Simon Hantaï


Simon Hantaï is a Hungarian-born French conceptual artist and painter.

Born in Bia, Hungary, Hantaï moved to France in 1949, where he quickly became known throughout Europe for his large, abstract canvasses of profound, saturated color.

During his youth in Hungary, Hantaï studied at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest and participated as a young artist in several group exhibitions. Once in Paris he established himself amid the resurgent post-war Surrealists and attracted the attention and support of André Breton, who arranged his first solo exhibition in l’Étoile Scellée. After they parted ways, Hantaï briefly became a gestural painter. His chief inspiration in this regard was Jackson Pollock.

During the 1960s, Hantaï developed a signature method of folding canvas and covering it in paint, which when opened revealed a distinctive pattern of color and negative space: a technique he called ‘pliage’. This new painting technique will dominate his entire career and creative output. Some of his notable works include Mariales (Cloaks) (1960–1962), which emphasized color while by contrast, Les Blancs (Whites) (1973–1974), which stressed the absence of color.

The technique of folding, knotting, painting and unfolding the canvas allowed Hantaï to develop an ‘automatic’ process, producing paintings that juxtaposed the naked material against bright colours to create striking, sumptuous images. Rather than to determine composition through careful construction of the pictorial space, Hantaï painted the exposed surface, only revealing the painting to himself at the canvas’s unfolding.

Simon Hantaï became a French citizen in 1966. He enjoyed great success in France during his lifetime, culminating in him representing France at the Venice Biennale in 1982. Immediately following this however, Hantaï withdrew from the art world. He was a contradiction, being an artist of international recognition who was at the same time an anti-commercial recluse. Though very involved in world events and in contemporary artistic issues, he fiercely valued aesthetics integrity, defending himself through isolation from the incursions of market-driven speculation. He declined to show in commercial galleries for the rest of his life but had several exhibitions in museums and at a private foundation during his final ten years.

Hantaï’s works are held in public and private collections internationally, including some of the most prestigious museums such as the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington