In continuity with the Paris post-war avant-gardes of the beginning of the 20th century – Cubism, Geometric Abstraction, Expressionism, Surrealism – a gestural, informal abstraction was born, definitely abandoning any idea of representation; a free abstraction. Gérard Schneider appeared as one of the pioneers of this new abstraction called Lyrical Abstraction. A trio of artists – Hans Hartung, Gérard Schneider and Pierre Soulages – immediately embodied this trend in European creation. Abstract Expressionism soon echoed across the Atlantic, with the emergence of artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Sam Francis and Paul Jenkins.
Published by Gallery Diane de Polignac
Supervised by Mrs Laurence Schneider and Mr Christian Demare
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Ernest Gérard Schneider was born on 28 April 1896 in Switzerland in Sainte-Croix – rue des Beaux-Arts. He spent his childhood in Neuchâtel where his father was a cabinet maker and antique dealer.
In 1910, he registered for the painting class taught by Alfred Blailé. He also started to study decoration.
He was admitted to the École des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1916.
In 1918, he entered the Beaux-Arts in Cormon’s atelier. Fernand Cormon had Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Émile Bernard among his students. As often as possible, Schneider visited the Musée du Luxembourg, the Paris National Museum of Modern Art at the time. He went back to Neuchâtel in 1920. The “Amis des Arts” organised an exhibition of his work in the Léopold Robert city galleries. The same year, he married Marguerite Barbezat. The young couple moved permanently to Paris in 1922. Schneider studied and experimented with the main movements of the time in the city; he made his living with decoration.
In 1926, he exhibited for the first time at the Salon d’Automne. His entry, L’Allée hippique (The Bridle Path), attracted notice. He was quoted in the Revue du Vrai et du Beau, saying he was “convinced of the error of atmospheric effects and of the principle of the illusion of bodies in space”. He socialised with the Paris musical community.
His daughter Janine was born in 1928. Marguerite Barbezat died in 1934.
He exhibited five paintings including Figures dans un jardin (Figures in a Garden) at the 1936 Salon des Surindépendants, these works were praised by the critic of La Revue Moderne: “a style, figures of such agility that the expression of movement seems included in the rapid stroke”.
In 1937, he discovered the Surrealists. He stopped painting from nature. His palette became darker, with black taking a large part and playing a structural role. He wrote poems. Three paintings were exhibited at the Salon des Surindépendants, including Rencontre. He befriended the painter Luis Fernandez and the surrealist painter and poets Oscar Dominguez, Paul Éluard and Georges Hugnet.
After 1938, the titles of his works do not refer to the real world anymore: his three entries for the Salon des Surindépendants are entitled Composition.
In September 1939, he made himself available to the French army but was not called up. He stayed in Paris. He met Picasso the same year. From 1941 to 1943 he followed Gurdjieff’s teachings, but moved away quite soon, as he did not find the replies to his questioning in aesthetics.
Around 1944, his painting abandoned any reference to the real world.
In 1945, the Paris National Museum of Modern Art bought a 1944 painting, Composition, reproduced in the first after-war issue of Christian Zervos’s Cahiers d’Art. From then on, all his canvases were called Opus.
From 26 February to 30 March 1946, he took part in the exhibition Peintures abstraites, at Denise René’s gallery with Jean Dewasne, Jean Deyrolle, Hans Hartung and Marie Raymond. He participated in the first of five abstract art exhibitions, at the rue Cujas centre in Paris, at César Domela’s initiative. He sent an entry to the first Salon des Réalités Nouvelles (New Reality Fair), dedicated to abstract art. He became friends with Charles Estienne and Léon Degand and spend the summer with them in Gordes, a Provence village where André Lhote and other figures in art owned houses. This stay would be followed by several others.
His first solo exhibition took place in 1947 in Lydia Conti’s gallery, from 25 April to 17 May: 13 works were presented, among which Opus 316. In December, he showed some gouaches executed during a stay in Gordes for the first time.
He took the French nationality in 1948. He was invited to take part in the Venice Biennale and exhibited there again in 1954 and 1966. He participated more and more often in international events and specifically that year in the exhibition Wanderausstellung Französischer Abstrakter Malerei, shown in German museums: Stuttgart, Munich, Düsseldorf, Hanover, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Freiburg. The exhibition grouped works by Francis Bott, Félix Del Marle, César Domela, Hans Hartung, Auguste Herbin, František Kupka, Jean Piaubert, Gérard Schneider, Pierre Soulages and Jean Villeri. He also published his first text, “For or against Abstract Art”, in the magazine Arts.
Schneider’s work was first shown in the United States in October 1949, with his participation in the exhibition Painted in 1949, European and American Painters, at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York. He became a member of the Salon de Mai management committee and stayed on until 1956.
He joined the Galerie Louis Carré in 1950 and exhibited there with Hans Hartung and Lanskoy. First participation in the São Paulo Biennale; he took part again in 1954 and 1961. From 1951 to 1952, with Jean Bazaine, Maurice Estève, André Lanskoy, Charles Lapicque, Pierre Soulages and Nicolas de Staël, he took part in the exhibition Advancing French Art, organised by Galerie Louis Carré in the United States in several museums, in collaboration with the American Federation of Arts. The Phillips Gallery in Washington bought one of his paintings (Opus 445, 1950). Three personal exhibitions were organised in Germany.
