• gerard van weyenbergh

Lyric abstraction, a basic description

Free, spontaneous, lively: the gesture of painters of lyrical abstraction is opposed to the meticulousness and obsessiveness of abstract geometric painters. Born in France after the Liberation, this movement led by the painter Georges Mathieu reacted to the new hegemony of the American school. In New York, we speak of abstract expressionism ( Jackson Pollock, Sam Francis) but in Paris, of lyrical abstraction. These artistic forms are characterized by the importance of the painter's gestures, his spontaneity to express an interior reality, and, in the case of the French school, particular attention paid to the lyricism of color and calligraphic writing.

History of movement

From the 1910s, the principle of lyrical abstraction was initiated by Vassily Kandinsky through his improvisations and then his compositions. Ten years later, Hans Hartung inaugurated the premises of tachism: relegation of the figure in favor of free and abstract forms. The pictorial gesture is spontaneous, automatic, based on the jets of colors. These two sources form the origin of what we will call lyrical abstraction.

Without being formalized by the existence of a manifesto, lyrical abstraction presents itself as a singular and autonomous movement from 1947, around the duo formed by the critic Jean José Marchand and painter Georges Mathieu. Several artists join them: Hartung, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Jean-Michel Atlan, Wols. Not all of them belong to the group, although they produce a mode of abstraction close to the lyrical tendency (non-geometric and non-figurative), like Nicolas de Staël. If everyone cultivates their personality, these flagship painters of the Parisian scene after the Liberation intend to respond to the hegemony of American abstraction. The context of the recent Second World War is essential. Faced with this trauma, these artists - who sometimes return from exile or have been soldiers - seek the expression of inner truth and distance themselves from society.

Georges Mathieu is the leader of this school in Paris. Opposed to geometric abstraction, he organized the first exhibitions of "lyric abstract" painters in Paris from 1947. The artist, who promoted free, non-academic, non-mimetic painting, painted by freehand, without prior sketching. It is a direct expression, the aesthetics of which is not unrelated to the art of calligraphy. Mathieu generally works on large formats, and sometimes as part of real performances in front of the public. Although it is abstract, its sources of inspiration are coming from history, both ancient and contemporary.

Lively and dynamic pictorial expression, realized as much on canvas as on paper, was integrated in the 1950s with the broader current of informal art, theorized by the critic Michel Tapié. Read