Henri Goetz

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by Hélène Trintignan, world expert of Henri Goetz work
From the Catalogue Raisonné Tome 1

Goetz or the Emotions of a Discover

I met Henri Goetz thanks to his paintings and to Alexandre Galperine who was one of my cousin's friends in Paris, in that year 1973. We had lunch in La Coupole and Galperine offered us to go to his flat that was only minutes away from Montparnasse. There, I utterly fell in love with a tiny painting standing on the mantelpiece: an oil on a wooden board made in 1942, with the delicate arrangement of an ancient painting and with the whole spirit of surrealism. I offered to buy it by instalments over a period of several months, for I was at the time an assistant in the Law Faculty in Montpellier, and he agreed. I took the painting away like a treasure and I remember I used to carry it about in my flat all day long not to be parted from it. It is still hung up on the wall in my sitting room. Alexandre Galperine had written, only a year before, for the Musée de Poche publishing, a text on Henri Goetz in which he described the different periods of the artist, from the portraiture period to the so-called surrealist one that lasted to the sixties.

Galperine had warned me about the great changes in Goetz's work since 1942, a period which fascinated me. Yet, I was still very eager to meet him. This was at a time when I contemplated the idea of changing courses and making a full time job of my passion for art, once I was finished with my doctoral thesis. My first visit on rue de Grenelle, in Goetz's large private studio is still engraved on my memory. A sixty-four year old man, he still had the bearing and enthusiasm of a young lad, and the same certainties. He had this gift of making people feel at ease, and after a few hours of conversation, I left with the feeling of having known him all my life. He had known how to interest me, how to make me concerned, telling me fascinating anecdotes about famous artists he had met: Bonnard, Brancusi, Hartung, Picabia, Picasso… To know Henri Goetz was to discover, on a very personal level, the History of the great painters of the twentieth century. It was also the pleasure of laughing: he had a very witty kind of humour and knew how to seduce people thanks to it.

During our first interview, he was very proud to hear about the admiration I had for his little surrealist painting, which picture I had taken with me. He immediately encouraged me with my plan to open an art gallery in Montpellier and promised he would be part of the adventure. This was done as soon as 1975, when he exhibited etchings and pastel works in the new gallery. This was the beginning of an artistic as well as personal relationship that was to last until his death in 1989.

There were odds and ends lying about his studio: pencils, brushes, pastels, unfinished paintings set on easels or lying on the floor, portfolios filled with etchings, and a multitude of ill-assorted objects he kept in order to find a use for them when the moment would come.

From his period in the Resistance, he had kept a great sense of saving up as well as a terrible disgust for wasting. He was always delighted to show us his latest invention, for he knew how to use various techniques in his work, either old ones or ones he invented. For instance, one day in the eighties, he broke a windowpane by accident but decided to keep the pieces. He passed them through a coffee mill to crush them. He then mixed the glass powder with some oil and was able to make a few paintings out of this lovely substance. I bought two of them, which I still have. Galperine rightly described Goetz in these words: "A monastic man, Goetz is searching like a Benedictine in a library, or in an apothecary shop. His palette harvests the fruition of long-lost or invented techniques: egg, casein, or wax tempera, or pastels. He makes precious and complicated glazes, he works with antiquated methods: gold or silver point engraving, cherry-tree gum... He uses up all existing etching techniques, and finally, invents a new and personal one: carborundum etching." Goetz would often go from his studio on the first floor to Christine Boumeester's which was situated under a glass roof on the second floor, by an extremely flimsy wooden flight of steps he had built himself, and which he would use with great agility.

Today, on the tenth of January 2001, I am thinking of Christine Boumeester, who died exactly thirty years ago. She had married Goetz in 1935 and was the most important person in his life: she was his wife, the one who inspired him, his partner, and certainly the painter whose work he most admired. Even if I never met Christine, I feel as if I actually did, so impregnated as he was with her and with her works. This passion led him to make several mistakes. After her death, he wanted to impose her work but he never had the diplomacy required for such a project. Yet, he realised the difficulty of the situation as he used to say: "I don't want to look like a disconsolate widower you feel compelled to please."

I remember a meeting with the representative of cultural matters in Montpellier, on the day after the preview of one of his exhibitions in my gallery. This man wanted to organise a great Christine Boumeester retrospective in the Musée Fabre. The three of us were having diner in a café and the conversation lingered on in casual talks about the abstract artists of post-war years. Goetz was bored because he only wanted Montpellier to fix a precise date for the exhibition. He brought the question in a rather abrupt way by evoking the fact that there were some projects of exhibitions in the Sarrebrück Museum as well as in the Saint-Quentin Museum and that the dates had to be fixed in advance because the paintings had to be put aside for the occasion. The man answered that he did not want the same works to be exhibited in Montpellier for the Musée Fabre wasn't the "Karsenty receptions of painting." Goetz remarked that his wife was dead, and that he could not produce new pieces for her; he turned to me and said: "Come on, Hélène, we have nothing left to do here. Christine's work can't stand a comparison with the Karsenty receptions." We left right in the middle of the meal. There never was a Boumeester exhibition in the Musée Fabre and he was very sad about it.

At an exhibition dedicated to Christine Boumeester in the Maison de la Culture in Amiens in 1973, a window had been arranged with a selection of documents and pictures related to her. There was a very large picture showing Christine and Henri, the latter holding their Dog Luc in his arms and the typed caption read: "Christine Boumeester and her dog: Henri Goetz." It was only a typing mistake but he was so amused that he begged the curator on the evening of the preview not to change the text and he took a picture of it.

These two anecdotes show two significant traits of Henri Goetz's personality: on the one hand, his tendency to laugh about something that could have offended him, and on the other hand the fact that he was uncompromising when it came to Christine's work. This reveals his deep love and admiration for her.

Hélène Trintignan