A Weekend with Maximilien Luce’s ‘muscular’ paintings 2

Maximilien Luce (1858–1941), The Gare de l'Est in Snow (1917), oil on canvas, 130 x 162 cm, Musée de l'Hôtel-Dieu, Mantes-la-Jolie, France. Wikimedia Commons.

In the first of these two articles celebrating the life and art of Maximilien Luce (1858–1941), I had reached the turn of the century, the mid-point of his life, as he was abandoning the slowly sinking ship of Neo-Impressionism for the uncharted waters of Post-Impressionism.

Maximilien Luce (1858–1941), Quai Saint-Michel and Notre-Dame (1901), oil on canvas, 73 x 60 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

Luce painted several views of the cathedral of Notre-Dame and central Paris, of which his Quai Saint-Michel and Notre-Dame from 1901 is perhaps the best-known. His city views were usually densely populated, much as Pissarro’s.

Maximilien Luce (1858–1941), The Pile Drivers (1902-3), oil on canvas, 153 x 195 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

The Pile Drivers (1902-3) is another of his explorations of the working life of the common man in Paris. Construction work in the French capital continued to be active in the early twentieth century, and Luce painted its many different facets. Note the factories on the opposite bank, infiltrating the surrounding residential and commercial districts.

Maximilien Luce (1858–1941), Landscape at Méréville (1904), oil on board, 30.8 x 47.3 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Landscape at Méréville from 1904 is an oil sketch showing his style and brushwork becoming increasingly Post-Impressionist. This town is to the south of Paris.

Maximilien Luce (1858–1941), A Street in Paris in May 1871 (The Commune) (1903-6), oil on canvas, 151 mm x 225 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

Although only a boy at the time, Luce must have retained vivid memories of the Paris Commune of 1871, which followed the Franco-Prussian War. He finally committed these into paint in his A Street in Paris in May 1871 (also known as The Commune) (1903-6). By this time he had abandoned Divisionist technique completely.

Maximilien Luce (1858–1941), Bathers at Saint-Tropez (c 1909), oil on canvas, 110 x 150.1 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Luce continued to visit the Mediterranean coast of France, where he painted these Bathers at Saint-Tropez in about 1909. His colours are considerably less brash and dazzling than other former Neo-Impressionists like Théo van Rysselberghe who painted there at the time.

Maximilien Luce (1858–1941), Construction Site (1911), oil on canvas, 73 x 60 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

Construction Site (1911) is another depiction of those at work in Paris at the time, and shows more of the high chroma influence of the Fauves.

Maximilien Luce (1858–1941), End of the Day. Cement Carriers (date not known), oil on canvas, 24.3 x 41.6 cm, Musée de Grenoble, Grenoble, France. Wikimedia Commons.

Luce’s undated End of the Day. Cement Carriers is an oil sketch from this period, showing a group of labourers responsible for unloading cargos of cement for building and civil engineering work in the city of Paris.

Maximilien Luce (1858–1941), The Execution of Varlin (1914-17), oil on canvas, 89 × 116 cm, Musee de l’Hotel-Dieu, Beaune, France.

The Execution of Varlin (1914-17) is a second historical painting from the Paris Commune of 1871. Eugène Varlin was a political activist who had started his career as a bookbinder, and become a socialist revolutionary and pioneer trade unionist. During the siege of Paris by the Prussians in 1870, he had distributed aid from his co-operative restaurant.

In March 1871, Varlin took part in the storming of the Place Vendôme, following which he was elected to the Council of the Paris Commune. In ‘Bloody Week’ in May, he fought against government troops. When the Commune was suppressed and broken, he was captured, taken to Montmartre, tortured and blinded by a mob, and finally shot, as shown here.

Maximilien Luce (1858–1941), La Gare de l’Est (1917), oil on canvas, 129.5 x 161.5 cm, Musée de l’Armée, Paris. By Ji-Elle, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luce was one of the most expressive artists, who wasn’t an official war artist, to show scenes relating to the First World War. In his La Gare de l’Est (1917), a collection of wounded and battle-weary soldiers are shown at the entrance to this large Paris railway station.

Maximilien Luce (1858–1941), The Gare de l’Est in Snow (1917), oil on canvas, 130 x 162 cm, Musée de l’Hôtel-Dieu, Mantes-la-Jolie, France. Wikimedia Commons.

The Gare de l’Est in Snow (1917) is even better-known, and a classic painting of falling snow in a large city.

Maximilien Luce (1858–1941), Méricourt, a Sunday by the Seine (1929), oil on canvas, 46.2 x 81 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Luce continued to paint after the First World War. An example of his work from this period is this view of Méricourt, a Sunday by the Seine, painted in 1929. This is set well downstream and to the west of the city of Paris. The family enjoying the weekend sunshine is wearing relatively modern dress, although one of the women still shades herself with a parasol.

Luce died in 1941, during the occupation of Paris. Although his career had been long, and he had produced many fine paintings, it wasn’t until 1997 that his work appeared in a major retrospective exhibition in America. He remains badly under-appreciated today.