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Judit Reigl

1923-2020

Judit Reigl, a painter of Hungarian origin born in 1923 in Kapuvar, fled her country to Paris to become one of the few women to be recognised on the artistic scene after the war. Faithful to a spirit of freedom and carried by a powerful energy in motion, Reigl produced personal work where the questions of the body and the human condition are central.

After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, Judit Reigl managed to cross the Iron Curtain and moved to Paris in June 1950. There she met her friend and compatriot Simon Hantaï who introduced her to André Breton, the leader of the Surrealist movement, in 1954, to whom she gave one of her first paintings, Ils ont soif de l’infini (1950), an anguished vision populated by zoomorphic creatures on the run. Seduced by the young painter’s talent, Breton invited her to exhibit at the Galerie de l’Étoile Scellée a few months later and wrote the preface to the catalogue. The works she presented there renounced figuration: always attracted by automatic writing but seeking to take it to its utmost limits, Reigl set out to conquer a new expressive territory, that of a total abandonment of body and mind. “My whole body contributes to the work, ‘with open arms.’ It is with gestures that I write pulsations, impulses, in the given space.”

Over the course of her many series, a coherent path took shape which, despite the many evolutions and the back-and-forth between abstraction and figuration, is marked by an intense gestuality. Reigl painted most often by moving quickly around canvases placed on the ground and intensely engaged her body. Several series were born: those of the Éclatements (1955 – 1958) and of Centres de dominance (1958 – 1959), which brought her closer to Georges Mathieu, with whom she exhibited during these years, then that of the Guano (1958 – 1959), developed on the basis of the failed canvases littering the floor of the studio, covered in paint drips, walked over by the artist who reworked them afterwards.

From 1966, Reigl introduced the human figure into her painting. It appears and disappears through several series such as Homme (1966 – 1972), Drap (1973), Un corps au pluriel (1990 – 1992) or Hors (1993 – 1999). Bodies, most often male, reduced to their simplest expression, devoid of any spatial or temporal context, are represented levitating over the entire surface of the canvas. The human body, as an actor in the gesture and as a subject, therefore remained the anchor of Reigl’s work and of the complex reflection it represents.

Judit Reigl’s career was marked by several important exhibitions: the 1976 exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris with the Déroulements and Guano series and the 1986 exhibition at the International Pavilion of the Venice Biennale. Her works have been integrated into the collections of MOMA and the Solomon R. Guggenheim in New York, the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Tate Modern in London.


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“The body is the most perfect instrument and the most tragic obstacle”

Judit Reigl

Judit Reigl in her studio in Marcoussis. Photo Catherine Panchout - Corbis. Courtesy Sygma via Getty images.

Artworks

Judit Reigl

HOMME (fragment), 1969
Oil on canvas, mounted on canvas
30 x 24 cm | 11 3/4 x 9 1/2 in.

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