Artists > Jean Hélion

Jean Hélion

Artworks

L'Homme assis, 1928, huile sur toile, 130 x 80 cm
L'Homme assis, 1928, huile sur toile, 130 x 80 cm
Sans titre, 1932, encre de Chine, 17,5 x 25 cm
Sans titre, 1932, encre de Chine, 17,5 x 25 cm
Sans titre, 1938, crayon, encre et aquarelle sur papier, 27 x 37,5 cm
Sans titre, 1938, crayon, encre et aquarelle sur papier, 27 x 37,5 cm
Sans titre, 1944, papiers découpés, crayon, gouache, encre de Chine et aquarelle sur papier, 23,5 x 26 cm
Sans titre, 1944, papiers découpés, crayon, gouache, encre de Chine et aquarelle sur papier, 23,5 x 26 cm
Sans titre, 1947, crayon, encre et aquarelle sur papier, 24,5 x 33 cm
Sans titre, 1947, crayon, encre et aquarelle sur papier, 24,5 x 33 cm
Le lit, 1948, fusain, aquarelle et gouache sur papier, 50,5 x 65 cm
Le lit, 1948, fusain, aquarelle et gouache sur papier, 50,5 x 65 cm
Nature morte au parapluie et au chapeau, 1948, fusain et huile dégraissée, 78 x 58 cm
Nature morte au parapluie et au chapeau, 1948, fusain et huile dégraissée, 78 x 58 cm
Autoportrait, 1953, fusain et huile sur toile, 55,9 x 45,7 cm
Autoportrait, 1953, fusain et huile sur toile, 55,9 x 45,7 cm
Toits, 1961, huile sur toile, 155 x 200 cm
Toits, 1961, huile sur toile, 155 x 200 cm
Métro, 1969, acrylique sur toile, 92 x 65 cm
Métro, 1969, acrylique sur toile, 92 x 65 cm
Sans titre, circa 1970, fusain, pastel, encres sur papier, 65 x 47 cm
Sans titre, circa 1970, fusain, pastel, encres sur papier, 65 x 47 cm
Tête à tête, 1973, huile dégraissée, fusain, encre de Chine et pastel sur toile, 60 x 92 cm
Tête à tête, 1973, huile dégraissée, fusain, encre de Chine et pastel sur toile, 60 x 92 cm
Diptyque (partie 1), Suite pour le 11 Novembre, 1976, acrylique sur toile, 275 x 225 cm
Diptyque (partie 1), Suite pour le 11 Novembre, 1976, acrylique sur toile, 275 x 225 cm
Diptyque (partie 2), Suite pour le 11 Novembre, 1976, acrylique sur toile, 200 x 350 cm
Diptyque (partie 2), Suite pour le 11 Novembre, 1976, acrylique sur toile, 200 x 350 cm
Sans titre, 1979, encre, pastel et fusain sur papier, 22 x 30,5 cm
Sans titre, 1979, encre, pastel et fusain sur papier, 22 x 30,5 cm
Drame en trois chaises, 1979, acrylique sur toile, 130 x 195 cm
Drame en trois chaises, 1979, acrylique sur toile, 130 x 195 cm
Grand théâtre de chaises à Skyros, 1980, acrylique sur toile, 200 x 290 cm
Grand théâtre de chaises à Skyros, 1980, acrylique sur toile, 200 x 290 cm
Chose vue à Montauk, USA, 1981, acrylique sur toile, 114 x 162 cm
Chose vue à Montauk, USA, 1981, acrylique sur toile, 114 x 162 cm
Suite vaniteuse à l'atelier III, 1982, acrylique sur toile, 161 x 114 cm
Suite vaniteuse à l'atelier III, 1982, acrylique sur toile, 161 x 114 cm
Trombone pour un peintre, 1983, acrylique sur toile, 175 x 250 cm,  présenté lors de l'exposition
Trombone pour un peintre, 1983, acrylique sur toile, 175 x 250 cm, présenté lors de l'exposition "Jean Hélion" au Centre Georges Pompidou 2004-2005
L'Homme assis, 1928, huile sur toile, 130 x 80 cm
Sans titre, 1932, encre de Chine, 17,5 x 25 cm
Sans titre, 1938, crayon, encre et aquarelle sur papier, 27 x 37,5 cm
Sans titre, 1944, papiers découpés, crayon, gouache, encre de Chine et aquarelle sur papier, 23,5 x 26 cm
Sans titre, 1947, crayon, encre et aquarelle sur papier, 24,5 x 33 cm
Le lit, 1948, fusain, aquarelle et gouache sur papier, 50,5 x 65 cm
Nature morte au parapluie et au chapeau, 1948, fusain et huile dégraissée, 78 x 58 cm
Autoportrait, 1953, fusain et huile sur toile, 55,9 x 45,7 cm
Toits, 1961, huile sur toile, 155 x 200 cm
Métro, 1969, acrylique sur toile, 92 x 65 cm
Sans titre, circa 1970, fusain, pastel, encres sur papier, 65 x 47 cm
Tête à tête, 1973, huile dégraissée, fusain, encre de Chine et pastel sur toile, 60 x 92 cm
Diptyque (partie 1), Suite pour le 11 Novembre, 1976, acrylique sur toile, 275 x 225 cm
Diptyque (partie 2), Suite pour le 11 Novembre, 1976, acrylique sur toile, 200 x 350 cm
Sans titre, 1979, encre, pastel et fusain sur papier, 22 x 30,5 cm
Drame en trois chaises, 1979, acrylique sur toile, 130 x 195 cm
Grand théâtre de chaises à Skyros, 1980, acrylique sur toile, 200 x 290 cm
Chose vue à Montauk, USA, 1981, acrylique sur toile, 114 x 162 cm
Suite vaniteuse à l'atelier III, 1982, acrylique sur toile, 161 x 114 cm
Trombone pour un peintre, 1983, acrylique sur toile, 175 x 250 cm,  présenté lors de l'exposition

