Pierre Molinier the ‘shameless’, or the art of self-reinvention



Creator and ‘creature’, Pierre Molinier was born on a Friday 13 in 1900 and took his own life 76 years later. Known primarily for the scandalous nature of his works, the Bordeaux-based artist was painter, a drawer, a poet and a photographer and developed a fascination for all things androgynous. He was associated the Surrealists until he was ostracised by André Breton.

Pierre MOLINIER was born Friday 13 April 1900 in Agen. At an early age he manifested somewhat pornographic inclinations via an obsession with sex, women and legs … Based in Bordeaux from 1919, he earned money as a house painter and simultaneously produced artworks. In 1951 he caused a scandal at the Bordeaux Salon des Independants with his Le Grand Combat, an erotic canvas composed of entwined bodies that shocked the Bordeaux bourgeoisie. However, André Breton noticed “something magic” in Molinier’s art and in 1955 he wrote “be assured, dear Pierre Molinier, that the Surrealists are very much your friends”. Breton’s support led to a first Paris exhibition at the galerie à l’Étoile scellée where Molinier exhibited 18 paintings (27 January to 17 February 1956) including Le Grand Combat, Succube, and Les dames voilées. Breton himself wrote the introduction to the exhibition catalogue, calling the artist a “wizard of erotic art”. Ultimately, Molinier’s contact with the Surrealists was short-lived and he was sidelined in 1959 after he apparently sent an overly pornographic letter to Breton.

Molinier as subject…

Another facet of his work (and nowadays the best known) was revealed in 1960 with his first photomontage experiments. Molinier began cutting and assembling photographs of his own cross-dressed body, wearing silk stockings, garter belts and black high-heeled shoes in order to satisfy his quest for androgyny. He reworked his photographic compositions with ink before re-photographing them. About this new work, he said, “I made ​​photomontages just as I made paintings. The only difference is that the subject is me… a sort of deliberate self-centeredness, or narcissism. I consider my paintings equal to my photomontages”. These new images with creatures combining male and female genders had a strong impact on artists involved in Body Art. For some, obscenity was a way of embracing an art without limits, with emancipation as one of its key watchwords. In 1974, Molinier participated in the exhibition Transformer. Aspekte der Travestie at Lucerne’s Kunstmuseum in Switzerland where he met the artist Luciano CASTELLI, a major figure of Body Art, who subsequently became his model.

Free and provocative, Molinier’s work remained largely misunderstood for years and didn’t really enjoy recognition until after his death when a first solo exhibition was mounted at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1979. A handful of well-informed collectors and Parisian galleries took a close interest in his work during the 1980s. At the time, certain key photomontage works changed hands for just a few hundred euros. Later, the gallery-owner Kamel Mennour substantially contributed to an expansion of Molinier’s market via a first solo show in 1999 and then three others between 2005 and 2010. Today, his androgynous creatures – his “erotic inventions” as he called them – are mainly sold in France, although he also sells in London and the United States (his second largest market).


Molinier’s photomontages are worth less than his rare paintings for which the auction record has stood at €90,000 since June 2000 (Les amoureuses angoissées, 1962, 100 x 81 cm, 17 June 2000 at Renaud in Paris). Nevertheless, since 2000, his price index has risen 65%… and his best result for a photomontage was recently hammered at a rather special Parisian sale …
The year 2015 was indeed a historic year for Molinier’s auction market because it totalled over €400,000 in turnover (4x the previous year’s total) thanks to a dedicated sale of 119 of his works at Artcurial. The Forbidden Sale was held in Paris on Friday 13 November 2015 (another Friday 13). The works offered were from the collection of one of Molinier’s muses, Emmanuelle Arsan. It produced a new record for a photograph by the artist when his superb photomontage Chaman was hammered at €22,100 including fees against a low estimate of €4,000. The sale was also an excellent opportunity to acquire some period prints for a few hundred euros (sometimes below the estimate) including Mes Jambes (1967) and Mon cul (c. 1965-67) which sold for only €585 each (good deals are often easier to obtain in the context of a dense offer…). While Pierre Molinier’s fetishistic indulgences have no doubt entered art history, his work is still a long way from its market potential. His epitaph reads; Here lies Pierre Molinier. He was a man with no morals; but that was indeed his glory and his merit. It’s no use crying for him.