André Masson was a French painter, specifically born in Balagny-sur-Thérain, in Oise, on January 4, 1896. His first years were spent in the countryside, learning and living in a fully natural environment, which we will see how his work influences throughout his life, as is often the case with painters’ childhoods. He began learning early, at age eleven, at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts and the Arts Décoratifs École des in Brussels, with the master painter Constant Montald. Just five years later he won the Grand Prize for Painting de l’Académie. He then began his studies in Paris, at L’École des Beaux-Arts, learning and getting to know the work of Nicolás Poussin at that time in his life, especially his works on mythological themes, which we will see reflected in Masson’s career.
His influences were not limited only to artistic fields. He also received a strong psychological influence from the philosopher Nietzsche, after reading his works in 1914, and shortly after he joined the French Infantry during the armed conflict of World War I, in 1915, which generated him after the Battle of the Somme strong health consequences that kept him hospitalized for a long time. He wasn’t just on a physical level. On a psychological level, he affected him deeply, requiring even his brief internment in a sanatorium.
Later, in the 1920s, he delved into the Cubist style for a short time, until later, he came into contact with the Surrealists through contact with Max Jacob. In 1922, Kahnweiler, a well-known art dealer, sought to negotiate with him, and Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein themselves acquired his works. He was blooming, and the study of him was slowly beginning to look like it too. It was a time of absolute growth, and the great painters of the time were beginning to take an interest in him. André Breton himself tried to get him to join the Surrealist Movement, being dazed by his works in his first solo exhibition, which took place at the Simón Gallery. It’s a fruitful reunion, and Masson goes on to focus heavily on surreal automatism.
As a result of this new experiment, he began to introduce new forms of creation in his work, such as sand, or even becoming aware of the sculptural movement of Giacometti’s hand, making the first sculpture in 1927. However, his position in the movement was brief because the political forms in which they moved in surrealism were not those that coincided with their way of thinking. He then went to Nice with Matisse in the year 1932.
In 1933 he tried theatrical scenography, designing works such as “The Destinations” by Léonide Massine, and in 1936 he designed the cover of “Bataille Acéphale” and progressed in this world until 1939. Before the Civil War, he visited Spain and published his creative process in the Minotaure magazine: works such as “Aube a Montserrat” and “Paysage aux prodigues.” His complete break with the Surrealists came in 1943.
In World War II, he decided to go into exile in the United States, fleeing the conflict and settled in New York City, where he met other painters who also influenced him, such as Jackson Pollock. For a time, he fled the big city and traveled to Connecticut, back into nature as when he was a child. He experimented with abstract expressionism, learned from Pollock, and with mythological themes that he inherited from Poussin. His return to Europe was in 1946, after the conflict ended, with a renewed painting with a mixed style of Impressionists, American Abstract Expressionism, and Tachism.
He continued to grow, receiving in 1954 the Grand National Prize for the Arts, under a painting increasingly plunged into abstraction, to the point where the Venice Biennale in 1958 dedicated an entire room to his work. One of the greatest works of his production came in 1965, when the French Minister of Cultural Affairs André Malraux, asked him to paint the ceiling of the Théâtres de l’Odéon in Paris. He continued with other works: the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, in 1964; at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, in 1964; at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1976; at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, 1976-77; at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1976-77; at the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris, in 1981; and at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1987. Two major anthologies take place in Spain: in 1985 at “La Caixa” in Barcelona and in 2004 at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid.