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Let's forget for a moment the works of Pierre Soulages (1919-2022), which are so often contrasted with those of André Marfaing (1925-1987), on the pretext that both were abstract, contemporary works that favoured black and white. In 1980, Soulages devoted himself until his death to the black monochrome (the famous "outrenoir"), which brought him great renown, but which is the opposite of a painting by Marfaing: while one reflects the light from outside, the other makes this light spring from the heart of the painting. Both could have benefited from the same success, but the art world, especially the commercial world, does not like rivalries with uncertain fates and preferred to bet on the winner, excluding one. André Marfaing got off to a good start when he represented France (along with Poliakoff, Manessier, Messagier and James Guitet, the most forgotten of the four) at the Venice Biennale in 1962. The paintings currently on show at the Galerie Claude-Bernard (where Marfaing was exhibiting at the time) date from this period and testify to the painter's extraordinary talent, particularly as a colourist, which might seem surprising at first sight. For colours are not just black and white. Dozens of shades of grey appear, from the lightest to the most anthracite, from the most obvious to the most subtle, from the most neutral to the most colourful: blues, violets, greens, yellows, etc.

Originally, monochrome shades of grey (or beige) were described as grisaille, among the most famous are the Vices and Virtues painted by Giotto in the Scrovegni chapel in Padua in the early 14th century. Then grisaille became a genre in its own right. Picasso used it as early as 1907 for his studies for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (there are two very fine examples in the exhibition devoted to Gertrude Stein and Picasso).

"Gertrude Stein et Picasso" at the Musée du Luxembourg), later for many nudes (Nu couché à la couronne de fleurs, 1970) and, of course, to intensify the dramatic aspect of the scene, for the immense Guernica (1937). In André Marfaing's art, greyness is a producer of light. 

Let's call it chiaroscuro, a word used in painting to describe the contrast between light and dark. In Marfaing's work, this often very violent contrast between delicate and powerful tones creates strong, sometimes even dazzling light. They are then in tune with the expressionist gesture, giving the painting a frantic movement as if, there, as in Genesis, the light was born out of chaos. There is undoubtedly something mythological in Marfaing's painting, a representation of the birth of the world perhaps, what emerges from the chaos, what organises itself, what takes on meaning: life. 

Over the following decades, this mysticism was to become clearer. André Marfaing gradually eliminated expressionism,

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André Marfaing, 

Untitled, 1967.

abandons greyness in favour of black and white, with the occasional hint of blue and, more rarely, a discreet violet veil or the ochre of a past gesture. The composition becomes simpler, flirting with geometry without having the rigour of it. It can be a simple white line on a black background, a Barnett Newman-style zip, just a luminous sensation. Torment has been succeeded by a spirituality characterised by the austerity of the compositions and the radicality of the chromaticism reduced to black and white. This is a purified style of painting, less spectacular and less seductive than that of the 1960s, more interior, secretive, meditative perhaps - the culmination of a path marked by the exacting standards and sincerity of one of France's great abstract painters.

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