Jean Lurcat, French (1892 - 1966)

Jean Lurcat

Jean Lurçat (1 July 1892 – 6 January 1966) was a French artist noted for his role in the revival of contemporary tapestry.

He was born in Bruyères, Vosges, the son of Lucien Jean Baptiste Lurçat and Marie Emilie Marguerite L'Hote. He was the brother of André Lurçat, who became an architect. After his secondary education at Épinal, he enrolled at La Faculté des sciences de Nancy and studied medicine. He went to Switzerland and Germany (Munich) and in leaving his educational path, he went to the workshop of Victor Prouvé, the head of the École de Nancy.

French artist, Jean Lurcat developed his style of painting while traveling through the Mediterranean region, North Africa, and the Middle East during the 1920’s. Lurcat was a member of the Surrealist movement for a period during the 1930’s. He also became the tapestry designer for the Aubusson factory. In addition, Lurcat a created lithographs, stage design, and book illustrations.

Jean Lurcat was introduced to art by his parents and by Victor Prouve, the founder of the Ecole de Nancy. In October 1912 he went to Paris, where he put into practice Prouve’s ideas at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and later at the Academie Colarossi as a pupil of the engraver Bernard Naudin (1876-1946). In November 1912 Lurcat founded the review Les Feuilles de mai, which contained articles on art by Elie Faure and Antoine Bourdelle and his own essays on ‘the positive sense of life and art’. In 1914 he volunteered for the infantry; after being wounded, he was evacuated to his parents’ home in Sens. Watching his mother sewing inspired him to have her transpose his first tapestries, on canvas, based on his gouaches Little Green Girls (Berkeley, U. CA, A. Mus.) and Evening in Granada (Paris, priv. col.), which combine severe design with rich colour. In 1917 he held his first exhibition in Zurich, of paintings inspired by Cubism (in particular the work of Georges Braque) and by Matisse’s drawings. Several were subsequently produced as tapestries by the Hennebert workshops in Toulon (1920–24).

During the next two years Lurçat resumed travelling. In 1923 he went to Spain; in 1924 he went to North Africa, the Sahara, Greece and Asia Minor. Upon his return, he signed a contract without exclusivity with his friend, Étienne Bignou. His brother André built his new house, Villa Seurat, in Paris. He devoted a portion of the year 1924 to the making of his sixth tapestry, Les arbres (The trees). On 15 December, Lurçat married Marthe Hennebert and traveled in 1925 to Scotland, then Spain and northern Africa. Upon his return, he took up residence at La Villa Seurat. He participated in several expositions with Raoul Dufy, Marcoussis, Laglenne and others. He revealed, at the home of Jeanne Bucher, elements of decoration (carpets and paintings) of Le Vertige, a film by Marcel l'Herbier. In 1926, he exhibited in Paris and Brussels, and participated in collective exhibitions in Vienna, Paris, and Anvers. His fame began due to several articles devoted to him.

Until 1931 Lurcat intermittently attempted to produce murals, but these works always disappointed him: for example the large mural decoration for the Bernheim family’s chateau in Villefix, near Paris (1922; destr.).

With the company of Marthe, he departed in 1927 for the Orient and spent the summer in Greece and Turkey. He decorated the lounge of the family of David David-Weill. There are four tapestries in developing and implementing L'Orage (The storm), for George Salles (Musée national d'art moderne National museum of modern art). He returned to Greece and Italy (Rome) in 1928 before embarking in October for the United States of America, for his first exhibition in New York. He spent 1929 in Marco. In 1930 he had exhibitions in Paris, London, New York, and Chicago; he created nine drypoint illustrations for Les Limbes (The limbo) by Charles-Albert Cingria; and he made another visit to America. In that same year he divorced Marthe Hennebert. In 1931 he married Rosane Timotheef and they took up residence in Vevey (Switzerland). He wrote several articles about painting, and reduced his production of pictures.

In December, 1932, Lurçat participated in the exhibition Sélections with Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Derain and Raoul Dufy; the event was organised in New York by the Valentine Gallery. Being aligned with the far left, from then on he often mixed his political opinions with his art. In 1933, he was living in New York. He created the decoration and the costumes for the Jardin Public (Public garden), a ballet by George Balanchine. 1933 also saw his first tapestry sewn at Aubusson, following the new and revolutionary technique that he developed.

In 1934, Lurçat returned to New York where he participated in the creation of new decoration and costumes for a choreography of Balanchine; which he unveiled in Chicago and Philadelphia. Then he returned to Paris and Vevey for the summer. At summer's end, he departed for Moscow, where he had an exhibition at the Musée Occidental (Western Museum), then at the museum of Kiev. In 1935, he painted the Dynamiteros in Spain; with inspiration from the revolution and the War of Spain. In Paris, he participated in the activities of the Association of the revolutionary authors and artists. Then, he followed, with Malraux and Aragon, the Journées d'amité pour l'union sovétique (The afternoons of friendship for the Soviet Union). In 1936, he exhibited in London and released his first tapestry, made at la manufacture des gobelins (The manufacturing of the goblins), Les Illusions d'Icare (The Illusions of Icare). In 1937, he met François Tabard.

In 1936, Jean Lurçat was inspired when he saw the tapestry L'Apocalypse (the apocalypse), which was woven in the 14th century. In 1938, moisson was sewn. In 1939, he exhibited in New York and in Paris. In September, he took up residence in Aubusson with Gromaire and Dubreuil in order to renovate the art of tapestry, which at the time had fallen to a low point. His innovative technique used a simplified palette and robust weaving at broad point. During this period he abandoned oil painting in favour of poster paints. The Musée national d'Art moderne (National museum of modern art) acquired Jardin des Coqs (Garden of roosters) and L'home aux Coqs (The man of the Roosters), of which the cardboard would be destroyed by the SS in 1944 in Lanzac. In 1940, he collaborated with André Derain and Raoul Dufy.

In June, 1944, he associated himself with the fighters of the communist resistance, namely, Tristan Tzara, André Chamson, René Huyghe, Jean Cassou, and Jean Agamemnon. He was put on the Comité de Libération (Comity of Liberation). He also met Simone Selves who would later become his wife. His adoptive son, Victor was captured while on an intelligence mission in France and was put to death. Lurçat would not learn of his disappearance until the following year.

Lurçat died 6 January 1966 in Saint-Paul de Vence.


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