Post-Modern artist Bernard Lorjou was born on September 9, 1908 to an extremely poor family in the Loir et Cher department of France. In 1924, at the age of 13, Lorjou left his home for Paris, the city where he would earn his reputation as one of the most powerful political artists of his time, famous for his expressionist, figurative style and vibrant colors.
He arrived in Paris penniless and was quickly evicted from his time room on rue Raspail and was forced to sleep at the Orsay train station. At this time he was working without pay as an errand boy for a printing company. In 1924, Lorjou was hired by silk producer Ducharne in Montmartre where he was employed as a fabric designer. He gained great success in the silk business and his patterns were worn by some of the world’s most famous women.
In 1931, Lorjou traveled to Spain and visited the Prado Museum where he was exposed to expressionists such as Goya, El Greco, and Velàsquez, inspiring him to paint. By 1934, Lorjou had set up an artist’s studio in Montmartre with his partner Yvonne Mottet, also a painter. From the very beginning of his career, his work was inspired by current world events, and as he progressed as an artist and his popularity grew, he focused more specifically on violent events, such as massacre, murder, and war.
As the Germans advanced on France, Lorjou and Yvonne moved to Blois in 1939. While there, he continued to paint but also contributed to his community during this time of war. He even served as mayor while volunteering to help the citizens of Blois. In 1942, Lorjou’s work was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants, and in 1945 he presented his first solo show in Paris at the Galerie du Bac. From there, his paintings began to circulate both nationally and internationally. In 1946, he was invited to have a solo show in London. In 1948, Lorjou and his friend and contemporary painter Gerard Buffet were co-awarded the coveted Prix de la Critique. At this time, Lorjou began to paint on a larger scale on subjects such as big-game hunting, nuclear war, and the plague in Beauce.
During this time, Lorjou formed an anti-abstract artistic group called “L’Homme Témoin” with art critic Jean Bouret and was composed of members such as Bernard Buffet, Jean Couty, André Minaux, Charazac, and Simone Dat. Together the artists were featured at an exhibition at Galerie Claude in Paris. In 1950, Lorjou painted a particularly famous series titled The Atomic Age which is now owned by the French government and stored at the Pompidou Center. In 1952, the artist painted a very controversial work as a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II titled Morning of the Coronation. Soon after, he began a ten year collaboration with Georges and Daniel Wildenstein who owned multiple galleries where he would hold many of his future exhibitions. It was at their gallery where he held his very first show in the United States.
In 1957, Lorjou painted a very popular series titled Massacres of Rambouillet which he displayed in a self-built shack on the Esplanade of the Invalides in Paris, the collection being a reaction to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Budapest. Lorjou then moved the shack to Brussels where he displayed a series of massive paintings, some reaching lengths of 30 ft, denouncing France’s war in Algeria. This would not be the last time Lorjou would anger the French government with his powerful images criticizing their actions. Lorjou painted a second series on the Algerian War in 1960, but instead of satirizing the French government as a whole, he specifically targeted Charles de Gaulle.
As the decade continued, Lorjou painted a popular series titled The Kings: From Charlemagne to de Gaulle. A year later, in 1963, the artist rented an Italian barge on which he displayed some of his more monumental paintings, meant to be seen from the streets as the barge traveled up and down the Seine for three days until it was stopped by local authorities. In 1964, Lorjou painted a series denouncing racism titled Blacks and Whites, exhibited at A. Gattlen Galerie. The exhibition was prolonged due to its great popularity. The artist then went on to create a serious of wood engravings illustrating Guillaume Appolinaire’s Le Bestiaire, incorporating 33 colors reflecting his constant use of bright colors in his paintings.
In 1966, Lorjou was commissioned by the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris to paint the ceiling of the African Room. A year later he was commissioned by the diocese of Blois to paint a series of Biblical parables for a chapel for retired priests. In 1970, Lorjou was very much affected by the murder of Sharon Tate and asked Roman Polanski for permission to paint a work reflecting by the event. Polanski gave his consent and the painting was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. In 1972 Lorjou created a series of bronze and burnt wood statues, including a 160 lb solid silver statue sold at the Opéra de Paris to benefit cancer research. He then organized a solo exhibition in the United States that traveled through New York, Chicago, Beverly Hills, and Miami. In 1978, Lorjou was commissioned by the Civic Information Center to design a series of posters titled Vote For Whomever You’d Like, But Vote!, and also by the United Nations for another series of posters on the theme fight hunger, win peace.
Throughout the rest of the 70s and up until his death in 1986 at the age of 77, Lorjou continued to paint images of great controversy, using his medium to protest the violent events of his time. These include a series protesting the massacres in Palestine and another representing the tragedy of AIDS in 1985. By the end of his life, Lorjou had created thousands of paintings, ceramics, sculptures, illustrated books, stained glass windows, and murals. Throughout his entire career, Lorjou used oil and acrylic paints of vibrant colors in his exciting expressionist style to create visual weapons against injustice and violence.
This biography from the Archives of AskART