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Musée D’Art Moderne de Paris: A Hans Hartung Retrospective

Hartung: Photo Fotini Stephen

The Musée D’Art Moderne de Paris has just completed a major renovation and was reopening when I was in Paris in late October. I last visited it some 5 years ago and it was quiet and seemed not really attracting any crowds! However in this visit it was simply buzzing perhaps because of the Hartung Retrospective or curiosity about the renovations or possibly both.

The Hartung retrospective is the first in 50 years and will run until March 1, 2020.

Hans Hartung (1904-1989) was born to a well to do family in Germany in 1904. He had his first exhibition in 1931 in Dresden. Harassed by the Gestapo he left for Paris in 1935. While fighting for the French Foreign Legion he was seriously wounded which resulted in the amputation of his right leg. He was a huge factor in abstraction in modern art.

The museum has tried to categorize his periods.

One starts with “1904-39 Towards Abstraction”. In the 1920’s as a secondary school student he began experimenting with different techniques and in his early series of watercolours he had a technique he called “taches” (patches) in which fluid colours clashed and blended. It was not until 1935 he broke free from the styles of other to create his own which expressed itself with force, rigour and tension that expressed themselves in a visual vocabulary made up of grids, black bars and calligraphic elements.

Hartung Self Portrait 1922: Photo Robert K. Stephen
Hartung: Leacatema Cabane Grise 1927: Photo Robert K. Stephen
Hartung “Sintex” 1925
Hartung T 1938-29: Photo Robert K. Stephen

The next category is 1940-1956 Painting at Any Cost”. As Hartung had enlisted in the French Foreign Legion in 1939 there was very little production during the Second World War and he returned to Paris as a destitute invalid. His new works were categorized by a larger format, a sweeping calligraphic style and an increased use of the black sign on a coloured ground.

Hartung T 1948-18: Photo Robert K. Stephen
Hartung T 1948-17: Photo Robert K. Stephen

Hartung’s next period is described as “Action on Canvas 1957-70”. In 1960 he began experimenting with spraying using tools as diverse as aerosols, sprays and air compressors. There were cool and acid tones: blue, very light turquoise, lemon yellow and dark brown that was nearly black or green.

The next period was the “Liberated Gesture 1971-89”. It seemed Hartung was bitten by pop culture. From 1977-1986 Hartung reinvented his tools. Although weakened by a stroke from 1986-89 he was in a painting fury producing very large works.

Hartung: Photo Robert K. Stephen

It is very frustrating trying to describe Hartung’s works but he certainly deserved this retrospective to honour his contribution to modern art.

Hartung: Photo Robert K. Stephen

If you have any emotional energy left after the retrospective a view of the permanent collection is rewarding! While the Louvre and Musée D’Orsay were choked with tourists even in late October the Musée D’Art Modern de Paris, just off the Pont D’Alma on the Right Bank, really satisfies in content and volume of visitors. The Louvre was so totally packed workers shut down the museum on a wildcat strike protesting the amount of people packed into the museum!

Hartung: Fotini Stephen Photo

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