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Georges Mathieu (France 1921-2012)


To be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale: Modern & Contemporary 18 – 20 May 2022

Lot 335 Georges Mathieu (France 1921-2012). ”Viso”. Signed and dated Mathieu -69 lower right. Oil on canvas, 50 x 100 cm.

A certificate by Cabinet Chanoit, Paris is included with this lot.
With inscription ”A.F.” on the stretcher.


800.000 – 1.000.000 SEK
€ 77.000 – 96.000

In context

The Lyrical Abstraction brilliantly mastered by Georges Mathieu

The early post-war era marks a turning point in the European art movement. Many were the artists that sought for a more spontaneous expression that would encourage artistic freedom. The well-established abstract movement, based upon geometrical aspects, that had been the focus for many artists before the war now suddenly seemed dated and challenged artists to widen their perspectives. One of these searchers was the true visionary Georges Mathieu, a self-thought talent with the ability to create something that had never been done before. 

Born in Boulogne-sur-Mer in France in 1921, Mathieu did not begin his artistic career until 1942. Before that he focused his studies to the Greek, Russian, Spanish and English languages and continued at a variety of institutions in France, studying law and philosophy. Parallel to his emerging artistic career he was also active as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in 1944 and later on he became a professor in French at the American University in Biarritz. However, when coming across Edward Crankshaw’s Joseph Conrad: Some Aspects of the Art of the Novel he started experimenting with abstraction, prior to that he had mostly focused his paintings to landscapes and portraits. In 1947 he settled in Paris and while working for the American transatlantic shipping company United States Line, he was soon to become one of the most interesting contemporary artists in France. The first exhibition he participated in was the group exhibition Huite oeuvres Nouvelles in 1949 with, among others, Jean Fautrier and Jean Dubuffet. The year after Mathieu painted his first tachiste painting, this was also the year of his first solo exhibition at the Galerie René Drouin, where Mathieu himself described his paintings as a “total liberty to improvisation, speed, the unknown, the imagination and risk.”

Georges Mathieu brought a new, organic and more spontaneous way of painting, a style that involved the entire body of the executor. This was a completely new wave pouring into the art world, a wave he appropriately named Lyrical Abstraction. The visual language of Mathieu favoured form and gesture and was sometimes executed straight in front of the cameras or an audience, making it sort of a happening or a performance. His works are characterized by a calligraphic quality of the line, created by using very long brushes and also by applying the paint straight onto the surface of the canvas directly from the paint tubes. Like a swordsman Mathieu wielded his brush when energetically striking the very often enormous canvases. Working rapidly the immediacy in the execution guaranteed the freedom of the work which was a central aim for Mathieu. The raw energy that surrounds his artistry as well as his artworks has ever after fascinated both critics and fellow artists, making him one of the central persons in the Art Informel movement in France.    

Most likely Georges Mathieu managed to evolve his pure expression because of the fact that he was not tied to any prior styles or impacts. With a blank canvas he started from zero, making the impulsive his primarily source of inspiration, as expressed by himself: “The first shot has to be the right one, there would be no turning back, no erasing a mistake.” Mathieu’s works from the 1950s was of great importance for the development of the global abstract art. Simultaneously he arranged international exhibitions where he combined American Abstract Expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg and Hans Hoffman with their European counterparts. During his lifetime Mathieu was also particularly appreciated in Japan where he was admired for his artistic process and speed in the execution of his paintings. At his first visit to Japan, Mathieu created twenty-one paintings and held a live performance where he painted six large canvases during his three-day visit. An impressive achievement that also made him an influential artist for the Gutai group, in the ‘Gutai Art Manifesto’ their leader Jiro Yoshihara noted that they held the works of Jackson Pollock and Georges Mathieu in high regard. Particularly the calligraphic approach were of common interest and in April 1959 Mathieu explained in D’Aristote à l’Abstraction lyrique: “Nobody in the East has ever thought of rejecting any notion of artistic quality in calligraphy under the pretext that it is produced in a few seconds.”

Even though he is regarded to be one of the foremost European abstract artists active in the post-war era, not much attention has been focused on the artistry of Georges Mathieu during the last decades. However, the past years has renewed the appreciation of his grand achievement. Presented in this sale is the striking painting “Viso” from 1969. A work that with its sublime impact yet expresses everything about the powerful, energetic and mind-blowing artistry of Mathieu.

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Jeanna Ahlin


Modern och samtida konst
Tel: 0734-32 41 45

Sofie Bexhed


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