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Jean Lurçat
b. 1892, Bruyeres, France
d. 1966, Saint-Paul de Vence, France

 

Jean Lurçat was a French artist and weaver credited with reviving contemporary tapestry. He studied at the Académie Colarossi and became enmeshed in the Paris art world in his early twenties, meeting Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. In 1915, he participated in his first exhibition in Zürich, and in 1917 he created his first major tapestry work. The Cubist and avant-garde influence is evident in Lurçat’s early works.

 

In 1925, Lurçat began exhibiting regularly at the gallery of Jeanne Bucher in Paris, alongside artists such as Hans Arp, Georges Braque, Max Ernst, Jacques Lipchitz, and Pablo Picasso. Bucher gave him three solo exhibitions between 1930 and 1936, and during these years his international reputation grew, with solo exhibitions at the Flechtheim Gallery in Berlin (1931) and the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York (1933). In 1932, Lurçat traveled to the United States; in Philadelphia, Albert Barnes bought two of his paintings, and in New York, he participated in an exhibition at the Valentine Gallery alongside Braque, André Derain, Matisse, and Picasso.

 

Even Lurçat's early painted works demonstrate an adamantly two-dimensional quality, reflecting his long engagement with the history of woven art. As an artist, however, he held his varying media quite separately: "To Lurçat," Denizeau writes, "tapestry and painting were two planets whose orbits might intersect but never merge. He attached great importance to the nature of his materials, choosing watercolor to express the dreamlike (1917 to 1920), oil for his 'major' paintings (1925 to 1931), and gouache for the work of his twilight painting years."

 

His works often features such recurring motifs as the cosmos, nature, and later, animals. Fantastic creatures, both real and imagined, are commonly found in Lurçat's work. He was particularly interested in bestiaries, a genre of book that was popularized in the Middle Ages, which served as a compendium of animals, beasts, and creatures. Lurçat provided illustrations for several modern bestiaries, including Géographie Animale in 1948 and Bestiaire fabuleux in 1951. In both publications, the illustrations were featured alongside accompanying poems, and pay homage to their Medieval predecessors in their two-dimensional, decorative appearance.