A Perfect Snapshot of a Moment in Time

Maurice Brianchon. Bal Masque. 1948. Oil on panel. 33 x 55 cm. Courtesy of David Hirsh.

Walking through the exhibition “Painters’ Lives: Marguerite Louppe and Maurice Brianchon,” curated by William Corwin and David Hirsh, we are reminded how artists evolve incrementally, by fits and false-starts, and that over time these form a composite that comes to epitomize the artist’s work. Though this show is not a comprehensive selection, there are enough works by each artist, from differing periods and as such we can track how they sought to elaborate and advance their own pictorial and aesthetic concerns. Maurice Brianchon (1899–1979), for instance sets out on the road first surveyed by such impressionists as Degas and their post-impressionist heirs such as Paul Gaugin and Pierre Bonnard. He is attracted to their genres, use of color, and simplified forms. Instead Marguerite Louppe (1902–1988), was drawn to the structural possibilities of analytic cubism, and as such still-life, and the studio tableau became her primary vehicle.

Throughout their entire careers Louppe and Brianchon mined the under-developed aspects of Modern art, or revived what might have been thought to be exhausted stylistic concerns. Likewise, they were insightful when it comes to their sources. For instance Brianchon, early in his career, had made explicit the affinities held in common by very different artists. In “Bal Masque,” (1948) for instance, Degas’ ballerinas and Pablo Picasso’s harlequins come to occupy the same space. Louppe’s observations tend to be more theoretical. Within her work that has been left undated we travel from Braque-like cubist still-lives to the late studio tableaus, such as “Chair, Brushes, and Palette, “ an oil painting whose geometry and picture-inside-the-picture motifs at once are both reminiscent of DeChirico while also referencing Picasso. In another of her studio paintings titled “Les Trois Chevalets,” she appears to be weighing her options by pitting mimesis and abstraction against the purely abstract within one painting. Though spatially almost naturalistic, the painting’s grey muted palette, and her drawing and composition of frames within frames has an aesthetic affinity with Giacometti’s studio paintings.

Marguerite Louppe. Chair, Brushes and Palette. Undated. Oil on canvas. 
100 x 81 cm. Courtesy of David Hirsh

What Louppe and Brianchon share is what all good modernists share. Each one is a formalist, but they employ this perspective to differing ends. He pushes figuration toward color and form, she on the other hand willfully manipulates the means of representations to expressive and psychological ends. Where their trajectories converge is in their late works, where each seeks to produce ever-simpler and nuanced compositions. Brianchon’s late paintings are of apples, or brioches sitting on a white plate, resting on a table-top while the surrounding room is constructed with large planes of crisp, hard-edged planes of flat color — they are, as if Matisse had decided to paint de Stijl paintings. Louppe instead turns to the landscape as seen in “View of the Basin, Truffieres,” — the diagonal force-lines that had once dominated her compositions are replaced by true verticals and horizontals, which define rectilinear forms of modulated color, pushing her cubism toward Synchromism.

Maurice Brianchon. Nature Morte aux Brioches. 1970. Oil on canvas. 65 x 92 cm. 
Courtesy of David Hirsh

If in hind-sight, while Louppe and Brianchon, do not appear to be radicals, it is important to remember that within their own era they would have been, seen as advancing the cause of Modern art. Brianchon was fairly well-known in France and the United States, and while Louppe showed regularly, she was more reclusive. Subsequently, this exhibition with its unaffected historicity, demonstrates how the two principle courses afforded to young French modernist painters — during the period when avant-garde practices came to be — adapted, normalized and sustained in the years after the First World War. As such, Marguerite Louppe and Maurice Brianchon should be thought of as adventurous speculators — serious practitioners who exploited and synthesized the most advance principles, tendencies, and styles of their times and as such their works typify their era.

Saul Ostrow, New York

Originally published at artists-studios.com on May 17, 2017.

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