Jean-Michel Atlan

French, 1913-1960 Biography

Jean-Michel Atlan was born in Algeria in 1913, but left in 1930 to study philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he worked as a teacher after completing his studies. Due to his Jewish heritage, Atlan lost his teaching license and lived in poverty during the German occupation, and it was during this time that Atlan taught himself to paint.

Due to his contribution to the Résistance, the artist was arrested in 1942 and interned in the Saint-Anne hospital for two years after he had pretended to suffer from a mental disease. In the sanatorium, Atlan encountered a world beyond the realms of everyday thinking which left a remaining imprint on his work. The philosopher and man of letters, who was friend to Gertrude Stein and Gaston Bachelard, found his way into painting through the rhythmic elements of poetry.

In 1944, the artist had his first exhibition and published a collection of poems entitled 'Le Sang profond'. After a short initial success and recognition by a few Avant-garde writers, the artist once more lived in financial need. During this time, Atlan worked as a peddler and fortune-teller. In 1946, the autodidact was able to present his work to the public alongside great personalities like Braque and Matisse for the first time.

From 1945, Atlan produced fantastical, abstract animal shapes which were strongly influenced by the CoBrA group. He participated in exhibitions. Around 1956, his style was consolidated. Strong, black, winding lines enclose pastel colored areas, which evoke organic and vegetable associations. In 1956, Atlan achieved his breakthrough as an artist with a poster he designed for the exhibition of the new 'École de Paris' at the Charpentier gallery and an exhibition at the Bing gallery in Paris.

During the 1950s, Atlan received a lot of attention in France, Japan, England and the US and was considered one of the most important exponents of 'Nouvelle École de Paris'. In 1960, the artist died from cancer. In 1963, Jean-Michel Atlan was honored with a retrospective at the Musée National d'Art Moderne. He left approximately 220 works behind, including tapestries and illustrations.

The Museum of Modern Art, Chicago, Illinois
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Applicat-Prazan Art Moderne et Contemporain, Paris, France


oil on canvas
25 ⅝ x 39 ⅜ inches
Signed lower left: Atlan
Executed 1955