What is Lyrical Abstraction?
Lyrical Abstraction refers to two related but distinctly separate trends in Post-war Modernist painting.
European Abstraction Lyrique (Tachisme) born in Paris in 1945, and the French critics Pierre Guéguen and Charles Estienne the author of L'Art A Paris 1945-1966 are credited with coining its name in 1946, and American Lyrical Abstraction a movement described by Larry Aldrich (the founder of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield Connecticut) in 1969
European Lyrical Abstraction is an art movement born in Paris after World War II. At that time, France was trying to reconstruct its identity devastated by the Occupation and Collaboration. Some art critics looked at the new abstraction as an attempt to try to restore the image of artistic Paris, which had held the rank of capital of the arts until the war. It is possible that lyrical abstraction also represented a competition between Paris and the new American school of painting, Abstract Expressionism, based in New York and represented by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and many others. It could thus be seen as the School of Paris versus the New York School.
Lyrical abstraction was opposed not only to Cubist and Surrealist movements that preceded it, but also to geometric abstraction (or "cold abstraction"). Lyrical abstraction was in some ways the first to apply the lessons of Kandinsky, considered one of the fathers of abstraction. For the artists in France, lyrical abstraction represented an opening to personal expression.
Post World War II France was trying to reconstruct her identity devastated by the Occupation and Collaboration. Some art critics have looked at the new abstraction as an attempt to try to restore the image of artistic Paris, who had held the rank of capital of the arts until the war.
Just after World War II, many artists old and young were back in Paris where they worked and exhibited : Nicolas de Staël, Serge Poliakoff, André Lanskoy and Zaks from Russia; Hans Hartung and Wols from Germany; Árpád Szenes and Simon Hantaï from Hungary; Alexandre Istrati from Romania; Jean-Paul Riopelle from Canada; Vieira da Silva from Portugal; Gérard Ernest Schneider from Switzerland; Feito from Spain; Bram van Velde from Holland; Albert Bitran from Turkey; Zao Wou Ki from China; Sugai from Japan; Sam Francis, John Koenig, Jack Youngerman and Paul Jenkins from the U.S.A.
All these artists and many others were at that time among the "Lyrical Abstractionists" with the French : Georges Mathieu, Pierre Soulages, Nallard, Jean René Bazaine, Doucet, Camille Bryen, Jean Le Moal, Gustave Singier, Alfred Manessier, Roger Bissière, Pierre Tal-Coat etc.
Lyrical Abstraction was opposed not only to "l’Ecole de Paris " remains of pre-war style but to Cubist and Surrealist movements that had preceded it, and also to geometric abstraction (or "Cold Abstraction"). Lyrical Abstraction was in some ways the first to apply the lessons of Kandinsky, considered one of the fathers of abstraction. For the artists in France, Lyrical Abstraction represented an opening to personal expression.
Many exhibitions were held in Paris for example in the galleries Arnaud, Drouin, Jeanne Bucher, Louis Carré, Galerie de France, and every year at the "Salon des Réalités Nouvelles" and "Salon de Mai" where the paintings of all these artists could be seen. At the Drouin gallery one could see Jean Le Moal, Gustave Singier, Alfred Manessier, Roger Bissière, Wols and others. A wind blew over the capital when Georges Mathieu decided to hold two exhibitions: L'Imaginaire in 1947 at the Palais du Luxembourg which he would have prefer to call Abstraction Lyrique to impose the name and then HWPSMTB with (Hans Hartung, Wols, Francis Picabia, François Stahly sculptor, Georges Mathieu, Michel Tapié and Camille Bryen) in 1948. In March 1951 was held the larger exhibition Véhémences confrontées in the gallery Nina Dausset where for the first time were presented side to side french and american abstract artists. It was organised by the critic Michel Tapié, whose role in the defense of this movement was of the highest importance. With these events, he déclared that « the lyrical abstraction is born. It was, however, a fairly short reign (late 1957), which was quickly supplanted by the New realism of Pierre Restany and Yves Klein.
Starting around 1970, this movement has been revived by a new generation of artists born during or immediately after the Second World War. Some of its key promoters include Paul Kallos, Georges Romathier, Michelle Desterac, and Thibaut de Reimpré.
An exhibition entitled "The Lyrical Flight, Paris 1945-1956" (L'Envolée Lyrique, Paris 1945-1956), bringing together the works of 60 painters, was presented in Paris at the Musée du Luxembourg from April to August 2006 and included the most prominent painters of the movement : Georges Mathieu, Pierre Soulages, Gérard Schneider, Zao Wou Ki, Albert Bitran, Serge Poliakoff.