Jeunes filles dans une basse-cour, ou Le Dindon signed 'Andre Masson' (lower left) oil on canvas 116 x 89cm (45 11/16 x 35 1/16in). Painted in 1947
PROVENANCE Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris. Madame Charles Pomaret (acquired from the above, 1948). Acquired from the above by the father of the present owner circa early 1970s.
EXHIBITED Berlin, Akademie der Künste, André Masson, 3 - 24 May 1964. Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, André Masson, 12 June - 19 July 1964. Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne, André Masson, March - May 1965, no. 50. Marseille, Musée Cantini, André Masson, 1968, no. 43 (incorrectly titled Femmes dans la Basse Cour) Künzelsau, Museum Würth, André Masson: a mythology of nature, 18 September 2004 - 30 January 2005. Paris, Musée de La Poste, Le Bestiaire d'André Masson, 6 April - 5 September 2009.
LITERATURE W. Spies, D. Ottinger and L. Ybarra, André Masson: a mythology of nature, exh. cat., Museum Würth, Künzelsau, 2004, p. 76 (illustrated). J. Rasle, Le Bestiaire d'André Masson, exh. cat., Musée de la Poste, Paris, 2009 p. 70 (illustrated on the front cover and p. 71).
This work is sold with a photo-certificate of authenticity from the Comité Masson and will be included in their forthcoming catalogue raisonné under the archive number CAM1965.
Jeunes filles dans une basse-cour stands at an important turning point in Masson's artistic trajectory. Motivated by the same themes that had animated his earlier work, this painting also demonstrates an indication of the influence he would exert on a younger generation of artists, notably Jackson Pollock and the New York Abstract Expressionists.
Masson's work was primarily informed by his experiences in the trenches of the First World War, and by the brutal realities of extreme violence which he had witnessed there at first hand. This connection with the deepest elements of human behaviour led him to explore the possibilities of the subconscious mind through automatic drawing, a process which naturally led him to the Surrealists. His relationship with the group was always loose however as he had natural distrust of the dogmatic, preferring instead to explore ways of expressing the violent, chaotic and erotic urges of the human condition beyond consciousness and reason. It was this tendency in his work which would inspire the group of American artists who would later become the Abstract Expressionists. Having been raised a social context familiar with Jungian and Freudian psychoanalysis, these younger painters recognised the unfettered expression of the subconscious drives which proliferated throughout Masson's work.
Following the Fall of France in 1940 Masson escaped to Martinique, where he joined André Breton before travelling on to New York. He spent the war years in America, initially allying himself with the Surrealist group around Breton but increasingly charting his own path through this new environment. The years in America were very productive, and he clearly drew inspiration from this fresh territory to explore deeply personal and existential themes. At the same time Masson also formed closed friendships with a group of prolific younger artists including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Arshile Gorky, his near neighbour in rural Connecticut.
It was during this period that Masson became drawn powerfully to Nature both in representational and symbolic terms. As Gorky declared, in a statement that could equally have come from Masson, 'I do not paint in front of nature but within nature'. Jeunes filles dans une basse-cour draws heavily on the influences cultivated during the American period. Clark V. Poling, discussing Masson's masterpiece of these years Meditation sur un feuille de chêne (1942; New York, Museum of Modern Art), but in comments that could be applied to the present work, notes that 'the flattening of the pictorial space helps create the effect of closeness and merges with the natural environment.'(C.V. Poling, André Masson and the Surrealist Self, London, 2008, p. 150). Conveyed through a matrix of line and tone, both paintings reference figuration and form from the natural world. This imagery appears to emerge as if summoned from our subconscious only to submerge again beneath the surface of formal abstraction.
Materialising from the storm of sweeping calligraphic lines stands the turkey, dominating the picture space of Jeunes filles dans une basse-cour. The crimson of his wattle pierces the centre of the canvas providing a flash of strident colour amidst a torrent of earthy tones. Swirling around this potent symbol are the three young women, reduced to their essential elements by a flurry of expressive stokes. In its visual cacophony of figuration and form, the painting alludes to the instinctive animal drives which characterise the relationship between the sexes.
Masson returned to France in October 1945, initially settling near Poitiers. In the period leading up to Jeunes filles dans une basse-cour in 1947 he experienced a dramatic burst of creativity, notable for a return to something near the automatism of the 1920s. However he prevents the compositions from dissolving into complete abstraction by continuing to maintain an engagement with the theme of nature that he had explored in his American work. While basing his imagery on direct observation he would seek simultaneously to find within the subject matter echoes of his own subconscious. As he declared, 'between the painter and nature a relationship forms that is unknown to reason' (quoted in W. Spies et al., op. cit., p. 23).
As Michel Leiris noted of his mentor, 'Mason's work is a series of periods of exploration. Sometimes involving closely defined biomorphic images, his work is characterised by extreme speed of execution and complex personal imagery' (M. Leiris and G. Limbour, André Masson et son univers, Geneva and Paris, 1947, p. 118).