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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Louis Anquetin

Inside of the House of Bruant: the Mirliton, 1886-87, Louis Anquetin
I suppose it's only natural to think back to periods in our lives which we'd like to go back and relive, if for only a day or two. Some of us wouldn't mind reliving a week or two or even a year or two...knowing what we do now, of course. If that's true of individuals, there are also whole eras--decades--which were so colorful, exciting, earthshaking, and delightful that many would like to relive them, or even bring back the circumstances of that era to our own. We can't of course, relive either individual halcyon days or historic eras. The past is past, the present is reality, and the future is nothing more than an ever-changing aspect of the present. Some look nostalgically back at the past, distress about the present, and dread the future--they're called pessimists. Others study the past, embrace the present, and look forward to the future--they're called optimists. That these two groups form the basis of today's religious, political, and social philosophies has, unfortunately, become a fact of life--fear versus hope--conservatives and progressives. Everything else is merely symptomatic.

Avenue de Clichy, Five O'clock in the Evening, 1887, Louis Anquetin
One era, one time and place I'd like to visit, at least for a while, would be the wildly vibrant era of Paris, France, during the 1880s or 1890s. Paris was a wild and crazy place like no other on earth where art was in a revolutionary mode. Changes were happening so fast, even the very definition of art was in flux. Having visited Paris a couple years ago, I can attest to the fact that a feeble remnant of that period remains, if you can see past the tourists attempting, like myself, to revisit that era. The Impressionists' Café Guerbois is no longer there but the House of Bruant (top) remains, though now merely a sidewalk café (below) with outstanding mussels. Toulouse-Lautrec's Moulin Rouge also remains, cramped but smokeless, raucous, risqué, and inordinately expensive beyond all reason. We all know about Toulouse-Lautrec's affinity for such places, but the little man also had friends such as Emile Bernard, Vincent van Gogh, Jacques Maroger, and Louis Anquetin with whom he shared his arty lifestyle. Most of them you've probably heard of. The last one, probably not.

The present incarnation Aristide Bruant's famed Paris nightspot.
Woman by a Lake, 1889,
Louis Anquetin, an outstanding
example of Cloisonnism.
Louis Anquetin was one of the founders of the Expressionist style of painting referred to as Cloisonnism. The term derives from the French word "cloison" meaning partition. Cloisonné began as a means used to decorate metal art. Later it was used in decorating with glassy enamel. Wires known as cloisons were soldered to the piece, filled with powdered glass, then fired. If that sounds reminiscent of old Gothic stained glass windows, the two are, in fact, related. So why is the term attributed to painting? Louis Anquetin's paintings have areas of pure flat, color inside black outlines. These areas, of rather unnatural color, are entirely free of shading or anything that would give them a three-dimensional effect. Thus Cloisonnism is marked by an overall two-dimensional appearance. In a lot of such works there was an overwhelming simplicity that in some ways counter-acted works by the Impressionist painters who were mostly concerned with depicting light. In employing Cloisonnism, artists such as Anquetin, Bernard, Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and van Gogh were able to bring together their ideas and chosen subject matter to produce a more impressive form of modern art. The Bernard and Anquetin pioneered this new form of art as seen in Anquetin's 1889 Woman by the Lake (above, left). They were also influenced by Japanese Ukijo-e woodblock prints, arriving in western markets during the late 1860’s.

Louis Anquetin--doesn't he look like quite a rascal to have in an art class? Yes, he painted a self-portrait as the devil.
Henri Samary, ca. 1880,
Louis Anquetin (age 19)
Louis Anquetin was born in Étrépagny, (northern) France in 1861. He was trained at the Lycée Pierre Corneille in Rouen. In 1882, Anquetin came to Paris where he began studying at Léon Bonnat's studio. The portrait of Henri Samary (right) dates from his early days as a student. There he met Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The two artists later moved to the studio of Fernand Cormon, where they befriended Émile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh. The group, along with John Peter Russell, studied under Cormon in the late 1880’s. None of them reflected their instructor's staid Academicism. More-over their instructor is today largely a forgotten footnote in art history.

Anquetin's early work was heavily influenced by Impressionism, but later, as he and Bernard, developed Cloison-nisme and acquired a reputation as innovators on the Paris art scene, Anquetin continued to innovate, his style changing throughout his career. During Anquetin's later life, he was largely outside the Paris art world. After his death in 1932, he was mostly forgotten. However, in recent years his works have seen a surprising renewal in interest, particularly his paintings of the mysterious "women of the night," a subject he worked on when he was in Rome. At the Bar (below), though painted in 1891, is much like his later works.

At the Bar, 1891, Louis Anquetin--Women of the night?
Portrait of a Woman (possibly Marguerite Dufay), 1891,
Louis Anquetin. Notice the Cloisonnisme.


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