Luce: The case of the pertinent painter

mazimilien luce gare de l'est les poilus reducedMaximilien Luce, “Gare de l’Est, les Poilus.” Oil on re-enforced paper on canvas, 1917. ©Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu. The poilus were the foot soliders conscripted by the French government to fight in World War I.

Text copyright Paul Ben-Itzak
Images courtesy Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu

First published on the Arts Voyager on March 29, 2012, this story is re-posted today  with revisions to celebrate the upcoming exhibition  Les temps nouveaux, Seurat à Matisse, opening October 16 at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and migrating to the Museum of Modern Art in New York next spring. The exhibition’s through-line is the critic Felix Fénéon, whose artistic inclinations and anarchist tendencies made him a natural compagnon de route of Maximilien Luce (1858 – 1941). It was also Fénéon who invited Luce to organize his first personal exhibition in 1888, at the Revue  Indépendante. See below for more on their connections, notably as detailed in Michel Ragon‘s  2008 “Dictionnaire de l’Anarchie,” published by Albin Michel. Like what you’re reading? Please make a donation to the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager today in dollars or Euros via PayPal by designating your payment to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us at that address to learn how to donate by check.

Imagine that Pissarro didn’t die in 1903 but continued to live and work for 38 years, extending his explorations in the various streams of Impressionism. Then imagine that he decided to consecrate the force of his talent and energy to more depictions of the poor sap, the working stiff, the pour conscript sacrificed as cannon fodder in a wasteful war, and the social movements championing them. Imagine that his brilliant palette became more dense, retaining the sense of color values he learned from Camille Corot, the precision he picked up from Georges Seurat, and his native curiosity, then augmenting them with the lessons of the Fauves, of late Claude Monet and even Pierre Bonnard. Well, you don’t have to imagine this artistic extension of a life; Pissarro’s friend, pupil, compagnon de chevalet and fellow anarchist sympathizer Maximilien Luce embodied it. Imagine, now, that you could see the living proof.

luce portrait

Portrait of Maximilien Luce. Silver print, 14 x 8 cm. Courtesy Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu.
The downside of the recent news that Christie’s had essentially unearthed an early study for Cezanne’s mythic “The Card Players” stashed away in a private collection was the realization that this watercolor, so critical for understanding the origins of the impulses behind such a seminal work, had been out of public view for nearly 60 years. While many conscientious private collectors readily lend their work to public expositions, nothing obligates them to do so. Once a work of art has been snapped up at auction by a private collector, nothing guarantees its continued public accessibility …. (That such work is also part of a public heritage is one reason that French law grants the State the right of ‘pre-emption’ on works up for public auction.) All the more reason to be grateful that Frederic Luce left a stunning 150 of his father’s works to the Parisian suburb of Mantes la Jolie and its museum the Hotel Dieu, now celebrating Luce with a new exhibition of 52 pieces, “Maximilien Luce, de l’esquisse (draft) au chef-d’oeuvre,” which follows the artist’s process from the draft to the oil painting, including by showcasing similar works in both forms. We’re privileged to be able to share some of this work here.

luce tanneursLeft: Maximiien Luce, “Les Tanneurs.” Oil on paperboard. Right: Maximilien Luce, “Etude pour les Tanneurs.” Pencil on paper. Courtesy Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu.

A brief biographical re-cap is perhaps in order to deepen your appreciation of the work represented here: Born in the 6th arrondissement of Paris in 1858, Luce was deeply marked by the Versailles repression of the Paris Commune in 1871, installing himself in 1887 in Montmartre, the foundry of the revolt, taking a room at 6 rue Cortot — the same address where a certain Erik Satie would move in 1890. (I didn’t realize this when, wandering onto this darkened, narrow, steep street one July 14 after watching the fireworks from Montmartre, I discovered the plaque noting Satie had lived there. Perhaps the city of Paris should add, “… and Luce.”) Did they overlap? Did Luce’s rebellious spirit inspire Satie in some of his own Dada-esque musical meanderings? The former soon put his into practice, collaborating with Emile Puget on his anarchist weekly Le Pere Peinard (contributing more than 200 engravings, as Michel Ragon notes in his entry for the painter in his “Dictionnaire de l’Anarchie,” published by Albin Michel in 2008)  and participating in other similarly inclined journals, including La Revolte and L’Assiette au Beurre. During the infamous Trial of the 30 in 1894 (shortly after the assassination of French president Sadi Carnot by the anarchist Caserio), when, as Ragon recounts, “19 anarchist theorists were intentionally mingled with 11 thieves (supporters of the theory of individual reprise)” and charged with “criminal association” (a common charge applied today to suspected would-be terrorists). Luce shared a cell with art critic and Neo-Impressionist champion Felix Fénéon and Jean Grave, along with Sebastien Faure and Malatesta “the most celebrated theorist and anarchist militant of the debut of the 20th century.” All but one got off. (Ibid.)  Echoing Gustave Courbet during his own imprisonment following the downfall of the Paris Commune, Luce made a series of etchings chronicling his imprisonment.

