Introduction and Acknowledgments
For someone who cared passionately about his work, Emile Lahner seems to have remained conspicuously indifferent to the masterpiece syndrome that affects most artists, from the creator of the Sistine ceiling to the protagonist of Balzac's Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu to the current generation of painters. Rather than perform for an intended audience, Lahner painted for his own pleasure, assuring a life-time of professional obscurity. "I can not say," he once observed of his painting, "that there is one work that stands out from the rest. All my works are part of a vast whole, a generalization, if you like, of the dialogue I pursue with nature, using Form, Line and Color as my instruments. To create every day without withdrawing from nature, (but) with a pictorial point of view pure in imagination and poésie, that is the principle of my life."
By refusing to compromise his ideals, Lahner compels the viewer to become acquainted with his work on its own terms. The painter left no convenient list of awards or career milestones by which to evaluate the importance of his contribution. What remains to document the uneventful life of this extraordinary individual is the body of work at hand.
Sorting through this work to develop some sense of progression and order contains more than the ususal share of pitfalls. Lahner rarely dated his paintings at the time they were executed. Late in the painter's life, Les Laky encouraged him to rectify this situation by assigning dates and inventory numbers to the works remaining in the artist's studio. Lahner complied to the extent that each of these works now bears a date on the canvas stretcher, but unfortunately many of these have proven to be unreliable. Pictures of similar style or content are often dated years apart. Lahner himself did not contradict the widely-held belief that he painted in a number of different styles all at once. Despite the confusion, I think that I have gradually been able to discern a stylistic progression in his work which accounts for the diversity in his manners, but places each new departure in method and in content within a sound chronological framework.
During the time of my research, I spent two months in Paris gathering materials from the painter's friends and from a number of libraries, chiefly the Bibliothèque Nationale and the Service de Documentation at the Pompidou Center. Due to limitations of time, I was unfortunately unable to locate every bibliographic lead; other articles, pasted in the scrapbooks of friends, lacked a citable source or date of publication. The titles of books and articles given in the bibliography include only the writings on the artist which I have seen.
While in Paris, I benefitted greatly from the assistance of Les Amis d'Emile Lahner, a society dedicated to the perpetuation of the artist's memory. André Tranié was chiefly responsible for helping organize meetings with Lahner's friends during my stay. Madame Georgette Trichet provided much documentary material and her enthusiastic support. I also had enjoyable and informative conversations with Jean-Marie Dunoyer, Robert Duchet, Georges and Odette Herissé, and Jacques Revil. I was very kindly received by Pierre and Madeleine Treuttel, and had a number of fruitful discussions with their entire family, especially Jean-Claude and Françoise Garcias. I would also like to thank Uwe Antonn, Mme. Alain Belkiri, Mme Suzanne Collignon, Mme Bernard Galland-Brzizicki, Jacques Galland-Brzizicki, Emeri Garai, Andre Guillaubert, Dr. and Mme Andre Phitoussi, and Dr. Esther Schekter, for their help and interest.
In this country, Les Laky, Lahner's good friend and dealer, provided biographical information and lent particular insight into the elusive psyche of the painter. I would also like to express my gratitude to Dr. Edwin B. Almirol, Dr. Joseph A. Baird, John and Janet Peterson, and Dr. Leslie Ross for their welcome advice at various times during the completion of this project. To Robert and Gail Smelick, my sincere thanks for their generous support in bringing the story of this unusual artist to light.
Peter J. Flagg