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This 1980 Tabula is the culmination of Simon Hantaï’s pictorial and spiritual research. A dazzling polychromy is punctuated by white spaces that bring breath to the work, both inside the squares and in the frame that structures them. A large – but not monumental – format allows us to observe in harmonious proportion the maturity of his folding technique which, from 1980, resulted in giant and torn squares, iconic and recognizable in the Tabulas Lilas (1982), his last accomplishments before he retired from the public eye.

A major figure in post-war abstraction, Simon Hantaï profoundly renewed the thought of painting. An exceptional retrospective is dedicated to him at the Louis Vuitton Foundation from May 18 to August 29, to celebrate the centenary of this visionary (1922-2008). On this occasion, we are pleased to present this emblematic work to you in all its fullness and luminosity.

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Simon Hantaï (1922-2008)

Tabula, 1980

Acrylic on canvas laid on canvas
Signed with initials “SH” and dated “80” on the lower right
149,5 x 117 cm | 58 7/8 x 46 1/8 inches

Provenance :
Galerie Fournier, Paris
Galerie Larock-Granoff, Paris
Private Collection, Suisse

Literature :
Didier Semin, Hantaï, Art Studio n°1, 1985, reproduced p.21

1980 and 1981 were good years for Simon Hantaï. He works quickly. He feeds his mind through reading Goethe, Buffon, Chevreul and the words of Cézanne and Matisse. His first Tabulas are often large surfaces inhabited by small squares. Remnants of his early folding ventures of the 60s and 70s are visible in the alternating of monochrome and polychrome expressions against a neutral background.

Hantaï paints on the ground and the sense of orientation becomes secondary. He does not guide the eye of the viewer and grants him total freedom of perception unlike most artists. Being the painter who did not want to be an artist, he leaves no trace of his hand on this canvas painted in acrylic, entrusting himself without restraint to the magic of chance.

“From the beginning, the folds were intended for smoothing, as much smoothing as possible. Soon the appearance of acrylic materials helped me in this direction.”

Simon Hantaï, 1998

Hantaï is at the height of his work at the time of the realization of this painting. Eight years since the beginning of the Tabulas series, he has completely freed himself from his hesitations, perceptible in the previous series (Ecriture, Panses, Meun, Études et Blancs): between writing and painting, oil and acrylic, white openings and impenetrable colors.

During this final phase of experimentation, Hantaï reaches a point of maturity: the colored and torn tiles expand in perfect proportion to the empty space that penetrates the core of each of them. The white openings in the heart of the squares bring out the colors of a rare quality similar to precious stones. In the controlled application of the acrylic, which allows him to radically smooth the surface, the colored bursts cut the white canvas. He has never been so determined in the execution of painted and unpainted areas.

“Painting exists because I need to paint. But that cannot be enough. There is a question about the gesture that is needed. The problem was: how to overcome the privilege of talent, art, etc. ? How to trivialize the exceptional? How to become exceptionally banal? Folding was a way to solve this problem. The folding resulted from nothing. You just had to put yourself in the state of those who haven't seen anything yet, put yourself in the canvas. You could fill the folded canvas without knowing where the edge was. We don't know where it ends. You could even go further and paint with your eyes closed.”

Simon Hantaï

Simon Hantaï, circa 1967. Photo Édouard Boubat.

Henri Matisse cutting out gouached paper, Vence, circa 1950. Photo archives AFP

Singular precursor, he stands out as an avant-garde who always distances himself from the sociability of a school. Seduced by Breton and then briefly by Mathieu at the start of his artistic career, Hantaï moved away from the surrealist and gestural conformisms of these two avant-garde groups to follow his own need to invent himself in order to access a more secret and interior creative state.

His folding technique is a beautiful result of this tension between genealogy of the masters and personal invention. Strongly inspired by the 1961 exhibition on cut-out paper by Matisse at the Musée des Arts décoratifs, the folding technique became his signature. In a process of assimilation and distancing from Matisse, who cut in the flat prepared color, Hantaï paints in the white cut-out surface – a process which he sums up well: “the canvas is a scissor for me… The canvas ceases to be a projection screen but cuts in and of itself. »

A deeply spiritual man on a permanent quest, he tried to belong to collectives but always ended up questioning himself and taking up a personal path. His ultimate goal was to approach the truth of painting until he abandoning the gesture of painting completely. For him, painting is not just a physical thing that mobilizes the body and leaves all power to chance as Pollock does with his masterful canvases, but a mental, or even religious cosa.

Simon Hantaï folding a Tabula, Meun, 1975. Photo Édouard Boubat.

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