You are here: Home / Discover / Culture / Museums / La Boverie / The collections / Artwork of the month / Jean Messagier, Transamazonienne
Document Actions

Jean Messagier, Transamazonienne

Entre abstraction, paysage, et militantisme écologique


Jean Messagier (Paris, 1920 – Montbéliard, 1999)
Transamazonienne, 1974
Aquatint and drypoint, 630 x 905 mm
Purchase of la Fondation Liège-Patrimoine at la galerie Catherine Putman
Deposit at  Musée des Beaux-Arts, 2019.


With this print entitled Transamazonienne, a new artist has been added to the collections of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Liège, namely Jean Messagier (Paris, 1920 - Montbéliard, 1999).

Frequently associated with the École de Paris in the post-war period, Jean Messagier is often referred to as a "lyrical abstract" or "tachist". When asked to describe his work, he does not say. What he wants above all is to stand out from the crowd, to disturb, to shake things up, to surprise and to occupy a place "where you don't expect it". Messagier is above all an eclectic artist, who constantly diversifies in the artistic forms he practices: sculpture, engraving, tapestry, and even music and poetry...

Jean Messagier's beginnings, a painter by training but also an engraver and sculptor, were marked by figurative painting, influenced by post-cubism. From the mid-1940s onwards, he became interested in abstraction and represented "abstract landscapes", detached from any figurative convention. It was in the 1960s that his abstraction reached a certain gestural freedom that characterises his pictorial production. After the 1980s, Messagier returned to figuration, tinged with surrealist overtones.

In his twenties, the young artist revealed himself to the public in Parisian galleries and salons, notably at the Salon d'Automne in 1948, and at the Salons d'Octobre in 1952 and 1953, of which he became a founding member. He also exhibited at the Arc-en-Ciel gallery and the Babylone gallery (Paris). In 1962, he represented France at the Venice Biennale, the same year as Serge Poliakoff and André Marfaing. In 1965, he exhibited at the Saõ Paulo Biennial Art Exhibition.

The work chosen to complete the Beaux-Arts collections is linked to the artist's lyrical abstract period of the 1960s and 70s. The ample forms and curls are characterised by the spontaneity of the gesture, a modus operandi from the mid-1960s.

Over the slight, disordered green sinuous lines, a thick straight purple line runs diagonally through the composition. In 1974, the subject made the headlines: the Brazilian government, eager to exploit the Amazon, embarked on major roadworks linking the Andes and Central America and established the Transamazonienne. The first 2500 km section was inaugurated in 1972; the second, linking the forest to the port of Santarem, opened two years later, in 1974. From the 1970s onwards, Jean Messagier exploited certain burning issues of the day. He is distinguished by his ecological militancy, which he transposes into his "abstract landscapes".

Messagier's graphic work is extremely fertile; it extends from the 1950s to 1974. This engraving is one of his last printed works. It is an artist's proof ("E.A." mentioned under the print), i.e. an unnumbered print, reserved for the artist's use. It seems that there were originally 50 numbered prints of the Transamazonian.

The print was purchased from the Parisian gallery Catherine Putman, by the Fondation Liège-Patrimoine in December 2019. This gallery has the particularity of highlighting the original work on paper of renowned contemporary French artists such as Arman, Pierre Alechinsky, Bram van Velde, Reinhoud or Jean Messagier. Catherine Putman (1949-2009) opened her own art gallery in 2005, and presents both self-referential works and works that are part of the elaboration of another work (sketches, designs, models, etc.). Catherine is the second wife of Jacques Putman (1926-1994), a Belgian collector, publisher and art critic, who publishes the prints of these contemporary artists. Jacques Putman is recognised in the world of printmakers as the one who launched the concept of original prints sold at a democratic price (notably via the "Prisunic" department stores). After her husband's death in 1994, Catherine Putman continued the publishing work he had begun, offering multiples and limited editions (engravings, lithographs, serigraphs, xylographs, etc.) in her gallery.

Fanny Moens

Curator at  Musée des Beaux-Arts de Liège