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The Liberation of painting

Between Figuration and Abstraction

With the return of peace, another battle began with the questioning of the traditional canons of painting.

This avant-garde struggle was spearheaded by the artistic youth, who no longer recognized themselves in Post-Impressionism, Cubism, or even in Surrealism, which was still very active at that time. 

The new generation turned instead to abstraction, a field of experimentation that was in theory more promising. 

Nevertheless, doubt persisted amongst certain actors of non-figuration who wondered if painting could be en- tirely abstract. This question is illustrated in this chapter through Nicolas de Staël and Olivier Debré, whose work demonstrates the simultaneous shift from a total abstraction to a partial figuration. This transition took place in 1949. On this date, Debré painted his first “signes- personnages” and de Staël produced compositions with realistic accents. From the thick matter of their paintings, emerged the silhouette of a figure, the outline of an object or the horizon of a landscape. 

By refusing to choose between figuration and abstraction, de Staël and Debré settled on a middle ground where they focused on the quest for a balance between gesture, matter and colour. This tempered approach was the opposite to that of Jean Dubuffet or the artists of the CoBrA group who used figuration with the sole aim of destroying it. 

Fleurs blanches et jaunes

Nicolas DE STAËL

Fleurs blanches et jaunes, 1953 
Huile sur toile
130 x 89 cm

Inv. FGA-BA-STAEL-0003 © Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Genève. Photographe : Sandra Pointet
© ADAGP, Paris, 2020
Nature morte

Olivier DEBRÉ

Nature morte, 1956 
Huile sur toile,
129,8 x 161,8 cm

Inv. FGA-BA-FGA-BA-DEBRE-0003 © Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Genève. Photographe : Sandra Pointet
© ADAGP, Paris, 2020