Jean Hélion (1904 – 1987)

‘Figure tombée’ (1939-1943) is een compositie van de Franse kunstenaar Jean Hélion ( 1904-1987). Het is een ‘overgangswerk’, waarin de kunstenaar de geometrisch-abstracte vorm heeft verlaten, de platte vlakken zijn inmiddels veranderd in driedimensionale figuren. Al aan het begin van zijn loopbaan had Hélion verschillende goede contacten. Hij kende Hans Arp, Fernand Léger, Anton Pevsner en Piet Mondriaan, zonder uitzondering belangrijke inspiratoren. Vanaf1929 leidde de jonge Hélion, die nog maar net van figuratieve- naar abstracte kunst was overgestapt, samen met Theo van Doesburg het kunstenaarsinitiatief ‘Art Concret’. Het uitgangspunt van deze idealistische beweging was om ‘zuiver abstract’ te werken. Aan het eind van de jaren ‘30 en gedurende de oorlog maakte Hélion echter de overstap naar figuratieve kunst. Toen hij zich in de loop van de jaren ‘40 profileerde als schilder van herkenbare taferelen, beschouwden collega’s hem als een overloper. In de tijd van de Pop Art, de jaren ’60, werd Hélion echter beschouwd als een pionier, iemand die zijn tijd ver vooruit was.


Figure Tombe 1943

‘Figure tombée’, 1939-1943



  • Jean Hélion (1904-1987)
  • ’Figure tombée’, 1939-1943
  • gemengde techniek/papier
  • 48 x 38 cm.
  • gesigneerd en gedateerd linksonder: ‘Hélion, ’43’
  • herkomst: The Estate of Jean Hélion, 1999
  • expositie: Colmar, Musée Unterlinden, 1995, ‘Hélion. La figure tombée’, pagina 138
  • literatuur (o.a.):
    H.-Cl. Cousseau, ‘Hélion’, Parijs, 1992, pagina 292 met afbeelding
    S. Lecocq-Ramond e.a., ‘Hélion, La figure tombée’, Parijs, 1995, pagina 37 met afbeelding
  • prijs op aanvraag  


Jean Hélion (1904 – 1987)


Born in 1904, grandson of a Norman farmer, Hélion poured his early enthusiasms of poetry, chemistry, mathematics and architecture into his work once he had settled on painting as a career in 1924. He refused to sell his first pictures despite the entreaties of his friend, the creator of Inspector Maigret, Simenon.


In 1929, in Paris, Hélion helped Theo van Doesburg to form the Art Concret group. He was now in the vanquard of the abstract art movement and part of the circle surrounding such artists as Arp, Pevsner, Mondrian and Vantongerloo. Two years later he helped create the much larger and more international Abstraction Création. A noted Anglophile, Hélion befriended such English members of this group as Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, who showed in the celebrated Unit One exhibition at The Mayor Gallery in 1934, introducing Abstract (and Surrealist) art to an insophisticated British public. Hélion also encouraged John Piper’s wife, Myfanwy (Evans), to start the avant-garde magazine Axis. Hélion wrote not only in Axis but also The Burlington Magazine, expressing his love of Old Masters such as Poussin.


Jean Hélion in zijn atelier, New York, 1937

Jean Hélion in zijn atelier, New York, 1937


Bij the end of the 1930s Hélion shocked former colleagues by beginning a disciplined and logical return to a highly distinctive form of figuration which always remained informed by his pioneering abstract work. The apparent change was much misunderstood, being regarded as a sort of ‘apostasy’.


Time was on his side however. Figuartive artists from Léger to Lichtenstein appreciated him. His subject matter, whether nudes from his Paris studio, cabbages from his Normandy garden, men digging holes in the road or reading newspapers, and especially on the streets of Paris. He was credited with having created a distinctive mythology of everyday life. In group and thematic exhibitions, at home and abroad, he was increasingly classified and shown with young artists, rather than those of his own generation, such as Giacometti and Balthus who were in fact friends.


Hélion, Jean, De kunstenaar in zijn atelier in de rue Michelet, Parijs ca. 1950.

Jean Hélion omstreeks 1950.

in zijn atelier in de Rue Michelet, Parijs


Hélion’s personal life was coulorful. Taken prisoner by the Germans during the Second World War he escaped to America via Marseilles. The Shall Not Have Me is the name of the best selling book he wrote describing the experience. In New York in 1944 he met again such friends as Mondrian, Max ernst, Calder, Tanguy, Léger, Kurt Seligmann, Ozenfant and Bréton. After the war he married Pegeen, Peggy Guggenheim’s daughter.


During his lifetime Hélion had numerous one-man shows all over Europe and America, and latterly in the Far East. He was also shown in group exhibitions such as the Post-War show at the Tate in 1993 and the influential New Spirit in Painting at the Royal Academy in 1981. Since several years The Pompidou Centre Paris had dedicated a permanent gallery to Helion’s paintings.

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