Roy’s childhood was steeped in tales of sailing the seas of China and Malay, told to him by his grandfather, a former naval officer, who instilled in him a perpetual yearning for escape. He began as a student at the École des Langues Orientales, where he studied Japanese and Zen Buddhism. Having decided to devote himself to painting, he enrolled in the studio of Jean-Paul Luarens at the Académie Julian in 1904, and studied under Eugène Grasset at the École des Arts Décoratifs. In 1913 Apollinaire noticed a canvas by Roy, Jeunes Filles Sauvages, at the Salon des Indépendants, and have his backing to the novice. After marrying in 1925, Roy grew close to artists who would later become surrealists. Becoming friends with de Chirico, he was influenced by the painter and, in turn, influenced him. According to Filippo de Pisis, de Chirico wrote to Roy on June 20, 1925, “You are one of the most exquisitely intelligent persons I’ve ever met and your last pictures deeply impressed with their strange grandeur.”
Roy participated in the first Exhibition of Surrealism, in 1925 at Galerie Pierre. Some of his paintings were hung at the Galerie Surréaliste and reproduced in La Révolution Surréaliste, causing André Salmon to call him “the father of surrealism.” which was an exaggeration. Roy painted childhood memories, evoking lost playthings, and bygone emotions before the mystery of things. Prior to painting, he built a model of what he wished to represent and then described it down to the smallest details (Honneur au courage malheureux, 1931, Galerie F. Petit; Une Journée à la campagne, 1931, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris). Roy collected stones, roots and seeds, which he used in his assemblages of objects. He also did enchanting illustrations for a book of songs, Les Comptines (1926), and sets for the Ballets des Champs-Élysées. Fond of traveling, every year he spent several months away from France, usually in the Unites States, where he was a jury member at the Carnegie Foundation in Pittsburg. Roy sought to reconcile surrealism with conventional tastes and imbue the unusual with a Cartesian clarity. In 1967 a retrospective at Galerie François Petit reintroduced this appealing painter, a forerunner of Magritte, but without his depth and wealth of invention.
Born 1880 in Nantes, France; died 1950 in Milan.