Pierre Roy
Year, Birthplace 1880, France
Year, Place of death 1950, Italy
Influenced by his father, secretary of the supervisory board of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nantes, Pierre Roy began to draw at a very young age. During the holidays, he made toys from anything he could put his hands on. Later, objects such as shells, paper tubes and bamboo would appear in his paintings. After finishing secondary school, Pierre Roy studied architecture. Later, in 1905, without abandoning the simple enthusiasm which characterised him, he decided to pursue a career as a painter and began to exhibit in 1906. At the time, he associated with the Paris fauvists. In 1912 he had a chance encounter with Alberto Savinio, the brother of Giorgio De Chirico, whom he met the following year and whose paintings made a great impression on him. The two painters became friends. In 1913, Guillaume Apollinaire discovered his work and the two became close. Through Apollinaire, Pierre Roy began to mix with the artistic and literary avant-garde of the period who were linked to the magazine Les Soirées de Paris. This fertile period was interrupted by the war, which took the painter away from the capital. His 1919 painting Adrienne pêcheuse [The Fisherwoman Adrienne, Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts], with its combination of heteroclite objects and creation of space, marks a turning point in his work and reveals the influence of De Chirico. This painting was much admired by the surrealists, who reproduced it in their magazine La Révolution surréaliste in 1925. Pierre Roy met Louis Aragon, André Breton, Paul Éluard and Max Ernst and was invited to take part in the surrealists’ first group exhibition, in 1925. At this point, the critic André Salmon called him the ‘true father of surrealism’ (Revue de France, March/April 1926). Aragon wrote the preface for his first solo show, at the Galerie Pierre in 1926, when the painter was 46. The relationship with the surrealists proved short-lived; his final exhibition with them took place in 1928. He was even omitted from Breton’s work Le Surréalisme et la Peinture (1928). This split was undoubtedly a result of his rejection of their vociferous behaviour and revolutionary ideology, as well as his desire for independence. Following a solo show in New York, in 1930, Pierre Roy enjoyed great success in the United States and MoMA bought two of his paintings. Recognition came in France in 1935 and Pierre Roy went on to have an international career, travelling from exhibition to exhibition around the world. He also designed theatre and ballet sets and costumes, magazine covers, posters and illustrated books. Today he occupies a marginal place in the history of surrealism, rather like De Chirico. He influenced René Magritte and Salvador Dalí and, unswayed by prevailing trends, continued to explore the deeply personal oneiric world which was his lifelong subject. Writing in response to a MoMA questionnaire in 1947, he stated: ‘As a painter, I have no philosophy whatsoever. When I paint anything at all, I do it out of the sheer pleasure of painting. I have no symbolic intention whatever. Frequently, however (often a long time after I have completed a painting), I become aware of what my inspiration was and what my painting is about’. AC