luce military transportMaximilien Luce, “Transport d’un blessé.” Oil on canvas, 1916, ©Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu.

When the Neo-Impressionists’ chief  theorist Seurat died on March 31, 1891, it was Luce, along with fellow neo-Impressionist Paul Signac and Fénéon, that Seurat’s widow charged with making an inventory of his studio. During the “Great War,” Luce painted a series  of depictions of  Parisian railway stations and soldiers on leave. (Such as the example featured above.) In 1920 he set up a studio on the rue de Seine, today still the central arterie of the Saint-Germain-des-Près gallery district. In 1935 he was elected president of the Society of Independent Artists. His wife Ambroisine died on June 7, 1940, at the family’s home in Rolleboise overlooking the Seine. Luce died in 1941 in his studio on the rue de Seine – not yet deported. When I read this I’m saddened by the realization that he died not knowing if the Nazis would ever leave Paris, like Jane Avril, cursing Hitler from her flat in the 15th arrondissement, and what would become of the world; our world is richer because of the legacy Luce left us — and the legacy his son Frederic left to the Hotel de Dieu museum in Mantes la Jolie. And what a potentially transformative legacy it is; when I toyed with the idea of moving from Paris to Mantes la Jolie in the mid-2000s because of its connection with Camille Corot (who instructed Pissarro and Morisot in color values from his studio on what is now the rue de Paradis, across the street from where I was living at the time), French Parisian friends warned me that it wasn’t safe because of the recent riots. But what better milieu  to house and showcase the works of a conscious artist like Luce, with his concern for social turpitudes and answer of darkness with light?

maximilien luce, the dredging machine in RotterdamMaximilien Luce, “La drague a Rotterdam.” Oil on canvas. Courtesy Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu.

luce, chantier a rotterdamMaximilien Luce, “Chantier a Rotterdam.” Etching. Courtesy Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu.

luce, cliffsMaximilien Luce, “Mers-les-Bains, les falaises.” Drawing in pencil and colored pencils on paper. ©Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu.

luce, cliffs paintingMaximilien Luce, “Mers-les-Bains, les falaises.” Oil on canvas,1903. ©Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu.

luce, beachMaximilien Luce, “La plage de Méricourt, Baignade.” Oil on canvas, undated. ©Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu.

luce, wagonMaximilien Luce, “Travailleurs poussant un wagonnet.” Oil on paperboard, 1905. ©Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu.

luce, horse-cartMaximilien Luce, “Le fardier.” Oil on paperboard, undated. ©Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu.

luce, enfantsMaximilien Luce, “Etudes d’enfants.” Charcoal drawing, undated. ©Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu.

luce, farmMaximilien Luce, “La Ferme Vassard.” Oil on canvas, circa 1930. Courtesy Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu.

luce in studioLuce in studio: Maximilien Luce in his studio. Courtesy Ville de Mantes la Jolie, Musée de l’Hotel-Dieu.

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Have Pen, will Travel: A forward-looking memoir of Paris, the Dordogne, Cahors, Fort Worth, Chicago, Miami Beach, New York, Maryland, Montana, Connecticut, San Francisco, Reno, and the High Sierras

chi steinberg train smallPaul Ben-Itzak’s new 40-page Memoir, including art by Ansel Adams, Robert L. Berry, Lou Chapman, James Daugherty, Gustave Caillebotte, Jacob Lawrence, Sylvie Lesgourgues, David Levinthal, Roy Lichtenstein, Sam Peckinpah, Charles M. Russell, Saul Steinberg, and Frank Lloyd Wright from both current exhibitions and the AV Archives, is now available. To receive your own copy as a PDF or Word document, including 35 illustrations, please send $19.95 to the AV by designating your PayPal payment to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn about payment by check. Your purchase includes a complimentary one-year subscription to the Arts Voyager and Dance Insider ($29.95 value). Above: Saul Steinberg, “Train,” From the exhibition Along the Lines: Selected Drawings by Saul Steinberg, on view through October 29 at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Europe at the Crossroads: Portes Ouvertes de Belleville & the Prè Saint-Gervais, Performers from Around the World — Artists Converge on Paris; Help the Arts Voyager be there

