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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Louis Valtat

Choisel, 1929, Louis Valtat -
We don't usually think of our individual painting style in this manner, but a very strong case could be made for the fact that how we paint has a great deal to do with the year in which we were born. By that I don't mean the precise year of birth, but the period in terms of art history during which an artist was born. Of course babies don't crawl from their cribs and pick up paint brushes (though Picasso and a few others came close). Our stylistic tastes and ideals develop slowly from around the age of eight to ten years up through the rest of the artist's life. Even before a child starts to draw and paint these various visual elements begin to coalesce in his or her mind as to how things should look when rendered on paper, cardboard, or canvas. No child, prodigy or otherwise, grows up in an art vacuum. There are influences which quite possibly have a greater, unfiltered, effect upon the child artist than they do as that child grows older and thus becomes more discerning. In the early years, such influences are incidental. Later, they come through informal and formal instruction from a parent or teaching artist. By the time an art student reaches college, their minds are no longer as malleable as before. Academic influences may be rejected as often as not rather than absorbed into the artists maturing style. Thus it is not the style prevalent at the birth of an artist which has the greater effect, but that which prevails during the second and third decades of that artist's life which determines the look and feel of an artist's mature work. Take the French painter, Louis Valtat, for example.

Louis Valtat paints Louis Valtat.
Madame Valtat in the Studio. Louis Valtat
Louis Valtat was born in 1869. That would have been during the very earliest sprouting of the seeds of Impressionism on the canvases of Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro, and others. Valtat was born in Dieppe, a seaport on the French Nor-mandy Coast, where his family owned a fleet of ships. His father was an amateur painter himself so it's likely his young son was exposed to art at an early age. Keep in mind that some of the earliest Impressionist paintings originated on the north coast of France during the 1870s, just as the boy was becoming aware that touching wet paint was a no-no. Moreover, young Louis attended sec-ondary school in the small town of Versailles, which even then, long after the French monarchy had departed the palace, was, nonetheless an important cultural center just outside the French capital. When he turned seventeen Valtat was off to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris under the academic tutelage of Gustave Boulanger, Jules Lefebvre, and Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant. Had Valtat been born during the 1840s or even as late as the 1850s, he might well have wholeheartedly embraced such staid, academic instruction. Instead, he switched to the more liberal Academie Julian and the instruction of the Barbizon painter, Jules Dupre.

The Orchard, 1893, Louis Valtat
Jules Dupre was no wild-ass Impressionist, but then again, neither was he chained to a studio easel painting academic Venuses and Adonises. He introduced Valtat to painting landscapes on location (en plein air). More importantly, it was in Dupre's atelier where Valtat met lifelong friends, Albert André, Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, and Édouard Vuillard. Denis, Bonnard, and Vuillard later came to be known as the "Nabis." It's almost axiomatic that young people are very often far more influenced by their friends than by their elders. Valtat never became a Nabis, but his work shows evidence of their stylistic influences. Moreover, Valtat missed becoming an Impressionist by at least a decade. By the time he was coming of age as a professional painter during the 1890s, Impressionism, while still popular in France and elsewhere, was no longer avant-garde. Instead, Valtat fell in love with the pure, unrestrained, sometimes outrageous use of bright, vivid, knock-your-eyes-out color.

Girls Playing with a Lion Cub, 1905-06, Louis Valtat
Dancers, 1919, Louis Valtat
Although the term hadn't been invented yet, Louis Valtat fell under the influences of the Fauvists. His mature style had painterly vestiges of Impressionism, but also Pointillism, and most noticeably, the influences of Henri Matisse, Maurice de Vlaminck, and Andre Derain. His Girls Playing with a Lion Club (above) from 1905-06, is representative of this inter-mixture of influences. Although art critics and historians have often lumped Valtat in with the Fauvists, his colors and paint handling never quite rose to their level of radicalism. One might think he wasn't a "joiner." Yet, Valtat was a joiner in a different sense. His work served to "join" Impressionism transitionally to what we've come to call Post-impressionism, including the Nabis, the Fauves, Neo-Impressionism, Symbolism, Cloisonnism, and Synthetism, along with the work of Cézanne, Gauguin, and van Gogh. Valtat's Dancers (right), from 1919, is an important example of this trait. In effect, seeing, understanding, and appreciating the work of Louis Valtat serves as a sort of primer to all that came after Impressionism.

The Port, ca. 1900, Louis Valtat
Lilies and Delphiniums Stoneware
Pitcher, 1920, Louis Valtat
Valtat exhibited widely during his career, collaborating with both Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Albert André, and Auguste Renoir in various decorating and com-memorative projects. Valtat suffered from tuberculosis, and he spent many autumn and winter seasons along the Mediterranean coast in Banyuls, Antheor and Saint-Tropez. There he produced such richly colorful paintings as The Port (above), from around 1900. After 1914 Valtat worked in Paris, Rouen, and Versailles. During the period around the turn of the century, Valtat's painting subjects included his family, flowers (below), landscapes, and scenes of con-temporary life. Valtat continued to paint until 1948, when the glaucoma from which he had suffered for several years resulted in the loss of his sight. He died in 1952 in Paris at the age of eighty-three.

Flowers, Louis Valtat
Le Bebe, 1908, Louis Valtat (his son, Jean).


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