« L'œuvre de Françoise André fait preuve d'un élan créatif qui s'inscrit dans la lignée des grands classiques, mais transposée par la vision intérieure de l'artiste qui se distancie de toute tendance pour mieux exprimer sa propre réflexion. »


Chef de Département de l'Art Moderne au Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Bruxelles.


Te the Canadians of the West Coast as well as te the Americans from Chicago or Philadelphia, Françoise André’s name brings a certain image te mind. In Belgium, however, as it was developed outside our range of vision, this image is yet to be discovered.

Through her urge te constantly deepen her knowledge of man by going to new, both civilized and almost deserted, régions, Françoise André has refrained from associating her name and paintings with one particular town or country.

What sine wanted to be was not the witness of one région, but that of our Western civilization which, as it embraces both Europe and North America, has compelled man to conquer the distances of space and time. As he explores the universe, man comes across the most diverging geographic environments and climates. He comes up against the obsessing presence of the past on this planet, yet wonders why there is no life on others. It is not this civilization Françoise André wants te paint though, but the perception, the inner life of he who undergoes and builds it.

A contemporary artistic activity of this kind (which started 40 years ago) cannot possibly have merged into the global perspective of art history. What the art historian can do, however, is try to reveal its profound veins.

The present exhibition is an attempt at gathering paintings that were created and scattered on either side of the Atlantic. The future will, no doubt, see to realize others.

PICTURAL FOUNDATIONS AND CONSCIENCE (1926-1951) The désire te become a painter took shape at the sight of the Ghent Altarpiece of the Mystic Lamb of the Van Eyck brothers at the Cathedral St. Bavon.

Françoise André was five at the time. She remembers exactly what appealed to her in the masterpiece: the enormous impact of its clear composition, the magic of its order and extravagant poetry as well as the authority of its undeniable beauty (1). It was this initial shock which made her paint her first works. At the age of about ten, convinced of the fact that the masters of the past could help her carry the mysterious task of detecting harmony in the overwhelming chaos of reality, Françoise André decided te copy Vinci, Raphaël, Michel-Angelo, Van Dijck, Rembrandt, Delacroix ... Above all, Ingres answered to her aspiration to order by the clearness of his line.

Those first steps into the world of painting, as well as her entire ceuvre in fact, were surrounded by a musical and literary atmosphere. Bach, Brahms, Franck, Debussy, Ravel and Honegger were the adulated composers of a family the genealogy of which contained Tardieu, Hortemels, Talleyrand, Gounod and, doser, the hellenist and collecter Alphonse Willems.

The heavy explosions of the war, as it lay bare man’s fragility, would soon darken the artist’s sensitivity. The spectacle of hatred and cruelty, the climate of misery, added sinister hues to Françoise André’s palette, who had just started studying at the

Brussels Royal Academy of Fine Arts. An echo of the Flemish expressionists filled her paintings of that period: the same love of paste, the same dense emotions as Permeke’s.

Another destruction, an idealogical one this time, was to appear after the war. A group of Belgian «avant-garde» contemporaries of Françoise André v.iere proudly and openly proclaiming their disdain of tradition, of the masters and techniques of the past. Yet this very respect was, and would remain, the basis of the young painter’s creations.

As a conséquence of this différence in opinions she stepped above from the dominating artistic trend for the very first time. During the animated discussions the artists had on this subject, she discovered one ally though : Jan Cox, who, even more than sine did, had showed a profound admiration for, as well as a forever expanding knowledge of classical - both musical and poetic - culture.

After she had perfected her sense of composition for one more year at Marcel Gromaire’s workshop, Françoise André knew there was another dimension she had yet to discover. She had indeed been using the space of the Renaissance in her previous creations, a space man delimited with his own parameters. But how te explain and render what had carried her away in the space of the Van Eyck’s retable, that was divine and mystic?

In the artist’s mind these two concepts of perspective were fighting: that of the Renaissance, on the one hand, in which there was no acces for Van Eyck’s mysterious spirituality, and that of the gothic, on the other, where the power of man could net yet insert itself.

In her attempt to solve the conflict, the artist went to Chartres, te study Gothic Art and the way in which it visualized a mystical idéal into architecture. In the choir of the cathedral she met a man who would play a decisive part in her entire further evolution : the American painter Morris Graves, who gave her one of the keys of the problem of representing space.

