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Henry Valensi

(French, born in Algeria, 1883-1960)
Constantinople, 1914

oil on canvas, 25.5 x 31.5 inches

In 1898, fifteen year old Henry Valensi left his home in Algeria to attend the esteemed L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. His studies there led to numerous trips throughout North Africa, Russia, Greece and Turkey, whose diverse cultures provided a wealth of inspiration. Back in his Paris studio, he translated his travel sketches into semi-abstract paintings meant to convey his personal experience, rather than the outward appearance, of those places. His cutting edge work gained critical recognition in 1912, when he exhibited with Picasso, Duchamp, and other young French modernists in the Section D’Or (The Golden Section), the first major exhibition of abstract trends in art.

Taking a cue from music, Valensi used the essential elements of painting- line, color, and shape- to create compositions that resonated with the dynamic world around him. Painted just before the outbreak of World War I, Constantinople depicts the Turkish capital fragmented within circular bands radiating from the center of the canvas, much like a graphic depiction of sonic waves. The vibrant color and rhythmic geometries are typical of Valensi’s lyrical approach to painting, which inspired the short-lived artistic movement of Musicalisme.

The musicalist does not imitate after seeing. He creates after feeling. And he gives form to his feelings. . . Each shape is the result of a choice and every choice requires intelligent judgement.

Excerpted from Le Musicalisme by Henry Valensi with contributions by André Devaux, published by Éditions Sedrowski, Paris, 1936.
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