Perrysburg gallery exhibits work of master painter of 20th century

Paul-Henri Bourguignon’s
‘Reclining Woman in Brown’ from 1965 is part of a River House Arts exhibit that opens Friday.

Paul-Henri Bourguignon was a witness to a turbulent century.
Born in Brussels in 1906, he died in 1988 in Columbus. In those eight decades he was a journalist, art
critic, government official and, most of all, a painter.
Those occupations took him throughout the continent and later to Haiti . What he witnessed emerged in
paintings. While that work is indebted to the artistic trends of his time, he transformed those
influences into something distinctly his own. Those paintings have found their way into collection
across Europe ad the United States.
An exhibit of his work opens Friday with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. at River House Arts, 115 W. Front
St., Perrysburg. The exhibit continues through Oct. 14. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday 11
a.m. to 6 p.m. or by appointment, (419) 874-8900.
"He had an enormous visual memory for people, places and color," recalls his widow Dr. Erika
The couple met while both were visiting Haiti in 1947. He was there to photograph the island.
"He had never been on this side of the world," Dr. Bourguignon said.
She was there as part of her graduate studies in anthropology. Given she spoke French, they were drawn
"We were both exploring in different ways," she said.
After they married, the couple moved to Columbus where she taught at Ohio State University and he
The memories of that time in Haiti stayed with him. "Haiti really inspired him," Dr.
Bourguignon said. He continued to draw on those and the other images from his life in Europe as he
Moving to Columbus in the 1950s when the city had no significant art scene "gave him a quiet time to
draw on memories and experiences," Dr. Bourguignon said.
He would tell stories about journeying into rural Central Europe, far more isolated than now, where
people would follow him about because he was dressed in Western European style clothing.
One man told him how wonderful it would be to visit Brussels.
That, his wife said, opened the artist’s eyes to the notion that what looks exciting to him could be hum
drum to a native of the place and what he took for granted could be exotic to a stranger.
The show includes paintings done from 1930s through the 1960s. It includes landscapes and portraits as
well as drawings.
His work is not very well known, said Jane Hoffelt who is working with Dr. Bourguignon to gain exposure
for the painter’s work. "He just went about the business of being an artist. He wasn’t interested
in the business of sales and marketing."
For her part, Dr. Bourguignon continues to have a distinguished career as an anthropologist.
Bourguignon work eventually evolved into abstraction, which he termed transpositions. Still, Dr.
Bourguignon says his distinctive touch is evident throughout, from his earliest pieces to the last.
"He has a personal vision," she said, with his own way of "distilling… art history
through his own vision."