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André Masson: the temptation of Gustave Courbet
andre-masson-la-tentation-de-gustave-courbet - ARTACTIF
July 2024 | Reading time: 20 Min | 0 Comment(s)

About the exhibition “André Masson. There is no finished world” visible at the Center Pompidou-Metz until September 2.

Of course, I went to visit the exhibition dedicated to Lacan at the Center Pompidou-Metz, and I have already told you about it here. But in the May issue of the contemporary art magazine Artpress, Didier Ottinger returns to it from a very specific angle: that of the relationship between the mask panel of The Origin of the World, a work of art on wood which was visible in the exhibition, and surrealism. In other words, between Gustave Courbet and André Masson. The heritage curator, deputy director of the National Museum of Modern Art – Center Pompidou, responsible for cultural programming, asks the question: “How did a surrealist work end up obscuring the manifesto of pictorial surrealism? What vagaries of history led to the name of André Masson being associated with that of Gustave Courbet? » It is certain that the relationship between the two artists is not obvious at first glance.

“Surrealism wanted to discredit the common idea that a concrete reality exists,” explains Didier Ottinger in the preamble to his text. “Gustave Courbet, in his time, engaged in a crusade aimed at all opposite points. It was against the angels that he fought, against the chimerical underworlds, inspired by the excesses of literature. How was André Masson, historical surrealist, inventor of “automatic” art, led to establish a complicit relationship with Gustave Courbet? How could he even consider adding a surrealist codicil to the most naturalist work of the Ornans painter? »

If the Lacan exhibition has just closed its doors there, the Center Pompidou-Metz is currently devoting a retrospective to André Masson, visible until September 2. Excellent opportunity to take an interest in the question, isn't it? And to measure the extent to which Masson was “a wanderer of surrealism”, hesitating neither to acquire two works by Gustave Courbet, nor to break with André Breton.

The central figure of the Surrealist movement embodies a complex interplay between mythological themes and the spontaneous techniques of Surrealism. Didier Ottinger, in his analysis published by Artpress, underlines the intrinsic relationship between surrealism and mythology, asserting that the very essence of surrealism can only be understood through its mythological dimensions. This perspective is crucial to understanding Masson's work, which often delves into the realms of subconscious imagery and symbolic narratives. Nothing has ever been simple about his artwork for sale.

The artistic journey of Masson, who exhibited his paintings for sale as early as 1924 at the Kahnweiler art gallery, is marked by a deep engagement with automatism, a surrealist technique aimed at unleashing the creative potential of the unconscious. This method is vividly illustrated in his artwork from the 1930s, a period that writer and art historian Pascal Bonafoux describes as singularly transformative for Masson's artistic technique. His drawings from this period, characterized by automatic lines and metamorphic forms, reflect a deep exploration of the inner psychological landscapes and violent currents of human experience.

One of Masson's most notable works, Sierra Aragonaise (1935-36), demonstrates his ability to infuse mythological and corporeal elements into landscapes. As Catherine Millet, founder of Artpress and editorial director, discusses, this painting, presented in an exhibition at the Musée d'Art Moderne de Céret, transcends its initial appearance as a simple landscape. Instead, it reveals a complex interplay of erotic and mythical symbols, transforming natural forms into metaphorical representations of the human body. The landscape is imbued with sensual elements – crevices resembling mouths and vulvas, and structures evoking phallic images – highlighting Masson's fascination with the convergence of nature and human anatomy.

Additionally, Masson's work often addresses themes of violence and transformation. His Massacres series, analyzed by various art historians, including in Artpress, demonstrates his ability to depict the brutality and chaos of human conflicts through abstract and automatic techniques. These works, created in response to the tumultuous socio-political landscape of the 1930s, resonate with a raw, visceral energy that captures the anarchic spirit of the era.

Masson's influence extends beyond traditional surrealist circles, impacting the broader trajectory of modern art. His innovative approaches to form and content laid the foundation for later art movements, including Abstract Expressionism in the United States. This cross-pollination of ideas highlights the enduring relevance of Masson's contributions to the evolution of 20th-century art.

In sum, André Masson's legacy is defined by his relentless pursuit of the unconscious and the mythic, creating a body of artwork that continues to challenge and inspire contemporary artists. His ability to merge spontaneous creation and symbolic meaning positions him as a central figure in the narrative of modern art, bridging the gap between surrealism and broader artistic explorations of the human condition. But what about his relationship with Courbet? When Sylvie Lacan, the wife of the famous psychoanalyst, suggested that he create an oil on canvas to hide the decidedly too provocative work of art, Masson was over the moon. It couldn’t have come at a better time, for the artist who can no longer bear pictorial linearity. “Disembodied painting undoubtedly had its reason for being,” he wrote in 1950 in The Pleasure of Painting. “Law of ebb and flow. A century of splendor and pictorial festivals (from Delacroix to Renoir) was followed by an ascetic era. Few artists, over the past fifty years, have escaped the linear imperative, fewer still those who realized in time that they were giving in to decorative ease, or to... literature. »

He will therefore go into the great outdoors, to Ornans, in Franche-Comté, in the wake of the realist painter he admires so much. He also painted four paintings there, three of which were inspired by the source of the Loue. This Source of Loue itself inspired Courbet to compose L’Origine du monde. Masson was convinced of this even before art historians: “What never ceases to attract Courbet's eye in caves, crevices and grottoes is the fascination that emanates from what is hidden, impenetrable. , but also the burning desire for security. » Except that the realism to which he aspires will ultimately elude him. As Didier Ottinger writes, “when the time finally came for Masson to create the panel intended for the Origin of the World, he had forgotten all about the realism of Courbet’s painting. The dizzying lyricism of its title resonates alone in his mind.” The sumptuous world of mythology and mother goddesses once again engulfs the artist. In other words, that of the most unbridled literature. Imaginary when you hold us... At least Masson will have had the idea of ​​looking elsewhere. Thanks to Courbet.


Valibri en RoulotteArticle written by Valibri in Roulotte

Visual: André Masson, Gradiva (1938 1939)

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