Jean Rene Bazaine

Jean Bazaine was a French painter, designer of stained glass windows, and writer. He was the great great grandson of the English Court portraitist Sir George Hayter. In 1949/1950 he had his first major one man show at the Galerie Maeght, who remained his art dealer thenceforth. From then on it was a steady progress of major exhibitions: Bern, Hanover, Zürich, Oslo... 1987 a retrospective exhibition in Galerie Maeght, 1988 a retrospective of his drawings in the Musée Matisse and finally in 1990 the Exposition Bazaine in the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris., which was accompanied by the reissue of his major texts on painting in art theory as Le temps de la peinture (Paris, Aubier 1990). "The motley crowds of international tourists and souvenir-shoppers who fill the ancient streets of the Latin Quarter in Paris spend most of their time admiring the open-air displays of seafood outside the Greek restaurants in the rue de la Huchette. They ignore the beautiful church of St Severin in the same street, for have they not already "done" Notre Dame? So they miss one of the most wonderful series of stained-glass windows in France: Jean Bazaine's vivid, dynamic works irradiating the sombre ambulatory and apsidal chapels. These windows represent the seven sacraments of the Church, portrayed as essential forms from nature in all its glory and symbolising Water, Fire and Light, sacred emblems of Divine Grace. An appropriate biblical verse is inscribed beneath each. Only Pierre Soulages with his "luminous black" windows at l'Abbaye de Conques (1998) can stand comparison with the majesty of these contemporary works by Bazaine, created between 1965 and 1970. Bazaine was fortunate in his friends. He received at an early stage in his student career support and advice from another master colourist, Pierre Bonnard. In his youth he knew Leger, Braque, James Joyce and Marcel Proust. One of his great personal friends was Jean Fautrier, with whom he shared his first exhibition in 1930. His work gradually developed as a form of bold tachisme - brilliantly composed but well-controlled "splashes" of sumptuous colour. He rejected the term "abstract" which he considered a denial of the essentially intimate relationships between art and reality. He quoted his friend Braque: "The canvas must efface the idea behind it." In 1941, during the Nazi occupation, at a time when Hitler was destroying many works of modern art, Bazaine had the courage to organise in Paris a first "avant-garde" exhibition of 20 French artists. In 1948, he wrote his first book, an unpedantic, unacademic view of contemporary painting, Notes sur la peinture d'aujourd'hui. He quotes Braque on Cezanne: "He's a painters' painter - other people think it's unfinished." Bazaine, too, reverenced Cezanne: Three lines drawn by Cezanne overturn our whole concept of the world, proclaim the liberty of man, his courage. The great painters have never had any other aims. The painter says: "I exist, therefore you exist. I am free, therefore you are free. Or at least he tries to. It's his one aim in life." After the Second World War, Bazaine produced vast compositions with virtuoso colour structures, mostly with references to nature, like the breathtaking Vent de mer (1949, now in the Museum of Modern Art, Paris) and Orage au jardin (1952, now in the Van Abbemuseum at Eindhoven). His Earth and Sky (1950) is in the Maeght Foundation at Saint Paul de Vence. One of his greatest works, L'Arbre tenebreux (1962), was sold to the Sonja Henie-Niels Foundation in Norway. These enormous, evocative representations of the forces of nature were always preceded by numerous sketches, drawings and colour value notations that are in themselves fascinating insights into the painter's techniques in the production of apparently spontaneous burst of colour and contrasts of movement and subtleties of tone. Bazaine was a natural choice for large-scale architectural and literary collaborations. He made magnificent illustrations for poetry by André Frenaud, René Char and Jean Tardieu: unlike most painters, he was a passionate lover of poetry, and could express the very essence of a poem in an astonishing feat of almost mediumistic artistic insight into the subject. He created the immense mosaic composition for the Unesco building in Paris (1960), as well as decorations for the transatlantic liner France (1962) and the Maison de la Radio (1963). His monumental gift can be found also in more mundane surroundings like the Cluny metro station. But it is as an inspired creator of works enriching the entire history of modern religious art that Bazaine will best be remembered, by believers and non-believers alike: the windows in the church at Asay (1943-47) in Savoie, the façade mosaics (1951) and windows (1954) of the church at Audincourt in the Jura (1954), the church of Villeparisis (1961) and a reception centre at Noisy le Grand (1955). He also devised tapestries, like the Blasons des douze mois (1975). Among his writing on art, there is Exercise de la peinture (1973) and La Temps de la peinture, a collection of all his writings on painting and the arts in general (1985). Jean Bazaine was a great master, but a humble one. He once confessed that he thought of suicide at least three times every day, so in despair did he feel about his work. One of his favourite quotations in Notes sur la peinture d'aujourd'hui comes, surprisingly, from the classicist Jacques Louis David: I would like a painter, at the end of 20 years of work, to begin each new painting in a state of the same indecision as when he started. And as epigraph to his L'exercise de la peinture Bazaine wrote: Linked for 20,000 years - and for just as long in times to come - to the destiny of man, painting has not lost any of its mystery. And this essay cannot hope to explain it. But the explanation is in every one of his paintings." Article Written by James Kirup

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