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‘My subjects have no subject. They exist only for a poetic end. If the poetry is there, the canvas is complete. No histories. Only pure poetry, preferably untitled.’
– Gregorie Michonze
Michonze is primarily known as a landscape and figurative artist. A marked majority of his paintings include depictions of groups of people – families, villagers, peasants, children and most works evince an allegory or narrative of some kind. His painting is imbued with mystery, a sort of hidden dialogue which enhances the appeal of his work. In a 1959 letter to the British art critic Peter Stone, Michonze wrote of his work: My subjects have no subject. They exist only for a poetic end. If the poetry is there, the canvas is complete. No histories. Only pure poetry, preferably untitled.
Grégoire Michonze was a Russian-French painter, born in 1902 in Kishinev (Bessarabia), Russian Empire. From 1919– 1922, he studied at a local art academy painting Russian icons and learned to master the technique of painting with egg tempera. In 1922, Michonze moved to Paris and met Max Ernst who introduced him to the Surrealists, notably André Breton, Paul Éluard, Yves Tanguy and André Masson. During this time, he developed a strong friendship with the Jewish École de Paris artist Chaïm Soutine and later exhibited at the Salon des Surindépendants. Michonze described his work at these exhibitions as Surreal naturalism.
He fought in the second world war and in 1943, he settled into a studio on Paris’s Rue de Seine. In 1949, the French Fund for Modern Art acquired his now seminal canvas La Moisson (The Harvest). From 1954–1977, the artist continued and perfected his life’s work. He enjoyed extended stays in the United States where he spent time with his close friend, the American author Henry Miller. He made several trips to Scotland, spending time with Torquil and Isabel Nicholson in Edinburgh and Plockton, where the couple moved in the late forties. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery holds a fine pencil head of Nicholson by Michonze. In Plockton he met Denis Peploe and the poet and playwright Sidney Goodsir Smith. He died of a heart attack in his studio at Rue de Seine in Paris on December 29, 1982.