Alfred Sisley Revisited

The villages of the Seine and its tributaries

Sisley went tirelessly in search of motifs along the Seine and its tributaries, he looked no further. He concentrated on views of village streets, or of interesting groups of buildings, he would be drawn to an old stone bridge, the kind of subject that had fascinated painters since Corot. In what many would dismiss as unprepossessing patches of gardens or meadows, landscapes on the outskirts of towns or along river banks, Sisley could often discover the most arresting colour or light effects.

Alfred Sisley by Renoir (1876)

In 1866, Sisley began a relationship with Eugenie Lesouezec and shortly thereafter the couple had two children: a son, Pierre, in 1867 and daughter, Jeanne in 1869.  Although they remained together until Eugenie’s death in 1898, they didn’t marry until August 5, 1897.  In 1870, the Franco-Prussian War began and this precipitated the failure of Sisley’s father’s silk business which ended in his father’s bankruptcy and the financial devastation hastened his death.   Sisley had relied heavily on his father’s financial support because of the low prices being offered for his artwork, and this revenue stream had come to an end.

Louveciennes, above Marly by Alfred Sisley (1873)

To manage his financial difficulties and to avoid the Prussian War, Sisley gave up his home in Paris and moved to the countryside and the town of Louveciennes, a village west of Paris.  It is said that during the summer of 1871, Sisley, Renoir and Pissarro had watched Paris burn during the Prussian siege of the capital city. In his painting Louveciennes, above Marly, Sisley has depicted the view from Louveciennes, down over the forest and the riverside town of Marly.

Louveciennes: View of the Sèvrees Road by Alfred Sisley (1873)

Another of Sisley’s works featuring Louveciennes is his 1873 painting entitled Louveciennes: View of the Sèvres Road. It is a classic example of a perspective road which we see narrowing into the distance. He used this technique in many of his works as it allowed him to give movement to his depiction while also giving a feeling of space.

The Avenue at Middleharnis Meindert Hobbema (1689}

It is thought that Sisley’s depiction may have been influenced by Meindert Hobbema’s 1689 landscape painting, The Avenue at Middleharnis, which he would have seen at the National Gallery when he visited London.

Place du Chenil à Marly, effet de neige by Alfred Sisley (1876)

Two years later, in October 1874, after his four-month summer holiday spent in London, Sisley and his family moved to 2 avenue de l’Abreuvoir in Marly-le-Roi, a commune in the Île-de-France region, in north-central France, located in the western suburbs of Paris, 18 kilometres from the centre of the French capital. The two following winters were especially harsh with temperatures below zero and frequent heavy snowfall. I particularly like Sisley’s 1876 painting entitled Place du Chenil at Marly, and the depiction of snow. There is an eerie stillness about the depiction of the town’s main square which since Sisley’s time has been renamed Place du Général-de-Gaulle. We see that a heavy snowfall has occurred and the town has been covered by a thick blanket of snow. Look at how Sisley has depicted the snow. It is not just coloured white but a subtle blending of blues, greens, creams and greys. There is nothing spectacular about the scene but it is just a timeless realistic rendition. Place du Chenil in Marly, Snow Effect is now located in Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen which is an art museum in Normandy, France. It was given to Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen by François Depeaux, a French art collector, industrialist and patron. He gave the painting to the museum in 1909, just over 100 years after the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen was built.

Postage stamp issued in 2009

Commemorative postage stamp issued by Republic of Guinea on October 1st 2009 depicted Sisley’s painting Place du Chenil à Marly, effet de neige.

Village by the Seine (Villeneuve-La-Garenne) by Alfred Sisley (1874)

The Villeneuve-la-Garenne painting depicts the village on the River Seine, a commune in the northern suburbs of Paris, which lies less than ten kilometres from centre of the French capital. In 1872 Alfred Sisley created his painting depicting the small village entitled Village by the Seine (Villeneuve-La-Garenne). After visiting the small village, Sisley was inspired by what he saw and was determined to produce a work so that he could share the beauty of the place.  The depiction oozes tranquillity.  The two trees in the foreground act as if they were theatre curtains on either side of a stage.  In this work Sisley has managed to encapsulate the beauty of nature.

The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne by Alfred Sisley (1872)

Sisley completed a number of paintings featuring the village and just to the left of the previous painting, but out of view, is the bridge which crosses the river at Villeneuve-La-Garenne and this was the subject of Sisley’s 1872 painting, The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne. The cast-iron suspension bridge resting on stone abutments was built in 1844 to connect what had until then been a fishing village and small port with the Paris neighbourhood of Saint-Denis, on the other side of the river. The building of the bridge and the bridge itself was symbolic of French modernity, and the structure was depicted in a number of Sisley’s paintings of the 1870s and early 1880s. Sisley made the depiction somewhat livelier by including figures of holidaymakers on the riverbank and in a boat which is passing under the bridge.  Look how Sisley’s brushstrokes communicate the fleeting effect of sunlight on the water.

The Seine at Suresnes by Alfred Sisley (1877)

About six miles up-river from Villeneuve-La-Garenne is the town of Suresnes, a commune in the western suburbs of Paris, Île-de-France. In 1877 Sisley completed his painting entitled The Seine at Suresnes.  It is a typical work of Impressionism with its swirling clouds dominating his depiction of the sky.  His intention was to capture a fast-changing scene due to the approaching storm.  Look how he has depicted the river, no longer bathed in sunlight, now dimmed by the heavy clouds overhead.  Unlike many of Sisley’s best loved works which focus on tranquillity, this is more about doom-laden skies and what was to come to pass.  The painting was sold to fellow artist, Gustave Caillebotte, and along with Gustave’s other paintings he had amassed, it was later left to the French nation.

Canal de Loing by Alfred Sisley (1892)

With the canals from Briare and Orléans completed respectively in the second half of the seventeenth century, merchants started complaining about the poor navigability of the river Loing. The Duc d’Orléans ordered a survey and designs for the navigational route which would be part river and part canal.  The waterway was completed in 1723.  The Loing Canal is used by working barges and was the subject of many Sisley’s depictions.  In this painting we see a winding path, which follows the curve of the canal, alongside of which are poplar trees.  Our eyes, once we have taken in the house, follow the curve of the road and canal into the distance.  The inclusion of the winding road was one of Sisley’s favourite themes in which it plays a part in the perspective of the painting.  This painting, The Loing Canal, was offered to the Musée du Luxembourg after the painter died in 1899.  It was part of a gift from Sisley’s friends which was organised by Monet.

A Road in Seine et Marne by Alfred Sisley (1878)

Seine et Marne is a department in the Île-de-France region of northern France named after the rivers Seine and Marne and is on the eastern edge of the Ile de France.  It was to be Sisley’s countryside during the last twenty years of his life.  In 1880 he had moved to Veneux-Nadon, close to Moret-sur-Loing.  It was a “forced” move as Sisley had been evicted from his house in Sèvres for not paying his rent.  As some of his work prior to 1880 depicted scenes of Veneux-Nadon, it is clear that he had visited the area on a number of occasions.  This was an agriculturally rich and tranquil countryside with its woods and tiny hamlets.  It was a perfect venue for Sisley’s landscape work and allowed him to relax away from the chaos of Paris.  It worked for him as he produced many serene and beautiful paintings.

The Meadow at Veneux-Nadon by Alfred Sisley (1881)

Sisley’s painting, The Meadow at Veneux-Nadon, depicts the slender poplars with their delicate leaves and it leads our gaze into the depth of the picture space and gives it stability in this wide summer landscape. Through a juxtaposition of shimmering fields of colour and a reduction of motifs, Alfred Sisley lends an iridescent vitality and tension to the seemingly monotonous theme. Sisley exhibited the painting at the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition in 1882, in which the group focused on landscapes.

Le Bois des Roches Veneux Nadon, by Alfred Sisley (1880)

In his work, Le Bois des Roches Veneux Nadon, we see a windswept scene of a forest at the water’s edge . To the left we see a small rowing boat struggling in choppy waters.

Snowy Weather at Veneux Nadon Alfred Sisley (1880)

This painting, Snowy Weather at Veneux Nadon, was completed during his first winter in Veneux- Narbon on the Loing in 1880. It is another of his snowscapes which this time is dominated by dark clouds with just a glimmer of the rising sun in the background. This was one of Sisley’s favourite depictions, often populated by workers heading for the mills, which were the village people’s primary source of employment. It is an atmospheric depiction of a cold early-morning scene and Sisley has used muted colours to ensure the contrast with the presence of the rising sun.

Veneux, August Afternoon by Alfred Sisley (1881)

Veneux, August Afternoon was painted by Alfred Sisley in 1881. Financially, it had not been a good year for him although he managed to afford to travel to the Isle of Wight in June. He had arranged for canvases to be sent to him on the island but they never arrived an he could not afford to pay for English canvases. When he arrived back in France in August he painted this work. It is a typical Sisley scene – quiet riverside setting with trees and picturesque sky. Our eyes are drawn to the creamy clouds in the upper left of the painting and then back down in a diagonal direction to the patch of sunlight we see falling on the pathway on the bottom right of the work.

Sailing Boats by Alfred Sisley (1885)

The painting Sailing Boats by Sisley depicts a scene of the boatyards at the riverside town of Saint-Mammès, sixty kilometres south-southeast of the French capital, at a point where the rivers Seine and Loing come together. Sisley has depicted a number of pleasure boats tied up next to a barge fitted with lifting gear. Sisley has used a familiar technique with the layout of his work – the subject is viewed head-on and the depiction is a series of wide horizontal bands, which, in this painting, is held together by the tall triangular shape of the lifting equipment. The scene is populated by a number of figures.

The Goose Girl by Alfred Sisley (1897)

Sisley’s favoured painting medium had always been oils but this late painting by him was a pastel. It is not known whether this pastel work was just a preliminary sketch that would later be used to complete the depiction in oils or whether Sisley was intrigued by the medium. Once again Sisley has used a winding path to give perspective to the depiction. The work is not simply a landscape but focuses on a girl looking after her flock of geese.

Alfred Sisley was born and spent most of his life in France, but retained British citizenship. In 1897, Sisley and his partner of over thirty years, Marie Eugénie Lescouezec, visited Britain and were finally married at the Cardiff Register Office on August 5th. On his return to France, in 1898, Sisley applied for French citizenship, but was refused. Later, a second application was made and on this occasion his application was supported by a police report, but Sisley became seriously ill and the process was halted. In October 1898 his wife died of cancer and four months later on January 29th 1899 Sisley died of throat cancer, aged 59. Sisley remained a British national until his death. He was buried with that of his wife at Moret-sur-Loing Cemetery.

Pierre Adolphe Valette

Self portrait by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1912)

I first came across the artist I am featuring in this blog through his famous English pupil, L.S.Lowry.  Today I want to explore the beautiful and very different paintings of the French artist Pierre Adolphe Valette.

Valette was born on October 13th 1876 in the family home on the rue de Roanne in the east-central French industrial town of Saint Etienne, some sixty kilometres south-west of the city of Lyon.  Saint-Etienne was a vibrant industrial centre similar to the English city of Manchester which would later become a home to Valette.  Valette’s father, Ferdinand, who was born close by in 1846, worked as an armourer at the firm of Claude Brondel and he and the family could be socially termed middle-class and were financially well-to-do.  In 1872, Adolphe’s father Ferdinand, when he was twenty-six, had married his wife, Madeleine, a dressmaker, an occupation she soon relinquished after marriage.

Pierre Adolphe Valette

Ferdinand and Madeleine had their first child, a son, Ferdinand Claude Marie in January 1873.  Their second child, Antoine Emile Edouard soon followed in September 1874 and the third child Pierre Adolphe, the subject of this blog, arrived in 1876.  The family was completed in June 1881 with the birth of their fourth child, and their only daughter, Marguerite Aglaée Nathalie. She was born with a slight mental and physical handicap and was looked after for forty-seven years by her mother.

Saint-Etienne,  École de dessin, renamed École régionale des arts industriels in 1884,

Adolphe Valette was brought up in St Etienne and like all the locals had to put up with the cold, damp and smog of the industrial pollution of this industrialised town.  The first French railway had arrived at St Etienne with its horse-drawn wagons in 1832 and twelve years later steam locomotives took their place.  Adolphe was enrolled by his father at the Ecole Régionale des Arts Industriels where he studied engraving.  It was a school, which as the name suggests, stressed the interaction between industry and the arts.  His father had hoped that Adolphe would learn all about metal engraving which could be used in the armoury sector, such as the engraving on weapons.  His studies also encompassed history and anatomy.  Valette received art tuition at Ecole Régionale des Arts Industriels from Jean Dablin, who was later become the founder of the Société des Arts du Forez’ of which Valette would become a member.  Adolphe Valette was influenced by Dablin’s choice of subjects such as works featuring industrial landscapes and coal mines.

A Lady Reading by Pierre Adolphe Valette

It has not been documented as to why Valette decided to leave St Etienne and move to Lyon.  It maybe he had exhausted the subject matter for his paintings or that he wanted to establish himself as an artist in the city of Lyon.  He worked hard in Lyon.  He worked as an engraver during the day and spent the evenings painting.  He attended evening art classes in the city and from September 1895 he was a student at the Ecole Municipale de Dessin de la Guillotière.  Whilst there he received numerous accolades for his work, receiving a silver medal for figure drawing and in the academic year of 1895/6 he came top of the class.  The following year, in a sketching competition, he received first prize, a rappel de médaille de Vermeil.  His consistency of performing well at the college demonstrated Valette’s artistic talent

Still life with flowers by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1917)

More and more awards came Valette’s way during his period at the Lyon academy.  Valette eventually left Lyon and travelled to Bordeaux.  Nobody has given a reason for this move as surely for a blossoming artist, Paris would have been the logical destination.  The Paris art scene was booming with the acceptance of the Impressionist movement.  Artists like Monet, Pissarro, Degas and Morisot were all selling their works. 

