France Figurative Arts

France Figurative Arts

Painting and sculpture. – As continuers of Impressionism and the great French colourist tradition, two recently deceased painters are now held in high regard: Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) and Èdouard Vuillard (1868-1940). They are in fact considered post-impressionists although they have operated with a new awareness of color, which is not tonal in them, and of form, which is inseparable from certain cubist and expressionist experiences.

The Fauves movement was born in 1905 and joined with Matisse, Raoul Dufy (born in 1877), Albert Marquet (1875-1947), Maurice de Vlaminck (born in 1876), G. Rouault, Kees van Dongen (born in 1877), André Derain (born in 1880), Othon Friesz (born in 1879) and others. Nostalgic for an ordre classique Derain however soon passed to geometric volumetric forms, thanks to the contribution of Picasso and Braque, they immediately developed into real cubism. The vast and complicated Cubist movement was continued and carried out, as well as by Braque and Picasso, by Robert Delaunay, J. Gris, R. de La Fresnaye, etc. and, although later with surrealist tendencies, by France Léger. The branch of “purism” is represented by A. Ozenfant and CE Jeanneret (Le Corbusier).

Among the Cubists who worked in France can be counted Gino Severini (born in 1883), who was an intermediary with the Italian Futurists, whose movement can be linked, in addition to the first works of Severini himself, those of Marcel Duchamp (born in 1887) and some sculptures by Raymond Duchamp-Villon.

In 1919 Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp transferred the movement of Dadaism to France, which had had its official origin in Zurich (in 1916) thanks to the work of artists and writers of various origins, such as the sculptor H. Arp and the writer Tristan Tzara. This movement by ridiculing and deforming traditional artistic conceptions aimed to implement and express total skepticism and anarchism.

Surrealism passed through the breach made by this movement, the first manifesto of which was written by André Breton in 1924 and in whose turn came in large part the poets (Aragon, Èluard, etc.) and other artists who had previously belonged to Dadaism. In surrealism, unlike Dadaism, instinctive impulses nevertheless received a systematization: they were considered autonomous forces of consciousness and the task of the painter or poet was only to register them automatically (“automatic writing”). This attitude, however, necessarily had to lead to a slavery of the pictorial or plastic fact towards images arising from the unconscious and that is why, in general, with a few exceptions (e.g. Mirò), surrealism did not give real artwork. Surrealism had a new manifesto in 1930 and after that it dominated the Parisian art scene for a few more years. However, after the outbreak of the Second World War, its center of gravity shifted to the United States, where the most popular surrealist, Salvador Dali, settled down and where, together with Max Ernst and Yves Tanguy, he still works today.. The main surrealist still active in France is André Masson (born 1896).

Meanwhile, from Cubism and Fauvism a whole painting with intermediate characters had developed, ranging from that of H. De Waroquier, D. De Segonzac, C. Dufresne (1876-1938) to that of expressionists such as E. Goerg (born in 1893).), Yves Alix, M. Gromaire (born in 1892), A. de La Patellière, A. Marchand etc., among which can be included the naturalized Jules Pascin (1885-1930), Mosè Kisling (born in 1891), A. Modigliani and Chaim Soutine (1894-1943), who is considered the typical expressionist. Instead, artists such as Picart Le Doux or Chapelain-Midy have approached a rather cheap form of naturalism. These returns to “reality” reached their peak around the years 1930-35.

According to, the “neo-humanists” Christian Bérard (born in 1902) and, for a time, Eugène Berman (born in 1899), came close to forms that make use of surrealist elements and that can be compared to Italian metaphysical painting, revealed in an exhibition at the Drouet Gallery in 1924. Pierre Roy (born in 1919) is linked to this type of “magical realism”.

Among the so-called “instinctive” painters or popular painters who followed Rousseau the Doganiere, we should mention Camille Bombois (born in 1883), and – with an almost dreamlike painting – Séraphine de Senlis, called “Séraphine” (1864-1934). A particular position have maintained Maurice Utrillo (born in 1883) and Marc Chagall (born in 1887), classified among the “fantastic”.

In the most revolutionary years (1905-25), abstract art as a search for absolute purity had little appeal among the French. Jacques Villon was one of the few to conduct such research for a long time, arriving from a complete abstractionism to a decomposition into abstract elements of the naturalistic datum, which served to infuse a tone of highly refined poetic detachment to his paintings. In this way he marked a path that, with the term “abstract-concrete”, can be said to be followed today, roughly, with more or less accentuated variants, by many of the younger French painters, such as J. Bazaine, M.. Estève, Ch. Lapicque, E. De Kermadec (born in 1899) and, behind them, J. Le Moal (born in 1909), A. Manessier (born in 1911), G. Singier, E. Pignon and, recently, P. Tal Coat (born 1905). non – figuratif (ie abstractionism without research intentions), to which, recently, a plethora of already surrealist painters joined. Other artists, albeit with equal awareness of pictorial means, instead tend towards greater plasticity and simplicity and readability, and among them we must remember Léon Gischia (born in 1904) and André Fougeron (born in 1913); who mainly used the linear teachings of the last Picasso. We should also remember Jean Hélion (born in 1904), who passed, after an abstract period, among the “figuratives”. The birth of these last two trends, now antithetical but with the same level of culture and both referring to the French tradition, is around 1941.

After Duchamp-Villon, sculpture followed the various general pictorial movements and had some exceptional personalities in Henri Laurens and in some naturalized foreigners such as Brancusi, Lipchitz, A. Archipenko, O. Zadkine, I. Gonzales and A. Giacometti, all more or less related to Cubism, abstractionism and Dadaism. A typically French phenomenon is the so-called “painters’ sculpture”, which constitutes a whole tradition, starting with Degas, and which includes the agile sketches by Matisse, the pieces, from 1908 to today, by Picasso, some heads by Modigliani and Braque up to sporadic works by the younger ones (Fougeron, Le Moal) and it is undeniable, in all of them, a particular and constant sensitivity and vivacity in dealing with plastic material.

France Figurative Arts