A retrospective in Montmartre honors Auguste Herbin

A retrospective in Montmartre honors Auguste Herbin

The Cambrésis painter was part of all the avant-gardes of the 20th century, before sinking into oblivion. A retrospective finally puts him in the spotlight in Paris.

The pearly reflections of the sun on the sea, a passerby in an alley dotted with the halos of street lamps, flaming pomegranates on a periwinkle tablecloth… From the first room of his exhibition dedicated to the painter Auguste Herbin, the Montmartre museum, in Paris ( 18th arrondissement), justifies his title: he is a revealed master. “He is a major figure in the major movements of modern art, from post-impressionism to abstraction, praised by his contemporaries. Shown today in the museums of Cateau-Cambrésis (North) or Céret (Pyrénées-Orientales), it nevertheless remains shunned by the institutions of the capital,” explains curator Céline Berchiche. The residence on rue Cortot, which houses 70 of his works, offers him his first Parisian retrospective.

An explosion of colors

Auguste Herbin (1882-1960) proved to be a precocious genius. Son of weavers from Cambrésis, the teenager, who works for a bailiff while taking evening drawing classes, wins a scholarship to study at the Beaux-Arts in Lille. From his first paintings, the northern prodigy, amazed by the impressionists then captivated by Van Gogh, made colors explode. At the dawn of the Fauve movement, in 1906, he depicted himself in a shimmering blue-purple costume, his pink face sculpted with olive green furrows. “It’s an almost psychedelic self-portrait, which anticipates the chromatic experiments of Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), with his broad strokes which structure the composition,” enthuses Céline Berchiche.

The precursor, who anchored himself in Paris, would then be one of the avant-gardes. From 1908, he moved towards Cubism to reveal the world in all its nuances: bouquet of roses, Mediterranean landscape, family in its interior… appear in several dazzling facets. At the end of the First World War, Herbin shifted into abstraction, creating a series of monumental objects (frescoes, furniture, etc.) intended to beautify cities that were industrializing, a production similar to the German Bauhaus, but without equivalent in France. Misunderstood in his country, he quickly returned to figuration, but retaining a monumental dimension, this time with clear contours. “All his life, he searched for the formula for a universal art,” analyzes Céline Berchiche. In 1925, he took a definitive turn towards abstraction to offer paintings that can be appreciated without cultural references. »

A multiple work

In 1942, this desire to speak to everyone led the pioneer to invent a plastic alphabet. Fascinated by The art of running away by Bach but also the poems Vowels by Rimbaud and Correspondence of Baudelaire, he developed a system of concordances between letters, geometric shapes, colors and musical notes. In his Prévert inventory, we find illustrations of the words “father and mother”, “moon”, “summer”. But also “Christ”, a baroque superposition of circles, triangles and crosses, and “God”, a much more stripped-down composition of glowing discs standing out from an ultramarine diamond. “Herbin is an atheist, but his work is imbued with spirituality,” underlines the curator of the exhibition. Sensitive to theosophical thought, he believes that creation must elevate human beings. »

This experimenter who never ceased to renew himself left an immense legacy. Pop art paid homage to him, some of his motifs having been inserted by the Icelandic painter Erró in abundant collages. Vasarely, the founder of optical art, famous for his stroboscopic effects, called him a “god.” For Céline Berchiche, “her influence extends to comics since Hergé collected her paintings, which may have inspired the clear line. And, beyond that, its cheerful forms were assimilated by the post-war consumer society, with graphic design, then arcade video game (rooms). With this retrospective, the curator hopes that Herbin, a visionary with such powerful influence, will finally enter the light.

A very confidential address

A stone's throw from the Sacré-Cœur in Paris, the Montmartre museum forms a miniature Eden. The 17th century residence, which dominates the Clos-Montmartre vineyards, has been the beating heart of Parisian creation since the Belle Époque (1871-1914), serving as a workshop for Auguste Renoir and Suzanne Valadon.

Today, the site presents careful temporary exhibitions and its permanent collections: 6,000 works by Dufy, Toulouse-Lautrec, Modigliani… resurrecting the history of the Butte.

12, rue Cortot, 75018 Paris. Open every day, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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