Born into a peasant family, he pursued his studies in Toulouse then Paris. After the Second World War, he began his museum career. He was curator at Museum of Grenoble from 1950 to 1955, director of the Musée national d"Art moderne from 1968 to 1973 and director of the French Academy in Rome from 1979 to 1985.
He taught for a long time at the Swiss universities of Lausanne and Geneva and published several works on the history of art
He remains one of those who imposed 20th-century painting on French national museums.