and Solier, with a text by Jean-José Marchand. This was followed in April 1948 by a second exhibition organised by Mathieu, this time at the Galerie Colette Allendy, which was given the enigmatic title H.W.P.S.M.T.B, the initials of each participant’s name: Hartung, Wols, Picabia, Stahly, Mathieu, Tapié and Bryen. A catalogue was produced with texts by each protagonist, except for Hartung and Stahly. Jean-José Marchand wrote: «Humour and tragedy combine here to strengthen (in appearance) old doctrines and produce (in fact) an entirely new art, which constitutes our original postwar contribution,» (Paru, June 1948).
Colette Allendy showed Hartung’s work again in group exhibitions in 1949 and, in 1950 with D’une saison l’autre, with a text by Charles Estienne and which also included works by Schneider and Soulages and the young artists Doucet and Gauthier.
In July 1948 a further exhibition was held at the Galerie des Deux-Isles, a new gallery run by Florence Bank. Mathieu showed beside his own work that of Hartung, Wols, Tapié, Picabia, Ubac, Arp and Germain with drawings, prints and black and white lithographs under the title White and Black. There were catalogue introductions by Michel Tapié and Édouard Jaguer who wrote: «For all those who are present here, the key lies in the conquest of a subconscious but real place…» and «a new phenomenon whose meteoric passage also illuminates writing…». That November, at the Galerie du Montparnasse, a former bookshop that had been transformed into a gallery and which was run by Gilberte Sollacaro, the first confrontation with American painting took place: Bryen, Hartung, Mathieu, Picabia and Wols were hung next to de Kooning, Gorky, Pollock, Renhardt, Rothko, Russel, Sauer and Tobey. Ultimately, in 1957, at Nina Dausset’s gallery, which had opened two years earlier in the rue du Dragon, Mathieu showed alongside his own work and under the title Véhémences confrontées a group of international artists: Bryen, Capogrossi, de Kooning, Hartung, Riopelle, Russel and Wols. A text was written by Michel Tapié. In the same year, Hartung participated in the exhibition Advancing French Art, in New York, Chicago, Baltimore and San Francisco. There were also group exhibitions organised by Denise René who in 1944 had opened a gallery at number 124 rue La Boétie. Hartung was included from 1946 onwards, with Schneider, Deyrolle, Dewasne and Marie Raymond (text by R. de Solier). These exhibitions continued in 1947, 1948 with Tendances de l’Art abstrait and 1949 with Quelques aspects de la peinture présente. We should also mention his participation in 1952 in Un art autre at the Galerie Facchetti, which took the title of a work by Michel Tapié published on the same occasion, and the exhibition organised by Charles Estienne in the hall of the Théâtre de Babylone Peintres de la Nouvelle Ecole de Paris; in 1954 in the group exhibition Divergences organised by R.V. Gindertaël, at the Galerie Arnaud, and in Individualités d’aujourd’hui at the Galerie Rive Droite. From 1954 until 1958 he was invited to participate in l’Ecole de Paris, at the Galerie Charpentier.
These group events were important as they enabled critics and the public to follow Hartung’s progress, particularly as one-man exhibitions of the artist’s recent work were infrequent.
The first of these one-man exhibitions was held in November 1956 at the Galerie de France and attracted a great deal of interest. Following the signature of a contract with Gildo Caputo, the gallery’s director, he showed pastels in 1958; paintings from 1922 to 1939 in 1961 (catalogue); recent works in 1962 (catalogue); fifteen paintings done in 1963 and 1964 in1964.
These exhibitions were followed by exhibitions of recent paintings in 1966, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1974 and 1979. In 1977, the gallery showed twenty-five works from 1922 to 1952.
From 1985 onwards, Hartung’s work was shown by the Galerie Daniel Gervis.
His work also began to be shown in a growing number of galleries and museums in the provinces and abroad.
