HECTOR HYPPOLITE
1894-1948 (Saint-Marc, Haiti)

 

Haitian painting will drink the blood of the phoenix. And, with the epaulets of Dessalines, it will ventilate the world.
André Breton, le Centre d’Art d’Haïti, 1945

 

Considered by many as the spiritual father of the Haitian art movement, Hector Hyppolite was a third generation Vodou priest, or houngan, working in isolation until brought to le Centre d’Art by poet and writer, Phillipe Thoby-Marcelin. Hyppolite’s masterful visions were inspired by the loas, the gods of Vodou; and he claimed Erzulie, the goddess of the sea, as a life-partner.

Hyppolite’s aesthetic hinted at the influence of other cultures, garnered during a supposed lifetime of travel. At the height of his fame, a new canvas by Hyppolite was celebrated with a parade through the city streets. Yet his practice was cut short, following a heart attack at the age of 54. In three years he had produced between two and three hundred works, of which less than half survive today.

Collected and feted by André Breton, Hyppolite’s work was a major inspiration for the exhibition Le Surréalisme en 1947. La Reine Congo (1946) is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and is currently on display. His work is held in major private and public collections worldwide and he is considered one of the most important black artists of the mid-20th century.