Parce que oui, la Culture française – comme d’ailleurs tous les cultures qui déferle vers Paris – appartient au monde qu’elle a si souvent rayonné, et il faut refusé de la laisse etre confiné et sequestré par les forces de l’Obscurantisme.

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 The Open Studios or Portes Ouvertes de Belleville  and those of the Prè Saint-Gervais, performers including Berlin’s Constanza Macras, Portugal’s Vera Mantero, a major exhibition devoted to Camille Pissarro paintings rarely seen in France, Belgium’s Alain Platel, Spain’s Israel Galvan, Crystal Pite — these are just a few of the major cultural happenings in Paris and environs this Spring that the Arts Voyager and Dance Insider will be able to cover with your support.

Many of you first read about these internationally renowned artists and events for the first time in English in our journals and, continuing our 20-year mission of bringing you stories not told elsewhere, we’ll also be reporting on Giulio D’Anna, a Netherlands-based Italian choreographer whose “OOOOOOO” is inspired by Zagreb’s “Museum of Broken Relationships,” and Jasna Vinovrski’s “Lady Justice,” addressing the relationship between justice and art. Speaking of art, we’d also like to bring you Yasmina Reza’s “Art” as interpreted at the Theatre de la Bastille by the pioneering Belgium theater company STAN . And of intersections between art and society, this year’s Chantiers (Building Projects) d’Europe festival at the Theatre de la Ville features countries in the front lines of the refugee crisis, notably in six short films from Greece addressing this topic and a public brainstorming session with artists from six countries. Most of all we’ll be able to bring you into the studios of the 200+ artists taking part in the Open Studios of Belleville — a neighborhood which in its very MULTI-CULTURAL contours and dimensions provides the best retort to the cloistered vision of French culture represented by the National Front. (We share the FN’s stated pride in traditional French culture; we simply argue that this definition is too limited and does not do justice to the grandeur and ouverture to the world that has always been French culture.) Click here to read our coverage of last year’s Open Studios / Portes Ouvertes de Belleville.

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France, too, is at the crossroads. On May 7  the country will choose between the fear represented by the National Front and the hope and optimism represented by Emmanuel Macron. Between closure and opening. In the campaign between these two ‘cultures’ that has raged in this country for the past two years, CULTURE has been all but forgotten. (Among Macron’s refreshing ideas: More library hours.) With your help, we will be able to do our part in restoring some light to what has always been France’s principal calling card around the world. Our calling for more than 20 years.Many thanks and

Cheers,

Paul
artsvoyager@gmail.com

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New Mysteries of Lutece: Just another afternoon in Paradise

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2010, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

PARIS — Up until two weeks ago, I spent my evenings regarding a Marseille-based soap opera, “Plus belle la vie,” romantic comedies, and ‘policiers’ or crime shows. When you’re living in an isolated 300-year-old stone house in the land of pre-history in the southwest of France, there isn’t much else to do at night but plant yourself in front of the television. (Living alone, I found it hard to read at night; television at least provided the illusion of company.) But since I have returned to Paris, I have found myself embroiled in my own French soap opera, romantic comedy, and even a police drama, with me cast in the role of the kindly neighbor who the police ask to stay with ‘the little lady’ in case the schizophren who knocked down her door returns. (This was the same young man who previously had lavished my neighbor-friend Sophie and I with fromage, charcuterie, and even multi-colored marshmellows, as well as taken us dancing to a reggae bar on the rue Bagnolet in the netherworlds of the 20eme arrondissement. In the big city, heroes and villains often inter-mingle, sometimes in the same person.) It all ended — until the next chapter, anyway, still unfolding — with Sophie hailing me as the man from providence after I wrested a handful of sleeping pills from her fist on their way to her mouth and before she took off on another two-bottle rouge trip and insisted we watch “Sophie’s Choice” for the umpteenth time.

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