24.5 x 39 cm. (9 5⁄8 x 15 3⁄8 in.)
Charcoal, stump, and watercolor on beige paper.
Signed lower right.
• Louis Valtat à l’aube du fauvisme, exh. cat. Lodève Museum: Editions midi-pyrénéennes, 2011.
• Valtat:indépendant et précurseur, exh. cat. Sète: Paul Valéry Museum, Ed. Au fil du temps, 2011.
• J. VALTAT, Louis Valtat, catalogue de l’œuvre peint 1869 – 1952, Paris, Neuchâtel: Ides et Calendes, 1977.
• Louis Valtat: rétrospective centenaire, exh. cat. Geneva: Petit Palais, 1969.
For a long time, Louis Valtat baffled critics who struggled in their analyses to reduce the work of this eccentric artist to one of the official trends which structured art history. Attached in turn to Post-Impressionism, the Nabis, and the Fauves, Valtat followed an independent path, the product of an instinctive sensitivity and of faultless experimentation. Born in Dieppe to a family of ship builders, Valtat grew up in Versailles, where he left the Lycée Hoche to enter the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1886, at the age of 17. He completed his education at the Julian Academy, where he made friends with Pierre Bonnard and Albert André. His first submissions to the Salon des Indépendants in 1893 were noticed by Felix Feneon. After contracting consumption, he discovered the lights of the South the following year in Banyuls, and then continued his convalescence in Arcachon.
From there, he sent audacious paintings which prefigured Fauve aesthetics to the Salon in 1896. After an initial exhibition at Durand-Ruel, he owed his career’s stability to Ambroise Vollard, who acquired a large part of his production through the friendly intermediary of Renoir. Present that same year at the Libre Esthétique in Brussels, he figured in the 1905 Autumn Salon in the same room as Kandinsky and Jawlensky. In subsequent years, he exhibited in Vienna, Dresden, Berlin, and as far as Russia.
Louis Valtat was inspired by daily life, initially that of the lively streets which bordered his studio on the rue de La Glaçière, and then in the different regions where he spent his life. From the late 1890s on, he spent part of the year with his wife in Provence, first at Agay, and then Antheor. There he frequented Renoir and Paul Signac. In the summer, he stayed in Normandy. The remaining months were spent in Montmartre, and then on Avenue de Wagram which the painter left in 1924 to settle in Choisel, in the Chevreuse valley. His work was now officially recognized. In 1927, he received the Legion of Honor. Not long before his death, six of his paintings figured at the height of the National Museum of Modern Art exhibition Le Fauvisme in 1951.
Louis Valtat did not leave any writings which could document his œuvre whose analysis reveals continual evolution sustained by indefatigable on-site studies. The painter worked vivaciously in natural hues. He painted familiar faces, passers-by, flowers, landscapes, and still lifes. Among the latter, mainly oils have come down to us; our Still Life with Apples thus enriches a very limited corpus of works on paper.
Valtat composed his work with an expressive restraint worthy of Chardin. Here, apples, his only subject, are arranged on a plate set off by blue scalloping which can also be seen in the Plate of Peaches and Bunches of Grapes, (Sotheby’s Sale, November 5th, 2014, n°357), and are on a table evoked in a few strokes. The background décor is very simply suggested. As was his practice, the artist used charcoal to draw thick lines around the fruit and to emphasize shadows. He then employed watercolor in a dry technique without blending shades. The chromatic range is limited: yellow, red, with purple or light green highlights here and there, against the beige background of the paper accentuated by black or brown wash.
In line with Cézanne’s style, Valtat found these few pieces of fruit to be the basis for a study in three-dimensionality based on form and color, as well as the means to convey the poetics of daily objects. Classical in his manner, he did not free himself from either perspective or relief, but synthesized his observation in a drawing which accurately brings together the sensitive immediacy of the sketch and colored harmonies appropriate for rendering the inanimate presence. He thus realized the “artist’s profound design” which Charles Sterling summarized on the occasion of the grand retrospective exhibition, Still Life from Antiquity to Today, at the Orangery Museum in 1952:
“that of imposing his poetic emotion before the beauty which he glimpsed in the objects and their setting.”
We would like to thank the Association of Friends of Louis Valtat for having confirmed the authenticiy of our work which will be integrated under the reference number 2333A9 into the forthcoming catalogue raisonné.