On the occasion of the 110th anniversary of the birth of the French artists Maurice Brianchon and Christian Caillard, the National Gallery for Foreign Art staged an exhibition devoted to their oeuvre. Twenty-two canvases by Brianchon and nineteen oil paintings by Caillard from the holdings of the Gallery were shown to the public for the first time after their thorough restoration. The two artists of the same generation belonged to the group known as the Realite Poetique, which was formed in the tense and controversial period between the two world wars. It was a time when the spirit of abstractionism determined the general trend of public taste, and artistic life in France was dominated by the formal experiments of the extreme avant-garde. Beyond the formal traditions and avant-garde excesses, beyond the fashions and the mutually contradictory manifestos, in the 1930s artists like Maurice Brianchon and Christian Caillard felt acutely the need for a new plastic order achieved through the control of reason and reflection, though not rejecting the involvement of sensibility and imagination. Although these artists were quite diverse in spirit, temperament and technique, but also in terms of public recognition, there were also many things they had in common: they were united by ties of true friendship and kept their distance from both the academicism of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the experiments of the avant-garde, and each of them championed in his own way the same, essentially French tradition, associated with such names as the Le Nain brothers, Poussin, Corot, Courbet and Derain. What allied artists like Brianchon and Christian Caillard was their common conviction that “the picture is not a laboratory experiment, but the expression of an experience stemming from the communication with nature and the life of the people”. While not denying the important achievements of their colleagues of the avant-garde, whose recent legacy they acknowledged but refused to adopt, these artists chose to remain faithful to their commitment to reality. Without seeking to attract attention because they were relying on established values and were working toward their meaningful synthesis, they aimed at revealing a profounder, though less brilliant world of their own, a world calm and faithful to everyday reality, in which the real and the created follow the path of poetic revelation. That is why their rich and original painting, treading its own paths of development, abides in a zone of calm, far from the fashions of the day, alien to the extreme theories and formulas of modern art. Reminiscent of the intimism of Edouard Vuillard, their paintings, regardless of the subject matter seen only as a pretext, offer us a pure music of colours, faintly echoing the lessons of Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse.
Aware of the uniqueness of things and their value beyond the merely visual, Brianchon and Caillard sought to invest reality with s new, unexpected plastic order, not forgetting that painting is not only “a gesture of impulse”, but also the poetic expression of a message from inner visions. Although they were painting ordinary, everyday things, they knew how to bring out their unfamiliar aspect and to show us this rich spectacle in a novel, surprising light.
The goals towards which these artists were working had nothing to do with the desire to shock or amaze the public by their skills and erudition. What they aimed at was to communicate a spiritual experience in a pictorial and plastic form and to discover a painterly language consonant with their sensibility and perception of the world. Painting itself was for them a serious creative process. Their sole wish was to remain true to themselves.
Another significant feature of the works exhibited is their marked classical tone, containing as they do elements of all that was valuable and enduring in the legacy of the past, and that entitles us to speak of an essentially traditional tendency at the core of modern art.