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Simon Hantaï

1922 - 2008

Celebrated for his method of folding, used as a pictorial process since 1960, Simon Hantaï has inscribed his career in a profound artistic renewal as well as a new way of thinking about painting. In the six decades since its beginnings in post-war Paris, Hantaï’s art has undergone several important renewals that reflect the research spirit of this immensely significant painter of the second half of the twentieth century.

Born Simon Handl in Bia in 1922, Hantaï studied at the School of Fine Arts in Budapest where he obtained a scholarship in the spring of 1948 that allowed him to spend a year in Paris. Following a change of regime in Hungary, Hantaï and his wife Zsuzsa decided to settle permanently in Paris, after having made a great trip to Italy, where they discovered the masterpieces of Italian art, including the Galla Placidia mausoleum in Ravenna.

In Paris, Hantaï frequented Hungarian artists in exile like him, and was close to the Surrealist movement, notably André Breton, who wrote the preface to the catalogue of his first exhibition at the Galerie L’Étoile Scellée in 1953. Struck by the discovery of Georges Mathieu, but especially of Jackson Pollock, Hantaï broke with the Surrealist movement in 1955, abandoned figuration and directed his practice towards greater gestuality. He made large-format canvases, including Sexe-Prime. Hommage à Jean-Pierre Brisset in 1956, presented during his second exhibition at the Galerie Kleber.

1960 marked a decisive turning point for the rest of his career. By making folding a new pictorial process, Hantaï profoundly renewed his way of painting, and defined its singularity. This gave rise to several series, each corresponding to a new folding system: the Mariales (1960-1962), the Catamurons (1963-1965) the Panses (1964-1967), the Meuns (1967-1968), the Études (1968-1971), the Aquarelles (1971), the Blancs (1973-1974) and finally the Tabulas (1973-1982), a series that was completed the year that he represented France at the Venice Biennale and chose to withdraw from the artistic scene.

By means of this technique, Hantaï freed the canvas from its chassis to give free rein to the intelligence of his hand, giving up “the privileges of talent.” Under his fingers, the folded, knotted, crumpled, deformed canvas became a living matter as much as a surface to paint on. Blindly, Hantai applied the paint, leaving room for unpredictability. Once “liberated,” restretched, the miracle of chance occured. Only then did Hantaï discover the work he had created: the unfolding, as a revelation, revealed the pattern of chromatic contrasts between the hidden areas, the folded segments, and the painted surfaces.

Inspired by Matisse, especially the Nus Bleus, Hantaï’s exploration of folding followed in the footsteps of the cut-up gouaches, except that for him, it was folding that served as scissors. Through his techniques, Hantaï highlighted the breathing of the white space left free of paint, which structured the composition, and gave the unpainted surfaces the role of structuring the space, in dialogue with the colour, in a strong spiritual dimension.

Having become a French citizen in 1966, Simon Hantaï had a great retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in 1976, and then a second one in 2013. His works are exhibited in some forty public collections around the world, including those of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Musée d’Art Moderne in the City of Paris, the Vatican Museum in Rome, the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

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Simon Hantaï, circa 1967. Photo Édouard Boubat.

“What matters is not what I paint, but what I don’t paint, the white.”

Simon Hantaï

“The folding of the canvas is organised according to a regular grid, revealing a set of squares or compartments ...”

Simon Hantaï

Simon Hantaï, exhibition presented by Eric de Chassey, the curator of the exhibition for the Villas Médicis, Académie de France à Rome. With support from the Centre Pompidou. 2014


Simon Hantaï

Tabula, 1980
Acrylic on canvas laid down on canvas
149,5 x 117 cm | 58 7/8 x 46 1/8 in.


Art Fairs



The Choice of Painting

February 10th - June 9th, 2024

Tessé Museum, Le Mans

The Tessé Museum is presenting the exhibition “The Choice of Painting, Another History of Abstraction, 1962-1989” from February 10th to June 9th, 2024. It offers a panorama of three decades of abstract painting in France, from the 1960s to the 1980s. How did artists kept on painting when the trend, starting from the 1960s, gazed […]

The Choice of Painting

At the heart of Abstraction Works from the collection of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art

July 2 - November 22, 2022

Fondation Maeght

The exhibition at the Fondation Maeght will show works from the collection of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art from the 2nd of July until the 20th of November 2022 and offers an immersion in the vibrant creation of the years 1945 to 1980. Home to a collection of more than 13,000 works, Fondation Maeght is […]

At the heart of Abstraction Works from the collection of the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art

Simon Hantaï – The centenary exhibition

From 18.05.2022 to 29.08.2022

Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris

To celebrate the centenary of Simon Hantaï’s birth (1922-2008), Fondation Louis Vuitton is organising an unprecedented retrospective exhibition curated by Anne Baldassari. It includes more than 130 of Simon Hantaï’s works, many of which have never before been shown, and the majority of which are large format works from 1957 to 2000. Simultaneously, the Fondation […]

Simon Hantaï – The centenary exhibition

Pierre Matisse, an Art Dealer in New York

June 11 - October 4, 2021

Musée Matisse Nice

Curated by: Claudine Grammont Hosting a large exhibition devoted to Pierre Matisse, the Musée Matisse revisits the exceptional career of Henri Matisse’s youngest son, a New York art dealer and a key figure of the 20th century art world. For about sixty years, the Pierre Matisse Gallery played a prominent role in the art world: […]

Pierre Matisse, an Art Dealer in New York

Calder, Soulages, Vasarely,… Abstractions plurielles (1950-1980)

March 2 - November 21, 2021

Musée d'art de Pully

Le Musée d’art de Pully collabore avec la Fondation Gandur pour l’Art autour d’une exposition consacrée à la peinture informelle des années 1950 à 1980. Les années qui suivent la Seconde Guerre mondiale connaissent une grande effervescence artistique. Paris reprend rapidement sa place de capitale culturelle et attire des peintres du monde entier. La tendance […]

Calder, Soulages, Vasarely,… Abstractions plurielles (1950-1980)

Black suns

June 10, 2020 - January 25, 2021

Musée du Louvre-Lens

This sensory, poetic exhibition offers a fresh perspective on masterpieces of the History of art. Almost 75 years after the legendary exhibition ‘Black is a Colour’, it provides an engrossing exploration of this fascinating colour, which has been endowed with a multitude of symbolic meanings in Western art, from antiquity to the present day. A […]

Black suns


December 11, 2016 - April 17, 2017

Fonds Hélène & Édouard Leclerc pour la Culture

Grâce à des prêts exceptionnels, cette exposition fait entrer Hartung en résonance avec des artistes que l’on relie historiquement à « l’abstraction lyrique » du début des années 50. Lien vers l’exposition


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