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5 London exhibitions celebrating French artists

Updated: Jun 24, 2021

Museums have reopened their doors and French artists' works are being exhibited all over London, from sculptor Rodin at the Tate Modern in Southbank to photographer JR at the Saatchi Gallery in Sloane Square.

The making of Rodin at Tate Modern

17 May 31 October 2021

Auguste Rodin

Working at the turn of the 20th century, Auguste Rodin broke the rules of classical sculpture to create an image of the human body that mirrored the ruptures, complexities and uncertainties of the modern age. A pre-eminent sculptor of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist era, 'The Kiss' and 'The Thinker' are some of the most well-known sculptures by the larger public. His portraits also include monumental figures of Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac.

Rodin's singular style started to emerge after travels to Italy visiting Genoa, Florence, Rome, Naples, and Venice before returning to Brussels where he was settled. The inspiration of Michelangelo and Donatello rescued him from the academicism of his working experience and under their influence, he molded 'L'Âge d'airain' — his first original bronze work. It provoked scandals in the artistic circles of Brussels and again at the Paris Salon, where it was exhibited in 1877 . The realism of the work contrasted so greatly with the statues of Rodin’s contemporaries that he was accused of having formed its mold upon a living person.

L'Âge d'airain

From 1880, the artist’s recognition started to increase, yet his private life was troubled by numerous liaisons. In 1885 he became the lover of one of his students, Camille Claudel, the gifted sister of the poet Paul Claudel. It proved a stormy romance beset by numerous quarrels, but it persisted until Camille’s madness brought it to a finish in 1898. Their attachment was deep and during the years of passion, Rodin executed sculptures of numerous couples. The most sensuous of these groups was 'Le Baiser', often considered to be his masterpiece.

After his death in 1916, Auguste Rodin left his studio and the right to cast new pieces from his plasters to the French government. They have been exhibited ever since and many of his contemporaries compared the French sculptor to Michelangelo.

The making of Rodin is the first to focus on the importance of plaster in his work. Although Rodin is best known for his bronze and marble sculptures, he himself worked as a modeller, who captured movement, light and volume in pliable materials such as clay and plaster. With the process of making at its heart, the exhibition also considers the complex dynamics of the workshop, as well as between the artist and his models and collaborators, including fellow sculptor Camille Claudel, the Japanese actress Ohta Hisa, and the German aristocrat Helene Von Nostitz.

"It is the leaning of the figure that makes it appear to the real observer as moving."

At the Mediathèque, discover his correspondance with Camille Claudel as well as drawings of his masterpieces.

On France Culture, listen to a podcast.

On the Musée Rodin website, discover videos detailing the methods of making a particular sculpture.

Charlotte Perriand : The Modern Life at the Design Museum

19 June 2021 05 September 2021

Charlotte Perriand

Charlotte Perriand was a rare female voice among the avant-garde designers whose designs shaped modern living in the early 20th century. As a student, she rejected the popular Beaux-Arts style and found inspiration instead in machine-age technology. In 1927, she exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in Paris a 'Bar Sous le Toit' project and impressed by her singular style Swiss architected Le Corbusier hired the young graduate. She then joined his studio at 24 years old, where she experimented with steel, aluminum, and glass, developing a series of tubular steel chairs which remain a modern design icon.

After a fruitful and intense collaboration, Charlotte Perriand left Le Corbusier’s studio and teamed up with fellow studio employee, Jean Prouvé. They were busy with commissions for the French government until France fell to Nazi forces. Soon after, Perriand had the opportunity to move to Japan, where she remained for five years. Working as an official advisor for industrial design to the Ministry for Trade and Industry, she was learning from local craftsmanship while convincing Japan to open its market to European trade. This period was an influential and productive time, as evidenced by bamboo pieces such as the 'Banquettes Tokyo' and a set of lamps created with Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi. Later, as she returned to Paris with new ideas, she was commissioned to design 'Les Arcs ski resort' in the French Alps, as well as the futurist 'Refuge Tonneau'. The ski resorts at Les Arcs in Savoie combined Perriand's interests in prefabrication, standardisation, industrialisation and mountain architecture, and has been called the climax of her career. Since guests would spend most of their time outdoors, Perriand designed minimal rooms, the minimal cell style being a hallmark of her design.

Banquette Tokyo

Her life as – a sportswoman and a global traveller – can be traced throughout her work which resonated with switches in the political order, the evolution of the role of women and changes in attitudes towards urban living. Charlotte Perriand : The Modern Life is an ambitious exhibition with a central overarching argument : in all of her creations, she brought together fine art, architecture and design. She managed to achieve not just a balance between East and West, but a deep synergy between culture and nature.

"The only advice I would give would be to stay within the reality of things, that is, the execution, the concrete."

At the Mediathèque, discover more about the iconic designer.

On France Culture, listen to a podcast.

On Arte, watch an 8 episodes series about some of her most treasured designs introduced by the creative people they have inspired.

Jean Dubuffet : Brutal Beauty at the Barbican

17 May — Sunday 22 Aug 2021

Jean Dubuffet

Jean Dubuffet's idealistic approach to aesthetics embraced so-called "low art" and eschewed traditional standards of beauty in favour of what he believed to be a more authentic and humanistic approach to image-making. His work is marked by a rebellious attitude toward prevailing notions of high culture, beauty, and good taste.

Jean Dubuffet began making art at age 41, after a stint in the army and a successful career as a wine merchant. The next four decades were tremendously prolific: he wrote poetry and theoretical texts, played jazz, experimented widely with art-making materials and techniques, and worked in many mediums, including painting, drawing, printmaking, large-scale outdoor sculpture, and what he called “animated painting” — works bridging painting, sculpture, dance, and theatre, and featuring live performers.

