Michel Seuphor (pseudonym of Fernand-Louis Berckelaers) is one of the key figures from the art scene of the interbellum. This author, essayist, art historian and critic is one of the most reputable advocates of Abstract Art. He was at the inception of avant-garde groups and publications. In addition to his literary oeuvre, he builds a respectable career as an illustrative artist. Seuphor built a bridge between the generations with his multi-faceted activities and strove to keep the original meanings of abstract art alive.
He begins as a radical Flemish propagandist in Antwerp, but he quickly turns into an international author. Beginning in 1922, along with Jozef Peeters he leads the avant-garde journal Het Overzicht with contributions from the European pioneers of Constructivism. After a few brief stays in Paris, Seuphor leaves his hometown definitively in 1925 in order to settle in Paris. The group Cercle et Carré, which he establishes in 1929 with the painter Joaquín Torres-Garcia (1874 – 1949), brings artists from various disciplines together in order to protect Abstract Art via a journal, manifestos and exhibitions. As such, in 1930 Seuphor organises the first exhibition that is exclusively devoted to abstract art. In a short period of time, he builds up a very extensive network from the chief players of the avant-garde: from Fernand Léger (1881 – 1955) and Jean (Hans) Arp (1886 – 1966) to Jean Cocteau (1889 – 1963) and Sonia Delaunay (1885 – 1979) and Piet Mondriaan (1872 – 1944). With the latter he is very good friends. He even writes his first monograph. After WWII, a whole series of exhaustive publications on the history of abstract art follows, which are viewed as reference works in the literature on art. They were translated numerous times and reprinted and are disseminated over the whole world.
Between 1926 and 1929, Seuphor makes a number of geometrical abstract gouaches in the style of Mondriaan, though destroys most of them. Only after the 1930’s shall Seuphor devote more time to drawing. During a stay in Switzerland, his first uni-linear drawings appear. During Seuphor’s reclusive life in the Cévennes of southern France, between 1934 and 1948, his illustrative creativity is on the wane because they are overshadowed by his literary pursuits. A new impulse arises beginning in 1951 with the so-called ‘dessins à lacunes’ or ‘gap drawings’. In these pen and ink drawings horizontal straight lines dominate, which are at varying distances from each other, made with a free hand. Via interruptions in the parallel lines, blank forms appear that seem to be released from the background. They are executed in hundreds of variations. Starting in 1953, the first collage drawings appear and Seuphor begins to add colour. He creates ever larger series, followed by assemblages and ultimately applied art, with tapestries and ceramics, illustrating the evolution in which he explores the boundaries of space. Ultimately Seuphor finds a synthesis between his literary and illustrative endeavours with his ‘tableaux-poèmes’ that he shall work on until the end of his life.
Birth of Fernand-Louis Berckelaers on 10 March 1901 in Borgerhout.
1919 - 1921
Seuphor debuts as a Dutch-language writer. He founds two, small-scale Flemish youth papers: De Klauwaert and Roeland. The artist uses the pseudonym Seuphor for the first time, an anagram of Orpheus. Berckelaers/Seuphor establishes a new journal along with Geert Pynenburg (1896 – 1980): Het Overzicht.
1922 - 1923
In December, Seuphor travels along with Jozef Peeters, the new co-Director of Het Overzicht, to Berlin. These trips abroad result in a rapidly growing international avant-garde network. This is reflected by the number of foreign colleagues of Het Overzicht (including, among others: Robert Delaunay, Filippo Tomasso Marinetti, Tristan Tzara, Paul Dermée, Luigi Russolo, Wassily Kandinsky, Rudolf Belling, Albert Gleizes, Fernand Léger, Kurt Schwitters, Juan Gris, Pablo Picasso, László Moholy-Nagy, and so forth).
Het Overzicht ceases to exist in February 1925. The last edition, Cabaret, is a bundling of the numbers 22, 23 and 24 and contains Mariage filmé, Seuphors Dada-esque reportage of the marriage of his friend Paul Joostens. In March, Seuphor heads out definitively to Paris.
1926 - 1928
Seuphor makes his first abstract drawings.
In 1927, along with the writer Paul Dermée (1886 – 1951), he publishes Documents internationaux de l’esprit nouveau. Within that context he organises eleven literary evenings in the gallery Au Sacre du Printemps with important speakers such as Kurt Schwitters (1887 – 1948) and Filippo Marinetti (1876 – 1944). Seuphor exhibits work there from, among others, Ida Thal, André Kertész (1894 – 1985), though the painter-farmer Felix De Boeck, J.P. Flouquet and graphic artist Victor Delhez (1902 – 1985) also receive a place on the venue.
