Discover Seigle, a great painter duo of the 20th century


Discover Seigle, a duo of painters who marked the 20th century

Seigle: an artist, two painters, husband Henri (1907 – 1995) and wife Nô (1912 – 1998), whose sensibilities merge and mingle on the same canvas.

Here is Seigle's story:

January 16, 1907 , birth of Henri Julien in Saintes (Charente-Maritime). In Montauban, his friendship with Félix Bouisset, curator, allowed him to work on drawing for 5 years at the Ingres Museum.

1927 in Paris, he became the only pupil of Édouard Vuillard. He also attended the Schola Cantorum and worked with Vincent d'Indy for 10 years.

1933 , he passes the competition and enters the School of Decorative Arts. Pupil of Legueult. Graduated from Decorative Arts in 1936.

1933 to 1939 , graduated from the École du Louvre with a thesis on Fragonard with Robert Rey and diploma in museography.

1937 , meeting with Marie Pin, born in 1912 in Cassagnoles (Gard). While studying at the Beaux-Arts and at the Institute of Art and Archaeology, she met Henri during an exhibition at Shiffrin's at the Pléiade. They decide to deepen their common interest for Surrealism and take the pseudonym of Seigle.

Henri and Nô Seigle met Victor Brauner, then André Breton, and joined the Surrealist Group following Benjamin Péret's presentation of Henry Hathaway's film, “Peter Ibbetson”. This cinematographic adaptation of Georges du Maurier's "Crazy Love" represents for André Breton a "prodigious film, triumph of surrealist thought, being the only enterprise to exalt total love". This point of reference found its incarnation in the Seigle couple (see letters from the Salon d'Automne).

1940 , the Seigles take care of Henri's parents' bookstore, in Montauban, one painting, the other running the bookstore in the morning, reversing the roles in the afternoon. This bookstore was also a literary circle frequented by René Huygues, André Chamson and the other curators of the Louvre, who had retreated to the Ingres Museum during the Second World War with everyone from Jazz, Hugues Panassie and his famous American jazz guests.

1946 , they meet André Malraux at Jacques Jaugard, Director of Arts and Letters.

1947, Seigle is selected to exhibit at the Galerie Maeght on the occasion of the 2nd International Exhibition of Surrealism .


After his surrealist period (1940 — 1952), Seigle returned to more figurative subjects: still lifes of fruit, pitchers, ewers…, women, nudes, landscapes of Penne (Tarn) or Paris, bridges or barges on the Seine…

In the surrealist group, they are very close with André Breton, Benjamin Peret, Marcel Duchamp, Georges Bataille, Michel Carrouges, Max Ernst, Hans Bellmer and Victor Brauner.

The writers around them are Michel Butor, Jean Brun, Jean Suquet, Robert Le Bel, Patrick Walberg, Julien Gracq, Peyre de Mandiargues, Octavio Paz and André Chamson.

The poets who are closely linked to them are Jacques Dupin, Yves Bonnefoy and the American Nathaniel Tarn.

The painters with whom they were linked were Édouard Vuillard, Alberto Giacometti, Nicolas de Staël, Hans Hartung, Henri Dubuffet and Serguei Charchoune.

They participate in the magazines Phases, Néon and La Nef.


To see the Seigle artwork on our site, click here .

Read what André Breton, Michel Butor, Pierre Mazars wrote about Seigle, in letters written on the occasion of this Salon d'Automne:

André Breton :


