Georges Mathieu - Mouchet, 1960 (detail)

Georges Mathieu

France 1921 - 2012

Abstract Art, Abstract Expressionism, Tachisme, Lyrical Abstraction, Gutai Group

Georges Mathieu
Georges Mathieu
December 8, 2014

Georges Mathieu was a French painter born on January 27, 1921 in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. He is best known for large-scale paintings featuring curving, calligraphic lines. He is associated with Tachism (French for stain-making), a style of painting practiced in Paris after World War II, and through the 1950s. Similar to Abstract Expressionist painting in the United States, Tachism is understood as emotional, intuitive and highly spontaneous, emphasizing the gestural and performative aspects of the act of painting.

Georges Mathieu moved to Versailles at age 12 and studied Greek, Russian, and Spanish at the Lycée Hoche. His education continued at a variety of institutions in Rouen, Cambrai, and Douai, all in France, where he entered law school in 1941. A self-taught painter, he began his artistic career in 1942, making mostly landscapes and portraits. His professional life extended beyond painting to include such positions as interpreter for the U.S. Army in 1944 and later professor of French at the American University, Biarritz, France. Soon Mathieu began working with abstraction, citing Edward Crankshaw’s Joseph Conrad: Some Aspects of the Art of the Novel (1936) as a source for his investigation. His early abstract work consists of amorphous shapes and experimentation with drip techniques. In 1947 Mathieu moved to Paris, where he worked as the head of public relations in the American transatlantic shipping company United States Lines. While in Paris, he quickly became attracted to the work of artists such as Camille Bryen and Wols (Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze), which he referred to as Abstraction lyrique. Within his first year there, he organized L’imaginaire (The imaginary) at Galerie du Luxembourg to promote Lyrical Abstraction. In addition to these activities, he engaged in philosophical and theoretical issues pertinent to developments in Art Informel. In 1949 Mathieu participated in the group exhibition Huit oeuvres nouvelles (Eight new works), which also included works by Jean Dubuffet, Jean Fautrier, Maria Martins, and Wols. In 1950 Mathieu painted his first Tachiste works and had his first solo exhibition at the Galerie René Drouin, Paris. Mathieu’s calligraphic gestural style is partially indebted to Hans Hartung, another artist associated with Tachisme. One of the first European avanguard artists to recognize the importance of American counterparts, namely Jackson Pollock, Mathieu also formed a close association with the group Gutai Bijutsu Kyōkai (Gutai Art Association, 1954–72) in Japan in the late 1950s. Mathieu often squeezed paint directly from tubes onto the canvas and emphasized the necessity of rapid execution in order to harness an intuitive expression. Many of his titles refer to battles or other events in French history. In fact he identified his work as aligned with history painting, but he depicted monumental events in an abstract manner. On several highly publicized occasions, Mathieu introduced a performative dimension to his painting, executing large canvases before audiences while dressed in costume. In Tokyo in 1957, he made 21 paintings in three days. This merging of painting and performance anticipated the work of Yves Klein and other artists of the late 1950s and 1960s. In the early 1960s Mathieu also experimented with other mediums, making his first monumental sculptures in 1962. He likewise continued to publish his theoretical writings.

Mathieu began to exhibit internationally in 1952. In addition to his first one-person exhibition at Galerie Drouin (1950), he had solo shows at Stable Gallery, New York (1952), Galerie Rive droite, Paris (1954), and Kootz Gallery, New York, where he exhibited regularly throughout his life (first in 1954). Other notable solo exhibitions took place at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1956), Museu de arte moderna, So Paulo (1960), Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, his first Parisian retrospective (1963), a retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris (1978), and at Jeu de Paume, Paris (2002). His work was also shown in the seminal exhibitionVéhémences confrontées (Opposing forces), which visually pitted European Lyrical Abstraction against American Abstract Expressionism and for which Mathieu assisted French critic Michel Tapié in organizing at Galerie Nina Dausset, Paris (1951). At the height of his career, Mathieu was one of France’s most famous and financially successful painters. A colorful character who was the subject of a psychedelic 1974 documentary film, Georges Mathieu, or the Fury of Being, Matthieu described his work as “an orgasm of uncontrolled expression” in an 1954 article in Time. Mathieu died on June 10, 2012, in Boulogne-Billancourt, France.

