ANDRÉ HAMBOURG (1909 – 1999) During their lifetime few artists attain the international acclaim which has been accorded to André Hambourg, the distinguished laureate of French contemporary art. His paintings hang in more than fifty museums in France and other countries, and private collectors from all parts of the world have acquired his luminous marines and beach scenes, his poetic compositions of Venice, his landscapes and still lifes – works which brilliantly transcend the art of Impressionism. His name and paintings are synonymous with the highest standards of French art.
Hambourg is that rare creative talent, a complete artist. Apart from his oils, pastels, watercolors and drawings, he has developed an enviable reputatio in the fields of lithography, engravings, ceramics, mural decorations and illustrations for deluxe editions of books by such important authors as Saint-Exupéry, George Duhamel, Sully Prudhomme, Henri de Regnier, Henry de Montherlant, Joseph Kessel and many others. Year after year, his one-man shows in Paris, Honfleur, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Brussels, London, North Africa and in the Wally Findlay Galleries in New York, Chicago, Palm Beach and Beverly Hills, have added to both his fame and stature in the art world.
One of France’s most honored artists, Hambourg received his country’s highest tribute in 1951 – the Cross of the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor – presented to him by Vincent Auriol, President of the French Republic, at a reception in his honor at the Elysée Palace. In 1961, he was made an Officer of the Legion of Honor by André Malraux. Among an impressive list of awards and honors, he also holds the Croix de Guerre which he received for his wartime services from 1939 to 1945, and another tribute of particular distinction – the 1961 Grande Médaille de Vermeil of the City of Paris.
Hambourg was born in Paris in 1909. He began his career in the arts at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs where he studied sculpture in the studio of Niclausse. In 1927, he enrolled in the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts as a student of painting with Lucien Simon. Zbrowski, Modigliani and Soutine’s dealer, introduced him to Henri Bénézit, who presented Hamburg’s first important one-man show in Paris in 1928. Hambourg was only nineteen years old at the time. He then became active in the important Paris Salons.
With his friends Francis Grüber, Brabo, Launois, Garbell, he participated in the art movement of Montparnasse. Derain, Friesz and Kisling encouraged him. In 1930, he had his second one-man show in Paris, and in 1931 his increasing prominence was indicated by his being made a member of the Committee of the Salon de l’Art Français Indépendant and the Salon de l’Oeuvre Unique. His third one-man show in Paris in 1932 could be termed the final phase of his early work. One thinks of Hambourg as a sensitive interpreter of the Normandy coastline or of Venetian canals, but to achieve this distinction his life and work have passed through many formative stages.
In 1933, Hambourg received the first honor of his developing career. He was awarded the Prix de la Villa Abd-el-Tif and, as a result, he went to North Africa for the first time. There he became aware of the importance and power of light, that myriad brightness, that intangible luminous quality through which strange shapes merge into a haze. Against this shock of brilliant sunlight, he found that poverty stood out in all its bleakness, and this he recorded on canvas. From 1933 to 1935, he painted in the southern region of Algeria and had one-man shows in Paris, Algeria and Oran.
Following his military service in 1936, Hambourg executed a large mural for the Algerian Pavilion at the 1937 Exposition Internationale of Paris, an achievement for which he was made a Laureate of the Exposition. Through 1939, he was occupied with painting in Morocco and at that time exhibited eighty paintings in a one-man show at the Musée d’Outre-Mer in Paris, as well as having exhibitions in North Africa.
While in North Africa in 1939, he was mobilized as a military reporter and artist for the Free French Forces, working on the staff of the Journal du Commissariat à la Guerre. Special missions on combat vessels led to his appointment as a war correspondent in 1944 with the staff of inter-allied SHAEF. In this capacity he participated in the campaigns of France, the Atlantic Front, Alsace and Germany. As a result of these experiences he wrote and illustrated two books which appeared in 1947: Berchtesgaden-Party and D’Alger à Berchtesgaden. In 1944, he also became the first French delegate to the “Four Arts Aid Society” and for his contributions to French artists at the time of the liberation of France, he was made a Chevalier of the Ordre de la Santé Publique.
Hambourg’s adventuresome career in the French Army and Navy resulted in his receiving not only the Croix de Guerre, but also the honor of Laureate of the Salon de la Marine, Honorary Painter of the Army and Official Painter of the Marine Ministry.
In 1946, Hambourg resumed his painting career. From that year on his unremitting work and a succession of exhibitions in France and in other countries demonstrated his ever-increasing, absolute search for movement and light. He had spent many years until then working in monotones and mutations of light. Now, however, he began moving towards a perception of color by means of pastel, and in 1957, he made his first trip to Venice where the transition reached its completion. A year later an exhibition of his paintings of Venice was held in Paris. The movement, the color and the vibrancy of Venice came to life in these works.
