Joseph Lacasse was born in 1894 into a poor working class family in the quarry town of Tournai, Belgium. Lacasse’s experience as a child labourer in the local limestone quarries (1905-1910) shaped his future as a staunch socialist and a defender of the proletarian cause.
During his years as a child labourer, 1905-1910, Lacasse would take home small off-cuts from the quarry slabs and portray them in chalks on black paper - the only paper he could afford, being readily available at the quarries. He drew impressions of the stone as it appeared whilst the light of the sun was refracted into a prism by an embedded mineral or by the rain or water running over it during the cutting process. Lacasse drew the stones close up, using his chalks to recreate the light glowing from within. The rather coarse technique gives away a child-like honesty. With these so-called Cailloux works dating 1909-1914, Lacasse unwittingly inscribed himself into the history of Abstraction.
During the Great War, provoked by the atrocities, injustice and horrors of the German prison camps, Lacasse turned to full Expressionist Figuration. These paintings display a use of a Caravagesque chiaroscuro handling of the light for dramatic purpose. The figures, painted close-up and against backgrounds void of superfluous objects, communicate a sense of monumentality. They not only bear testimony to Lacasse’s attachment to the proletarian cause but also to his special communication of light. Alongside these Social Realist paintings, Lacasse also painted a series of Mystico-Realist and Cubist works.
After the end of the First World War, Lacasse travelled to Italy where he experimented with lyrical and geometrical abstraction in order to evoke pure light. These works have definite overtones of Orphism and it is more than plausible that Lacasse had encountered the work of Robert Delaunay in 1919 during his first trip to Paris.
In 1925 Lacasse decided to settle in Paris, and following his marriage to Stéphanie Lupsin, he took a studio at 11 Impasse Ronsin in Montparnasse in 1928. The first to settle in these desolate rambling studios and to transform them into a creative haven was Constantin Brancusi (1916), with whom Lacasse became life-long friends.
During 1927-1928, Lacasse met Robert and Sonia Delaunay, whose influence on his colour-palette would be profound. Whilst practicing Abstraction, Lacasse found the words ‘abstraction’ or ‘abstract’ limiting. In his journal Lacasse describes his metaphysical journey in creating an abstract:
‘I do not know why I find the word ‘abstract’ inapt, for I regard the finished (abstract) painting as something that comes to live, a living object in itself and is therefore the opposite of abstract.’ He continues to say that ‘when the (abstract) painting is born, the painting speaks and acts, the painting has its own life, mysterious and sacred.’
In 1934, Lacasse and his friend the writer Henry Poulaille founded ‘l’Equipe’, a platform for the independent artist. In 1937, proper exhibition premises on Boulevard Montparnasse were inaugurated with a show of work by Delaunay, Gleizes, Lipchitz, Kisling, Lurçat, Löwenstein, Picabia, Van Tongerloo and Lacasse.
During that crucial year of 1938, Lacasse had known Robert Delaunay personally for ten years, had experimented with Orphism during the 1920s and with Tachism during the mid-1930s. Lacasse showed full maturity in his Abstract researches, demonstrated in his famous ‘Carnets de l’Equipe’ dating 1934-1940. The maturity of these works show Lacasse’s disciplined dedication to a life-long search for pure painting through light and the sublimation of subject matter. In 1938, Serge Poliakoff visited l’Equipe and saw Lacasse’s abstract compositions.
Lacasse was a pioneer in many ways, leaving behind a complex and challenging body of work. However, as a Classicist, Social Realist, a Fauve, a Cubist, a Tachist and an Abstractionist, Lacasse was always on the path of research to deal with the pictorial questions of how to best express light. Lacasse was a brilliant and gifted artist with an intellect, character, palette and style as multifaceted as the prism of light itself, creating his own universe in the Universe.
Public collections include
Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh
Eilat Museum, Israel
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels
Musée d'art moderne de La Ville de Paris, Paris
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Liège
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tournai
Musée d'Histoire et d'Art, Luxembourg
Musée National d'art moderne, Paris
Museum of Art, Ein Harod, Israel
Museum Naradow, Warsaw
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
National Museet, Stockholm
National Museum, Djakarta
Provincial Museum of Fine Arts, Ostend
Tel Aviv Museum of Art, lsraeI
Joseph Lacasse, A Universe in the Universe, A Pioneer of Abstraction, exhibition catalogue with essay by An Jo FERMON, Whitford Fine Art, London, 2015.
Joseph Lacasse, exhibition catalogue with introduction by VAN DE BUSSCHE, Willy and An Jo FERMON, Whitford Fine Art, London, 2013.