Featured image: Georges Mathieu – Mouchet, 1960 (detail). Oil on canvas. 31 9/10 × 39 2/5 in. 81 × 100 cm. This is a unique work. Photo courtesy Perrotin

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group 
2014Georges Mathieu: Toward L 'Lyrical abstractionCity Museum of Boulogne-sur-Mer, Boulogne-sur-MerSolo
2014Krobylos a tangle of signs. From Parmigianino to Kentridge to | factory art rimini | Modern and contemporary, RiminiGroup
2014Inquieto NovecentoLu.C.C.A - Lucca Center of Contemporary Art, Lucca, LUGroup
2013Against TàpiesFundación Antoni Tàpies, BarcelonaGroup
2013WriteGallery 53, ParisGroup
2013Chronicles Of DopobombaMuseo d`Arte Contemporanea Lissone, LissoneGroup
2012The collection Gunter Sachs by Max Ernst to Andy WarholMuseum Villa Stuck, MunichGroup
2012Colors On StageABC-ARTE, GenoaGroup
2012Modern ArtGalerie Alexis Lartigue, ParisGroup
2011George mathieuAgnellini Arte Moderna, BresciaSolo
2011Les Sujets de l’Abstraction (1946 – 1962); 101 masterpieces from the Gandur Foundation for Art, GenevaMusée Fabre, MontpellierGroup
2011Private Passions Sammeln in MannheimStädtische Kunsthalle Mannheim, MannheimGroup
2011Non-figurative painting of the Second School of Paris (1946-1962)Rath Museum, GenevaGroup
2010Centre Pompidou in the State Hermitage MuseumThe State Hermitage Museum, St. PetersburgGroup
2010Opere GrandiAgnellini Arte Moderna, BresciaGroup
2010Red Works In RedCerruti Art, GenoaGroup
2010AbstractionsGalerie Pierre-Alain Challier, ParisGroup
2010GRAND GESTURE! - Informal and Abstract Expressionism, 1946-1964Museum Kunstpalast, DusseldorfGroup
2010Bense and the artsZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, KarlsruheGroup
2009Unique(s) Multiple(s)Galerie E.G.P., ParisGroup
2009MOCA´s First Thirty YearsMOCA Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2009Not necessary yet indispensable. 1979-2009: 30 years of contemporary art in MeymacAbbey St André - Centre for Contemporary Art Meymac MeymacGroup
2009L 'europe Of Informal - From Postwar In the SixtiesGalleria Mazzoleni Arte Moderna, TurinGroup
2009L 'Artist traveler from Gauguin to Klee, Matisse and AldersMAR Art Museum of the city of Ravenna, RavennaGroup
2008Tbilisi 4. Everyday is SaturdayTbilisi 4, TbilisiGroup
2008CARLO CARDAZZO. A NEW VISION OF ARTPeggy Guggenheim Collection, VeniceGroup
2008Thoughts orderedBonioni Art Gallery, Reggio EmiliaGroup
2008The hands of the ArtMARTa, HerfordGroup
2007Vienna to ParisVan Gogh, Cézanne and Austria Modern - Belvedere, ViennaGroup
2007Great paintingLentos Kunstmuseum Linz, LinzGroup
200660th Anniversary ShowGimpel Fils, LondonGroup
2006Venice 1948-1986 - The art scenePeggy Guggenheim Collection, VeniceGroup
2005New freshness - new presentation of the collectionWilhelm Hack Museum in LudwigshafenGroup
2005From the Collection Mauer, ViennaMuseum of Contemporary Art Belgrade, BelgradeGroup
200425 years Wilhelm-Hack-Museum - Collect 25 YearsWilhelm Hack Museum in LudwigshafenGroup
2004It Bastion year zeroBaluard Museum of Modern Art, Palma de MallorcaGroup
2002Georges MathieuJeu de Paume, ParisSolo
2002Tribute to François PluchartFRAC - Bourgogne, DijonGroup
1999Lineaments International - From the line DrawingLentos Kunstmuseum Linz, LinzGroup
1999Out of actionsMuseum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT), TokyoGroup
1998Art and ActionContemporary Art Museum - MACBA, BarcelonaGroup
1998Out of actions - activism, Body Art & Performances 1949-1979MAK - Museum of Applied Arts, ViennaGroup
1998Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles, CAGroup
1981Château Mouton Rothschild Collection 1945-1978Museum of Contemporary art of Montreal, Montreal, QCGroup
1979L'lyrical abstraction in EuropeMuseum of Contemporary art of Montreal, Montreal, QCGroup
1977Trends 's lyrical abstractionMuseum of Contemporary art of Montreal, Montreal, QCGroup
1976Georges Mathieu: PaintingsGalerie Beaubourg, VenceSolo
1974Alternatives painting around 1945-50Kunstverein in Hamburg, HamburgGroup
1971Ways of LookingMoMA - Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NYGroup
1967Mathieu: Paintings, gouaches, watercolors, collagesKölnischer Kunstverein, CologneSolo