A large exhibition of his work was organised at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in December 1953.
In 1954, he participated in the Venice Biennale with three large format canvases, among which Opus 64B. He exhibited at Galerie Galanis in Paris from November to December.
He was present at the first Documenta in Cassel in 1955. The same year, he signed a contract with the Kootz Gallery in New York. The following year, the first of five solo exhibitions at the Kootz Gallery took place. One work (Opus 95B, 1955) was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art of New York. The same year, in 1956, he married Lois Frederick, a young American who had come to study art in Paris with a Fulbright grant; he met her through Marcel Brion; he also met Eugène Ionesco.
In 1957, in Milan, he was awarded the Lissone Prize for abstract art.
At the International Exhibition in Tokyo in 1959, he received the Governor of Tokyo Award.
In 1960, he met the Milan gallerist Bruno Lorenzelli who took him under exclusive contract until 1970. Two solo exhibitions were organised in Japan in August and September.
On the initiative of the Chief Curator of the Musée national d’art moderne de Paris, Jean Cassou, Schneider created four 200 x 300 cm (78×118 in.) canvases for a set of ten large format works exhibited from September to December 1962 at the São Paulo Biennale.
First retrospective with a hundred and twenty paintings at the Düsseldorf Kunstverein from March to April 1962, then at the Brussels Palais des Beaux-Arts in June.
His daughter Laurence was born in 1963.
In 1965, he created eight drawings and a lithography to illustrate poems by Eugenio Montale. With the agreement of gallery Lorenzelli, his works were also presented in June by the Galerie Arnaud, in Paris
An entire room of the French pavilion of the 33rd Venice Biennale, June-October 1966, presented thirteen works by Schneider.
Years 1966-1967 were a turning point in Schneider’s work: simplification of the composition and gesture, to become almost calligraphic. As for colour, it was used pure, creating an intense and new vibration.
In 1968, the collective exhibition Paintings in France, 1900-1967, organised by Bernard Dorival was hosted in American and Canadian museums. A retrospective of his oeuvre of the 1950s and 1960s was organised at Galleria San Fedele in Milan and at the Antonio Rosmini Cultural Centre in Trento.
In April-May 1970, a new retrospective of a hundred paintings at the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna in Turin met with a great success; the exhibition continued in Canada, at the “Terre des Hommes” Pavilion in Montreal.
In 1974, he met the poet and publisher Jean Orizet who encouraged him to publish his poems. Mots au vol (Words on the Run) was published at the end of the year. An exhibition of forty of his gouaches travelled across South America.
The Galerie Beaubourg took him under contract and organised a large exhibition of his recent works in 1975.
The gouache exhibition continued to travel in Iceland and Norway during 1976.
Several of his works featured at the exhibition Paris-Paris at the Centre Georges Pompidou from May to November 1981.
In 1983, the Art and History Museum in Neuchâtel organised a retrospective of around a hundred works that then travelled to the Musée d’Art contemporain in Dunkirk. Gérard Schneider received the Grande Médaille de Vermeil of the city of Paris and exhibited a series of large paintings on paper at Galerie Patrice Trigano at the Fiac in Paris.
In 1985, his recent works were presented at the Kunstmesse in Basel.
Gérard Schneider died in Paris on 8 July 1986.
Since 2012, Galerie Diane de Polignac in Paris has been in charge of the Catalogue Raisonné of the paintings.
