Sometimes art by Picasso or Gauguin finds its way to our gallery, but other times we get our hands on an exquisite work that bears a name we’ve never heard before. Such was the case with this lovely 1940’s painting by a man named Jean-Pierre Jouffroy, which reminded us of the artwork of James Brooks and other lyrical abstractionists.
Thank goodness for Google. An image search of the artist’s name brought up these two photos, and some French-to-English translating revealed the fascinating story behind them.
Jean-Pierre Jouffroy was born in Paris in 1933. When he was 11 years old, he saw the work of Wassily Kandinsky and Nicolas de Staël in a gallery and fell in love with modernism. “As a young boy, I dreamed of covering the surface of the earth in paint,” Jouffroy recalls.
Early in his career, the artist created purely abstract work that was heavily influenced by Staël. Then, in the late 1950’s, Jouffroy had an artistic epiphany.
“An abstract painting always shows something, like it or not,” he explains. “The painting is the image of an internal battle. This fight is itself a metaphor for our relationships in the social sphere.” Based on this realization, Jouffroy decided to incorporate the visual vocabulary of abstraction into representational work.
The shift sent the artist on a journey that traced the innovations of modernists like Picasso and Cezanne in reverse. Just like those artists, Jouffroy was experimenting with abstracted figures and landscapes, but he was coming from a wholly nonrepresentational world that his predecessors never explored. In tributes to Cezanne, Gauguin, Manet and Braque, he brought great artists of the past into harmony with a movement they all, in one way or another, helped to inspire.
Jouffroy’s new explorations caught the eye of the art world, and he exhibited at Paris’ Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and other renowned institutions. Though he was focused on figurative work, he was often associated with lyrical abstraction (as we suspected) because of his background, his loose brushwork and his inventive use of color.
Our Jouffroy painting represents an interesting phase in the artist’s evolution. Though it predates his representational work, it has undeniable elements of landscape. Perhaps it’s the first sign of the transformation that would send Jouffroy’s career in a spectacular new direction. You can see echoes of the work’s palette and brushwork throughout the artist’s retrospective at the Place du Colonel Fabien that opened in November.