Born in 1898 in Theizé (Rhône) to a family accomplished in both arts and sciences, Charles Lapicque did not deviate from their model. Talented in both music and drawing he graduated from the École Centrale in 1921. He worked as an engineer until 1928 before joining a laboratory in the Faculté des Sciences de Paris in 1931, where he conducted research on the perception of colours. In 1938 he was awarded the title of Doctor of Physical Sciences. He also studied the reactions of the eye in front of an intense light source (the origin of the starry images in his works), and defined a theory of the arrangement of colours in space which reverses the rules of the Renaissance: ‘I have shown how the classical rule, Vinci’s, advocating placing the blues in the distance, the reds, oranges, and yellows in the foreground, is a contradiction: it is more logical, more favourable, to do the opposite’ (in Le rouge et le bleu dans les arts, 1936).
Circa 1920 Charles Lapicque began to paint in Brittany, where he spent each summer since his childhood, first on the ground, then in a studio his step-father, Jean Perrin (Nobel prize in Physics), built him in 1927. Thereafter he adopted the work of memory definitively, in accordance with the art of music that he deeply loved and the Bergsonian philosophy of knowledge: ‘It is up to us to give reality an appearance that it does not have itself, a form, a figure…’
The works he produced in his youth immediately reveal a great originality, oscillating between figuration and abstraction, which sometimes intermingle. Alongside paintings summarised by their simplified designs and colours laid flat, he conceived an Hommage à Palestrina (1925), composed of an entirely abstract grid derived from cubism, followed by a Christ aux Épines (1939), according to a principle he would develop in 1939, in line with his optical discoveries.
During the war years he began a quasi-abstract period featuring tight blue skeletal structures painted onto the picture surface and receding from the blue to yellow and then red, representing a world which is identifiable to a certain extent (Jeanne d’Arc traversant la Loire, 1940; series of Rencontres, 1943-1945).
Exhibited as soon as 1929 by the gallerist Jeanne Bucher, Lapicque gave up his scientific career to focus entirely on painting.
He continued creating these works and the practice eventually (in 1946-1953) led to white frameworks; their more flexible lines leading to a system of interlacing black or white, which enclose ranges of pure colour most often laid flat (Le Sillon de Talbert, 1953). With La Bataille de Waterloo of 1949, Lapicque used optics even more, for example the zoom on a given area, in order to represent spaces through multiple perspectives and a decomposed sense of time.
This new interest in the vivacity of colour developed in the following period which can be described as flamboyant or Baroque (1954-1963). Illustrated particularly by the Breton lagoon series, twilight and nocturnal views of Venice with starry lights – which the artist described himself as ‘sucreries osées’ – this style followed Raoul Dufy’s prize at the Venice Biennale in 1953. Lapicque thus gave free rein to his passion for the Serene until July 1956.
Another point in common with his elder is the expression of movement. As seen first in 1949 in La Bataille de Waterloo and then in 1952 with Dimanche aux régates, expressing movement became an obsession for Lapicque from 1964, especially manifested in the exploration of new themes, such as the various strokes of a tennis-player captured from life (1965), mythological scenes (Apollon et Dionysos, 1964), and marine storms (L’Homme à la mer, 1969).
These stunning years precede the artist’s final period: in his advancing age he discovered serenity, as is revealed by a pacified painting style in acrylic from 1969, which even borders on a childish naïveté at the end of his life (Printemps marin, 1987).
The whole of his oeuvre comprises an astonishing diversity of themes fed also by his travels (Rome in 1957, Greece in 1964, Holland in 1974…), with a particular preference for representing the sea, boulders, sailboats, music, tennis, horses, wild animals, as well as history and mythology, as demonstrated by knights, kings, and ancient gods.
He also produced, in total creative freedom, a wide variety of styles and explored many directions. After having been one of the pioneers of non-figurative art, opening the way to such artists as Manessier, Bazaine, Vieira da Silva, De Staël, etc. – followers of the Post-War, non-figurative New School of Paris – Charles Lapicque then returned to figuration in a ‘new interpretation’ of appearance, even if he continued to rub shoulders with abstraction.
‘The drawing runs after the colour, and the colour, after the drawing.’
Successor of the Fauves, in their spirit Charles Lapicque represented pure colours whose dissonances, associated with a totally free design and a composition overloaded in a multitudinous space, make him a precursor of New Figuration in all its forms: New Figuration, born in France in the early 1960s, represented by Gérard Fromanger, Erró, Bernard Rancillac and Gérard Guyomard; Free Figuration, born in the early 1980s, marked by Robert Combas, Hervé and Richard Di Rosa, Louis Jammes and François Boisrond, and which, in turn, influenced the American Bad Painting of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, deliberately slapdash and expressionist; the ‘classic subjects’ of Lapicque could nourish Cultivated Painting, having appeared also in the early 1980s with Jean-Michel Alberola, Patrice Giorda and Gérard Garouste, while the violence of its colour prefigures the German and Austrian New Fauves such as Georg Baselitz and A.R. Penck. Also evident is the influence of Lapicque’s black interlaces on the African works of Jean-Michel Atlan; Lapicque’s white frameworks even opening the way for the cycle of Jean Dubuffet’s Hourloupe in 1962.
Today, his works can be found in numerous public French collections, including: Musée National d’Art Moderne de Paris and Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon (donation Granville), Besançon, Grenoble, and Nantes; as well as in Europe (Brussels, Copenhagen, Essen, Munich, Stuttgart), and in North America (New York, Ottawa, Toronto).
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Art works from Charles Lapicque
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