Brussels, Musée d’Art Moderne
Buffalo, NY, Albright Art Gallery
Kamakura (Japan), Museum of State
Milan, Museo d’Arte Moderna
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center
Montreal, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Neuchatel (Switzerland), Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
New York, Museum of Modern Art
Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Paris, Musée national d’Art Moderne – Centre Georges-Pompidou
Rome, Galleria d’Arte Moderna
Rio de Janeiro, Musée d’Art Moderne
Turin, Galleria civica d’Arte Moderna
Washington D.C., The Phillips Collection
Worchester, Mass, Worchester Museum
Geneva, Fondation Gandur pour l’Art
Galerie Denise René, Paris, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1953
Galerie Lydia Conti, Paris, 1947, 1948, 1950
Venice Biennale, 1948, 1954, 1966
Wanderausstellung Französischer Abstrakter Malerei, travelling collective exhibition in Germany: Stuttgart, Munich, Düsseldorf, Hanover, Hamburg, Francfort, Fribourg, 1948-1949
Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, 1949, 1951
Les grands courants de la peinture contemporaine (de Manet à nos jours), travelling collective exhibition in South America, 1949-1950
Advancing French Art, travelling collective exhibition in USA: Louisville, Bloomington, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, 1951-1952
São Paulo Biennale, 1951, 1954, 1961
Der Spiegel Gallery, Cologne, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1957, 1981
Otto Stangl Gallery, Munich, 1952
International exhibition, travelling collective exhibition in Japan, 1953-1965
Rétrospective, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1953
Galerie Arnaud, Paris, 1954, 1959, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1970
Kassel Dokumenta, 1955, 1959
Kootz Gallery, New York, 1956-1961
Galleria Apollinaire, Milan, 1958
Albright-Know Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, 1958, 1959, 1966, 1972
Galleria Lorenzelli, Milan, 1960, 1961, 1965, 1972, 1974, 1986, 1989, 2012
Minami Gallery, Tokyo, 1960
Nakanoshima Gallery, Osaka, 1960
Im Erker Gallery, Saint-Gall, 1961, 1963
Salon de Mai au Japon, Tokyo, Osaka, 1962
Retrospective, traveling exhibition: Kunstverein, Düsseldorf / Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1962
Paintings in France 1900-1967, traveling collective exhibition in USA: New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and in Canada, 1968
Retrospective, Galleria civica d’Arte moderna, Turin, 1970
Pavillon Terre des Hommes, Montreal, 1970
Panorama de l’Art contemporain, traveling collective exhibition in Iran, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Marocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, 1971-1972
Galerie Beaubourg, Paris, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1981, 1986
Retrospective, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Neuchâtel / Musée d’Art Contemporain, Dunkirk, 1983
FIAC, Galerie Patrice Trigano, Paris, 1983
Kunstmesse, Basel, 1985
Schneider, rétrospective, Clermont-Ferrand, Carcassonne, Montbéliard, Le Mans, Metz, 1998-2001
L’Envolée lyrique, Paris 1945-1956, Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 2006
Gérard Schneider, grands gestes pour un grand monde, Musée d’Art & d’Histoire, Neuchâtel, 2011
Montparnasse / Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Angers / Bordeaux, 2012
Les Sujets de l’abstraction, Peinture non-figurative de la Seconde École de Paris (1946-1962), collective, Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Musée Rath, Geneva / Musée Fabre, Montpellier, 2011
Gérard Schneider, rétrospective, Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Orléans, 2013
Marcel Pobé, «Schneider», Paris, Georges Fall, 1959
Marcel Brion, R. V. Gindertael, «Schneider», Venice, Alfieri, 1967
«Gérard Schneider», exh. cat. Turin, Galleria civica d’Arte moderna (16 apr.–24 may 1970), Turin, Galleria civica d’Arte moderna, 1970
Pierre von Allmen (dir.), Jean-Marie Dunoyer, «Schneider», exh. cat., Neuchatel, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire (26 feb.–17 apr. 1983), Neuchatel, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Neuchâtel, 1983
Daniel Chabrissoux, Loïs Frederick, «Gérard Schneider : œuvres de 1916 à 1986», exh. cat., Angers, (1991), Angers, Expressions contemporaines, 1991
Michel Ragon, «Schneider», Angers, Expresssions contemporaines, 1998
Nicolas Morales, «Schneider, Los años 50», exh. cat., Bilbao, Fundación BBK (25 jan.–17 apr. 2006), Bilbao, Fundación Bilbao Bizkaia Kutxa Fundazioa, 2006
Patrick-Gilles Persin, «L’Envolée lyrique Paris 1945-1956», exh. cat., Paris, Musée du Luxembourg (26 apr.–6 aug. 2006), Milan, Skira, 2006
Lydia Harambourg (pref.), «Regard sur l’abstraction lyrique / Montparnasse et Saint-Germain-des-Prés», exh. cat., Carcassonne, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Carcassonne (17 june–18 sept. 2011), Angers, Expressions Contemporaines, 2011
Éric de Chassey (dir.), Éveline Notter (dir.), Justine Moeckli and al., «Les sujets de l’abstraction. Peinture non-figurative de la seconde école de Paris, 1946-1962. 101 Chefs-d’œuvre de la Fondation Gandur pour l’Art», exh. cat., Geneva, Musée Rath (6 may–14 aug. 2011) / Montpellier, Musée Favre (3 dec. 2011–25 march 2012), Milan, 5 continents, 2011
Patrick-Gilles Persin, Sofia Komarova, «Gérard Schneider (1896-1986) : l’abstraction lyrique comme ascèse», exh. cat., Geneva, Galerie Artvera’s (23 nov. 2012–22 may 2013), Geneva, Galerie Artvera’s, 2012
Cerritelli Claudio, «Gérard Schneider – abstrait lyrique», exh. cat., Milan, Galleria Lorenzelli (15 nov. 2012–19 jan. 2013), Milan, Lorenzelli Arte, 2012
Cerritelli Claudio, «Schneider», exh. cat., Bologne, Galleria Spazia (jan.–march 2013), Bologna, Galleria Spazia, 2013
Christian Briend, Nathalie Ernoult, «Le Geste et la Matière – Une abstraction « autre » – Paris, 1945-1965», exh. cat., Le François, Martinique, Fondation Clément (22 jan.–16 apr. 2017), Paris / Le François, Centre Pompidou, Paris / Fondation Clément, Le François, Martinique / Somogy éditions d’Art, 2017