On the occasion of the exhibition Jean Painlevé: Le pieds dans l’eau at the Jeu de Paume from June 8 – September 18, 2022 Gitterman Gallery is presenting an online exhibition as a tribute to Jean Painlevé.
Painlevé was a French filmmaker and photographer whose work was innovative, both in its scientific exploration and its artistic expression. His underwater imagery of sea creatures helped expand the visual vocabulary of the Surrealists and his films were formative in avant-garde cinema. Though Painlevé’s anti-authoritarian nature kept him from joining André Breton and becoming a Surrealist, his work was included in many of their publications and exhibitions. He took part in several Resistance networks during WWII and formed and held positions in numerous organizations to benefit French Cinema throughout his career.
His mother, Julie Marie Marguerite Petit de Villeneuve, died six weeks after Jean’s birth and thus Jean was raised by his father, Paul Painlevé, and his father’s widowed sister. Paul Painlevé was a distinguished mathematician and statesman who served twice as Prime Minister of France. Jean summered as a child with his maternal grandmother on the Southern coast of Brittany with his cousin Pierre Naville (the future editor and writer of the journal La Revolution Surréaliste). It was during these holidays that Jean developed a lifelong fascination with the sea and started photographing.
While initially studying medicine at Sorbonne University, he befriended Jacques-André Boiffard. Boiffard went on to join the Surrealists while Painlevé went on to study zoology and comparative anatomy. In the 1920s, Painlevé fell in love with Geneviève Hamon, who also became his closest collaborator and whose family home was the site of gatherings of many of the avant-garde of Paris. Their circle included avant-garde artists and writers such as Boiffard, Alexander and Louisa Calder, Robert Desnos, Max Jacob, Renée Jacobi, the Fernand Léger, Éli Lotar, Man Ray, Prévert brothers, André Raymond, Chaïm Soutine, and others.
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