In the 1890s, the French Divisionist painter Henri Martin (1860–1943) didn’t just paint Symbolist motifs, but many superb landscapes, mainly in the countryside near Labastide, in the foothills of the Pyrenees and near the Spanish border. This second article shows a small sample of what was one of his most productive periods, the final few years of the nineteenth century.
His unique facture is shown in the texture of his Goatherd in Front of an Old House in Labastide (c 1890-1900).
In areas he applied small dots, typical of the Divisionists, but in others his brushstrokes merged into larger, smoother passages, as in his Couple in Conversation in Front of the Farm (c 1890-1900).
He also explored the momentary effects of light, as in his The Green Valley at Dawn (c 1890-1900), which is reminiscent of some of Monet’s early series paintings.
Throughout his career, Martin painted scenes from Dante’s Divine Comedy. This colour lithograph refers to the end of the middle book Purgatory, in which Dante is reunited with his beloved Beatrice, who leads him through the final book, Paradise.
His Serenity, or The Sacred Wood, from 1899, is based on a passage from Book 6 of Virgil’s Aeneid, previously a popular source for narrative painting. Martin’s treatment is high Symbolist.
The Arbor in Summer is another good example of his mature Divisionist style, and is one of a group of related paintings showing a strangely deserted arbor.
Martin’s Shepherd and His Three Muses from 1900 floats three of his classical wingless muses above a young shepherd who is playing to his flock on his pipes.
His modified ‘pointillism’ enabled the use of intense colour, as in another painting in his Arbor series from 1900.
He uses longer brushstrokes in his Autumn Dream, from the same year, to model trees and the woman’s dress, merging them into continuous areas without any intervening ground.
Unlike mainstream Divisionists, Martin frequently uses contrasting facture for different passages in the same painting. This is shown well in Beauty (1900) where it’s used to depict the textures of hair, flesh, fabric, and flowers.
Use of modern high-chroma pigments enabled the intense colours In The Garden (c 1900).
At the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, Martin was awarded the Grand Prix, which sealed his reputation. So far, though, his work had consisted of easel paintings. He was about to enter a period in which his monumental paintings came to decorate important buildings throughout France.
Wikipedia (in French).