Matinée d’hiver, place Pey Berland à Bordeaux by Alfred Smith (c.1893)

Although Bordeaux was away from the great Impressionist upheavals seen in the French capital there was an influx of Impressionism by way of Pierre Cazaubon and the British painter, Bordeaux-born, Alfred Smith, whose father was of Welsh origin and whose mother was from Bordeaux. This painting above by Smith may be termed gloomy while others assert that it is atmospheric but as you will see later, Valette must have admired the work as it would influence his many works depicting the city of Manchester. Smith painted a series of works focused on views of European cities with pedestrian plying their way down wide boulevards with depictions of local transport such as cabs and trains.  They were true chronicles of everyday city life and Pierre Valette would complete similar works of the northern English city of Manchester in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Open Air Class by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1906)

Valette settled down well in Bordeaux and managed to get a job as an engraver and a professional draughtsman.  He also enrolled at the Ecole Municipale des Beaux-Arts et des Arts Décoratif, a very prestigious academy.  As before he did well at the academy and gained many prizes for his drawings and paintings.  One of his tutors at the Academy was Paul-François Quinsac, a painter of the French School known as Academic art, a specialist in mythological and allegorical subjects, figures and landscapes.  He was also a fashionable portrait painter loved by the Bordeaux upper classes.  Valette was also tutored by Charles Braquehaye in the art of drawing from a live model.  Valette continued to do well at the Academy.  The Academy gave out a number of scholarships to its best students so that they could support themselves whilst studying.  One of the most important scholarships was the Poirson scholarship named after Auguste Poirson who funded the award and bequeathed his vast collection of paintings to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux. 

Paris by Adolphe Valette

In 1903 Valette was awarded the scholarship, worth 400 Francs.  The money was to fund a trip to Japan to study Japanese art and prints and how it interacted with French Impressionism.  The four hundred franc award was not quite enough to fund the study trip but the Poirson scholarship administrators were told that Valette would fund the shortfall.  Little is known as to what happened next, except to say that Valette left the Academy that year, 1903, and because he could not raise the extra money for the trip to Japan, the scholarship money was never handed over to Valette.  That must have hurt but he was still determined to seek wider horizons in his search for a way to improve his artistic skills.   One may have thought Paris would be his destination but instead, he decided to travel to England.  Why England? Maybe it was the fact that in 1904, England and France had just jointly signed the Entente Cordiale, a series of formal political agreements that negotiated peace between England and France and there was a burgeoning admiration between the well-to-do of each nation.  It was also true that many French artists, such as Monet and Pissarro, because of the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war, had travelled to England to study the works of Constable and Turner.

Plymouth Grove by Pierre Adolphe Valette (1909)

Having arrived in England in 1904 Valette enrolled on courses at the School of Art at Birkbeck College, London in April 1905.  However, his stay there was very short and he left the English capital and travelled north to Manchester.  It is thought that Valette went to Manchester with the intention to find work as an engraver and as an artist in a connection with this industrial north-west city.  Valette was not disappointed as he quickly found work at the Norbury, Natzio printing company and secured lodgings at Plymouth Grove in Victoria Park, Manchester.  The company was all about general and colour printing which at the time was ground-breaking technology.  The company specialised in posters and trade publicity.  Whilst there, Valette produced the company’s trade calendars which were exquisite and refined works, a sort of Japanese-style art.

Manchester Municipal School of Art

Besides working at the printing company, twenty-eight-year-old Valette enrolled as a student at the Manchester Municipal School of Art in 1905.  There were five hundred students enrolled at the school. Half attending day courses whilst the other half attended evening classes.  Valette, who had a full time job, enrolled in the life drawing and engraving evening classes.  The future famous English artist LS Lowry enrolled at the Manchester school the same year as Valette but he had to start in the preparatory classes whereas, because of his experience in art, Valette entered the higher classes of the school.

Portrait of John Henry Reynolds by Pierre Alphonse Valette (1919)

Valette proved himself to be an exceptional student, so much so that the head of the academy, Richard Glazier, suggested that Valette should apply for the post of Master of Painting and Drawing.  Glazier probably liked the idea of having a proven French artist on his staff as this would an international flavour to the academy.  Valette applied and in March 1906 he was awarded the post at annual salary of two hundred and twenty-five pounds.  One of Valette’s conditions when he accepted the post that he would be a “hands-on” tutor and would be able to paint alongside his students.  This was a French teaching style, painting by demonstration, and this was new to the United Kingdom. Valette’s knowledge of the French Impressionism movement and what was happening in the French studios allowed him to breathe fresh life into the teaching of art and, at the same time, circumvent the stuffy academic way of teaching the subject.  The director and secretary for the Manchester School of Art when Valette enrolled was John Henry Reynolds and in 1919 Valette completed a portrait of the man.

Drawing from Antiques class at Manchester Municipal School of Art

The famous English painter, L.S.Lowry, or to give him his full name, Laurence Stephen Lowry, enrolled in the evening classes at the Manchester Municipal School of Art in 1905 at the age of seventeen.  A few years on Lowry took part in the Drawing from Antiques course.  The School had a large hall containing many Renaissance classical statues of male and female nudes which gave the students the opportunity to learn and produce drawings of the classical poses.  Lowry produced a number of sketches which Valette appreciated and found the time to convince Lowry to continue with his art studies.  Lowry expressed great admiration for Valette, who taught him new techniques and showed him the potential of the urban landscape as a subject.  Of Valette Lowry described him as “a real teacher … a dedicated teacher”, and added:

“I cannot over-estimate the effect on me of the coming into this drab city of Adolphe Valette, full of French impressionists, aware of everything that was going on in Paris…”

Manchester Ship Canal by Adolphe Valette

What drew me to the artwork of Valette was his impressionist style paintings depicting urban scenes of Manchester often depicting its canals swathed in a smog-filled haze over the lights and dark ironwork of the industrial city.  His painting, His Manchester Ship Canal painting, depicted the barges on the canal and managed to capture the ever-changing effects of light, cloud and movement outdoors.

Albert Square, Manchester by Adolphe Valette (1910)

Valette’s 1910 painting entitled Albert Square is an atmospheric, smog-filled view of one of Manchester’s main squares.  We are viewing it from the southwest side and in the foreground we observe the dark figure of a man, wearing a cloth cap and knee-length coat.  He is plying his trade, pushing a handcart, his figure silhouetted against the wet cobbles. In the mid-ground we see a parked a hansom cab beneath the statue of Gladstone.  The horse feeds from a nose-bag as the driver manages to take a breather.  To the left of the scene, a group of figures congregate around a motorcar parked beneath the Albert Memorial and the statue of Oliver Heywood can be seen to the right.

India House, Manchester by Adolophe Valette (1912)

Valette’s 1912 painting, India House, depicts a secluded view, looking down the River Medlock in Manchester, as viewed from Oxford Bridge and looking in the direction of India House, the large office building which is situated on Whitworth Street. The upper part of the painting is a  framed view of an archway belonging to the railway viaduct spanning Oxford Road. At the centre of the work our eyes strain to see, through the haze, the materialising form of India House, with its numerous lit up windows reflected in the water below. On the left of the painting is what used to be the Refuge Assurance building which would later become the Palace Hotel.  On the river we can see two flat barges.

York Street leading to Charles Street, Manchester by Adolphe Valette (1913)

In 1913, Valette completed his painting entitled York Street leading to Charles Street, Manchester.  It is a typical Valette style work featuring a smog-ridden industrial scene, depicting York Street, Manchester, and looking towards an arched railway bridge spanning the street, over which we can see a steam train crossing.  In the right foreground we see two labourers shovelling a pile of coal on the road and to the right, a single motor car drives along the road to the left.  The pavements are full of people.  All around are tall blackened buildings each emitting tiny lights which struggle to penetrate the smoggy atmosphere.

Ferme Sanlaville, La Combe, Blace by Adolphe Valette

In 1920 Valette resigned from the Manchester Municipal School of Art owing to ill health but remained in Lancashire for eight more years, during which time he was involved in private art tuition.  In 1928 he returned to Paris, and later moved to Blacé en Beaujolais, where he painted portraits and country landscapes. He died there on April 18th, 1942, aged 65.

Although his work contained many colourful landscape scenes and a large number of beautifully crafted portraits.   I will always think of Pierre Adolphe Valette as the artist who depicted the smog-filled urban depictions of Manchester.

Jacqueline Marval – the Female Fauve.

Jacqueline Marval at 20 (Copy)
Jacqueline Marval

My artist today was born Marie-Joséphine Vallet and it was not until later in her life that she changed it to Jacqueline Marval.  She was the second of eight children of her parents who were both teachers.  Jacqueline Marval was Born in Quaix, near Grenoble, France on October 19th 1866.  Her parents, wanting their daughter to follow in their footsteps, persuaded her to become an educator and by 1884 she had a teaching degree.  However, teaching was not for her and she began to spend much of her time painting.  In 1886, aged twenty, she married Albert Valentin, a travelling salesman.  Their marriage did not prove a success despite Marval giving birth to a son.  The end of the marriage came shortly after their six-month-old baby died and the couple divorced in 1891.  Now that she had become a divorcee she had to earn money to survive and she took up a job in a clothing factory in which she made waistcoats, gilets and vests and soon due to her ability she became a very proficient tailor and embroiderer.

Jules Flandrin, Portrait de Jacqueline Marval, oil on panel, 45 cm x 30,8 cm, 1907 ©Ville de Grenoble / Musée de Grenoble-J.L. Lacroix
Portrait de Jacqueline Marval by Jules Flandrin (1907)

She lived briefly in her hometown of Grenoble, where in 1894, she met the painter François-Joseph Girot and she moved with him to Paris.  A year later she left Girot and became enamoured with another artist, Jules Flandrin who had studied under Gustave Moreau at the École des Beaux-Arts.  Vallet and Flandrin lived together in rue Campagne-Première in the Quartier du Montparnasse.  It was through her relationship with Flandrin that Marval decided to become a professional artist.  It was in 1900 when Vallet took on the pseudonym Jacqueline Marval, “Marval” being the composite of her first and last name “MARie VALlet.”

Odalisque au Guepard by Jacqueline Marval (1900)

The Salon des Indépendents was created in 1884 in Paris by a group of young artists, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro and others who were tired of having their work judged by a bunch of tradition-bound academic artists wishing to be able to freely exhibit their works and free themselves from the influence of any jury.   The Salon des Indépendants was a chance for them to show their work directly to the public. Despite having her first submissions rejected by the Salon des Indépendants in 1900, the following year she managed to have ten of her paintings under her new name, Jacqueline Marval accepted at the 1901 Salon des Indépendants.  Ambroise Vollard bought ten paintings from her, including Odalisque au Guépard. The term odalisque means a chambermaid in a harem. Around this period Europe was captivated with the East, and it was termed Orientalism, which manifested itself in furniture, fashion, decorative arts and works of art.  Odalisque au Guepard meaning Odalisque with Cheetah is actually a self-portrait by Marval.  We see before us Marval’s Odalisque, a naked young woman with elegant hairdo lying on a balustraded balcony between a flowered foreground and foliated background. A double layer of fabric protects her exposed flesh from the hard yellow and blue tile floor. She leans on one elbow, whilst her other arm reaches out to stroke the cheetah. She faces forward, but does not acknowledge our presence and although naked she makes no effort to cover herself and the impression we have of her is one of impertinence, and self determination.

Les Coquettes, 1903.
Les Coquettes by Jacqueline Marval (1903)

Invitation to the exhibition of the Berthe Weill Gallery, feb.1902© Comité Jacqueline Marval
Invitation to the exhibition of the Berthe Weill Gallery, Feb.1902

Things got even better for Jacqueline in 1902 when she had some of her paintings exhibited alongside those of Flandrin, Albert Marquet and Henri Matisse in Berthe Weill’s small gallery on rue Massé.

Jacqueline Marval, Les Odalisques (1902-1903), 200 cm x 220 cm © Ville de Grenoble / Musée de Grenoble-J.L. Lacroix
Les Odalisques by Jacqueline Marval (c.1903)

At the  Salon des Indépendants in 1903, Jacqueline Marval submitted her painting entitled Les Odalisques.  It is one of her masterpieces and presently hangs in the Musée de Grenoble. This painting depicts five women: three seated nude, one dressed and reclining on her elbow, and one standing, clothed and holding a tray. Les odalisques follows in the art historical tradition of large-scale orientalized bathing scenes, with a strong focus on the nude body and the interaction between figures. One has to admire the spirit of Marval who had the courage to paint herself as a prostitute five times on this canvas !

