Following the Liberation, Paris once again became the world capital of the arts. The artists who had been forced to leave the occupied city against their will, at last returned to their studios.
The Liberation of painting
The French came back from the Free Zone and foreigners flocked here from all over Europe. The joy of returning to the City of Light was often accompanied by very precarious working conditions as the art market had been affected by four years of Occupation. The artists, unlikely to receive any support from the community concerned with reconstruction, took the initiative by organizing exhibitions in avant-garde salons, like Réalités Nouvelles, created in 1946.
Salons, formerly key venues in the art world, now had to compete with new art galleries. The most innovative of these were led by women, ready to support, against all economic logic, the new non-geometric trend of abs- tract art. Along with Denise René, Jeanne Bucher and Colette Allendy, Lydia Conti was one of these daring young gallery owners who took a risk by successively exhibiting, between 1947 and 1949, painters Hans Har- tung, Gérard Schneider and Pierre Soulages, whom the public discovered by the same opportunity. From the outset, these three artists were supported by an enlightened fringe of art critics who identified their indi- vidual talent and realized the revolutionary scope of their way of painting. Furious brushstrokes, nervous and instinctive writing, the impression of speed and spontaneity, such were the shared features of this Abstract Expressionism that sought to remove any distance between the gesture and its trace, between the painter’s intentions and the raw emotions conveyed.
The collective exhibition bringing together Hartung, Schneider and Soulages for the first time in Lydia Conti’s gallery, in 1949, contributed to widening the gap between the perpetuators of geometric abstraction and its reformers, supporters of gestural and Art Informel painting for which the painter Georges Mathieu coined the unifying term “lyrical abstraction”. The apparent unity of style in the initial stages fell apart in the mid-1950s, as may be seen in the works of Pierre Soulages in this chapter. Their large “slowed-down” gestures, held back by the thick matter, are the first signs of a less tumultuous relationship between gesture, matter and colour.