Henri Martin: the Divisionist Symbolist 3

Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin (1860–1943), Le Pont à Labastide-du-Vert (The Bridge at Labastide-du-Vert) (c 1920), oil, dimensions not known, Musée de Cahors Henri-Martin, Cahors, France. Wikimedia Commons.

In the few years before the twentieth century, Henri Martin had dazzled viewers of his easel paintings with the unusual combination of landscapes and Symbolist motifs rendered in his unique Divisionist style. Thanks perhaps to his former teacher Jean-Paul Laurens, and his own recognition at the Exposition Universelle of 1900, Martin received several commissions to paint large works for public buildings, including the Sorbonne in Paris (1908), City Hall in Paris, a room in the Élysée Palace (1908), and the French National Council of State Chamber (1914-22) in the Palais-Royal. The last are particularly impressive, and difficult to photograph.

martinprofilauvoile
Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin (1860–1943), Profil au voile (Veiled Profile) (1902), oil, dimensions not known, Musée de Cahors Henri-Martin, Cahors, France. Wikimedia Commons.

His startling Profil au voile (Veiled Profile) (1902) has very different textures in its different surfaces.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, Martin painted a series of very large canvases for the Capitole de Toulouse, a palatial city hall which had been extensively redesigned in the nineteenth century. Here I show two of its most impressive paintings.

Capitole Toulouse - Salle Henri-Martin - L'été par Henri Martin
Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin (1860–1943), Summer, or Mowers (1903), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Capitole de Toulouse, Toulouse, France. Image by Didier Descouens, via Wikimedia Commons.

Martin painted Summer, or Mowers in 1903, a work which must be one of the largest surviving Symbolist paintings. Several small clusters of men are cutting the hay in this meadow with their scythes, as three young women are dancing in a ring on the bed of flowers, and another sits nursing an infant. As the detail below reveals, the whole image has been built from Martin’s fine strokes of rich colour, to make the view shimmer in the late afternoon sunlight.

Capitole Toulouse - Salle Henri-Martin - L'été par Henri Martin
Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin (1860–1943), Summer, or Mowers (detail) (1903), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Capitole de Toulouse, Toulouse, France. Image by Didier Descouens, via Wikimedia Commons.
Capitole Toulouse - Salle Henri-Martin - Les Bords de la Garonne, Les promeneurs ou Les reveurs par Henri Martin
Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin (1860–1943), The Banks of the Garonne, Walkers or Dreamers (1906), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Capitole de Toulouse, Toulouse, France. Image by Didier Descouens, via Wikimedia Commons.

Then in 1906 Martin accompanied it with The Banks of the Garonne, Walkers or Dreamers, a view of the river running through his native city of Toulouse. The figures on promenade form an odd collection. From the left, they are

  • Gilbert Martin, eldest son of the artist,
  • René Martin, the other son of the artist,
  • Bellery-Desfontaine, a local decorator and painter,
  • Jean-Paul Laurens, Martin’s teacher, who came from near Toulouse,
  • William Viénot,
  • Henri Marre, a painter,
  • Marie Martin, the artist’s wife,
  • René Martin a second time,
  • an unknown man,
  • Emilio Boggio, a Venezuelan painter,
  • Jean Jaurès, a Socialist politician who was assassinated in Paris in 1914.
Capitole Toulouse - Salle Henri-Martin - Les Bords de la Garonne, Les promeneurs ou Les reveurs par Henri Martin
Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin (1860–1943), The Banks of the Garonne, Walkers or Dreamers (detail) (1906), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Capitole de Toulouse, Toulouse, France. Image by Didier Descouens, via Wikimedia Commons.
martinlabastideduvert
Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin (1860–1943), View of Labastide-du-Vert (1910), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Gent, Belgium. Wikimedia Commons.

Martin had already fallen in love with the deep countryside near the river Lot at Labastide-du-Vert, to the north of the city of Toulouse, in the southwest of France. Visits there resulted in landscapes such as his View of Labastide-du-Vert (1910). When the First World War broke out in 1914, he moved there from Paris, and there he remained for the next four years.

martinchaumieresspring
Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin (1860–1943), Thatched Cottages in Spring (1910), media and dimensions not known, Musée d’Unterlinden, Colmar, France. Image by Gzen92, via Wikimedia Commons.

Thatched Cottages in Spring is another of his landscapes from this area, painted in the same year.

martinroofsparis
Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin (1860–1943), Paris Roofs Under the Snow (c 1910), oil on canvas, 78 x 98 cm, Musée d’art moderne et contemporain de Strasbourg (MAMCS). Image by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, via Wikimedia Commons.

In this same period, Martin painted Paris Roofs Under the Snow (c 1910), reminiscent of the classically Impressionist view of the capital, View of Roofs (Effect of Snow) painted by Gustave Caillebotte in 1878.

martinpontlabastideduvert
Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin (1860–1943), Le Pont à Labastide-du-Vert (The Bridge at Labastide-du-Vert) (c 1920), oil, dimensions not known, Musée de Cahors Henri-Martin, Cahors, France. Wikimedia Commons.

Although he continued to paint in other genres still, in the period between the wars he painted many views of Labastide, including The Bridge at Labastide-du-Vert (c 1920).

martinbarquescollioure
Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin (1860–1943), Barques à Collioure (Boats at Collioure) (c 1920), oil, dimensions not known, Musée de Cahors Henri-Martin, Cahors, France. Wikimedia Commons.

Martin also travelled to the French Mediterranean coast near the Spanish border, where he painted Boats at Collioure in about 1920.

martinmonumentauxmorts
Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin (1860–1943), Le Monument aux morts (The Memorial) (1932), oil, dimensions not known, Musée de Cahors Henri-Martin, Cahors, France. Wikimedia Commons.

Probably the last of his major public commissions, The Memorial (1932) is a triptych with a single continuous scene, which Martin painted for the town of Cahors in southwest France.

martinchampselysees
Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin (1860–1943), Etude pour les Champs Elysées (Study for Les Champs Elysées) (1939), oil, dimensions not known, Musée de Cahors Henri-Martin, Cahors, France. Wikimedia Commons.

Study for Les Champs Elysées (1939) shows how he continued to use fine brushstrokes long after Neo-Impressionism had vanished. That same year, he finally retired to Labastide-du-Vert, where he died in 1943.

The paintings of Henri Martin are a well-kept secret. Sometimes criticised for not being particularly innovative or original, I hope these examples have shown otherwise.

The largest public collection is in the town of Cahors, with its superb mediaeval bridge, not far from Martin’s favourite Labastide-du-Vert. At the moment, the museum is closed for refurbishment. When it re-opens, I think it will be well worth a visit.

Reference

Wikipedia (in French).