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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Raymond Normand

Bouquet of Poppies in the Middle of the Wheat, Raymond Normand                            
Raymond Norman, 1998
It's always a joy to come upon an artist who is relatively (or virtually) unknown but shouldn't be. Sometimes this is because the artist has only a limited oeuvre. Sometimes it's because he or she died young. Sometimes it's mostly a matter of geography--the artist living and working far outside their art market. In this case, none of those reasons apply. Some artists, believe it or not, simply do not seek after fame and fortune. They only want to be left alone to live for art--to work where they want, when they want, how they want, as much as they want, on what they want. That was very much the case for the French landscape painter, Raymond Normand (left).
Nénette Nursing Her Cabri, 1955, Raymond Normand

Self-portrait, 1980,
Raymond Normand
Raymond Normand live in the south of France not far from Aix-en-Provence in a little village called Ventabren. Artists who live, work, or merely visit the south of France contend there is something about the "Mediterranean light" that gives paintings a brilliant, glowing color unlike those from other parts of France. My wife and I were privileged to have visited the area near Nice nearly fifteen years ago. Although it's a quite beautiful region, frankly, I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. To my way of thinking, it's the artists themselves who give their paintings the "brilliant, glowing, color" spoken of. That I could see in the art of this famed region of van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, Chagall, and Toulouse-Lautrec.
Famine, 1967, Raymond Normand, one of his rare moves away from landscapes.
Just Normand, Father of the Artist,
1962, Raymond Normand.

In terms of his art, Raymond Normand has more in common with Vincent van Gogh than any of the others from the region, as seen in his Bouquet of Poppies in the Middle of Wheat (top), though there is certainly the element of Cezanne and possibly Renoir in his work. One might say he gets his color from van Gogh, his style from Cezanne, and his technique from Renoir. It goes without saying, that makes up quite a pedigree. Raymond Norman was born about as far from the glorious Mediterranean coast of France as is geographically possible and still be within the country--the far northern Normandy area, almost in Belgium--a dirty little industrial town called Auby, whose major industry seems to have been mining coal and raising goats. Raymond's father (right), in fact, had been a coal miner until WW I, from which he came back too disabled to return to the mines. He then became an electrician.
Purple Cabris, Raymond Normand
Portrait of Maria Normand
knitting, Raymond Normand.
The family lived in a rural area where young Raymond grew to love the land and the peasant lifestyle that went with it. Born in 1919, he began drawing as a child, attending both high school and drawing school in nearby Douai until, at the age of fifteen, he was stricken with a bone disease in his legs which we now call Osteomyelitis. He remained in bed for fully two years, undergoing several surgeries before recovering well enough to walk again, though it was an affliction which would linger for the rest of his life. Once he was back on his feet, Raymond left high school and devoted himself full time to studying at the art school in Douai.
Portrait of a Young Adolescent,
1980, Raymond Normand

Then, in 1937, Raymond's parents decided to move the family to the south of France, near Marseilles, where the climate was dryer and it was hoped, better for their son's health. There he once more attended art school for the next four years until the Nazi army captured the area. In 1943, they sent Normand off to Germany to compulsory labor service, though because of his legs, he was given an office assignment. After the war, Normand returned to live with his parents, while working at various menial odd jobs, such as herding goats and other types of farm work. He also returned to painting, falling in love with the area near Aix-en-Provence. Around 1950, Raymond and his parents moved to the small cottage on the outskirts of Ventabren that was to be his home for the next fifty years until his death in 2000 at the age of eighty. His parents seemed to have live to be quite elderly as well, he painted a portrait of his aged father as late as 1962.
The Gods of the Stadium, Raymond Normand
The Green Cat, Raymond Normand
Although Raymond Normand displayed his work (mostly landscapes) for sale in local businesses and tourist areas, any fame he garnered was limited to word of mouth. His landscape bear the unmistakable look and influence of van Gogh, but he also painted cats, goats, a few portraits of friends and family, lots of trees, and even a few caricatures (above). Mostly he worked in oils, though he was equally adept in both chalk and oil pastels, pen and ink, and watercolor. Now, in looking back, I wish I had been aware of this "unknown" artist when we visited the south of France fifteen years ago shortly after his death. I could probably have purchased one of his paintings at a bargain price. In his will, Raymond Normand left all his work and other belongings to the village of Ventabren.

Almond Tree in Bloom, Raymond Normand
You be the judge. I found this Mediterranean
seascape signed by "Normand" (but not his
normal signature). Is it by Raymond Normand?
If so it would appear to be one from quite early
in his career before he embraced Impressionism.



  1. I recently was given a Normand painting which looks very similar to your last painting which does not look like the rest. I am interested in knowing more about it. It is signed and there is a typed description on the back

  2. Dr. Knapp--

    I would very much like to see a photo of what you have. My guess is, as when I wrote the article, that we are into two different artists by the same or similar names. I am of the opinion that there is simply too much difference in the style of Normand's usual work and the questionable one for them to be by the same artist. In any case, if you could e-mail me a jpg to, I'd appreciate it.