Lyrical and 'fervent' abstracts at Canonbury gallery

Sans Titre Olivier Debré

Sans Titre circa 1946, Indian Ink on Paper is on show at the Estorick Collection in Islington. © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021 - Credit: Olivier Debré

Large scale oil paintings by French postwar artist Olivier Debré go on show at Canonbury's Estorick Collection.

The show has been selected as a ‘Chairman’s Choice’ by Michael Estorick, son of Eric and Salome Estorick, whose collection of Modern Italian Art is housed in the Canonbury Square museum.

Fervent Abstraction opens on June 30 and features some 30 oils and works on paper including 16 larger paintings.

"Debré was a wonderful painter. Enormously prolific but also remarkably consistent in quality," says Michael, chair of the Estorick Foundation.

"He is highly regarded throughout the world, yet remains almost unknown in the UK. My parents’ taste for French 20th century art means that I believe this exhibition will not be out of place at the Estorick Collection. Debré is an artist who needs to be seen now, not least in the context of the Covid pandemic and of Brexit, which while often making the world feel smaller, also threatens cultural ties with continental Europe."

Olivier Debré

Monochrome rose rouge, trace rouge rose, 1984, Collection Galerie, Louis Carré & Cie, Paris - Credit: Olivier Debré

Born in Paris in 1920, Debré was one of the key figures in lyrical abstraction, alongside Serge Poliakoff, Pierre Soulages and Nicolas de Staël. Created around 1943, his early works reflect the influence of Picasso (whom he met in 1941), but in 1945 he began to make paintings in gouache and ink which show the influence of Japanese calligraphy - in common with Soulages and Franz Kline.

In 1960, Debré began to use the intense, vivid colours which came to define his style – a change of direction partly inspired by encounters with Mark Rothko and Jules Olitski. Describing his work as 'fervent abstraction,' Debré’ wanted to express the emotions he experienced around natural phenomena such as storms, typhoons and rivers (particularly the Loire) using strong accents of colour over fluid, vibrant backgrounds.

Olivier Debré Longue Barre Bleue Svanoy 1974

Longue Barre Bleue Svanoy 1974 oil on canvas - Credit: Olivier Debré

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Major exhibitions during his lifetime included representing France at the Montreal World Exhibition in 1967, and a retrospective at the Jeu de Paume in Paris in 1995.

The exhibition runs until September 26 at 39A Canonbury Square, N1. Admission is to pre-booked ticket holders only in timed slots. Purchase online at or by phone on 020 7704 9522.