The story of Georges Bernède, born 1926, starts with Mildred Bendall (1891-1977), a rather curious Anglo-French artist who studied under Henri Matisse in Paris. Having rejected a marriage proposal from Jean-Gérard Matisse, the great Henri’s son, she returned to her family home in Monsègur, Bordeaux where she lived out her days relentlessly painting landscapes and fish in her own increasingly abstract manner. Her life seems more peculiar the more you look into it; her father, a wealthy English merchant, insisted on flying the Union Jack from their rural, post-war home in Western France; and neither Mildred nor her two elder siblings ever married or left their childhood home.
Drawing on Bendall’s training with Henri Matisse, Bernède strived towards a figurative language akin to the Cubism of André Lhote, using colour to convey space and feeling. His disregard for convention led him to Abstraction during the 1950s, showing in a number of significant provincial exhibitions. For almost 20 years between the late 60s and 1984 Bernède’s work is of a colourful, lyrical style. Later, in the mid 80s, he almost totally eschewed colour in favour of black and white streaks ornamented with hints of blues and browns. These monochrome canvases came to be his trademark.
The Advent of Abstraction in Bordeaux at Whitford Fine Art brings together the works of a true Abstractionist. Bernède’s brushstrokes summon rhythm, texture and depth from the canvas. While his works can be likened to French modern masterworks by Kline and some Soulages Bernède was never an imitator. He himself admits that others’ artistic achievements never captured his attention; his art is the result of a personal mission for pleasure and perfection. The scope of this exhibition is broader than his previous Whitford show last September which was almost entirely made up of the artist’s later black & white efforts, it is great to see the artistic progression. Works on the cusp of this late phase, like Composition 84-30 (below), show a youthful, colourful vigour and playful quality which was on the whole supplanted by two-tone calligraphic gestures in later years.
Bernède’s art belongs to the very same tradition that threw out the great continental modernists. Franz Kline was in the right place at the right time; so was Bernède – just a different one. Georges Bernède, though a living artist, is a part of the fabric of the 20th century. With proven provenance and a very competitive price range The Advent of Abstraction in Bordeaux is a must see for anyone who wants to snap up a piece of history before it’s too late.
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