Cr it ic ism
JEAN-MARIE DUNOYER He opted for an intimist, subdued Expressionism. Resistant to the severe disciples of a Cubism, moreover outmoded, except for the imitators, as well as afterwards to the abstract rigidity of Circle and Square (Cercle et Carré), he remains and will remain a proponent of a (trans)figuration of the perceptible world, which from the beginning, he intended to delineate as closely as possible in an emotional climate. It is with the eyes borne by painting that his spiritual resources radiate with the greatest intensity, vision from the interior, sent back to the interior. He brings a supplement of soul to this painting in which the quiver of emotion is harmonized with external reality, as if perceived through a mirror. It especially radiates from feminine portraits and childish models for whom Weissberg seems to feel a tender predilection. Curvaceous nudes, such as La Mariée juive (The Jewish Bride, 1926), tend toward a more unctuous workmanship, an aura that floats around the bodies humanizes them. This radiance enshrouds with the same magic the still-lives to come. [...] A whole everyday world comes punctually to the painter’s rendez-vous: inkwells, knives, fruit, bottles, candles, bunches of paintbrushes, the ones and the others around 1925. […] But already, what exuberance, what a gushing of festive colors when, sporadically, in a work constructed with the same rigor, the safety bolts fly open! Le Village aux toits rouges (The Village with Red Roofs, 1925) stretches, bends under an indigo sky. What a smile of happiness, what a sun suddenly illuminates his exil and gives him a new homeland! Still more, a vegetal orgy invades in full impasto La Ferme au bout du jardin (The Farm at the Back of the Garden, 1926), before this delirium of greenery submerges La Maison dans les arbres (The House under the Trees, 1926), jealous of its mystery in its preserved silence. The intense vitality that ferments under the foliage becomes clear through a thousand channels saturated with sap. The underlying gentleness does not dampen the muffled violence, which rather reinforces the enormous potential of energy thus compressed. […] Unconscious, or perhaps conscious, of the fantastic thrust of his gesture, Léon Weissberg, he too as if made up before entering the arena, executed his Autoportrait en clown (Self-Portrait as a Clown).
It is he, and it is not yet he. All the human distress becomes inlayed on the visage of this bitterly derisory old clown. One is tempted to correct that: on the mask… The expression of a suffering to come: we see it in this way – for us, it is a certainty – this oil on plywood from 1942, cataloged as “autoportrait-charge” (Caricatured Self-Portrait). Even more that in the earlier production of the painter, it is the soul that emerges here from colors and forms, from the premonition of the pain to come upon a whole people already in torment – sweating blood, prophetic with truth, slapped on, criss-crossed, deeply chiseled, Ecce Homo, on the usually affable and smiling face, whose finesse and refinement had so endeared him to his contemporaries. Excerpts from “Weissberg”, 1993.
Presented at the Gallery Mann for the Weissberg retrospective, Paris, 1998. Published in École de Paris, Le Groupe des Quatre, Lachenal & Ritter, Paris 2000, Gallimard.
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