Morris Graves, who had been living on the West Coast, had experienced the Buddhist and Zen philosophies and was using the Chinese and Japanese methods and techniques. He insisted on totally mastering his subjects mentally before liberating them physically and manifested an enormous respect for the materials and tools he used in doing so.

The cathedral was examined in all its aspects. Morris Graves himself made no drawings of it. But, looking at the crows wheeling around from the flying buttresses, he said : I am going to paint these crows here, and I will paint those of the Pacific and the cathedral will be in between (2).

This approach was a second revelation for Françoise André and made her want to deepen Oriental mysticism in North America. This new conviction was supported by Jan Cox thoughts during a visit in Versailles: Europe is ail screwed up, it’s too old, it’s ail gone, we must forge ahead ... (3)

From then on Françoise André’s artistic exigences were those of quality, and respect for art in all its spiritual and technical components.

The scale of pictural space, however, remained yet te be discovered.

A year later, in 1950, Françoise André arrived in Canada. By 1952 she had settled down in Vancouver.


The West Coast meant a lush végétation which stood for wilc liberty. A constant humidity dissolved the outlines of every shape. Having crossed Canada ail the way te the Pacific had awaken new reflections. Man on this new continent was prey ~ unknown dangers in the domesticated rural areas and cities c­Europe. Spaces immensity and the nature undisputed reign were strangely related to American cities’ urban jungle like Ne. York, where man felt engulfed by an unexplored macrocosm that landed him into some sort of time’s prehistory.

In Vancouver, the lyric abstraction of artists like M. Tobey or M. Rothko mingled with the Pacific School’s painting, impregnated with the Oriental philosophy, and with Jackson Pollock’s New York abstract expressionism.

At first, Françoise André’s work was still inspired by the melancholy of Jan Cox, who had also moved to America, as well as by the mystical poetry of Morris Graves, whom she had found back in Seattle. After which the artistic and natural environment slowly began to impose its style on her, that of an ardent calligraphy.

Françoise André did not give up representing man, however. The challenge consisted in situating, defining him formally as well as in an inextricable végétation as, amongst the graphic jungle of abstract espressionism.

To meet this challenge, Françoise André played the game of analogies. She linked the three universes by what forms they had in common and thus came to the conclusion they were all three subject to the same order: that of life and the increasing rate at which its models for a microcosm and a macrocosm were being repeated. In drawing fern shooths and tiny rock, fragments she unveiled an underlying structure in which, much to her joy, she discovered the configuration and rythm of the Canadian and American landscapes seen from the air, but also, what a surprise, those of the pleats of Van Eyck’s drapings.

Having always had to find appropriate proportions for the visible, she now also had to apply certain proportions in her paintings to be able to transcribe her vision and to control the ardent movement of her hand. The use of square patterns before applying gold leaf, a technique she had learnt from M. Graves, imposed itself and would be used until the seventies. This chequering of the surface also referred to the layout of the cities of this new continent, which she gradually understood better and the intense urban life in which she wanted to penetrate more and more.

Around the late fifties art started paying timid attention to the human figure, after which man began to occupy an increasingly distinct place in the arts. In 1960 the New York Museum of Modern Art organized an exhibition about this trend, called NEW IMAGES OF MAN. Françoise André took part in a preparatory exhibition for it.

She had indeed come to a new representation of man : by no means a lifelike one, but one that looked more like a fragile, crumbly, transparent rock, the quadrangular profiles of the head and chest of which were clearly visible and with tissues that could well have been those of a mineral or végétal structure. When he was show as part of a couple, the différence between man and woman was clearly visible though : he, more rigid and squat, looked more like a rock, whereas she, in oblique and slightly curved lines, resembled a plant more. During her stay in Vancouver, Françoise André’s work expressed the confusion of man facing unknown spaces as well as what preoccupies him all withdrawn within himself. The prevailing themes were those of man in space, of the couple and at last that of the artist and his creative urge, as it is symboloized in the figures of the Kings, Prophets and various Guardians (combattants­

adventurers), wearing armours to protect their too délicate sensitivity). Aside of this original and imaginative work, a bit like its nourishing, came the inspiration for the portraits. In those the artist was indeed able to question her contemporaries and to grasp every détail of the more universal features of man. However these portraits would never allow the evolution of her pictural language.

