This exhibition, held at the Jiushi Art Museum, showcases the work of a group of 20th- and 21st-century French artists who have defied all attempts to classify them. Naive, primitive, archaic, instinctive, sentimental, self-taught, popular, amateur, provincial, modern or anti-modern, with every label comes an element of bias or unconscious condescension. Today, those doubts and gaps continue to plague any curator wishing to dedicate an exhibition to the work of Henri Rousseau, Séraphine Louis, André Bauchant, Camille Bombois, Dominique Peyronnet, Louis Vivin, René Rimbert, Jean Ève and Ferdinand Desnos, artists who are amongst the best-kept secrets of modern art.
How should we characterise these self-taught, isolated and solitary artists who, freed from the constraints of theory, were on the edges of history? These unique personalities, most of whom were from working-class backgrounds, saw art as a spontaneous way of representing the world, without prejudice or purpose other than sharing their own intimate, authentic and dazzling perspectives. Through the creation of a timeless and mythical world of ecstasy, these takes of theirs transcend history and language. Yet what is enchanting about these cityscapes and seascapes, domestic scenes, portraits of loved ones and still lifes is not so much the primitive narrative style, but the unbridled imagination of artists who were unconstrained by the limitations of genre. With striking self-assurance and unusual skill, their paintings grab our attention. Denied the option of hiding behind a particular school, viewers are free to fully experience the painting from their own unique perspective. It is the crude nature of these paintings that has such a strong impact on us: the bold and chaotic the colour schemes, the defiance of compositional conventions and the total disregard for the rules of perspective and proportion.
Although they did not attend the schools or workshops of the masters, their imaginations were fuelled by the print media: press, illustrated books, catalogues and postcards gave them access to a whole library of images. Whilst they did not know each other and their work was never displayed together, some had their oeuvre exhibited at the salons and others were patronised by influential collectors and critics. These included the likes of Picasso, André Breton, Le Corbusier, Wilhelm Uhde, Maximilien Gauthier, Jeanne Bucher and Dina Vierny, who – after the Second World War – would open her own gallery to showcase primitive art and went on to hold the exhibition “Le Monde Merveilleux des Naïfs” in 1974. Our exhibition pays tribute to all of the collectors who strove to support these artists and preserve their work against all odds.