Leopold Survage 

Leopold Survage 

Biography of Leopold Survage  ( 1879-1968 )

A French painter of Russian origin, Léopold Survage was born in Moscow on 31 July 1879, where his father was a piano maker. After leaving school, he worked with his father, then became an apprentice in a piano company in 1897. Two years later he entered the Moscow School of Fine Arts, where he studied under Constantin Korovine. During a visit to Sergei Shchukin's private collection, he was moved to discover works by Manet, Gauguin, Matisse and the Impressionists: a revelation. He quickly painted his first works and took part in various exhibitions in Moscow alongside his friends Sudeikin and Sapunov. His father ruined, Survage liquidated his business and moved to Paris with the little money he had left at the beginning of July 1908.

He attended the Académie Matisse and from 1911 exhibited colourful works inspired by Cubism, notably at the Salon des Indépendants. Introduced to the Parisian art scene by Guillaume Apollinaire, he soon became part of the Montparnasse group of painters, meeting Picasso, André Salmon and Sonia and Robert Delaunay.

In 1912, he undertook a project for an animated film, Rythmes colorés, for which he produced 200 abstract compositions that placed him among the first abstract painters and among the creators of colour cinema. Rhythm is the fundamental element of his work: "The flat surface is the domain on which images evolve. Form generates rhythm or a network of rhythms. Rhythm gives rise to a sensation of space, which in turn gives rise to an impression of duration. Rhythm is the constructive factor of a surface. It organises it and seals its unity. It is formed by the contours of the body.

At the end of the First World War, after going into exile on the Côte d'Azur, he founded the Section d'Or with Gleizes, Braque and Archipenko, an international association of artists and critics closely linked to Cubism, whose members included Lhote, Gris, de la Fresnaye, Picabia, Kupka and Marcel Duchamp. In the 1920s he took part in major exhibitions at the Galerie de l'Effort Moderne, the Galerie Weil and Léonce Rosenberg.

From 1922 onwards, Survage worked for the Ballets Russes, designing theatre sets and costumes for Stravinsky, Diaghilev and Kochno. After an exhibition in Chicago in 1927, he pursued an international career, holding numerous solo and group exhibitions abroad and in France, where he had just been naturalised. He illustrated literary works, designed fabrics for Chanel, religious compositions for Turku Cathedral in Finland and monumental panels for the Paris Arts and Techniques Exhibition, where he won a gold medal. In the 1950s and 1960s, he turned his attention to monumental painting, executing several large-scale projects: the Peace fresco at the Palais des Congrès in Liège and cartoons for the Manufacture des Gobelins. He was made an Officer of the Légion d'Honneur in 1963 for his entire career, and died of illness five years later.

Influenced by Cézanne and Matisse, and later by Cubism, Survage moved towards this artistic movement, while at the same time making it his own with the creation of "coloured rhythms". He developed a pictorial vocabulary derived from abstraction, combining schematised figurative elements with contradictory perspectives. This rhythmic symbolism illustrates his relationship with music and reflects his sensitive way of perceiving the world. During his lifetime, he was already considered one of the greatest painters of his time.

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