Grégoire Michonze was born in 1902 in Kishinev, Russia (now Chișinău, Moldova), and studied at the local art school, where he learned to paint traditional icons in tempera, before going on to study at the Academy in Bucharest. In 1922 he travelled to Paris via Greece, Istanbul and Marseilles, a journey which strongly influenced his later landscape painting. In Paris he entered the École des Beaux-Arts, and met Max Ernst who later introduced him to the Surrealists, notably André Breton, Paul Éluard, and Louis Aragon, though he gradually moved away from their influence to pursue his own personal path as a landscape and figurative artist. In 1924 he met Soutine with whom he developed a strong friendship. Between 1934 and 1936, Michonze exhibited at the Salon des Surindépendants, creating elaborate compositions, which he later described as ‘Surreal naturalism’.
In 1937 he spent some time in New York and Massachusetts, marrying the Scottish artist Una Maclean on his return to France. During the Second World War he was captured and then freed in 1942, afterwards returning to Paris. The Arcade Gallery in London gave him his first UK show in 1946 and, while living in England and Scotland in 1948, he also exhibited in Edinburgh and Glasgow. He showed in Britain again, as well as the USA and Israel after his first Paris exhibition in 1953. In 1970 he travelled to Venice and Rome on a painting tour. He died in Paris in 1982. The Musée d’Art moderne in Troyes held a major retrospective of his work in 1985.
Village People draws on both surrealistic and realistic elements as two nude women are depicted mixing casually with their apparently indifferent but soberly-dressed neighbours in a rural setting painted with a heightened sense of colour. In a 1959 letter to the British art critic Peter Stone, Michonze wrote: ‘My subjects have no subject. They exist only for a poetic end. If the poetry is there, the canvas is complete. No histories. Only pure poetry, preferably untitled.’