Catalogue entry

Julius Bissier 1893-1965

T00362 20. Jan. 59 Zurich 1959

Inscribed '20. Jan. 59 | Jules Bissier' t.l.
Oil tempera on batiste, overall dimensions approx. 7 7/8 x 9 1/4 (20 x 23.5); width very irregular
Purchased from Gimpel Fils (Grant-in-Aid) 1960
Prov: With Gimpel Fils, London (purchased from the artist)
Exh: Julius Bissier, Gimpel Fils, London, May 1970 (57) as '20. Jan. 59 Zürich'; Julius Bissier: 70th Year Retrospective, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, November-December 1963 (50); Arts Club of Chicago, December 1963-January 1964 (50); Detroit Institute of Arts, February-March 1964 (50); UCLA Art Galleries, Los Angeles, June-July 1964 (50); Julius Bissier (1893-1965): A Retrospective Exhibition, San Francisco Museum of Art, September-October 1968 (84); Phillips Collection, Washington, November-December 1968 (84); Carnegie Institute Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, January-February 1969 (84); Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, March-April 1969 (84); Guggenheim Museum, New York, May-June 1969 (84)

When asked about the way he worked and whether this picture was entirely abstract, the artist replied as follows (letter of April 1961): 'I think I can only say, in answer to your question about my working methods, that I am not in a position to define what abstract art really is - is not all true art fundamentally abstract? To abstract means "to take from" ...

'It will be better if I say a little about my "development." I had to follow many paths, before I came to what I now consider to be the task facing me ...

'It is a fact that at the beginning my work showed a leaning towards German mysticism, and that, after I had made my first pictures out of this world of medieval thought and belief, my work was influenced by a man who came from the East - by the Orientalist Ernst Grosse. Through him and through a twenty-year stay in his house, I moved from German to Eastern mysticism - to Zen philosophy. This was long before it became fashionable in Europe ... to be precise in the year 1918.

'All the works from the preparatory period were burnt before the war - in 1934 - in a big fire in the attic of the University at Freiburg, where I taught. Among the pictures destroyed were all the first "abstract" works, to which I had turned in the year 1929. And thus I found myself faced with the inescapable fact and knowledge (as I then thought) that all the traditional problems of representational painting could be resolved. I began thenceforth with contrasts of very simple planes and linear characters - waves and straight lines. These characters led me however at the beginning of the 'thirties into my own pictorial world ...

'At the beginning stands the hard-won personal conviction, at the end its lucid formulation. Yet all formulation is vain if it does not come from within - I might say if it has not become an expression of one's inner self.'

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.54-5, reproduced p.54