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National Gallery of Art Acquires Major Work by Simon Hantaï

April 6, 2012

Simon Hantaï, Etude, 1969, oil on canvas.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors Committee
© 2012 Estate Simon Hantaï

As noted in today’s New York Times, the National Gallery of Art has recently acquired a painting by the relatively unknown (to American audiences, at least) Simon Hantaï. The gallery’s press announcement includes this background about the painter and this work:

Etude by Simon Hantaï

Born in Hungary, Hantaï settled in France in 1948 and joined the circle around André Breton. After experimenting in the 1950s with a variety of surrealist-inspired painting techniques, he invented a method of pliage (folding) in 1960 that defined the rest of his career.

Hantaï’s process entailed knotting a loose canvas in clumps on the floor, painting it in one of several monochrome colors, and then flattening and stretching it, revealing a dramatic image. The Meun series of 1968 was the first in which he left parts of the primed canvas unpainted, allowing white to penetrate the colored forms. This work is from his next series, the Etudes, which is arguably the most important series of his career. At once fractured and sublimely decorative, it bears a strong resemblance to the cut-outs of Henri Matisse, but Hantaï learned just as much from Jackson Pollock’s horizontal method, physical approach, and all-over composition.

Although little known in the U.S., Hantaï was a major figure in France, inspiring the Support/Surface group in particular. An upcoming retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in 2013 will bring him international attention. The Gallery’s collection includes three drawings by the artist from the Rosenwald Collection, but this is its first painting by Hantaï.

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