Berthe Weill

Berthe Weill had been born in Paris on November 20, 1865. She was the fifth of seven children and the elder of the two daughters born to Solomon Weill and his wife Jenny (née Levy). Because she was a Jew, Berthe Weill for her to become an art dealer through the back door similar to how many Jews had to enter many other occupations. During the 1880’s she began working for Salvador Meyer, an antiquarian, whose premises were located on rue Lafitte. During the long period working for Meyer she was able to train her eye and to learn first-hand about a variety of objects ranging from bric-a-brac that was rarely suitable for the finest town houses or châteaux to genuine antiques.  In December 1901, just after her 36th birthday, she opened a gallery, Galerie B. Weill, which was dedicated solely to modern art.  Why not use her full name for the gallery?  The reason was simple. 

Portrait de Berthe Weill by Georges Kars, (1933)

Most art dealers were men and Berthe knew that her gallery was likely to fare better if collectors did not know initially that it was owned and operated by a female!  Weill was also particularly interested in promoting female artists who were living in Paris.  She had an impressive list of artists who had made their way through her gallery and submitted work for her to sell, including Raoul Dufy, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Diego Rivera, Georges Braque, Kees van Dongen, Maurice Utrillo, Pablo Picasso and Jean Metzinger. However she never forgot the plight of female painters and gave the early exposure and sales of women painters such as Suzanne Valadon, Emilie Charmy and today’s artist, Jacqueline Marval.

autumn salon 2

There was, in 1905, a major event in twentieth century art, an exhibition at the Salon d’Autumne.  It was an exhibition that opened in Paris, on October 15th, 1905, and which included paintings by Marval.  It was said that the exhibition ‘shocked many who saw, and many more who did not’.  It was at this exhibition that the art critic Louis Vauxcelles pointed to a quattrocento-like sculpture by created by Albert Marque in the middle of the gallery and exclaimed:

…Donatello au milieu des fauves!…”

 (Donatello among the wild beasts),

……..and the name fauves stuck.  Fauve paintings are distinguished by a startling palette of saturated, unmixed colours and broad brushstrokes.

Description of this image, also commented below
Portrait of Eugène Druet by Pierre Bonnard (1912)

When Jacqueline Marval met Eugène Druet,  little does she know how important this encounter will be in her career. Druet first owned the French Yacht Club, a small family café that he bought in 1893. The sculptor, Auguste Rodin, regularly frequented the café, and it was he who introduced Druet to art photography.  Druet took many pictures of Rodin’s sculptures and soon acted as his official photographer.  In 1903, on Rodin’s advice, Druet abandoned his café to open an art gallery at 114, Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré which later moved to the Rue Royale in 1908.  In 1909, Jacqueline Marval exhibited for the first time at Galerie Druet and during the following years, she would exhibit at the gallery over fifty times often alongside other artists such as Georges Rouault, Roger de la Fresnaye and Henri Matisse.

The Three Roses, c 1911
The Three Roses, by Jacqueline Marval (c 1911)

In 1912 the Galerie Druet staged a solo exhibition of forty-four of Jacqueline’s paintings and it was well received.   The celebrated poet and art critic, Guillaume Apollinaire, praised Jacqueline Marval writing in an article in the journal, Le Petit Bleu:

“…Mme. Marval has offered art-lovers an entirely different kind of treat. This artist has imagination, and a very personal talent. Abstraction is not her strong point, but she has a marvelous ability to reveal the poetic reality of her subjects. . . In her large canvas of odalisques, Mme. Marval has given the measure of her talent and has achieved a work of importance for modern painting. This strong and sensual work, freely painted and wholly personal in composition, line and coloring, deserves to survive…”

Odalisques au miroir by Jacqueline Marval (1903)

In 1913, Jacqueline Marval’s 1903 painting Odalisques au miroir was exhibited in the New York Armory Show, also known as the International Exhibition of Modern Art. 

It was the first large exhibition of modern art in America, as well as one of the many exhibitions that have been held in the vast spaces of U.S. National Guard armories. 

Many visitors and art critics were shocked by the Modern art on display with Kenyon Cox of Harper’s Weekly describing what he saw at the Armory Show:

“…it is not amusing, but appalling and disgusting. I was attributed saying that the human race was approaching madness. I never did, but if one tries to convince me that this is modern art and this is representative of our present, I will have to think it is…”

Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris.
Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris.

The Théâtre des Champs-Elysées is said to be one of the most beautiful concert halls in Paris. This historical edifice, which is considered by many as one of the first Art Déco ones, was the first concrete building of the architects Auguste and Gustave Perret.  It was built in 1913 by a group of artists, Henry Van de Velde, the Perret brothers, Antoine Bourdelle, and Maurice Denis. 

Daphnis et Chloé by Jacqueline Marval (1913)

Jacqueline Marval was put in charge of completing eight panels for the building that will be the decor of the Foyer de la Danse. Marval chose as her theme, Daphnis et Chloé, an early 20th century ballet my Ravel, based upon a second century Greek tale. The subject of the opera was the trials and ordeals suffered by two young shepherds, who were young lovers. However there was also a hidden meaning for these depictions being placed in the Foyer de la Danse as it was here that many older men would gaze lecherously at the young, sometimes impoverished, dancers as they rehearsed. 

Daphnis et Chloé, Théâtre des Champs Élysées, Paris, Jacqueline Marval, 1915

It was to remind them that the paintings were a celebration of love between two young people.  Paul Jamot, commented on this, writing in La Gazette des Beaux-Arts, First Semester, 1913:

“…since some elderly men who think money gives them rights and merits, come here as conquerors, those walls will let them know that nature only likes pairing youth with youth…”

Jacqueline Marval in her apartment Quai Saint Michel, 1920

Jacqueline’s reputation as a an artist grew year on year. During the 1920’s she and Flandrin made many visits to Biarritz and it was in this seaside resort that she found new inspiration for her paintings.

Biarritz, 1923
Biarritz by Jacqueline Marval (1923)

Her paintings included depictions of beaches, baigneuses and fisher folk and in a way they were recording that time when bathing in the sea had become a favoured pastime and that French seaside towns were proving ever more popular with the French population.

La Baigneuse, c 1920 - 1923
La Baigneuse, by Jacqueline Marval (c 1920 – 1923)

The swimming costumes she depicted provided us with and observation of the fashion of the time.

Jacqueline Marval, Plage Rose, la Côte des Basques,  c 1923.  Oil on canvas, 96 cm x 146 cm. Private collection, France.
Plage Rose, la Côte des Basques, by Jacqueline Marval (c 1923)

Jacqueline regularly exhibited her work at the various Paris Salons where she would attend and ensure she was well recognised. 

Jacqueline Marval in front of her Kiki de Montparnasse portrait, 19 quai Saint-Michel, Paris, ca 1925
Jacqueline Marval in front of her Kiki de Montparnasse portrait,
19 quai Saint-Michel, Paris, ca 1925

She became well known as an artist and her flamboyance was often noted in the local press which covered the Salon exhibitions.

Cover of the Salon d’Automne Catalogue, 1923
Cover of the Salon d’Automne Catalogue, 1923

Often she would be asked to produce the posters, and illustrate the invitation cards and the catalogue covers for Parisian salons such as the  Salon d’Automne.

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Self portrait by Jacqueline Marval

Following a prolonged illness Jacqueline’s friend and French art critic René-Jean, took her to the L’Hôpital Bichât in Paris where she passed away on May 28th 1932, aged 65.

Jean-Eugène Buland

Jean-Eugene Buland photo.jpg
Jean-Eugène Buland

Jean-Eugène Buland was born in the French capital on October 26th 1852.  He was the son of an engraver, as was his younger brother, Jean-Émile Buland.  Jean-Eugène’s artistic career began when he entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the studio of Alexandre Cabanel.  Cabanal was a renowned French artist who painted historical, classical and religious subjects in the academic style and was also well known as a portrait painter. He had been a professor at the art establishment since 1864 and was highly regarded by Emperor Napoleon III.  There can be no doubt that Buland was influenced by Cabanel’s choice of subjects for his paintings and his academic painting style.   Success came early on for Buland when he gained the Deuxième Prix de Rome in 1878 and once again in 1879.  The Prix de Rome was a French scholarship for arts students, initially for painters and sculptors, that was established in 1663 during the reign of Louis XIV of France. Winners were awarded a bursary that allowed them to stay at the Villa Medicis in Rome for three to five years funded by the French government. 

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The Illustrator and His Daughter in the Workshop by Jean Eugène Buland (1891)

On his return to France Buland soon became aware of the popularity of the French painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage, and his success with his Naturalist paintings depicting realistic themes so much so, he decided to forego his depictions of historical works and concentrate on scenes of everyday life.  Bastien-Lepage, like Buland, was also awarded the Deuxième Prix de Rome in 1875 and 1876 but declined the opportunity to study in Rome as the classical training held no interest for him although winning the prize had been a great honour.  Buland joined the Naturalist painting movement with Bastien-Lepage and found that by utilising photography it allowed him to paint his models with the most precision.

Alms of a Beggar by Jean-Eugène Buland (1880)

In 1880 he completed one of his best loved works, Alms of a Beggar, in which we see a young woman beautifully dressed in white sitting outside a church in search of charity. From her left, we see a man, who is a beggar himself, coming towards her with a coin held out in his right hand. His clothes are a mass of patches, and they are pale and dirty.  On his feet he wears scruffy old wooden shoes. From his demeanour he would appear sightless. It is a fascinating depiction that raises all manner of questions.  Why is the well-dressed woman begging?  Is she as poor as the man in the depiction or is Buland telling us that you do not have to be badly dressed to be poor?  Is there such a thing as inward poverty – a poverty that has nothing to do with lack of money?  Look at the painting and make your own mind up.

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Le Tripot by Jean Eugène Buland (1883)

Three years later, in 1883, Buland completed a painting entitled Le Tripot which is a French word meaning gambling house or gambling den.  This work by Buland is one of his masterpieces.  The setting is a sleazy back-street gambling den and depicts five unsentimental-looking gamblers facing us whilst sitting at a gaming table.  The air is thick with cigarette and cigar smoke, the walls of the establishment are in need of redecoration.

To the left we see an elderly woman, probably a widow, diminutive in stature, dressed all in black.  She pushes some paper money towards the pot.  Looking over her shoulder is a middle-aged man. Is he just a merely a passing observer or is there more to his presence?

Next to the old woman is a man showing an air of confidence as to his ability as a gambler and yet the pile of winnings in front of him is small.  He is slightly laid back and seems to be worry-free.  With cigarette in hand he glances to his right. 

By far the most interesting person in this group portrait is one at the centre.  An elderly man gazes out at us with an almost blank look as if he is not registering what he is seeing.  He is completely lost in his own thoughts.  Why did Buland depict him as almost having no part in what is happening around him ?

Is he just another gambler or is he the croupier as we see his wooden rake which is used to collect money from the gaming table at his side and a large pool of money which could be the “bank”.

The remaining gamblers are to the right of the painting. The man with the long hair and ringlets would appear to be of Jewish origin akin to the likes of Fagan and Shylock and in a way this depiction has a sort of anti-Semitic tone to it. Before him, we see that he has accrued a large amount of winnings, which could have been Buland’s thoughts on the reputation of the Jewish people’s love of money. In contrast, next to him, on his left, is a young man who looks totally bemused and is certainly down on his luck. From his bored facial expression we can see he is completely resigned to losing the last of his money. Behind the pair we see a couple ladies of the night who are looking to see who is winning and thus who is worth approaching for their services.

The question as to why has Buland chosen these five main characters, four of whom are definititely gambling is questionable. Is he trying to put across his belief that all types of people fall into the clutches of gambling? The run-down setting maybe his way of not glorifying the “sport” of gambling.

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Bonheur des Parents by Jean-Eugène Buland (1903)

If you wanted to have an artistic depiction of tenderness and young love Buland’s 1903 offering of Bonheur des parents probably could not be topped.  The painting’s title translates to Parental Happiness and it depicts a young man and his young wife with their newly born baby. The setting is a small room of a stone-built cottage.  It is a new experience for the couple and we can see the woman looking down at her baby as it breast-feeds.   You can see the utter tiredness in the eyes of the young mother and the nervousness in the father’s expression.  It is all new to them and they are having to survive alone with the nurturing of their child. They have been given a precious gift.

Mariage innocent (Innocent marriage) by Jean-Eugène Buland (1884)

Another depiction of young love was his 1884 painting entitled Mariage innocent. It is an idyllic portrayal of young happiness with its young couple walking arm in arm through fields against a backdrop of a village and blossoming flowers in the foreground. 

La Lecture by Jean-Eugène Buland (1901)

In 1886, Buland left Paris to settle in Charly-sur-Marne, a little village just east of the capital, in the French department of Aisne, near Château-Thierry, shunning the art scene of the French capital. From this quiet village life Buland derived inspiration from simple everyday life, which he painted with the greatest fastidiousness. His works gained popularity and he obtained many commissions including ones from a number of  art institutions, such as the Luxembourg Museum in Paris and many other provincial museums.  During these early years he submitted many of his works for the Salon des Sciences in the Paris’ City Hall and some were used to decorate the ceiling of the City Hall of Château-Thierry.  His painstaking realist depictions were well-received at the Salon, where he won a number of medals.  He gained a third-class medal at the Universal Exhibition in Barcelona in 1888.  In the following year he was awarded a silver medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris and was also awarded during the International Exhibition in London in 1890.  The ultimate honour came in 1894 when he received the Legion of Honour.

