The Museum of Modern Art in Paris offers an excellent painting exhibition: Eugène Leroy, an artist who remained confidential for a long time, neither abstract nor truly figurative, sought throughout his life to paint the truth through to make the image disappear in the material while rendering. it is an awe-inspiring presence. Going through his suggested work, of 150 paintings and drawings, is an experience not to be forgotten.
Marina (1982): in front of your eyes stands what at first glance looks like a vague mass of colors and objects. You have to look at this large portrait of the last companion of Eugène Leroy (1910-2000) for a long time to begin to make out a black head, a shoulder and a perhaps lighter chest, which is striking. on the canvas. The artist’s painting, which appeals to all the senses, cannot be revealed in one glance.
In this first room of the exhibition, dedicated to the portraits of his wife Valentine, then Marina, we can clearly see the evolution of his painting. In the first paintings, we can clearly distinguish the figures, painted in successive fine layers. Then, little by little, they disappear under layers that are added to each other over months, sometimes years. You have to get closer to see the colors, which he ends up applying directly from the tube before spreading it, smashing it, then picking it up later, scraping it off and starting again. It is also necessary to step away to try to understand the structure of the painting and its subject.
“Everything I try to paint is to reach (…) a kind of almost nothing, so that the painting is perfect in itself”he said.
Eugène Leroy was born in Tourcoing in 1910. Fatherless at one year old, he was raised by his uncle. He began to paint at the age of 15, studied for a few months at the School of Fine Arts in Lille then in Paris, but he quickly left academic teaching, at the same time he discovered the masters, Rembrandt, Giorgione, Titien , Chick. For 25 years, from 1935, he taught Latin and Greek at a college in Roubaix to live and traveled to Europe to admire ancient painters.
The series of crucifixions is reminiscent of Rembrandt. An exhibition room is dedicated to Country concert by Giorgione (1477-1510), with five variations from the 1990s of this painting in which he took (we can hardly guess) the structure and the figures, two nudes and a musician in red.
Eugène Leroy paints in the classic way, in oil, and visits traditional subjects, landscapes, photographs, nudes, still lifes, but far from anything academic. His work, unique and unclassifiable, not figurative or abstract or both at the same time, has long been confidential, known only to a small circle of amateurs of his painting. He had his first personal exhibition in 1937 in Lille, then he exhibited regularly at the Lille gallery owner Marcel Evrard from 1948, then at the Jean Leroy gallery, rue Quincampoix in Paris, run by his son Exhibited at the Claude Bernard gallery in 1961, he was noticed by the German artist Georg Baselitz and the dealer Michael Werner, which opened the doors of international recognition for him. His first major exhibition in a Parisian institution took place at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, already in 1988 when he was almost 80 years old.
He gave great importance to light. “[La matière] does not exist if it is not filled with light! I really wanted to make a painting with its own muted lights.”, he confessed. In the studio of the house where he lived in Wasquehal (Nord) in 1958, he created a backlight thanks to a glass roof to the north, a window to the south, where he added the mirror of a mirror lit by his subject . all sides. This research is felt especially in his nudes whose light material seems to glow.
Always looking for himself through his painting, which became his “the only reason to live”, Eugène Leroy created self-portraits throughout his life, a fine series that can be seen at the Museum of Modern Art. Like the rest of his subjects, he gradually disappears under the paint, his features and eyes disappearing to give way to the barely visible trace of a head.
We stop again in front of his seascapes from the 1950s, more classic and more fluid but where water and sky merge with the northern lights, or in front of a series of canvases from recent years , like this. COUPLES whose mutual attention and strength we believe to be predictable under the mass of paint.
One has the strange impression, revisiting the exhibition several times, that the figures seem to emerge more clearly from the paintings. An event that proves you should take the time to look at Eugène Leroy’s painting.
Eugene Leroy, painter
Paris Museum of Modern Art
11, avenue du President Wilson, 75116 Paris
Every day except Monday and some public holidays, 10 am to 6 pm, late opening on Thursday until 9.30 pm
From April 15 to August 28, 2022
The MUba Eugène Leroy in Tourcoing also presents an exhibition of the painter, “Eugène Leroy, à contrejour”, until October 2.