Collaboration with Piet Mondriaan. Together they make a ‘tableau-poème’.
At the behest of the publisher Emil Szitya (1886 – 1964), Seuphor visits a number of prominent Flemish artists in the summer and writes Un renouveau de la peinture en Belgique flamande.
Seuphor experiments extensively with photography. He makes a fifteen-count set of gouaches that strongly exhibit affinities with the work of Piet Mondriaan, of which most of them he quickly destroys.
Along with Joaquín Torres-García, Seuphor founds the constructivist artists’ group ‘Cercle et Carré’. The group exhibition takes place in April in the ‘Galerie 23’ of Paris. Amongst the 46 participating artists are Jean Arp, Kurt Schwitters, Piet Mondriaan, Wassilly Kandinsky, Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965), Joaquín Torres García, Fernand Léger and Georges Vantongerloo, inter alia. Seuphors contribution to the exhibition consists of a ‘tableau-poème’. Seuphor also performs editorial work for the publication of the three journal publications that appear under the title Cercle et Carré.
1931 - 1943
Along with the Polish writer Jan Brzekowski (1903 – 1983), he sets up the exhibition ‘Collection Internationale d’Art Nouveau’ in Łódź (Poland). Seuphor subsequently returns to the tumultuous artistic life to some extent. He begins to draw again and assembles his notes on contemporary art.
Seuphor marries Suzanne Plasse on 19 April 1934. The young couple buys a run-down house in Anduze (Gard) in the south of France that they gradually fix up.
Seuphor profiles himself expressively as anti-Fascist and anti-Communist. Later he becomes involved with the Belgian resistance in France.
In the meanwhile he begins to write his key novel on the art life in Antwerp and Paris from the 1920’s: Les evasions d’Olivier Trickmansholm.
1946 - 1949
Willem Sandberg (1897 – 1984), the Director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, invites Seuphor to work together on a large retrospective on Piet Mondriaan. At the request of Aimé Maeght (1906 – 1981), Seuphor works on L’art abstrait, ses origins, ses premiers maîtres, which is published in 1949. This marks the beginning of Seuphors career as a historiographer of Abstract Art.
1950 - 1956
In 1950, Seuphor stays successively in Holland and New York in order to prepare a legacy work on Piet Mondriaan, which shall appear in 1956 under the title, Piet Mondrian, sa vie, son oeuvre.
After a hospital stay in Paris, he makes a large series of ‘desolate’ line drawings. He makes his first ‘dessins à lacunes à traits horizontaux’ or ‘gap drawings’. Seuphor has his first successes in applied art. He designs tapestries for the Provinciehuis in Arnhem and for the Belgian government.
1957 - 1958
Hazan publishes Seuphor’s Dictionnaire de la peinture abstraite. For this occasion Seuphor then organises the exhibition ‘Cinquante ans de la peinture abstraite’ in the Creuze gallery.
Seuphor’s ‘gap drawings’ reach their zenith and are shown in Vienna and Cologne alongside work by Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber (1889 – 1943).
La sculpture de ce siècle. Dictionnaire de la sculpture moderne appears in the Swiss Neuchâtel. Seuphor makes his first ‘ensembles’. In Paris, his tapestries, drawings and collage drawings are exhibited at the Denise René gallery. In 1926 Elisabeth De Saedeleer (1902 – 1972) produces a new series of tapestries after his design in Flanders.
De Abstracte Schilderkunst in Vlaanderen is presented in the Flemish Opera in Antwerp. It becomes a standard piece on abstraction in Belgium. The initiative taker is the benefactor Maurits Naessens (1908 – 1982), the Director of the Bank of Paris and the Netherlands.
The ‘Manufacture de Sèvres’ produces two-metre tall vases after Seuphors’ design and also the ‘Manufacture nationale des Gobelins’ makes wall tapestries on the basis of his drawings. Seuphor obtains the French nationality. Les Éditions du Seuil publishes Le Style et le Cri.
In collaboration with the Belgian Mercator Foundation, the Centre Pompidou (Paris) publishes a substantial monograph on Seuphor. This monograph also then serves as a catalogue for a large retrospective in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.
Seuphor’s wife, Suzanne Plasse, dies in the Hôpital Boucicaut in Paris.
The Ludwig Museum in Koblenz organises an extensive exhibition on Seuphor’s illustrative work.
On 12 February Fernand Louis Berckelaers dies in the Hôpital Laënnec in Paris.
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