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Geneviève Claisse

1935 - 2018

A major representative of geometric abstraction, Geneviève Claisse was born in 1935 in Quiévy, a small village near Cateau-Cambrésis. She discovered geometric abstraction by reading various art magazines such as “Art d’Aujourd’hui,” which praised certain avant-garde pictorial currents.

The artist, fascinated by Herbin’s theoretical writings, was as-yet unaware of the relationship between them. At the age of 18, she met her great-uncle at Cateau-Cambrésis. Herbin discovered her work and encouraged her to persevere along this path.

Geneviève Claisse first exhibited in 1958 in Paris and Cambrai. The following year, she moved to Paris and became her great-uncle’s assistant, whilst continuing her artistic research. She shared his studio for a year.

In 1960, Claisse took part in the Salon de Mai and in 1961, she became one of the artists represented by the Galerie Denise René. The gallery owner, recognised as a visionary, regularly presented Geneviève Claisse’s work in her spaces (Paris and New York), and in international art salons.

The artist exhibited in Copenhagen, London, Paris, Tel Aviv…

The 60s were rich in creation, especially 1966, when several serial compositions on the theme of circles and triangles appeared in parallel in her sketchbooks. These series of landmark works would be explored until the following decade. Extraordinary paintings were exhibited at major collective events in solo exhibitions around the world.

In 1971, Geneviève Claisse opened a second studio in Ecluzelles. In the 1970s, she took part in the Salon de Mai and exhibited in New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Basel, etc.

This period is marked by a return to rectilinear shapes, especially in the fabulous DNA canvases, where squares are the target of the intelligent colorimetry work previously implemented in circles.

Research on lines took form in works executed in the second half of the 1970s and early 1980s. The artist devoted several years to this very methodical work, where lines of different thicknesses run parallel, meet, diverge, draw close, forming a series of paintings which can be associated with a form of kineticism.

The artist retained this linear research in her work, but with some nuances in the thickness and arrangement.

In 1982, the Matisse Museum of Cateau-Cambrésis devoted an exhibition room to Geneviève Claisse’s work.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the artist exhibited in Brussels, Milan, Paris, Rome, Zurich…

Her research evolved. The lines thickened, generating small coloured bars that were arranged on the substrate without ever reaching its edges.

The end of the 1990s was marked by a very interesting series about the association of two feelings: transparency and fullness.

The first feeling evokes emptiness, whereas the second, developed on the basis of the first, evokes plenitude.

Perfectly connected, these works inject considerable movement, depth and dynamism into the white space of the canvas.

During the 2000s, the artist revealed the extent of her ability to develop her previous research, with a rigorous approach and unequalled application.

Her works are composed of rectilinear forms, symmetrical or dissimilar squares evolving in a set of horizontal or vertical lines, sometimes reminiscent of Malevich’s Suprematism.

The stability of Geneviève Claisse’s work is unique. There are no imbalances. The colour is flawless.

Geneviève Claisse died in Dreux in 2018.


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In the immediate post-war period, the rise of geometric or constructed abstract art was supported and encouraged by the action of art critics entirely dedicated to its devotion, such as Michel Seuphor and Léon Degand.

Born in 1935, self-taught, Geneviève Claisse seems to have begun her first pictorial works with  an approach which would subsequently become her whole life: abstraction. She proclaimed quite readily that: “As a schoolgirl, I was already abstract” (and this would be the subtitle of her retrospective at the Matisse-Herbin Museum of Cateau-Cambraisis, in 2015). In fact, her first works, still known today, are pages of notebook in bold colours with an arrangement of flexible forms and premonitory circles. She said at the time: “Abstraction gave meaning to my life, bringing me true happiness. I felt born again the day I made my first piece.”

The chromatic order was already firmly in place. The geometric rigour is absolute, immutable, without ever being devoid of sensitivity. Its geometry is straight. The flat colours always remain pure. But, above all, what is immediately striking about this artist is the proposal she makes to us through such an easy reading of her clear visual language. And this is true throughout her work.

Geneviève Claisse progressed significantly in terms of distribution, the evolution of forms and composition. Thus, the arrival of the white background announced a new form of research. The initial forms gave way to the more silent black triangles, which opposed forms and backgrounds (KIRA, TITANIA, 1966). This gave rise to a new dimension. A new spatiality propelled the work and pushed the artist towards sculpture. (VELA, TRIANGLE AUSTRAL, 1966).

“With geometric abstraction, language attains freedom. It can be a total creation. By paring down and sublimating, it aims at more sensitivity…”

Geneviève Claisse

Quartem, Acrylic on canvas, 1974

These subtle triangulations were immediately followed by works based on the circle and its variations. Thus began a striking period of unprecedented aesthetic research into the infinite possibilities offered by this element. The colours, restored, remain pure and boldly organised.

She played with contrasts, harmonies and chromatic clashes, risking subtle directions whilst maintaining an appearance of great simplicity.

If proof were still needed, these works demonstrate the intense quality of creative thought that allowed her to develop these rhythmic circular structures that tend towards fullness. These are the Circles, in secants, tangents or concentric, born in the second half of the 1960s and in the early 1970s. The Circles are sometimes multiplied on the canvas by fours or by sixes (QUARTEM, 1974). They breathe life into strong, kinetic compositions.

Artworks

Geneviève Claisse

Unités, 1970
Acrylic on canvas
100 x 81 cm | 39 3/8 x 31 7/8 in.

Geneviève Claisse, Trafalgar square

1963

Geneviève Claisse, R33

1969

Geneviève Claisse, Cercles

1966

Geneviève Claisse, Cercles

1967

Geneviève Claisse, H

1970

Geneviève Claisse, Listz

1959

Art Fairs

Publications

News

Harmonie des sphères

March 19 - November 6 2022

Musée Matisse, Le Cateau-Cambrésis

Auguste Herbin, Geneviève Claisse ou encore Jean Dewasne, artistes abstraits géométriques originaires du Nord et férus de sciences exactes, dont le musée départemental Matisse possède une importante collection, ont utilisé le cercle comme un élément récurrent de composition. Le travail de ces artistes entre en résonance avec les photographies que le spationaute français Thomas Pesquet […]

Harmonie des sphères

FEMMES ANNÉES 50. AU FIL DE L’ABSTRACTION

December 14, 2019 - May 10, 2020

Musée Soulages Rodez

Depuis le 14 décembre 2019, le musée soulages consacre une exposition à la création abstraite des femmes dans les années 50 à Paris : Femmes années 50. Au fil de l’abstraction, peinture et sculpture. Déjà aux Etats-Unis se tenait en 1951 l’exposition fondatrice « Ninth Street Show » dans laquelle figurait 4 femmes : Joan Mitchell, […]

FEMMES ANNÉES 50. AU FIL DE L’ABSTRACTION

Geneviève Claisse. Écolière, j’étais déjà abstraite

November 10, 2015

Serge Fauchereau

Il est d’usage que durant leur formation les meilleurs artistes passent par une ou plusieurs « périodes » sans grand rapport avec leur oeuvre ultérieure par laquelle on les admire. Les premiers tableaux de grands novateurs comme Piet Mondrian et Kasimir Malévitch sont impressionnistes ou symbolistes, esthétiques déjà datées au moment où ils les peignaient. On ne […]

Geneviève Claisse. Écolière, j’étais déjà abstraite

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