• France, Private Collection
The son of Edmond Ceria, an Italian landscape painter, Jacques Despierre described himself as a free spirit who grew up in an environment which was favorable to the blossoming of his talent. From the age of 14, the young boy took engraving lessons. He deambulated the galleries of the Louvre in his father’s company where he admired Poussin and Delacroix. In accordance with Ceria’s advice, Despierre, who assumed this pseudonym out of affection for his younger brother Pierre, studied at the Colarossi Academy and then at the Scandinavian Academy. He followed Otton Friesz’ and Jacques Dufresne’s courses. The latter transmitted a sense of pictorial structure and organization. In 1930, the painter entered Lucien Simon’s studio in the École des Beaux-Arts. In 1938, he moved closer to the New Generation group where he found Lasne, Humblot, Jannot, and Tal Coat, who advocated “a return to Humanism, to a subject, to drawing, to a profession conscientious of tradition in fervent contact with Nature.”
Multiple influences affected Jacques Despiere. He admitted that he had found the basis of his work in Cubism, but did not stop there, as he drew on many fertile 20th century sources. In the rue de Seine galleries, the artist discovered Derain and Vlaminck, and was very enthusiastic about Modigliani’s portraits. Jacques Villon remained one of his tutelary figures. In 1937, he admired Dufy’s The Electricity Fairy. This was also the year of his first State commission. In the course of a long career punctuated by official recognition, Despierre produced easel painting and medals, as well as monumental works. He realized murals, decors for ocean liners such as the Liberté (1947) and the France (1961), tapestries, and stained glass (Notre-Dame de Liesse, 1947-1954). This work went hand in hand with his teaching activity, especially at the École Supérieure des Arts décoratifs where from 1962, he directed the mural workshop, and taught drawing, fresco painting, and mosaics.
The Importance of Water for the Artist
Water occupied an essential place in Jacques Despierre’s oeuvre: “Water seems to me like a moving image of our future, running in a well determined direction in relation to fixed reference points.” The artist’s two points of reference were the Loire and the Seine. While he did series of contemplative, sometimes lascivious, landscapes of the former, he sought human presence through fluvial activitity in the second, from Triel like Marquet or at Vétheuil where Monet had painted. Despierre filled his pictures with barges and was fond of the passage through locks in foreshortened compositions where the barges were shown head-on, as in the image of the Lock (1960) (in Jacques Despierre à la monnaie de Paris, fig. 26).
Our picture depicts three barges on the Seine in a lock whose gates are opening in the foreground. The composition is very constructed, the result of solid work; “What I love is to feel deeply, at the tip of my pencil or my pen, is a sort of landscape skeleton to which it is possible to attach muscles and color,” confided Despierre.
The artist has abstracted broad landscape principles in a bundle of orthogonals formed by the parallel lines of the quays, barges, and road along the river. The sensitively employed color is at the service of this landscape imagined like architecture. The white grain of the canvas shows through paint applied in light flat areas. Blue and pearly grays dominate this river atmosphere. Warmly colored lines drawn with a sure brush emphasize the curve of a hull, silhouette of a cabin, or the perspective of a wharf.
The precise line work and discreet color choices do not aim to reproduce optical or atmospheric effects, nor even a skillful composition. Despierre, who hardly liked to theorize his work and warned against “spoken painting,” nonetheless shared one of the keys to his artistic quest:
“If you insist on describing the object, you are not a creator, you’re only a witness […] What interests me, when I see a natural scene, is to confront it with my thoughts and to go beyond, if you will, the real by the transfer of my thoughts to my work as a painter.”
General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
Lydia HARAMBOURG, François CERIA, Despierre: 1912-1995, Paris, Somogy, 2013.
Roger BOUILLOT et al, Jacques Despierre à la monnaie de Paris, exh. cat. Paris, Monnaie de Paris, 1973.