Un Patron or The Lesson of the Apprentice by Jean-Eugène Buland (1888)

In France during the start of industrialization realist painters were often given official assignments from the state to depict themes from the new and progressive metal industry. In his 1888 painting, entitled Un Patron, sometimes referred to as The Lesson of the Apprentice, Buland used photographs as a basis for the work catching all the details of what was a combination of a smithy and a mechanical workshop. In the painting we see the head mechanic is using a drill while working on a cogwheel. The painting depiction had a political propaganda aspect to it.  France had suffered after a heavy and costly defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the country was now striving to recover through its advances in its industry and manufacturing and the depiction of the young apprentice learning a trade in engineering highlighted the country’s determination to become an industrial powerhouse.

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The Tinker by Jean-Eugène Buland (1908)

The term ethnography is the scientific description of peoples and cultures with their customs, habits, and mutual differences.  Eugène Buland was a meticulous painter who never overlooked any details with regards to the figures populating his paintings.  He spent a great deal of time depicting their appearance and their costumes and an equal amount of time was spent on the details of the inanimate objects that completed the works.   Through his painstaking way in which he used light and shadow on his figures and on the settings, Buland paintings became true works of art. His paintings are like an everyday chronicle of life combining portraiture with genre scenes.  One good example of this is his 1908 painting entitled The Tinker.  We see the man busy at work, repairing damaged pots, pans, and domestic metal objects. Look at the varying textures of these objects.  Look closely at the wall of the room and see how Buland, with touches of white has a glistening effect which highlights the dampness on the stone wall.

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Propaganda Campaign by Jean-Eugène Buland (1889)

I like two of Buland’s works which have a political overtone to them.  In 1889 he painted Propaganda Campaign in which we see a travelling salesman has arrived at the home of a poor family and he is trying to offload books and coloured prints to the head of the household. However, he was not just a salesman as he combined his sales pitch with his political thoughts.  In the salesman’s left hand he holds a poster of General Boulanger, a French general and politician who was an enormously popular public figure during the 1880’s and the buttonhole rosette in the salesman’s jacket lapel identifies him as a canvasser for the General.

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Municipal Council and Commission of Pierrelaye Organizing a Festival by Jean-Eugène Buland (1891)

The other political painting by Buland which I like is his provincial municipal depiction of a group of local councilors.  The 1891 work is entitled Municipal Council and Commission of Pierrelaye Organizing a Festival.   Pierrelaye is a commune in the Val-d’Oise department in Île-de-France in northern France.  It is almost certainly a painting commissioned by the very councilors who are depicted in the work.  They all exude an aura of importance and solemnity.  For those who would look at this group portrait by Buland there would be no doubt that the councilors would be worth every penny of their wages !!!!

Ouvriers Se Chauffant (Workers Warming Themselves) by Jean-Eugène Buland (1906)

My final choice of Buland’s paintings is a dark and somewhat brooding study of two workmen sitting on a large log, who are trying to fight off the cold by warming themselves in front of a brazier.  Maybe they are woodsmen who have just come inside the hut for a rest having been working outside in the cold.  The room is dark and dank and the two figures are just about lit up by a thin beam of daylight penetrating a small window high up in the wall.

Jean-Eugène Buland died on March 18th 1926, aged 73.

Paul Sérusier.

The paintings by today’s artist are highly colourful and whose early works showcased the people and landscapes of Brittany.  His works have a strong resemblance to paintings by Paul Gaugin and as you read further on you will see the reason for this similarity.  My artist today is the French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Sérusier.

Paul Sérusier, or to give him his full name, Louis-Paul-Henri Sérusier, was born on November 9th, 1864, in Paris.  He was born into a prosperous middle-class family.  His father, of Flemish descent, was a successful businessman in the perfume industry, and was able to afford to give his son a good education. In 1875, aged ten, Paul entered the Lycée Fontane, later known as Lycée Condorcet, one of the four oldest high schools in Paris and also one of the most prestigious.  It was here that Sérusier studied classical philosophy, Greek and Latin, and the sciences. Also attending this school were fellow students and future artists Maurice Denis, Édouard Vuillard, and Ker-Xavier Roussel.  Sérusier graduated from the Lycée in 1883 with two baccalaureates, one in philosophy and one in the sciences.  Paul’s father wanted his son to have a career in business and arranged for him to join the company of his friend as a salesman but after a short period Paul realised that life in business was not for him as he had set his heart on becoming an artist and in 1885 he enrolled at the Académie Julian where once again he was with his friend Maurice Denis and a life-long friendship between the two began.

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The Weaver by Paul Sérusier (1888)

Before we look at Sérusier’s post 1888 paintings I wanted to show you one of his Realist paintings which he completed in early 1888 before he made the trip to Pont Aven.  It is so different in comparison of what was to come.  It was entitled The Breton Weaver.

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Pont-Aven: towards the Bois d’Amour

Pont-Aven, a commune in the Finistère department of Brittany in northwestern France became one of the most popular and influential art colonies, visited by hundreds or even thousands of artists, well into the twentieth century. In 1888, Sérusier arrived at Pont-Aven and his attention was soon attracted by a group of artists who crowded around Emile Bernand and Paul Gauguin. Sérusier was finally introduced to them and even received a lesson from Gauguin. Gauguin encouraged the young artist to free himself from the limitations of imitative painting, and instead use pure colours.  He was also advised to overstress his impressions, and by doing this, give to the painting his own, decorative rational and symbolic structure.

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Bois d’Amour in Pont-Aven by Paul Sérusier.  Later known as The Talisman.

That summer, Paul Sérusier listened to and took part in conversations with Bernard and his friend Paul Gauguin discussing their ideas concerning moving on from Impressionism and its fixation with studies of light and nature and rather simplify, interpret, and arrange nature.  At the beginning of October 1888, with artistic advice from Gauguin, Sérusier painted Bois d’Amour in Pont-Aven.  It is a pioneering work in its use of flat surfaces in random colours.  So, what made Sérusier choose this location?  The French writer Denise Lelouche described the location writing:

“…The Bois d’Amour, where all the painters from the Pont-Aven community liked to come, seduced by the stillness of the place, the beauty of these venerable trees, the richness of the reflexions constantly disturbed by the flow of the river colliding with the granitic rocks, and the clouds sweeping and shading the light according to the wind…”

The Bois d’Amour, or “Wood of Love” is located on the heights of Pont-Aven and used to be a hotspot of inspiration for the artists staying in Pont-Aven.  The story behind this painting starts in October 1888 when twenty-four-year-old Paul Sérusier, travelled to the artist’s colony at Pont-Aven in Brittany, with a letter of introduction to Paul Gauguin. With his letter to Gauguin from Émile Bernard, his idea was to make studies of nature in the picturesque countryside around Pont-Aven.  Sérusier later described his experience to Maurice Denis, recounting how he and Gauguin had walked to the Bois d’Amour, a picturesque landscape of forest and rocks along the river Aven, not far from the village. Gaugin encouraged Sérusier to forgo modelling, perspective, and all such attempts at three-dimensional effects and to use a simplified colour palette It was here that Gaugin asked Sérusier how he saw these trees? Sérusier replied that they were yellow. Gaugin then continued that Sérusier should put some yellow. This shadow, it’s rather blue, paint it with pure ultramarine. Those red leaves? Put vermillion.  On the back of the Bois d’Amour canvas, Sérusier wrote

“…Made in October 1888 under the direction of Gauguin by P. Sérusier at Pont-Aven…”

Breton Women, the Meeting in the Sacred Grove, c.1892 - Paul Serusier

Breton Women, the Meeting in the Sacred Groveby Paul Sérusier (c.1892)

Sérusier returned to Paris with the painting and showed it to his fellow students at the Académie Julian. Many derided the work for its garish blocks of colour but several, particularly Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, and Paul Ranson, Henri-Gabriel Ibels and Renée Piot, were highly enthusiastic about this new way of depicting a landscape.   Sérusier proposed to them the creation of the artistic fellowship of the Nabis, a term which in Hebrew means “prophet”.  He was to play an important role, both as an artist and as a theoretician.  The painting was placed in the studio of the oldest of the painters, Paul-Élie Ranson, age twenty-four, at 25, boulevard du Montparnasse. It was Ranson who gave the painting the name The Talisman.  When it was first exhibited in 1903, Maurice Denis wrote:

“…Thus we were presented, for the first time, in a form that was paradoxical and unforgettable, the fertile concept of a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order…”

The reputation of Paul Sérusier and his painting, The Talisman, was kept alive by the efforts of Maurice Denis, who was the chief theorist and historian of the Nabis, He became the guardian of the painting in about 1903 and wrote continually about the importance of the artist and the work. After the death of Denis in 1943, the painting became part of the collection of the French government, and eventually of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

Ironically, The Talisman was not a completed work as Sérusier intended it to be a simple sketch which would later be used for a future work.

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Landscape at Le Pouldu by Paul Sérusier (1890)

This group of young Académie students known as Les Nabis held Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne in high esteem and set their minds to renew the art of painting, but each varied greatly in their individual styles. Their common belief was that a work of art was not a depiction of nature, but a synthesis of metaphors and symbols created by the artist.  The Nabis felt that as artists they were creators of a subjective art that was deeply rooted in the soul of the artist.  Les Nabis held their final exhibition in 1900 and then went their separate ways.

Undergrowth at Huelgoat, 1905 - Paul Serusier

Undergrowth at Huelgoat by Paul Sérusier (1905)

Sérusier returned to Paris in the Autumn of 1889.  The following year he gave up his studies at the Académie Julian saying he no longer believed in the academy teachings.  In the summers of 1889 and 1890, Sérusier returned to Brittany to work with Gauguin in the coastal Breton village of Le Pouldu. There, he was deeply moved by the simple and pious life of the Breton people.   After Gauguin  left for Tahiti in April 1891, Sérusier remained for the summer in Brittany as he found plenty of atmosphere there and did not feel any need to go elsewhere.  The works he painted during this period are brightly coloured; in Gauguin’s style, but were said to be less forceful and more ‘anecdotal’.

Shepherd in the Valley of Chateauneuf - Paul Serusier

Shepherd in the Valley of Chateauneuf by Paul Sérusier (1917)

In 1891 Sérusier established his atelier in the towns of Huelgoat and two years later in Châteauneuf-du-Faou, where he continued to paint Breton women, usually immersed in their everyday chores, allowing himself to be guided by the example of his master and by his interest in Japanese prints. His trips to Paris were reduced to short breaks during the winters, in order to exhibit with his fellow Nabi artists.

Sérusier enjoyed his time in Paris as in the French capital he had the company of his Polish mistress, Gabriela Zapolska, but when she suddenly left him in 1895, he decided to isolate himself in the Britanny commune of Châteauneuf-du-Faou.  Sérusier became depressed with his life during 1897 and in 1898 went through a period of intellectual doubt only resolved in 1902.

 

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Washerwomen by Paul Sérusier (1886/1897)

Although the date given for the completion of Sérusier’s Washerwomen painting is around 1897, it is thought that work started on this depiction around 1886 when he was attending the Académie Julian.

Portrait of Paul Ranson in Nabi Costume by Paul Sérusier (1890)

One of Sérusier’s fellow member of Les Nabis was the French painter Paul Ranson and in 1890 Sérusier completed a portrait of his friend. In the depiction Ranson, who was famed for his religious works, is portrayed in the role of a bishop seen clutching an ornate crosier in his left hand whilst studying the text of an illuminated book.

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Breton Wrestling by Paul Sérusier (1891)

One of the popular sports during the days Sérusier was living in Brittany was Breton Wrestling, where it is known as gouren. Gouren is a style of folk wrestling which has been established in Brittany for several centuries. 

A pencil portrait of Desiderius Lenz in 1860 by Gabriel Wüger 

In 1898, mainly thanks to his friend, the Dutch Post-Impressionist and Christian Symbolist painter, Jan Verkade, who was close to the Nabi group he found a kind of solace. Sérusier visited Verkade at the monastery of Beuron in Southwest Germany, where Verkade had been living since his conversion to Catholicism and entering the Benedictine Order. Whilst living at the monastery, Sérusier was taught by the artist and Benedictine monk Desiderius Lenz, who together with Gabriel Wüger founded the Beuron Art School.

Still Life with Churn, 1925 - Paul Serusier
Still Life with Churn by Paul Sérusier (1925)

From then on, Sérusier developed a complex theory on the use of colour consisting in the separation of warm and cold colours, in order to avoid chromatic dissonance. At the same time, Gauguin’s influence began to give way to a more hieratic and allegorical painting, inspired by medieval tapestries. He spent a great deal of time studying Egyptian art, the Italian primitivists, and the tapestries of the Middle Ages so that he could create decorative works of a mysterious and calculated timelessness

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In 1908, Sérusier began to teach painting at the Académie Ranson in Paris and one of his first students was the artist daughter of an army officer, Marguerite Gabriel-Claude.  She was born in Lons-le-Saunier on March 12, 1879.  She attended the maison d’éducation of the Légion d’honneur and later was a student at the Beaux-Arts in Paris. She then enrolled at the Académie Ranson where she met and became friends with Sérusier.

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 41. PAUL SÉRUSIER | MARGUERITE SÉRUSIER READING NEAR THE RIVER.
MARGUERITE SÉRUSIER READING NEAR THE RIVER by Paul Sérusier

Friendship soon turned to love and on February 22nd, 1912, Abbé Ackermann, who had been Paul Sérusier’s former philosophy teacher at the Lycée Condorcet, blessed the marriage of the two artists at the Paris Church of Saint-Sulpice. The couple went to live in Sérusier new house at 27 Duchenn Glaz. That same year Sérusier completed a painting of his wife entitled Madame Sérusier à l’ombrelle.