Though he was an academically trained painter from a bourgeois family, Dubuffet maintained what he called in a 1951 lecture an “anticultural position.” He advocated for “instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness” rather than analysis and reason, as well as closer proximity to nature and natural forms and the discarding of traditional notions of beauty. Such values were embodied in what Dubuffet termed art brut (or “raw art”), produced on the margins by children, outsider and folk artists, and the mentally ill. His own collection of this work, formed in part with the help of the Surrealist André Breton and writer Jean Paulhan, was donated to the city of Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1971.

In the studio, Dubuffet was a relentless innovator, experimenting with unorthodox tools and materials by mixing gravel into his paints; making impressions from foliage, orange peels, and tapioca; or covering canvases with tin foil. He worked fluidly between mediums, with his trials in painting informing his radical work in the print shop, where he attacked lithographic stones with sandpaper, flaming rags, and chemicals. He carefully inked webs onto paper and then translated them into allover horizon-less compositions on canvas, creating views that suggest both the microscopic and the celestial. His printmaking reached its zenith with Phenomena, a group of 362 lithographs parsed into 24 albums, which evoke myriad natural states, textures, and surfaces.

Vacances de Pâques

Brutal Beauty is the first major survey of Jean Dubuffet’s work in the UK in more than 50 years. Yet, the artist has remained a source of inspiration for successive generations of artists including David Hockney and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

“For me, insanity is super sanity. The normal is psychotic. Normal means lack of imagination, lack of creativity.”

At the Mediathèque, borrow books about his paintings.

On France Culture, listen to a podcast.

On the Barbican website, watch a video on how to make art like Jean Dubuffet (for kids and families).

Sophie Taeuber-Arp at Tate Modern

15 July – 17 October 2021

Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Over the course of her career, Sophie Taeuber demonstrated a desire to make beautiful things, with a level of precision that would become her hallmark, in a wide variety of artistic pursuits. She worked as a designer of textiles, beadwork, costumes, furniture, and interiors, as well as an applied arts teacher, puppet maker, architect, painter, sculptor, illustrator, and magazine editor. Through her artistic output and professional alliances, she consistently challenged the historical boundaries separating fine art from craft and design.

After launching a successful applied arts practice, she began attending Rudolf von Laban’s influential school for expressionist dance, and met her future husband, the Alsatian artist and poet Jean Arp, with whom she frequently collaborated for the rest of her life. Taeuber-Arp became an active duo in the Zurich Dada movement, initiated by Arp and other exiles who found refuge in the Swiss city during World War I. In order to support herself and Arp, she taught textile design at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich from 1916 to 1929. In 1918, Taeuber-Arp was commissioned by the school’s director to design marionettes for a modern adaptation of the 18th-century commedia dell’arte play 'King Stag' by Carlo Gozzi.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Taeuber-Arp embarked on several architectural and interior design projects, most significantly a collaboration with the Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg on the ambitious decoration of the 'Aubette entertainment complex' in Strasbourg. In 1929, Taeuber-Arp left Zurich for Paris, where she turned her attention to abstract paintings and painted wood reliefs that employ a reduced geometric vocabulary; these works display a tension between precision and playfulness that is characteristic of her artistic production.

Taeuber-Arp spent her final years in exile in the South of France during the Nazi occupation. After Taeuber-Arp’s accidental death by carbon monoxide poisoning in 1943, Arp worked to promote her legacy, in part by producing a number of posthumous “re-creations” of her artworks.

Dada marionettes designs for the play “King Stag”

Sophie Taeuber-Arp will open at Tate Modern on July 15.

‘In a flower, in a beetle, every line, every form, every color has arisen from a deep necessity.’

On Google Arts and Culture, delve into Sophie Taeuber-Arp's artworks.

On France Culture, listen to a podcast.

On Arte, watch a 2016 webdocumentary celebrating 100 years of the Dada mouvement.

JR : Chronicles at Saatchi Gallery

04 June 03 October 2021

JR and Agnès Varda

French photographer (photo-graffeur) JR has received critical acclaim for his global art projects that bring together diverse groups of participants and create dialogue around critical social issues, from women's rights to immigration, to gun control. JR spotlights communities across the world by photographing individual members of those communities and then wheat pasting their images (sometimes illegally) on a monumental scale usually reserved for advertisements featuring models, celebrities, and politicians. These installations are deliberately placed in public spaces near or within the communities with whom JR has partnered, allowing the individuals portrayed to remain at the centre of the discussions prompted by the artist's work.

Sometimes nicknamed the Cartier-Bresson of the 21st century, he started earning worldwide recognition after displaying 'Inside Out' in Times Square which challenged advertising with a massive work of art consisting of thousands of portraits of locals and tourists. JR lives in New York where he opened a studio and collaborated with several institutions, including the New York City Ballet, a prison in Tehachapi, as well as the abandoned hospital of Ellis Island. Using this particular location, he then directed the short movie 'ELLIS', starring Robert De Niro to tell the forgotten story of the immigrants who built America. His latest projects include a museum exhibition dedicated to children at the Centre Pompidou, a permanent collaboration with the Brazilian artists Os Gêmeos at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, a gigantic installation at the US-Mexico border fence, and a film 'Visages Villages' co-directed with Agnès Varda.

JR: Chronicles traces JR's career from his early documentation of graffiti artists as a teenager in Paris to his large-scale architectural interventions in cities worldwide and recent digitally collaged murals.

"The street is "the largest art gallery in the world."


At the Mediathèque, browse through his photographic work or borrow the DVD 'Visages Villages'.

On France Culture, listen to a podcast.

On his Youtube channel, in collaboration with the Saatchi Gallery, watch JR giving explanations for some of his grand projects.

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