Germaine Richier
Year, Birthplace 1902, France
Year, Place of death 1959, France
After completing her training, which she began at the age of eighteen at the École des beaux-arts de Montpellier, working in the studio of Louis-Jacques Guigues, a former pupil of Auguste Rodin, Germaine Richier went to Paris in 1926 and joined Antoine Bourdelle’s studio. She remained there as his only ‘private pupil’ until the sculptor's death in 1929. She learnt sculpture in the classical manner, working with live models and then distorting them. In the studio she met Alberto Giacometti but the two artists never became friends as their approaches to sculpture were too different. After marrying Bourdelle’s assistant, Otto Bänninger, she could fully devote herself to her art in her own studio. Her first solo exhibition took place in 1934 at the Max Kaganovitch Gallery. On a trip to Italy she was greatly impressed by the petrified corpses of the inhabitants of Pompeii (as César – a pupil of hers for a while – would later be). Finding her path by attempting to overcome the opposition between immobility and movement, she quickly gained recognition in the male-dominated world of sculpture. In the neighbourhood of Montparnasse she mixed with Emmanuel Auricoste and Marino Marini. She won an award from the Blumenthal Foundation in New York in 1934 and an honourable mention in sculpture at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1937. On the day when war was declared Richier was living in Switzerland, her husband’s country. Deciding to remain there, she renewed her acquaintance with Jean Arp, Le Corbusier, Giacometti, Max Kaganovitch and Marino Marini, taking on some pupils and receiving visits from numerous collectors. Her sources of inspiration evolved in the light of the context. Faced with the tragedy of war and the spectacle of a society that was breaking down, she began to mix the human and the animal, crossing the boundaries between the species: a gigantic grasshopper or a woman poised to jump, man-owl, praying mantis, the great devourer of males… At times the monster tended to dissolve into the vegetable or the human into the insect. However, men and women continued to be human and animals remained animals. She was never tempted to reduce one to the other. Her bestiary was a eulogy of the hybrid or the indefinite, its violence conveying all possible transgressions. In 1946 she returned to Paris and between 1948 and 1954 she participated regularly in the Venice Bienalle. In 1951, together with Fernand Léger (mosaics), Jean Bazaine and Georges Rouault (stained glass), Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse (ceramics) and Pierre Bonnard (painting), she was chosen to decorate the Notre-Dame-de-Toutes-Les-Grâces church on the Plateau d’Assy. Her statue of Christ caused great controversy. The religious authorities rejected it and it was not displayed until twenty years later. In 1951 she received the sculpture prize at the São Paulo Biennale. In 1954 she married again, this time to the writer and art critic André de Solier. Living near Arles, she began to suffer from health problems in 1956. Germaine Richier enjoyed great international renown in her lifetime. In 1956, a retrospective exhibition of her work was organised at the Musée national d'art moderne in Paris. However, she was quickly forgotten as successive waves of avant-garde movements swept her memory aside, and forty years would pass before a new retrospective of her work was held, at the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul de Vence, in 1996. AC
1946 - 1951