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Léon Gischia: A Little Like Depero?

It is always a thrill to be introduced to an artist or designer whose work, through the fickleness of time and the passing of memory, was forgotten and then resurrected. It is a common cultural malady. My latest discovery (perhaps too late given his relative popularity when alive) is the Frenchman Léon Gischia (1903-1991), a leading figure in the Nouvelle École de Paris.

From 1927 to 1930, Léon Gischia worked in advertising in the United States where became friends with Alexander Calder (whose influence is present in his work). After Gischia returned to France, he began to teach with Fernand Léger at the modern Academy and with André Beaudin, who encouraged him to resume painting. In 1937, he took part in the Salon des Jeunes Artistes, and, again with Léger, he decorated Le Corbusier’s Pavillon des Temps Nouveaux at the Paris World Fair. He continued to produce and exhibit avant-garde work throughout the German occupation, despite repeated “denunciation for degeneracy.” He also produced designs for the theatre, notably for the production in French of Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral at the Théâtre du Vieux Colombier in 1945.

Gischia, whose illustrations vaguely suggest Fortunato Depero, painted mainly landscapes and portraits, and made many drawings under the influence of Matisse and the Fauves. This influence comes through in the intensity of the color and the elegance a taste of the arabesque. From 1960 until his death, his art is essentially derived from squares, rectangles, triangles or lozenges interlocking freely in one another. The variations of the color by the degrees of its intensity and the distribution of the tones there construct an unstable space where the planes, with respect to each other, exchange their distances, in turn in reliefs and recesses.

This booklet is one in a renowned series of Nicolas Wine catalogs that began in 1928; this one about Don Quixote illustrated by Léon Gischia (with ornaments by Alfred Latour) was published in 1953. “Nicolas has recognized the synergy between wine and art by commissioning such great painters as Derain, Van Dongen and Buffet to illustrate its catalogues of fine vintages.” AM Cassandre produced the most iconic in 1931 and 1939 through his Cassandre Draeger (later Graeger Freres) printing house.

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