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a word on art

Gustave Loiseau-Peupliers sur les bords de l’Yonne

“I would attribute only one quality to myself: that of being sincere. I work in privacy, when able, and strive to translate as best I can the impressions I receive from nature.”

-Gustave Loiseau to Thiébault-Sisson, 1930.



Provenance

 Durand-Ruel, Paris; acquired from the artist on 24 July 1907.

Durand-Ruel, New York; acquired from the above in October 1908.

Schoneman Gallery, New Work; acquired from the above on 21 October 1946.

Private Collection, Beatriz Arsimendi de Plaza and Jose Luis Plaza, Venezuala.

Private Collection; acquired as a gift from the above.

Gladwell & Patterson, London; acquired from the above in 2022.

 


Exhibited

Durand-Ruel, Paris, Tableaux par Gustave Loiseau, 1908, no. 8.

 

This work will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné being prepared by Didier Imbert.



Introduction

One of the foremost Post-Impressionist painters, Gustave Loiseau was profoundly influenced by the great masterpieces of the Impressionists. A champion of painting the landscape en plein air, Loiseau embraced the use of bold colour as he explored and expanded the Impressionist style.


Peupliers sur les bords de l’Yonne reveals the masterful treatment of one of Loiseau’s most emblematic subjects: poplars by a riverside. It stands as a wonderful evocation of the French countryside at the pinnacle of Loiseau’s Impressionist manner. In his focus upon poplars as a subject, Loiseau pays homage to the landscapes of Alfred Sisley and Claude Monet; most notably the latter is series of twenty-four views of poplars on the bank of the Epte in the spring of 1891.


The evocative composition of Peupliers sur les bords de l’Yonne depicts a bright summers day on the banks of the Yonne, upstream from the town of Auzerre. The current work is a rare example of one of the few river scenes that the artist produced outside of Auxerre in 1907, and stands as a wonderful evocation of the French countryside at the pinnacle of Loiseau’s Impressionist manner.




Auxerre

At the height of Loiseau’s career, he delighted in visiting the picturesque towns and river valleys across France in search of new subject matter to enthral Durand-Ruel and his established clientele. From May to August 1907 Loiseau is recorded as staying in the town of Auxerre on the River Yonne, a tributary to the Seine which flows southeast from Paris into Burgundy. The gothic Cathédrale Saint-Étienne d’Auxerre dominates the skyline of this picturesque city. Masterful evocations of Auxerre with its splendid Cathedral and serene landscapes of the River Yonne dominated Loiseau’s output during his visits to the region. He was so taken that he returned the following summer in August 1908 and later in 1912.


Peupliers sur les bords de l’Yonne was painted during his first visit to the city in 1907, when Loiseau stayed at an address at 5 rue Étienne Dolet on the east bank of the Yonne. This location afforded him uninterrupted views across the river to the apse of the Cathedral which provided the artist with ample opportunity to capture the splendor of the Gothic building reflected in the dappled water of the Yonne beneath. Unsurprisingly Loiseau painted this scene many times over the course of his stay in Auxerre and his views of the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne dominate many of the works from both 1907 and 1908.


Peupliers sur les bords de l’Yonne is a rare example of one of the few river scenes that the artist produced outside of Auxerre in 1907, although the location clearly resonated with the artist as he returned to this setting far more often on his 1908 visit. Loiseau painted in the deep rural countryside some miles outside the city, following the Yonne until he found the perfect mixture of poplars and peasant dwellings. The artist’s works from this period from 1907 to 1908 represent perhaps his most naturalistic output, characterized by an unprecedented sharpness of brushwork and an unusual degree of tonal realism in his palette.


Loiseau had honed this new approach through his numerous depictions of the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne across the Yonne, and they demonstrate the same subtle coloring and clarity that define Peupliers sur les bords de l’Yonne. In these cathedral paintings [Fig. 1] we can see multiple similarities in brushwork and atmospheric tones between these works and Loiseau’s river scene, with the same predominance of blues, greens and browns. Loiseau’s paintings from this Auxerre period are also characterised by a more intensely worked sky, predicated on a lattice of near vertical brushstrokes which deliver a complex variety of blue tones. Given that the majority of Loiseau’s works from his forty year career are predicated on the use of bright primary highlights, this naturalistic two year period stands out even more within the artist’s oeuvre.


Painted upstream from Auxerre, Peupliers sur les bords de l’Yonne is devoid of any human figures, Loiseau instead focuses on the fleeting light effects and gentle calm of the flowing river. The dappled reflections on the surface of the water are beautifully rendered in loose brushstrokes of thickly applied impasto oil paint. The layered impasto creates a distinction between land, water and sky as well as recreating the texture of the grasses, trees, and houses on the opposite bank. The painting resonates with the atmospheric quality of a warm summers day with a light breeze. The broad expanse of the river Yonne in the foreground delights the senses as Loiseau superbly captures the rippling effect of a warm breeze blowing across the surface of the water. This still and serene landscape is animated by the movement of the clouds in the sky, painted with longer, loose brushstrokes than their reflections in the water below, evoking a calming ambiance. Loiseau masterly depicted the clouded sky and abundant foliage with the use of delicate feathered brushstrokes, reminiscent of Monet’s technique.