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Marguerite Sérusier , Landscape with Valleys, c.1910, painted screen, Paris, Musée d’Orsay.

Marguerite Sérusier loved the art of tapestry, and it was she who encouraged her husband to persevere in wall art. Thus, around 1913, the plasters of the vestibule, the corridor and the staircase of their residence were decorated with astonishing achievements on religious, pagan or esoteric themes. It was also Marguerite who encouraged her husband to resume his project of decorating the walls of the baptistery of the parish church of Saint-Julien in Châteauneuf-du-Faou, which was carried out from 1914 to 1917.

His experience as a teacher led him years later to publish his 1921 guidebook ABC de la peinture.

Whilst visiting his wife in hospital in Morlaix, Paul Sérusier died of a heart attack on October 6th, 1927, a month before his sixty-third birthday. His wife Marguerite died in September 1950 and is buried in Morlaix with her husband.

Eugène Boudin. Part 2.

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       Sky, Setting Sun, Bushes in Foreground. by Eugène Boudin (ca. 1848-1853)

One of Boudin’s earlier paintings which featured his mastery of depicting skies is his work entitled Sky, Setting Sun, Bushes in Foreground which he completed in the early 1850’s. In this work, Boudin has gone for a very high frame and in fact, the sea does not appear in the composition. In this work and many similar ones, there is just the faint outline of a low horizon.  More often than not, the clouds are the main, sometimes the only motif. At times, the subject becomes so fine or abstract that Boudin specified its meaning on the back of the work.  His love of the paintings by the Dutch Masters made Boudin strive to achieve skies that he had seen in their works of art.  Between 1850 and 1870 Boudin completed many such depictions and a note in his personal diary refers to them:

“…To swim in the open sky. To achieve the tenderness of clouds. To suspend these masses in the distance, very far away in the grey mist, make the blue explode. I feel all this coming, dawning in my intentions. What joy and what torment! If the bottom were still, perhaps I would never reach these depths. Did they do better in the past? Did the Dutch achieve the poetry of clouds I seek? That tenderness of the sky which even extends to admiration, to worship: it is no exaggeration…”

On  January 14th,  1863,  Boudin married the 28-year-old Breton woman Marie-Anne Guédès in Le Havre and the couple set up home in Paris but would return to the Normandy coast in the summers.

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                        On the Beach at Trouville by Eugène Boudin (1863)

Boudin had started off his career painting seascapes, but he found his calling in the 1860’s depicting small beach scenes which he populated with affluent holidaymakers that had made the journey from Paris and outlying places.  These people spent summers sampling the health-giving benefits of sea bathing and the vibrant social life in the fast-emerging seaside resorts of Trouville and Deauville. Boudin created a few hundred examples of this type of painting, which enhanced his reputation.  He knew that genre was popular with the public once writing:

“…I shall do something else, but I shall always be a painter of beach scenes…”

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                                On the Beach, Dieppe by Eugène Boudin (1864)

An example of this type of work is his 1864 painting entitled On the Beach, Dieppe.   The setting is the beach of the Channel coastal town of Dieppe.

The changing skies of France’s Channel coast and the fashionable crowds on the resort beaches were Boudin’s lifelong subjects. These pictures were avidly collected, ensuring the artist’s success. In 1863 he commented:

“…They love my little ladies on the beach, and some people say that there’s a thread of gold to exploit there…”

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                                 On the Beach, Sunset by Eugène Boudin (1865)

Around 1865 Eugène Boudin spent time painting on the Normandy coast along with Monet, Courbet and Whistler.  It is around this time that Boudin began a series of depictions of fashionable beaches and this was to carry on for the whole of that decade.  In his 1865 painting, On the Beach, Sunset, we see the well-dressed upper-class holidaymakers who have gathered together to catch the final light of the day.  The seaside towns of Trouville and Deauville had not only their beautiful sandy beaches to inveigle tourists to their town but also had racetracks and casinos to satisfy those who liked the thrill of a wager. 

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                    Princess Metternich on the Beach by Eugène Boudin (1867)

Visits by famous people to the Normandy beaches, such as Napoleon III’s wife, the Empress Eugénie also enhanced their reputation. Another dignitary to visit the Normandy beaches was Princess Metternich, the famous Austrian socialite, and wife of the Austrian ambassador to France and one of the most notable women at the court of Napoleon III.  She visited the seaside times on many occasions and was often accompanied by Princess Eugénie.  Her visit was captured by Boudin in his small 1867 painting entitled Princess Metternich on the Beach.  The Impressionistic style of the painting gives us little idea of the woman herself, which may be a relief to the Princess, as commentators of the time described her as small, very slight of build and as having “a turned-up nose, lips like a chamber pot and the pallor of a figure from a Venetian masque”.

Laundresses by Eugène Boudin

For a period of time in 1867 Boudin left the beaches of Normandy and the luxurious lifestyle of the visiting rich and depicted the less well-off peasants and their daily routines.  Boudin could clearly see and understand the difference in the lives of the various social classes.  Did this bother him?  In a letter to his friend Ferdinand Martin, on August 28th, 1867, he condemned the social class system, writing:

“…I have a confession to make. When I came back to the beach at Trouville it seemed nothing more than a frightful masquerade.  If you have passed one month among the people condemned to hard work in the fields, with black bread and water, and you then find that gang of golden parasites with such a triumphant air, you can’t help feeling a bit of pity.  Fortunately, dear friend, the Creator has spread a little of his splendid and warming light everywhere, and what I reproduce is not so much this world as the element that envelops it…”

…….and yet in a letter to the same friend, Ferdinand Martin, a year later (September 3rd. 1868), he justifies his depictions of the wealthy on the Normandy beaches, writing:

“…The peasants have their painters, Millet, Jaque, Breton; and that is a good thing.  Well and good: but between you and me, the bourgeois walking along the jetty towards the sunset, has just as much right to be caught on canvas, ‘to be brought to the light’.  They too are often resting after a day’s hard work, these people who come from their offices and from behind their desks.  There’s a serious and irrefutable argument…”

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Antwerp, Boats on the Scheldt by Eugène Boudin (1871)

The Franco-Prussian War broke out in July 1870 and the Prussian army invaded the French capital the following month.  Both Boudin and Monet fled the country with Monet going to London whilst Boudin went north to Belgium and the city of Antwerp.  Whilst in Antwerp Boudin completed a number of maritime paintings, one of which was his 1871 work entitled Antwerp, Boats on the Scheldt.

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Antwerp, The Escaut River by Eugène Boudin (c.1871)

Another work around the same time was The Escaut River in Antwerp.

Low Tide. Portrieux by Eugène Boudin (1873)

With the Franco-Prussian war ending in 1871 and the bloody Paris Commune, which followed in the Spring of that year, coming to an end, it was safe to return to France.

Portrieux, in the bay of St. Brieuc, Côtes du Nord, was a popular village with painters and Boudin visited it on several of his trips to Brittany between 1865 and 1897.  His 1873 painting Low Tide, Portrieux depicts vessels he would have seen during his visits.  In this painting Boudin has focused on the fishing vessels from Newfoundland, the Terre-Neuvas, becalmed at low tide, and several of his paintings centred on this subject matter.   Boudin, who was the son of a ship’s captain, and who had worked as a cabin boy on ships sailing along the Channel coast, was well able to recognise, and record, the individual characteristics of the vessels he came across in the ports he visited.

The Dock at Deauville (1891)

The Dock at Deauville by Eugène Boudin (1891)

One of Boudin’s paintings, The Dock of Deauville, which he completed in 1891, has a similar depiction, ships in a harbour.  This painting treats a common theme in Boudin’s later art, ships in harbours. For Boudin these paintings were all about tranquillity, harmony and the effect of natural light on subjects and, unlike other maritime painters, avoided depictions of busy dockside life and the arduous jobs carried out by dock workers.  In this work, one can see how he has combined lighter tones around the ships’ masts, often overlying the darker lines of the wood and rigging with white or grey tones as if to suggest the passing wind and ever-changing positions which were everyday aspects of nautical life.

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View of Antibes by Eugène Boudin (1893)

By the time the 1880’s came around Boudin had achieved widespread recognition as an accomplished painter and had finally achieved financial security once he had secured a contract with the art dealer Durand-Ruel.   Paul Durand-Ruel, who was a great supporter of Impressionism and the Impressionist artists. In 1883 he opened his new gallery on the Boulevard de la Madeleine in Paris with an exhibition of works by Boudin, comprising 150 paintings and other pastels and drawings.

Fair in Brittany by Eugène Boudin

In 1888 at an auction at Hôtel Drouot in Paris, a large auction house in Paris, known for fine art, antiques, and antiquities, which consisted of  sixteen halls hosting seventy independent auction firms, many of Boudin’s paintings were bought by avid collectors of his work. 

Venice: Santa Maria della Salute and the Dogana Seen from across the Grand Canal

Venice: Santa Maria della Salute and the Dogana seen from across the Grand Canal, by Eugène Boudin (1895)

In 1889, 1890, and 1891, more successful exhibitions were organized at Galerie Durand-Ruel, and in 1890 Boudin was elected a member of the Société des Beaux-Arts.  His paintings travelled across the Atlantic and were shown in exhibitions in Boston in 1890 and 1891.  He continued to exhibit at the Paris Salons until his death and received a third-place medal at the Paris Salon of 1881, and a gold medal at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris.  In 1892 Boudin was made a knight of the Légion d’honneur.  His wealth allowed him to travel and he visited Belgium, the Netherlands, and southern France, and from 1892 to 1895 made regular trips to Venice.

Villefranche

Villefranche by Eugène Boudin  (1892)

Boudin was now spending every winter in the south of France, returning to his beloved Normandy in the summer.  His wife died in 1889 and Boudin’s own health was in decline.  In 1898 Boudin must have realised he was dying as he decided to move back to his home in Deauville to die. 

Eugène Louis Boudin died on August 8th 1898 aged 74.  He was buried according to his wishes in the Saint-Vincent Cemetery in Montmartre, Paris.  Boudin was a very modest man  and once said:

“…I may well have had some small measure of influence on the movement that led painters to study actual daylight and express the changing aspects of the sky with the utmost sincerity…”

But I will leave the last words to Claude Monet who said of Boudin:

“…If I have become a painter, I owe it to Eugène Boudin…”

Jules Breton. Part 3. Rural Life and Religious Ceremonies.

Breton Peasant Woman Holding a Taper by Jules Breton (1869)

Besides his rural works of art, Jules Breton will also be remembered for his religious paintings.  One simple work was his 1869 painting entitled Breton Peasant Woman Holding a Taper, which can be seen at the Brooklyn Museum.  It is an intimate portrayal of an elderly lady in Breton costume.  Jules Breton made the background plain and dark so that her white headdress and the starched folds of her collar stand out.   In one hand she holds the long thin candle whilst the other hand clasps her rosary beads.  France may have been reeling from revolutions and turmoil with even worse to come but Breton was happy to focus on regional dress and religious tradition.  Since 1994, the painting has been housed at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Quimper

The Pardon in Kergoat by Jules Breton (1891).

One of his greatest religious works was his multi-figured depiction entitled The Pardon at the Chapel of Kergoat in Quéméneven.  A pardon occurs on the feast of the patron saint of a church or chapel, at which an indulgence is granted. Hence use of the word “pardon”. Pardons only occur in the traditionally Breton language speaking Western part of Brittany.   This “pardon” at the Chapel of Kergoat was one of the most popular pardons because of the virtues of the waters from the nearby fountain. The Chapelle Notre-Dame de Kergoat is a 16th century chapel in the hamlet Kergoat, in the commune Quéménéven, Finistère, in north-western France. People came from all over Cornouaille, as shown by the presence of people from the Bigouden area.  Jules Breton was moved by the number of beggars and the passion of the pilgrims.  His portrayal of the event lets us imagine the movement of this procession as it goes around the monumental chapel. 

Le pardon de Notre-Dame-des-Portes à Châteauneuf-du-Faou by Paul Sérusier (1894)

He, like many other artists such as Gaugin, Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret and the Pont-Aven School painter, Paul Sérusier, depicted similar scenes of devotion.

The Blessing of the Wheats in Artois by Jules Breton (1857)

Another religious procession featured in one of Jules Breton’s paintings.  It was his 1857 work The Blessing of the Wheats in Artois which he presented at the Salon that year and was awarded a second-class medal.  It was also the year that Jean-François Millet had his famous painting, The Gleaners, exhibited at the Salon.  Jules Breton’s painting was bought that year by the French State for the Luxembourg Museum.  The procession we see in the painting is a procession of the Rogations.  Rogation Days are days set aside to observe a change in the seasons. Rogation Days are tied to the spring planting. There is one Major Rogation, which falls on April 25, and three Minor Rogations, which are celebrated on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday immediately before Ascension Thursday.  Around Jules Breton’s village of Courrières, the girls in their communion dresses, the clergy, and the local notables walk the countryside to attract the blessing of heaven to the coming crops. This painting reminds us of the important place of Christianity in French rural life.

