Feu (F91) is a historic fire painting by Yves Klein, created in 1961 during what was arguably the most important one-man exhibition of the artists lifetime, and the only one held in a museum. Entitled Yves Klein: Monochrome und Feuer, this show was held at the Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld, and was organised meticulously by Klein himself in association with the museums pioneering director, Paul Wember, who owned Feu (F91) until relatively recently and whose 1969 catalogue raisonné remains the most authoritative overview of Klein's oeuvre to this day.
It was at that exhibition that Klein's 'fire paintings first came into existence, setting into motion a new working practice that would remain central to his output for the rest of his career. The early fire paintings were created by placing the board near the flames of the fire sculptures that he had erected in the garden, the Mur de feu, or wall of fire, and the fountain of flame. This had been a logistical ordeal for all concerned, involving the museum and the gas authorities among others, but eventually was achieved successfully; the installation involved laying gas pipes into the grounds of the museum, but the effect was spectacular. On the one hand, a tower of pure flame several metres tall, and on the other hand a wall that contained row after row of Bunsen burners, all creating their flower-like blaze.
In Feu (F91), it was that single fountain of flame that charred the surface, capturing a tulip-like imprint in its centre, the result of that element that so fascinated Klein. This shadow-like echo of that original flame recalls the silhouettes on the walls of Hiroshima of people vaporised by the detonation of the atomic bomb in 1945 which had struck Klein as poetic remnants of a life lived, memories branded onto a surface. A few years before he created Feu (F91), invoking the spiritual dimension that his art aimed to capture and transmit, Klein had declared, 'My paintings are the ashes of my art (Klein, quoted in N. Rosenthal, 'Assisted Levitation: The Art of Yves Klein', Yves Klein 1928-1962: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Houston 1982, p. 92). This notion was now all too literally embodied in the fire paintings.
Klein had been intending to include fire in his repertoire for some time, and indeed presented some of his designs for large fire-based projects in the Monochrome und Feuer show, however this marked its true incorporation into his working methods. Now, he was taking the intangible, the ineffable, and turning it to his own use, exploiting its incredible versatility, its dual status as illumination and destruction. 'Fire is the ultra living element, Klein himself explained. 'It is intimate and universal. It lives in our heart. It lives in the sky... Among all phenomena, it is really the only one to which there can be so definitely attributed the opposing values of good and evil. It shines in Paradise, it burns in hell. It is gentleness and torture... It is a tutelary and a terrible divinity, both good and bad. It can contradict itself, thus, it is one of the principles of universal explanation' (Klein, quoted in S. Stich, Yves Klein, Stuttgart 1994, p. 227).