“The further I penetrated into non-figuration, the more I approached the inwardness of things.”
—Alfred Manessier, quoted in Manessier, J.P. Hoden.
The painter, Alfred Manessier (1911–1993), was part of the Lyrical Abstract movement in France in the early 1940’s. He became a deeply committed Christian following a retreat in September of 1943 at the Trappist monastery of Soligny. While on retreat he attended the evening liturgy during which the monks of the monastery sang the Salve Regina. He later described his experience: “It was the moment when nature was appeased. The leaves became calm. I saw in my mind songs rising and falling. If I could succeed in grasping this inner light, this rhythm, this meaning, I thought, I could do more than render a visible image of it, I could give its essence.”
As Manessier’s painting evolved, he drew from his responses both to forms observed in nature, particularity landscapes, and his own interior spiritual impulses. In 1948 he painted The Saint Matthew Passion, his response to Bach’s composition of the same name, seeking painterly form to correspond to the spiritual content of the narrative. He returned to the theme many times over the course of his career.
In a 1955 interview in L’Oeil, Manessier said “For myself, I make paintings that respond to my thirst for harmony and unity, to that re-ascent towards ‘myself’ reconstructed step-by-step, towards that world lost from grace; but that painting is very far from the general public; because the public live in a materialistic world and no longer encounter in themselves that need. . . . Today’s man seems no longer to need us. But without tiring one must whisper to him that a world of harmony and love does exist—or rather, prove it to him. . . . Artistic creation demands two conditions. First of all one must not say ‘I wilI’, for the externalization of inner states demands a kind of abandonment of self; next, one must possess a great deal of love; this alone will allow us to carry our subject to its complete fulfillment, i.e. to the stage where it becomes so far humanized as to acquire a general importance.”
Interesting that the painter couples his mission to “whisper without tiring” to the charge to abandon one’s self.