Les Premières Communiantes à Courrières by Jules Breton (circa 1860,)

Jules Breton was the self-proclaimed “peasant who paints peasants.”   During his career, he would paint many pictures that focused on the religious traditions of rural communities, especially those in the towns and villages of Brittany and his birthplace and current home, Courrières.   One of the earliest paintings to study the theme of communicants, people who receive or are entitled to receive Communion, was his 1860 work, Les Premières Communiantes à Courrières which hangs in the Musée du Petit Palais, Paris.  This work depicts the ceremony of First Holy Communion being held in the village of Courrières, a ceremony during which a person, around the age of eight, first receives the Eucharist.  The young girls who are about to receive the sacrament usually wear beautiful white dresses.

Les Premières Communiantes à Courrières by Jules Breton (circa 1884,)

In 1884, twenty-four years after Breton completed Les Premières Communiantes à Courrières, he was given a commission by one of his patrons, Samuel Putnam Avery, to complete another work depicting the First Communion ceremony and offered him 50,000 francs for its completion.  He gave the artist freedom to choose a depiction of the ceremony.  Avery was a great supporter and fan of Breton’s work and in a letter from May 4th, 1882, after Breton had accepted the commission, he thanked him saying:

“…I have so much confidence in your genius I am convinced that you will create a masterpiece, and want to leave you free to do what interests you most…”

Breton set to work in the summer of 1883 making numerous sketches for the finished commission.  Avery became impatient as over a year had passed since the commission had been agreed upon and in November Breton wrote once more to Avery saying that the work was nearing completion and that he intended to submit it to the 1884 Salon.  Breton has depicted a much broader view of the Communion ceremony.  The setting is a Spring morning and the mauve lilac is in full bloom.  The “ruralness” of the depiction is enhanced by the inclusion of birds fluttering over the thatched roofs of the whitewashed cottages.  The bright sunlight shines down upon the procession and lights up the virginal white diaphanous veils of the young girls as they slowly walk through the village towards the church of Courrières.  The painting was hailed a great success and the art critic for the Art Journal who wrote about the 1884 Salon said:

“…Les communiantes is perhaps the finest work in the exhibition… In the detail, the characterization, the perfect technique, the harmonious and varied coloration, and above all in the feeling, this picture is especially fine…”

The work was the culmination of numerous sketches that Breton had taken.   

Élodie with a Sunshade, Baie de Douarnenez by Jules Breton (1871),

After the Salon closed, Avery purchased the painting for 50,000 francs, and then promptly sold it to the American art collector, Mary Jane Sexton Morgan, the widow of Charles Morgan, an American railroad and shipping magnate.  She paid $12,000 for the painting. Charles de Kay, a writer on art wrote in the Magazine of Art:

“…What the most fabulous art dealer, what the most self-important artist asked, she paid without wincing…

Mary died in 1885 and the following year at the auction of her collection in May 1886, the work was purchased by Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona, president of the Bank of Montreal, for $45,000, the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist at the time.

La Communiante by Bastien-Lepage (1875)

Jules Breton’s decision to submit his work to the Salon jurists was not really a gamble as the Salon had shown a love for this type of depiction.  Bastien-Lepage’s La Communiante was favourably received by the Salon jurists in 1875.  In that work, the young girl at her First Holy Communion ceremony sits in front of us. Her hands are joined on her lap in a touch of reverence.  She fixes us with a steady gaze. Her eyes and hair are the only dark details of the canvas. The only colour is that on the face, wrists and arms which are covered under light gauze.  The rest of the work is bathed in tones of white and grey.

La première Communion à l’eglise de la Trinité by Henri Gretrix (1877)

Two years later, in 1877, the French artist Henri Gervex, had his painting, La première Communion à l’eglise de la Trinité, accepted into the 1877 Salon. 

Rolla by Henri Gervex (1878)

The interesting fact about Gervex and the Salon was his works later turned to more lascivious depictions of nude or semi-nude women and the submission of his painting, Rolla, to the Salon jurists of the 1878 Salon was rejected, on the grounds that it was too risqué and they wanted to avoid the furore which occurred with Manet’s 1865 Salon painting, Olympia, which was accepted into the exhibition but subsequently was condemned by many conservative critics as being “immoral” and “vulgar .

Summer by Jules Breton (1891),

Besides being a talented artist, Jules Breton was a poet and in 1880, had his poem Jeanne published.  His poetry was so good that it was awarded the Montyon Prize by the Académie Française.  However, he had little time to dedicate to his poetry as the demand for his artwork was escalating and he was now attracting considerable interest from the ever-expanding and lucrative market in America.

Last Flowers by Jules Breton (1890)

Samuel Putnam Avery was a critical part in exposing American audiences to European Art in the second half of the nineteenth century, importing major works by Ernest Meissonier, Charles-François Daubigny and William Bouguereau, among others, and he provided Breton with many sales and commissions on behalf of collectors.  The American public liked Breton’s depiction of rural labourers as one art historian, Madeleine Fiddell-Beaufort put it in her 1982 book, Jules Breton and the French Rural Tradition:

“…they [the Americans] appeared to exist in a harmonious and classless society that was appealing in a country that prided itself on a democratic tradition…”

The Weeders by Jules Breton (1860)

The American market was also aware of Breton’s awards from the various Salons and realised that buying his works was a real investment.  Two examples of his work that went to America can be seen in the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha.  The Weeders was completed in 1860.  The painting impeccably demonstrates Breton’s Academic approach to painting.  The depiction is a delicate blend of realistic observation and a romantic sentiment. Breton has managed to beautifully capture the delicate mauves and roses of the twilight sky and added the simplicity of these stooped figures, Breton has managed to convert the activity of common field labour into a less harsh scene, almost one of graceful contemplation.

The Vintage at Chateau Lagrange by Jules Breton (1864)

Another of his works at the museum is his 1864 work, The Vintage at Chateau Lagrange.  The setting of the work is not Brittany where a number of his paintings were set. The painting depicts a festival being held in the Médoc district of southern France just north of Bordeaux.  Breton decided to travel to the southern parts of France where he believed lay the “sublime landscapes with inhabitants embodying extraordinary beauty.”  It was fortuitous that Breton was invited by Count Charles Tenneguy Duchâtel, the owner of Chateau Legrange winery to visit him and paint a picture depicting the grape harvest at his estate.  The setting was ideal for Breton but the adverse weather on his first visit necessitated a second visit to complete his sketches.  The painting was then completed in his Paris studio.  It is interesting to note Breton’s portrayal of the grape pickers.  They seem well-dressed and happy and their work has afforded them a distinctly classical quality and the hard-working process of picking the grapes from the vine has been depicted as a noble task rather than a tiring and arduous chore by poorly dressed and unhappy peasants.  Could it be that the Count wanted the painting to depict his workers as well dressed, well fed, happy people who were pleased to serve him?

Planatation d’un Calvaire by Jules Breton (1858)

In his painting, Planatation d’un Calvaire, Jules Breton recounts an event, which he witnessed in his youth.   Before us, we see a group of monks carrying on a stretcher the statue of Christ that will be fixed to the wooden cross.  In the background of the painting, we can see the cross being erected in the grounds of the churchyard.   In front of monks, three young girls wear the symbols of the Passion (the crown of thorns, the nails, and the spear). Finally, behind them, comes the priest, the children’s choir and the parishioners who close the march. The group moves forward in a slow procession towards the great cross, which is in the process of being erected in the background.  Breton, through this depiction, reminds himself of the fervor and recollection of this village community. The palette he has used is dominated by grey and beige, and is warmed by colourful tones of yellow, red and blue.  Breton’s wife, Élodie de Vigne, is represented twice in this painting. She is both the character of the mother holding her two children by the hand and that of the girl in white carrying a cushion on which rests the crown of thorns.

Young Women Going to a Procession by Jules Breton (c 1890),

In 1861 Jules Breton was named Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.  In 1867 he exhibited ten paintings at the Exposition Universelle and was given a first-place medal. In 1872 he was given the Medal of Honour at the Salon. Jules continued exhibiting at the Salons and was promoted from Officer to Commander of the Légion d’Honneur in 1885, and in 1886 he was elected as a member of the Insitut de France. In 1889-1900 he was also a jury member of the Salon. Towards the end of his career his works often focused on a single figure within the composition.

Jules Breton died in Paris on July 5th 1906, aged 79.  His wife Elodie died three years later on July 30th 1909, aged 73.

If you have enjoyed reading about Jules Breton, I can thoroughly recommend you try and read his 1890 autobiography entitled The Life of an Artist which gives you an insight into the great man’s life and his thoughts.

Léon Frédéric. Part 1. The Naturalist painter

Self Portrait by Léon Frédéric

My chosen subject today is the life and works of a nineteenth century Belgian artist. He has been designated as a Symbolist painter and yet when I look at his work only some of it seems to fall into that category. Other of his paintings tend towards realism.  So, in this first of two blogs about the artist, I am going to concentrate on his woks of Realism.

The Three Sisters by Léon Frédéric

The artist I am looking at today is Léon-Henri-Marie Frédéric. He was one of the most prominent representatives of the Belgian symbolist school. He was born in the Brussels’ municipality of Uccle, on August 26th, 1856. His parents were Eugène Frédéric, a wealthy jeweller, and Felicie Dufour. Léon was brought up in a crowded Roman Catholic household and at the age of seven, his parents sent him to the Institute of Joséphites in Melle, a Jesuit boarding school. In 1871, at the age of fifteen, he began working as an apprentice to the painter, decorator Charles Albert, and at the same time, attended the evening classes of the Brussels Academy of Art, where he became a pupil of Jules Vankeirsblick and Ernest Slingeneyer. He also worked in the studio of Jean Portaels, the Neo-Classicist painter who at the start of 1878 became the director of the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles. In 1875, Léon joined other young painters and they rented a studio and set up a collective, pooling their money so as to employ living models.

The Funeral Meal by Léon Frédéric (1886)

One of the greatest of prizes on offer to young aspiring artists was to win the Prix de Rome. The original Prix de Rome was a scholarship for arts students and was created in 1663 in France under the reign of Louis XIV. The prize, organised by Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, was open to their students. The award winner would win a stay at the Palazzo Mancini in Rome at the expense of the King of France. The Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp followed suit in 1832 and organised the the Belgian Prix de Rome with a similar prize being given to the winner. Léon entered the competition on three occasions but without any success. He was devastated, so much so, that his father financed a two year-long study trip for his son in 1876. Léon travelled to Italy in the company of Juliaan Dillens, who had won the Prix de Rome for sculpture the previous year. Léon travelled extensively through Italy visiting Naples, Rome, Florence and Venice. He visited museums and observed the work of the great Italian Masters. His favourite artists were said to have been Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio. He was also influenced by the Italian primitives and that of the English Pre-Raphaelites, and Burne-Jones in particular. As a painter, Léon said pain ting gave him an understanding of the overpowering beauty and harmony of nature with mankind. This sense of accord was balanced by his own artistic vision which expressed a truthfulness to nature.

Old Woman Servant by Léon Frédéric

On his return to Belgium in 1878, Léon joins the Brussels-based artist group known as L’Essor. The group was created in 1876, and was formed by a group of art students who had once studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, although in 1879 this artists group severed all links it had with the Academy. The motto of the group was “a unique art, one life“, and concentrated on the relationship which they believed should unite the Art to Life. The founders of the group wanted their art to be a pictorial condemnation of the bourgeois and conservative Literary and Artistic Circles of Brussels.

In this first blog about Frédéric I am going to concentrate on his artwork which is looked upon as Naturalism and Realism.  In the early days, Léon Frédéric mainly painted realistic scenes of the lives of the less well-off people such as labourers, the homeless and farm workers. He empathised with their grief and depravation but at the same time he was also very inspired by their never-ending and fervent religious beliefs of the old people who lived in these countryside areas. 

Les garçons (The little boys) by Léon Frédéric

He completed a set of five group portraits entitled Les Âges du paysan (The Age of the Peasant) which depict the five different stages in the life of  rural peasants.  Besides the aging process very little changes with their poor attire and their seemingly acceptance of what life has offered them.

Les fillettes (the young girls) by Léon Frédéric
Les promis (The betrothed) by Léon Frédéric
Les époux (The married couples) by Léon Frédéric
Les vieillards (The elderly) by Léon Frédéric

Around this time Léon was inspired by the art of the French Naturalism painter Jules Bastien Lepage and Léon’s 1882 triptych painting Les marchands de craie (The Chalk Merchants) was inspired by the French painter.

Chalk Sellers by Léon Frédéric (Morning, Noon and Evening) (1882-83),

The three paintings incorporate three distinct times in the day of a family of workers. The triptych was hailed as a veritable masterpiece of Realism / Naturalism and, like some of Bastien-Lepage’s work, is particularly sensitive to the plight of the poor. It was exhibited to great acclaim at the Brussels’s Salon in 1882.

Morning by Léon Frédéric

The left-hand panel depicts a poor family of chalk sellers setting out for work. In the background is their small village. It is a harrowing depiction. The mother is wrapped up against the cold and yet her reddened hands are bare. Her face is half hidden by her headscarf but we still meet her penetrating stare, an almost accusing glower. On her back is a heavy basket of chalk which they hope to sell. Behind her is her husband. He has a red beard and wears a wide-brimmed, floppy hat. His eyes look tired and unable to focus. His mouth is partly open as if he is struggling to breathe. He is struggling with life both physically and mentally. He looks resigned to his fate. He carries a basket on his back which contains a very young blonde-haired child. In one hand he holds a wicker basket containing their food. His other hand clasps the hand of his dark-eyed, rosy-cheeked son, a bare-footed child, whose small dirty hand grasps a piece of bread which he is eating.  They all look tired and yet the day’s work has yet to begin.

