The artist

Born in Algiers, Henry Valensi (1883-1960) lived through the two World Wars and the age of modernity. It is as a visionary and prolific painter, a traveler, a thinker, a lecturer and author, that he made his mark on his time without following conventional art historical formats. As an active member of the Puteaux Group, he exhibited alongside Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger and the Cubists Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger in the famous “Section d’Or” (Golden Section) exhibition in 1912. He then threw himself into his own research and became the founder of Musicalism in 1932.

Self-portrait (study n°8). Watercolor on cardboard 24 x 33 cm.

Somewhere between Cubism and Futurism, momentarily qualified by Apollinaire as Orphism, Valensi’s Musicalism defines itself as painting to listen to. With Léopold Survage, Ernst Klausz and Frantisek Kupka, he became one of the pioneers of Musicalism. Thus Henry Valensi is one of the creators of a new conception of space. Contemporary artist Farah Atassi has described her impressions with regards her connection with Valensi – an artist whose work she didn’t know before discovering it in the “Plural Modernities” exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in 2013.

Presentation clip by Marie Talon

Henry Valensi: Musicalism & cinepainting.

Fascinated by colour cinema, he creates the first Cinepainting. It takes him 30 years to complete Symphonie printanière (Spring ).According to Michel Gauthier, curator at the Centre Pompidou: “The film is really interesting: in the space of half an hour, it unravels all sorts of styles. From the abstraction of the 1930s to that of the 60s, with, at times, a psychedelic dimension (or rather what we now consider psychedelic). It is absolutely brilliant that this film can span all the permutations generated in painting over the course of 30 or 40 years.”

Henry Valensi in 1946, painting "Pink symphony".

Key dates


Born on 17 September, in Algiers, Algeria.


He settles in Paris. Following Léon Bonnat’s advice, he attends the classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts), joins the studios of Jules Lefebvre and Tony-Robert Fleury, then attends the Académie Julian.

1899 > 1908

Countless study trips to North Africa where he learns from the local art forms.


With Etienne Dinet’s support, Valensi exhibits at the Salon des Orientalistes. 


He exhibits at the Salon des Indépendants and becomes a member.


In Athens, he paints Le Parthénon vu d’un jardin rose (The Parthenon Seen From A Pink Garden); he realises that he is no longer satisfied with pictorial objectivism and turns towards Expressionism and clarifies certain principles. Valensi travels to Turkey, to the Middle Europa, he exhibits in Constantinople, travels across Russia, exhibits in Moscow.


In Paris, he organises and participates in the Salon de la Section d’Or with Marcel Duchamp, Dumont, Gleizes, Metzinger and Picabia. He became the secretary. All his archives from this period, as well as many other belongings – books, furniture, paintings and various objects – were stolen by the occupier when they looted his studio-apartment in 1940 (research about this is still in process). Valensi exhibits eleven canvases all painted in 1912.


Solo exhibition at the Galerie La Boétie (over 40 paintings). Valensi presents his first conference there. He also exhibits in Constantinople, Algiers, Dresden, Chemnitz.


Exhibition in the Imperial Museum in Leipzig.

1916 > 1917

Valensi volunteers and takes part in the expedition of the Dardanelles Campaign. General Gouraud makes him a war artist in his staff.


Exhibition at the Galerie Druet, of approximately 100 paintings and an equal number of drawings relating to this campaign. A large part of the works were purchased by the State and they are now in the collection of the Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine (BDIC, Hôtel des Invalides, Paris).


Valensi exhibits at the Union Française, in Constantinople.


A retrospective of his work is organised by Marinetti, the founder of Futurism, in Rome.


At the Théâtre Duncan in Paris, he presents his large composition Rome, à travers le Temps et l’Espace (Rome Through Time and Space) alongside 30 studies (this work was destroyed during the war).


Exhibits in the 3rd and last edition of the Golden Section, which also features work by Picasso and the Delaunays. 


Marries Yvonne Avesque.


Major exhibition at the Galerie Danthon, Paris.


Creation of the Musicalist movement and of the “Association des Artistes Musicalistes” with Charles Blanc-Gatti, Gustave Bourgogne and Vito Stracquadani. The Manifesto is published in the newspaper Comœdia.


Spends time in England.

1936 > 1939

Research leads him to invent the process he calls “cinepainting”.

1940 > 1945

Exiled in Algiers, Henry Valensi makes work about the resistance and on the progress of the Allied troops in Europe. He draws the stage where the Général De Gaulle pronounces his speech.

1946 > 1948

Valensi works as a research assistant in film studies at the CNRS (national center for scientific research).

1954 et les années suivantes

His wife Yvonne dies.

Valensi continues to paint Musicalist paintings, several of which are acquired by museums. He travels to Scandinavia, Italy and Yugoslavia where he paints Symphonies.

1959 > 1960

He completes the cinepainting Spring Symphony which he presents at the Gran Premio Bergamo.

Valensi finishes writing an important general history of the arts across the ages and countries. The 1200 page text, requiring the reproduction of 900 paintings and engravings, is unpublished. The Association Valensi is digitising this document and seeking for a publisher.

Henry Valensi bequeaths 18 important paintings to the collection of the Musée National d’Art Moderne/ Centre Pompidou in Paris.


The Spring Symphony film is screened at the Compagnie des Lampes in Paris.

Valensi dies in Bailly (in the Oise department in Northern France) at Christiane Vincent-La Force’s home. She was his student, then his friend and secretary.