Georges Mathieu was born to a family of bankers on January 27, 1921, in Boulogne-sur-Mer in Northern France. He moved to Versailles at age 12 and studied Greek, Russian, and Spanish at the lycée Hoche. In 1941, he studied English literature and law at the University of Lille. A self-taught painter, he began his artistic career in 1942, making mostly landscapes and portraits, and started to explore non-figurative paintings. Apart from being an artist, he had taught English, served as interpreter for the U.S. Army and worked as professor of French at the Université Americaine, Biarritz, France.
In 1944, Mathieu started to develop the style of abstraction. He executed his first abstract painting in drip techniques, two years before Jackson Pollock introduced his drip painting. He quickly came to favour Tubism, the technique of applying paint to the canvas directly from the tube that Mathieu invented.
In 1947, Mathieu moved to Paris, where he worked as Director of Public Relations in the American company United States Lines but continued his pictorial exploration. In the same year, Mathieu initiated a newfound aesthetic termed "Lyrical Abstraction" to oppose the cold Geometric Abstraction. It highlighted the artists' intuition, spontaneity and explosiveness, which liberated art from all the traditions. He organised exhibitions to promote lyrical abstraction, such as exhibition L'imaginaire (The imaginary) at Galerie du Luxembourg in 1947. He also worked closely with art critic Michel Tapié to curate exhibitions, such as H.W.P.S.M.T.B. at Galerie Allendy, Paris (1948), White and Black at Galerie des Deux Îles (1948), and Véhémences confrontées at Galerie Nina Dausset, Paris (1951), which visually pitted European Lyrical Abstraction artists against American Abstract Expressionists, marking Mathieu's important role between the European and the American art scenes.
Since the very beginning of the 1950s, Mathieu started to explore Eastern calligraphy, which was an important source of inspiration for his theories and creation of Lyrical Abstraction. In 1950, Mathieu had the first solo exhibition at Galerie René Drouin in Paris, where André Malraux, Minister of Culture in France and novelist, exclaimed, "Finally, a western calligrapher!" Since 1952, Mathieu began to exhibit internationally. In the 1950s, he travelled and painted in Japan, USA, Brazil, Argentina and Middle-East. Mathieu started to introduce the performative dimension to his paintings, executing large canvases before audiences while dressed in costume. It anticipated the Performance Art and Happenings in the 1960s. The manifesto of the Japanese Gutai movement in 1956 acknowledged their high regard for the techniques of Mathieu's work.
In 1960s to 1970s, Mathieu received overwhelming recognition in France. Mathieu became aware of the artist's major duties towards society and expanded his creation into applied arts, including tapestries created with the Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins, 10-franc coins issued by the French government, the official logo of a new TV channel Antenna 2, and a series of posters created with the airline company Air France.
In 1980s, Mathieu reached maturity of his lyrical principles. From 1985 onwards, his paintings became more explosive and emotional, marked the "cosmic turning point" which eliminated the central composition, and filled the entire canvas with intensive power and brilliant colours.
Georges Mathieu passed away on June 10, 2012 in Boulogne-Billancourt, France at the age of 91. He had held over 170 solo exhibitions. He had major retrospective exhibitions at Musée de la Ville de Paris (1963), the Grand Palais (1978), Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris (2002). His works are collected by more than 80 important museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris; Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel; the Tate, London and Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo.