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