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Charles Filiger


In Charles Filiger’s (1863-1928) work, the depiction of landscape is stripped down so far as to approach abstraction. He preferred guache to oil, because its matte, smooth surface underlines the difference between a real three-dimensional landscape and a work of art. He aimed not so much to depict an actual natural scene as to strip down its elements into parts of a new visual experience.

Born into a well-to-do family in Mulhouse in the Alsace region, Charles Filiger studied painting in Paris at the Académie Colarossi and exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in 1889 and 1890. He then moved to Le Pouldu in Brittany, where he stayed with Paul Gauguin, Paul Sérusier, Meyer de Haan and Count Antoine de La Rochefoucauld, who became his patron and for ten years paid him an annuity of 1,200 francs in exchange for a percentage of his output.

The Symbolist poet, critic and playwright Alfred Jarry also admired Filiger’s work and published a laudatory review in Mercure de France in 1894. Jarry commissioned Filiger to illustrate the Symbolist magazine L’Ymagier, which he and the poet Remy de Gourmont produced for a few issues. Filiger participated in the 1892 Salon de la Rose + Croix but then retired to Brittany, where he lived in seclusion until the end of his life. His work is related to that of the Nabis in its use of heavy outlines and flat planes of colours inspired by Cloisonnism and Breton popular prints, but it stands apart for its mystical, spiritual qualities.