Jacques Monory… an œuvre in blue

[23 Oct 2018]

His almost exclusive use of the color blue was his signature and his monochrome canvases with their photo-like finishes form a long panorama marked by melancholy… and the occasional nightmare”, Paule Monory.

Two major artists of the Narrative Figuration movement have died within a couple of days of each other: first the painter and sculptor Eduardo ARROYO (article coming soon) on 14 October, and then Jacques MONORY on 17 October in Paris, on the opening day of the the Paris FIAC. Melancholy may have been the primary inspiration for Monory who once confided “maybe one day I will paint with all the colours. That will be the day I have finally broken the separation between me and the world”.

Immediately recognizable, Monory’s melancholic blue displaces the flow of collective images into a profoundly romanesque universe. His fictional spaces, often described as ‘photo-paintings’, deeply influenced the French art scene in the second half of the 20th century.

The world as spectacle…

Monory was passionately interested in the ‘spectacular’ world, with its fictions and its incessant flow of lurid news. His romanesque world was largely composed of existing images and photos he took himself, being well acquainted with photography and imagery having worked for 10 years with Robert Delpire, a publisher specialized in photography. With his keen eye, he amassed a whole repertoire of images during his travels in the United States and subsequently made several films, including EX in 1968, Brighton Belle in 1974 and La Voleuse in 1984. His passion for the 7th Art ran through all his work and is equally visible in his paintings.

Monory’s paintings have that frozen-action look… fictions on canvas inspired by Hollywood films, comics and noir fiction. The artist developed an iconography with acknowledged references, similar to the principal players in the Pop Art movement at the same time, but in another vein. His work was a reflection of his era and its major influences, of interest in ‘everyday life’ and its flow of images, but also a reaction against the Abstract art (which Monory himself tried in his early days before destroying his works) that dominated the art scene in the 1950s and 60s. The artist’s favourite themes also reflect an acute awareness of the world’s violence.

From Narrative Figuration to Murder

Monory’s work was first shown to the public when he was 40. It was 1964 and the artist was a contributor to the Mythologies quotidiennes exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris, accompanied notably by his friends Peter Klasen, Hervé Télémaque and Bernard Rancillac. The exhibition marked the birth of a new artistic movement, Narrative Figuration, in which Monory was one of the most active members.

In 1968, a first series of paintings revealed the singularity of his talent. It was a series of ‘Murder’ paintings, reflecting an obsession with death and a passion for the underworld. The early major works of this ensemble are the most sought after by collectors and his best ever auction result was indeed hammered for one of these: Meurtre n° IX (portrait de Camille Adami). The violent and romanesque scene combines two images: a woman in a wedding dress, with dozens of bullet holes shot through the canvas and, above that, a poetic image evoking an accident with machine debris flying everywhere. The painting reached a price equivalent to $171,000 at Versailles Encheres in 2011. The record is old, as are most of the auction records reached by representatives of Narrative Figuration.


Top 5 auction results for works from the Narrative Figuration movement

1. ERRÖ > $1.23 million (Comicscape, 1971. Christie’s, Paris, 11/12/2007).

2. Hervé TELEMAQUE > $537,000 (Family portrait, 1962. Christie’s, Paris, 11/12/2007).

3. Valerio ADAMI > $439,000 (Le Vasche Da Bagno, 1966. Versailles Encheres, 27/04/2014).

4. Bernard RANCILLAC > $383,000 (Melody Under The Palms, 1965. Versailles Encheres, 16/12/2012).

5. Jacques MONORY > $171,000 (Murder No. IX, Versailles Encheres, 03/07/2011).


With a record at $171,000 after more than 60 years of career, Jacques Monory’s blue fictions are indeed cheap. Other large formats works by the artist can be acquired for around $30,000, like the one sold on 7 April earlier this year at Conan in Lyon (N.Y n° 5, 1971). Jacques Monory is one of the major French Contemporary artists whose works are discrete on the market, but who nevertheless enjoy solid prices. The 180% progression of his price index since 2000 reflects the growing recognition that his work enjoys among French collectors.