 

Poplars

Peupliers sur les bords de l’Yonne reveals the masterful treatment of one of Loiseau’s most emblematic subjects: poplars by a riverside. In his focus upon poplars as a subject, Loiseau pays homage to the landscapes of Alfred Sisley and Claude Monet; most notably the latter’s series of twenty-four views of poplars on the bank of the Epte in the spring of 1891. Focused upon a single compositional device, Loiseau thoroughly investigated the different atmospheric conditions of one view point or landscape, capturing his subject in contrasting seasons in his work at the turn of the century.


With their strict linearity and intrinsic decorative elegance, poplar trees were a favoured artistic motif in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Their slender height is often the only vertical compositional feature to be found in rural imagery, meaning that they tend to represent the best way to balance the strong horizontals typically found in riverscapes.


A quintessential feature of rural France, poplars were often placed along roads and at the entrances of estates. They were used as windshields for tilled fields and as a form of fencing to demarcate property lines, and were planted along the banks of rivers to diminish the possibility of flooding. Moreover, the poplar tree had been deemed the tree of liberty after the French Revolution, possibly because of the derivation of the name from the Latin populus, meaning both "people" and "popular." The trees therefore combine both a strong compositional appeal with a contextual significance for the French nation, both of which assure their iconic status for modern painting.


Duvivier argues that after 1905, Loiseau began to increasingly focus on a smaller group of emblematic subjects, studying them more deeply and recording them throughout the changing seasons.[1] In the artist’s early phase (1898 to 1905), Loiseau would travel much more widely, painting Breton harbour scenes one month, cliffs at Etretat the next, and then return to Vaudreuil or Pontoise to paint riverbanks. While this extensive output allowed the still maturing artist to hone his compositional skills, the change after 1905 prompted a deepening understanding of his craft. Peupliers sur les bords de l’Yonne is therefore one of the first expressions of the artist’s new attitude. Painted in 1907, this work stands as a wonderful evocation of the French countryside at the pinnacle of Loiseau’s Impressionist manner.


[1] C. Duvivier, Gustave Loiseau – Paysages d’Île-de-France et de Normandie, Exh. Cat., Musée de Camille Pissarro, Pontoise, 2018, p.20.




Style and Technique

Loiseau’s use of dappled directional brushstrokes and his skilful handling of paint reveals his debt to the Impressionists. It was the ability to portray the effects of outdoor light that was of such importance to the Impressionists and which meant that the smoothness of the finished work, much valued in traditional painting, would give way for a more textured surface. Monet, Sisley and Pissarro applied paint with thick impasto brushstrokes to create texture and contrast throughout his compositions. Sisley referred to this as the animation of the surface and built-up layers of paint in response to the landscape in front of him.16 This free, broken brushstroke became one of the hallmarks of the Impressionists and was wholeheartedly embraced by Loiseau and his fellow Post-Impressionists. Following the example of his Impressionist forbears, through interweaving colours, and added texture, Loiseau built up his characteristic atmospheric landscapes.

 

The painting’s rich surface, composed using spontaneous brushwork and areas of thickly applied paint, exemplifies Loiseau’s experimental nature. This still and serene landscape is animated by the movement of the gently rolling clouds in the sky, painted with loose, featherlike brushstrokes. Transient images of foliage dotted on the riverbank are captured in spontaneous, almost brushed strokes in a pointillist manner. His technique and the chromatic variety of his palette express an extraordinary ability to synthesise Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.

 

While Loiseau often shied away from painting subjects in the midday light, preferring to work in the early morning or late evening, the present work sees the artist demonstrate his skill at representing direct sunlight. When compared to the often misty and atmospheric river scenes throughout Loiseau’s oeuvre, Peupliers sur les bords de l’Yonne is startling for its brightness and clarity. In fact, the overwhelming coloristic impression given is one of great warmth - the scene is bathed in bright, direct sunlight. Loiseau achieves this effect through the predominance of blues, greens and browns. While the artist’s output is often characterized by bright primary highlights and colour contrasts, during this period spent around Auxerre and the Yonne, Loiseau tended towards a far more naturalistic palette. Loiseau thus balances the intense draw of the dark green poplars with the overall dominance of blue in the work, the main band of green interrupting the continual sweep of blue that unites and mirrors sky and river. With the artist’s Pissarro-inspired brushwork, Loiseau then completes the painting by bathing this harmonious composition with an almost shimmering effect.



 

Conclusion

Encouraged and fostered by the most important figures of the art world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Loiseau painted this exquisite work at pinnacle of his Impressionist manner in the summer of 1907. The painting was subsequently acquired by Durand-Ruel on the 24th July, before the deep rich impasto oil paint was barely dry, revealing Durand-Ruel’s confidence in its commercial value. The brushwork and harmonious colour palette of Peupliers sur les bords de l’Yonne reveal Loiseau’s profound skill in capturing the ambiance of nature. The vibrating colour harmonies of the foliage on the river bank and the feathered brushstrokes of the gently sweeping clouds enliven this bright summer landscape.


Identifiable through a rich surface, composed using spontaneous brushwork as the pigment is layered upon the canvas, this masterful painting reveals Loiseau’s instinctive use of the Impressionist techniques of his forebears in his quest to capture nature as he experienced it en plein air.

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