The increasing importance of the human figure in her compositions made Françoise André leave the West Coast as well as the superb studio J. Massey and A. Erikson had designed for her, to go and live in the heart of a city of intense activity. The city being Chicago, the year 1963.


In Chicago the paintings were built on shock, violence and intensity.

Its inhabitants were screaming their survival amidst concrete and dust, greynesses which have been rendered so well by R. Guinan. Chicago looked colourless almost, only the sky - loaded with electricity and smog - contained acid shades of greens, oranges and mauves. Everything was contrast and hardness in this part of the USA where the cold was as biting as the destructive tornadoes. Chicago is the essence of America... in all its strength, violence and honesty... because the culture that reaches it is stopped by New York and Philadelphia, if is intrinsic and slightly monstruous, it accumulates and is extremely rough... of which Golub must have been one of the best witnesses (4), F. André says.

In a first phase the Vancouver style was still visible in the paintings (the last couples, for example, which she walled in the gilded portico of a city). After which, in the same way as R. Rauschenberg had freed himself from the New York gang of abstract expressionism, Françoise André let man redefine himself once again, surrounding him by a series of illustrative références.

But then Chicago started imposing its syntaxis. Was it Chicago alone, or was it also the era, that of pop and op art? Both indeniably, since in the sixties, American pop art was asserting itself with the names of J. Cage, Christo, R. Indiana, R. Lichtenstein, J. Rosenquist, G. Segal, A. Warhol, all of whom were well known at the Chicago ART INSTITUTE as W2I1 as at the cabaret of SECOND CITY.

The painters no longer hesitated to represent man. Which they did in the same caustic, ironic and alluring way as they represented the produics of the consumer society; a technique that was inspired on the formalism and visual clearness of the poster.

Françoise André could have stopped at that toc. She did, of course, based her work on photographs and magazine illustrations, like all the others. But to her these were but images she enriched with the various studies and sketches of attitudes and movements realised from life the summer at Cape Cod, where she would join Jan Cox again.

To her, man was no form that could be manipulated at will like a product. No, man, then, was the inhabitant of Chicago: from the poor working-class neighbourhoods or from Winnetka with its gilded palaces, the people who were fighting to eat as well as those who died assassinated (the first event in Chicago she witnessed was that of the assassination of her art dealer, Joachim) ..., blacks and whites, the confrontation of life and death. The forever recurring contrasts of Chicago, contrasts which showed in her paintings too: the brutal encounter of pure and hard colours - a wink at hard edge painting-giving life to a perfect, flawless line - that of Ingres, maybe; the fierce encounter of drawing with oil or acrylic; surprising encounter of man with himself, as if this were the only possible dialogue, both in the heart of urban crowd and in the barren plains of America; and, finally, the encounter of man with.the barely explored universe of the sea, or of the barely discovered interplanetary space. Themes the function of which was always the same: to help determine man’s position in the macro cosm. So what was the relationship Françoise André established between man and the macrocosm within the microscopic space of her paintings?

If, in Vancouver, the relation man-universe had been established in terms of formal analogies, the same was done here in Chicago by the means of a multitiplicity of closely interwoven perspectives in an attempt to spin a narrative thread between a series of short stories. From the day he was born until the day he died, the only way for man to insert himself into the World was through his personal history. Sometime there will be then a complété history of each one. (5) Gertrude Stein wrote, in whom Françoise André was developing a vivid

interest. Each man, each subject was linked to history thus, and, through his own intensity, or that the artist endowed him with, he could create the space he neéded to impose his presence in the composition. The squares of the checker-board in the Chicaco paintings - in which gold leaf had been used since Vancouver - muted to predellas of différent sizes. Each predella commented the central theme. either in blowing up a détail, in

said again. These répétitions and multiple perspectives presupposed a space that was much more mental than visual, a mental space which - these being the late sixties - would find its first metaphor in the theme of the folds, which were the condensation of the large, fragmented retables of that time.

The Chicago period would reach a turning-point with Gertrude Stein’s portrait, made after a series of photos. Françoise André considered the American writer as an intellectual guide, a leader, as well as a reversed double of herself. It was as if her pencil-drawn head emerged like one of the pleats of the canvas from the flat, geometric green, pink, red and white monochrome shapes. The allusion te abstraction was not gratuitous, as Gertrude Stein was indeed convinced of the fact that only the USA and Spain were able to produce abstract paintings. The work also shows how well Françoise André had assimilated the American abstracts, yet still keeping man as her central theme.

