10 april t/m 3 juli 1999
Galerie Quintessens is holding a select retrospective exhibition of work by the French painter Jean Hélion (1904 - 1987). This is the first Hélion exhibition in the Netherlands.
The Pompidou Centre Paris has dedicated a permanent gallery to Hélion’s paintings and during his lifetime Hélion had numerous one-man shows all over Europe and America, and latterly in the Far East. He was also shown in group exhibitions such as the Post-War show at the Tate in 1993 and the influential New Spirit in Painting at the Royal Academy in 1981.
Born in 1904, grandson of a Norman farmer, Hélion poured his early enthusiasms of poetry, chemistry, mathematics and architecture into his work once he had settled on painting as a career in 1924. He refused to sell his first pictures despite the entreaties of his friend, the creator of Inspector Maigret, Simenon. In 1929, in Paris, Hélion with Theo van Doesburg, with whom he helped to form the Art Concret group. He was now in the vanquard of the abstract art movement and part of the circle surrounding such artists as Arp, Pevsner, Mondrian and Vantongerloo. Two years later he helped create the much larger and more international Abstraction Création. A noted Anglophile, Hélion befriended such English members of this group as Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, who showed in the celebrated Unit One exibition at The Mayor Gallery in 1934, introducing Abstract (and Surrealist) art to an unsophisticated British public. Hélion also encouraged John Piper’s wife, Myfanwy (Evans), to start the avant-garde magazine Axis. Hélion wrote not only in Axis but also The Burlington Magazine, expressing his love of old masters such as Poussin.
By the end of the 1930s Hélion shocked former colleagues by beginning a disciplined and logical return to a highly distinctive form of figuration which always remained informed by his pioneering abstract work. The apparent change was much misunderstood, being regarded as a sort of ‘apostasy’.
Time was on his side however. Figurative artists from Léger to Lichtenstein appreciated him. His subject matter, whether nudes from his Paris studio, cabbages from his Normandy garden, men digging holes in the road or reading newspapers, and especially on the streets of Paris. He was credited with having created a distinctive mythology of everyday life. In group and thematic exhibitions, at home abroad, he was increasingly classed and shown with young artists, rather than those of his own generation, such as Giacometti and Balthus who were in fact friends.