Georges Mathieu Biography

Georges Mathieu




Painter, printmaker, art theorist and writer, Georges Mathieu was born in Boulogne-sur-Mer (Pas-de-Calais) in 1921, the son of a bank manager father and a homemaker and artist mother. Early interest in the arts was spurred by his mother, Madeleine Durpe, but his first formal studies were in law, English, and philosophy at the University of Lille, where he graduated in 1941. 

Mathieu began teaching English in 1942 at the lycee of Douai; this was also the year that he began painting as a hobby, executing two figurative paintings from postcards. He took a position as interpreter for the American Army in Cambrai in 1944, and a teaching position at the American University of Biarritz and at Istres from 1945 to 1946. Meanwhile, he began to develop his theories on art which he would later become known for: whether or not representation needed for art to have meaning, and together with Wols, Jean-Michel Atlan, Hartung, and Riopelle. His first exhibition took place that year at the Salon de moins de 30 ans in Paris.

In 1947 Mathieu moved to Paris in an apartment near the Luxembour Palace, employed by the United States Lines transatlantic shipping company in public relations, accompanying upperclass clientele in their move to Paris. Later, he would also be the editor in chief of the United States Lines Revue, which had a readerhip of 15,000 and which gave him access to further networking opportunities. This exposed him to important figures such as Salvador Dali and other other luminaries of the arts and collection world. That year he collaborated with Camille Bryen to organize an exhibition of the Tachist-oriented work he designated 'non-figuration psychique'. Bryen called these paintings of Mathieu's 'lyrical abstractions,' created without the constraints of traditional or formal regulative systems. He placed Mathieu alongside Fautrier and Dubuffet as an important exponent of French Informel. 

Up to 1951 Mathieu continued to organize group shows, using them to demonstrate - as one of the first Europeans to do so - the importance of American Abstract Expressionism. Georges Mathieu was particularly interested in Jackson Pollock and his spontaneous gestural handling of paint. Beginning in 1954, Mathieu staged the painting of large-scale works as theatrical events, culminating in his using 800 tubes of paint to create a painting measuring 4 x 12 metres in front of an audience of 2000 at the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt in 1956. Somewhere between Happening and Action Painting, Mathieu succeeded in producing a decoratively linear style of painting, reminiscent of calligraphy.

Mathieu continued to perform his Action Paintings throughout Europe and, in 1957, in Tokyo to universal acclaim; his works were shown at special exhibitions in Paris and New York in 1950 and 1952. Mathieu participated in numerous international one-man exhibitions, including 'documenta II' in 1959. Early in the 1960s Mathieu also did sculpture and designed furniture, tapestries and frescoes. Georges Mathieu made a name for himself as the founder of Tachism in the essay 'Au-delà du Tachisme' (published in 1963) and he hosted debates and discussions regarding this theory throughout Europe and the U.S. In 1978 the Grand Palais held a retrospective of Mathieu's work which examined the last fifteen years of his output. 

A tireless supporter of the arts, Mathieu stressed the importance of municiple improvement via public art and education, and was pivotal in improving the arts in the public schools of France, supporting compulsory courses in art history and excercises that included both visual and performance arts. He was awarded the Legion of Honour and given the title of Commander of Arts and Letters. Mathieu is considered one of the most influential directors of an art movement in the 20th century, having been instrumental in developing European lyrical abstraction. In addition to painting and printmaking, his oeurvre includes tapestry, porcelain, architecture and urbanism, and graphic deisgn for commercial work. 

His work can be found today in over 90 museums worldwide. He died in Boulogne-Billancourt on June 10, 2012.

This biography partially taken from