This exhibition intends to show women’s contributions to abstract painting by presenting a selection of five artists: Marie Raymond (1908–1989), Huguette Arthur Bertrand (1920–2005), Pierrette Bloch (1928–2017), Roswitha Doerig (1929–2017) and Loïs Frederick (1930–2013). These five artists constitute neither a school nor a movement, representing instead five different forms of abstraction, five hard-won freedoms.
To introduce our exhibition, we are delving into the world of each artist by examining one of their works of art.
During her artistic training, Roswitha Doerig met the painter Franz Kline (1910–1962) who would become her professor at Columbia University in New York. The artist retained a limited palette from Kline’s teachings. Constructed using broad brushwork, her works have a monumental quality somewhat reminiscent of the large black and white canvases of her professor. Indeed, Franz Kline, who, on projecting one of his sketches to enlarge it, is said to have been convinced of the autonomous nature of each towering line. It was then that he is said to have moved on to create the largeformat canvases and monumental black “scaffoldingstyle” paintings that are so emblematic of his work.
Roswitha Doerig testified to the complexity of reproducing a sketch in a monumental format: “The great difficulty for me was to find myself in front of this immense space. I naively believed that it would be enough to just enlarge my draft, which is not the case. The result is a still-born creation that I have to breathe life into.”
Driven by a desire to “step outside the box”, Doerig tackled the theme of monumental art in a variety of different forms, such as the creation of the stained glass windows for the Church of Saint-Paul in Nanterre in 1968 and the creation of a mosaic for a residence for young workers in Laval, France, in 1970. The artist also took part in the wrapping of the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris with Christo in 1985 and created the monumental works Le Printemps (180 m2) and Les Coquelicots (120 m2) on tarpaulin sheets in 1986 and 1987 respectively, as well as a 25 m2 wall painting for a factory wall in Eure-et-Loir, France, in 1989.
Roswitha Doerig was also a socially engaged artist, committed to the defence of women’s rights: in 1990, she wrote an open letter in response to the refusal of the people of Appenzell to grant women the right to vote. In the same year, she denounced the lack of representation of women in the art world, writing: “It is only through hard, full and honest work that we [women painters] will gain the confidence we so badly need ”
Doerig’s desire to establish herself in the art world developed while she was still a student. Attending the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1957, Doerig regularly found her works covered with lipstick. She explained: “The students, and even the candidates for the Grand Prix de Rome, had not yet heard of Paul Klee. When I arrived at the studio in the morning, I would find my paintings repainted with notes left next to them, saying: ‘We don’t paint with wild colours here’ ”
Roswitha Doerig also encountered difficulties in 1968 when she won a competition to create the stained-glass windows of the Church of Saint-Paul in Nanterre, just outside of Paris. The artist had to defend her victory in the competition, which was nearly taken away from her under the pretext that she was a woman. When asked if the status of women artists had been elevated in past decades, she answered: “Yes, the woman painter is more highly valued, and nowadays, we talk more about her work than in the past. Pipilotti Rist, for example, was born at the right time—the way was nearly paved for her because today’s women painters have less to fight for than in the past. She has been able to bring something new to the artistic landscape, through video. She has taken the liberty of shocking the audience, with confidence.”
 Roswitha Doerig, Speech for the Alliance Française in St. Gallen, 1990
 Roswitha Doerig, art. cit., 1990
The work Écriture jaune is emblematic of Roswitha Doerig’s body of work. With broad black brushwork contrasting against the white background, it reveals traces of the teachings of Franz Kline. This black “abstract writing” stands out from free forms in yellow and green that transform the script into an oversized logo. The work on canvas thus takes on the air of a piece of graffiti, recalling the artist’s passion for monumental art.
The canvas is not entirely covered, leaving the colour of the linen visible in places. The result is a rough, unfinished overall effect, as if the white brushwork had come to a halt faced with the impossibility of reaching perfection. Derived from the principles of the Bauhaus movement, the motto “less is more” adopted by Roswitha Doerig was taken up once more by members of the minimalist movement. A tendency towards subtraction, the economical use of resources and simplicity can thus be observed in the work. The non finito nature of the background and the large space left empty further emphasise the central form and lend it its expressive