WHEN THE FRENCH PAINTER Jean Fautrier died, in 1964, his exhibition record stretched back to the late ’20s, and included three substantial shows—in 1945, in 1957, and a large retrospective in the year of his death. He had won the grand prize at the biennales of Venice and Tokyo in 1960 and 1961 respectively, and writers such as Jean Paulhan, Francis Ponge, André Malraux, and Giuseppe Ungaretti had all contributed to the body of criticism that addressed him. And yet, despite this attention, and a 1980 retrospective of his work that I curated at the Cologne Kunsthalle, Fautrier’s achievement today remains shadowed and in dispute.

The reservations about Fautrier’s art are deep rooted and complex, arising from qualities in both the work itself and its maker’s own character. In an era that valued in its artists the passionate flamboyance of a Picasso, or the luminous sensuality of a Matisse, or

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