HENRI LE SIDANER
A contemporary of the Post-Impressionists, Henri Le Sidaner’s approach to painting is whole heartedly unique. His technique was often close to Pointillism, but Le Sidaner did not share the Pointillists’ love of colour, preferring greys and opals to create mystery and atmosphere. Instead, he used Pointillist techniques to make the surfaces of his paintings shimmer and blur.Following a short move to Bruges in 1898, where he eloped with his future wife, he developed his own personal brand of melancholy. Le Sidaner became a master of shadow and the velvety darkness of twilight and darkness, illuminated by moonlight reflected off snow or by a solitary light shining through a window.
Le Sidaner’s paintings and pastels were widely collected throughout his career. His domesticated scenes of his garden at Gerberoy in northern France were popular with British and American collectors. His seductive views of the gardens he created in the ruins of the medieval fortress at Gerberoy, with their recently vacated tables dappled in sunlight and overhung by roses, would cement his reputation as a unique and unclassifiable artist.Henri Le Sidaner was born in Port Louis, Mauritius and spent his early years with his family in the West Indies before they returned to their native France in 1872. He first studied art with the historical painter Alexandre Desmit in 1877 and then, with artist Alexandre Cabanel, from 1882 at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. While at the Ecole, Le Sidaner often retreated to Etaples on the northern coast of France, where he felt released from the Ecole's strict routine of copying art in the Louvre Museum. In 1887 Le Sidaner's figurative paintings set in Etaples were exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Francais. They were well received, and by 1891 the Salon had awarded him a bronze medal.
After 1900, Henri Le Sidaner turned from figurative painting to landscapes, gardens and interiors. He became well known for his moody scenes of urban and rural houses bathed in twilight and moonlight, undisturbed by human figures. He also painted scenes from his own home and gardens. He frequently worked from memory, and in his acute observations and selection from nature his working methods had much in common with those of Whistler. Having started his career as a naturalistic figure painter, during the 1890's Le Sidaner's work became progressively more symbolist.
After 1900 Le Sidaner moved to Beauvais, 45 miles north of Paris, and within a couple of years he settled nearby at the picturesque hill-top village of Gerberoy. Although he had such a personal style of painting, many followers were attracted to Gerberoy and the village soon became re-populated as a colony of artists with Le Sidaner reluctantly at its head.Le Sidaner's art was greatly admired, and by 1897 he exhibited regularly in one-man shows in Paris, London, Brussels and the United States. In 1930 he was knighted with the Legion d'Honneur and elected a member of the Academie des Beaux-Arts. He died in Versailles in 1939. Following a move to Bruges in 1898 with his future wife he developed the more personal brand of melancholy that was to make his name. In the nocturne he found an effect of light sidelined by Impressionism, and made it his own, becoming a master of twilight and darkness, often with a solitary light shining through a window. Although his technique was often close to Pointillism, Le Sidaner did not share the Pointillists’ love of colour, preferring greys and opals to create mystery and atmosphere.
Instead, he used Pointillist techniques to make the surfaces of his paintings shimmer and blur. Le Sidaner is also often referred to as a Symbolist, though his work largely stops short of the overt imagery of those painters, content with an enigmatic feeling of absence, as human figures are only rarely present in his paintings. Perhaps he is closest to being an Intimist – an artist who captures the light and atmosphere of fleeting moments with rich but toned down colour, although this is a vague definition in itself.
He also built a following in Britain and America during this time for his paintings of domesticated nature. His seductive views of the gardens he created in the ruins of the medieval fortress at Gerberoy, with their recently vacated tables dappled in sunlight and overhung by roses, would cement his reputation as a unique and unclassifiable artist. He worked in the realist style, but his love of penumbra and twilight create a poetic and dreamy quality to his technical expertise. There is also undoubtedly an influence of optics on Le Sidaner’s work. The atmosphere of his paintings, whether they are landscapes or still lifes result from both his delicate style of painting and his choice of subjects.