Through the 1960’s Hambourg traveled extensively, visiting London for a one-man show, going to Morocco where he illustrated La Rose de Sable by Henry de Montherlant; to Lebanon and Turkey on the cruiser Colbert, sponsored by the French Ministry of Marine; to Venice where he sketched and painted. During the summer of 1964, Trouville-sur-Mer honored Hambourg with the first highly important retrospective exhibition of his work covering the years from 1927 to 1964.
In 1967 Hambourg made his first trip to Israel and his stay in Jerusalem had a lasting influence upon him. While there he illustrated Terre d’Amour et de Feu by Joseph Kessel. When he returned to France, an exhibition of his illustrations for La Rose de Sable was presented first in Paris and later in Toulouse.
In 1970, his far-reaching travels took him to Israel with a return visit to Jerusalem; Russia, with visits to Moscow and Leningrad; Scotland; the Ivory Coast of Africa, where he spent the major part of his time in Abidjan and Senegal. In addition to another one-man show in Paris, he had an extremely important retrospective exhibition. Five hundred of his works formed the prestigious exhibition at the Maison de Culture in Bourges.
In 1971, he again traveled to the Ivory Coast, and in 1972, went to the United States, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. In the United States he had a one-man show at Wally Findlay Galleries in Palm Beach. That same year he received a special honor – that of being chosen to paint a monumental mural for the Audience Chamber of the new European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. In January, 1973 this panoramic work was unveiled at an opening ceremony in the Hôtel de Ville attended by the President of Luxembourg, Robert Lecourt, and the Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg.
Early in his career, Hambourg became active in the Paris Salons, starting with his first exhibition at the Salon de Tuileries in 1929 and followed by the Salon des Indépendants, the Salon d’Automne, les Peintres Témoins de leur Temps, the Salon du Dessin, the Salon de la Peinture à l’Eur and the Salon des Terres Latines. In 1962, a documentary film was made about his life and work titled André Hambourg, the Painter. He has also been the subject of two books: Hambourg by Michel Droit, and André Hambourg by André Flament, with a preface by Raymond Cogniat. So many of France’s most qualified art critics have evaluated and praised the art of André Hambourg that even a partial list of their names constitutes a galaxy: Germain Bazin, Maximilien Gauthier, Max Pol Fouchet, Waldemar George, Raymond Cogniat, Pierre Descargues, André Warnod, Jean-Paul Crespelle, Raymond Charmet, Marcel Mithois, Dr. C. Lévêque, Guy Dornand, Jacqueline Colliex, René Barotte.
To appreciate Hambourg’s art one must understand its development and its transitions from the youthful dark canvass, the scenes of conflict and the sudden perception of light, to landscapes in which the mind can rest in beauty, in fantasies freed from constraint. In all his wide-ranging travels, Hambourg carries his own artistic ambiance with him. Venice, Paris, Honfleur and even London have the same spiritual and artistic climate for Hambourg. Color assumes the same importance and proportion, and the muted light, so unlike that of North Africa or the Mediterranean, accentuates its impact and detail. With this change of emphasis his scenes differ from his earlier paintings, not in sensitivity, but rather in perception and aim. It is the transient, the immense universal mutability of world and sky to which he unceasingly returns.
Normandy and Venice reflect this dramatic change. He transforms these scenes on canvas into a spontaneous world; the least touch of color is a suggestion rather than a form. A painter of atmosphere, he owes to an almost rustic knowledge of the elements that certainty which characterizes his work, which enables him to harmonize the tree with its reflection in the water, the ship with the sea, the human figure with the sand. Everything is alive, not only the surging crowds on a beach, but the water, the sands and, above all, the skies which change the atmosphere form one canvas to another. The relationship of the sea and the sky, the winds and the waves are poetic statements. The air moves freely above his clouds; one senses not only the movement but also the wind, almost the very temperature. If Boudin and Jongkind have a successor, the lone contender is Hambourg.
Life in all its guises has always been the overriding passion of Hambourg’s work. In the development of his art, perhaps it is not life that has changed but his apprehension of it so that, from being the painter of its sorrow he is now the painter of its joy, its dynamism, its constantly renewed creation. He catches the color of the particular transient moment, held and magnified in a dynamic mutability. By means of his own reactions to life and the spontaneity of human contact he relays to the world what the world expects from the artist – the possibility of renaissance.