Among the most significant of these were: in 1957, a travelling retrospective exhibition in Germany. In 1959, a retrospective at the Musée d’Antibes (his first exhibition in a French museum). In 1960, the Venice Biennial, at which he was awarded the Grand International Prize for Painting, with a room in the French pavilion devoted to his work. In 1963-1964, a travelling retrospective exhibition inZurich,Vienna,Dusseldorf,BrusselsandAmsterdam. The complete list of these exhibitions is to be found in the catalogue published by the Galerie Marwan Hoss, Paris, for the presentation in 1990 at the FIAC of Hartung’s last works.
Invited to the first Documenta atKassel, in 1955.
Between 1952 and 1954 Hartung began to develop a new pictorial language. He had abandoned the tachism of the years 1934-1938, replacing colour by line — counterpoint of the line against the background, with the addition of the stain-form producing a highly personal style of spatial dynamism — before introducing more complex forms characterised by curves, crescents and bundles of thick black bars executed with rapid fluid brush strokes against a neutral background, the sole counterpoint. This gestural dynamism then subsided to be replaced by a less spontaneous form of composition. Then, between 1955 and 1959, without renouncing one of the principal characteristics of his work, the antagonism between forms and signs and plain backgrounds, the rhythm of the lines becomes more intense suggesting clumps or bundles. The lines become tenser and adopt different thicknesses, an evolution also apparent in his graphic work, which in his opinion was as significant as the paintings.
A first exhibition of his etchings was held in 1954 at the Galerie La Hune which, in 1958, also presented his lithographs.
In 1956 the Galerie Craven showed drawings made between 1921 and 1938.
In 1955, Hartung was invited to the Biennial of Graphic Arts at Ljubljana at which he also showed his work on several subsequent occasions up until 1965, being awarded the Prize of Honour in 1967 at the VIIth Biennial. Three series of prints stand out: 1946-1947. Winter 1952-1953 done while he was participating for the first time with his paintings at the Venice Biennial. 1957 prints and lithographs, and a series of pastels continued until 1961 (he hardly painted in the years 1959 and 1960). In 1963, he began a new series of lithographs made at Saint-Gall. In 1964, Hartung-Bergman, a travelling exhibition of prints and lithographs, was shown in Israel. In 1965, for the publication of the catalogue raisonné of his prints (1921-1965), by the Galerie Rolf Schmücking in Braunschweig, an exhibition of Hartung’s entire graphic oeuvre was shown at the town’s museum.
Reprinted, Basel, 1990.
From 1961 onwards, a new period began characterised by scrapings in the still wet paint which allowed the canvas to show through. Appearance of interlacings, extremely delicate undulations tangled to give the illusion of bars, scratchings and streaks. The lines gradually disappear replaced by dark masses — like threatening smoke — without any graphic character, whose tones are superimposed against a lighter background, on huge canvases.
Hartung’s work becomes stripped of any reference to the exterior world or anything that might reflect a state of mind, «we enter,” Hartung tell us, “the unknown, a zone that has yet to be created… internal movements can be a basis, just an incitement… » In 1969 colours reappear with a preference for lemon yellows, intense blues, brick reds, light greens and the ever present black, lending expression to a poetic inspiration which commands the gesture.
In 1972, he moved with Anna-Eva Bergman into a large villa-studio above the town of Antibes, arranged to suit their needs. In 1959 he had already had a studio altered according to his plans near the Parc Montsouris. His wife died in the Antibes villa in 1987 and he himself died there on 14 December 1989.
Action painting is rooted in the work of Hartung who had paid a first visit to the U.S.A. in 1964, although his works had been shown there since 1957.
A large number of retrospectives with catalogues were held from 1965 onwards.
1966 Museo Civico di Torino.
1969 Musée national d’Art moderne de Paris, followed by Houston, Musée du Québec, Montreal.
1974 Wallraf Richartz Museum, Cologne.
1975 National Gallery, Berlinand Stadtische Gallery, Munich.
1977-1981 Travelling exhibition of lithographs and prints organised by the Centre Georges Pompidou.
1980 Musée d’Art moderne Ville de Paris: works from 1922 to 1939, text by André Berne-Joffroy. Musée de la Poste Paris: tapestries and woodcuts by Hartung and his wife.
1981 Stadtische Kunsthalle, Dusseldorf and Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, Munich. Henie-Onstad Foundation, Norway.
