XIV: Later Figurative Painting

 

The pattern of development toward abstraction in Lahner's subjects representing the human figure was somewhat different from that seen in his landscapes. As a simple outline is normally sufficient to convey the idea of the human body, the problems of light and spatial depth that so preoccupied the artist in his landscapes are of less import here. Lahner's treatments of men and women in abstract form are accordingly more varied, often partial and experimental, and judging from the number of known paintings of this type, he seldom repeated himself. The small canvas Torse represents the female form from neck to thigh in profile.[103] The flesh-colored figure appears against an orange ground, haloed in blue, with a darker blue on the outside perimeter. With such stripped-down means, Lahner nonetheless expresses an exalted view of the female form as an icon of beauty. The absence of a head generalizes his subject, and not incidentally makes an analogy between a flesh-and-blood model and classical sculpture.[104]

Maternité from the early l960s is the sacred counterpart to the profane Torse . The composition of the painting owes much to Lahner's interest in stained-glass and the absence of lines indicates a certain security with the organization of space strictly by means of colored particles. The form of the Madonna is simply rendered in a few curvaceous shapes, some of which gravitate in a spiral movement toward the center of the picture, forming a cradle for the Christ child. Given this economical statement, the child itself is something of a disappointment. The description of its body surmounted by a halo is all too literally conceived in this otherwise highly abstract account.

In his watercolors of the Nativity, Lahner gave particular attention to the winged figure of the angel which he depicted as a beautiful woman. The idea of a human body with wings, a metaphor for a soaring and unincumbered spirit, turns up in two oil paintings as well. Le Rêve, dated l956, is unique in Lahner's canon as it is one of the few paintings after l950 in which he allowed himself to draw his subject on the canvas with the aid of a brush dipped in black pigment. The free-flowing design, reminiscent of automatic writing, perfectly captures the feeling of a spirit floating in a dream-like setting.[105] The mysterious red form appearing at the upper left-hand side is the only solid point in the entire painting around which the diaphanous forms are anchored. As a compositional device it functions much like the sun in La Lumière .

Lahner echoes this device with a certain twist in Figure abstraite - volante , also known as L'Ange, of about l965. The figure's head, an oval form, appears outside the main object or body of the painting. It is the only rounded form in the composition, however, and adds interest by way of contrast and because it humanizes what would otherwise be an exercise in form. The winged figure itself is broken up by dark contour lines into seven angular zones of color, creating a geometric pattern. The presence of the lines at critical points in the figure, especially the line that bisects it, also suggests that the figure can bend or fold over like a paper airplane or move about as if on wings. The figure is set against a blue background and framed by a rectangle with a neutral border outside the frame. The picture-on-a-wall motif connotes a flat surface imposed upon another, but also plays with the idea of a window looking out on a winged form against the sky. Figure abstraite-volante is then at once an abstract design and a wry commentary on the nature of illusionism.



Footnotes

(103) Torse is comparable to Matisse's series of blue nude cut-outs from about 1952. Both Lahner and Matisse used partial or truncated forms of the female figure in silhouette. See Henri Matisse. Paper Cut-Outs , New York 1977, 209-231.

(104) According to Pierre Treuttel, Lahner made frequent visits to the antique sculpture galleries of the Louvre.

(105) Matisse lived in a villa called "Le Rêve" in Vence from 1943. See Henri Matisse. Paper Cut-Outs, 16. Lahner made regular pilgrimages to Vence throughout his career and bought a house there in the 1960s.