Simon Hantai

Simon Hantai, “Bird”, Mixed Media on Paper, 1950

Simon Hantaï was a highly regarded, famously reclusive French painter whose work explored ideas of absence and silence — and who took those ideas so seriously that he disappeared completely from view for 15 very productive years.

Born in Hungary, Mr. Hantaï was a major figure in European art from the 1950s onward. He was known in particular for abstract, often huge canvases that crackled with bold, saturated color punctuated by unfilled areas of pure white. Their singular appearance resulted from a method of folding and tying the canvas before applying paint, a process known as pliage, which Mr. Hantaï developed in the early 1960s.

He was also known for the long, self-imposed retreat from the public arena in the 1980s and ’90s. In 1999, the magazine Art in America described this absence as stemming from “a streak of ethical obstinacy virtually unparalleled in contemporary art.” In a 1998 interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, Mr. Hantaï explained the reason for his long isolation:

“I felt that the art world was going wrong,” Mr. Hantaï said. “I was starting to receive commissions. I was being asked to paint the ceiling of the Paris Opera House. Society seemed to be preparing to paint my work for me. I could have obeyed; many, perhaps most, painters do. The prospect did not coincide with my desire.”

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