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Huguette Arthur Bertrand (1920-2005)


Huguette Arthur Bertrand - Sans titre 1955
Huguette Arthur Bertrand - Sans titre 1957
Huguette Arthur Bertrand - Composition 1960
Huguette Arthur Bertrand - Lorella 1960
Huguette Arthur Bertrand - Composition circa 1970
Huguette Arthur Bertrand - Sans titre circa 1967
Huguette Arthur Bertrand - Sans titre 1979
Huguette Arthur Bertrand - Sans titre circa 1990
Huguette Arthur Bertrand - Apne
Huguette Arthur Bertrand - Ucello 1992

Document sans nom

I have known the artist quite well, with her undeniable charm. She was a singular woman, with an absolutely conquering smile, with a tender expression in her eyes which could sometimes let her rigour and unquestionable will show through. Solitary and at once quite surrounded, admired and, I think, somewhat feared, she occupied an obvious place in the microcosm of the world of art. Her too rare private viewings mainly attracted art collectors, colleagues, and careful friends, who were attentive and curious to discover her last paintings. Certainly, in her lifetime, she did not occupy the place that should have been hers in the high sphere of the stars of the 1950s, the years of lyrical abstraction. Today, the wheel has turned, and, once again, the artist had to die to gain recognition.

And yet, Huguette Arthur Bertrand’s whole work is of splendid quality, turned towards an outstanding inner research. Her mastery of her medium as a painter enabled her to elaborate a kind of painting that, very early, broke away from figurative art. For a while, she went deep into the mysteries of geometrical abstraction. But, soon, she definitively opted for lyrical abstraction, whose gesture was a lot more convenient for her and enabled her to explore even deeper into ways which were still unknown by then and which attracted her. Did she know then that she would be the only one to know how to exploit them? Her work on canvas and her works on paper are in harmony with each other. And this is actually what this exhibition reveals – an idea, a concept, is very often first dealt with on a sheet of paper. Harmonies emerge and are prepared unconsciously. The artist’s thought often evolves in a very short lapse of time. The transient moment is materialized, later, on the painted canvas which comes as an accomplishment to already very successful notations and studies.

Naturally, after her “geometrical” period, Huguette Arthur Bertrand could not so easily get rid of the knowledge she had gained, which still led her to elaborate original constructions, more than ever in space. But, soon, only soberly colored plane surfaces will be seen on the canvas, endowing her work with such a particular meaning. Rigour, as always, fights for first place with dissatisfaction. Once the painting is almost completed, she never fails to add a few dark marks to it, black marks, like angry scratches, which definitively provide the canvas with its rhythm, although without ever enclosing it. The eye dodges in and out and is captured.

Then, later, her gesture becoming even more fluid, spatiality takes possession of the whole surface of the canvas. A few colored flashes recall yesterday’s angry scratches. For her, lines propel the pictorial stroke and give much more  ”expressivity” to form. The observation is accurate. But let us add that the whole of it takes place naturally, within a composition whose shades move, evolve.

Time goes by. Certainly, the colours of fire or the shades of blue are always attuned to tones black and ocher, but with slightly less intensity, maybe. Forms are a lot more diluted and make a totally different field of creation appear, reorganizing values and forms. Would it mean that the storms have passed? Liberation and spontaneity are now in place, but harshness is on the watch.  One can hesitate for a moment, but looking more closely at it, one distinguishes her fundamental writing again, reappearing and imposing itself. Some of the paintings explode with colours, while the chromatic subtlety associated with the delicate play on transparencies in the making up of many others acts as a source of reassurance. As a matter of fact, we have just rediscovered, though different, the one we had believed, for a while, we had lost. Her disquieting personality, inseparable from the unique quality of her art, reminds us that one should never ignore the secret existence of those maelstroms that can sometimes provoke inner upheavals within the soul of some artists. They are saving upheavals, of course, most of the time. They are powerful emotions which, afterwards, lead these artists towards solutions that enrapture us, and this is absolutely what happens in the case of Huguette Arthur Bertrand. Silence and creative solitude are then essential to them.

Indefatigably, all her life through, Huguette Arthur Bertrand will have shown to the world of art what her conviction was, her constant determination, one, nevertheless, endlessly haunted by the burning need for perpetual mobility, linked to the imperious necessities of her innumerable researches.

Patrick-Gilles Persin


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