‘An artist who needs to be seen now’: Estorick gallery’s new exhibition celebrates work of Olivier Debré

Olivier Debré’s Longue barre bleue Svanoy, 1974. Image: courtesy Estorick Collection

Canonbury Square’s Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art is playing host to a new exhibition of works by 20th-century French painter Olivier Debré.

Fervent Abstraction features 30 pieces selected by Michael Estorick, chair of the Estorick Foundation and son of Eric and Salome Estorick, who set up the Islington gallery in 1998.

The Estorick Collection boasts 120 works of art, including original paintings, prints and sculptures by Boccioni, Severini and Morandi.

Estorick said: “Debré was a wonderful painter. Enormously prolific but also remarkably consistent in quality, he is highly regarded throughout the world, yet remains almost unknown in the UK.

“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.”

Debré (1920-1999) is known for his work in the lyrical abstraction movement.

Taking inspiration firstly from Picasso, whom he met in 1941, and later from Japanese calligraphy, the artist began to use vivid colours in 1960 which became synonymous with his style, aligning him with the likes of Mark Rothko and Jules Olitski.

Debré drew inspiration from the natural phenomena around him, such as storms, typhoons and rivers, and used the emotions they invoked to inform his artistic process.

This is one of only a handful of times that the Estorick Collection has featured art that hasn’t come from or been directly linked to Italy.

“My parents’ taste for French 20th-century art, of which they owned a great deal, means that I believe this exhibition will not be out of place at the Estorick Collection,” Estorick said.

The temporary exhibition will be shown across three of the six gallery spaces, and will be on display until 26 September.

The Estoricks’ permanent collection of futurist Italian art is on display year-round, and has become a vital facet of Islington’s art scene.

Gallery director Roberta Cremoncini said: “When the gallery first opened 20 years ago there was not much interest in this kind of art.

“Now with the gallery, the shop, the cafe, Estorick has become its own entity.”

Fervent Abstraction runs until 26 September at Estorick Collection, 39A Canonbury Square, London N1 2AN.