They embody that time of year when the earth imperceptibly relaxes the bent arm under its head before opening its eyes. It is the first vibration which is transmitted in great mystery throughout the Ariadne's thread by the antennae of the roots, the eyelashes of the water, the increasingly clear timbres of the metals responding to the planets. The moment when, from the top to the bottom of the ladder, beings are still only moved, before getting busy, when the mist is just dissipating from the windows of Sleeping Beauty.
Instant or rather sacred instance , poetically the one that is most important to us. To seize it in flight, I say to myself that no doubt it took more than the hand of a painter, but a hand such as we have not yet seen, a man's hand indistinguishable from a woman's hand or, better, the hand of the woman and that of the man becoming one by virtue of an agreement gone for once so far that it entails the single intention and goes so far as to require the pooling of the 'expression. I think that we cannot overemphasize this exceptional guarantor of the art of Seigle in human value: the chance is given to us to apprehend not only the reactions of an individual sensitivity, however rich it may be, in front of the "spectacle" of nature and its symbolic implications which are far more important, but those of the couple who have best achieved sensory fusion, because its elements have always lived side by side, shared the same childhood impressions and intellectually undergone the same formation. In this way, a myth is finally impregnated with tangible reality that seeks its way through the flowery beards of Macroprosopus and the Childish Father and crosses, with Peter Ibbetson , the stormy part of his career.
I have always thought that the fern with its fingers must be the emblem of one of those great monistic truths which thwart the tricks of space and time (see how it clings to the walls of the well), the past -everywhere that opens (and closes) all major roads. What secret ring makes this finger of fire between two fingers of water, what great emerald paradise is invented in this butt within reach of all the eyes of a child? At Seigle, the plastic meditation starts from this plant on the reverse side of which the wind lashes the Pythagorean dominoes of life.
But all this under wraps. Nothing abstract, for the love of heaven and the abyss! Better than respected, the fabric of the air is honored as it was no longer, with all its downs sifted from the field, foaming from the nest. In the blood of man, the poppy and the ditch look at each other; as true as each flight of an owl shells a spikelet of oats, “the black bird, says Seigle, has colors in its heart”. Once again beauty passes, with a thousand precautions, it brings a cobweb to the dew.
Get spring again. Eat Seigle [rye] bread. »
André Breton

Michael Butor:

“I have before my eyes two still lifes. We can say that they have the same subject, very classic; the main piece is a pitcher — can you imagine more hackneyed? – perfectly recognizable, pale blue, decorated with dark blue flowers, the flared, wavy neck. You can feel the shine of earthenware. The colors are reminiscent of those of Vuillard.


The themes of the other paintings all around me are also characteristic of the 1900s: views of Paris, nudes in the studio. Sometimes we identify an object that did not exist at the time: a recent coffee maker, an electric iron, but this one appears very discreetly, it has been "taken», as if by chance, with the others.


This would pose no difficulty if we were in front of painters - for Seigle is two painters, husband and wife, who collaborate so intimately that it is impossible to assign responsibility for any canvas to one rather than to the other. other - who had remained at this point in the history of painting, there are countless, sometimes talented; but we know that they took part in quite different adventures. What does such a return mean, of which they are far from the only example? For adventurous spirits like theirs, why the hell go back to the pitcher, to those old?


For the artist who all his life has depicted pitchers on the table, nudes in the studio, or bridges in Paris, these various subjects pose no questions to him.; that's how his master painted, that's how he always painted, that's how one should paint, and the others are smokers. These themes are his possession, his state. Quite different is the situation of the artist - for the Seigle areAartist — who realizes one day, after various adventures, that something has been lost, that he is in exile, that he is going blind, that the objects around him have begun to drift at an immeasurable distance, that an abyss separates what he sees outside his picture from what he sees in his picture.


From then on, it is with despair that he will walk in the streets, that he will feel the objects on his table, and consider the walls of his studio. World so close, inaccessible, o bridge! o old walls! beautiful fruit! I would like to draw attention to you, I would like to put you on a board; what was so simple for my fathers, what seems so simple for so many of my insensitive contemporaries, why does it make it so difficult for me? He then sets out to conquer them. He embarks on studies. He humbles himself, and his former companions are astonished, no longer understand, deplore this new path.


This pitcher, of which the great works of the masters of the day before yesterday attest to the tranquil proximity, and of which so many others have continued to sing the praises out of habit, without noticing that the world around them was changing, that painting changed, praises in general more and more dull and bland, it becomes as fabulous as those deities of Olympus to which the painters of previous centuries also pathetically wanted to return; and yet this time, this characteristic element of a vanished happiness, like the fragment of a divine statue that we have just unearthed, it is there, we see it, we touch it. How is it then that it always escapes, that it crumbles into dust and foolishness, as soon as the brush? So how do we compel it to stay close to us, how do we compel something to stay close to us, on this canvas?? How to restore the lost bridge?


