“To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves.” - Federico García Lorca
Magpie Tales has stimulated the grey cells once again this week, adding fuel to the fire of our imagination with a beautiful painting: “Under Windsor Bridge”, 1912, by Adolphe Valette. Pierre Adolphe Valette (1876 – 1942) was a French Impressionist painter who was active for a great part of his life painting the urban landscapes of Manchester. Many of his works are now in the collection of the Manchester Art Gallery. Born in St Etienne in 1876, he trained at the École Municipale de Beaux-Arts et des Arts Decoratifs in Bordeaux.
Valette arrived in England for unknown reasons in 1904 and studied at the Birbeck Institute, now part of the University of London. In 1905 he travelled to the Northwest of England where he began a short career designing greeting cards and calendars for a Manchester printing company. He attended evening classes at Manchester Municipal School of Art and in 1907 he was invited to join the staff as a teacher. His French teaching style, painting by demonstration, was new to the United Kingdom.
L.S. Lowry expressed great admiration for Valette, who taught him new techniques and showed him the potential of the urban landscape as a subject. He called him “a real teacher … a dedicated teacher”. In 1920 Valette resigned from the Institute due to ill health. He stayed in Lancashire for a further eight years, teaching privately and painting in Manchester and Bolton. In 1928 he returned to Paris, and later moved to Blacé en Beaujolais where he died in 1942. His paintings are Impressionist, a style that suited the damp fogginess of Manchester. Manchester Art Gallery has a room devoted to him, where the viewer may compare some of his paintings with some of Lowry’s, and judge to what extent Lowry’s own style was influenced by Valette and by French Impressionism generally.
Here is a poem suiting the image that I wrote a couple of decades ago while living in Europe.
How melancholy this city
When love has died.
How tiresome the narrow houses
When I know none there awaits my return.
How slowly the canal waters flow
When I know all is over.
The sun sets and violet evenings
Envelop countless bridges,
The amber lamps endlessly reflecting
Their shimmering images,
As distant laughter mocks my waterless tears.
How crushingly the night falls around my heart tonight
As resignation points the way clearly toward my duty.
How hopelessly I must await the morning
As new-found resolutions crystallise in the falling temperature.
How dreamless the drug-filled sleep that I must partake of
As all expectations, hopes, illusions drown in the still canals.