Louis Valtat

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Biography of Louis Valtat ( 1869-1952 )

Louis Valtat's polymorphic work is animated by a conjunction of multiple influences. Vibrant colours, liberation of the touch and expressiveness are the characteristics of the work of this unclassifiable artist. He strives to transgress the codes of academic painting in favour of a painting that would be described as instinctive. We perceive the singularity of Louis Valtat, who, in order to give free rein to his sensibility, abstains from all aesthetic conventions. 

The artist, born in Dieppe on August 8, 1869, studied at the Lycée Hoche, located in the city of Versailles. Coming from a well-to-do family of Dieppe shipowners, Louis Valtat immediately developed a particular appetite for Art. 

Strongly encouraged by his father, the young man chose to enter the National School of Fine Arts in Paris in 1887, in the Atelier Gustave Moreau. There he obtained the Chauvin-Latinville Medal. In this context, he also attended the studios of Jules Lefebvre, mainly known for his bare bodies and his treatment of skin tones, Gustave Boulanger, renowned for his orientalist subjects, and Henri-Joseph Harpignies, a landscape painter from the Barbizon school.

The artist also chose to follow a course of study at the Académie Julian, founded in 1868 by the French painter Rodolphe Julian.

He trained with Jules Dupré and Gustave Boulanger, known for his travels in the Orient, who was succeeded by Benjamin-Constant, a painter and engraver renowned for his orientalist subjects. Louis Valtat also frequented Albert André, a figurative painter, Édouard Vuillard, Maurice Denis and Pierre Bonnard. The latter participated in the foundation of the post-impressionist group of the Nabis, an artistic movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, positioning itself on the margin of academic painting: they were in quest of a new mode of expression.  The term "Nabi", meaning "prophet", is borrowed from Biblical Hebrew. It is proposed by the poet Henri Cazalis, to a circle of young painters created by Paul Sérusier. The aesthetics of Louis Valtat's work remains deeply marked by these strong artistic influences.

For the first time, in 1893, he exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Indépendants, created in December 1884 by Lucien Boué. Motivated by a strong desire to paint, Louis Valtat took part, at the end of 1894, in the creation of the sets for the Terracotta Cart, a classic Sanskrit play by Lugné-Poë, at the Théâtre de l'Œuvre. In this project, he will be accompanied by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Albert André, post-impressionist artists. His engraved woodcuts, prints and paintings are featured in the Salon des Cent, an exhibition of French art designed by Léon Deschamps in 1893.

We must mention the major role of Louis Valtat, who, imbued by the work of Gustave Moreau, gives a new value to colour: the latter no longer tends to evoke only reality, it is also enriched by a symbolic value. Indeed, the painter found himself associated with a scandal that revealed to the public a new post-impressionist aesthetic: Fauvism, which overturned the artistic codes of the early 20th century. The winter of 1895-96 became the scene of the artist's experiments: he chose to implement, in his own creations, new simplified forms, treated with pure colours, without accomplished perspectives or cast shadows. Forerunner of the movement that Matisse, Derain, Rouault and Vlaminck would take to its paroxysm, he managed to present 5 paintings in Room XV of the 1905 Salon d'Automne, alongside Kandinsky and Jawlensky.

It is probably thanks to this love of colour that Valtat was made as a "fauve". By renouncing dull tones, the artist favours a more lively, spontaneous and instinctive palette. Painter of his time, the painter does not need exceptional frames: nature is enough for him. He chooses to depict landscapes, familiar faces and flowery subjects, whose expression responds to his sensitivity.

This composition by Valtat is part of a very fruitful period for the artist. A multitude of branches, nonchalantly arranged in a small terracotta jug, stand out against a dark background. Bunches of redcurrants sit on the table covered with a light-coloured tablecloth.  The transparency of the fruit is achieved by juxtaposed points of light, justifying the volume of the stored fruit. Emblematic of the artist's work, this lively palette and freedom of touch are at the core of this canvas.

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