Jean Fautrier

Hostages on a Black Ground

1946, published c.1960–4

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Jean Fautrier 1898–1964
Original title
Otages fond noir
Etching on paper
Plate: 242 × 327 mm
image: 242 × 327 mm
support: 370 × 523 mm
Purchased 1985

Catalogue entry

Jean Fautrier 1897-1964

P77120 Hostages on a Black Ground 1946, pub. c.1960-4

Etching 242 x 327 (9 1/2 x 12 7/8) on laid paper 370 x 523 (14 1/2 x 20 5/8); plate-mark 242 x 327 (9 1/2 x 12 7/8); printed by Jacques David, Paris and published by Michel Couturier, Paris in an edition of 25
Inscribed ‘Fautrier' b.r., ‘VIII/XXV' b.l. and ‘Otages fond noir 1944/7' on back t.l. in another hand
Purchased from Berggruen & Cie, Paris (Grant-in-Aid) 1985
Lit: Rainer Michael Mason, Jean Fautrier: Les Estampes, Geneva 1986, p.112 no.234 repr., as ‘Otages fond noir'. Also repr: Edwin Engelberts, Jean Fautrier: Oeuvre gravé Oeuvre sculpté, Geneva 1969, no.1944/7, as ‘Otages fond noir'

The first state of this image (repr. Mason 1986, p.112 no.234) was entitled ‘Les Visages de l'Homme' 1946 and was included in Fautrier l'enragé (Paris 1949, p.15). The title of P77120 was first recorded by Engelberts. See entry for P77119 for further information regarding the titling of Fautrier's prints. P77120 was erroneously listed in the Tate Gallery Report 1984-6 as dating from 1942.

P77120, part of the Couturier edition published in the 1960s, differs principally from the earlier state in the density of the black ground and by the fact that the contours of the heads are white rather than printed black. In the first state the image is contained within an oval whereas the Couturier edition is rectangular. Mason and Engelberts state that Couturier published an edition of 50 numbered in arabic numerals on Vélin Richard de Bas and 25 on antique Japan paper numbered in Roman numerals. P77120, however, is not printed on either of these papers but on laid paper, probably machine made.

Fautrier developed the theme of the hostage during the Second World War when he was staying at the Maison de Santé in the Vallée aux Loups. His ‘hostage' paintings and sculptures were first shown at the Galerie René Drouin in Paris in 1945 and were perceived as depicting the victims of torture and war in a grand, generalised manner. André Malraux, writing the introduction to the exhibition catalogue, commented:

The art of the first Hostages is still ‘rational': mortal figures which a simplified but directly dramatic line tries to reduce to their simplest expression, - and these leaden colours, forever those of death. But gradually Fautrier suppresses the direct suggestion of blood, the complicity of the corpse. Colours free from any rational link with torture take the place of others; at the same time as the line which tries to express the drama without representing it, takes the place of ravaged profiles. There is nothing left but lips which are almost nerves; eyes which cannot see. A hieroglyph of pain (quoted in Engelberts [p.18]).

For Pierre Restany the ‘Hostage' paintings ‘express anger, fear, hatred, impotence, tenderness and human solidarity, each in its totality' (Fautrier 30 années de figuration informelle, Paris 1957 [p.6]) while Francis Ponge likens them to religious pictures which provoke ‘a (generalised) religious or metaphysical emotion, at the same time as rage and resolution' (Notes sur les Otages peintures de Fautrier, Paris 1946, p.23). He considers them to be an expression of a ‘new human resolve' of ‘human unanimity' (p.25) against horrors such as had been experienced during the Second World War. Ponge also summarises what he considers to be the subjects of the ‘hostage' paintings: ‘tumefied faces, crushed profiles, bodies stiffened by execution, dismembered, mutilated, eaten by flies' (p.26).

P77120 is reliant on simple serpentine contours to suggest the features of four heads. The textured ground, largely contained within these contours, acts as an equivalent to the thick and rough impasto of the ‘Hostage' paintings. Other related prints are ‘Otages' c.1943 (Mason 1986, p.97 nos.204-7 repr.), ‘Tête d'Otage' c.1943 (Mason 1986, p.98 no.208 repr.), ‘Les Fusillés' 1943 (Mason 1986, p.114 no.237 repr.), ‘Oradour' 1943 (Mason 1986, p.124 no.249 repr.) and ‘Les Otages' 1942 (Mason 1986, p.127 no.254 repr.).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, p.330

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