Georges Mathieu (1921)


Born in Boulogne-sur-Mer (Pas-de-Calais) in 1921, Georges Mathieu studied literature, law and philosophy at the Université de Lille. He very soon became interested in painting and produced his first canvases in 1942. He worked as an English teacher for several years before dedicating himself full-time to art.

In 1946 he exhibited his work at the “Salon des moins de trente ans” in Paris. He opposed geometric abstraction and constructivism and defended an art free of all constraints. He coined the term “lyrical abstraction” when referring to his own art. He exhibited three paintings at the “Salon des Réalités nouvelles” in 1947, at which he declared that “freedom is emptiness”. That same year he was appointed Director of Public Relations for the American company United States Lines in Paris.

During the 1950s, he produced his first tachist works, which he titled after events in the history of France, such as The Battle of Bouvines and The Coronation of Charlemagne. He was given a large retrospective at the musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris in 1963, which was followed by shows in many countries around the world. He was particularly fascinated by Japan, the art of which inspired him. “I did not paint quickly due to lack of time or to beat any records”, he said, “but just because I did not need more time to do what I had to do. And, on the contrary, spending longer, slowing my gestures and introducing doubt would have undermined the purity of the lines, the cruelty of the forms, the unity of the work”.

Beginning in the mid-1950s, Mathieu became interested in happenings and performance art. The public was enthused by the rapidity and fluidity of his physical involvement in the production of a painting. At the théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt in 1956 he painted a work – Homage to the Poets of the Whole World – that measured 4 by 12 metres, for which he used more than 800 tubes of paint.

During the 1960s he turned his attention to everyday objects and produced designs for jewellery, a 10-franc coin, stamps, pottery and tapestries made at the Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins. In 1975 the members of the Académie des Beaux-Arts elected him to take the seat of Alfred Giess.

He died in Boulogne-Billancourt on 10 June 2012, leaving behind him a body of work that has been exhibited in the most important museums of the world.

(Pauline Le Gall)

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