Eugene Leroy portrait, 1963

(1910-2000)

Eugène Leroy is an important French painter of the twentieth century, who lived and worked in the north of France.

Leroy painted prolifically for decades, developing his work in relative geographic and artistic isolation. In 1957, he was awarded the Emile-Othon Friesz Prize.

He was not involved in the Parisian art scene and did not have specific ties to any movement or style of the era. Perhaps as a result of this, Eugène Leroy was not commercially successful until the early 1980s. In 1983, German art dealer Michael Werner began to exhibit his work internationally under the influence of painter Georg Baselitz, who had discovered Leroy’s work in Paris during the early 1960s.

Leroy’s paintings are usually described as Expressionist or Neo-Expressionist and are mainly recognized by his use of an impressive impasto technique. Sometimes spending years on a single painting, Leroy would cover the canvas with multiple layers of paint to create a crust of colors, where the subject is almost sculpted out of the thickness of the paint.

Leroy’s work from the 1950s and 1960s demonstrates the evolution of his style from traditional representation to increasing abstraction. This perspective positions Leroy’s work, not as an outlier, but as part of the history of Expressionist painting. Historically, he could find his place between Chaim Soutine and Willem de Kooning, although his work goes beyond the traditional definition of Expressionism.

His paintings are now also being reexamined in the context of European figurative painting from the 1960s and ‘70s. British artists, such as Franck Auerbach and Leon Kossoff, and some of the early German Neo-Expressionist painters were creating works in the same artistic landscape as Eugène Leroy in France.

Eugène Leroy often referenced Rembrandt as his first inspiration for becoming an artist.His work grew from a classical background and traditional approach, challenged by his own vision and ideas of modernity. Like many artists before him, Leroy was inspired by his immediate environment: his house, the view of the garden from the windows of his workshop. He painted these scenes repeatedly during various seasons of the year. An essential aspect of Leroy’s ambition as a painter was to paint the same subjects, whether the landscape, the self-portrait, or the nude figure, and have each work offer something new.

Recognized late in life for his artistic contributions, Leroy was awarded the French Grand Prix National de la Peinture in 1996.

In 2010, ten years after Leroy’s death, the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Tourcoing, which exhibited his first museum exhibitions in 1956 and 1957, was renamed ‘MUba Eugène Leroy’ in his honor and hosts an important donation of his works in its permanent collection. The next large-scale retrospective exhibition of Eugène Leroy’s works will be held at the Musée d’Art Moderne of Paris in Spring 2022.

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