After studying at the Budapest School of Fine Art, he travelled through Italy on foot and moved to France in 1948. André Breton wrote the preface to his first exhibition catalogue in Paris, but in 1955 Hantaï broke with the surrealist group over Breton's refusal to accept any similarity between the surrealist technique of automatic writing and Jackson Pollock's methods of action painting.
A representative collection of Hantaï's works is held at the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, and at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
A Simon Hantaï Retrospective opened at the Centre Pompidou on May 22, 2013 with more than 130 works from 1949 to 1990s, and a full color illustrated catalog.
His sons are the musicians Marc, Jérôme and Pierre Hantaï.
The folding method
In 1960, Hantaï developed his technique of "pliage" (folding): the canvas is first folded in various forms, then painted with a brush, and unfolded, leaving apparent blank sections of the canvas interrupted by vibrant splashes of color. He stated: "The pliage developed out of nothing. It was necessary to simply put myself in the place of someone who had seen nothing... in the place of the canvas. You could fill the folded canvas without knowing where the edge was. You don't know where things stop. You could even go further, and paint with your eyes closed." ("Le pliage ne procédait de rien. Il fallait simplement se mettre dans l'état de ceux qui n'ont encore rien vu; se mettre dans la toile. On pouvait remplir la toile pliée sans savoir où était le bord. On ne sait plus alors où cela s'arrête. On pouvait même aller plus loin et peindre les yeux fermés.")
Hantaï first started working on his folding method from 1960 to 1962 with the cloaks, a reference to the idiom of landscape. From 1967 to 1968 he worked on the Meuns series where he studies the theme of the figure. Meun is the name of a small village in the Forest of Fontainebleau where the artist lived starting 1966. Hantaï stated: "It was while working on the Studies that I realized what my true subject was - the resurgence of the ground underneath my painting." In contrast with the Meun (1967-68), the figure, in the Studies (1969), is absorbed and the white detaches from being the background and becomes dynamic.
Mariales (Cloaks) (1960–62) Meuns (1967–68) Etudes (Studies) (1969) Blancs (the Whites) (1973–74) Tabulas (from 1974) Laissées (Leftovers)(1981–1994)
- Décès du peintre Simon Hantaï Le Figaro, 15 September 2008
- Tom McDonough, Hantai's Challenge to Painting, Art in America, March 1999.
- Carter Ratcliff, Hantaï in America, 2006. Quote from Hantaï in conversation with Paul Rodgers, Paris studio, 1994
- New York Times Obituary of Simon Hantaï
- Rosenberg, Karen, "Art in Review: Simon Hantaï," The New York Times, 5/23/13.
- Rodgers, Paul, "Simon Hantaï & Andy Warhol - The Fate of Modern Art in the Post-Second World War Era" 4/1/10.
- Rodgers, Paul, “The Resurgent Ground: Simon Hantaï,” The Modern Aesthetic, 2017.
- Cochran, Samuel, "Simon Hantaï's Abstract Paintings At Paul Kasmin Gallery, Centre Pompidou," Architectural Digest, 5/7/13.
- "Simon Hantaï," Time Out New York, 4/24/13.
- Ostrow, Saul, "Reviews: Simon Hantaï," Art in America, 9/11/11.
- An essay on Hantaï by art historian Molly Warnock
- An essay on Hantaï by Ben Lerner
- Dominique Fourcade, Isabelle Monod-Fontaine, Alfred Pacquement, Jean Coyner. Simon Hantaï, Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2013.