Let's take a closer look at our still lifes. The touch no longer reminds us of Vuillard at all, it has a regularity, a method, which makes us evoke Seurat; they are thick, almost straight lines that intersect, hence the appearance of coarse fabric. We feel that a woman's hand is involved here. It's like quilting with large strands of wool. The object is sewn on the canvas. It is a canvas on the canvas. Better than a web, it's a net. The elusive body of Venus, always infidelity, Vulcan can finally hold it in his golden net.


This opaque hemp canvas, substrate, substance of the profession of painting, which, in everyday vision, always interposed itself between the gaze and the mind, here we have succeeded in gently separating its threads, in metamorphosing it into a transparent canvas. The gate that separated us from lost familiar objects opens a crack, and the brand new light of yesteryear begins to wet our eyes, our lips, our arid city.


These two still lifes, what distinguishes them is that the pitcher is captured in two lights, by two different lights, but it is very easy to detect here, what separates such a variation of lighting from the famous series

of Monet. In this one, the entire surface of the painting referred in the same way to an exterior model.; there was the millstone, and around the sky and the field; all square centimeters were realistic or unrealistic to the same degree. The change of weather triggered Monet's prodigious metaphorical imagination which unfolded "in thickness“, each hour giving him”the ideaof new materials that he tried to represent, trying to convey his poetic genius under the cover of an alleged fidelity to the motif. But here, the irrefutable presence of the principal object deceived us. If we identify him, without any difficulty, if we cannot not identify him, if he rests on a very clear horizontal line that we can interpret as a table or buffet top, if we find in both paintings this triangle clear, point down, that the habit of old still lifes leads us to read like linen, it is impossible for us to go further without arbitrariness. Even the repeated stains escape such a civil state, but above all, some of the most colorful, the most vivid, not only change their hue, but their arrangement is completely transformed, their shapes are unrecognizable, and nothing allows us to attribute this upheaval to a real displacement of unknown objects around the motionless pitcher. It is the light which takes this one which decomposes, not only on it but around it in this specter which commands it. This is particularly striking in the gouaches that prepare the paintings, because most often these "lightsare made up of small pieces of colored paper, glued onto the original study. These are shards that sign the canvas, fixing it, nailing it. The meeting of light and object is not analyzed only in hues, but in a rhythm.


Besides, let's consider the background, the wall no doubt. It is divided here and there into quite different masses, and if we look at the landscapes, we will see the sky divided into rectangles in a balance where we find the lesson of the Mondrian of the "facades», entirely imaginary lines, lines through which the primitive geometry of the canvas object, frame and texture, comes to meet the object to be captured, the sudden capture of which will make the light fly in soft accents.


A particular depth arises from the fact that this object no longer stands out only as a closer figure on a more distant background, but as a resemblance on a dissimilarity, and as the body of a text on its surrounding commentaries. All of the physical distance in the model ultimately translates into the canvas as mental distance.


The pitcher from which we started is therefore grasped above all as "common place», meeting place first of all between the two painters who work together, the objective root of their agreement between them before being that of the agreement between them and us.


They have thus perfected marvelous traps which we see in operation. Before leaving for the great explorations, the virgin forests; violent cities, it was necessary first of all to experiment them ontopicswhose acclimatization dates back quite a long time, rats or guinea pigs, on the common places of yesteryear, take all precautions. In this set of works, I note that the drawing of the figurative commentary is purely abstract, musical if you prefer, the trap canvases transforming the objects they designate into traps to capture in the fabric of our life a certain song, the metaphors unfolding, as with Monet, only in the thickness, in the

tones that we spell: strawberry, amber, chalk, or lilac, and in the texture, but I know the Seigle too well not to feel dawning in the intermediate regions a whole wealth of images and explanations, but in such a canvas Parisian, I see the network stretched over the air and the sky, in the air and the sky, through the air and the sky, come alive with I don't know what breath heralding birds: what new unexpected places will -they reveal to us common, what surprises about ourselves chirping, chirping, croaking, what future their flights inscribe? I watch. »


Michel BUTOR

Pierre Mazars, author and art columnist:

“There is a typically French palette, color constants that can be found throughout the history of our painting, from Poussin to Cézanne and Bonnard. It seems to me that Seigle has somehow managed to collect the quintessence of this French palette composed of soft shades, blues, grays, pale greens, silver.

