Judit Reigl, the Hungarian-born French painter, passed away at the age of 97 in Marcoussis, near Paris, on August 6, 2020. Reigl is recognized as one of the most original artistic figures to have emerged in Europe after World War II. She was, in her own characteristically defiant words, “a woman painter who, for many, paints like a man.” Reigl disregarded the boundaries that prevailed within the avant-garde, obliterating the unitary surface of Modernism by painting on both sides of the canvas and ignoring the presumed antagonism between the non-objective and the figurative.
Judit Reigl was born in Kapuvár, Hungary in 1923. She escaped the Cold War cultural repression of Hungary in 1950, made her way across Europe, mostly on foot, and settled in Paris. There she was joined by Betty Anderson, a young English artist whom she had met on a student trip to Italy in 1947. The pair remained life partners until Anderson’s death in 2007.
Not long after arriving in Paris, Reigl caught the attention of André Breton, who declared one of her paintings a Surrealist masterpiece. Breton presented Reigl’s first solo exhibition in 1954. Reigl promptly rejected the Surrealist affiliation, having already begun to develop her own highly material and emphatically physical painting processes. She would organize her works in chronologically overlapping series. Her practice advanced from explosively gestural paint applications to compositions that began as accumulated paint drippings on floor tarps and were completed by carving and overpainting. Later she painted in a performative dance approach in which she applied paint to a continuous length of canvas suspended from the ceiling around the perimeter of her studio. Eschewing the brush, Reigl would reach for any tool at hand—a twisted length of curtain rod, the facetted stopper from a Chanel No. 5 flacon, ... Most of the paintings are non-objective, but now and again, as she put it, of its own accord the human figure would appear. As self-critical as she was independent, Reigl completed well over 3,000 paintings, of which she “approved” perhaps 1,200, choosing to destroy or paint over the rest.
In France, Reigl’s work has been collected by the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou; the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris; and the Musée de Brou. Her paintings and drawings have been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, all in New York; Tate Modern, London; the Albertina, Vienna; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Toledo Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo.
A more in-depth biography of the artist is available in english and french.