Fautrier's hostages: anonymous faces of the war

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"Head of Hostage No. 20", 1944, by Jean Fautrier (detail). - Photo Credits: Adagp, Paris, 2017

The Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris offers a major retrospective devoted to Jean Fautrier, author of Otages, a series of anonymous faces of the war, which the artist began at the beginning of 1943.

CRITICAL - The big retrospective devoted to Jean Fautrier proposes in particular to (re) discover hostages, a series of anonymous faces of the war, which the artist began at the beginning of 1943.

hostages . The very name of this series of portraits, the best known and probably the most Jean Fautrier, draws the mind like a black sun. Their exhibition in November 1945 at the Galerie Drouin testified to the war and its violence in a troubling way. At the edge of abstraction, it is a pale fresco sweetness where the red, sometimes only the mauve, crosses a form and the material applied to the knife that becomes, with a stroke of the brush, a human face (Hostage head n ° 20, 1944). It fascinated the Parisian public, especially since the catalog of the exhibition was prefaced by André Malraux, whose pen emphasized its ambiguous strength. As if this cruel war was already a distant material, like the wars of antiquity of which they remain only beautiful vestiges.

Art critic Michel Ragon says that many visitors were uncomfortable with the serialization of portraits: "Each painting was painted in the same way. On a green background of water, a puddle of thick white spread out. A brushstroke indicated the shape of the face. And that was all. "The hostage series was started at the beginning of 1943." Arrested by the Gestapo the same year, Fautrier found an asylum in Châtenay-Malabry, in the psychiatric clinic of Dr. Le Savoureux. It is reported that he drew his inspiration from the gruesome spectacle of prisoner executions perpetrated by the Germans in the grounds of the residence. That "the subject had imposed on him," Bernard Bourrit said in Fautrier. Painting (for) Hostages. "These exploded faces exactly match what Ernst Junger writes in War Diary, where he says that the German soldiers fought to shoot hostages when they were beautiful, "recalls Fabrice Hergott, director of the MAM and French commissioner of this exhibition from Winterthur.

"German soldiers used to shoot hostages when they were beautiful"

For his subjects, says Dieter Schwarz, Swiss commissioner of this enlarged Parisian version of 50 works, Fautrier found formulations renouncing all individuality; it is never a specific branch, an individual nude figure, a hostage in particular - Fautrier rather created schematic lines, drawn on a mass of plaster, worked with a painter's knife, gently rounded, and that allude to the subject. "Here are six of the most moving, always small formats, among the 24 copies listed during the lifetime of the artist, which drag the blood like a fine rain on a bluish profile (Hostage head n ° 10, 1943), which drowns half of the face in a dark red shadow (Hostage, around 1943).

The hostages of Fautrier marked the reconstruction of French cultural life at the Liberation, says the Center Pompidou about its Hostage head, 1945. They caused a sensation. As a sign of a redemptive rupture for a society that was recovering, they divided opinion. Fautrier's research, writes Jacques Gabriel in The country, November 19, 1945, "are not enough, we believe, to erect a monument worthy of them to those men and women who have carved themselves in tortures and died for us without speaking."

Jean Fautrier, Matter and Light, from January 26 to May 20, 2018 at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris

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