Jean Isy De Botton was a highly celebrated painter courted by the rich and powerful throughout Europe and America. Born in Salonica, Greece, he studied at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, whilst also attending the studios of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle and Bernard Naudin. It is notable that the ability to describe the physical world with an innate understanding of its volumetric contours is apparent throughout de Botton’s oeuvre, from his earlier figurative work through to the fragmentation of form and poetic rearrangements that characterise his later, best-known work. In 1920 he first exhibited at the Salon des Indépendents, then in 1921 at the Salon d’Automne where in 1927 he was received his first award, and in 1929 at the Salon des Tuileries. During this period de Botton was fully immersed in painting redolent of l’art vivant, but in 1933 he visited Italy where he was profoundly moved by the early Renaissance paintings of Giotto and Piero della Francesca, and on returning to Paris he destroyed most of his previous work. He wrote a manifesto declaring that chiaroscuro which had dominated Western Art since the Renaissance “had killed painting”, and that colour should be the predominant factor in art. He embarked on a new vibrant and expressive body of work which he referred to as “humanist abstraction”, in which figurative elements played a harmonic rather than dominant role in the composition. The ability to represent the world through its essential, descriptive forms is key to de Botton’s subsequent development.
During the 1930’s De Botton’s profile rose rapidly. From 1932-1939 he taught at the Académie Montmartre. In 1937 he was the only foreign artist commissioned to paint the coronation of George VI, and was given a solo exhibition in London. Subsequently, Queen Elizabeth II and Winston Churchill would also acquire his work. From 1934-1938 he participated in the Carnegie Institute International exhibitions in America, and was an immediate success. Numerous solo exhibitions followed in New York (1936, 1937, 1942, 1945, 1957), Seattle (1938), San Diego (1938), Philadelphia (1938, 1969), Boston (1939, 1966), Hollywood (1941), Los Angeles (1945), San Francisco (1951), Chicago (1953), Phoenix (1960), Atlanta (1961), Fort Worth (1962), Palm Beach (1962), Dallas (1967). His work was collected by famous figures such as Ernest Hemingway, Charlie Chaplin, the Roosevelt’s and the Kennedy’s. In 1944 he was given a major show at the Museum of California, and commissioned to decorate the San Francisco Opera. He was also made a member of the American Federation of Arts, and became a US national.
In 1956 De Botton returned to Europe, and that year held an exhibition at Galerie Wildenstein in Paris. He held further exhibitions in Geneva (1957); Museum of Osnabruck (1959); Hamm (1960); Cologne (1964); Salzburg (1965); Munich (1965); Vienna (1965); Paris (1966). He was also appointed to the committee of the Salon d’Automne; director of the Salon des Tuileries; member of the Salon des Indépendants; director of the Académie Montmartre (1969); vice-president of the Salon Moderne; and president of the Salon France. Later his eyesight deteriorated and by 1973 he was virtually blind and unable to paint anymore. He died in New York in 1978.
The artist’s work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Museum of Modern Art (Paris), Luxembourg Museum (Paris), Museum Albertina (Vienna), Carnegie Institute (Pittsburgh), Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, US), Dallas Museum, Atlanta Museum of Art, Phoenix Art Museum, (Arizona), Museum Richartz (Cologne), Norton Museum (Palm Beach), San Diego Museum.