Material and transparency

On 22 May 2019, by Anne Foster

Even in his figurative period, the Informal artist Jean Fautrier brought out the light in objects, which glimmers on the surface of thick, grainy materials.

Jean Fautrier (1898-1964), Nature morte à la carafe et aux pommes (Still life with jug and apples), 1939, oil on paper mounted on canvas, 73 x 92 cm.
Estimate: €100,000/150,000

Red, green and yellow on white. Four apples are placed on a tablecloth barely covering a table. The perspective is reversed; the objects are positioned, while the surfaces supporting them are upright. The jug forms a vertical axis, its bluish contours outlined with a few brushstrokes to indicate the shadows. Its belly echoes the design of the fruit, aligned like musical notes: two red, one green, one yellow. The material seems transparent; light emanates from it, illuminating the entire composition. This painting is a pivotal work, halfway between the paintings of the interwar years and the Otages (Hostages) series evoking the Resistance and Nazi torture.

The master of informal art
When he was a young teenager living with his mother in London, he was admitted to the Royal Academy, though he left after a few years. In 1917, he was called up. “The war, the front: three years lost forever,” he wrote later to the French writer Jean Paulhan in 1944, “when I raged each day that I could not continue – hating all the warmongering – raging against the inhumanity of all this killing.” He finally achieved success in 1924-1925, notably supported by Paul Guillaume and Jeanne Castel. When his means were exhausted, he left for the Savoie, where he managed a dance hall, and then opened a nightclub. He returned to Paris during the Phoney War, and soon joined the Resistance, using his studio as a letterbox. He was arrested, but released through the intervention of Arno Breker at the request of his friend Jean Paulhan. He sought refuge in Chatenay-Malabry, near Paris, and began the first of the Otages series: a vague white circle with a red streak on an aquamarine background. This established his name when it was exhibited after the Liberation. Like Jean Dubuffet, he was one of the masters of French Informal and Matierist art. Through an economy of means – several thick layers of whiting and opaque or transparent pigments – he achieved the silent majesty of a true work of art.

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