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One of the few women painters of Lyrical Abstraction, Huguette Arthur Bertrand was an active member of the Post-War Paris art scene who brilliantly found her place in an artistic world that was essentially masculine, rubbing shoulders with Pierre Soulages, Hans Hartung, Serge Poliakoff, Jean Dewasne, Martin Barré and Pierre Dmitrienko among many others.
Her explosive work, definitively abstract after 1950, evolved against the coloured background of a controlled gesture, with its tight graphic style and black tapered streaks, towards a body language that becomes more and more free, first intense and nervous it then abates, summarised in subtle white airy lines, from the 1980s.
Born in 1920 in Ecouen, Huguette Arthur Bertrand spent her childhood in Roanne (center south of France) and settled in Paris shortly after the war. She attended the Académie libre de la Grande Chaumière. A fellowship allowed her to spend a year in Prague between 1946 and 1947 where she had her first solo exhibition. She met the painter Joseph Sima there.
A rare woman painter in the artistic landscape of Post-war Paris, she immersed herself fully in the buzzing art world of Montparnasse and Saint-Germain-des-Prés. She became friendly with publishers, critics (Michel Ragon) and abstract artists, those of the Galerie Denise René: Jean Dewasne, Jean Deyrolle, Serge Poliakoff; and with Martin Barré, Pierre Dmitrienko, James Guitet, Kumi Sugaï and John F. Koenig. On Saturdays she would visit Jean-Michel Atlan’s studio with Marcelle Loubchansky. She participated with passion in this artistic effervescence, marked by lively debate between figurative and abstract art, but also between supporters of “cold” abstraction and those of “warm” abstraction: one geometric, the other gestural, lyrical, guided by a free and spontaneous gesture.
Her explosive work, which was definitively abstract from 1950, presents an audacious palette, full of colour that gradually evolved towards more dramatic shades, concentrated in a range of ochre, brown, orange-red.
In Paris, from the start of the 1950s, several galleries exhibited her work: Galerie Niepce, Galerie La Roue, Galerie Arnaud above all… in 1949 and 1950, she participated in the key exhibition Les Mains Éblouies at the Galerie Maeght alongside Pierre Dmitrienko, and with the CoBrA in 1950 (Pierre Alechensky, Corneille, Jacques Doucet).
She regularly participated in the main salons of abstract art in Paris, at the Salon de Mai from 1949 until the late 1980s, at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles until the 1990s, and at the Salon d’Automne.
The year 1955 was decisive for her: she won the famous Prix Fénéon.
In 1956, she participated in the Festival de l’Art d’Avant-Garde, a major event held at Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse in Marseille, and then in Nantes. Her works began to travel abroad: a solo exhibition was held at the Brussels Palais des Beaux-Arts in 1956, and crossed the Atlantic: in 1956, the Meltzer Gallery in New York organized a solo exhibition in 1956, praised by critics, then a group show the year after: North and South Americans and Europeans. Also in 1957, she participated in the exhibition New Talents in Europe at the University of Alabama. In 1958 and in 1960-61, she exhibited at the Howard Wise Gallery in Cleveland. Her works continued to be exhibited in many different galleries and art events all over the world: in Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, England, Italy… as far as Japan, Venezuela, Mexico and Cuba.
In 1961, Jean-Marie Drot made a film about her for French television (ORTF). Close to the art critic, Michel Ragon, she met his circle of friends: Pierre Soulages, Hans Hartung, Gérard Schneider, Zao Wou-Ki, Victor Vasarely, among others. Together they worked on a collection La peau des Choses, a portfolio of prints published in a limited edition by Jean-Robert Arnaud in 1968 in honour of their friend Michel Ragon.
Starting in 1971, Huguette Arthur-Bertrand worked with tapestry for over a decade (she received commissions from the Mobilier National) and became interested in monumental mural painting. At the turn of the 1980s, her gestures became more and more liberated, and calmer, summarized in subtle white traces, airy like a breath on the canvas. Huguette Arthur Bertrand died in 2005.
