Georges Jeanclos (Paris, 1933 - Paris, 1997), Les colonnes de Guerry, détail du chapiteau, France, 1994
The Guerry Columns, a major work Georges Jeanclos (1933-1997), joined recently the mahJ’s collections thanks to an exceptional donation by the artist’s family of a full-scale terracotta study of the bronze monument erected in the hamlet of Guerry at Savigny-en-Septaine in the Cher. A poignant evocation of one of the crimes of the Shoah perpetrated on the French territory, this work constitutes a major enrichment of the mahJ’s contemporary collection.
Created in 1994, the Columns, which capitals depict the rise and fall of bodies, commemorate the massacres on July and August 1944 of thirty-six hostages held in the prison at Bourges. They were taken from their cells because they were Jewish – among whom Pierre and Fanny Jeankelowitsch, the artist’s uncle and aunt - thrown into wells at Guerry by the Militia and the Gestapo in retaliation for the liberation of Saint-Amand-Montrond by the Resistance on 6 June 1944.
Georges Jeankelowitsch was born in Paris in 1933 (the family changed its name to Jeanclos in 1945) and spent the Occupation in hiding. After an apprenticeship in the studio of the sculptor Robert Mermet (1896-1988), he studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts from 1952 to 1958. From 1960 to 1964 he was an artist in residence at the Villa Médicis in Rome, then taught successively at the École des Beaux-Arts in Le Mans and at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. In 1982 he founded the research and creation studio at the Manufacture de Sèvres, which he directed until he died in 1997.
Returning to his Jewish heritage – Lithuanian on his father’s side and the Comtat Venaissin on his mother’s – in the 1970s Jeanclos moved his studio to rue des Écouffes in the Marais. From then on his work was primarily although not exclusively inspired by Judaism: Sleepers, Kaddish, Urns, Rashi, Kamakuras, Boats.
He also executed major public commissions: Homage to Jean Moulin (1984) on the Champs-Élysées, the tympanum of the church of Saint-Ayoul at Provins (1985), Fruits of the Earth, the doors of the Finance Ministry at Bercy (1987), the Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre fountain in Paris (1996) and the portal of Notre-Dame de la Treille in Lille (1997).
Apart from his bronzes, founded from terracotta prototypes, most of Jeanclos’ sculptures are in terracotta (a technique he learnt from Mermet), modelled in a grey clay that he beat into thin, fragile strips on the floor and sometimes set in anthropomorphic moulds (faces, bodies) and incorporated into complex assemblages in which these thin sheets of clay become torn drapery, occasionally imprinted with Hebraic characters.
In the Guerry Columns, Jeanclos transcended his formal vocabulary to evoke a crime against humanity. On trunks composed of three sections, he applied water-drop motifs also evoking female breasts, inspired by the reliefs on the columns of the Forum of Theodosius in Constantinople, a motif he also used for the fountain in Place Stalingrad. The capitals depict the rise and fall of bodies, reusing a repertoire of heads, torsos and limbs present in other works, an unstable accumulation in which thin sheets of clay represent rags.
This donation is a major enrichment of the mahJ’s contemporary collection, which already boasts three works by the artist: Adam and Eve (1987), Couple (2006) and Kaddish (1985).
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