1986 Musée d’Evreux. Text by Pierre Daix. Biography and bibliography.
1987 Premières peintures 1922-1949. Musée Picasso, Antibes.
1991-1992 Hartung oeuvres extremes 1922-1989. Montbéliard andLudwigsburgMuseums. Catalogue.
Hartung achieved international recognition and was given many awards: 1970, Grand Prix des Arts de la Ville de Paris; 1977 member of the Institut Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, among other distinctions, he continued to work far from the intriguing tumult of the capital. Universal, never referring to nature but drawing from it its energy, his work born from a profound asceticism goes beyond the visible to deliver us a message of great sensitivity with an economy of matter and precise gestures. He had a decisive influence on the following generation.
Hartung’s works are preserved in many museum collections. In Germany, besides Berlin, Bonn, Cologne, Hamburg, the Hartung rooms at Darmstadt (1984) and Munich (1982); United Kingdom, Australia, Austria, Brazil, U.S.A, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, and in France: Musée d’Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou and Ville de Paris, Aix-en-Provence, Antibes, Chalon-sur-Saône, Dunkerque, Grenoble, Lille, Lyons, Marseilles, Nantes, Rouen, Fondation Maeght St. Paul, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Strasbourg, Toulouse.
- R.Van Gindertaël: Hans Hartung, Tisné, I960.
- Dominique Aubier: Hans Hartung, Musée de Poche, Fall, 1961.
- Jean Tardieu: Hans Hartung, Hazan, 1962.
- Special issue Cimaise, 1974 for the artist’s 70th birthday.
- Pierre Descargues: Hans Hartung, Cercle d’Art, 1977.
- Michel Ragon: Vingt-cinq ans d’Art vivant, Galilée, 1986.
- Pierre Daix: Hans Hartung, Bordas/Daniel Gervis, Paris, 1991.
Discontinuous in its appearance, Hélion’s work attracted controversy, misunderstandings and even sometimes incomprehension with a body of work whose perfectly logical development aimed to apprehend reality, without altering its nature, in an attempt to extract its deepest meaning. Despite his apparent ruptures, Hélion constantly attempted with absolute clarity to redefine reality, often working against the tide of fashionable movements, and this gives his work a very remarkable position in contemporary art.
Hélion abandoned the study of chemistry to travel to Paris to serve an apprentice-draftsman to an architect (1921). On his first visits to the Louvre, he was struck by the works of the ‘builders’: Poussin and Philippe de Champaigne.
He painted his first works in 1922 and in 1924 showed some street scenes at the ‘Foire aux croûtes’ in Montmartre. He saw the works of Cézanne, Matisse and Derain in the galleries. After signing a contract with Georges Bine, Hélion decided, in 1925, to become an artist 1925. In 1926 he shared a studio with Torrès-Garcia who introduced him to cubism. He executed a series of Autoportraits in red against a blue background and the first Boucliers in which he asserted the object’s functional outline while liberating colour. From the start of his career Hélion explored the everyday world of the street. He painted his first Femme au parapluie. He attempted to resolve the plastic problem at the same time as the problem of representation. The subject is dislocated, preserving only its geometrical elements that the artist considered to be physical realities. Hélion’s work gradually became non figurative and by a logical process arrived at abstraction — of which he was one of the pioneers — although he considered this term inappropriate, preferring that of ‘concrete art’.
Both a theoretician and a practitioner, Hélion was at the origin of avant-garde movements and their reviews.
He showed his first abstract works in a gallery in Barcelona in 1929 and on his return to Paris met Théo Van Doesburg, Otto Carlsund and Léon Tutundjian with whom he created the group Art concret and a review of same name whose unique issue appeared in April the following year. He met Arp, Mondrian and Pevsner. He wrote articles on modern art for the review Pyrénées, the first of many published pieces of art criticism (Hélion’s texts were collected by Daniel Abadie in Hélion ou la force des choses, Ed. de la Connaissance, 1975). Art concret expanded and, in 1930, Hélion was one of the founders of a second movement Abstraction-Création that included Arp, Herbin, Delaunay, Kupka and Gleizes, and for which, in 1932, he edited the first issue of the review of the same name. Hélion left the group in 1934. The decade which preceded the Second World War was essential for the introduction of abstraction and led after 1945 to the emergence of the second generation of abstract artists with their different orientations. Although the scope of this book does not permit us to consider Hélion’s influential role during the first period, we should mention his many contacts with other artists, such as Léger, Calder, Michel Seuphor, Giacometti, Ozenfant, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp and Miró… and also with writers, such as Georges Simenon who recommended him to write to earn a living, Tristan Tzara and Raymond Queneau. He travelled to the U.S.S.R. where he met Tatlin and equally to Berlin where he visited Naum Gabo (1930).
