The son of a workman, he was born in a small village near the Belgian border on April 29, 1882. This background is reflected in the northern French artist’s painting with its rational approach and explicit working class character.
Before settling in Paris, where he first joined the Impressionists and later the Fauves, Herbin attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Lille from 1900 onwards. His studio was situated directly next to Braque’s and Picasso’s, allowing a close study of Cubism, which resulted in first Cubist paintings in 1913. In 1917 he moved on to an abstract, geometric phase before gradually discovering Constructivism. There was a short interruption in this development in 1922 when the painter briefly returned to figurative painting.
In 1929 Herbin was a co-founder of the ‘Salon des Surindépendants’. Two years later he founded the artist association ‘Abstraction-Création’ together with Vantongerloo with whom he published the group’s Almanach until 1937. After the war the artist was the co-founder and vice president – from 1955 also the president – of the ‘Salon des Réalites Nouvelles’. From 1938 his interest in the Italian Trecento led Herbin to a more concrete, strictly two-dimensional painting style with simple geometric forms. In 1946 he developed the ‘alphabet plastique’, a compositional system based on the structure of letters. He published this compositional system as well as his color theories – partly derived from Goethe’s Farbenlehre – in his L’art non-figuratif non-objectif in 1949.
A lateral paralysis in 1953 forced the artist to learn painting with his left hand. Herbin’s typical architectural approach and his color effects made his pre-war work widely known in the international art world – a success which continued after the war. Herbin exhibited works at the Documenta (Kassel, Germany) in the years 1955 to 1972. There was a large show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1979 and he had works in the exhibition ‘Positionen unabhängiger Kunst in Europa um 1937’ at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf in 1987.
Herbin died in Paris on 31 January 1960. One painting remained unfinished – it was called Fin.