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Auguste HERBIN


Auguste HERBIN


Auguste Herbin spent his childhood in Cateau-Cambrésis. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Lille from 1898 to 1901 in the studio of Pharaon de Winter, then moved to Paris.

At first he painted in the post-impressionist style; this influence is visible in the paintings he sent to the 1906 Salon des Indépendants.

He gradually moved towards Cubism after meeting Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in 1909 at the Bateau-Lavoir in Paris. He was also encouraged in this direction by his friendship with the German art critic and collector Wilhelm Uhde. At the 1910 Salon des Indépendants, he was exhibited in the same room as Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes and Fernand Léger and, in 1912, he took part in the important Section d'Or exhibition. He followed his friends to Céret between 1913 and 1923 where he signed several cubist works (Paysage à Céret) and eliminated the notion of perspective.

During the First World War, Herbin was assigned to decorate a military chapel in the camp of Mailly-le-Camp, and later to camouflage work.

Herbin produced his first abstract paintings in 1917. He was noticed by Léonce Rosenberg who bought several paintings from him and took him under contract at the Galerie de L'Effort moderne in Paris where he exhibited several times between 1918 and 1921. In 1919, Herbin decided to abandon cubism, which he considered outdated. His geometric woodblock paintings in relief questioned the status of easel painting. However, they were very poorly received, even by critics who were in favour of cubism. Herbin retired to Cateau-Cambrésis. Between 1922 and 1925, Herbin returned to a figurative style, plagued by doubts and on the advice of Rosenberg. He would later disavow the landscapes, still lifes and genre scenes of this period, such as Les Joueurs de boules (1923, Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne), in which he depicted objects in the form of simplified volumes. In 1929, he co-founded the Salon des surindépendants.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Herbin invented his plastic alphabet based on synaesthesia: a method of composition based on a repertoire of 26 colours, each corresponding to a letter and geometric shapes (triangle, circle, semicircle, quadrilateral), as well as to a sound. For example, the letter "i" is associated with a circle and a triangle, with the colour orange and with the musical note D. Herbin's paintings are based on a word that gives the painting its title, according to correspondences between letters, shapes, colours and musical sounds.

In 1946, Herbin developed his "Alphabet plastique", an attempt to codify the correspondences between letters, colours and shapes, and became president of the Salon des réalités nouvelles. In 1949, he presented his book L'Art non figuratif, non objectif (Non-figurative, non-objective art) at the Galerie La Gentilhommière in Paris, in which he presented his alphabet plastique, a book that would become one of the major references for abstract painting of the time. The second generation of abstract artists, that of Jean Dewasne, Victor Vasarely, Olle Baertling, Richard Mortensen, Robert Jacobsen, etc., considered him a master and took in his teachings at the Atelier d'art abstrait, a place created by Jean Dewasne and Edgar Pillet, or at the Salon des réalités nouvelles. After the Second World War, he was, along with Jean Arp and Alberto Magnelli, the only living artist to witness the history of abstract art, whose development he contributed to.

In 1953, Herbin was struck by hemiplegia. He relearned to paint with his left hand. His meeting in 1956 with Guy de Lussigny was to be decisive in the young painter's career. That same year, he offered 24 works to the City of Cateau-Cambrésis, thus constituting a second collection for the museum created by Henri Matisse in 1952.

Since the 1960s and until today he is represented in Paris by the Lahumière Gallery and the Denise René Gallery, which regularly show his works.

In the 2000s, Didier Marien published a series of carpets after Auguste Herbin, signed and numbered, for the Boccara gallery with the agreement of the rightful owners. These carpets, exhibited in France and in New York, London and Moscow, have contributed to the rediscovery of Auguste Herbin in the world's major art capitals.

The last retrospective of his work took place in 2013 at the Matisse Museum in Le Cateau-Cambrésis and the Museum of Modern Art in Céret.

In March-April 2017, the gallery Le Minotaure in Paris will present Geometric Abstract Art: from its origins to the New Realities, with Auguste Herbin as the main theme (40 pieces presented: paintings, gouaches and preparatory drawings), a painter favoured by the Kouro collection and a militant for the recognition of Abstraction (art) in France, at a time when it was still the subject of much controversy.

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