November 3 – December 3, 2022
Opening | Thursday, November 3, 2022 6 to 8pm
In this latest exhibition at Demisch Danant, Dunkirk-Roubaix pairs two distinct collections of works — one by Eugène Leroy, a significant painter who lived and painted all his life in the area of Roubaix in Northern France, and the other by Joseph-André Motte, an important French designer who was commissioned to design the interior of a new public building for the Dunkirk Seaport (1965). The juxtaposition of the installations creates new dialogues among two important bodies of works of art and design.
Central to our mission is a dedication to scholarship and research. For several years, we travelled in the North of France in order to collect the pieces now on display. These research trips to Northern France began more than 10 years ago in Dunkirk, an area by the sea, and more than five years ago in Roubaix, a locale in the country. Underlying the exhibition is this story of the exploration of a geographical area with its own history, cultural background, and economic context. Through parallel quests collecting works in the places where they were originally created 60 years ago, we explored two cities — Dunkirk and Roubaix — through two different fields we are passionate about: the design of Motte and the art of Leroy.
Leroy and Motte are from different generations — Leroy was born in 1910 while Motte was born in 1925 — working in different fields — traditional painting and mass-produced furniture and interior design, respectively. They never met nor did they connect or communicate in any way during their lifetimes. However, Leroy and Motte happened to produce important bodies of work in the same period (the mid-1960s) and in the same area in the North of France.
Joseph-André Motte designed many major public commissions in the 1960s. His reputation as a serious interior designer capable of managing important projects was well established after prestigious commissions including the Orly Sud Airport (1961), La Maison de la radio (1962), and Le Havre Seaport (1964). Following these projects, Motte was approached to participate in the design and development of Dunkirk, the third most important French seaport. Motte was expressly commissioned to design the new administrative building of this maritime port. All the important rooms and offices of this building were entirely designed and furnished by Motte, who created custom furniture for every space.
Aware of this commission, our research uncovered that the original furniture was still in place. A colleague based in Lille, Fabien Delbarre, share a common interest in Motte and learned about the renewal of the furniture of the administrative building and was able to access to the entire building, visit all the rooms, and prepare an inventory including photographs of all the furniture. This information was shared with us and over the course of 10 years and several trips to Dunkirk, we negotiated the acquisition of each piece in agreement with the public administrative calendar and their official protocols and processes regarding furniture renewal.
The Eugène Leroy story and associated travels to Roubaix is quite different from Motte. Demisch Danant co-founder, Stephane Danant, has long appreciated Leroy’s paintings. He started collecting them a few years ago when he discovered at an auction in Lille a painting from the earlier periods of Leroy — 1950s and 1960s — which he was not familiar with. This first acquisition was the starting point of a new passion that soon transformed into a collector’s adventure. From one artwork to another, the gallery started acquiring several works and developed an interest in Leroy’s lesser known early works.
Born in Tourcoing near Roubaix in the North of France, Leroy lived and worked all his life in this area. Most of his collectors are from this region and from countries nearby including Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany owing to Leroy’s longtime dealer Michael Werner who first exhibited Leroy in the mid-1980s and internationally in the 1990s. Some of our acquisitions came from Lille and Roubaix auctions houses. We have also researched historic collectors of Leroy, which resulted in acquisitions or consignments of paintings that had been kept by a single family in Roubaix, sometimes for more than 50 years.
Roubaix is an important northern city in France both economically, from its wealthy textile industry, and culturally, because of its local collectors who have been actively supporting artists since the 19th century. Leroy studied in Roubaix and opened a studio there during the 1950s. At that time, he started exhibiting his work in Roubaix as well as in Lille along with other artists from this region.
Roubaix became an artistic center due to an emerging generation of talented artists who were supported by motivated collectors and museum curators as well as exhibited in up-and-coming galleries. From 1946 to 1975, an informal collective of painters and sculptors were artistically associated and actively involved in the evolution and the diffusion of contemporary art in the North. They soon became known under the name of “le groupe de Roubaix.”
Eugène Leroy was the elder of the group, a tutelary figure respected by the other artists. He became successful and his works were collected from the very early stages of his career. He had solo exhibitions in the Musée des Beaux Arts de Tourcoing in 1956 and 1957 — the same year of an important solo exhibition, Leroy and the Nothern Art, in the Musée des Beaux Arts de Dunkirk.