Amédée Ozenfant
Year, Birthplace 1886, France
Year, Place of death 1966, France
Amédée Ozenfant studied at the school of drawing in his native city. In 1905 he settled in Paris, where he visited museums and moved in artistic and literary circles. On the advice of Charles Cottet, he trained at the Académie de la Palette, where he benefited from the fairly liberal teaching of Jacques-Émile Blanche, André Dunoyer de Segonzac and Roger de La Fresnaye. He had particular admiration for Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. It was at the academy that he met Sonia Terk, the future wife of Robert Delaunay, and her friend Zénaïde (Zina) de Klingberg. In 1908 he married Zina and lived in Russia until 1913, mainly staying in his wife’s native city of Perm in Siberia. Returning to Paris in 1914 for health reasons, Ozenfant remained in the city and welcomed into his house Guillaume Apollinaire, Pablo Picasso, Jacques Lipchitz, Henri Matisse, Auguste Perret, Max Jacob, and Juan Gris, among others. His painting evolved towards cubo-futurism. In 1915 he launched the journal L’Élan with the aim of establishing ‘a link between mobilised artists and writers and those who remain at the rearguard’. His Parisian and Russian contacts, including Natalia Gontcharova, Mikhaïl Larionov and Ilia Ehrenbourg, contributed to the journal. He dedicated himself to cubo-futurist typographical investigations and conceived ‘typometry’, and subsequently ‘psychotypy', which allow the rhythms and silences of poetry to be represented in the shape of the letters. In 1917, Auguste Perret introduced him to one of his former draughtsmen, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, who would later adopt the pseudonym Le Corbusier. In September 1918 the two men met again and Ozenfant suggested that they work together: he wanted to stage an exhibition and develop a doctrine, ‘purism’, which would become the general grammar of modern man’s sensibility by aiming to attain a level of rigour and coherence that were lacking in cubism. This aesthetic would recommend a system of composition governed by rigorously controlled orthogonal schema, shapes arranged on the plane, in the drawing, in the colour and in the execution, making an ‘emotional machine’ of the painting, inspired by the techniques of industrial design. At the end of December, the co-authored document Après le cubisme [After cubism] (Édition des Commentaires) was published. This manifesto demanded ‘visual constants’ in art, the equivalent to laws in science. At the same time, an Ozenfant-Jeanneret exhibition opened at the Galerie Thomas. Between 1920 and 1925, in collaboration with Le Corbusier, Fernand Léger and Albert Gleizes, and initially the poet Paul Dermée, he founded and edited the journal L’Esprit nouveau, which would widely publicise purism and contribute towards the renewal of architectural and pictorial forms. His painting, like that of Le Corbusier, repeatedly focused on objects – guitars, violins, jugs, and bottles – which respond to a rigorous analysis and choice of standardised objects. In 1924 his relationship with Le Corbusier deteriorated and the two men definitively broke with each other the following year. From 1925 onwards, Ozenfant gradually renounced his more rigid theoretical principles and worked on more monumental compositions, moving on to murals in 1926. Later, he returned to representing the human figure. In 1927 he published Bilan des arts modernes – structure d’un nouvel esprit [Evaluating modern art – the structure of a new spirit], a work that became a classic among artists’ writings. His first solo exhibition took place the following year at the Hodebert-Barbazanges gallery. He contributed to the journal Cercle et Carré and took part in the exhibition which it staged in Paris in 1930. In the same year he created a piece of decorative work for the architect Erich Mendelsohn which constituted his legacy to purism. In 1936 he set up the Ozenfant Academy in London and later the Ozenfant School of Fine Art in New York, the city where he remained in exile between 1939 and 1955, enjoying great renown and exhibiting regularly. He also participated in the ‘artists in exile’ exhibition and became one of the ‘voices of America'. Pursued by the McCarthy commission, he returned to France in 1956. In the last works that he produced, he became reconciled to purist imagery. AC