Noon, lunchtime by Léon Frédéric

The middle panel depicts the family having a modest noontime meal as they sit in some barren fields with a small town in the background. The family from the previous picture have been joined by a woman nursing her baby and her child sitting besides her. Before them is a pot of boiled potatoes which they are eating with their bread. The two women and the children are all bare-footed. The man has taken off his hat and we see he is bald. The women in the centre once again fixes us with a questioning glower, almost as if she is demanding to know why we should be looking at them

Evening by Léon Frédéric

In the right hand panel we see the family returning home after a day’s work. They all have their back to us. Their village is on the left and way in the background a city looms. The wooden basket and the wicker one they carry have been lightened of food and chalk but still it is a wearying trek back to their village. The man staggers with the weight of the young sleeping child he cradles in his arms. The mother looks down at her other child, who walks besides her, hand in hand, to see if he is alright.  This was just one of Frédéric’s paintings which shows that he was aware of social inequality in Belgian society.

Two Walloon Farm Children by Léon Frédéric (1888),

Another of Frédéric’s Naturalist paintings which was influenced by Bastien-Lepage was his beautiful 1888 portrayal of two children, entitled Two Walloon Farm Children. Bastien-Lepage, who was renowned in France as the leader of the evolving Naturalist school, had died after a long illness in 1884, aged just 36 and Frédéric took over the Naturalist mantle. The painting is both exquisite and yet troubling. It is a portrait of child poverty. The two sit on chairs, finger tips touching, wearing white-collared grey smocks. The plain clothes seem clean and but for their dull simplicity, do not insinuate poverty. Their hands and fingernails are dirty suggesting a peasant life which is further alluded to by their rosy cheeks brought about by their outdoor life. The two girls who look out at us seem to be displeased with our attention to their life. It is one of the most moving images of the deprivation which went hand in hand with rural life. Frédéric’s naturalist style of painting brings with it a vision of a harsh, grim lifestyle with all the hardships that poverty brings to the table. It was not the fault of the people but the unstoppable march of industrial modernity. If one look at all his paintings featuring the harsh life suffered by the peasants one does not detect or sense rebellion, just a sense of dejection and resignation and that life for them would carry on through their faith in God.

The Legend of Saint Francis by Léon Frédéric (1882)

During Frédéric’s travels around Italy in 1878 it is thought that he may have visited the Umbrian town of Assisi and seen Giotto’s famed cycle of twenty-eight frescoes on the lower part of the walls of the nave and entrance in the town’s upper church of St. Francis at Assisi. In 1882 Frédéric painted a triptych depicting St. Francis, simply entitled The Legend of Saint Francis. In the left-hand panel we see the saint walking down a country path and the centre panel depicts him feeding the hens. The right-hand panel is more interesting as it recounts the tale of the St Anthony as written in the 14th century book, Fioretti di San Francesco (The Little Flowers of St. Francis) a fifty-three chapter book on the life of the Saint, one of which talks about the Wolf of Gubbio, which according to the book terrorized the Umbrian city of Gubbio until it was tamed by St. Francis of Assisi acting on behalf of God.

Burial of a Farmer by Léon Frédéric

In 1883, Léon Frédéric left Brussles and went to live in Nafraiture, a small rural village in the Ardennes region of southern Belgium, close to the French border, where he lived for several years. Many of Frédéric’s works after his re-location depict poor people and peasants and the artist’s work focused on the harsh reality of peasant life. One of his paintings, thought to have been completed around 1886, focuses on grief and hardship and were thought to have been completed during his time at Nafraiture. The painting was entitled Burial of a Farmer. Sad burial scenes of country folk were popular ever since Courbet’s 1850 large-scale masterpiece, Burial at Ornans, which had gained Courbet great success at the 1850 Salon. Frédéric’s painting differs in that it depicts a procession of mourners at a village funeral in harsh wintry conditions somewhere in the Ardennes. At the head of the procession is the clergyman with the bible tightly grasped in his hand. Next to him are the close family mourners – the wife, rubbing tears from her eyes, her young son almost hidden behind the black clothes of his grandmother. Behind them are other family members, friends, and a smattering of local people. The black clothes of the mourners against the snow almost makes this a monochromatic depiction but there are just the odd splashes of colour, albeit muted, in the clothes of the three children at the right of the painting. Without doubt it is a very moving scene.

In my next blog about Léon Frédéric I will look at his work which compartmentalises him as a Symbolist painter.

Alfred Sisley. Part 3 – the latter years.

1882 photograph of Alfred Sisley

Alfred Sisley returned to France late on October 18th, 1874 after his four-month summer holiday spent in London. Sisley had been living in the town of Louveciennes since 1872 but in the winter of that year, Sisley and his family moved to 2 avenue de l’Abreuvoir in Marly-le-Roi, a commune in the Île-de-France region, in north-central France, located in the western suburbs of Paris, 18 kilometres from the centre of Paris.

The Church at Noisy-le-Roi: Autumn by-Alfred Sisley (1874).

Many art historians believe that during the time Sisley lived in Marly-le-Roi between 1875 and 1880, he produced his finest works.  In the late autumn of 1874 Sisley completed a work featuring the town of Noisy-le-Roi which lay about 4 kilometres south-west of Marly-le-Roi. It was entitled The Church at Noisy-le-Roi: Autumn. In some ways, it is an unusually constructed work. The subject of the painting, the church has been placed in the mid-ground and there is no visual access to it from the foreground. Our view towards it through the foreground landscape is restricted by the fence line and a number of squat trees. The painting was exhibited at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris on 24 March 1875 along with works by Renoir, Monet, and Morisot. It was purchased by Paul Durand Ruel and submitted to the Salon jurists in 1876 but was turned down. The painting was sold on a number of occasions including an 8500 francs sale to Baron Henri de Rothschild in 1899. It was later bought by Sir William Burrell, a Scottish shipping merchant and philanthropist, who in 1944 gave it to the City of Glasgow Corporation. The one proviso was that this work and the whole of his collection was to be housed in a building far enough from the city centre so that the works could be shown to their greatest advantage, and to avoid the damaging effects of air pollution at the time.

The Burrell Collection at Pollok Park, Glasgow

It took the trustees more than 20 years trying to find a suitable resting place for Burrell’s collection, one which met all the criteria set out in the Trust Deed. A venue was finally found in 1967 when the Pollok Estate was given to the city of Glasgow. The Trustees also had to waive certain terms of the deed which allowed the current site, in Pollok Park to be used. The park was only three miles from the city centre but within the city boundaries.  

La barque pendant l’inondation by Alfred Sisley (1876)

In December 1872 Sisley had painted four pictures showing floods at Port-Marly. In 1876 there was another flood and Sisley executed seven paintings as documentary evidence of its different stages, from the first rise in water level to the return of the river to its normal course. Being well settled in Marly-le-Roi, Sisley was there to witness the great floods of 1876. In March that year, the Seine burst its banks and flooded many of the riverside villages and towns including the neighbouring village of Port-Marly. In his 1876 painting, La barque pendant l’inondation (Boat in the Flood) he depicts a wine merchant’s house, À St Nicolas, which almost looks like it is resting on the mirrored surface of the flood waters. The artist produced six paintings of this event. He cleverly captured the great expanse of water with moving reflections that transformed the peaceful house of a wine merchant into something mysterious and poetic. Sisley’s viewing point gave him an oblique-angled view of the scene which meant that the wine-merchant’s shop becomes the predominant feature of the work and Sisley has been able to depict architectural aspects of the building, especially the upper section. The light colour tones are offset by the black pigment used for the window openings giving a sharp contrast between light and dark. The industrialist, Ernest Hoschedé, originally owned the painting.  He was one of the first major supporter of the Impressionists’ art. His wife Alice became Monet’s second wife. A year after Hoschedé bought the painting his business collapsed and he became bankrupt. The painting was later sold by Durand-Ruel to the wealthy art collector, Comte Isaac de Camondo who had amassed a large number of works by the French Impressionists. He bequeathed this work and a number of other paintings from his collection to The Louvre in 1908, three years before his death. The painting was transferred to its current home, Musée d’Orsay, in 1986.

The Flood at Port-Marly by Alfred Sisley (1876)

The work we see above, The Flood at Port-Marly is housed in the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid. In the painting we see the rue de Paris in Port-Marly. On the right, behind the trees, we can see the overflowing River Seine. The sky is littered by wind-swept clouds which scurry across the sky. Sisley was able to give a marked emphasis to the movement of the clouds through the use of a low horizon line. We can see the road and how the water has flooded the pavements. The sun has reappeared and the water level is starting to recede, which allowed Sisley to set up his easel in the middle of the street and once again return to the use of a central perspective which can be found in many of his paintings. This technique derives from the classical tradition of French landscape painting. In September 1876, shortly after Sisley had concluded his series on the floods at Port-Marly, Stéphane Mallarmé, a French poet and critic, published an article on the Impressionist artists in the London magazine The Art Monthly Review. He said of Sisley:

“…He captures the fleeting effects of light. He observes a passing cloud and seems to depict it in its flight. The crisp air goes through the canvas and the foliage stirs and shivers…”

A Street in Louveciennes by Alfred Sisley (1878)

Sisley’s relationship with the Impressionists can be gauged by a set of statistics. At the first exhibition in 1874, Sisley exhibited five paintings, in the second exhibition in 1876 he had eight paintings displayed and in the third Impressionist Exhibition seventeen of his works were displayed. He did not exhibit any of his paintings at the fourth, fifth or sixth shows. So why? It is thought that two of the reasons could have been the lack of critical acclaim and success at the first three exhibitions but maybe more importantly there was a fragile sense of unity and some tension between the painters at these joint exhibitions. The fourth, fifth and sixth exhibitions were dominated by Degas and the works on show tended to be figure painting rather than landscape painting so this could also be a reason for Sisley backing away. There were few Impressionist artists that had a foot both in the figurative and landscape camps but Pissarro was the one exception and he exhibited at all eight of the Impressionist exhibitions. Sisley was also aware that he had to sell more works and become more well known to dealers and so turned back to the Salon. In a letter to the French journalist, author, and art critic, Théodore Duret Sisley wrote:

“…I am tired of vegetating, as I have been doing for so long. The moment has come for me to make a decision. It is true our exhibitions have served to make us money and in this have been useful to me, but I believe we must not isolate ourselves too long. We are still far from the moment we shall be able to do without the prestige attached to official exhibitions. I am therefore determined to submit to the Salon…”

A Turn of the River Loing, Summer by Alfred Sisley (1896)

Following the third Impressionist exhibition Sisley tried to get his works accepted by the Paris Salon jurists but failed. In October 1878 Sisley left Marly and moved to avenue de Bellevue in Sèvres, a town in the southwestern suburbs of Paris. Sisley’s finances were deteriorating fast. His paintings only sold for small amounts. He was borrowing money so that he and his wife were able to survive and, to make things worse, some of the lenders were demanding repayment of his debts. In 1880 Sisley could no longer afford to live in Sèvres and moved his family to Moret-sur-Loing, a town south of Paris on the edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau.

A Village Street in Winter, by Alfred Sisley (1893)

Paul Durand-Ruel kept buying paintings from the Impressionists and having them exhibited at various exhibitions and then hopefully selling them on for a profit. However, around the late part of the 1870’s the sale of his paintings was much lower in comparison to the number he had purchased and so he had to source some finance to cover his future buying plans. He turned to Jules Feder, the head of the Union Générale bank in Paris and an important early collector of Impressionist art. In 1880, Feder advanced a great deal of money to Paul Durand-Ruel, enabling the dealer to resume purchasing work from the Impressionists. Immediately upon receiving Jules Feder’s support Durand-Ruel acquired thirty-six paintings from Sisley. This all changed in February 1882 when Union Générale bank collapsed which, in turn, brought about the collapse of the French Stock Exchange, and triggered a general recession, and Jules Feder, the head of the bank, was ruined and because of that Durand-Ruel had to pay the banker back all the money that he had advanced him. Durand-Ruel, with no money to buy further Impressionist paintings, resulted in an extremely uncertain few years for the artists whom Durand-Ruel had supported, particularly Sisley… For the next several years Durand-Ruel was unable to advance money to the Impressionist painters he had always generously supported, and those works he did buy were at much reduced prices and because of this, Sisley was especially hard-pressed to make ends meet.

Bords du Loing, Saint-Mammes (The River Loing at Saint-Mammes) by Alfred Sisley (1885)

Things were changing for Sisley. Paul Durand-Ruel purchased his last painting by Sisley, Saint-Mamme’s from the River Loing, for 200 francs in February 1886. The Impressionists were starting to go their own ways. Renoir and Monet had gained public recognition whereas Sisley had not. This must have hurt Sisley and according to John Rewald in his 1961 book, The History of Impressionism, Sisley had become suspicious and sulky not even seeing his old companions anymore. The French art critic of the time, Arsène Alexandre wrote:

“…he [Sisley] added to his woes by creating imaginary ones for himself. He was irritable, discontented, agitated…..He became utterly miserable and found life increasingly difficult…”

Bridge at Villeneuve la Garenne by Alfred Sisley (1872)

Whereas Monet and Pissarro came back into Paul Durand-Ruel’s fold, Sisley refused. Durand-Ruel and his sons had bounced back and in the 1890’s once again had a successful network of connections in Europe and America who bought from the company. Probably due to his state of depression, Sisley ignored the opportunity to return to Durand-Ruel and benefit from the sales of his work. It was the beginning of the end. Sisley’s wife Eugénie died of cancer in October 1898. Sisley, who was ill himself, did not attend the funeral. He had been attending a doctor for five months but in November 1898 he suffered a massive haemorrhage and his health was deteriorating rapidly. Sisley died of cancer on January 29th 1899, aged 59. Sisley was buried on February 1st 1899 at the cemetery in Moret attended by his children and fellow artists such as Monet, Renoir, and Tavernier.

