Albert Marquet (1875-1947)
Born into a modest family from Bordeaux in 1875, Albert Marquet - who was short-sighted and had a club-foot - was a reserved child who was only interested in drawing. His mother perceptively encouraged him on this path, and in 1890 he left to run a haberdashery business in Paris where he could receive a sound training. When he started at the École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs, he struck up an unshakeable friendship with Henri Matisse, before joining the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts and Gustave Moreau's studio. In those first years, Marquet worked with Matisse on landscapes as a motif, in Normandy, Paris and the Ile de France. At the same time he studied the received idea of the nude in life-drawing, which he rapidly moved away from academicism by making use of lively colours and rapid strokes. Thirsting for modernity, Marquet contributed to the group that formed under the benevolent rule of Matisse, and provoked the 'fauve' scandal at the Salon d'Automne of 1905. It was then that his palette became more restrained and more true to reality compared to that of his companions.
From that time, the artist was seized with a feverish urge to travel, rarely staying more than three months in the same place, always in search of new landscapes which were mostly aquatic: the Seine quays, the seashore, lakes, ports, and the lagoon in Venice when he was invited to the Biennale in 1936. Almost obsessed by water, Marquet was appointed honorary painter of the Navy in 1945, the only honour that he deigned to accept...! He travelled throughout Italy, Germany and Spain; he took up the habit – for health reasons – of spending the winter in Algiers where he met Marcelle Martinet, his future wife in 1920; he visited Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt; stayed in England, Switzerland and Romania, but also in northern Europe – Holland, Scandinavia – not to mention the French coast that he surveyed from north to south – Sète, Marseilles, Fontarabie, Le Pyla, Les Sables d'Olonne, Audierne, Le Havre, Rouen, Boulogne-sur-Mer, etc.. – and also places along the Seine, such as Paris which gave him his first subjects, and La Frette (Val d'Oise) where he died in 1947.
Albert Marquet conveyed all atmospheres in his landscapes: the pure light and lively colours produced by the Mediterranean sun, the smoke of ships, and the mist of early mornings or unpleasant days softening the outline of shapes and modifying the colours in multiple variations.
He can appear as a successor to Impressionist art in the way he too produced series of works to capture the atmosphere at different times of day and according to the season in the way Monet, his elder, had done, and because he often painted from modern life. Yet he differentiated himself from it by the solid construction of his compositions (the cube, the diagonal and the vertical are permanent features of his art) and his steady touch, except to render certain specific motifs such as vegetation in bloom or the shimmering of water. His detached and simplifying line - particularly to capture the little real-life figures moving about the landscape, in the succinct way of Zen brushwork – thus combines with a subtle treatment of the play of light on elements such as the water, a major subject in his pictorial work. An attentive observer, this unobtrusive artist produces a silent and serene image of life, even managing to freeze the course of time...
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