Exhibitions(principal)

Personal

1934 « University of Chicago », Université de Chicago, Chicago

1937 « Jean Hélion », Howard Putzel Gallery, Hollywood

1937 « Jean Hélion », San Fransisco Museum of Art, San Fransisco

1942 « Hélion – Daura », The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond

1943 « Jean Hélion. Abstract Paintings », The Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago

1943 « Jean Hélion. Paintings 1933 -1939 », Art of this Century, New York

1945 « Gouaches and Watercolours by Jean Hélion (1935-1945) », Paul Rosenberg & Co, New York

1951 « Hélion. Pitture dal 1928 al 1951 », Sala degli Specchi, Palazzo Venier dai Leoni, Venise

1961 « Jean Hélion. Peintures », galerie Cahiers d’Art, Paris

1962 « Jean Hélion, peintures 1929-1939 », galerie Louis Carré, Paris

1964 « Hélion. 30 ans de dessins », Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris

1966 « Jean Hélion. Dix-neuf tableaux de 1937 à 1966 », Galerie du Dragon, Paris

1970 « Hélion. Cent tableaux 1928-1970 », Grand Palais, Paris

1975 « Jean Hélion, cinquante ans de peinture 1925-1975 », Galerie Karl Flinker, Paris

1977 « Jean Hélion. Dessin récents », Musée de l’Abbaye Sainte-Croix, Les Sables-d’Olonne

1977 « Hélion. Les Marchés (1972-1977) », Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris

1978 « Jean Hélion. L’oeuvre figurative de 1928 à 1978 », Musée Ingres, Montauban

1979 « Jean Hélion », Centre George Pompidou, Paris

1979 « Hélion. Dessins 1930-1978 », Centre George Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris

1979 « Hélion, peintures et dessins, 1929-1979 », Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, Saint Etienne

1980 « Hélion, les années 50 », Galerie Karl Flinker, Paris

1980 « Hélion. Peintures », Palais des Beaux-Arts, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Pékin, Shangaï, Nanchang

1980 « Hélion, dessins (1930-1978) », , Amiens, Rennes, Liège

1981 « Jean Hélion. Oeuvres autour du Triptyque du marché », Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caen

1981 « Hélion. Oeuvres récentes », Grand Palais (Fiac, galerie Karl Flinker), Paris

1982 « Hélion, tableaux 1929-1982 », Musée de l’Etat, Luxembourg

1984 « Jean Hélion; Abstraktion und Mythen des Alltags. Bilder. Zeichnungen, Gouachen 1925-1983 », Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich

1982 « Hélion. Peintures et dessins 1925-1983 », Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris, Paris

1986 « Jean Hélion. Aquarelles, dessins et estampes », Galerie Berggruen & Cie, Paris

1990 « Jean Hélion », IVAM – Centro Julio Gonzalvez, Valence

1990 « Jean Hélion », tate Gallery, Liverpool

1991 « Dation, peintures et dessins », Musée national d’art moderne, Paris

1995 « Jean Hélion », Musée des Beaux-Arts, Orléans

1995 « Hélion, la figure tombée », Musée d’Unterlinden, Colmar

2004 « Jean Hélion », Centre Pompidou-Musée national d’art moderne, Paris

2004 « Jean Hélion », Musée Picasso, Barcelone

Collective

Biographie

1904 Birth of Jean Bichier, known as Hélion, in Normandy in very modest circumstances.

1913 First attempts at coloring.

1920 Brief studies in chemistry, searching to find the reality of things behind their appearance, while also writing poetry.

