The further we go into the century, the better we realize that the decade 1908-1915 was the highest moment of creation in the plastic arts and has conditioned the further development of taste up to now. Then the French painters and those who entered the so-called “École de Paris” set the tone for the whole world. Therefore it is appropriate to collect the echoes of the activity of those painters in the last ten years.
Some have died. Henri Matisse (1869-1954) in the last years of his life created abstract works with his exceptional sense of color, but he died without continuators. Not even Georges Rouault (1871-1958) could leave pupils given the secluded and out-of-group character of his painting. The fact remains that in all countries there is no lack of a reminder of the dramatic values of its color. Fernand Léger (1881-1955), on the other hand, has so paradigmatically embodied the obsessive need for plastic that many, even young people, now resort to his example. In a twilight of forgetfulness Albert Gleizes (1881-1953), cubist and perhaps the best theorist of “cubism, and Francis Picabia (1897-1953) died. abstractionism, dadaism and surrealism. Certainly its importance in the history of taste is great; but perhaps he lacked the creative commitment, the concentration of the spirit, for which he survives.
The most vital among the masters of the beginning of the century is certainly Pablo Picasso (b. 1881) who produces a lot and often with his usual creative height. The two series of variants on Courbet’s Demoiselles de la Seine (1956) and Velazquez’s Meniñas (1957) contain many virtuoso exercises but also admirable creations. Although he has remained the protagonist in the scene of painting and also of sculpture, young people today learn from him, but they do not love him because they do not participate in his need for controversy.
Georges Braque (b. 1882) continues the style that was once very vital in a dignified manner.
Instead Jacques Villon (b. 1875), who occupied a very secondary place at the time of Cubism, soon felt the need for the abstract; and it was his luck. Today he has the reputation of one of the greatest masters, seduces with his poetic charm, attracts many young artists and continues to work without any creative bending. He is one of the most encouraging phenomena in all of modern painting. Likewise, but in a lesser tone, we can say of Roger Bissière (b. 1888) who developed abstract painting from Cubism and who is very much appreciated and even exalted as a master in Paris, despite the fact that he lives and works in a country retreat.
Marc Chagall (b. 1887) brought to Paris before 1914 an unknown world of unbridled fantasy that formed the basis for surrealism. The personal imprint he gave to his style cannot change even today despite the many experiences, and yet in his latest works we can see a greater detachment from the subject and a freer pictorial expression.
Perhaps none of the masters of the beginning of the century has today a more influential position than that of Jean Arp (b.1887), one of the founders of Dada (1916), who later participated in the groups of surrealism and abstractionism, and who has achieved in sculpture, painting and engraving an art so personal that it is inimitable. He embodied the tendency of artists to create elementary forms charged with such vital intensity as to suggest a magical value.
French artists who oppose abstraction tendencies are of little value. André Fougeron (b. 1912), in compliance with the communist rules, paints figures that would like to be photographs of reality. Bernard Buffet (b. 1928) has had greater fortune who paints figures and still lifes, frail and stripped, with black outlines, so that they seem marked in mourning to represent the existential anguish of our time. It is a new type of rhetorical work designed to depress rather than exalt the soul of the beholder. It has had a huge success that is declining.
In 1942, at the time of the German invasion, a group of young people wanted to return to the French tradition of cubism and abstract art, reviving the fame of Jacques Villon. Their spiritual leader was Jean Bazaine (b. 1904), a cultured and refined painter, an exquisite colourist, who has recently heightened his sympathies for Monet and Renoir. This is why Bazaine’s group has been called abstract-impressionistic, or even abstract-concrete. Among the major representatives of the group are Alfred Manessier (b. 1911), a sincerely religious painter, who manages to express his mystical visions through abstract forms. Abstract-concrete, i.e. painters who do not disdain allusions to real objects among abstract forms are Maurice Estève (b.1904), Jean Le Moal (b.1909), Gustave Singier (b.1909), Pierre Tal Coat (b.1905)).
Some accentuate the figurative representation without renouncing abstract experiences. In this regard, we remember André Beaudin (b. 1895) and Maria Elena Vieira de Silva (b. 1908), a Portuguese of the school of Paris, whose painting has a grace that has fascinated the world. The Mondrian-style neo-plastic tradition found developments in Auguste Herbin (1882-1960), Victor Vasarely (b.1908) and a few others.
More vital is the surrealistic tradition which has some living and working samples such as Joan Miró (b.1893), one of the greatest artists living today, who is a Catalan from the school of Paris, and André Masson (b.1896), of one varied style, now more abstract now more realistic, always full of spirit.
Both surrealism and expressionism have posed the need for a spiritual intensification in abstract forms. An example is Hans Hartung (b. 1904) who creates a relationship between his few signs and the infinite space of the background with an affectionate anxiety of high lyrical value. Pierre Soulages (b. 1919) follows a similar path with less depth and with a brilliant effect. Nicolas de Staël (1919-1955) was able to give a great illusion of reality to areas of fantastic color, with a rare spiritual energy, and he tormented himself to find the relationship between representation and abstract forms. André Lanskoy (b.1902) had problems not unlike those of De Staël but he solved them with an easy and bright color. With the two precedents Sergio Poliakoff (b. 1900) completes the current contribution of the Russians to the Paris school. NS’
So far we have mentioned painters who are linked to traditions prior to the Second World War. Now we need to talk about a painting which, although unthinkable without surrealism and expressionism, is something essentially new. It is an art that bears various names, the most common being informal, beyond tachisme and art autre as its theorist Marcel Tapié would like.
According to ezinereligion.com, the artists who are most opposed to the constructive of Mondrian tradition, want to cancel the plastic and finite form in order to draw expression from the same pictorial material, an explosion of their way of feeling and being. The eldest of these is certainly Wols (1913-1951), a German who became French, whose real name is OA Schulze Battman. The nervous charge which he impresses in his formless forms and in his color without precise colors is exceptional. Baudelaire used to say that Goya’s monsters are “viables”. The same can be said of the Wols stains. Jean Fautrier (1898) is the refined among the informals, he has an extremely happy taste for color, he is the representative of a pure painting that presents a material elaborated by the sense of beauty. Jean Dubuffet (b. 1901) started from primitivism and satire and has a simple, serious, extremely truthful soul. In 1959 he made a series of paintings for the exaltation of the soil and revealed the vitality of the earth with an exceptional creative force. Camille Bryen (b. 1907) also made a contribution to informal taste.
The Paris Biennale of 1959, made up of artists from all over the place under the age of 35, showed that the greatest and best part of those who come to art paint in an “abstract” way. Young people are distinguished from the middle generation by a more decisive impulse towards the direct expression of the inner life.