Blue Spaces

2nd quarter 20th centuryOil on canvasH x L : 200 x 277 cm

In 1924, Jean Hélion discovered the works of Cézanne, Matisse and Derain, and decided to devote himself to painting. He painted still lifes until 1929, before turning to abstract art. After founding the group Art Concret together with Theo Van Doesburg (1883-1931), he became a member of the Abstraction-Création group between 1931 and 1934.

His oeuvre gradually evolved from a system of geometric symbols towards non-figurative art before finally adopting a figurative style based on extremely simplified shapes. The seven works by Hélion kept at the MNHA date from different periods and allow us to follow his artistic development.

This large work entitled Espaces bleus (Blue Spaces) from 1936 was painted towards the end of the artist’s abstract period. His arrangement of structural elements in a stage-like pictorial space, his development of volumes and the shaded colours of the shapes foreshadow his return to figurative art in 1939. In 1970, he wrote in one of his notebooks: “Around 1935 I succeeded in creating a dialogue between modern art and the Renaissance (Raphael, Poussin) (...) This led me to my large abstract works. Ile-de-France, Espaces bleus etc. and Standing Figures. But it also led to the end of my abstract art!

The MNHA also own a preparatory drawing for this monumental work. It anticipates the position of the central element of the monumental composition as well as the geometric form on the left. Several differences can be observed between the study and the final version in terms of colours and the simplification of the forms, for instance of the element at the bottom left.

Regarding the title of our work, it should be noted that in Hélion’s journal the title Espaces bleus (Blue Spaces) is in the plural, while in most subsequent publications it appears in the singular: Espace bleu.

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