Peintres de Tradition Française

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A name applied to a group of French painters who during and immediately after the Second World War aimed to work in a style that they regarded as both modern and quintessentially French. The name comes from an exhibition entitled ‘Vingt Jeunes Peintres de Tradition Française’ held at the Galerie Braun, Paris, in 1941. It has the reputation of being the first exhibition of modernist art mounted during the German occupation and it was held without German permission. The main members of the group were Bazaine, Estève, Lapique, Le Moal, Manessier, and Singier. The exhibition is poorly documented (it is not certain even now exactly which artists took part), but it acquired something of a mythical status after the Liberation. René Huyghe, for instance, described it as ‘the reassembling of all the live revolutionary forces, those most relentlessly opposed to intellectual compromise’. However, many of the painters in the exhibition were later included in ‘official’ exhibitions mounted by the occupation regime. Most of the painters were represented by work completed before the war and what was shown was probably closer to the middle-of-the-road landscapes and still-lifes popular in French art of that period than to their more radical and abstract later work, which became identified as Lyrical Abstraction. Moreover, the very notion of ‘French tradition’ was less subversive to the occupying forces than the wishful thinking of later years might suggest. The right-wing anti-Semitic collaborationist critic Lucien Rebatet (1903–72) supported, not academic *‘pompier’ art, but the idea of ‘French moderation’, as exemplified by artists such as Derain and Vlaminck and the tradition inspired by Corot. What does seem to have been common to many of the painters was a strong religious strain, which was later to be manifested in the influence of stained glass in the work of Manessier and others.

Further Reading

M. Cone, Artists under Vichy (1992)

Subjects: Art.

Reference entries

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