GEN PAUL (1895-1975)

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BIOGRAPHIE ....................................................................... BIOGRAPHY

GEN PAUL La Biographie. 2006
304 pages, 30x21cm, more than 300 photos, text in frech + 2 texts in english
Price: 45 euros


Eugène Paul dit GEN PAUL was a Painter, draughtsman, engraver, lithographer.

Born in Montmartre at six a.m. on July 2, 1895, at 96 rue Lepic; passed away on April 30, 1975, at the La Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris.

His mother, Joséphine Recourcé, was a seamstress, his father’s identity was unknown. On June 5, 1897, his mother married Eugène Paul, a plumber who may also have worked as a cabaret musician. On December 19, 1902, they legitimized their son Eugène, then seven. In August 1903, he started elementary school and in 1908 began painting and drawing (Self portrait, crayon). He left school in 1909, his report card noting that he “is good at drawing.” In 1910, the year his father died, he became an upholster apprentice. When war broke out on July 28, 1914, Gen Paul volunteered for combat and fought in the 111th Regiment of Chasseurs. Wounded in 1914, he returned to the frontline, only to sustain a new injury, leading to his right leg being amputated in 1915, upon his mother’s intervention. Back in Montmartre in 1916, he married Fernande Pierquet at the register office of the 18th arrondissement. The couple settled in a small building at 2 impasse Girardon, a dead-end street which Gen Paul was to inhabit until his death.

A number of artists lived on the same street, including: cubist sculptor Henri Laurens, Paco Durieu (a friend of Gauguin, who came to visit, and Picasso, who took over his atelier at the Bateau-Lavoir), the painter Pigeard, whose atelier doubled as an opium den, Modigliani (in 1906), and the sculptor Antonin Larroux (who later gave his atelier to Charles Camoin), to mention only the most famous.
Gen Paul worked various odd jobs to scrape out a living and started painting floral scenes, portraits, and the Moulin de la Galette, located across the street from his home. In 1917, he sold works signed “Gen Paul” to Ragueneau, an antiques shop owner, and befriended the painters Emile Boyer and Frank-Will. At the Bateau-Lavoir, Juan Gris supplied him with threadbare brushes and old tubes of paint. Mathot commissioned unsigned works imitating Monticelli, Daumier, and Lebourg - a valuable practice opportunity. During this same period he studied engraving with Eugène Delâtre and sold views of Montmartre to antiques dealers.

Gen Paul’s style evolved in the 1920’s, the city scenes becoming better constructed. He participated in the Salon d’Automne between 1920 and 1935. He dined frequently with André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck at the Place du Tertre restaurant Chez Bouscarat. Despite his handicap, he started traveling, first within France and then to Spain, where he often visited the Basque country, Bilbao, and Madrid. He also traveled to England, Italy, Germany, Belgium, and Algeria. Above all, he made numerous trips by boat to the United States, covering the East Coast from New York all the way around to New Orleans, even visiting California. A passionate jazz fan, he spent much of his time on 42nd Street while in New York and met many of the great jazz musicians of the day.
In Marseille, Leprin showed him around the old city and its brothels. Between 1921 and 1922, Gen Paul discovered the Spanish Basque country. The art dealer Chalom became interested in his work. 1923 saw his first portraits, mainly of clowns, as well as his first depictions of Montfort-Amaury. The following year, Gen Paul became acquainted with many musicians, in particular the violinist Noceti, and traveled to Bilbao and Motrico. His works were shown in Antwerp and London.

From 1924, Gen Paul began to break away artistically from his friends Utrillo, Leprin, Génin, Quizet and Frank-Will, known as the urban landscapists. By severely distorting his subjects, he managed to create a personal form of expressionism, one characterized by vigorous movement. He drew inspiration from works in the Prado Museum by Greco, Velasquez, and, above all, Goya. Faces and figures became increasingly central to his output. He traveled and worked incessantly until September 1930, seized by a creative fury which prompted Maurice Rheims to remark that “he painted some of the best works of the century” during this 5-year period. In 1928, the Bing gallery exhibited some of his works alongside those of Picasso, Rouault, Braque, and Soutine; he was unfamiliar with the latter at the time. In a long text on Gen Paul, Bing puts Paul on par with all of these artists. During this period, he was particularly adept at depicting musicians on canvas and painted a number of impressive portraits, views of ports in the Basque country, Montmartre, and towns in the Paris suburbs. He signed a contract with Bernheim, which was broken after the Crash of 1929.

