Born in the heart of Montmartre on Rue Lepic to a father who was a plumber and musician, and a mother who was an embroiderer, Eugene Paul, known as Gen Paul, was one of the greatest representatives of French Expressionism. At the age of fifteen, while an apprentice tapestry maker, he lost his father and had to start working to earn a living. The creative effervescence of Montmartre stimulated him at the same time to try painting on cigar boxes in the absence of paper or canvas. A volunteer in 1914, Gen Paul came out of World War I psychologically and physically traumatised: his right leg was amputated in 1915.
Disabled and then discharged, he returned to Paris and survived on small jobs. Mainly, though, he painted: flowers, faces, and views of Montmartre. Art became a veritable refuge for him, a means to combat his pain and escape the routine of daily life. In 1917, he sold his first works, signed Gen Paul, to a second-hand shop dealer, and drew closer to the artists of the Bateau-Lavoir, the so-called “wash-house boat”, a building where artists lived and met near Montmartre. There Juan Gris offered him brushes and old tubes of colors.
Three years later, the painter entered the Autumn Salon. By 1926, he benefited from his own exhibition at the Bing Gallery before figuring in 1928 on the poster with Picasso, Rouault, Braques, and Soutine.
Gen Paul travelled incessantly until September 1930. In his travels, he discovered Provence and the Spanish Basque country. But he also exhausted himself and gave in to alcohol which led to a serious collapse during a sojourn in Madrid. Subsequently he did not paint much in oil, but preferred gouache and drawing. His palette grew lighter and line became more evident. Official recognition came in 1934: he received the Legion of Honor and three years later, a State commission for a large fresco for the Wine Pavilion of France at the Paris International Exposition.
The artist’s favorite theme is movement. He loved horse races, bull fights, bicycle races, musicians, the circus, and permanent activity in the streets of his native Montmartre. Caught between a café terrace and multicolor houses, the little bocci ball strip near Gen Paul’s apartment reappears many times in his work, and follows the evolution of his style which developed into an expressionism of movement. In a picturesque jumble formed of tables, lamp posts, bicycles, windows, and trees, the bocci ball players concentrate on their gesture in dancing disjointed poses which are eminently calligraphic.
Our work is characteristic of Gen Paul’s last years, where his calligraphy is dominated by a broad black line which decomposes and fractures forms. Here, elements of the composition are suggested rather then outlined, remain constantly off-balance, and are traversed by rapid brushstrokes loaded with browns, light greys, and especially acidic colors, sometimes complementary, sometimes closely related. Seemingly weightless, the bodies of the players as sketched muscles in motion submit to this overall dynamic which plays with perspective and certainties.
We would like to thank the Gen Paul Committee for having confirmed the authenticity of our drawing.
General Literature (Unpublished Work)