In 1908 he moved to London where he studied first at the Royal Academy School (1912) and later at the Slade School of Fine Art. He dropped out of both schools in disagreement with their methods and teachings and became self-taught. He left for Paris in 1922 and that same year took part in the Salon d’Automne, where he exhibited a number of works of a realistic style. In 1928 he illustrated Dante’s Inferno with 34 lithographs that bordered on the abstract, and from then on employed a more gestural language in his pastels and oils. He lived in the mountains from 1934 to 1939 in an attempt to seek a modus vivendi distanced from painting. Upon outbreak of the 2nd World War he returned to Paris and began painting again. He mixed with writers and poets such as René Char, Jean Paulhan and Paul Éluard, for whom he illustrated a number of books.
In the 1950s he painted landscapes formally reduced to horizontal bands of colour and reminiscent of the postulates of Informalism. He was awarded the Grand Prize of the Venice Biennial (1960) and the International Grand Prize at the Tokyo Biennial (1961). In 1964 he donated his work to the Musée de l’Ile-de-France in Sceaux and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, with the latter organising a comprehensive retrospective exhibition in his honour that same year. His work is present in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Teheran Museum of Contemporary Art (Teheran), the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art (Tokyo), and Tate Collection (London), among others.