Félix Fénéon  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Félix Fénéon (1861 - 1944) was a French anarchist and art critic in Paris during the late 1800's. He coined the term "Neo-impressionism" in 1886 to identify a group of artists led by Georges Seurat, which he ardently promoted.


Born in Turin (his father was a traveling salesman), and raised in Burgundy, he came to Paris after placing first in a competitive exam for jobs in the War Office. He was employed as a clerk there for thirteen years, rising to chief clerk, and was considered a model employee. During this time he also edited the work of Arthur Rimbaud and Comte de Lautréamont, reviewed books and art (he helped discover Georges-Pierre Seurat), and was a Tuesday night regular at the famed salon of Stéphane Mallarmé.

Fénéon was active too in anarchist circles, and in 1894, after the bombing of a restaurant popular among politicians and financiers and the assassination by the Italian anarchist Caserio of the French president Sadi Carnot, he and twenty-nine others were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy--though in the subsequent so-called "Trial of the thirty" Fénéon and most of his co-defendants were easily acquitted. One of Fénéon's anarchist friends and codefendants was the Swedish artist Ivan Aguéli. Le Figaro 's correspondent thus transcribed his interrogatory before the Cour d'assises of the Seine:

He cross-examines F.F. himself: “Are you an anarchist, M. Fénéon?”
“I am a Burgundian born in Turin.”
“Your police file extends to one hundred and seventy pages. It is documented that you were intimate with the German terrorist Kampfmeyer.”
“The intimacy cannot have been great as I do not speak German and he does not speak French.” (Laughter in courtroom.)
“It has been established that you surrounded yourself with Cohen and Ortoz.”
“One can hardly be surrounded by two persons; you need at least three.” (More laughter.)
“You were seen conferring with them behind a lamppost!”
“A lamppost is round. Can Your Honour tell me where behind a lamppost is?” (Loud, prolonged laughter. Judge calls for order.)

Soon after, Fénéon became the editor of the Revue Blanche, where he featured Achille-Claude Debussy as his music critic and André Gide as his book critic and published Marcel Proust, Apollinaire, and Alfred Jarry, as well as his own translation of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. After the Revue Blanche folded, Fénéon went to work as a journalist, first for the conservative Le Figaro, then, starting in 1906, for the liberal broadsheet Le Matin, for which he composed pieces collected in the compilation Novels in Three Lines. In later life Fénéon sold paintings at the Bernheim-Jeune gallery and for a while ran his own publishing house. In response to a proposal to publish collections of his own work, he remarked, "I aspire only to silence."


  • Les Impressionnistes en 1886
  • Œuvres; preface by Jean Paulhan, Paris, Gallimard, 1948
  • Œuvres plus que complètes, 1970
  • Nouvelles en trois lignes, translated and published as Novels in Three Lines with introduction by Luc Sante, 2007 Template:ISBN
  • Correspondance de Fanny & Félix Fénéon avec Maximilien Luce, 2001
  • Petit supplément aux œuvres plus que complètes, 2 volumes
  • Le Procès des Trente, 2004
  • Correspondance de Stéphane Mallarmé et Félix Fénéon. Maurice Imbert, editor; 2007

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