Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Henri Martin

Henri Martin
After working for a time in a more traditional style, and through a period in which he experimented with Symboism, French painter Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin eventually settled on a style that is generally considered Divisionism, an offshoot of French Impressionism associated with Pointillism.

Like Pointillism, Divisionism was concerned, even more than Impressionism, with the placement of pure dabs of color (or dots, in the case of Pointillism) in arrangements that would optically mix in the viewer’s eye, as opposed to intermediate colors being mixed on the palette. Divisionism was based on color theory popular at the time and was concerned with the scientific basis of human color vision, however inaccurate some of the prevailing assumptions may have been.

In Martin’s hands, however, the results were richly poetic, lushly colored and fascinatingly textural canvases, most of which depict the small village of La Bastide du Vert, where Martin eventually settled.

Martin has often been treated as something of a historical footnote, in keeping with the emphasis writers of art history put on what’s new, groundbreaking or influential, as opposed to what may simply elicit a response on the part of the viewer; but as I’ve seen more of his work, he’s become something of a personal favorite, certainly among the proponents of Pointillism or Divisionism, and as a post-Impressionist in general.

I’ve encountered two large troves of martin’s work on the web, one on The Athenaeum, and the other on Wikipaintings.

[Addendum: Reader Jon wrote to let me know that he has coincidentally just returned from a weekend spent tracing the steps of Henri Martin in Toulouse, Cahors, Labastide du Vert and St Cirq-Lapopie. He has documented his trip in a series of 5 posts titled: Sur les traces d’Henri Martin, on his blog The Road from Tarascon. The blog is in French, but non-French speakers can use Google Translate to get the gist. More to the point are the wonderful series of photographs of places Martin painted and worked, including his abandoned studio, as well as photos of his work in local museums, which give a sense of the dramatic scale of some of Martin’s larger paintings (like the one in the images above, top, with detail).]

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