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Corneille

1922 - 2010

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 Picabia’s two last exhibitions there. 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 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 the period 1956 to 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, source material 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 rue Sauteuil, drawing on 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, [where] 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 and 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 his summers at Cadaquès and made a series of gouaches: these were shown in solo 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 witness 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 solo 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 titled 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 titled 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 École de Paris, Galerie Craven; Paroles visibles, Galerie La Roue; Alice in Wonderland, Galerie Kléber, preface by Charles Estienne. 1956 Dix jeunes peintres de l’École 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, École 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 from 1954 to 1955, where he met Jorn and Baj.

This is what Corneille had to say 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 École de Paris. Le Musée de Poche, 1956.

  • Jean-Clarence Lambert: Corneille, Le Musée de Poche, Georges Fall, 1960.

  • André Laude: Corneille, Le Roi-Image. SMI Paris Diffusion Weber, 1970.

  • Marcel Paquet: Corneille. Dellile, 1988



Excerpt from L’École de Paris 1945–1965: Dictionnaire des peintres
Ides et Calendes Editions, courtesy of Lydia Harambourg
www.idesetcalendes.com