The turning-point this portrait had announced was indeed a décisive one. From that moment onwards Françoise André would search in each human figure its uniquity’s depth.

For a while, in Philadelphia (from 1970 te 1975), the veins of the imaginary work and the portraits? would be closely intertwined Anything is two things. (7)


The final test is always the portrait (9) could also be the leitmotiv of the Philadelphia period. This city, the oldest European bastion on the East Coast, was already a recall of the old continent. Its academism too, deep rooted it in History. All one had to do was cross the Ocean to be surrounded by the Italian, French and Belgian cultures again.

With this latent presence of Europe, memories of Van Eyck’s Altarpiece came back again. The désire to study one détail of the painting more thoroughly and to bring her visual acuteness in its innermost creases became obsessive.

But if a painting could indeed be transformed into a blownup version of a predella - seen through the lens of a magnifying glass - how was one te render the notion of time? Net narratively in any case! The only possible solution found its way. Contrary to the American hyperrealists, who worked out each and every element of their paintings in détail, Françoise André had always kept large silent areas in hers. From now on she would concentrate on one particular element of a face, a hand, whereas the general outline itself would remain hardly defined. The eye, in travelling over the shapes, would move from a close-up to a general view and these différences of perception would give a notion of time. A temporality which was probably the closest to Van Eyck’s atemporality.

Dr. H. Scheie’s portrait indeed confirmed the validity of this approach. On the reverse side of the panels of the triptych Françoise André painted a gigantic eyeball for which she studied at length the iris by means of macrophotos. Confronted with its inextricable structure of transparent, constantly moving veils, she felt as if she had gone back to the Olympic Peninsula again. But if, which sine knew already, the living systems were indeed based on the same structures, only the ti,ny, formai variations within these structures could make a human being unique.

This approach was expressed in the series The Leaders, portraits of literary and musical personalities: J. Absil, S. Beckett, F. Couperin, Ch. Ives ... and was to result in her own self-portrait in 1978.

Insisting on the face and hands mainly, Françoise André unveiled the order that was hidden behind the mask of the skin and muscles and laid bare the line of the bony skeleton interlocked with the features and wrinkles brought by the changes of expression. Their lines raised an almost transparent architecture, some sort of crystal one facet of which vibrated with colour. The use of drawing in these works revealed a will for conceptualization as well as the highly intellectual trend her art was taking.


Parallel to this quest for man’s uniquity, Françoise André also developed an interest in the way the individual would define


itself in the collectivity. The works commissioned by the universities and scientiflc institutes allowed her to paint deans and researchers. She distilled the essence of their function and visualized it in works such as Unknown Dean and Chercheur, where the characters hid their faces and typical features behind the signs of their social status: the dean’s gown, the white coat the hand and the equipment of the researcher were tinged with ail their passion.

The five creative years at Philadelphia were marked not on;y by the highly intellectual climate of the East Coast, but also by the philosophy of Gertrude Stein. After sine had made her portrait in 1967, Françoise André created en album, inspired on the 12th Century manuscripts and their gilded illuminations, illustrating eleven of Stein’s reflections.

Was it through her leaders, or was it in the theme of the folds sine had begun to develop more amply then or was it again in the sensitivity of the time, Françoise did have the feeling at the end of her stay in Philadelphia, that her art, like that of her contemporaries, lacked substance and roots in the essence of things. The American hyperrealism, minimal and conceptual art, as well as her own originated in an approach which was highly distant and unemotional towards reality. It was necessary then to find her aesthetic balance again te immerse her gaze into the richness of textures.

She came back te Belgium and saw Van Eyck again, whose representation of matter lay at the basis of ail transcendence, ail sublimation of reality.

Ever since then, like Gertrude Stein, Françoise André has pursued her synthesis of an image both American and European working in Brussels at one time and in Philadelphia at an other time.

In the course of her long journey across the North American continent, she had developed a new concept of space, as well as the relations man entertains with the universe. Now, sine feit compelled to root this new man in the past.

RETURN BACK (1975-1984)

For Françoise André, Europe visually distinguished itself from America, by the golden warmth of its light and fundamentally - by the intimate way man related himself with the world of objects. The confrontation of her American works with the history of Western painting was expressed in the Van Eyck Turban. The artist symbolized in it the encounter of her American image of man with the millenary culture sine herself was a product of. A highly renaissance man is covered by a heavy purple jewel the value of which he seems to be curiously unconscious. The turban coils up on his head in an luminous sensuality, like another spirit that emanates from the red background of the painting.

