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Born in the ancient market town of Dax, not far from coastal Biarritz, in southwestern France, Léon Gischia moved to Paris in the early 1920s where he studied under the French artist Ferdinand Léger in his Montparnasse studio. Alongside artists Amédée Ozenfant and Le Corbusier, Fernand Léger was a principle exponent of the Purist movement. Purism’s unique fusion of figurative representation with vibrant Cubism would proved a lifelong influence upon the work of Leon Gischia.
As part of the International Exhibition in Paris, over the summer of 1937 Gischia collaborated with his former-teacher Léger on Le Corbusier’s radical designs for the Pavillon des Temps Nouveaux. A huge tent erected outside the main grounds of the exhibition – and described by a critic of the day as ‘the most exciting, convincing and easily remembered’ - they expressed their vision of an ‘ideal city’ of the future. Fast gaining a significant artistic reputation, Gischia was recognised by influential Parisian art dealer and publisher Jeanne Bucher and gained his first solo-exhibition in March 1938 at her Montparnasse gallery. Garnering critical acclaim, his artistic debut was followed in 1939 by an exhibition at Galerie Alfred Poyet – just north of the Élysée Palace - in Paris’ 8th arrondisement.
After the outbreak of the Second World War and the Nazi invasion in June 1940, Gischia remained in Paris and resolutely resisted the ‘degenerate’ label applied to his work. Along with other artists from the ‘underground’ avant-garde, Gischia successfully exhibited and sold his inventive work throughout the war in ‘back rooms’ at the Galerie Braun and the Galerie de France. Alongside Gischia’s poetic sensibilities and sumptuous work, his wartime stoicism would consolidate his later position as an influential voice of the ‘School of Paris’ group.
Gischia’s fruitful post-war relationship with the Galerie Billiet-Caputo – a stone’s throw from the Galerie Alfred Poyet for whom he exhibited before the war – resulted in his representing France at the 1948 Venice Biennale. This secured his international reputation and soon he was exhibiting in private galleries across the world. During the 1950s Gischia even designed costumes and sets for the Theatre National Populaire in Paris, later writing well-regarded books on sculpture and so-called ‘primitive art’.
Today his work features in public collections throughout Europe and United States and during the 1980s - before his death in Venice - Gischia enjoyed numerous internationally acclaimed retrospective exhibitions.
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