Nowadays her works can be found in prestigious public and private collections in France: at the Centre Pompidou, the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, the Mobilier National, at the Bibliothèque Nationale and at the Centre National d’Arts Plastiques (CNAP) in Paris, at the Lieu d’Art et d’Action Contemporaine (LAAC) in Dunkirk, at the Musée d’Arts of Nantes, at the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain of Saint-Etienne, at the Musée Jean Lurçat et de la tapisserie contemporaine in Angers ; abroad at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, at the Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec, at the Museum of Modern Art of Aalborg (Denmark), at the Moltzau Foundation in Oslo and the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art in Geneva.
Her paintings continue to be exhibited regularly, and were included in the two key exhibitions for gestural and lyrical abstraction: in 2006 at L’Envolée Lyrique Paris 1945-1956 at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris and in 2011 at the exhibition Les Sujets de l’abstraction, Peinture non-figurative de la Seconde École de Paris (1946-1962) held first at the Musée Rath in Geneva, and then at the Musée Fabre, Montpellier. Currently paintings by her are on view in the show Femmes années 1950. Au fil de l’abstraction, peinture et sculpture at the Musée Soulages in Rodez (December 2019-May 2020), alongside works by Joan Mitchell, Sonia Delaunay, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Judit Reigl, Pierrette Bloch. In Paris, Huguette Arthur Bertrand is represented by the Galerie Diane de Polignac.
Aalborg (Denmark), Museum of Modern Art
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center
Paris, Musée national d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges-Pompidou
Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale
Paris, Mobilier national
Quebec, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Geneva, Fondation Gandur pour l’Art
Les Mains éblouies, Galerie Maeght, Paris, 1949 and 1950
Solo exhibition, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1957
La Escuela de Paris, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Mexico, 1959
50 ans de collage, solo exhibition, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, 1964
Comparaison France-Japon, Grand Palais, Paris, 1992
L’Envolée lyrique, Paris 1945-1956, Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 2006
Les Sujets de l’abstraction, Peinture non-figurative de la Seconde École de Paris (1946-1962), Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Musée Rath, Geneva, 2011
Michel Ragon, Une aventure de l’art abstrait, Paris, Laffont, 1956
Herta Wescher, Seize peintres de la Jeune École de Paris, Le Musée de Poche, Paris, Georges Fall, 1956
Michel Seuphor, Dictionnaire de la peinture abstraite, Paris, Hazan, 1957
Bernard Pingaud, Huguette Arthur Bertrand, monographie, Paris, Hoffer, 1964
Michel Seuphor et Michel Ragon, L’art abstrait, Paris, Maeght, 1973
Michel Ragon, Huguette Arthur Bertrand, suivi de Notes de parcours du peintre, monographie, Paris, Porte du Sud/ Galarté, 1987
Geneviève Bonnefoi, Les années fertiles, 1940-1960, Paris, Perrin, 1988
Lydia Harembourg, L’école de Paris 1945-1965 : dictionnaire des peintres, Lausanne, Ides et Calendes, 1993
Patrick-Gilles Persin, L’Envolée lyrique Paris 1945-1956, exhibition catalog, Paris, Musée du Luxembourg (26 April–6 August 2006), Milan, Skira, 2006
Éric de Chassey (dir.), Éveline Notter (dir.), Justine Moeckli et 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, exhibition catalog, Geneva, Musée Rath (6 mai–14 août 2011) / Montpellier, Musée Fabre (3 December 2011–25 March 2012), Milan, 5 continents, 2011
Huguette Arthur Bertrand, catalogue monographique, Editions Galerie Diane de Polignac, avril 2012, 88 p.
Download the catalogue
Benoît Decron (dir.), Sabrina Dubbeld, Philippe Bouchet et al., Femmes années 1950. Au fil de l’abstraction, peinture et sculpture, exhibition catalog, Rodez, Musée Soulages (14 December 2019–10 May 2020), Paris, Hazan, 2019