This confrontation aise allowed to find an issue te various quests and crystallized their expression into a perfectly achieved image.


This was the case with the theme of the folds, developed on its own or enriching the compositions of the reclining women. The folds became the privileged metaphor of a self-searching, sensitivity, in this case that of the artist. In some places complex and mysterious, the folds rumple and withdraw on themselves. In other places they unfold silently to merge into an empty space. These subtly structured materials exist as formulations of a moving, indiscernable limit between an interior and an exterior world. It is no longer the limit of the appearance and the essence of a man as in the Philadelphia Leaders, nor that of man braving an unknown world as in the Chicago Bathers, nor even that of the masculine-feminine encounter of the Vancouver couples but the image of the limit in its essence, of this intermediary space ta create for ever where two éléments come to merge. Another theme had reached its achievement too. That of man in space, developed since Vancouver. Composed in the same way as the Philadelphia Leaders, Icarus fills alone the deep blue space of the canvas. His body, ail in coloured transparences, is handled in incandescent, undulating, glowing veils according to the internai vibrations of his emotivity.

Car la situation de l’art actual, c’est bien qu’il lui faille redonner corps à des choses (10), Jean Clair wrote in 1979.

Since 1975 Françoise André has had the same feeling. She wanted te root her vision into the substance of things, to feed it with the richness of the feelings and emotions any matter can carry when it catches the light.

First Françoise André started painting objects: a chair, pieces of material on a chest. These objects, because they were an intégral part of man’s life and had been made by him, made it possible for the painter to understand an up till now unexplored level of human sensitivity. Because of this inanimate and artificial world, man was reminded of his own past in his most everyday space. Through them the past insidiously imposed the weight of its obsessive presence on him.

In works such as Civil Servant and Petit Nu Classique, Françoise André no longer hesitated to put man inside this universe of Things. She tells us why herself: In Civil Servant for example, man is represented, sitting in an old armchair to which he is almost carnally linked. In Chicago I would never have painted him that way. I would have represented the civil servant in the centre of the composition, in the same attitude, with a detailed armchair, on its own, in a predella. There would have been the story of the civil servant and - separately - that of the armchair. (11)

Each phase in the evolution of Françoise André’s ceuvre has provided man with a set of références to space and time. Each system revealed the way in which he perceives the World as well as his own, inner life. First, there was the temporal and spatial confusion between man and the primitive universes of plants and stones. Slowly, man began te impose his image through his vital and formal intensity. He was then linked to time and space by his personal history. After which, strong from his relation with the macrocosm, he was looking for a spatio-temporal définition of his uniquity in the depth of his inner life. Finally always trying to find himself beyond the appearance of reality, he rooted himself in History forgetting te which space he belonged.

Françoise André’s visual acuteness, all through this evolution, has always been the fulfilment of a unique désire : to come te an osmosis of two mentalities, to merge science and history, expérimentation and memory, immédiate sensuality and consciousness, in order te blur the limits and to have a human figure emerging in an intermediary space which is yet and forever te be defined and where the sensitive currents finally merge in one image, the meetingplace of two cultures.


Today the artist seems te have abandon this process for an other concept of space. In her last painting, Hommage à un ami, Jan Cox is caught in an extremely baroque play of skilfully mixed perspectives. The painter appears between two canvases, but is it really him,,or is it only his portrait? In this painting, the first of her future works maybe, Françoise André through a mise en abîme, refers te History, as is the case in most of the works she made in Europe. This history is either recent, that of a contemporary, or ancient. In making these allusions te différent eras Françoise André creates an ambiguity in the systeri of spatial références that leaves man te choose to which he belongs.


1.         Outlines of a F. André Biography (Esquisse d’une biographie de F. André) by Marc Stegeman, s.d. (1975).

2 to 4. Interviews with F. André on Aprll 7th and 21 st 1983.

5 to 9. Gertrude Stein quotations, taken by F. André in A Visual Biography of Gertrude Stein, album 1975.

10. Jean Clair: Nouvelle Subjectivité, s.l., Lebeer Hossman, 1979. 11. Interview with F. André on May 41h 1983.