Auguste Herbin 1882-1960
Inscribed '"nue"' b.l. and 'herbin 1960' b.r.
Gouache, 18 7/8 x 15 (48 x 38) on card 25 x 20 (63.5 x 50.8)
Purchased from the Hanover Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1962
Prov: With Galerie Denise René, Paris (purchased from the artist); with Hanover Gallery, London
Exh: Paintings, Gouaches, Drawings, Hanover Gallery, London, May-June 1962 (10, repr.)
Repr: Cyril Barrett, Op Art (London 1970), pl.55
This picture, like all Herbin's late works, was painted according to the system which he set out in his book L'Art Non-Figuratif Non-Objectif
published in 1949; it was based on correspondences between colours, forms, letters of the alphabet and musical notes. His practice was to take the letters of a word such as 'mer', 'non' or 'midi' as his starting-point for a completely abstract composition. In the case of 'NUE' (which Denise Rene says should be translated 'nude' and not 'cloud'):
N = white any kind of form = do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si
U = blue = hemispherical forms = sol, la
E = red = spherical forms = do
Thus the colours used are blue, red and white, with the addition of black, which according to his theory can accompany any kind of form. There are four semi-circular patches of blue and a circular disc of red (plus single triangles of blue and red). His last works of 1960 also included a picture entitled 'NU', executed in blue, white and black, without any red.
This gouache was one of a series made to be reproduced in an album of 12 screenprints, which was published posthumously under the title 'Herbin', and was also used as the design for a tapestry woven at Aubusson. There is a second, later gouache still in the artist's estate from which he executed an oil painting called 'NUE', which is dated 1960 and measures 92 x 73cm (coll. Mr and Mrs Paul M. Hirschland, New York). The oil includes a broader and longer white band across the centre, a much longer vertical white band on the left (stretching almost from top to bottom of the composition), and slightly smaller circles of colour. According to Denise René, Herbin always painted one, two or three gouaches first and then the oils. However, they were never entirely similar works. He usually painted several variants of the same theme either in gouache or oils (letter of 18 July 1973).
Although Herbin died on 31 January 1960, there are various other oil paintings and gouaches dated 1960. Mme René explained: 'At that time, he was working feverishly for the preparation of an exhibition in the United States and as he only signed his paintings once they were varnished, the number of paintings signed during that month is not at all surprising. Unfortunately, on January 31st, he was struck by a heart attack and met his untimely death. The United States exhibition was, as a consequence, cancelled. The only work unsigned is an unfinished painting in black and white whose theme was constructed on the word "FIN", incredible coincidence. Now, the gouache "FIN" on the same theme is signed and very colourful.'
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.362-3, reproduced p.362