Jean-Michel Atlan was born on January 23, 1913 in Constantine, Algeria. In 1930 he moved to Paris to study philosophy at the Sorbonne. However, in 1941 he launched himself as an essentially self-taught artist. The publishing of his poetry and its rhythmic elements had led him next to experiment with painting. Unfortunately he was arrested in 1942 for his Jewish heritage and for his political activism as part of the French Resistance or Underground. After the war and the occupation of Paris ended, Atlan had his first exhibition at the Gallerie Arc en Ciel. In 1946 he became a part of the CoBrA art group when his own studio on Rue de la Grand-Chaumière became a gathering place for the group. The Cobra Group was formed by Karel Appel, Constant, Corneille, Christian Dotremont, Asper Jorn, and Joseph Noiret, who all espoused a complete freedom of form and color in art and who opposed the Surrealism movement. As a result of the influence of the Cobra group Atlan's paintings at this point in his career consisted of works that displayed abstract and fanciful shapes that resembled animals. In 1955 his works which included Le Kahena, and Composition were exhibited at the Gallerie Carpenter. However, by 1956 Atlan had found his own particular style which consisted of strong, black consolidated lines that enclosed pastel colored areas of color. During the 1950's Atlan's works were well received in France, England, Japan and the United States. Atlan died of cancer in Paris on February 12, 1960 and was buried in the Montparnasse Cemetery. At the time of his death Atlan was considered an important member of the "Nouvelle École de Paris."
Untitled, 1956 epitomizes the lyricism, harmony, and brilliance of Jean-Michel Atlan's Classical Period (1955-59). A stunning and highly desirable example of the artist's mature work on paper, this piece was for some time a part of the private collection of Roger Vivier, the Parisian designer of worldwide renown famous for inventing the stiletto heel. The desirability of this work comes as no surprise: where softly modulated, light and breathy fields of greens, yellows, and blues meet forceful assertions of red pigment encapsulated within striking black outlines, Atlan's aesthetic luminosity is revealed. Jacques Polieri explains the nascence of this technique in the Atlan Catalogue Raisonné:
"A strange chalky chiaroscuro, the early signs of which were already discernible the previous year, accentuates the hollows and filled-in spaces. A dual approach, therefore, which combines the sign alphabet and pictorial classicism, definitive figures, undecipherable sphinxes. This dichotomy acknowledges a divorce never previously attained between paintings in oil and pastels, between canvas and paper, before culminating in a synthesis where forms and colours, the prelude to the apotheosis, play an equal part."
—ATLAN: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre complet, p. 510
A prolific year in which he produced a number of rich and poetic works on paper, 1956 marked a time of abundance for the artist. In June, the Parisian magazine Elle published for the first time an abstract painting on its cover; the artist was none other than Atlan. That same year, the artist participated in the first "Festival de l'art d'avant-garde," created by Le Corbusier and Jacques Polieri at the Cité Radieuse in Marseilles, and held a widely successful personal exhibition at Galerie Bing, which marked his first show in Paris since 1947.
Untitled, 1956 contains deeply rooted reminders of Atlan's African heritage as well as telling signs from the Surrealist, Abstract, and Expressionist movements that coursed through Post War Paris. Heavily influenced by Japanese calligraphic writing, Atlan has boldly articulated strong black looped lines that surround magnificent fields of pastel color, evoking the gentle tones of the Mediterranean Sea, sky, and tropical desert that surrounded Atlan's homeland of Algeria. Magnificently constructed, the carefully pronounced black lines add to the forcefulness of Atlan's abstraction. Their symbolism forms the basis of Atlanian abstraction, a symbolic language that is one with the artist and which reflects his own poetry that parallels and closely follows his unique "pictorial poetry". Atlan is an artist who, like Egon Schiele, Wassily Kandinsky and Marc Chagall had a clear and individualistic vision for his work which was pure and unwavering. His works are both daringly and convincingly conceived and are appreciated by astute experts of Post War European abstract art. Art Historian Kenneth White praises his striking syncopations:
"He subjects each picture to a powerful rhythm: an organic beat, a sacred dance, which brings it to life by raising each of these forms, as defined as those of the 'tachistes' were amorphous, as indisputable as the others are uncertain and, in view of this, as fertile in poetic emanations as in sturdy plasticity."
—Kenneth White, 1994
Collection of Roger Vivier, Paris
Galerie Fabien Boulakia, Paris, 1993
Sotheby's London Sale, 15 May 1988, lot 404
Private Collection, Paris
ATLAN: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre complet, Denise Atlan, Camille Atlan, and Jacques Polieri, Ed. Gallimard, 1996, ill. p. 540; Cat. No. 1425