1921 Designer-apprentice to a Parisian architect, he traveled about Paris taking measurements, beginning of his passion for street scenes. Writes poetry. Becomes friendly with many poets, but finally chooses painting. Visits the Louvre regularly, especially the works of Poussin and Philippe de Champaigne.

1922 First paintings, thick and figurative until 1929 : especially portraits and still lifes.

1925 A collector, Georges Bine, insures his revenues more of less regularly. He can concentrate entirely on painting.

1926 Decisive meeting with Torres Garcia, who will live with him, introduce him to cubism and modern art in general.

1927 Founds a revue with friends where he publishes a selection of his poems about the city.

1928 Exhibition of two paintings in the "Salon des Indépendants", but he is rejected by the "Salon d’Automne". Organizes a protest exhibition “The Refused 5” (notably with Torrès-Garcia).

1929 In November, exhibition of his first abstract works in Barcelona. In the autumn in Paris he meets Théo van Doesburg, Otto Carlsund, and Léon Tutundjian with whom he founds the “Art Concret” group whose manifest declaims : “A work of art…should get nothing from formal data in nature, not sensuality, not sentimentality…” All inspiration from nature is banished. This, he rapidly perceives does not correspond to his own deeper nature, but his desire to design a universal language understandable to all.

1930 Van Doesburg encourages the group “Art Concret” to grow, and it becomes “Abstract-Création” (with Arp, Delaunay, Herbin, Kupka, Gleizes, Valmer, and Tutundjian (then after von Doesburg’s death in 1931, Vantongerloo). Trip to the URSS : shocked by the absence of freedom for this fellow artists and intellectuals, he distances himself from communist propaganda.

1932 Hélion leaves for the United States, marries Jean Blair, an American from Virginia. Beginning of frequent trips between Paris and the United States. In Paris, the Pierre Loeb Gallery organizes his first one-man exhibition. He becomes friends with Modrian, Arp, and Giaciometti. He directs the first edition of “Abstract-Création” a revue where he published an article.

1933 Distances himself from the doctrine of abstract art : “the superiority of nature is to offer the maximum of complexity of relationships. I am headed toward it with big steps” He gives up the formalism of geometric art. “A painting is considered as a growing organism. As much as possible it escapes the canvas, like it escapes the artist.” The appearance of volumes. He becomes the “eminence grise” of the Living Art Gallery in New York : the first American institution before Moma, devoted to major European artists of the first half of the 20th Century.

1934 Première exposition personnelle aux Etats-Unis. Ses formes, qu’il appelle désormais figures se séparent et prolifèrent, prennent du relief grâce à des variations d’intensité des couleurs, sont reliées par un rythme musical, deviennent sculpturales et deviennent , de façon allusive, anthropomorphiques. Il commence à analyser systématiquement sa démarche dans ses écrits.

1935 “The more I advance, the more the call of nature becomes evident…volumes must become complete: objects, figures. Soon perspective of nature will be inevitable there will be a change to a new naturalist era.”

1936 Participates in many exhibitions of the group in Paris, London and New York. His first show at the Gallery des Cahiers d’Art in Paris is a great success. Starting in July, he lives mostly in the United States with a studio in Virginia. He spends the winter of 1936-1937 in New York.

1939 He paints his last abstract work, “La Figure Tombée” (The fallen figure) and simultaneously his first figurative painting in 10 years, “Au Cyclist”. In October begins a series of men’s heads with hats structured by forms. He tells a friend, P.G. Bruguière, the direction of his future evolution in detail: “Ten years ago, I produced my first graphics freed of natural imagery. I will soon be 35. I still have time to accomplish a major work. For ten years, I think that I will look at, admire, and love the life around us, people passing, houses, gardens, shops, workers, and everyday gestures. Then, when I have mastered the medium and the experience of people and attitudes, and feel as at ease with them as I feel now with non-figurative art, I will begin another period that I have already have in mind: I will give painting its moral and didactic power. I will attack big scenes which will not only be descriptive, administrative, but significant like Poussin’s major work.”

1940 Hélion, at a time when many French artists flee to the United States, and in spite of his notoriety, choses to return to France in January to enroll in the Army. He is taken prisoner in June, and held in the Pomeranian prison camp, then in Stettin where he acts as interpreter in a prison boat. He escapes in February 1942, crosses Germany, draws a lot on the way, and returns to Paris, then Marseille. In October he returns to the United States where he gives many conferences to denounce Nazism, hoping to influence public opinion to convince Roosevelt that an military intervention is necessary. He writes a book about his captivity and escape called “They Shall Not Have Me, which was widely diffused.

