Georges Mathieu - The aesthetics of speed [07/17/2012 04:03]
Inventor of extraordinary geometric shapes inspired by calligraphy and oriental arts, Georges Mathieu, who died in June 2012 at the age of 91, was arguably one of the great masters of the second half of the 20th century. However while the force of his art rivaled that of American abstract expressionists in the 1950s, his price index remains relatively undervalued.
Georges MATHIEU was born into a family of bankers in Boulogne sur Mer in 1921. After studying law and philosophy, he turned to the visual arts in 1942. In his early experiments, he quickly eliminated any idea of figurative representation. Fluent in English Mathieu worked for the company United States Lines and after WW2 he travelled to the U.S. where he discovered the abstract expressionism of Mark ROTHKO and Jackson POLLOCK who were, at the time, anonymous signatures. Very excited by the expressiveness and power of their work, he sought to get it exhibited on Paris and hence played a major role in this pivotal period in the history of abstraction and the “happening”. His 3-dimensional work, considered the roots of Lyrical Abstraction, was a key feature of France's post-war reconstruction and in an artistic context mainly occupied by Geometric Abstraction.
The revolutionary instinct
Georges Mathieu always had a strong sense of public staging, and it was in public – long before Yves KLEIN ’s first experiences of the “live brushes”(1960 and 1962) – that he executed works like his famous Battle of Bouvines (1954). He rapidly systematized this practice and his manner of painting became an instinctive choreography that showcased speed and improvisation to reveal his deepest emotions.
Over the years, his speed of execution accelerated and although it was initially poorly received by critics, it became famous in 1956 when he performed on stage at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in Paris painting his largest ever canvas (12 x 4 metres) in just 20 minutes. Beyond his theatricality, Georges Mathieu was a strong force for freedom of movement and of creativity.
His paintings offer shapes that sometimes resemble calligraphy. His technique underwent several changes, but the most sought-after at auctions are his works from the 50s, when he established the roots of his artistic expression. The works of that decade have generated his best auction results, including an auction record for a 1958 painting entitled L'abduction d'Henri IV par l'archevêque Anno de Cologne which fetched nearly $1.6m at Sotheby's in Paris on May 26, 2008. Referring to the beginning of the reign of Henri IV, the title of this work was typical of the type of titles he used frequently. A great scholar, Georges Mathieu had a passion for the history of France and often gave his paintings evocative names referring to historical events.
In the early 1960s, he expanded his style to every aspect of modern life and even became a designer, making furniture and illustrating advertising campaigns for Air France (1963). He received his official artistic consecration with a major retrospective at the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris in 1963 and the publication of his book Au-délà du tachisme.
Not sufficiently known to the public
A French artist, star of 1950s and 1960s, Georges Mathieu’s work has been exhibited worldwide and he gave more than 170 personal performances. Today his work is included in the collections of over 80 museums worldwide. However, his price index has not experienced the explosion of Abstract Expressionists like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, whose works are trading at tens of millions of dollars. Georges Mathieu only has one 7-figure auction result to his name but he is more present on the auction market with 1014 paintings offered for sale between 1989 and 2012 versus 49 for Pollock and 175 for Rothko. His works are also more affordable than those of his compatriot Pierre SOULAGES: while Soulages has 21 results above $700,000 (including 10 million-plus results), Mathieu only has one. His relatively undervalued and restricted market (59% of its transactions in France) offers a large number of lucrative acquisition opportunities: major paintings for between $150,000 and $200,000, small formats (less than 1 metre) for less than $15,000 or drawings for less than $4,000.