Louis Valtat (1869 - 1952)
“Valtat belongs to a generation of artists in between the Impressionists and post 1900 revolutionaries. It could have been said about him that he represents the indispensable link that accounts for the transition from Monet to Matisse.”
Quoted by Georges Peillex in the text for the supplement of the exhibition catalog entitled Louis Valtat; Retrospective Centenaire (1869-1968), Genève: Petit Palais, 1969.
Louis Valtat began his artistic career during a period marked by rapid proliferation of different artistic styles and movements. By the mid 1880s, Impressionism had entered into the so-called period of “crisis” leading to a new and revolutionary wave of ideas, which would ultimately shape early twentieth century art, namely Fauvism, Expressionism and Cubism. As far as Valtat was concerned, he remained detached from Expressionism and Cubism, most likely due to his independent nature and mild temperament. On the other hand, while his intensely colored paintings produced before 1900, were regarded as the precursors of the Fauvist movement, Valtat is not universally recognized as a Fauvist painter. Today there is an ongoing discussion of whether Valtat should be regarded as a “Fauve,” or was he only on the fringe of the Fauvist circle. If Fauvism is defined as a pictorial expression to create space and light through the use of intense colors, then Valtat was most certainly a Fauve. If Fauvism freed those artists from the pictorial conventions established since the Renaissance and allowed them to create a style of their time, then Valtat was also a Fauvist. However, as noted by Raymond Cogniat “he is not a Fauve, if the label covers painters who intensified these claims to a maximum of violence, and from which they were later to rid themselves and revert to more moderate ideas.” (Louis Valtat, Neuchâtel, Ides et calends, 1963, pg. 25)
“Valtat’s brushwork is no longer just a series of light touches; it is more determined, graphically outlining and shaping the subject. The technique has developed from a spontaneous juxtaposition of delicate touches inspired by light and reflections into quite the reverse, and the structure is now deliberately put in evidence. This is perhaps the first stage at which one can see Valtat completely severed from Impressionism and beginning to foreshadow Fauvism for which he helped lay the foundation.”
From 1898 until 1914, Valtat began to spend more time in the South of France. He traveled with his girlfriend, Suzanne whom he married in 1900. At first, they went to Agay, a small fishing village, and then to Anthéor, on the coast between St. Raphael and Cannes, where he built a house. While in the South of France, he continued to broaden his contacts with other artists in the area, such as Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) and Paul Signac (1863-1935). Between 1900 and 1905, Valtat visited Renoir in his house in Cagnes, and together they collaborated on several works, most importantly a bust of Cézannes in bronze (1905). During this time, Valtat traveled in France and abroad. In the spring and summer time, he used to go to Port-En-Bessin in Arromanches, and Ouistreham in the Normandy region. Valtat also visited Italy in 1902 and Algeria in 1903. These trips, and in particular, his stay at Anthéor with its rocks, sky and Mediterranean sea inspired Valtat to use the intense red and blue colors, which became part of his palette.
It was Renoir who introduced Valtat’s works to Ambroise Vollard, the art dealer. When they were in Brittany, Renoir had told Vollard “when I saw a young artist one day, putting the last touches to a study. I was struck by the happy harmony of colour throughout his painting.” (Ambroise Vollard, Recollections of a Picture Dealer, translated by Violet M. Macdonald, Boston: Little, Brown and company, 1936, pg. 197) Vollard became Valtat’s agent from 1900 to 1912. He organized Valtat’s first one-man exhibition at his gallery just after that of Matisse, and sent Valtat’s entries to various exhibitions that were held in Paris. In 1905, Valtat’s paintings were shown at the Salon d’Autumne (Autumn Salon), the exhibition during which the journalist Louis Vauxcelles coined the label Fauves (“Wild Beasts”). After noticing a Renaissance-style small bronze sculpture set in the middle of the gallery surrounded by intensely colored paintings, Vauxcelles remarked: Donatello au milieu des fauves (“Donatello among the wild beasts”). (Sam Hunter, John Jacobus, and Daniel Wheeler, Modern Art, New York: H.N. Abrams, 1992, pg.102) The exhibition caused a scandal, and some journalists dubbed this new approach as “color madness,” and “pictorial aberration.” Interestingly, a marine scene by Valtat was reproduced alongside Matisse, Henri Manguin (1874-1949), André Derain (1880-19540, and Jean Puy (1876-1960) in the exhibition review by Vauxcelles in L’Ilustration magazine dated 4 November, 1905, “in which the term ‘Fauve’ was first used.” (Lynn Boyer Ferrillo, “Valtat, Louis,” Grove Art Online Dictionary)
In 1914, Valtat left Anthéor and resided in Paris at l’avenue Wagram, close to the Arc de Triomphe and the Bois de Boulogne. However, after ten years, he missed having a garden, and bought a house with a garden in Choisel, a little village in the Vallé de Chevreuse, where he spent most of the year. His garden, and the flowers and fruits that he planted there, became the principal sources of inspiration for his paintings. At that time, his compositions became calmer, without, changing his characteristic intense color palette. For example, La Plage (The Beach, 1916) and Le Champ de blé (The Wheat Field, 1920) have been described as “peaceable and luminous works,” and in which his technique “tended to do away with shade altogether, in order to give each volume its maximum chromatic intensity and radiance,” and “as with Impressionism, black was excluded from his palette, and his warm colour tones were juxtaposed without discordance.” (Cogniat, pg. 29)
In 1927, Valtat was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honor), which was considered the premier order of France. He continued to paint, and “right up to his last years, Valtat respected this fidelity to his inner self and became practised in resisting the numerous temptations of the period. He was deterred neither by the success of other artists, nor by his own rather tardy ascent. ” (Cogniat, pg, 29) On the contrary, he was always devoted to his work and “From the beginning to the end of his career, he was simply, both knowingly and scrupulously, a painter of great integrity whose love of life and nature were embodied in his landscapes, his flower-pieces and interiors.” (Cogniat, pg. 24) After the exodus of 1940 and the occupation of France by the Germans, Valtat hardly left his studio at l’avenue Wagram. He began to suffer from glaucoma that made him blind in 1948, and after becoming ill, Valtat died on January 2, 1952 in a clinic in Paris.
His works can be seen in the following museums: Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (Russia); Fondation Bemberg, Toulouse, Musée des Beaux Art, Bordeaux (France); Museum of Modern Art, New York City, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach (US); Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid (Spain)