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 Robert Helman  (1910 - 1990)

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Lived/Active: France      Known for: abstract painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Robert Helman (1910-1990)

Based in Montparnasse from 1946, he shared in the adventure of the New Parisian School without allowing himself to be trapped by a pictorial trend.  Painted with bold gestures and a bright palette, his Soleil (Suns), Genèse (Genesis), Racines (Roots), Germinations, Arbres (Trees) and Envols (Taking Flight) have produced a vast personal cosmology. Robert Helman has thus managed to communicate his life force through powerful and lyrical work, by expressing whilst in harmony with Nature, the intimate bond uniting personal reality and figurative art.

Robert Helman's Life:
1910 Born in Galati, Romania. His family owns an important alcohol distillery. A teacher introduces him to painting and drawing but his talents are thwarted by his family’s aspirations.

1927 Arrives in Paris. Robert Helman enrolls in the Law Faculty.  He’s an activist in Trotskyite circles where he meets Maurice Nadeau.

1933 Having graduated, he works for several years as a lawyer and marries a young Romanian student, studying Philosophy at the Sorbonne, Zéna Jolles.

1939-1945 He and his wife take refuge in Barcelona at the outbreak of war.  Unable to practice abroad he turns to painting for a living.  He meets Jaime A. Colson who introduces him to the Spanish artistic circle.  In the Pictoria Gallery where his work is being displayed, he meets the painter Mané-Katz with whom he forges a long-lasting friendship.

1946 Following the liberation of France, Robert Helman heads back to Paris abandoning, once and for all, his legal career in favor of painting.  Mane-Katz lets him have his former Montparnasse studio at 255 Boulevard Raspail.  Whilst there he becomes friends with Oscar Dominguez and Antoni Clavé, then the Romanian Victor Brauner and Jean Atlan (painting his portrait).  They meet in the Dôme, the Coupole, the café Le Sélect or in La Pagode at the Vavin crossroads.  This carefree post-war period sees artists from across the continent heading for Paris.  At Helman’s studio, you can bump into Chavignier, the sculptor; Lan-Bar, the Israeli painter; the Italian sculptors Nardo Dunchi and Gigi Guadanucci; Franz Krajcberg, the Brazilian and Halpern, the Australian painter…

1947-1948 He exhibits at the Berri- Raspail Gallery, catalog by Maurice Nadeau and at the Breteau Gallery, catalog by Georges Boudaille.

1948 Robert Helman’s parents flee Romania ahead of the advancing Soviets, relieved to have survived the Holocaust, unlike most members of their family; they are heading for Canada and meet their son after a ten-year separation.

1949 Robert Helman settles in Saint-Paul de Vence where he meets the poet André Verdet and becomes friendly with the Antibes-based painter, Dino Abidine.  However, he’ll only stay in Provence eight months, hampered by the light that prevents him from painting.  He exhibits at the Louis Manteau Gallery in Brussels, catalog by Pierre Descargues.

1950 A decree published in the Journal Officiel (15 July 1950) grants Robert and Zéna Helman French citizenship.  First monograph by Jean Bouret.  Helman meets the Italian art critic G. Marchiori who displays his work at the Sandri Gallery in Venice.  He also exhibits at the Mouradian & Vallotton Gallery in Paris.

1954 Helman begins a wayfaring life, exhibiting in the Agnès Lefort Gallery in Montreal and the Elisabeth Nelson Gallery in Chicago.

1955-1957 Helman meets the art dealer Henri Bénézit who will display his work for several years in his Rue Miromesnil Gallery.  Friendship with Pierre Restany.  Helman exhibits at the Ex-Libris Gallery in Brussels, the Muratore Gallery in Nice, the Sous-Barri Gallery in Saint-Paul de Vence, the Ben-Uri Gallery in London, the Apollinaire and Blu Galleries in Milan and the Nicole Gallery in New York (text by Pierre Restany).  His friend, Oscar Dominguez, commits suicide by hanging himself in his studio, 83 Boulevard Montparnasse, on the 31st December.  The following year Helman will move there and stay eleven years.

1959 Helman’s monograph by the poet, Philippe Soupault.  Exhibition at the Hune, the Charpentier Gallery in Paris and at the Greer Gallery in New York where he meets De Kooning.  The Tate Gallery purchases one of his works.

1961-1963 Helman meets art dealer G. Di San Lazzaro who owns the 20th Century Gallery where he exhibits Helman’s work.  Further exhibitions at the Blu Gallery in Milan, the Parti-Pris Gallery in Grenoble, the Il Traghetto Gallery in Venice, the Il Centro in Naples, the Cavalero Gallery in Antibes and the Hilt Gallery in Basle. The texts are by Jacques Lassaigne, Charles Estienne and André Verdet in the Review of the 20th Century.

1964 Exhibitions at the Lutz & Meyer Gallery in Stuttgart, the Beno D’Incelli Gallery in Paris and Sala Gaspar in Barcelona.  Robert Helman succumbs to the charm of the forest d’Othe, near Troyes that reminds him of childhood Romanian landscapes : he buys Fort- Jacquet, an old, isolated farmhouse nestled amongst century old trees, restored
by Antoni Clavé’s son, an architect.  It will become his summer studio and subsequently his main residence.

