Galerie Perrotin is delighted to present for the first time a solo show of works by Gérard Schneider. Relying on unpublished archives, the exhibition echoes the last major retrospective dedicated to the artist at Musée d'Orléans in 2013.
Born in 1896 in Sainte-Croix, Switzerland, Gérard Schneider grew up in Neuchâtel, where he was surrounded by art from an early age – his father was a cabinetmaker and antique dealer. He quickly developed a keen interest in mastering classical techniques as well as a great appetite for discovery. His artistic training began at the age of twenty when he went to Paris to study at the National School of Decorative Arts, before moving to the National School of Fine Arts in 1918 to work under Fernand Cormon who had taught many masters of modern art such as Vincent van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Schneider settled permanently in Paris in 1922, devoting the following years to the study of art techniques and art history.
In 1926, he exhibited for the first time at the Salon d’Automne, where his submission, L'Allée hippique, was well received. In addition to his activities as a painter and restorer of artworks, he frequented the Parisian music scene. At the Salon des Surindépendants of 1936, he exhibited five paintings – including Figures dans un Jardin – praised by a critic of La Revue Moderne for their “style and figures of such agility that the expression of movement seems to be contained in the rapid brushstroke”.
In the 1930s, Schneider began to embrace the abstract revolutions initiated by Cézanne and Kandinsky while never renouncing the influence of the great masters such as Goya, Delacroix, Fragonard, and others. At the same time, the avant-garde introduced him to new possibilities. No longer painting from nature, he started writing poetry and mingling with Surrealists like Luis Fernandez, Oscar Dominguez, Paul Éluard, Victor Brauner, and Georges Hugnet.
From 1938 onwards, the titles of his works stopped referring to the real world: the three works he submitted to the Salon des Surindépendants that year were entitled Composition. By 1944, his work had completely abandoned any reference to reality.
“It is necessary to reach transcendence, to go beyond oneself, to go beyond nature, to go beyond the object in order to create a work that is original and autonomous, whose subject comes from interiority and not from representation, without figurative allusion.”
In the immediate post-war period, Schneider played a central role in the birth of Lyrical Abstraction. This new, radical movement triggered a major aesthetic upheaval in post-war Europe, profoundly marking the history of 20th-century art.
For Schneider, it marked the beginning of a new period, during which he abandoned form to express interiority, ardor, and passion, striving for the absolute and the universal. For him, the best way to achieve this was through gesture, derived from the automatic writing of the Surrealists, on the one hand, and Far Eastern calligraphy, on the other. This was one of the reasons why his work was so warmly received in Japan. Schneider liked to recall “these wonderful words” from a Tibetan wisdom book: “And above Thought, there is the God of Gesture, for gesture unites body and mind.”
“As for color... it appears in Schneider’s recent works with ever greater freedom, as the quintessential factor of life, even when this color is black, which Schneider uses with the mastery of someone who knows how emotionally charged every shades of night and darkness is. The answer that these paintings find in the viewer’s heart and mind – clearly delighted – achieve the communion that had previously been established between artist and artwork, form and space, structure and motion.”
Marcel Brion, member of the Académie Française, Foreword, Exhibition Catalog, Kootz Gallery, New York, 1958.
The first two retrospectives of his work took place in Brussels (1953) and in Düsseldorf (1962) respectively. He also participated in the first two editions of Documenta in Kassel, in 1955 and 1959. One should also mention he exhibited three times at the Venice Biennale – in 1948, 1954, and 1966. In 1966, an entire room of the French Pavilion was dedicated to his work. Confirming his role as a major artist on the international scene, Schneider also participated several times at the São Paulo Biennale: in 1951, 1953, and 1961. At the initiative of Jean Cassou, then the chief curator of the Musée national d'art moderne de Paris, Schneider exhibited ten large-format works, including four canvases measuring two by three meters, at the 1961 edition.
During the 1960s, Schneider's close ties with Milanese art dealer Bruno Lorenzelli brought him greater recognition in Italy, culminating in a major retrospective at the Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna in Turin in 1970, featuring 100 paintings.
“A painting is an organized whole, a set of relations between forms, lines, and colored surfaces on which the meanings that one attributes to it are made or unmade”.
From the mid-1960s, Schneider's painting acquired an additional dimension: color as an autonomous element. Previously, Schneider's abstraction had previously embraced form and gesture as vectors of inner expression. As color and gesture had now definitively become calligraphic, his works gained a new freedom and accessibility. Gérard Schneider's oeuvre challenged itself and echoed both the aesthetic aspirations of his time and a complex inner process, established as early as the 1930s.
At the beginning of the 1980s, large-format paper offered him the ideal medium to formalize and materialize this synthesis of form, color, and space. Ardor and passion, speed of execution, a completely liberated and spacious gesture... This led to the creation of large, luminously colorful compositions, fiery and resolutely lyrical.
Gérard Schneider died on July 8, 1986, at the age of 90.
Text written by Christian Demare.
“Lyrical abstraction is primarily embodied by Gérard Schneider, as cubism is by Picasso.”
Born in 1896 in Sainte-Croix, Switzerland
Died in 1986 in Paris, France
Swiss born, Gérard Schneider (1896-1986) enrolled in the École nationale des arts décoratifs and the École nationale des beaux-arts de Paris before settling permanently in France. Throughout the mid-1930s, Gérard Schneider incorporated into his work Kandinsky’s revolutionary abstraction while writing poems and exploring the new horizons opened by Surrealism. In the excitement of the immediate post-war period, Gérard Schneider’s painting plays a key role in the rise of a new and radical form of art: Lyrical Abstraction. His gesture is raw and vibrant, physical and unrestrained. Deeply inspired by music, his brushstrokes reflect his intention to translate pure emotion into painting. Gérard Schneider befriended George Mathieu, Hans Hartung and Pierre Soulages, whose work also took an international dimension. Starting from the mid-1940s, major exhibitions featuring the main figures of lyrical abstraction take place in Paris, in Germany and then in the United States, especially on the occasion of the major travelling exhibition 'Advancing French Art' which travelled all over the country—notably to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Philipps Collection in Washington, the Art Institute of Chicago, after which Samuel Kootz Gallery represented him in New York. During the 1950s-1960s, Gérard Schneider exhibited across several continents where he would be invited for major institutional retrospectives and Biennials. Gérard Schneider kept painting until his death in 1986, at the age of 90.