When Seigle talks about his painting, and very well, he often uses the word “accord”:

— I seek, he says, to find an agreement with the world through cohesion. I pursue a certain balance of reality: that the values ​​are at the forefront without for that devouring the color; that the subject is present without devouring the painting.
However, Seigle's paintings give the impression of “devouring” but in the manner of embers under ashes, which it often looks like. And reality, which the artist in no way seeks to translate exactly, but to evoke in its generality, appears on the canvas like a lacework of ashes, palpitating, quivering. »

Pierre Mazars

Article: exhibition at the Galerie Charpentier of painters from the School of Paris, including Seigle (1958)

CURIOSITY OF THE SALON: Mr. and Mrs. Seigle paint the same canvas together

Husband and wife: a single painter

Discovery side: Nonda and Seigle.


As for Seigle, it is the strangest case of current painting. Seigle doesn't exist, it's a couple: husband and wife paint the same canvases together. The result is a work of great originality, and, even more extraordinary, of an outfit and a "continuity" that one would not have thought possible. His landscape is one of the best canvases in the exhibition.


Exhibitions and other works


They create illustrations for:

  • Jean-Louis Bedouin's Friend of the Birds
  • Landscape by Jean-François Chabrun


Preface to exhibition catalog:

  • André Breton, first exhibition at the Galerie Creuze
  • Michel Butor, exhibition at the Galerie Charpentier (selected by Bernard de Masclary, to be part of the School of Paris)
  • Pierre Mazars, exhibition at the Baukunst in Cologne
  • Sophie Monneret (International Dictionary of Impressionism and its era), exhibition at the Galerie Joubert.


Quoted in:

  • Surrealism and the painting of André Breton, Gallimard edition
  • History of Surrealist Painting by M. Jean, Editions du Seuil
  • General dictionary of Surrealism by Adam Biro and René Passeron, editions of the Presses Universitaires de France
  • The School of Paris by Nacenta, Galerie Charpentier edition
  • Contemporary art documents by Robert Le Bel and Patrick Walberg
  • Dossier of the Express by Jean-François Chabrun



1951 Greuze Gallery, Paris

1952 Greuze Gallery, Paris

1953 Greuze Gallery, Paris

1956 A. Maurice Gallery, Paris

1957 Furstenberg Gallery, Paris

1959 Motte Gallery, Paris

1961 Motte Gallery, Geneva

1963 Charpentier Gallery, Paris

1965 Baukunst Gallery, Cologne

1972 Morimoto Gallery, Osaka

1973 Yomiuri Gallery, Tokyo

1976 Giraud Gallery, Saint-Paul-de-Vence

1977 Durempart Gallery, Toulouse

1978 Atelier Gallery, Nîmes

1978 Leysin Festival, Switzerland

1979 Baukunst Gallery, Cologne

1980 Atelier Gallery, Nîmes

1981 Jouvene Gallery, Marseilles

1982 Phillip's Gallery, Palm Beach

1983 Joubert Gallery, Paris

1985 Phillip's Gallery, Houston

1986 Phillip's Gallery, Houston

1987 Galerie Couleurs du Temps, Geneva

1988 Phillip's Gallery, Palm Beach



1947 Second International Exhibition of Surrealism at the Galerie Maeght

1954 to 1965 School of Paris, regularly exhibited at the Galerie Charpentier

1964 Third International Exhibition of Surrealism at the Galerie Charpentier

1967 Osaka, Japan

1971 Selection of the Salon d'Automne in Tokyo

1973 Selection of the Salon d'Automne in Warsaw

1973 to 1980 Several exhibitions in London, Caracas, Quebec and Dallas

1980 Tribute of the Salon d'Automne to Seigle.


Provincial museums

City of Cassis

City of Paris

City of Paris Museum of Modern Art


To see the Seigle artwork on our site, click here .