Jacques Cordier from darkness to the light

Jacques Cordier was born in 1937

Year of the Exposition Internationale at the Petit Palais, during which, the prestigious presentation: Les Maîtres de l’art independant 1895-1937, put into the forefront, artists such as Bonnard, Matisse, Derain, Braque, Picasso, Dufy… All of whom would later become the main inspiration for Jacques Cordier who, even as a small child, was interested in painting. His solid artistic studies however, did not make him an accomplished artist. Some hard work awaited him.

Manin School

In his book of quotes, he noted this, by Baudelaire: “I fear schools like I fear cholera, and my biggest joy is to meet clearly defined individuality”. Only his technique pointed him towards this artistic current, by refining the analysis, it is shown how much, the education received, can influence this tendency. The teaching in the art schools of the 1950’s, invited artists to turn towards the profession of drawing. It was not at the Beaux Arts nor the Arts décoratifs that Cordier was trained, but at the Manin school, where he was taught by Professor Lucien Martial, an excellent teacher who he admired for the rest of his life.

his first works

In his first works, he followed the movement of the times, strong black lines in the architecture, as in “Le vieux Paris” 1958 where the solid was a necessity for the artist. The real raw and hard was interpreted by a scholar who seemed close to the artists of the post-war miserabilist movement such as Marchand, Gruber, Buffet, but Jacques Cordier did not at all, fall into the social realism.

India Inks

His first works in India Ink showed a solid training behind him, soon the drawing became calligraphy, which was rapidly followed by painting in black and white. He was fascinated by the wash drawings of the Song and Yuan.

The India Ink drawings were his first successes, he would draw urban Paris landscapes and the countryside on the river banks of the Loire, then those of the south of France that he discovered during his holidays in Nice, Antibes and Saint-Tropez.

Théâtre de l’atelier à Montmartre, 1958 

Le village en hiver, 1958 

the first paintings

Drawing comes from the spirit, but colour is the sensuality that Cordier desires, however, the road is long.
His first paintings were clear with pure lines, painted in muted colours : earth, dark greens, browns and grey blues, to depict the landscapes of the Sologne in “Le village en hiver” 1956 or the “Automne à Rousseau” 1964.

The paintings on knife

Undoubtedly under the influence of the south of France, the colours became lighter, substituting a brush for a knife, Cordier’s colours became more intense and played on the infinite subtlety of the shades that alternated from warm to cold tones. From this thick paste, the artist removed matter for the muted colours, and scraped it to create luminous highlights. He would dig and chop it until he had finished the composition. In L’entrée du port par beau temps, Antibes, 1967, the yellow, ochre and red notes compete with the whites and blues of the painting which produce a brightness that touches the eye and the heart. Whether it is the bouquets that he often painted, the beach scenes or the ports, there was always an immense love of life in Cordier’s works. Everything vibrates, everything lives, everything breathes.

Nicolas de Staël, in his last works, couldn’t hide a tragic emptiness, except in “Nus”. No more figures appeared in the paintings, the spectator was confronted with deserted landscapes or inanimated objects. “The artist was on a quest for pure emptiness, this is the state that the artist was reaching for” wrote Yang Wu, “only when he apprehends it in his heart, can he achieve it.”

On the other hand, Cordier portrayed an animated world and even if he seemed to follow, ten years after Staël, the same artistic approach, the knife and the thick paste, opened real possibilities. “La Plage” 1968, shows a vast sandy beach with a completely empty sky, but the presence of a fishing boat and two vaguely sketched parasols suggest, that maybe behind them, there may be a noisy world, the cries of children playing games and lazy bodies tanning in the sun. In the painting “Les pointus” 1969, brightly coloured hulls of the fishing boats reflecting in the sea, reds, yellows and greens. The artist suggests movement, energy, vitality.

Watercolours and oils

During the 1970’s, Cordier mainly worked in water colours and if he painted with oils, he made them fluid, light, transparent. Water colours became his language, the only one capable of delivering this translucent fluidity that resembles sequences of dreams. Also the only one that allowed him the tone of veiled confidence that suited the ephemeral nature of his visions. Impalpable painting from a rich range of precious colours. The landscape no longer exists as the subject, it is a pretext for a pure research of rhythms, of light within reflections, of transparencies and of enchantment. From then on, he no longer needed to describe exactly what one could see. More allusive than real, the paintings speak of the indescribable, of which the artist knows, is the only passage between two universes. A novice may mistake the “Venice” series with that of “Menines”, because the abstract is there in name, but the figuration disturbs the terribly real. As if Cordier, during this period, succeeded in capturing an instant in no time at all. Mahé Lebreton reminds us, “he has the unusual talent of seeing what escapes most regards, things that last only moments, the evenings and the mornings, the silence and the wind. He wants to perpetuate the dazzling of a light and quickly paint the truth of an instant”. The works of this last period, show that he is not a part of any movement, he is in no classification. He has achieved maturity.
Alone and is an artist. The object of his painting is full of personal energy and of his vision. He could not have worked with a Master, it would have been, as he himself said, “losing my own values, my natural inspiration. I still have much to learn, but I will learn alone”.
Intuitive and spontaneous, he would seize the essence of the object and paint the quintessence for us. In Venice, for example, he is in no way looking to present the picturesque. He takes the characteristic elements and none of the accessories. Each detail offers the spectator a vision of birth, issued from the union of the earth, the sky and the water. Death took the artist far too soon. He had only just begun to open up to being the person he’d always wanted to be : a painter who is difficult to ignore thanks to his pictorial qualities of reason, sensitivity and strength.

Jean-Paul Monery
Honorary heritage curator