1965-1969 In Mexico, Robert Helman discovers bark paper.  With trees and forests serving as key central inspirational themes, it provides the perfect medium for him.  He paints a series of trees and forests on this new paper.  Exhibits at the Beno D’Incelli Gallery in Paris; the Stewart-Verde Gallery in San Francisco; the Saint-Paul de Vence museum; the Santa Maria Gallery in Rome; the L’Entracte Gallery in Lausanne and a Retrospective exhibition at the museum in Tel Aviv.  During his Israeli visit, he produces a series of tapestries at Itche Mambush’s studio in the artist’s village of Ein Hod.  He will exhibit them in New York in 1972.

1972 From the 70’s, he begins to abandon oils in favor of acrylics. He exhibits at La Bussola in Turin, the Greer and the Allan Rich Galleries in New York.  Following his mother’s death, Clavé offers him his studio, rue Boissonnade.  Helman will use it until his own death.

1973 Exhibition at the Castle-Museum in Cagnes-sur-Mer and La Seggiola Gallery in Salerno. Creates a series of tapestries at the Aubusson workshop (Pinton studio).

1974 Helman becomes friendly with André Parinaud.  Exhibits at the Galleries Albert Verbeke and Jacques Verrière in Paris; the Kar Gallery in Toronto and the Interarte Gallery in Genoa.

1976-1980 Cercle d’Art publishes Max- Pol Fouchet’s monograph.  Helman exhibits at the Artcurial and Bellint Galleries in Paris; the Gordon Gallery in Tel Aviv; the Guglielmo Gallery in Chiasso and at the International Trade Fair in Bologna.

1981-1982 He is introduced to the manager of the Limmer Gallery in Freiburg (current-day Cologne) by the art dealer Sami Tarica.  A long ensuing collaboration, introduces Helman’s work to the other side of the Rhine.  Helman exhibits at the Rayuela gallery in Madrid; the Limmer Gallery in Freiburg; the Siete-Siete Gallery in Caracas; the Brenner’s Park Hotel in Baden-Baden; the Becher Gallery in Wuppertal and the Greer Gallery in New York.  Friendship with the poet André Bosquet.

1983 An important Retrospective exhibition, presented by Jean Duvignaud and Françoise Marquet, at the Paris Museum of Modern Art.  It offers an opportunity to reassemble, from across the globe, a large body of work previously unknown to the French public. Exhibits at Michelle Heyraud’s in Paris and Scherer’s Galleries in Freiburg.

1984 Helman loses his left eye whilst opening a bottle of champagne.  He nevertheless picks up his paintbrushes again and, returning to earlier themes, begins his Sun series. Exhibitions at the Limmer Gallery in Freiburg; the International Trade Fair at Basel and the Mayanot Gallery in Jerusalem.

1986 Helman exhibits at La Pochade and Nickel-Odeon Galleries in Paris, catalog by P. Brisset; the Limmer Gallery in Freiburg and the Congress Hall in Megève.

1988 Back at home in Fort-Jacquet, Champagne, Robert Helman turns to metal sculpture, visiting the wrought iron merchant daily.  He produces a body of work, including bronzes cast in France and Italy that are exhibited within months at La Pochade and the Michelle Heyraud Galleries in Paris.

1990 The Cartier Foundation pays tribute to Robert Helman.  The Eterso Gallery in Cannes exhibits a Retrospective, catalog by Jean-Marie Tasset.  On the 7th November the artist dies, aged 80, at his home in Fort-Jacquet.  He’s interred at Bérulle (France).  The sculpture High Glide marks his resting place.

Monographes:
1951 BOURET Jean, Helman, éd. Les Gémeaux, collection des Artistes du Temps présent, direction Maximilien Gauthier, Paris, juillet 1951.
1959 SOUPAULT Philippe, Helman, éd. Georges Fall, Le Musée de Poche, Paris, 1959.
1961 VERDET André, Forêts de Helman , éd. Parler, Paris, 1961.
1963 BOUDAILLE Georges, CHEVALIER Denis, FOIX Marie-Henriette, GHEEBRANT Alain, MARCHIORI Guiseppe, Helman, Revue Parler de Christian GALI (consacrée à Helman), Paris, n° 15, printemps 1963.
1965 MARCHIORI Guiseppe, Helman, avec 15 lithographies originales, éd. Impriludes-Bernard Lucas, Paris, 1965.
1968 VERDET André, Vers une République du Soleil, avec 5 lithographies originales, éd. Jean Oswald, Paris, 1968.
1975 FOUCHET Max-Pol, Helman, éd. Le Cercle d’Art, Paris, 1975.

Other Books;
1955 COGNIAT Raymond, L’Histoire de la Peinture, éd. Fernand Nathan, 1955, Paris, tome II, pp. 301-302.
1958 NACENTA Raymond, Ecole de Paris, son histoire, son époque, éd. Ides et Calendes, Paris, 1958.
RESTANY Pierre, Lyrisme et Abstraction, éd. Appolinaire, Milan, 1958.
1981 ALLEY Ronald, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery’s collection of modern art other than works by british artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p. 360-1.
1988 ARMENGAUD Françoise, Titres, Entretien avec Robert Helman du 24 mars 1986 sur le rôle des titres en peinture, éd. Méridiens Klincksieck, Paris, mai 1988.
1993 HARAMBOURG Lydia, L’Ecole de Paris, 1945-1965, Dictionnaire des Peintres, éd. Ides et Calendes, Neûchatel, 1993, pp. 236-237.
2006 BENEZIT Emmanuel, Dictionnaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs, Paris, dernière édition, mars 2006.
2007 HARAMBOURG Lydia, Robert Helman, Ed.Somogy and Unterlinden Museum, Mai 2007
2010 HARAMBOURG Lydia, Robert Helman, Ed.Cercle d'Art, Avril 2010

Information provided by Henri Helman, the artist's son

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