1883 - 1960
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Henry Valensi, later to achieve recognition as a champion of Effusionist or, as it is more commonly known, Musicalist art, settled in Paris in 1898. Following Bonnat’s advice, he studied in the studios of Jules Lefebvre and Tony Robert-Fleury at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. As a young man he spent the years up to World War I travelling and studying in Europe, Russia and Ukraine (Odessa, Kiev, Moscow and St Petersburg) and particularly in Turkey and Greece. In 1912 he was one of the founders of the Golden Section ( Section d’Or) group together with Marcel Duchamp, Dumont, Gleizes, Picabia and others. During World War I he was attached as a painter to General Gouraud’s staff and collected numerous documents, most of which are now housed in the War Museum in Vincennes. After the war he began to travel again, journeying frequently in Europe and Africa and exhibiting as he went. In 1932 he published the Musicalist Artists’ Manifesto ( Manifeste des Artistes Musicalistes) together with Charles Blanc-Gatti, Gustave Bourgogne and Vito Stracquadaini, and founded the Association des Artistes Musicalistes. He organised 23 Salons de Peinture Musicaliste in Paris, the first of which took place in the Galerie Renaissance in 1932. During World War II he took refuge in Algeria. Louis Vauxcelles, Georges Turpin and André Salmon devoted studies to him and his work.
Valensi’s future theories began to take shape and became apparent in his pictorial explorations when he took an active role in organising the Salon de la Section d’Or in 1912 with Jacques Villon, Marcel Duchamp, Gleizes, Picabia and Delaunay. Having dabbled in Neo-Impressionism, he emerged as a brilliant landscape artist before coming to perceive objectivity alone to be inadequate as a means of expression. It was then that he created his own means of artistic expression, for which he himself preferred the name ‘Musicalism’ in reference to Baudelaire’s sonnet Correspondances. He used a rhythmic division of the canvas like a vertical musical score, to superimpose the different sensory aspects of a single vision. The works of art of each period of history, he argued, were like tributaries oriented towards a single major art form: architecture for the Egyptians, sculpture in Greece, painting during the Renaissance, literature from the 17th century to the 19th century. According to Valensi, music was the art form that reflected the scientific dynamism of the 20th century. Art should therefore ‘musicalise’ itself and artists should integrate the principal laws of musical composition into their works: evocation, rhythm, dynamism, the use of symbolic elements, and so on.
His most characteristic works include Chopin’s Funeral March (1912); Prayer to St Sophie (1914); Attempt at a New Perspective, Based on Time and Space (1921); and Toledo, Tribute to El Greco (1927). With his concept of Effusionist or Musicalist painting, having recourse to geometrical forms bearing no relation to reality, Valensi staked a discreet but undisputed place among the second generation of Abstract artists.
He exhibited at the Salon des Orientalistes from 1905 and at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris, at which he became a regular exhibitor from 1907. He took part in all the Salons de Peinture Musicaliste which were held until 1939 in their own hall at the Salon des Indépendants. There were also Musicalist exhibitions in Prague (1936), in The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam (1937), in Budapest, Brno and Bratislava (1938) and in Limoges (1939). A Musicalist group re-formed from 1946 to 1954 at the Salon des Realités Nouvelles and Valensi later became vice-president of the Salon committee. The first retrospective of the Musicalist Salons was held in the Galerie Hexagramme in Paris in 1973. Valensi’s work was also shown at the Paris-Moscow exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris in 1979.
Solo exhibitions of his work include a first in Vichy in 1909, followed by one at the Galerie La Boétie in Paris in 1913 and an exhibition organised by Marinetti in Rome in 1923. After Valensi’s death there was an exhibition in 1963, Valensi and Musicalism ( Valensi et le Musicalisme), at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyons, and another was held in 1996 at the Galerie Patrice Trigano in Paris.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Paris (MNAM-CCI): Moscow (1912)