Dawn by, Alfred Sisley, (1878)

Sisley had been in the process of gaining French citizenship before he died, but on his death. remained an English citizen. His son Pierre settled his estate. According to records at Dammarie-les-Lys, the regional archives for Seine-et-Marne, Sisley’s legacy to his children comprised of his wardrobe, worth 50 francs, furniture worth 950 francs and money obtained from his paintings worth 115,640 francs, making it a total of 116,640 francs, equivalent to £4,665.

The Seine at Port Marly with Piles of Sand by Alfred Sisley (1875)

I end this blog with the words of Monet who, a week before Sisley’s death, wrote about Sisley to his friend Gustave Geffroy, the French journalist, art critic, historian, and novelist:

“…Sisley is said to be extremely ill. He is truly a great artist and I believe he is as great a master as any who have ever lived. I looked at some of his works again, which have a rare breadth of vision and beauty, especially one of a flood, which is a masterpiece…”

Léon-Augustin Lhermitte.

The artist I am looking at today is the French painter Léon-Augustin Lhermitte. I suppose his work could be categorised by three artistic terms: Naturalism, Realism and Ruralism, as he will probably be remembered for his paintings depicting peasant farmers and their families at work in the fields. However, as you will find out, there were more strings to his bow.

Léon-Augustin Lhermitte

Léon-Augustin Lhermitte was the only son of a local schoolmaster. He was born on July 31, 1844 in Mont-Saint-Père, a commune in the Aisne department in Hauts-de-France in north-eastern France, which lies about eighty kilometres north east of the French capital. The village was close to Chateau Thierry, a farming region close to the Champagne region around Rheims. This rural setting was to provide a wealth of ideas, inspiration, and realist subject matter throughout the artist’s life. As a young boy he enjoyed drawing and liked to copy art works he saw in popular illustrated magazines.  He liked to look at books which had illustrations by earlier French painters, such as the Realists. Lhermitte’s father encouraged his son’s artistic hobby by encouraging him to sketch. Léon’s talent quickly became apparent to others. His father, proud of his son’s talent, presented his drawings to Count Alexandre Colonna-Walewski, who, at the time, was minister at the École des Beaux-Arts. Walewski was so impressed by the young man’s artistic ability that he offered him a scholarship of 600 francs and arranged for him to enrol in the École Impériale de Dessin in the studio of Horace Lecoq de Boisboudran. It was here Lhermitte was able to learn about his tutor’s unusual drawing method, which emphasised memorization.

Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran

Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran was born in Paris. In 1819 he was admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts and exhibited at the Salon in 1831 and 1840. Later he became a professor at the academy. He taught drawing at l’École spéciale de dessin et de mathématiques, which was better known simply as the Petite École and now known as the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs. He wrote many books regarding drawing techniques including The Training of the Memory in Art and the Education of the Artist, and The Education of The Scenic Memory and The Training of the Artist. He influenced many great artists such as Rodin, Henri Fantin-Latour and Whistler to mention but a few. Lecoq Boisbaudran developed in his pupils a method of training memory. His students were required to copy progressively complex shapes (starting with straight lines and rectangles) and objects before drawing them from memory. The outcomes were then subjected to rigorous comparison with the model and mistakes corrected, over and over again, if necessary. Eventually, the students graduated to making careful analyses of masterpieces in the Louvre and then drawing them from memory when back in the studio. Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudrand theories had a profound effect on Lhermitte. From what Lhermitte learnt from his tutor, he was able to view a scene, notably a landscape scene, and then more fully execute the painting back in his studio. Whilst working at Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran’s studio Lhermitte became friends with fellow artists, Jean Charles Cazin, Alphonse Legros and Fantin-Latour.

La têtée ou La jeune mère by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1901)

After attending the École Impériale, Lhermitte moved to Paris and shared an apartment with some of his friends. With the financial help Lhermitte had received from Count Walewski he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts and attended the 1863 Salon des Refusés. Although he was receiving tuition in painting at the École des Beaux-Arts his debut at the Salon was not one of his coloured paintings but a charcoal drawing, Les Bords de la Marne près Alfort (The Banks of the Marne near Alfort), which harked back to his days of draughtsmanship at the École de Dessin. In 1864 his painting, Violets in a Glass, Shells, Screen was shown at the Salon.

The Carpenter’s Workshop by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (Charcoal on tinted paper)

In 1869 Lhermitte visited London for the first time and whilst there he met Alphonse Legros, a former pupil at the École Impériale de Dessin and he, like Lhermitte, had studied under Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran. Lhermitte returned for a second visit in 1871 and it was then that Legros recommended him as an illustrator for Art in the Collections of England Drawn by E. Lie. More importantly, Legros introduced him to the art dealer Durand-Ruel, who following their meeting, agreed to sell several of his drawings. Later, in 1873 Durand-Ruel arranged for some of Lhermitte’s monochrome pictures to be shown at the Dudley Gallery for the first of the annual Black and White exhibitions and following that, Lhermitte became a regular participant.

Procession near Ploumanach by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte

In 1874 he received his first medal, third-class, at that year’s for three of his works, Le Benedicite (The Benedictine), Le Bateau (The Boat), Une Rue de Saint-Cyr (A Road in Saint-Cyr). It was in the summer of 1874 that Lhermitte decided to spend time in Brittany and soon he became fascinated with Breton culture, their celebrations, and the way the people, especially women, dressed in their Breton clothes. He enjoyed his time in the region, so much so, he returned there on numerous occasions during the next five years. It was a productive time for Lhermitte and he produced numerous depictions of Breton life.

Léon Augustin Lhermitte, An Elderly Peasant Woman, c. 1878

As well as producing colourful scenes of peasants in the fields he never lost his ability to draw with charcoal and one of his best loved is entitled An Elderly Peasant Woman which he completed around 1878 and now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Lhermitte’s technique is quoted as: charcoal with black chalk, with stumping, scraping erasing and wetting, on wove paper. It is a dignified portrait of a humble person. His sitter has experienced a hard and rugged life as can be seen by her weather-beaten face and her crinkled but she has endured all the hardship. By his depiction of the woman, Lhermitte asks us not to feel sorry for her but admire her fortitude.

Market Day At Villenauxe La Grande by Léon-Augustin  Lhermitte

In a letter, dated February 4th 1883, to his friend the Dutch painter and draughtsman, Anthon van Rappard, , Vincent van Gogh commented on the talent of Lhermitte. He wrote:

“…Something else — the boss of Black and White may be someone neither you nor I know. In reviews of exhibitions I see mention made of the work of Lhermitte, a Frenchman who does scenes from the life of fishermen in Brittany. It’s said of him that ‘he is the Millet and Jules Breton in Black and White’, and his name crops up again and again. I’d like to be able to see something by him, and have recently written about him to my brother, who has given me very good information several times in the past…”

La Vendange à Mont-Saint-Père by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1876)

In 1876, inspired by the wine making traditions of Champagne, Lhermitte completed La Vendange à Mont-Saint-Père which was exhibited at that year’s Paris Salon. It was a large, highly finished works showing amazing detail and observation. Throughout the 1870’s Lhermitte’s reputation continued to blossom as a painter in the realist tradition of Courbet. Such was his reputation that Edgar Degas wrote in his diary that he intended to ask Lhermitte to exhibit at the 4th Impressionist Exhibition in 1879 but it never happened.

Other prizes and honours came to Lhermitte throughout his long career, including the Grand Prix at the Exposition Universelle, 1889, the Diplome d’honneur, Dresden, 1890, and the Legion of Honour. He was also a founding member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.

La Fenaison (Haymaking) by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1908)

The subject matter of Lhermitte’s paintings rarely strayed from depictions of the peasants and rural life which he remembered from his youth. Without doubt, the most overwhelming influence upon his work was certainly the French Realist painter, Jean François Millet who, like Lhermitte, was equally skilled with pastel as with oil.

The Gleaners by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1887)

During the 1880’s Lhermitte embarked on a series of monumental works of rural life, influenced by two of his contemporaries, Jean-François Millet and Jules Breton. In this series of paintings he created beautiful light-filled works which mirrored Millet’s theme and reinforcing the self-esteem of peasant life and the splendour of the French rural landscape in the face of the invasion of modern technology. Lhermitte added realism and careful detail to his rural depictions and this would serve him well, stretching into the 1920’s.

Harvest by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1874) Musee des Beaux-Arts, Carcassonne,

In the 1914 book, Le Livre d’Or des Peintres Exposants (The Golden Book of Exhibiting Painters), there was a passage extoling the virtues of Lhermitte’s work:

“…All of his rustic scenes are full of observation and naturalness, executed in a manner which is less and less rugged, and a technique that gains in suppleness. The artist has now discovered his own easy and definitive way of expressing himself and appears in full possession of a subject, which he treats with ease and without weakness. He is the painter of the field worker and rustic landscapes, the theatre of his work. In this genre, he shows a true vision of personages and of the things that surround them…”

Laveuses au lavoir by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte

And again, Van Gogh wrote about Lhermitte:

“…If every month Le Monde Illustré published one of his compositions…it would be a great pleasure for me to be able to follow it. It is certain that for years I have not seen anything as beautiful as this scene by Lhermitte…I am too preoccupied by Lhermitte this evening to be able to talk of other things…”

A Rest from the Harvest by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte

Lhermitte exhibited his work at the Salon on a regular basis and his paintings became sought-after items. Despite that, Lhermitte was not satisfied with his success and strived for more recognition. He believed he just had to complete a work which would help him attain the level of success he craved for.

The Tavern Interior by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1881)

As a regular exhibitor at the Salon, Lhermitte’s paintings had become increasingly sought after, though, in his mind, he had not yet attained the level of success that he desired. He wanted to complete a work that would solidify his success and this came in the form of a series of several large-scale paintings portraying the life and people of his native village of Mont-Saint-Pierre. In 1881 he completed The Tavern Interior. This painting was the first piece in Lhermitte’s grand manner series. Before us, we see a long brown table around which gather a few men watching a woman pouring liquor.

Le Père Casimir

The main figure is the man sitting at the right of the long table who is wearing a white shirt and brown pants, holding a spade in his left hand and in his right hand he holds a glass demanding a refill.. This is the peasant hero created by Lhermitte, known as Le Pére Casimir. It is believed that the painting was in fact based on a real figure, an old peasant named Casimir Dehan. Le Pére Casimir is one of the most important themes in Lhermitte’s grand manner series.  Lhermitte depicts the old man with the spade in hand wearing torn and soiled clothing, and thus the artist reveals the status of the working class and the reality of their utter poverty. The weather-beaten face and complexion indicate the long hours spent in the fields with their laborious work, and yet the man’s bulky figure and his upright sitting posture with a spade in hand indicates his heroic temperament.

Paying the Harvesters by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1882)

In 1882, his masterpiece La Paye des Moissonneurs (Paying of the Harvesters) was shown at that year’s Salon and it achieved great acclaim from the critics. Thereafter followed numerous commissions. The painting was bought by the French State and housed in the Luxembourg Museum before being transferred to the Hotel de Ville at Chateau-Thierry. It is a classic example of Naturalism in the way Lhermitte accurately depicted the hard-nosed view of life in rural communities.

La Leçon de Claude Bernard by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1889)

Lhermitte received a commission in 1886 to paint a large group portrait featuring Claude Bernard, a French physician and physiologist, which would then be hung at the Sorbonne. The painting is entitled La Leçon de Claude Bernard and depicts him in his Laboratory at the Colle de France. He completed the painting in 1889 and was exhibited at that year’s Salon.

Paysannes et Vaches Devant le Village de Mont-Saint-Père, by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (c.1887) Charcoal on paper.

In 1888 he was approached by Andre Theuriet, the French poet and novelist, who asked him to provide illustrations for his new book, La Vie Rustique. This was a major commission and Lhermitte was able to use the many drawings of peasant life he had already completed. In the introduction the author wrote:
“…We propose to trace the grand acts of the rustic drama: the soaring, the labour, the hay-making, the harvest, and the vintage; we wanted to describe the solitude of the farm, the business of the village life, the pleasures of Sunday, and the preoccupations of the weekdays …”

Andre Theuriat’s words sum up the art of Léon Lhermitte and his position in French art of the late 19th century.

Lhermitte was a founding member of the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1890. In 1894 he was made an officer of the Legion d’honneur.
Lhermitte was elected to fill Jacques Henner’s chair in painting at the Institut in 1905. He kept exhibiting his paintings in the first decades of the 20th century, but many critics looked upon him and his works as a relic of a bygone era. However, his style undoubtedly had an influence on Socialist Realism.in later years.  In the last twenty years of his life he worked much more in pastel, with his skill as a draughtsman ever in evidence. He went on to produce some sensitive portraits and peasant scenes which were reminiscent of his earlier and more powerful depictions, ones that van Gogh had cited as “an ideal”.

Léon Augustin Lhermitte died in Paris, on July 28th 1925, three days before his eighty-first birthday.