TEFAF MAASTRICHT

10-19 March 2017 Works on Paper section, stand 725 Maurice Estève Solo Exhibition

A selection of 18 emblematic works from 1939 to 1988, Paintings, watercolours, collages and drawings

We have the great pleasure to dedicate our stand this year to a striking figure of the post war abstraction with an exhibition of Maurice Estève, focussing on 18 pieces comprising paintings, watercolours, collage and charcoal drawings from private collections that have not been presented on the market for over 30 years.

A number of these works had previously been shown during the great retrospective museum exhibitions organised by the National Gallery of Denmark in 1961, the Bremen Kunsthalle in 1974, the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in 1986, the Sonja Henie and Niels Onstad Foundation in Norway in 1987, among others. The collection comprises works that are emblematic of each of the techniques practiced by the artist. Most of those works were shown for the last time in 1987 and has not been on the market since then. Les Trois Tables, painted in 1939 (exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1968), is a canvas oil painting uniting familiar objects and a female presence in masterful synthesis. Boulogne is a landscape painted in 1957, its tormented impasto perfectly rendering the architecture of the town’s port.

In his watercolour compositions, Estève orchestrated a dialogue between form and colour, such as can be seen in Composition n° 977–A, whose colours are so vibrant they seem to glisten still with moisture. “I’m not a watercolourist but rather a laundress,” as the artist explained, referring to his oft-used method of taking up a sheet that had dried and wetting it to bring out its former whiteness, before applying colour once more to achieve overlapping effects as in Composition 1063-A.

In his collages, following a personal technique, Estève cut fragments from newspapers, torn drawings and all sorts of discarded bits of found paper or that have previously been covered in oil paint, gouache or India ink, such as in the collage Soir breton, 1968. Using pins, he arranged his compositions which tended towards the figurative and carried evocative titles such as Corné balancé, 1965.
Maurice Estève: a life for Art

Maurice Estève was born in modest circumstances in 1904 in Culan, a small village in the French department of Cher. His father was a shoemaker, and his mother, a fashion designer. He spent his childhood in the countryside, far from artistic circles, living with his grandparents while his parents were living in Paris. He joined them there for vacations, visiting the capital and discovering the Louvre in 1913. He immediately felt that painting was his calling, something his father was thoroughly incapable of understanding. As he explained to Louis Carré in July of 1943: ”Ever since I was a boy, my father was violently and obstinately opposed to my adopting this vocation, which I, on the other hand, found irresistible. When I was 16, he burned some paintings that I had just finished. And if he never did that again, it was because he realized that one of his son’s paintings could ‘make money’. […] His imperviousness to the art world was otherwise absolute and unshakable.”

Self-taught, Estève developed a variety of skills, including typography, design, and furniture making. For a year, he ran a studio for fabric design in Barcelona, which gave him the chance to discover Catalan Romanesque art. Back to Paris he spent all his free time drawing and painting. Occasionally, he took courses at the Académie Colarossi, and he regularly visited the galleries in the Louvre. He was especially drawn to Paolo Ucello and was deeply interested in the work of Cézanne, whom he honored with his painting Hommage à Cézanne in 1942. In 1929, influenced by Matisse and above all by the syntax of Fernand Léger’s compositions, he adopted ”a path that was both inventive and resolutely concrete, not illusionist”, as the art historian Jean Leymarie phrased it.


His first solo exhibition was held at the galerie Yvangot in 1930 and attracted the attention of the critic Maurice Raynal. Raynal, linked to the Cubists, appreciated Estève’s ”distain for facile seductions that are wildly attractive but never last very long”. He went on to say, ”In speaking with Estève, I found him to share some of the character of the late Juan Gris, and that’s not the least praise I could give him”. At the time, he was associated with a couple of artists who had studied with Arpad Szenès and Vieira da Silva in their studio, which brought painters, sculptors, poets, and musicians all together. In 1937, Robert and Sonia Delaunay asked him to participate in the painting of the murals in the Pavillon des Chemins de Fer et de l’Aviation at the Exposition Universelle. And that same year, following Braque’s advice, the French-Swedish gallery in Stockholm invited him to take part in the important exhibition French Painting, alongside Picasso, Gris, Matisse, and Léger. Called up for the army in 1939, Estève recorded his impressions in drawings he made in his ”war notebook”.


1941 was an important year for Estève; it was the year that he decided to devote himself entirely to his art. This same year, despite his supportiv anthousiasm, he didn’t join Bazaine, Lapicque, Manessier, Tal Coat, Édouard Pignon, and others in the famous exhibition at the galerie Braun titled Vingt jeunes peintres de tradition française, which was considered to be the manifesto of what became known as the Nouvelle École de Paris. He made a verbal agreement with Louis Carré, who was his gallerist until 1949, giving him the exclusive management of his works. It was a time when the influence of Bonnard’s embrace of color was at its height. Estève gained international recognition, taking part in group shows around the world. A large exhibition, his first outside of France, organized by Jorn Rubow at the Staten Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen in 1956 was extremely successful.

Estève began working with the galerie Villand-Galanis, which brought his watercolors and drawings to the attention of the public in 1955. They were a huge success. In 1956, Pierre Francastel wrote the first monograph on his work, and exhibition after exhibition followed, including important retrospectives in museums in Copenhagen and Stockholm in 1956 and in museums in Basel, Düsseldorf, Copenhagen, and Oslo in 1961. This active and optimistic period was interrupted by the death of his wife, Nelly, in 1965. Estève began declining commissions and requests for interviews, taking refuge in the intimacy of his studio, where he worked in private. Though in 1967, he became associated with the Neue Galerie in Zurich and later began showing with Claude Bernard in Paris (drawings in 1972, watercolors in 1973, collages in 1974, and oils in 1977), giving the public an opportunity to see his evolving work. Since then, the reputation of his work has only continued to grow among his contemporaries and is taking its place in the history of 20th century art as one of the key links in the return to abstraction.

In 1979, he began thinking about how to donate his work to the public, a process that culminated in the inauguration of the Estève Museum in Bourges in 1987, following a particularly important retrospective at the Grand Palais in 1986. He married Monique Prudhomme in 1983, and ten years later, she published the catalogue raisonné of his work. He spent the last six years of his life in his native village of Culan. He moved his studio to his family home, where he devoted himself to works on paper. He died on June 27, 2001


  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Aquarelle 1063-A
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) L'Ancien
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Montavent
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Les Trois Tables
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Boulogne
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Grichula
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Courille
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Corné balancé, N° 70-C
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Arbre à pois, 1648-D
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Composition 170-A.57
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Jardins et cravates, N° 64-C
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Collage, N° 23-C
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Arbre ciel blanc, N° 84-C
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Nu drapé gris, boisé, N° 68-C
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Collage, N° 24-C
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Aquarelle 977-A
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Soir breton, N° 121-C
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Stille Naght (Sweet Night)
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Les Amants transparents
  • Maurice ESTÈVE (1904-2001) Composition 167D