Perrotin is pleased to present an exhibition of Germaine Richier, in collaboration with Galerie de la Béraudière. The exhibition reveals the multiple facets in the artist’s work, spanning her early career to her final creations. After New York in 2014, this is the second show that Perrotin has devoted to Germaine Richier.
Featuring several of the artist’s major masterpieces, such as Le Couple (1956) and La Chauve-souris (1946), the exhibition at Perrotin 8 Avenue Matignon, held in collaboration with Galerie de la Béraudière, Brussels, reveals the multiple facets in Germaine Richier’s work. The visit highlights the key moments in her activity, from her early career to her final research. Whereas La Régodias (1938) scarcely evokes notions of deformation and strangeness in favor of an expressive modeling of the subject, L’Homme qui marche and L’Ogre (1945) clearly testify to the turning point that characterizes her postwar production, prolonged in the Guerriers series (1953–1955). Her numerous hybridizations referencing the world of nature, such as L’Homme forêt (1945), La Femme-coq (1954) or La Sauterelle (1945), are also brought to the fore in this presentation. The exhibition is an invitation to discover the highly singular and complex world of an artist whose spirit César poignantly summed up: “Germaine is like cutting a lobster in two: there is lots going on inside.”
“I like tension, tautness and dryness, olive trees withered by the wind, brittle wood—I have more of a feeling for a charred tree than I do for an apple tree in blossom.”
Sculptor of metamorphoses and the first female artist to have an exhibition at the Musée National d’Art Moderne during her lifetime, Germaine Richier had a dazzling career. Born in 1902 in Grans, in the Bouches-du-Rhone region, the artist found in the flora and fauna of her native Provence the naturalist inspiration that runs through a corpus nonetheless centered on the human figure. Her studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in Montpellier (1920–1926) and the private studio of Antoine Bourdelle (1926–1929), himself a former student of Auguste Rodin, informed her practice of working from a live model and using a compass, as along with an expressive treatment of the material that stood in stark contrast to Aristide Maillol’s idealized bodies, leaving the structure of the sculptural work visible and lending verity to her work.
An artist close to the Montparnasse art set, notably around Alberto Giacometti and Maria Helena Viera da Silva, both former students of Bourdelle, from 1933 Richier hosted a limited circle of women in her studio, enabling her to earn her freedom and devote herself to her practice. From then on, she encountered multiple successes. Her profoundly realistic work was shown the same year in Zurich, then in Paris in 1934, when she was also awarded the prestigious Blumenthal prize. Her first solo exhibition at Max Kaganovitch’s gallery in Paris was so noteworthy, a year later the French state acquired Loretto I (1934), the artist’s first piece.
Richier’s work was strongly marked by the experience of World War II, which broke out while she was on a trip to Switzerland, where she remained in exile until the end of the war. Far from the naturalism of her early work, the humanity she then figured adopted a new form, revealing a tragic vision of the unbearable reality of the horrors of war: man in torment, his flesh riven; gnawed, shredded surfaces pitted with holes in an aesthetic blurring the line between figuration and disfigurement.
The idea of metamorphosis made its way into her work, probably in an attempt to regenerate humankind; references to the plant and animal kingdoms conceived a distinctive visual world spawning multiple unique hybridizations, turning her into a creator of monsters whose forms seem frozen on the brink of implosion, submitting to the power of natural forces. If Germaine Richier’s formal research followed the footsteps of her illustrious predecessors, the renewed human expression at play in her production echoed the existential questions of postwar society, recomposing the break between abstraction and representation.
Her first hybrid figures appealed to the intellectual circles of the day, who praised the works she sent to the Salon de mai 1947, including Sauterelle (1944), and appreciated her metamorphic imagination, whose gestural spontaneity is not unrelated to the lyrical abstraction of Zao Wou-Ki or Hans Hartung.
After receiving the Légion d’Honneur in 1954, she went on to obtain the ultimate consecration with her solo exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne, held alongside the retrospective devoted to Henri Matisse, figurehead of the previous generation of artists. Germaine Richier was crowned “woman of the year” by a jury comprising journalists from France Soir, Marie Claire and Le Figaro, among others. Richier completed the fusion of animal, mineral and vegetal worlds with the use of organic elements, such as squid bones, into which she chiseled fine nervures, nestling them among sand casts destined to disappear when the bronze was cast.
The Seiches series (1954) perfectly illustrates this technique. When experimenting making sculptures out of lead, a malleable metal that she could cast in her studio, Richier studded them with colored stones that emitted a new light. Her Plombs avec verres de couleur (1952–1959) pieces bear witness to what would be her ultimate artistic research, marked by a new opening into color that translated her desire to create “cheerful, active” works, as she confided in 1959.
After her retrospective opened at the Musée Picasso in Antibes that year, the artist passed away suddenly, without having the chance to “disrupt everything I have done to date,” as she would have liked. Germaine Richier’s career lasted just twenty-five years, yet she managed to carve a central place in the history of modern sculpture, thanks to a corpus that forms a link between Rodin and the first César.
Born in 1902 in Grans, France
Died in 1959 in Montpellier, France
Germaine Richier was born in Grans (Bouches-du-Rhone) in 1902, where she spent her childhood. She trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Montpellier (1920–1926) and at the private studio of Antoine Bourdelle (1926–1929) in Paris, a former student of Auguste Rodin. Richier's early works were strongly realistic and centered on the human figure. Her artistic research adopted a new form shaped by her experience of World War II as she was in exile in Switzerland. Throughout that period, her production echoed the existential questions of postwar society and were meant to bridge the gap between abstraction and representation. During the 1950s, she started using different materials that paved the way to a statuary full of fragility. She suffered an untimely death in 1959 during the preparation of her exhibition at the Musée Picasso in Antibes. Since her death, multipe exhibitions have taken place in important institutions such as the Kunsthaus in Zurich in 1963, the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence in 1996 and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice in 2006, but also more recent retrospectives like “Germaine Richier, La Magicienne” (2019-2020) at the Musée Picasso in Antibes and the major travelling exhibition at Centre Pompidou in Paris and Musée Fabre in Montpellier in 2023.