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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Maurice Boitel

Maurice Boitel--the Normandy coast, an uncanny resemblance to van Gogh.
Maurice Boitel Self-portrait, 1956
I don't believe in reincarnation. But if I did, the work of French artist Maurice Boitel would be the first evidence I would submit to bolster my sense that he was Vincent van Gogh reincarnated. Actually, I prefer to contemplate Boitel's work in the light that, had van Gogh lived to a ripe old age (into the 1920s or 30s), Vincent's paintings later in life would have been very similar to that of Boitel. That's not to say all of Boitel's work bears the hallmarks of van Gogh. The man was not a copier and I don't think he was consciously influenced by van Gogh. Looking at his work as a whole, one can easily spot other, more direct influences such as Cezanne, Utrillo, Matisse, Dufy, Monet, even Picasso, all of whom were pervasively French. The man did not work in a vacuum, yet it is the fascinating resemblance to the work of a man who lived and died some thirty years before Boitel was born (1919) that is most striking.
Quai Fleury à Nuits Saint-Georges (Nuits Saint-Georges et la Côte d'Or),
1938, Maurice Boitel from his La Jeune Peinture period.
Maurice Boitel was born in Normandy, the son of a lawyer, but spent the first twelve years of his life in Burgundy (central France). He showed promise as an artist from the age of five, later studying in Amiens and Dijon. In Paris, he fell in with a group calling themselves "La Jeune Peinture" (The Young Picture) before enlisting in the light infantry at the beginning of WW II. Despite the war, the ambitious young artist managed to successfully pass the highly competitive entrance exam for the École des Beaux-Arts. His Paris studio, located in the central part of the city during the height of the German occupation, secretly served as a refuge for Jews hiding from the Nazis.

The Port of Algiers, 1947, Maurice Boitel--echoes of Cezanne and Matisse. 
After the war, Boitel took his wife and son to Algeria for two years. His exotic work from this period was immensely popular upon his return, his mostly landscape paintings propelling him to the forefront of the post-war art world in France. Unfortunately, that art world was not what it had been before the war. The center of gravity in painting had moved to New York where it remained for the next fifteen years as Europe struggled to right itself from the lingering trauma of German aggression. As a result, Boitel was largely passed over, relegated to the Paris backwaters as Abstract Expressionism soared to its zenith in the U.S. and on the world art scene. Though bedecked with prestigious awards and shows at home, Boitel's work came to be seen as historic rather than cutting edge. Only in the present century, as he moved into his eighties, did Boitel's paintings come to be seen as an important link from the French art world of the early 20th century to that of our own. Maurice Boitel died in 2007 at the age of 88. If only van Gogh had lived so long.

The work of Maurice Boitel today seems quite at home displayed in a rustic French chateau in Boulogne.



  1. Your commentary is very interesting. However, the Maurice Boitel's pictures you chose were painted during his youth and obvously influenced by his predecessors. During the period from 1950 to 1968, he painted chiefly in Cadaqués (Spain) and it was the time his style was the most original with hard black drawings and as a contrast, very lighted swathes of colour. It's also the time when Adamo gallery in NY (crossroads 5th avenue, broadway avenue) bought him more than a hundred of paintings, and also an other gallery in L.A.. Recently, a picture of Cadaqués was sold in the auction house of Newark (Braswell gallery). So you may choose other vignettes of picture for your article, copying some in the site "". Our adress:

  2. Thanks for your comments. As you may have noted, I was careful to include the dates associated with each painting I put forth (when available) for just the reasons you have outlined. Very often artists are more interesting with regard to their early, struggling, years than after they've "made it" in later life. The entire focus of the article was on Boitel's influences rather than his mature style. What I found most interesting was the manner in which Boitel absorbed and synthesized all the various influences of his youth. Also, in the case of an artist who lived as long as he did, I seldom choose to cover every aspect of their life and work. Outright biographies can become quite tedious and boring (not to mention redundant, given today's internet). My effort is to spark interest, rather than provide reference material per se. Therefore I tend to highlight only that aspect of an artist work readers will find most interesting and relevant to "art now."