Hélion’s first one-man exhibition was given at the Galerie Pierre Loeb with Compositions orthogonales and Tensions courbes (1932) and the second occurred in 1936 at the Galerie Cahiers d’Art. He paid regular visits to the United States, exhibiting there from 1933 and living between Paris and Virginia where, in 1935, he built a studio. As he travelled, his circle of contacts began to widen and he participated in numerous group exhibitions: at the Galerie Pierre, in Switzerland, London and the U.S.A.: Gorky, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Kandinsky, Hartung, Picasso, Lipchitz. Fernandez, Magnelli, Gorin, Morris, Meyer Schapiro and Yves Tanguy, and also Henry Miller and André Breton.
In 1938 Hélion had another exhibition at the Galerie Pierre. The disbanding of Abstraction-Création had permitted Hélion to detach himself from the restricting codes of geometrics and neo-plastics. To avoid a dead end, he adopted a new structure introducing space and movement, suggesting an increasingly identical correspondence with reality: in this new arrangement of volumes and colours, he introduced Figures. This was the period of Grandes Figures abstraites (1937). He also made studies of trees from nature. In 1939 Hélion made his last abstract compositions (La figure tombée, priv. coll.) and also made a first attempt at a return to the identifiable with the series Têtes: Emile, Edouard, Charles, which led to his first major figurative composition Au cycliste (Musée national d’Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) that marked his final abandoning of abstraction.
Called up in 1940, Hélion was taken prisoner and sent to a camp from which, in 1942, he succeeded in escaping. He managed to reach Marseilles and met up there with Tzara, Duchamp, Brauner and Hérold, before obtaining a passage on a ship sailing for the United States. In New York Hélion found Mondrian, Calder, Max Ernst, Tanguy, Léger, Ozenfant and Breton. He painted the series Allumeurs, Fumeurs, and Filles aux cheveux jaunes followed, in 1945, by Figures de pluie. Les salueurs, Figures gothiques, Hommes assis. On his return to France, in April 1946, he spent the summer at Cagnes-sur-Mer, where he worked on Figures demi-nues. That autumn he found a studio in Paris, in the rue Michelet, where he worked until the end of his life. In 1947 he painted A rebours (Musée national d’Art moderne, Paris), an important milestone in his work which summarises his painting since the abstract period: an approach to reality in which he perceived a mechanical dimension. The theme of nudes is combined with a person in an everyday scene, a theme that was to recur in the following years, with open fruit such as pumpkins in still lives.
An exhibition of Hélion’s recent work was held in 1947 at the Galerie Renou et Colle. His style became more realistic – nonetheless retaining a picturesque character – without seeking to be descriptive, something he had always rejected. This is how he defined Réalité in the ‘Notes de travail’ which he kept throughout his career: «Any scene, however imaginary it may be, must coincide in some aspect (silhouette, colour, rhythm or whatever) with something ‘seen’. It must only include objects or persons which one day made an impression on me, separately or together. These objects or persons must be made with forms and colours that are part of a process.» (1950, Carnets, donated by Hélion in 1979 to the Cabinet des Estampes de la Bibliothèque nationale, Paris). He moved towards representing reality working from nature (Chrysanthèmes 1950, Grand Brabant 1958, Chou 1960), keeping as he says to the ‘seen’ and the ‘lived’. «Real — Realism — Possible. Realism is the quest for Real through the appearance of what we meet, without changing anything: The window of the café of the Val-de-Grâce is like this, with this grandeur: appearance. Realism. But the man seated in it constitutes an archetype of ‘a seated man’. This is the passage from realism to real.» (1966, op. cit.).
