On the cover of his Points de Repère in 1968, Henry described how he clashed with his journalist father, who wanted him to become an engineer or a lawyer. He wrote that when he was six he drew his first caricatures; when he was nine he was a sleepwalker; when he was twelve he began to draw macabre cartoons; and when he was sixteen he decided to become a painter. Henry went to Paris in 1927, with his schoolmate Arthur Harfaux, a photographer, joining Rene Daumal and Roger Gilbert-Lecomte to found the review Le Grand Jeu. Their first issue featured his manifesto Nécessité de la révolte, which ends with this challenge: "I offer my victims in holocaust to my liberty" His "victims"—figures in his drawings—were the characters Sa Main est morte (his hand is dead; having a twisted arm with an extended hand in place of a head) or the nude woman stigmatized with lie suis à toi" (I am yours) and emerging from a sarcophagus. In 1929, his reply to the question: Is suicide a solution? was a hanged man raised vertically above the gallows instead of hanging beneath. After Le Grand Jeu was dissolved in 1932, Maurice Henry joined the Association des Écrivains et des Artistes révolutionnaires, where he associated with the surrealists, following them when they left the association. He published two illustrated poems (Ce que tu voudras and Terre-Terre) in Le Surréalisme au service de la Révolution (No. 5, May 15,1933). In André Breton's studio, in February and March 1933, he participated in the "experimental re-search on the irrational knowledge of the object." His answers to the questions on what to do with a piece of pink velvet, or on the possibilities of life in 490 (a date picked at random), were no less idiosyncratic than those of his new friends (including Benjamin Péret and René Char). After 1937, in order to make a living, Henry became a prolific caricaturist, while still associating with the surrealists and signing their dissident tracts. Of all the great French cartoonists, Henry was the only one to introduce surrealist imagery to newspaper readers. Rather than commenting on politics, his cartoons illustrated dreamlike scenarios, part burlesque, part poetry. In one example, he depicted a man in a nightdress on top of a mountain speaking to a man in pajamas on a cloud: "I think we've already met in another dream." In 1946, upon his return from the United States, André Breton confessed that he en-joyed looking at Henry's drawings in Combat: "For me, the surrealist image-idea, in all its original novelty, continues to be discovered in Maurice Henry each time a groggy morning brings me the fresh-ness of one of his drawings in the newspaper." Over a period of thirty-eight years Henry did some 26,000 drawings in 350 newspapers (by his own estimate), and was the gagman for 16 comic movies and scriptwriter for several others (including Les Aventures du Baron de Crac). His reputation as a funnyman finally became bothersome to him, and in 1960, weary of the delicate curves of his cartoons, Henry began using automatism to move toward "the sharp, the pointed, the angular; geometry, architectural construction, but with utter freedom." Ionesco thought that Henry's works expressed "the world of danger looming over us," seeing in them "an inhuman universe coming from unknown planets, bristling, erect, implacable." In the 1970s Henry made acrylic paintings representing hybrid creatures, packaged objects (revolver, telephone) swathed in bandages, recalling the gauze-encased violin of his Tribute to Paganini (1936). In 1975 he began "an intimate, extremely intimate diary, expressed in images" in the form of interpreted watercolors: "Every evening I forced myself to improvise a background drowned in water, sort of randomly using the brush and the seductions of my bag of tricks. As soon as it was dry, this ensemble of more or less running paint and clouds suggested utterly unforeseen contours and figures that I swiftly outlined with a pen." He called this series of watercolors "the mood of the day" and gave each one a title: "Le mécanisme sexuel, Les Jouets de [adolescence, Quelques regards, Couple suspendu, Paysage d'hier pour demain, etc. When this graphic humorist, full of delightful ingenuity, stopped working for the press, he strove to prove that he was also an inquisitive painter. His posthumous retrospective at Galerie 1900-2000, in spring 1998, featured only his paintings, collages, objects, books and those drawings not intended for the newspapers, such as Rencontre d'un cendrier et d'un géographe.
Born 1909 in Cambrai, France; died 1984 in Milan.
L'Inconnue, Acrylic on Canvas, 1974