1943 One-man show in New York at the Art of This Century (Peggy Guggenheim). Against the style in vogue, and very aware of the risk to his noteriety, he completely gives up abstract art, finishes the figurative work he began before the war, draws and paints the new ”men with hats”.

1944 - 1945 Hélion moves to New York, rejoins Mondrian, Ernst, Calder, Tanguy, Léger, Seligman, Ozenfant, Breton and André Masson, refugees in New York. Many portraits, nudes, still lifes. He creates his own mythology drawn from the spectacle of the street. Series of “Allumeurs”, Smokers, Ladies with Yellow hair, the half-naked auto-portraits, “Salueurs”, “Promeneurs”, figures in the rain. The first “mannequineries”. Strong work structured by his experience in Abstraction.

1947 Paints backwards which epitomizes all his former research – from the first nudes to the nudes of the preceding summer – inserted into an urban architecture. In May, Hélion presents figurative works in Paris where he hadn’t exhibited since 1938. They received very bad reviews from the critics.

1948 First trip to Italy to Venice and Genoa. Discovery of Alessandro Magnasco, a rococo painter of the Genovise school. In Paris he meets poets Yves Bonnefoy, André du Bouchet, and Francis Ponge.

1949 Hélion paints numerous realistic feminine nudes, with no aim to please. Then, paints in succession, men on benches and the lifeless figures, the “mannequineries” and some complex scenes. I always admired mannequins gesturing in shop windows […] These mannequins seem to play theatrical roles behind the window, an elegant and stylish theater. There is also a sermon-like aspect to their gestures”. The social acceptance of mannequins, their fashionable poses are in opposition to people lying in the street, with no thought to convention, not tramps, as is sometimes stated, but poets or the painter himself.

1951 In autumn he paints natural chrysanthemums to the astonishment of the public and most critics. The Parisian art scene at the time, is entirely devoted to abstraction. Still lifes of prostitutes, pumpkins, bread, realistic nudes. Many street-scene and daily life drawings. Allegories of his time. New failures at his exhibitions in France and elsewhere.

1952 Hélion persists not deviating from his exploration of reality: geraniums, anemones, yellow chestnut tree leaves, objects arranged in still life often set on a table. “On a wooden temple, a very ordinary table, I display a pumpkin opened up to reveal all its inner treasures, the grapes of seeds, the filaments, the gilding”. He is comforted by the friendship and esteem of Giocometti, Balthus, Brauner, Francis Ponge.

1953 Discovers Belle-Ile where he buys a house. He produces numerous studies of nature.

1954 Large compositions, many inspired by the Luxembourg gardens.

1955 Another trip to Italy to discover Masaccio.

1957 Hélion paints “vanities” or skulls next to familiar objects. “Nothing macabre, an architectural feeling, of stones, minerals, ordinary objects quite grandiose. An object that survives over a long time, reassuring.” Nudes in the workshop, pumpkins and vanities. Hélion leaves Peggy.

1959 Portraits of poet friends and collectors. Scenes of rooftops which he sees from his home rue Michelet, which, without artifice, reintroduce geometrical forms and his questioning about forms.

1962 Buys a property in Bigeonnette near Chartres where he has a very big studio. He continues to paint in Belle Ile in the summer. Begins using acrylics. Back in Paris he once again marvels the spectacle of the streets. “I dream of a Sixtine Chapel with contemporary forms and dress.” I dream of allegory, of daily mythology. It will be The Butchers in 1963 that incarnate this. He goes to the Parisian market Les Halles and draws the “meat carriers”.

1963 More hieratic figures from Les Halles. “The sitting man, flute or guitar players are the priests in a cult that I can only express by painting them… This is my mythology. Weds Jacqueline Ventadour.

1964 Street scenes are enriched by his dreams. His subjects become actors or witnesses of a modern fresco, his compositions improve both in formalism and liberty.

1967 Friendship with two young painters: Gilles Aillaud and Eduardo Arroyo.

1968 Hélion takes an interest in circuses “a place where ordinary people do extraordinary things,” and in the events surrounding May 1968 to which he bears witness with the tryptic “Choses vues en Mai”, “Théâtre de Mai 68”, and Conciliabules de Mars”.

1969 In Paris he concentrates on circus scenes. Also paints the entrances and exits of the Paris subways.

1970 Retrospective of his work in Paris at the National gallery in the Grand Palais organized by Daniel Abadie, and an itinerant exhibition organized by the Centre national d’Art Contemporain, showing his recent works throughout France until 1972.