Between 1948 and 1950, Hélion painted a number of series that tended towards surrealism: Journaliers and Natures mortes à la citrouille, followed in 1949, after a visit to Italy, by female nudes, Journaleries, compositions that placed the nude in an everyday setting. This period was closed in 1951 by Les Mannequineries. He contrasted the allegorical with the everyday in realistic compositions that differentiated him from the art scene of the time in which abstraction triumphed (Allégorie journalière 1951-1952, large charcoal on canvas, Fondation Christian et Yvonne Zervos, Vézelay). His subjects are derived from events observed or experienced. In 1952, in a second spacious studio on the avenue de l’Observatoire, he painted a number of still lives with loaves, pumpkins and rabbits. He visited Spain to look at the works of Velasquez, Goya and El Greco. In 1953 he spent the summer on Belle-Ile where he bought a house, returning to Paris with a large number of landscape studies. In 1954 he executed a major composition of the Jardin du Luxembourg for which he had first made a large number of thumbnail sketches of strollers, benches and chairs, sweepers sweeping the dead leaves and statues. He completed this painting in the summer of 1955 on his return from a trip to Holland. This period marks a new phase in Hélion’s work in which he achieved a synthesis of image and sign. In 1956 he returned to the subject of Couples au parapluie and painted his first works on Belle-Ile, where he spent the summer. In 1957-1958, in the studio at the top of the building in the rue Michelet, he painted a series of interior scenes: portraits of his wife Pegeen sitting on a couch and a still life with a white soup ladle; Carmen; Toits; Vanités in which the innovate technique allows light to shine through the windows. In 1959 he began a series of portraits of friends, poets and collectors: Yves Bonnefoy, André du Bouchet, Jean-Pierre Burgart, Georges Bine and Pierre Bruguière (Musée Ingres, Montauban).
In 1960-1961 he returned to the theme of Luxembourg in the autumn and also Toits with figures. He returned to Holland to look at the works of Hals and Rubens. In 1962 he bought a property at Bigeonnette, near Chartres, with a spacious studio in which he was able to paint large works, while also continuing to paint on Belle-Ile and in his Paris studios. During these years he developed a form of gestural language which recalled the works of Magnasco that he seen in Venice and Genoa during his first visit to Italy in 1947, and accomplished a perfect blending of object, sign and colour. He painted using acrylic which permitted greater spontaneity and freedom. His interest was attracted by the Rues de Paris with their animation, and by les Halles which led to the series Bouchers. La voiture de fleurs et le boucher (Musée d’Art moderne Ville de Paris) illustrates this new style in which colour stains erase the precision of line and detail, while the imaginary gains ground with characters that are simultaneously real and imagined. In 1966 a new series of Rues led to Triptyque du Dragon, exhibited at the Galerie du Dragon in 1967.
From 1951 onwards, Hélion’s work was the subject of regular exhibitions, often with accompanying texts by his poet friends.
Abroad: 1951 Hanover Gallery, London, paintings from 1947 to 1951, text by Francis Ponge; Sala degli Specchi, Venice, paintings from 1928 to 1951, presentation by Peggy Guggenheim, text by Christian Zervos; Galleria Del Millione, Milan, recent works, text by Christain Zervos; 1964 Gallery of Modern Art, New York, paintings from 1928 to 1964, texts by Pierre Bruguière and Christian Zervos. 1965 The Leicester Galleries, London, paintings from 1929 to 1965, text by Pierre Bruguière.
In Paris: 1953 Chez Mayo; in 1956, Galerie des Cahiers d’Art where he showed his recent works in 1958 and 1961. 1962 Galerie Louis Carré, peintures de 1929 à 1939, text by Raymond Queneau. 1964 Galerie Yvon Lambert, trente ans de dessins, text by Francis Ponge. 1966 Galerie du Dragon, peintures de 1937 à 1966, texts by Jean-Pierre Burgart, Pierre Bruguière, A. du Bouchet, Alain Jouffroy, Francis Ponge, Pierre Schneider and Christian Zervos.
