Pierre Bettencourt FR, 1917-2006

“Happiness is ideal, it is the work of the imagination.”
D.A.F. de Sade

Pierre Bettencourt was a writer, a poet, a publisher, a butterfly hunter, and a tireless traveller (to Africa, Oceania, the Far East, the Indies, the United States, Mexico, and beyond). Born in 1917 in Saint-Maurice-d'Ételan, he lived between Normandy, Paris, and Burgundy, where he settled in 1963 with his wife, the writer Monique Apple, and died in 2006. He devised his literary work in Normandy (writing, typography, printing, publishing) and his artistic work in Burgundy (several hundred high reliefs)

“Is the spectacle of nebula more surprising than that of the dandelions that close when a cloud passes and open when the light strikes them once again?” (Pierre Bettencourt to Raphaël Sorin for Le Monde des livres in March 1983).

After secondary studies in Le Havre and the Savoie region, between 1936 and 1938 Pierre Bettencourt took Paul Valéry’s poetry classes at the Collège de France in Paris and was passionate about theatre. In 1941, he bought a manual printing press. For over a decade, at his family home occupied at the time by the Germans, he published short runs of his own texts as well as those of Henri Michaux, Antonin Artaud, Francis Ponge, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Jean Dubuffet.

From 1953 onwards, Pierre Bettencourt hunted butterflies in the company of his friend Jean Dubuffet and made his first collages out of butterfly wings. He later created his first assemblages, composed of various recycled materials found in nature (bone, flint, fabric, sponge, coffee grinds, egg shells, etc.), arranged in disturbing stagings of fantastical divinities, represented in a climate of violent eroticism combined with sacrality, devoted to an unknown and barbaric cult, possibly emerging from his extensive travels and passion for bygone civilisations. He created four hundred high reliefs in all, between 1954 and 1992.

Long remaining confidential, deliberately withdrawn from art circuits or jealously guarded by those who become their trustees, the artworks of Pierre Bettencourt were exhibited at the Galerie René Drouin, the Galerie Daniel Cordier, followed by the Galerie Beaubourg, and finally that of Baudouin Lebon in Paris. They are currently conserved at the Centre Georges Pompidou, the musée de Grenoble, the Centre d'art contemporain de l'abbaye d'Auberive, Les Abattoirs de Toulouse, and the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

Nearly seventy years after his first exhibition at the Galerie René Drouin, the Galerie Christophe Gaillard is delighted to pay tribute to the unique and timeless œuvre of this great artist on the occasion of this exhibition – the first ever dedicated to his butterfly-wing collages.