Exhausted by a frenetic lifestyle, worn down by alcoholism and by a disease contracted in Algiers, Gen Paul collapsed during a trip to Madrid in the second half of 1930 and nearly died. After undergoing a cure, he returned to Paris for a long convalescence. Thus began the third stage of his career (1930-1945). In 1933 he befriended the writer Louis Ferdinand Celine. As a result some observers refer to this part of Paul’s career as his “Celine” period, not because the writer influenced the painter but because of their friendship. Paul produced few oil paintings, his colors became lighter and his lines stronger. On the other hand, the drawing and gouache output was of outstanding quality and treated a wider variety of subjects. Led by Céline, Marcel Aymé and himself, his circle of intimates comprised classical and jazz musicians, doctors, writers, actors from the Comédie Française and various colorful personalities who gathered in his atelier. Regulars included Francis Carco, Marcel Jouhandeau, Fernand Ledoux, Berthe Bovy, Dorival, René Fauchois, and the clowns Rhum and Porto. On October 20, 1934, Paul was named a Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur. The Army Ministry would promote him to Commander of the Légion d’Honneur in 1962.
The 1930’s were also marked by the execution of a fresco depicting one hundred people for the Palais du Vin at the International Exposition of 1937, as well as paintings, drawings, and lithographs. In 1937, Gen Paul and Céline had a major, if temporary, dispute regarding the latter’s writing. Depressed by the death of his wife in 1939 after their 23-year marriage, the lack of interest in his work, and the imminent war, Gen Paul left Paris for Sanary, on the Côte d’Azur, where he came into contact with painters such as Metzinger and Kisling. He returned to Paris via Marseille and met up with friends who had stayed behind, often dining with them at Chez Pomme, on rue Lepic. In 1942, the publisher Denoël hired him to illustrate two of Céline’s novels: Voyage to the End of the Night and Death on the Installment Plan. These books are extremely sought-after nowadays, especially those touched up by the painter with gouache or watercolor. Gen Paul and Céline stopped seeing each other after 1944.

His fourth, “calligraphic”, period began in 1945. During this late stage of his career, Gen Paul returned to the world of horseracing, depicting it in oil paintings and gouaches. In 1946 he created a brass band called “La Chignolle” with several painter friends, designed as a publicity tool for their work. He revisited familiar subjects and drew constantly. The views of Montmartre and Paris with paintings of musicians between 1948 and 1958 are particularly superb. Prolific and at the height of success, Paul became a legendary figure as a witness to the artistic life of early-20th-century Montmartre, through his friendships with all of its great painters. In May 1948 he married Gabrielle Abet; they divorced in 1951. In 1953, his son was born in Geneva. He exhibited in Paris, (Drouant-David, 1952, catalogue prefaced by Francis Carco), New York, and Geneva (Ferrero Gallery). He kept traveling until 1966. After 1968 he hardly painted in oil any more and left his apartment only on rare occasions; his so-called “television portraits” date from this time. He continued to draw and produce gouaches and lithographs. André Pacitti held a retrospective in 1972 and Dr. Miller edited a book about him, bringing Gen Paul a personal copy to his home on December 25, 1974. He died of cancer in a hospital on April 30, 1975.

After his death, several exhibitions were dedicated to his work. The largest was held at the Couvent des Cordeliers in 1995, on the centennial of his birth. Organized by André Roussard, with the help of Carlo a Marca, it assembled one hundred-odd major works from his expressionist period (1924-1930). The Gazette of the Hôtel Drouot wrote at the time, “Gen Paul is undoubtedly the best, and perhaps only, expressionist in the French tradition.”

And more recently, the Pre-War / Post-War exhibition organized by Julien Roussard in October 2012 which was the largest solo exhibition organized by an art gallery for this artist. Indeed, more than 100 works have been shown in two places representing all periods of the artist, providing a complete overview of the work of this talented artist, one of the main representatives of movement expressionism.

Julien Roussard


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