Gérard Ernest Schneider (1896-1986)
Born in Sainte-Croix in 1896, Gérard Schneider spent his childhood in Neuchâtel. He became passionate about painting at the age of 14. His professor Alfred Blailé lent him some books in which he discovered the works of Raphael and Léonardo da Vinci. Schneider followed his passion to the École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1916. He studied with the French master of painting and engraving, Paul Renouard, who provided substantial encouragement to his young student. Two years later, Schneider joined the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts where he became interested in the works of Delacroix, Courbet, and Cézanne. His professor Fernand Cormon had taught Vincent van Gogh as well as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. In addition to working on his own paintings, he also restored old works. He exhibited his Figures in a Garden in 1936.
After having experimented with numerous styles, spanning Impressionism to Surrealism, his work after the war took a definitive turn toward Abstraction. In 1947, Gérard Schneider exhibited at the Salon des Surindépendants with Hans Hartung and Pierre Soulages. ‘One must look at painting the same way one listens to music’, he explained.
He exhibited thirteen paintings at Lydia Conti Gallery in 1947. The following year, the artist was invited to the Venice Biennale. Along with Hartung and Soulages, Schneider participated in numerous exhibitions and debates. Critics began to use the term ‘lyrical abstraction’ to describe their avant-garde works. ‘Lyrical abstraction has been as embodied in Schneider as Cubism in Picasso’, wrote Michel Ragon.
In the 1950s, his work was exhibited in many European cities, from Cologne to Brussels, and at the Biennale in Venice and Documenta in Kassel. His paintings also attracted Japanese audiences and galleries across the Atlantic. He was represented by Kootz Gallery in New York between 1955 and 1961, where he exhibited five times.
In the 1960s, the artist was represented by Lorenzelli Gallery, which exhibited his work in Italy. Through grand gestures upon the canvas, Schneider succeeds in liberating colour.
In Le Monde, Jacques Michel wrote during the artist’s life that Schneider is ‘one of the most accomplished living French painters of abstract art’.
In the mid-1970s, the painter was awarded the National Grand Prize of the Arts. His work gained new recognition in France, and a major retrospective exhibition was devoted to him at Neuchâtel in 1983. He died in 1986.
‘We painters in the midst of this prodigious twentieth century,’ he said, ‘have a much more assured position than that of our predecessors, those who dared to make us a passage. The freedom we have today, they had to fight to conquer it. It was their efforts, sometimes desperate, that made it possible. We are fighting – we can no longer be ignored.’
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