Labisse first studied at the Collège Saint Jean in Douai, France, and later enrolled in the École de Pêche (Fishing School) in Ostend, when his family moved to Zeebrugge, on the North Sea. He might have become a merchant marine captain had he not met James Ensor in 1923, who at the time was considered the most scandalous Flemish painter. Under Ensor's influence, Labisse began painting and held forth at the Club des Ostendais, whose members included Michel de Ghelderode, Franz Hellens and Constant Permeke. He was also a contributor and editor-in-chief of the review Tribord. His first exhibition, at the Ostend Gallery of Modern Art, in July 1928, earned him this compliment from Ensor: "Extraordinary painter, your heartrending accents warp women quelled by terror." In 1933 Labisse moved to Paris, where he immediately befriended the young actor, Jean-Louis Barrault, who asked him to design the sets and twenty-five costumes for a production of Autour d'une mère (1935), Barrault's first performance with the Théâtre de l'Atelier. Having already become a sought-after decorator, his 1938 exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels established him as a painter. His painting, much like the work of Paul Delvaux, was immersed in a world of nude women, except for their sky-blue or garnetred skin, which likened them to artificial flowers or wax figures. Labisse visibly sought to express the "disquieting strangeness" of eroticism.
Remaining in Paris during the war, he became friends with Robert Desnos, providing nine illustrations for Desnos' Le Bain avec Andromède (Éditions de Fiore, 1944). In return, Desnos wrote the book, Félix Labisse (Éditions Sequana, 1945), prefaced with a poem by Paul Éluard. In the postwar period, his Histoire naturelle (1948), composed of thirty drawings and thirty texts, described a series of fantastic beings, each drawn on one page with a facing commentary. His beings included Cyclope des Marais, Arthus des Sables, Guivre-Guénégote, Perce-Aurore, Rose-Pleurs, Sangsue-Satan, Fluviot. Adopted by the dissident surrealists (most notably by "Prévert's gang"), Labisse's political differences estranged him from André Breton. He was a member of the "revolutionary surrealists," who in 1947 attacked the poet in the name of Communism. While the official Paris group had their regular gallery, L'Étoile scellée, Breton organized a conciliatory exhibition, Domínguez, Magritte, Labisse, in 1954, inviting Labisse to exhibit two collages. When Labisse published his "fateful almanac," Le Sorcier des families (J. Lambert, 1957), comprised of texts and illustrations laid out like a calendar and featuring a saint, a devil, the honored man of the day, and a daily witchcraft formula, Breton wrote to him to say, "Beyond what may have sometimes divided us, let me tell you that I greatly appreciate your Sorcier des familles...Your advisors, the more they come, are amazing, your she-devils magnificent. This is a surrealist book, as I see it. My warmest compliments." After his retrospective in July 1960, at Knokke-het Zoute, where he exhibited 105 paintings, in 1962 Labisse painted a series of Libidoscaphes, creatures that represented shameful desires masked by proprieties. In his last period, after a retrospective in Charleroi, Belgium, in February 1970, he returned to his blue-skinned women (Le Bain Turquoise, 1968; Les Princesses du sang, 1970) and his well-crafted dream scenes.  

Felix Labisse 

Born 1908 inMarchiennes, Belgium; died 1982 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

Le Conseil de Sang, 1973