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 Jean Lurcat  (1892 - 1966)

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Lived/Active: New York / France      Known for: tapestry design, abstract figure, landscape and marine painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Jean Lurcat was a French artist noted as a renovator of contemporary tapestry.  He was born in Bruyeres, Vosges, the son of Lucien Jean Baptiste Lurcat and Marie Emilie Marguerite L'Hote.  He was the brother of Andre Lurçat, who became an architect.  After his secondary education at Epinal, he enrolled at La Faculte des Sciences de Nancy and studied medicine.  He went to Switzerland and Germany (Munich) and in leaving his educational path, he went to the workshop of Victor Prouve, the head of the Ecole de Nancy.

In 1912, Jean Lurcat took residence in Paris with his brother, Andre.  He enrolled at the Academie Colarossi*, then at the workshop of the engraver, Bernard Naudin.  He met painters such as Matisse, Cézanne, Renoir and became close to Rainer Maria Rilke, Antoine Bourdelle, Elie Faure, etc. ... and founded with the three friends the Feuilles de Mai (The leaves of May), a journal of art involving the celebrities.  He then became an apprentice of the painter, Jean-Paul Lafitte with whom he led an exhibition at La faculté des sciences de Marseille.

His first journey to Italy was interrupted in August by the declaration of war.  Back in France, he joined the infantry, but as he fell ill, was evacuated on 15 November.  During his recovery to health, in 1915, he practiced painting and lithography*.  In July, 1916, he returned to the front, but was evacuated once again due to injury.  He never returned to the front.  From September, his art was put on exhibition in Zurich.

In 1917, Jean Lurcat made his first tapestries: Filles Vertes (Green Girls) and Soirée dans Grenade (Evening in Grenada). cFrom the end of the war in 1918, he returned to Switzerland where he had a holiday Ticino (Swiss Italy), with Rilke, Busoni, Hermann Hesse and Jeanne Bucher. cHis second exhibition took place in Zurich in the same year. cIn 1920, he traveled a lot: Berlin, Munich, Rome, Naples.  Then he took up residence in Paris with Marthe Hennebert.  It was she who wove two tapestries: Pêcheur (Fisherman) and Piscine (Swimming pool).  He unveiled in the same year, at Le Salon des Independants*, two tapestries and four paintings.  He met the art merchant, Étienne Bignou.

In 1921, Jean Lurçat met Louis Marcoussis; he discovered Picasso and Max Jacob; and created decoration and costumes for Le spectacle de la Compagnie Pitoeff: "He who receives slaps", and then spent the autumn near the Baltic sea.  The following year, he created his 5th tapestry, Le Cirque (the circus), for Mme. Cuttoli.

His first personal exhibition took place in Paris in April and September.  He made a large decoration on a wall (no longer visible today) at the Castle of Villeflix.  Then he went to Berlin, where he met Busoni.  During the next two years Lurçat resumed traveling.  In 1923 he went to Spain; in 1924 he went to North Africa, the Sahara, Greece and Asia Minor.  Upon his return, he signed a contract without exclusivity with his friend, Étienne Bignou.  His brother André built his new house, Villa Seurat, in Paris.  He devoted a portion of the year 1924 to the making of his sixth tapestry, Les arbres (The trees).  On 15 December, he married Marthe Hennebert and traveled in 1925 to Scotland, then Spain and northern Africa.  Upon his return, he took up residence at La Villa Seurat.  He participated in several expositions with Raoul Dufy, Marcoussis, Laglenne and others.  He revealed, at the home of Jeanne Bucher; elements of decoration (Carpets and paintings) of Vertige, a film by Marcel l'Herbier.  In 1926, he exhibited in Paris and Brussels; and participated to collective exhibitions in Vienna, Paris, and Anvers.  His fame began due to several articles devoted to him.

With the company of Marthe, he departed in 1927 for the Orient and spent the summer in Greece and in Turkey.  He decorated the lounge of the family of David-Weill. There are four tapestries in developing and implementing L'Orage (The storm), for George Salles (Musée national d'art moderne National museum of modern art).  He returned to Greece and Italy (Rome) in 1928 before embarking in October for the United States of America, for his first exhibition in New York.  In 1930 he had exhibitions in Paris, London, New York, and Chicago, and illustrated nine dry-points Les Limbes (The limbo) of Charles-Albert Cingria. 

Then he spent time in America and divorced Marthe Hennebert.  The following year, 1931, he married Rosane Timotheef, and they took up residence in Vevey (Switzerland).  He wrote several articles about painting, and he reduced his production of pictures.  In December, 1932, he participated in the exhibition Sélections with Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Derain and Raoul Dufy; an event organized in New York by the Valentine Gallery.  Being aligned with the far left, from then on he often mixed his political opinions with his art. 

In 1933, he was living in New York.  He created the decoration and the costumes for the Jardin Public (Public garden), a ballet by George Balanchine. 1933 also saw his first tapestry show at Aubusson*, following the new and revolutionary technique that he developed.

In 1934, he returned to New York where he participated in the creation of new decoration and costumes for a choreography of Balanchine; which he unveiled in Chicago and Philadelphia. Then he returned to Paris and Vevey for summer.  At the end of summer, he departed for Moscow, where he did an exhibition at the Musée Occidental (Western Museum), then at the museum of Kiev.  In 1935, he painted the Dynamiteros in Spain; with inspiration from the revolution and the War of Spain.  In Paris, he participated in the activities of the Association of the revolutionary authors and artists.  Then, he followed, with Malraux and Aragon, the Journées d'amité pour l'union sovétique (The afternoons of friendship for the soviet union).  In 1936, he did an exhibition in London and released his first tapestry, made at la manufacture des gobelins (The manufacturing of the goblins), Les Illusions d'Icare (The Illusions of Icare).  In 1937, he met François Tabard.

In 1936, Jean Lurçat was inspired when he saw the tapestry L'Apocalypse (the apocalypse), which was woven in the 14th century.   In 1939, he exhibited in New York and in Paris. In September, he took up residence in Aubusson with Gromaire and Dubreuil in order to return life to a tapestry, who at the time underwent a disaster and he developed a new technical term.

Then he abandoned oil painting in favour of poster paints.  The Musée national d'Art moderne (National museum of modern art) acquired Jardin des Coqs (Garden of roosters) and L'home aux Coqs (The man of the Roosters), of which the cardboard would be destroyed by the S.S. in 1944 in Lanzac. In 1940, he collaborated with André Derain and Raoul Dufy.

In June, 1944, he associated himself with the fighters of the communist resistance, namely, Tristan Tzara, André Chamson, René Huyghe, Jean Cassou, Jean Agamemnon.  He was put on the Comité de Libération (Comity of Liberation).  He also met Simone Selves, who would later become his wife.  His adoptive son, Victor, was caught on an intelligence mission in France and was put to death.  Lurçat would not learn of his disappearance until the following year.

Lurçat died 6 January 1966 in Saint-Paul de Vence.


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