PRIMITIVES OF TODAY
Outside all the great artistic and cultural currents of the last centuries, there has developed a craftman's painting -- decoration of furniture, shop signs, ex-voto offerings and the art of country portraitists -- characterized by the supreme importance given to minute enumeration of things, beings, and facts, at the expense of a true representation in pictorial space, which as a result obeys only partially the laws of perspective. These 'naïve' methods have been revived by painters of a new kind, the Primitives of today, who appeared when craft painting came to an end. Far from the teachings of the Fine Arts, and from all contact with contemporary art, these painters have acted upon a genuine vocation. Of folk origin, they remained -- because of the circumstances of their life and the frequently belated flowering of their art -- outside the artistic and spiritual culture of their time. But this isolation, which deprived them of all cultural exchanges, enabled them, on the other hand, to preserve their primitive vision of the world intact and to express it fully in their painting. This vision is that of the man of the street (hence the phrase 'popular masters of reality' sometimes used in reference to these artists): pathetic subjects, allegory, official 'views' often taken from post-cards, occupy a large place in it; but -- more important -their vision was strangely close to the one that man could have formed of the world before entering upon the age of individualism. In France the most outstanding of these 'Neo-Primitives' are the Douanier Rousseau, Vivin, Séraphine, Peyronnet, Bauchant and Bombois. Their work achieves effortlessly the pure miracle of primal poetry, the expression of an intimate and ancient communion between man and the world. Their painting, done with humility and sometimes with real piety, retains extraordinary purity and serenity. In its deeply original character, its often rigorous and logical development (especially in Rousseau and Vivin), it differs both from that practised by earlier naïve craftsmen and from children's or madmen's paintings, although it shares with them certain manners of representation and a primitive vision of things. It is wrong to consider these primitives as 'Sunday painters': by virtue of the technique they invented instinctively, they are real 'professionals' of painting.
The discovery of the naïve painters, and especially of the Neo-Primitives, was made by artists, poets and a few collectors. The importance of the Douanier Rousseau was recognized about 1905 by Apollinaire, Jarry, Picasso and Robert Delaunay, and also by the German critic Wilhelm Uhde, who discovered Séraphine in 1912. Le Corbusier and Ozenfant chiefly defended Bauchant. The public's taste for the art of these new primitives, although often attracted by the sentimental or picturesque side of their life and works, continued to increase after the great group exhibitions that took place in Paris in 1917, 1932, 1937, in Zurich in 1957, in New York in 1938, in Bern in 1949, and brought to light other primitives, French, Italian, American, German and Swiss. These painters seem to find their place in the history of modern art quite naturally: thus the Douanier Rousseau, the humble creator of a magnificent succession of pictures in which man's imagination and the world's reality miraculously coincide, appears as one of the great forerunners at the source of modern art; he takes his place not far from Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh, his contemporaries. Similarly, one could no doubt detect today profound correspondences between the instinctive or conscious experiments of contemporary painting and the individual adventure of the primitives of today (cf. the articles on Apollinaire, Bauchant, Bombois, Peyronnet Rousseau, Séraphine, Uhde and Vivin.) In the United States, in spite of the important role naïve painters and sculptors have played in the development of American art from its beginnings, it is only within recent years that there has been any great general interest in them. As was the case in France, it was the modern painter and sculptor who sensed their true artistic value and paved the way for a more widespread acceptance. Louis Eilshemius, Morris Hirshfield, John Kane and Joseph Pickett are among the best of the modern primitives. With the American public Grandma Moses holds a unique position by virtue of her considerable output, its unvarying quality, and the nearuniversal appeal of her quiet, nostalgic charm.
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