Index of Historic Collectors and Dealers of Cubism
Paulhan, Jean
Nîmes, France, 1884–Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, 1968

Jean Paulhan was one of the most influential figures in French literature in the twentieth century. Paulhan served as an editor of La Nouvelle Revue française from 1925 to 1940, during the time that it became France’s premier literary journal, and led its revival after World War II as La Nouvelle Nouvelle Revue française. During the Vichy period, Paulhan undertook a defense of modern French painting. A partisan of the art brut of Jean Dubuffet, who painted his portrait in 1946 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), Paulhan wrote his first critical texts in defense of Cubism and Jean Fautrier.

Jean Paulhan studied psychology and philosophy before departing for Antananarivo, Madagascar in 1907, where he became an expert in the popular poetic traditions of the region. After returning to France in 1910, Paulhan served as a sergeant in the French armed forces during World War I and was wounded in 1914. Following the war, Paulhan’s literary activity became more prominent. With Paul Éluard and André Breton, he participated in the organization of one of the most significant early efforts to tame the chaotic protests of Dada, the Congrès international pour la détermination des directives et la défense de l'esprit moderne (International Congress to Determine the Directives and Defense of the Modern Spirit), whose excessively bureaucratic character was mocked by Tristan Tzara and others. Having served as assistant to Jacques Rivière in his capacity as editor of La Nouvelle Revue française since 1919, Paulhan was well placed to succeed Rivière in 1925. In 1940 Paulhan ceded editorship of the Revue to Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, at which time the journal adopted a pro-Fascist perspective.

Paulhan purchased Braque’s 1914 papier collé, Violin (Cleveland Museum of Art) from the Kahnweiler sequestration sales in the early 1920s, but his appreciation for the artist took several decades to mature. During 1943 and 1944, Paulhan published an essay on the artist, “Braque, ou le sense du cache” (Braque, or the Sense of the Hidden) and wrote a longer text, Braque le patron (Braque the Master), which appeared in a deluxe edition, published by Mourlot (and later in a reprint by Gallimard), with a lithographic frontispiece by the artist. In 1953 he wrote the general essay, La Peinture Cubiste; ou l’espace d’avant les raisons (Cubist Painting; or, Space before Reason). The subtitle crystalizes Paulhan’s contribution to the interpretation of Cubism, which he set in relation to phenomenology’s thematization of the “pre-given, the un-reflective, in short that which exists before we become aware of it.” For Paulhan, “cubist space precedes any thoughts which we might formulate about it,” and thus privileges tactile over optical perception. The space of papier collé Paulhan found “immediate and raw [brut].” His widely reproduced anecdote of a man proceeding through his darkened bedroom after having switched off the lamp ably translates his philosophical views into everyday language. Although he applied this reading to both Braque and Picasso, Paulhan believed it was distilled more potently in Braque’s work.

Contributed by Samuel Johnson, July 2017
For more information, see:

Danchev, Alex. Georges Braque: A Life. New York: Arcade, 2012.

Jean Paulhan à travers ses peintres. Paris: Minisitère des affaires culturelles/Editions des musées nationaux, 1974.

Paulhan, Jean. Oeuvres completes. 10 vols. Paris: Gallimard, 2006−2011.