Sunday, 21 June 2015


“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way - things I had no words for.” - Georgia O’Keeffe

Louis Valtat (8 August 1869 – 2 January 1952) was a French painter and printmaker associated with the Fauves (“the wild beasts”, so named for their wild use of colour), who first exhibited with them in 1905 at the Salon d’Automne. He is noted as a key figure in the stylistic transition in painting from Monet to Matisse.

Valtat was born in Dieppe, in the Normandy region of France, into a wealthy family of ship owners. He spent many of his childhood years in Versailles, a suburb of Paris, where he attended secondary school at the Lycée Hoche (near the Palace of Versailles). Encouraged by his father, an amateur landscape painter himself, Valtat became interested in art. At age 17, deciding to pursue an artistic career, he applied to the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris. He was accepted, and in 1887 Valtat moved to Paris to enrol at the École, where he studied with the well-known academic artists Gustave Boulanger (1824–1888), Jules Lefebvre (1836–1911), and later with Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845–1902).

Valtat subsequently studied at the Académie Julian under Jules Dupré (1811–1889), a landscape painter of the Barbizon school. Among his fellow students were Albert André (1869–1954), who became a close friend, as well as Maurice Denis (1870–1943), Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), and Édouard Vuillard (1868–1940). These last three, calling themselves “Nabis” (after the Hebrew word meaning prophets), were influenced by Paul Gauguin’s (1848–1903) Synthetist method of painting based on the use of simple forms, pure colours, and large patterns. While Valtat remained detached from that movement, he learned from them.

In 1890, upon winning the Jauvin d’Attainville prize, Valtat established his own studio at rue La Glacière in Paris. He made his debut in 1893 at the Salon of Independent Artists, displaying several paintings depicting street scenes of the neighborhood surrounding his art studio. One of those paintings, titled “Sur LeBoulevard” (On The Boulevard, 1893) was noted by the art critic Félix Fénéon. During this early period in his career, Valtat used the spontaneous light touches of Impressionism (although with bordered objects) and the colourful dots found in Pointillism. Two examples representing Valtat’s work during this period include “Péniches” (Barges, 1892) and the “Pommiers” (The Apple Trees, 1894). As noted by Cogniat, Péniches has the impressionistic rendering of the mobile reflections of rippling water while Pommiers is alive with the dazzling brilliance of sunlit reds and yellows intensified by the stippled strokes of green.

Valtat exhibited widely during his career. In 1894, he collaborated with both Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Albert André in creating the décor for the Paris theatre“L’Œuvre” at the request of Lugné Poë. Valtat suffered from tuberculosis, and he spent many autumn/winter seasons along the Mediterranean coast in Banyuls, Antheor and Saint-Tropez. Beginning in 1900, Valtat made several journeys by bicycle to visit Auguste Renoir at the Maison de la Poste in Cagnes. There, Valtat made several portrait drawings of Renoir on which he based a subsequent woodcut, and the two artists collaborated on a sculpture of Cézanne.

Another friend of Valtat was Paul Signac, whom he visited often, travelling in a small Bollée motorcar that he acquired about 1904 from Signac in exchange for his painting “Women at the Seashore”. During his time spent near the Mediterranean, Valtat intensified his use of colour and began to express his Fauvist tendencies, particularly in painting seascapes. Art historian Natalie Henderson Lee identifies Valtat as a “proto-Fauve”, although he remained somewhat apart from the Fauve group, and never adopted their extreme boldness in the treatment of form and colour.

After 1914 he worked in Paris and in areas near Rouen and Versailles. The subjects of his paintings included flowers, landscapes, and scenes of contemporary life, and he produced many prints. Valtat continued to paint until 1948, when the glaucoma from which he had suffered for several years resulted in the loss of his sight. He died on 2 January 1952 in Paris.

The painting above is his “Landscape with Violet Irises” of 1903. The colour is intense and vibrant and the painting is full of the intense Mediterranean light of springtime. The paint is applied in daubs and intense flowing brushstrokes, especially when rendering the flowers. The blues and violets draw the eye, while in counterpoint above them the greenery and trees provide some rest, while leading to the sea, seen in the distance in a cleared section in the centre. Almost abstract, this canvas shows Valtat’s stylistic borrowings and how he has made those his own.


  1. Perfect timing... I have been thinking about Georgia O'Keeffe for weeks now!

    Why might we not have heard about Valtat, do you think? He studied at the right place (Académie Julian). He met the artists we would expect like Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard (1868–1940). He visited Auguste Renoir in Cagnes and was well aware of the work by Paul Gauguin. I realise artists wax and wane in national or international popularity, but why do I not even know Valtat's story?

  2. Thank you for the introduction to this wonderful painter. A new one for me too.