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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Maximilien Luce

Le Bon Samaritain, 1896, Maximilien Luce                   
Maximilien Luce Self-portrait, ca. 1925-30
In today's economic environment, it's estimated that the average person will have at least three or four different careers over the course of their lifetime. I guess I'm about average. I started off in retail (stock boy in a Cincinnati department store). Then there was my 3.3 years in the air force working in the intelligence field, my twenty-six years as an art instructor, and finally my career (such as it is) as a freelance painter and writer. Today many people complain about not being able to find jobs (or only part-time work). Today, you have to be flexible, adapting or adopting skills, knowledge, and places of residence in order to be responsive to the occupational needs of society. Those who don't, can't, or won't are unhappy, at best, destitute at worst. In general, one of the distinctive hallmarks of being an artist is this ability to adapt and adopt. The French painter, Maximilien Luce had this trait, and even a hundred years ago, it was quite valuable. It served him well.
 
A Street in Paris in May, 1871, Maximilien Luce,
during the Franco-Prussian War, probably painted some years later.
The Artist's Room, rue Lavin, 1878,
Maximilien Luce
Born in 1858, Maximilien Luce was the son of a railway clerk. His family lived in the working class neighborhood of Paris known as Montparnasse. At the age of fourteen, young Max became an apprenticed to a wood-engraver intent on studying xylography. If you've never herd the word before don't feel bad, I never had either. Therein lies young Mr. Luce's problem. Having finished his apprenticeship in the late 1870s, Luce barely had time to practice his trade before the widespread use of a new printing plate production process known as zincography became prevalent. By the time Luce spent four years in the French army (1879-83), then returned to civilian life, he found his skill in carving woodblocks to be quite antiquated (advancing technology was wiping out livelihoods even back then). It was at that point he turned to painting.
The Port of Saint-Tropez, 1893, Maximilien Luce, his mature Pointillism.

Scène de Rue à Paris,1896,
Maximilien Luce
Fortunately, Maxmilien Luce, almost from the beginning, had been taking drawing (and later, painting) classes. He was not Ecole des Beaux-Arts material but he didn't have to be (or want to be, for that matter). Paris was (and still is, I think) loaded with any number of respectable, second-tier, art schools catering to artists such as Luce. (Luce chose the Academie Suisse.) At the time Impressionism was all the rage in Paris and Luce easily fell into the mainstream of the movement, aligning himself with the Société des Artistes Indépendants. He exhibited in their annual shows every year from 1887 until his death in 1941 (except for the war years). He was elected president of the group in 1935. However, much as xylography had been replaced by chromolithography, Impressionism likewise faded, becoming just another era in art history. Replacing it came Pointillism, which the ever-adaptive Luce picked up on, joining the ranks of Seurat, Signac, and others, all of whom have been somewhat crudely lumped into Neo-impressionism, and still more incoherently into what's come to be called Post-Impressionism.

Morning Interior, 1890, Maximilien Luce.
Man Washing, 1887, Maximilien Luce
Had Pointillism been imbued with the staying power of Impressionism, Luce might today be considered as one of France's greatest painters, ranked with the likes of Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro, etc. But art moved on. Luce grew old. Changing stylistic horses in the middle of a stream is a nice trick if you can do it, especially if you can do it again and again. Luce couldn't...or wouldn't, and in any case didn't. Instead he reverted back to Impressionism, joining the ranks of the second generation of vaguely familiar names whose work we all know and love but can't quite recall the artist. Even among this group, Luce stands out from the crowd. His The Good Samaritain (top), from 1896, is one of my favorites.

Les Batteurs de Pieux Entre, 1902-05, Maximilien Luce
Madame Luce on the Balcony,
1893, Maximillian Luce 
Maximilien Luce was characterized by the art critic, Fénéon, as "...a coarse, honest man, with a rough and muscular talent." Whereas Seurat's Pointillism, and to only a slightly lesser degree that of Signac, had been rather detached, dry, and effete, Luce brought to his paintings, regardless of the style he employed at any given time, a rugged, masculine look, depicting construction workers, longshoremen (above), and soldiers in what we'd term today a "macho" manner. His bare-chested Batteurs from 1893, provides a glimpse of his typical genre content following his return to Impressionism. Even paintings of his wife (right), who often modeled for him, have a brusque, unsentimental, almost monumental quality. His paintings of WW I combat troops (below) seem to have been among his favorites, lending themselves superbly to his gradually loosening style and his love for depicting a powerful male presence.


The Execution of Varlin, 1914-17, Maximilien Luce

Notre Dame de Paris, 1900,
Maximilien Luce
In later years, as Luce continued painting well into his late 70s (he was eighty-three when he died), his work became quite varied, including nocturnes still-lifes (especially florals), and scenes remembered from his younger years. Luce painted Scène de Rue à Paris in 1896 from his studio window, apparently some five or six floors above the street level (a fad among Paris painters at the time). His nocturnal The Port of Rotterdam, Evening (below), dating from 1908, is typical of his work following his return to Impressionism. Luce was a hard-working artist, perhaps even what we'd call today a "workaholic." He left us over two-thousand oil paintings, a similar number of watercolors, drawings, and other works on paper. Add to that over a hundred prints. I should also add that his 1900 painting of Notre Dame of Paris (left) recently sold at auction for $4.2-million.

Scène de Rue à Paris, 1896, Maximilien Luce








 

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