Refusing to divorce himself from realism, he continued his series inspired by news items: he drew the events of May 68 which he experienced as a meticulous observer on the barricades, filling a number of sketch books Choses vues en Mai. He also drew circus performers at the Cirque d’Hiver. He resumed his series of street scenes: entrances to the metro or sometimes its corridors, second-hand clothes shops, couples on benches and amateur street orchestras (1971-1972). In May 1973 he settled permanently at Bigeonnette, where he painted the cabbages in his kitchen garden and the market stalls at Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais. In 1975, during his annual stay on Belle-Ile, he made studies of lobsters and the wholesale fish merchants: these gouaches served him for the oils and pastels executed the following year. Periods of creative activity were interspersed with trips abroad that provided inspiration for his work: in 1976 New York inspired the series New York Scène. He was captivated by many different aspects of daily life: roadworks, café terraces, urinals, flea markets, to name a few of these. From 1981, Hélion’s eyesight began to deteriorate. He returned to his early subjects and painted large canvases. In a simplified style, employing a riot of colours, he remained faithful to his figurative investigation which he described as follows:
«From 25 to 29: forceful painting with an instinctive reaction to nature and the object.
From 29 to 33: development of a system of signs.
From 34 to 39: attempt to express myself and the world through abstraction.
In 39 and from 43 to 46: attempt to change the surrounding world with my abstract structures.
From 47 to 51: search for visual and human archetypes.
From 51 to 54: attempt to express everything through close contact with the object. Attempt to include appearance in the essence.
From 55 to 58: light.
After 58: free. Everything at once» (op. cit.)
With his singular career, Hélion was considered by his admirers as a ‘revolutionary.’
He participated in the Salon de Mai from 1947 to 1949, 1957, 1958.
In 1975, the Galerie Karl Flinker in Paris inaugurated its series of exhibitions of the artist with: Cinquante ans de peintures 1925-1975. Catalogues.
1986 Hélion, les années 60. Galerie Karl Flinker. Catalogue.
In 1970-1971 the first retrospective of Hélion’s work was held at the Grand Palais in Paris. Cent tableaux. 1928-1970. Catalogue. Archives de l’Art contemporain.
At the same time the Maison des Jeunes et de La Culture de Paris showed 40 ans de dessins 1930-1970. Catalogue. A travelling exhibition organised by the Centre national d’Art contemporain was shown in fifteen French museums. Catalogue.
Among the exhibitions and tributes we should mention:
1978 L’œuvre figuratif de 1928 à 1978. Musée Ingres, Montauban. Catalogue. Texts by A. Jouffroy, B. Noël, Fr. Ponge, J. Hélion.
1979 Dessins 1930-1978. Travelling exhibition organised by the M.N.A.M. Pinacothèque Athens. Catalogue Pontus Hulten and Daniel Abadie. At the Musée de Rennes in 1980.
1979 Peintures et dessins 1929-1979. Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, Saint-Etienne. Catalogue, text by Richard Crevier.
1980 Retrospective in Peking, Shanghai and Nanchang.
1984-1985 Hélion, peintures et dessins 1925-1983. Musée d’Art moderne Ville de Paris. Catalogue. Also shown in Munich and Lisbon. Texts Pierre Bruguière and Anne Moeglin-Delcroix. Complete Biography and Bibliography.
1987 Hélion, peinture de 1929 à 1983. Galerie Louis Carré, Paris. Catalogue.
1988 Hélion. Campredon, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Catalogue.
Hélion’s work is present in many museum collections in France and abroad, in particular Paris, Musée national d’Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou where a Hélion room was opened in 1986 – Musée d’Art moderne Ville de Paris – Grenoble – Beauvais – New York – Philadelphia -Buffalo – Saint Louis – San Francisco – Chicago – Liège – Venice – Tel-Aviv – London.
- Pierre Bruguière: Jean Hélion. SPEI, Paris, 1970.
- René Micha: Jean Hélion, Flammarion, 1979.
- Journal d’un peintre (Note books 1929-1984 preserved at the BN), A. Dimanche, Marseille, 1987.
- Henri-Claude Cousseau: Jean Hélion, Editions du Regard, Paris, 1992.