RENWART, Marc. Joseph Lacasse, exhibition catalogue, Fonds Mercator, Paribas, Liège and Paris, 1994-1995.
BILCKE, Maurits. et al. Joseph Lacasse par lui-même. Mercator, Antwerp, 1974.
2015, Joseph Lacasse: Pioneer of Abstraction, Whitford Fine Art, London (retrospective exhibition)
2013, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tournai, Tournai. (La Beauté sauve Le monde, including a presentation of Lacasse's 'Quatre Jours de La Création'); Joseph Lacasse, Whitford Fine Art, London (retrospective exhibition)
2005/03/01, Galerie des Arets, Brussels
1999, Cotthem Gallery, Knokke-Zoute and Barcelona, (retrospective exhibition)
1996, Fondation Bemberg, Toutouse (retrospective exhibition)
1995, Couvent des Cordelliers, Paris (retrospective exhibition]; Galerie Callu Mérite, Paris, (works 1930-1950)
1994, Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain de La ville de Liège, Liège (retrospective exhibition); Galerie Cotthem, Knokke-le-Zoute, (cubist works 1910-1915)
1991, Gallerie Callu Mérite, Paris (20 collages 1930-1960)
1990, Galerie Cotthem, Art London 90, London
1989, Maison de la Culture, Tournai (Degand, Lacasse, Leroy); Cotthem Gallery, Aalst, Lineart Ghent; Galerie Callu Mérite, Paris (abstract works 1930-1940)
1988, Galerie Callu Mérite, Paris (abstract works 1911-19561)
1984, Drian Galleries, London
1978, Modern Religious Art Museum, Ostend
1977, Musée d'Histoire et d'Art, Luxembourg (retrospective exhibition)
1976, Fondation Septentrion (Anne et Albert Prouvost), Marcq-en-Baroeul
1975, Galerie Govaerts, Brussels (works 1909-1974)
1974, Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas, Tournai (Inauguration of eight large murals); World Trade Centre, Brussels (retrospective exhibition at the occasion of publication of the book Joseph Lacasse par Lui-même); Maison de la Culture, Tournai
1973, Playhouse Gallery, Harlow; Drian Galleries, London; Galerie -Jeanne Buytaert, Antwerp (works 1909- 1913)
1972, Galerie Jacques Massol, Paris (recent works)
1971, Galerie Jacques Massol, Paris (works 1928-1939); Drian Galleries, London (retrospective exhibition)
1970, Baukunst Ga|erie, Cologne (Retrospective exhibition); Halle aux Draps, Tournai (retrospective exhibition); Galerie Jacques Massol, Paris (works 1916-1927)
1969, Galerie Jacques Massol, Paris (works 1909-1914); Palais des Beaux-Arts, Charleroi, Kunstverein Feirburg-im Breisgau; Landesmuseum Oldenburg; Kunstverein, Kassel (travelling exhibition)
1968, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Liège and Musée des Beaux-Arts, Mons (retrospective exhibition)
1967, Swedish Architecture Museum, Lund; Paris, Galerie Jacques Massol
1962, Drian Galleries, London (cubist works 1 910-1915); Galerie Heberg, Copenhagen
1961, Galerie -Jacques Massol, Paris (recent works); Galerie Kare-Berntsen, Oslo
1960, Galerie de la Madeleine, Brussels; Drian Galleries, London (retrospective exhibition)
1959, Galerie Jacques Massol, Paris; Drian Galleries, London
1958, Galerie Grattacielo, Milan
1957, StAkademie, Darmstadt; KurpfMuseum, Heidelberg
1956, Kunstverein, Freiburg-im-Breisgau; Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld; Kunstverein and Landesmuseum Darmstadt; Kunstverein and Museum Heidelberg (travelling retrospective exhibition)
1955, Galerie Rose Fried, New York (works 1949-1954)
1953, Kustverein, Salzburg; Kunstverein and Landesmuseum Darmstadt (travelling exhibition with works 1935-1952)
1951, Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Paris; Witdenstein, Paris; Galerie Dina Vierny, Paris (works 1935-1936)
1946, Galerie Delpierre, Paris
1938/37, Galerie de l'Equipe, Paris
1933, Galerie des lngénieurs, Paris
1930/29, Salons de la marquise de Roys, Paris
1928, Galerie Dujardin, Roubaix; Galerie du couvent des Franciscains, Mons-en-Baroeul
1926, Cercle Artistique de Tournai, Tournai (l'OEuvres du peintre du pays Blanc)
1924, Cercle Artistique de Tournai, Tournai
1922/20/19, Galerie Lupsin, Brussels
1919, Cercle Artistique de Tournai, Tournai
1914, Galerie de la Reine, Brussels