Antoni Clavé : painter/poet


Catalan artist Antoni Clavé was born in Barcelona in 1913. Beginning as an illustrator and designer, he fled Spain in 1939 in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War having worked as an illustrator for the Republican government. Settling in Paris, it was almost as if conflict followed him as the shadows of WWII soon fell onto the French capital. But this was to be the inspiration this artist needed, turning his attention from the cosey world of magazine illustration to the non-commercial world of painting and the Bohemian café society of Paris that went with it.

It may seem a little cliché now – a group of impoverished artists sitting in a Paris bar sipping absinthe, scratching their beards whilst vociferously arguing about the emergence of Modernism, but we must never underestimate what this group of artists, writers and musicians achieved in the decades preceding the war.

Antoni Clavé (1913-2005), Nature Morte Rouge, 1955, oil on canvas, 18 x 22 in., 45.7 x 55.9 cm

Antoni Clavé (1913-2005), Nature Morte Rouge, 1955, oil on canvas, 18 x 22 in., 45.7 x 55.9 cm

Surely, the (post)modern world that we currently inhabit would look hugely different without their input. And, although Clavé is only seen as playing only a bit-part role in the cultural earthquake that was the Parisian art scene in the 1920/30s/40s, he was still there, talking and discussing the meaning of existence with other fellow hipsters of the time. Perhaps he is better known as a member of the post-war Ecole de Paris that formulated around Soulages and De Stael, but his importance is no less the same.

In 1944, Picasso returned to Paris once the city had been liberated. It is this artist that Clavé is most usually associated. Though a generation younger, Clavé also grew up in Spain leaving for Paris to find fame and fortune. The two artists are known to have met on several occasions, and Picasso’s influence is clearly seen in Clavé’s first paintings of the mid 1940s and early 1950s. Later on, from around 1960, he was to become completely abstract so it is this figurative style that is most closely related to Picasso.

Nature Morte Rouge is a signature still life, painted at the very moment of Clavé’s greatest achievements. First exhibited at the important gallery Arthur Tooth & Sons in London’s Mayfair, the work has since disappeared into private collections based in the United Kingdom. One can see how the style is reminiscent of his French peers Soulages, Mathieu, Hartung and De Stael as well as the the semi-abstract paintings of the 1950s St.Ives School in Cornwall, especially the work of William Scott and Peter Lanyon.

It is now available for viewing in central London.