Jacques Doucet

Jacques Doucet
Boulogne-sur-Seine 1924-1994 Paris

Erik Slagter: ‘Jacques Doucet is a small man with a squarish white beard framing a weathered face with very expressive eyes that are always darting about. You can see that he has had to struggle in life, but has never given up.’

Corneille: ‘He drew like a child that creates an entire world in chalk on a pavement, he drew little figures – the kind you see in public lavatories or on walls in major cities – with lines that run their own course, passionate, colourful, shameless, such as everyday reality.’

Life history
Jacques Doucet was born in Boulogne-sur-Seine near Paris in 1924. He started drawing and writing poems around 1940. After the war broke out he began painting as well, including, for instance, a portrait which he portentously named Man in Freedom. In 1942 he met the painter/poet Max Jacob, who had a surrealistic influence on his art. But work by the already legendary Picasso, who lived in Paris at the time, was another great influence during the war years.

He was incarcerated by the Nazis for ‘terrorist activities’ and they confiscated his work.

Whilst imprisoned at Santé prison the graffiti on the walls by former prisoners made a big impression. The graffiti was, for him, a carved testimony to human existence. He saw the fear and hope it expressed. It was to have a lasting influence on him and on his work. He was not released from the Santé prison until 1945.

In the ensuing years he became captivated by the ‘child-like drawings’ of Paul Klee and Miró, and he became increasingly fascinated by real children’s drawings on street walls. It was around this time that he personally met artist Jean-Michel Atlan, who had also been incarcerated by the Germans, which created a bond.

In 1947 he was offered a solo exhibition in the European School in Budapest, where he got to know Corneille. This marked Corneille’s encounter with modern art, because through Doucet he discovered work by Miró and Klee. Corneille said, ‘My stay there was a delight, despite the dilapidated accommodation. Unforgettable experiences awaited us: work, comradeship and heated debates.’ About Doucet he said, ‘He danced at night like a wild fawn on the out-of-bounds lawn of the public gardens, where he wanted to tuck under his arm the shining yellow moon that hung close by in the indigo sky among the stars.’

In the years that followed, Doucet took Corneille and the artists he met through Corneille round Paris, saw to it that they had a place to stay and showed them all he knew.

The encounter was every bit as vital to Doucet, because he wanted to distance himself from what he saw as an overly intellectualized world in Paris, awash with theory. He got to know other members of the Experimental Group through Corneille and this loosened up his work. He immediately became affiliated with them and subsequently with the international Cobra movement, which the Experimental Group merged into.

Doucet felt particular kinship with the northern Cobra artists and, unlike the other French Cobra member Atlan, his contact with them was so close that he traveled to the north for this very purpose. He frequently visited Amsterdam and became good friends with many. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that one of his pieces is on the cover of the second issue of Reflex.

Second issue of Reflex (cover), Ambassade Hotel Collection

Corneille gave him a piece of wood and Doucet turned it into a woodcut. All the Experimental artists had submitted work, but Doucet was chosen over the others. Shortly afterwards, he was invited to take part in an exhibition with foreign exhibitors at Van Lier’s in 1949. Work by their Dutch comrades was on show in the Bijenkorf department store, in the furniture department.

And a few months later Doucet quite naturally took part in the large Cobra exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Not only with his art, but also physically, because his name was the most often mentioned as one of the troublemakers at the poetry evening that got totally out of hand. Among other things, he started singing The Internationale and got into a scuffle. Some people even seemed to relish getting into a fist fight.

A small book about Doucet was published as part of the Bibliothèque Cobra 1950. It was written by Jean Laude, who characterised Doucet as a Cobra artist poised on the edge of child-like sensitivity. Laude quoted Baudelaire: ‘Genius is childhood equipped now with the physical means to express itself.’ He then went on to say, ‘The expressive power that the signs on the prison cell walls have and which Doucet witnessed at first hand when imprisoned during the war are given creative release through his work. Painting is a temporary reprieve, a fight against death, but at the same time it is the search for happiness.’

This artist’s publication belongs to the Ambassade Hotel Collection.

Doucet died in Paris in 1994.

After Cobra was disbanded in 1951, the small figures and birds started to diminish. The colours began to change as well. Doucet became obsessed with material. To quote, ‘I need contact with the material for my spiritual quest and when I have this contact I experience true sensual pleasure.’ He worked with areas of colour. Nevertheless, you can discover ‘people’ in his work here and there. Such as in the canvas recently acquired by Ambassade Hotel. If you let your imagination go, you might see a man with a bunch of flowers. Is it ‘Lucca’ ? Others, on the other hand, see a womb, possibly with sperm cell and egg, or is it?

Jacques Doucet, Lucca, 1972. Signed Doucet; verso signature with title. Oil on canvas. 55 x 46 cm. This piece was exhibited previously in Art Paris, 2003, and Cobra Reykjavik, Trondheim Museum of Art, 2008.

Work by Doucet belongs to collections in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Cobra Museum in Amstelveen, Centre Pompidou in Paris en collections in Brussels, Stockholm, Silkeborg (Denmark) and Pittsburgh.

NRC Cobra Museum exhibition Diewertje Mertens 2011
Ed Wingen 7 Dec. 1981 Telegraaf newspaper
Jacques Doucet, Erik Slagter
National library of the Netherlands, newspaper archives

Read more about Theo Wolvecamp, Karel Appel, Corneille, Brands, Constant, Anton Rooskens, Dotremont, Tajiri, Cobra, the locations where the works hang, Wouter Schopman (the story behind the collection).