Germaine Richier (1902-1959) is an extraordinary sculptor, forgotten and yet important. She died early, at age 57. She had no merchant. Her work is unclassifiable and she was a woman: four reasons that certainly justify the amnesia she suffered. The wrong has now been repaired thanks to an excellent exhibition at the Center Pompidou in nearly 200 works orchestrated by the curator Ariane Coulondre.

The Provençal-born artist will develop a fantastic world filled with strange half-human, half-animal beings. She was said to be very superstitious and we can understand this by visiting this bestiary populated by an army born from the imagination of this “witch” of sculpture. It is difficult to relate the verve of the one who spoke of her creations as her “children in plaster” to any of her predecessors.

Admittedly, Antoine Bourdelle, her master, gave her the necessary confidence to develop her style and from Rodin, she drew a taste for non-smooth materials and deliberately unfinished forms. But Germaine Richier is where you least expect her, giving birth to singular stories from her own science fiction. However, as Ariane Coulondre explains, “she always starts from reality by taking living models” whose forms she kneads, grinds and mistreats as if to exorcise trauma.

Polychrome bronzes

Already his “Armadillo” of 1933-1934 announces the sequel: a head like a shell whose face bears an infinity of fingerprints. The Berger des Landes from 1957 has a dented skull, a damaged bust and three stilts for a leg. With her, “The Walking Man” is not, as with Rodin, a headless man projecting himself into movement or, as with Giacometti, the freeze frame of a slender figure. Should we see a reason, but it is at the end of the war, that she produced this disturbing character, with his small head, a massive and neat body.

The woman is no better off. Even his “Grasshopper” in 1944, but above all his “Mante”, in 1946, a crouching insect woman armed with predatory claws. There is no quest for grace or formal beauty in Richier. She produces her six-headed horses like her butchered bat, by tearing and shredding matter. However, in 1959, a small miracle happened: she began to paint her polychrome bronzes. His “Couple” composed of slender shapes with hands all joined announces a new verve that will not have time to blossom. Just when she seems to have killed her demons, Germaine Richier dies of cancer. It’s the end of the exhibition.

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