Auguste Herbin was the grand master of geometric abstraction in Europe, from 1945, the day after the Liberation, to 1960, the date of his death. This period was the most accomplished of all his work begun at the beginning of the 20th century in the continuation of pointillism, continued with fauvism then cubism from which it was before 1914 one of the major representatives.
The paintings that Herbin then painted, strictly abstract, composed of forms
simple and vividly colored geometric shapes, which are arranged in the plan and
distributed inside an orthogonal grid, impose themselves by the equilibrium given
in their structure, the rhythm of their composition, the relationships between their forms
and their colors, their perfect execution and, what is important, their frontality.
It is the privilege of the galerie Lahumière to be able to offer in this exhibition a
choice of 10 paintings painted from 1948 to 1957 among the most representative of this
period, including the famous composition “Vendredi II” from 1951, which was seen in the
world after its first presentation that same year at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in Paris, then reproduced in numerous works such as example of his art.
Auguste Herbin then codified his language, without it being possible to qualify it as
system : he defined a vocabulary associating shapes and colors and developed
not a grammar, a way of assembling them, which he entitled "Plastic Alphabet", the principles of which he published in 1948 in his book L’art non figuratif - non objectif (Paris, Edition Lydia Conti). From a theme, a name, a letter, a number, he composes his paintings based on his theory : largely
based on the search for a universal language, it is intended, according to him, to be
understood and can be used by all.
His compositions are meticulously studied from the drawing drawn with a ruler and compass, annotated with precision for the choice of colors before being translated with gouache into small
format, then executed in oil paint on the canvas in the chosen format generally of good size.
This is what the galerie Lahumière shows in its presentation where the definitive painting
is here accompanied by its preparatory drawing and its gouache study. This presentation is rich in lessons because it clearly shows in the rigorous calculation that governs each work, the part of improvisation that subsists : everything is ordered, but everything can be changed according to the sensitivity, the eye of the artist and, one might say, according to his inspiration, if such a word were not improper in this context. The place of circles, half-moons, triangles, squares, their proportion, their color can be modified, from the drawing to the gouache then on the painting.
These changes go from the vertical format to the horizontal one for the oil “A” 1955 ; they relate to specific points for the painting “Noel” 1949 where elements flow from left to right, are stretched in height and their modified proportions. Few variations on the other hand for the painting “Eté” 1952. As for the magnificent painting “Parfum II” from 1954, its composition won in sharpness, all the forms being well detached compared to the gouache which ultimately appears more confused.
Where we see a thought at work. Where we rub shoulders with the process of creation. Where
we discover that in the most constrained art, there is room for change.
Auguste Herbin exercised at this time so rich in artistic events in the
World, a considerable influence : his paintings are at the origin, strong of their
majestic presence. The theories of the artist have also counted a lot and his
book read, commented on and its content interpreted. His personality finally played
undeniably a role, asserted within the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, of which he was
the animator, as well as the welcome he gave to the young artists who came to give him
More than his disciples such as Henri Lhotellier, there are many artists who from
of his work have found their way and in turn become great creators,
in France, Belgium, Germany, Scandinavia and as far as Iceland. Aurélie
Nemours, Jean Dewasne, Carlos Cairoli, Georges Folmer, Vera Molnar, Nicolas
Schöffer, to name in France some of these principal artists among
which will appear from 1960 Victor Vasarely himself when he will create his
own “Plastic Alphabet”.
Geneviève Claisse, his niece and who was his assistant
in the last year of his life, will subsequently be able to develop his art in a
personal and very varied. In Belgium Jo Delahaut, in Germany Günter
Fruhtrunk, in Sweden Olle Baertling, in Finland Lars-Gunnar Nordström, in
Iceland Erikur Smith are the names that stand out among the great artists of
the time, the painting of Baertling for example representing well the equivalent
European from that of contemporary North American artists, among whom it is necessary to quote - finally ! - the name of Carmen Herrera.
The list is impressive and it does not stop : in the next generation, those
are Alejandro Otero, Jean Tinguely, Pol Bury, Yaacov Agam, members
of Equipo 57 who must be mentioned and will become the leaders of the kinetic art.
Can we ignore Auguste Herbin, one of the glories of French art ?
August 3rd 2022