Claude Raultolt, master of the painted word, has died at the age of eighty

Claude Roto, the French artist whose work stood at the intersection of painting and conceptual art, died on May 27 at a nursing home in Boulogne-Billancourt, France, near Paris. He was 80 years old.

His daughter, Ninon Roto, said he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for about a year and a half, but the cause of death is unknown.

Mr. Roto, who had spent most of his career in Paris, was better known in Europe than in the United States – partly because he spoke no English and rarely traveled, and because his work was frequently shown there.

He became famous in the 1970s for what he called his “Final End/Method” paintings, which were actually sets of instructions for making a painting. One of his signature “protocols”, as they were also called, was to paint a canvas the same color as the wall on which it would be hung. He did not do this himself. Instead, he enlisted the “officer”—an art collector, museum representative or independent curator—to make the work to his specifications.

Although these monochrome works connected him with avant-garde artists such as Kazimir Malevich and minimalism such as Robert Riemann and Ed Reinhart, his artistic ideas were more philosophical than materialistic, said Julie Morang, senior director of the Perrotin Gallery in Paris, who represented. Since 2010.

“Many artists of that era were working on conceptual and radical art, but I must say that Claude was not part of any movement,” she said in an interview. “He knew a lot what was going on with this generation of artists. He was friends with many of them, but he wasn’t part of any group.”

Mr. Rottolt’s hilarious iconography represented a break with the past, undermining the basic idea that painters are people who paint. Instead of drawing he wrote texts. However, his work has been collaborative and potentially open-ended. His “protocols” can be painted and repainted, as the shipping official sees fit. As a result, he said, “the painting was never finished.”

“He made a great contribution to the history of painting,” said Ms. Morang. “He’s one of the only artists who won’t see what his work will be like in the future, and his work will always be.”

Claude Robert-Georges Rotolt was born on October 25, 1941, in Trois-Moutiers, France, to parents Lucien Rotolt and Beatrice (Cartolt) Rotolt. His father was a realtor dealing with local agricultural properties.

Trois-Moutiers (the name means “three houses”) was a very small town, and he quickly outgrew it. The nearest school was about 25 miles away, in the town of Saumur, and he remained there from about eight until he graduated at the age of 15.

“He wasn’t very close to his parents, because he didn’t live with them much,” his daughter said. “My grandparents also didn’t like what he did as an artist. They wanted him to have a different kind of career.”

After primary school, Mr. Rutault attended the Lycée in Nantes and then moved to Bordeaux to attend Sciences Po Bordeaux, a political science institute. Ninon Roto said that he did not pay much attention to his formal studies and rarely attended class, but he graduated thanks to classmate Annie Scamps, with whom he quickly fell in love. “I made him work hard enough to be able to graduate,” said Ms. Rottolt.

The couple moved to Paris after graduation, and Mrs. Scamps worked in marketing and later in banks. They married in April 1968.

By then, Mr. Rutault had already begun working as an artist, making multimedia paintings with acrylics and drawings that included clippings from the evening newspaper Le Monde in Paris.

When they were waiting for the birth of their first child, Mr. Rottolte decided to renovate their apartment. As he was painting the kitchen one afternoon, his paintbrush swept over one of his own paintings, which hung on the wall—maybe it was an accident, or maybe not. (He never used the word ‘accident,’ said Ninon Rottolt.)

“He stopped for lunch and came back and decided to paint on the whole canvas,” said Natasha Poliart, a curator who has known Mr. Rottolt for a decade. “This became the foundational protocol: a painting on the wall should be painted the same color as the wall.”

That year, Mr. Rottoult presented his first protocol in his studio on Rue Clavel in Paris, and it received its first important critical attention. This space then “become legendary for a generation of younger French artists and curators,” Ms Morang said.

The couple’s son, Achilles, was born in 1973. Due to an unspecified congenital disease, he never learned how to speak or walk. Mr. Rottolt became the primary caretaker for his son, as he worked from home.

Ninon Rattoult said staying at home with his son limited his options for traveling to art world events and openings, but he didn’t see it as a problem. “He always said it helps him work and think and wonder about the world,” she said. “He did everything in his power to make his son happy despite what life could have been sad.”

Most of Mr. Rottoult’s work has involved writing. From 1973 onwards, he wrote over 650 “dé-finition/méthodes”, which were published in two books; The first was published in 2000 and the second, with the most complete list, in 2016.

“Claude called himself a painter,” said Mrs. Poulet. “Everyone described him as a conceptual artist. It is true that he did not touch the paint or the paintings, but he wrote the paintings instead.”

Mr. Roto had three solo exhibitions at the Center Georges Pompidou in Paris in 1992, 2002 and 2015, and one alongside Picasso’s paintings at the Picasso Museum, also in Paris. His work has also been shown dozens of times in other solo and group exhibitions.

In 2014, at the age of 73, he had his first solo exhibition in the United States, at the Emmanuel Perrotin Gallery in New York; In 2020, he had a solo show at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles.

His wife died four years ago, and their daughter said her death was a critical factor in his health. She said he was depressed and had trouble concentrating. In 2020, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“She was the first to present his ideas to her, and she was the first to read what he wrote before he presented it to other people,” said Ninon Rottault. “She usually had the last word on the show. If there was something she didn’t like, it was taken off.”

The last exhibition of his work while he is alive, “Claude Roto: A Show by Peter Nadine, 1979; Achieving 2022,” is at the Off Paradise Gallery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side this spring. This was an investigation of a set of instructions he put in place for the pseudonymous gallery owner, who had space on West Broadway in the late 1970s. For the presentation, Mr. Nadine chose to paint the blanks, and the panels, in bright lemon yellow.

Mr. Roto has been living in Faouconson, near Paris, in recent years, after his son was moved to a residential care facility there. He spent his last days in a nursing home near his daughter’s family, requesting to stay there instead of going to the hospital.

In addition to his daughter and son, he is survived by two grandchildren.

Mr. Rutte, Ms. Poulet said, assured that his business would continue to enjoy a life beyond his own.

“His greatest contribution was the creation of a working group that never ended,” she said. “That was very generous, in the sense that many artists would not accept that their works be painted in perpetuity.”