From Paris to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the forgotten work of Jean-Michel Coulon is exhibited in galleries this summer

On the occasion of the centenary of the artist Jean-Michel Coulon (1920-2014), several exhibitions allow the discovery of his works, which have remained secret for several decades.

Discovered in the artist’s studio after his death, the paintings of Jean-Michel Coulon are exhibited in several galleries in France this summer. From Paris to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the curious will be able to discover, for the first time since the 1970s, the oils on canvas and abstract collages of this creator of the shadows. A work which is in line with those of the avant-gardes, which he worked closely with in his youth, but which also bears traces of various events in his personal life. A look back at this forgotten artist in the history of art and an overview of the exhibitions currently highlighting his work.


From glory to oblivion

Today unknown to the general public, Jean-Michel Coulon has nevertheless exhibited alongside the greatest: Braque, Picasso, Klee, De Staël, Kandinsky and many others. Already in 1949, he was part of a collective exhibition with them at the famous Parisian gallery of Jeanne Bucher, before benefiting, in 1950, from a personal exhibition. Following this Parisian success, it was presented the same year at the Sidney Janis gallery, in New York, as part of the group exhibition “Young Painters in the United States & France” which for the first time draws up parallels between French and American painters showing common points. Very quickly, Coulon exhibited in various galleries and multiple exhibitions, both in Europe and in the United States.

Portrait of Jean-Michel Coulon. © Caroline Coulon, Personal collection, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia

After this brief hour of glory from the 1950s to 1970s, Coulon decided to retreat into the secrecy of his workshop; he suddenly declines all the exhibition proposals, and gradually falls into oblivion. Until 2014, no one knew of his work; It was while entering his artistic quarters after his death that his family discovered with wonder a prolific abstract art, made up of more than 900 oils on canvases and collages.

Jean-Michel Coulon, oil on wood, 10.5 x 9 cm, 1970-90, Catalog Raisonné N ° 0431H.  © Archives Aline Stalla-Bourdillon

Jean-Michel Coulon, oil on wood, 10.5 x 9 cm, 1970-90, Catalog Raisonné N ° 0431H. © Archives Aline Stalla-Bourdillon

A painting that evolves with the events of the artist’s family life

Thus, for nearly 50 years, Coulon has developed a rich, diverse and structured work. This one is essentially composed of oils on canvas and on wood until the 2000s, then of collages. Over the years, his painting has evolved with the events of his family life, which can be found in particular in his stylistic transformations and changes in chromatic choices. The loss of his two brothers eight years apart, for example, leads Coulon to use darker colors, while his marriage and various trips encourage him to use brighter hues. A perfectionist, he rectifies his canvases many times, sometimes accumulating layers of paint to form substantial thicknesses. He did not start collage until the age of 80, when he returned to live in Paris. Some are made on old paintings dating from the 1950s to the 1960s, as could be seen when the paper montage did not hold on the canvas. The signature of his work? Verticality in the lines, recurring all eras.

Collage N ° 61-333, Jean-Michel Coulon, circa 2000, 33 x 22 cm, Catalog Raisonné N ° 0528C.  © Archives Aline Stalla-Bourdillon

Collage N ° 61-333, Jean-Michel Coulon, circa 2000, 33 x 22 cm, Catalog Raisonné N ° 0528C. © Archives Aline Stalla-Bourdillon

Clashes to discover urgently

To admire his works in France, the curious can visit the Summer Show from the Dutko gallery in Paris (until July 31), and thus contemplate his paintings from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, “Petits Formats” at Galerie 50 in La Cadière-d’Azur (until August 31), who presents his small paintings from the 1970s, or even “Four abstract painters of the post-war years” at the Luz 26 gallery in Saint-Jean-de-Luz (until August 7), specializing in abstract paintings from the years 1950, who exhibited Coulon alongside three other artists of lyrical abstraction (Pierre Dmitrienko, Jacques Germain and Oscar Gauthier). Internationally, the Rosenberg & Co (New York) and Mia Joosten (Amsterdam) galleries focus on her collages and gouaches respectively. Hangings to be discovered urgently to restore the nobility to this little-known artist.

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