A painter, engraver and draughtsman, Philippe Cognée was born in Sautron near Nantes in 1957. He spent 12 years of his childhood in Benin, where his father was a schoolteacher under the cooperation agreement between France and Benin. He returned to France in 1974 to finish his studies and graduated from the École des Beaux-Arts in Nantes in 1982. The same year he won a residency at the Villa Médicis from the Académie de France in Rome and the École Française de Rome. In 1989, he started teaching at the École des Beaux-Arts in Angers. His painting took a decisive turn in 1990 when photographs became the main inspiration for his work. He developed a technique which became his signature: he paints using beeswax, which is also known as encaustic painting, before covering it with a sheet of a type of cellulose acetate known as rhodoid. He then uses a hot iron to blur the image, which is why he says that his figurative painting undergoes both destruction and recreation. This use of wax is not unlike batik, which is used in Africa to print fabrics, a technique which he knew and subsequently developed at the École des Beaux-Arts. In 1990, when he again won a residency at the Villa Médicis, he experimented with this technique on his immediate environment, his associates and day-to-day objects, then moved on to large urban landscapes before working with satellite images from Google Earth. Following on from Rembrandt, Soutine and Bacon, he created an imposing collection of around thirty carcasses which were shown at Lieu Unique in Nantes in 2003, and again at Mamco in Geneva in 2006. In 2004 he was nominated for the Prix Marcel Duchamp, the purpose of which was to confirm the fame of an innovative French artist, representative of his generation, in the field of the visual arts. Since 2005 he has taught at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
As part of the Percent for Art program, he was chosen in 2009 to create a painting for the Grand Commun at the Palace of Versailles which was to be restored in May 2011. This work, entitled Écho comprises 44 circular paintings, or “tondi”, based on a video that the artist filmed on site. This video formed the raw material from which he drew inspiration for his paintings. The “tondi”, which are in a wide variety of sizes and thicknesses, recall the Palace through details of its gardens and apartments. The eye of the painter sees through history, from the interior to the exterior, as Versailles appears and disappears in the medium of the painting. Painted with wax on marouflaged canvas, the “tondi” are illuminated, their diameter varying from 30 cm to 1 m 30, and their thickness from 3 to 6 cm. When placed side-by-side, they form a collection that resembles a constellation and recounts the memories of this place. In 2012, the Musée de Grenoble dedicated a retrospective to his work which occupied 17 rooms. In 2014 he continued his work by exhibiting in another place that is full of history, the Domaine National de Chambord. Invited to be artist in residence at the Manufacture de Sèvres in 2016 and 2017, he painted on porcelain vases including a 1.3 metre tall Grand Charpin vase. This was fired in a rare use of the largest of the six wood-fired kilns at the 19th-century porcelain factory, which is listed as an historic monument. Represented by the Daniel Templon Gallery, he now lives and works in Nantes.