Jean Hélion b. 1904, Couterne, France; d. 1987, Paris
Oil on canvas
56 3/4 x 78 3/4 inches (144.3 x 199.8 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Together with Theo van Doesburg, De Stijl’s leading theorist, Jean Hélion became a founding member in 1930 of Art Concret (succeeded the following year by Abstraction-Création), an artistic collective with an austere approach to abstraction. While many of his canvases of the late 1920s and early 1930s clearly relate to works by van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian, whom he met in 1932, Composition demonstrates Hélion’s breakthrough to a more independent style. The painting features a carefully balanced arrangement of flat and curved modular forms rendered with machinelike precision, which appear alternately static and free-floating. The artist further explored this kind of harmonious organization in a series of abstract works he entitled Equilibrium (1933). In 1939, after 10 years of intense devotion to abstract painting, Hélion abruptly shifted to figuration for the remainder of his career, continuing his exploration of opposition and recurring motifs through the language of everyday objects.