BAZAINE, Jean (1904-2001)

RHYTHME D'EAU, 1959
Mosaic with enamels and natural stones, made with the mosaist Maximilien Herzélé. The pieces are cut and set unequally in order to play with the light.
255 x 953 cm
Date of entry at UNESCO
Country of origin France
Acquisition made by UNESCO upon the completion of the Fontenoy building in Paris
© Photo: UNESCO
Adagp, Paris 2012

In 1957, the UNESCO "Committee for Architecture and works of art" commissioned Jean Bazaine for a mosaic that would decorate, alongside ten other works by international artists (such as Picasso, Calder, Afro, etc.), the Organization’s permanent headquarters in Paris. The committee members included the architects who built the buildings, Bernard Zehrfuss, Marcel Breuer, Luigi Nervi, as well as C. Para-Perez who chaired a committee of artistic advisers responsible for guiding the choice of works, which also included Georges Salles, Shahid Subrawardy and Herbert Read.

The monumental mosaic "Water Rhythms" was created in resonance with the Japanese garden. It is made up of “tesserae” (small pieces) of different materials such as enamel and stone. Bazaine was particularly sensitive to the expressiveness of materials, and creates here variations of blues, white/gray, red and yellow/orange. When looking at the mosaic up close, one finds that each shape has been made using a range of colors: for example, in the red shapes there are also burgundy and purple tiles. This combination of different materials and colors gives the mosaic a vibrancy that may be likened to water. In Bazaine's own words, the density and scale of these rhythms are meant to transcribe "the great vital signs that are the truth of Man and the Universe." In his writings and reflections, Bazaine meditated on the painter's approach, which is supposed to associate the creative act with the quest for the sacred; his work, full of emotional expression, tends towards the religious. For him, the essential resided in the "daily illumination, this eye open to the world, that is, increasingly, as we advance, but a glimpse inward, a self-examination.” Following in the wake of his teacher, Henri Matisse, who revealed to him a world that was both coherent and thrilling, Bazaine strove, in his own way, to search for "another fullness, another purity». “Water Rhythms” illustrates Bazaine’s sense of the monumental and movement, as well as his conception of touch, color and surface structure. Water is a recurrent theme in his work, and from 1936 until his death, he tirelessly sought to capture the movement, rhythm, light and depth of this element which fascinated him, through paintings as diverse as “Bath” (1939), “Divers” (1946), “Zeeland” (1957) and “Saint Guénolé” (1960). Metaphor of passing time but also unchanging time, water allowed Bazaine to play with different feelings (anger, joy), material and techniques (painting, drawing, collage, mosaic, etc.).

Biography of the Artist

Jean Bazaine was born in 1904. He attended the Académie Julian in 1922 and later worked with the sculptor Paul Landowski. He studied Art history at the Sorbonne and began to paint in 1924, drawing at the Louvre or from nature.

Following his first exhibition, held in 1932, he received strong encouragement from Bonnard. Bazaine first directed his research towards still lifes, the human figure, landscapes and trees, before becoming interested in the four elements (water, earth, fire, air) which are at the origin the world. His works always kept a link with the real, which is why he refused pure abstraction. In his 'Notes on painting of our day' he wrote: "One must situate oneself at the intersection of all sensations, of all sentiments: there the secret of the universe lies. This is why I refuse pure abstraction."

With André Lejard he organized in 1941, despite official condemnations of "degenerate art", the exhibition "Twenty young painters of the French tradition", which included works by Maurice Esteve, Charles Lapicque, Jean Le Moal, Alfred Manessier, Edouard Pignon, Gustave Singier. Under the guise of the term ‘tradition’, these artists escaped censorship by Vichy, although their non-figurative paintings were far from it. The collective exhibition "Twelve painters of today" held at the Galerie de France in 1943 presented works by Bazaine, Bores, Chauvin, Esteve, Fougeron, Gischia, Lapicque, Le Moal, Gable, Singier, Villon, Lautrec, Tal-Coat; despite their aesthetic differences, this group of artists would become known as the New School of Paris.

Bazaine’s painting slowly moved away from constructed form to a dissolution of line in favor of light and in a sort of accordance with the major natural rhythms. He did not limit himself to painting, but also adopted other techniques such as stained glass and mosaic. He produced stained glass windows for the church of Assy (1943-1944), the baptistery of the sacre-coeur church in Audincourt (1954) or even the cathedral of Saint-Die (1984-1986, Vosges), among others. Stained glass was a medium that Bazaine particularly appreciated for its interaction with light. In 1951 he created a monumental mosaic for the façade of the Sacre-coeur church in Audincourt, in 1959-1960 for the UNESCO building in Paris and in 1963 for the Maison de la Radio in Paris, among others. He also created a mosaic for the Senate (Luxembourg Palace, Paris) in 1970, as well as the enamelled lava decoration for the walls and ceiling of the subway station "Cluny-La Sorbonne." He passed away in Clamart in 2001.

In 2005 his work was presented in the exhibition "Lyrical Flight" held at the Luxembourg Museum alongside works by Soulages or Schneider.

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