Antoine Blanchard (1910-1988) was a prolific and successful Neo-Impressionist painter who specialized in nostalgic scenes of Fin de Siècle Paris. Inspired by the subjects, as well as the success of earlier painters of Parisian life, like Eugene Galien Laloue, Eduard Cortes, Jean Béraud and Luigi Loir, Blanchard painted hundreds of views of the “City of Light.”
Antoine Blanchard was born Marcel Masson, the son of a furniture maker who lived in the scenic Loire Valley, south of Paris. The date that is usually given for Blanchard’s birth is November 15, 1910, but some of the facts of his life have always been clouded by early biographies that claimed even earlier dates for his birth, probably so that he would seem to be seen as a contemporary of the famous Belle Epoch painters rather than a follower. Blanchard grew up in the years following the First World War. His artistic talent was evident from a young age and Blanchard was sent to the nearby city of Blois, the capital of the Loire-et-Cher Département, for artistic training and then to the École des Beaux-Arts in Rennes, on the Brittany peninsula, where he received a classical art education.
Shortly before the start of the Second World War, Blanchard married, but was not long after drafted for service in the French Army and participated in the short and futile struggle against the invading German Panzers before returning to his family and his art during the Nazi occupation. A daughter, Nicole, was born in 1944 with a second daughter, Eveline, following in 1946. Blanchard’s early art career following the War was interrupted by the necessity of keeping his father’s workshop running in the years after his death but by the late 1940s Blanchard had returned to his art and moved to Paris in order to further his career.
Marcel Masson adopted the pseudonym Antoine Blanchard in the 1950s. The reasoning behind which is unknown, but the practice was not unusual for French painters. In most cases a pseudonym was adopted because the artist had contractual obligations with more than one agent or dealer. Another motivation could be to obscure the scope of a sizable artistic production. Or, like many painters before him Blanchard may have initially painted different subjects under different names. Blanchard would have been well aware that the famous and prolific French painter Eugene Galien Laloue painted under no less than four names – three pseudonyms in addition to name he was christened with – and so the adoption of another name was probably not seen as a liability to him. Inspired by the Paris street scenes of Edouard Cortes, Blanchard began to specialise in scenes of la ville des lumières, or the “City of Light.”
Instead of painting contemporary Paris, the crowded metropolis of his own time, Blanchard chose to capture the French capital in its golden years prior to the First World War, and gained popularity for his depictions of the hurly-burly life of Belle Epoch Paris. Blanchard collected old postcards of life in La Belle Époque to provide inspiration and also studied the work of French artists including Loir, Baraud, Laloue and Cortes. Blanchard’s early work was evidently modeled after the paintings of Edouard Cortes, with a darker palette and bold red and blue tones that became more muted in his later work. Blanchard’s brushwork was painterly, but the buildings in the paintings were always well-rendered, for he had an excellent command of perspective. By the late 1950s, Blanchard’s street scenes had become immensely popular, with great demand by both British and American collectors.
Towards the end of the 1960s Blanchard’s developed a more mature style employing a lighter, brighter, palette and a deft, almost calligraphic style of brushwork. These delicate, feathery pastel-toned scenes of rain-swept Paris were highly sought after and his work began to be reproduced extensively. When he died, Blanchard was considered the last of the Ecole de Paris or “School of Paris” painters, and his popularity today indicates the timeless nature of his visions of the city.