Born in Normandy, France on April 21, 1904, Jean Hélion is recognized as one of the leading abstract painters in Europe during the 1930’s. Hélion moved to Paris in 1921 where he worked as an architectural apprentice until deciding to become a painter in 1925. He became a member of the Groupe Art Concret in 1929 and co-founded Abstraction Creation in 1931 – an international association of artists who advocated pure abstration.
Hélion moved to the United States (New York, and Virginia) in 1936 and continued his abstract work until 1939 when (much to his admirer’s disappointment) he began to paint in a figurative style.
Hélion returned to Paris in 1940 to serve with the Armed Forces. During this time, he was taken prisoner and help captive until 1942 when he managed to escape. He published a book on his WWII experiences called “They Shall Not Have Me” in 1943.
Hélion returned to America for a short period but then went back to Paris in 1946 where he continued his work painting scenes of everyday life. When asked by a journalist about his abandonment of abstract art, he said the war was an influence on his return to figurative painting. And that “A man who has been locked up for a few years knows the value of reality”. ⑴
Jean Hélion made Paris his home until his death on October 27, 1987. Today, his works can be seen at the MOMA and other galleries in the US, as well as the Tate Gallery in London and many Museums in France.
Sources: Wikipedia, New York Times 1981, 1989, Centre Pompidou