Edmond Marie Petitjean (1844 – 1925) was born in 1844 in Neufchâteau in Eastern France to a wealthy family. His father, a local lawyer, resolutely refused to allow his son to study art until he had completed his legal studies. After he was sent to Paris to be apprenticed as a notary, he began to spend increasing time teaching himself to paint and studying works in museums; when his parents withdrew his financial support, the artist found factory work in Nancy until he was able to afford painting supplies. After initially exhibiting in Lorraine, Petitjean would make his debut at the Paris Salon in 1873, and from this point the artist would settle in Paris.
Petitjean’s renown as a landscapist also led his being commissioned for two important decorative projects. In 1889 he provided pictorial schemes for multiple pavilions at that year’s World Fair under the shadow of the newly unveiled Eifel Tower, winning a silver medal for his work. in 1900 Petitjean was asked to decorate the ‘Golden Room’ in Le Train Bleu, the restaurant at the Gare de Lyon, as part of a project in which 25 leading artists created sumptuous interiors for the grand dining halls. The entire ensemble, with Petitjean’s works depicting the south of France at its centre, can still be seen in its entirety today. The artist’s cycle of works would win him the gold medal at that year’s World Fair. Alongside his numerous medals at the Salon, these major commissions demonstrate that the artist was seen as one of the nation’s leading landscape painters, a status further solidified by the award of the Legion d’Honneur in 1892.
Despite what his numerous awards might suggest, Petitjean always strove to avoid becoming an institution, preferring to continually reinvent his own subtle style; his observations about his craft are enlightening:
“in my painting I have searched passionately for perfection, delicacy, tenderness of expression and tone; I feel that it might all crumble and become insipid in the Salons where, in order to fight one’s way to the top, one must be violent”
While Petitjean might have received plaudits for his works, and gained a seat on the Salon committee, his resolute commitment to subtlety and nuance always set him apart. In his half-century career, he brought these traits to his studies of the French countryside, continually travelling to find the moments of calm and tranquillity that he so effortlessly conveyed again and again in his works.