Mère et enfant au bord de la plage signed 'L. Valtat' (lower left) oil on canvas 25 x 33cm (9 13/16 x 13in). Painted circa 1900
PROVENANCE Maximilien Luce, Paris. Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 8 November 2007, lot 281. Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
This work is recorded in the archives of Les amis de Louis Valtat.
Depictions of the mother and child are unusual in Valtat's early work. It was only after the birth of his son Jean in 1908 that we see a new focus on young families, often tender portraits of his own wife Suzanne and their son. The small scale of Mère et enfant au bord de la plage reinforces the close bond between mother and infant, as she protectively shades her child with a parasol against the glaring heat of the sun, so vividly conjured by the artist's joyful palette.
Valtat's early compositions more commonly focussed on the urban landscape, inspired by the Parisian scenes he encountered while studying at the Académie Julian in 1892. There he befriended fellow artists Albert André, Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard, whose influence encouraged him to move away from the Impressionist tendencies of his early training. Thus his brushwork became more Pointillist in its application of pure colour, while his use of more vibrant pigments hinted at his future direction heralded by the first Fauve exhibition in 1905. This shift was amplified in the mid 1890s when, after developing tuberculosis, he increasingly abandoned Paris in favour of long retreats to the Mediterranean coast, where his palette intensified.
Avoiding the almost violent and aggressive use of colour sometimes associated with the Fauves however, Valtat here creates a warm light which suffuses the composition. While we know the subject to be the mother and child, the artist's all-over treatment of the canvas lends equal importance to the figures and setting, leading our eye around the picture. The expressive, short brushwork displayed here was replaced in Valtat's later work by greater emphasis on flat fields of paint and bold outlines.