1971 Hélion’s optical problems, which began in 1965, worsen.

1972 In Bigeonnette, Hélion discovers a passion for cabbages. Jacqueline came into the studio with a cabbage held against her breast. “It was so beautiful that I drew it in pastel right away. Each cabbage seems to be a sublime natural abstraction where leaf by leaf, from one cabbage to another, a song plays, a long phrase which haunts me.” Orchestras of streets, shops, clothing…

1973 Hélion moves permanently to Bigeonnette while still maintaining his Parisian studio. He passionately paints marketplace scenes of the surrounding villages. Sensual series of Mathilde, slightly dressed by a chimney fire.

1974 Beginnings of a twelve-year collaboration with Kart Flinker’s Parisian art gallery. He is given faultless support by Flinker who is convinced of the exceptional value of his work at a time when very few believe in him.

1975 - 1978 The artist deploys his full talent. Lobsters and seafood wholesalers, Nude with parrot, Blue parrot, November 11th, boxes of books in the Paris bookstalls. “The theme of the crucifixion or the anti-crucifixion haunts the lobster saga”. The Calvary in Plougasten, Humor of the Pantalonnades and Jambages. Public urinals in Paris. Bedroom suites. During a stay in New York for an exhibition, he produces many drawings. From 1978 onward Hélion calls upon all of the objects that have inspired his work. Three painters carrying their easels evoke the crucifixion theme. “Myths are so deeply imbedded in us that in each of our gestures, familiar or extraordinary, there is one that expresses itself.”

1979 - 1980 The Pompidou Center organizes an itinerant exhibition of drawings notably shown at the Athens National Pinacothèque, and the Beaux Arts palaces in Peking, Shanghai and Nanchang.

1981 - 1983 His sight declines. The dream theme imposes itself allowing him to show the truth behind appearances, and to give to each another life. The subjects of the 1940’s have new colors: “I paint the pants red that weren’t before, and violet the women that were nude, because that was my happiness and my way of singing it from one to the other”. Beethoven composed his most audacious music at the end of his life when he was deaf. Similarly, Hélion in his old age with diminishing sight paints with the assurance of one who had seen and thought about many things, always making the concept and the vision coincide. His work is nourished by his memory, this thoughts, his dreams of his passed life, with the need, also of an artistic assessment of his work, in which his very few of contemporaries saw the coherence. Some awkward things occasionally, but also great paintings, gouaches and drawings, where the audacious use of color and form is not accidental. Abstraction fuses with figuration. “It’s in painting objects that I best express abstraction considered as the soul of the world.” The compositions are complex. The subjects are enigmatic. In October, the rest of his vision brutally fails. He must cease painting. He dictates critical commentaries of his unfinished works or “failures” conserved in Bigeonnette. This “memoire of the yellow room” is followed by three notebooks on his childhood and his first encounters when he began to paint.

1984 Two major one-man shows: Lenbach haus in Munich (Blau Reiter’s museum) and the Modern Art Museum of Paris.

1986 - 1987 The house in Bigeonnette is sold and he returns to rue Michelet in Paris. One-man show at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice. He continues visiting major exhibitions in spite of his blindness with Jacqueline describing the paintings. He dies in Paris in October 1987.

Présentation

In agreement with his family, and particularly with Jacqueline his wife, we are beginning to show the work of Jean Hélion in the gallery. My interest in this artist dates from long ago. Hélion is the first artist I collected, long before opening the gallery. I have always lived surrounded by his work, have followed his exhibitions, and have read attentively all the books that have been devoted to him.

Hélion is a major artist of the 20th century, who has been exhibited at Beaubourg, the Modern Art Museum of Paris, the Grand Palais, Lenback haus in Munich, the Guggenheim in Venice, the Peggy Guggenheim museum in New York, and many other museums, notably in the United States, China, and England. His name is well known. He is admired by many artists of his generation, Giacometti, and Balthus in particular, and younger artists like Arroyo, Aillaud, Raysse and Télémaque.

His abstract paintings, created in the 1930’s in the United States are well known and recognized. Hélion was an important personality in the art world overseas. But many in France and in the USA couldn’t forgive his return to figurative painting in 1939, as if it was a sort of treason, though this evolution was foreseeable: Volumes suggesting the human form began appearing as early as 1933. He himself announced his future path - all the stages, with astonishing precision as early as 1936 (see our biography). And with exception to the 1950’s, most of his figurative works are expressed by geometrical forms, or rely on architectural designs.
The abundance and the complexity of Hélion’s work, including, and especially the late years are still largely unknown.