“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.
Galerie Félix Vercel, Paris.
Private Collection, Paris; acquired from the above.
Private Collection, by descent from the above.
Sale; Artcurial, Paris, 4th December 2012, lot 65.
Private Collection, acquired at the above sale.
Sale; Sotheby’s, London, 1st Mar 2018, lot 367.
Private Collection, UK; acquired from the above.
The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Didier Imbert and this work is issued with a certificate of authenticity dated 2012.
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.
Rivière en Normandie 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.
A richly atmospheric painting, Rivière en Normandie captures the unique violet light of the late afternoon, delineated through a complex matrix of purple brushstrokes with which Loiseau suffuses the vivid green banks of River Eure.
Loiseau and the Eure
The Eure, a tributary of the Seine which runs between Normandy and Centre-Val de Loire in north-western France, was a favoured theme to which Loiseau returned on many occasions throughout his artistic career. The River Eure is crossed by the picturesque village of Saint-Cyr-du-Vaudreuil, where Loiseau settled at the turn of the century with his wife Marie Michaud. Only a few kilometres from the River Seine, the area offered a wealth of inspiration for a follower of the Impressionists. Vaudreuil was ideally situated on the train line that ran between Paris and Le Havre, which allowed a fast route to the city or the coast whenever the artist so required it. This area, around Vaudreuil, therefore formed the nucleus of Loiseau’s art for the majority of his career. In particular, amongst the artist’s favoured river scenes, the Eure dominates Loiseau’s pictorial output to a far greater extent than any other waterway.
Consequently, the depictions of the River Eure stand out amongst Loiseau’s oeuvre; no other subject matter offers such a complete illustration of the artists manner over the course of his career. In its combination of profuse poplars and alders that line its banks, and the enchanting reflections afforded by its calm surface, the Eure never failed to delight Loiseau’s artistic curiosity. Despite Loiseau being an artist who extensively travelled between regions, he would uniquely return to the area and paint the river every year between 1899 and 1932: a period which spans almost the entirety of his adult career.
Loiseau begun painting the River Eure and the village of Saint-Cyr in 1899. Correspondence between Joseph Durand-Ruel, the eldest son of Paul Durand-Ruel, and Loiseau in April 1900 reveals that Joseph had visited Loiseau at Saint-Cyr-du-Vaudreuil to view Loiseau’s latest paintings. Lacking in confidence, Loiseau appeared unsure of these latest works, however Joseph Durand-Ruel offered encouragement and ordered the artist to have the paintings wrapped up and sent to Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris where he assured Loiseau they would sell. Loiseau’s output in the following years reveals his affinity to this area and his delight at capturing the atmospheric changes to the landscape surrounding Saint-Cyr-du-Vaudreuil tirelessly into his old age.
In Loiseau’s earliest depictions between 1899 and 1903, he set up his easel on the bank of the River Eure and looked directly across at the poplars on the far side. These paintings, inspired by Claude Monet’s 1891 series of twenty-four views of poplars on the bank of the Epte, form almost abstract blocks of colour against an atmospheric backdrop, with a strong emphasis on the juxtaposition between the horizonal and vertical lines of the composition. Loiseau’s second approach to the subject was of a more classical composition; the artist set up his easel on the banks facing either up or down stream to capture the gentle curve of the flowing river framed by the grassy river bank and the abundance of poplars and alders, as vividly expressed in the present work. Where Loiseau’s early approach placed the primary visual emphasis on the poplars themselves, producing studies of their repeated verticality, his later views instead sought to capture the riverscape in its totality.
Creating Atmosphere: Style and Technique
As part of his project to capture more complex weather conditions and atmospheres than his Impressionist forebears, Loiseau often returned to his favourite settings multiple times. Loiseau thus painted the Eure in all seasons and at various times throughout the day; veiled by the morning mist, lit by bright sunlight or, as in Rivière en Normandie, in the complex purple light of the early evening. This view of the Eure, so loved by the artist, recalls the work of the Monet and Sisley in its themes and composition, however Loiseau’s technique and innovative brushwork adds a brilliant atmosphere and vibrancy to the composition which is entirely the artist’s own.
The broad expanse of the river in the foreground delights the senses as Loiseau superbly captures the rippling effect of a wind blowing across the surface of the water. This energetic landscape is animated by the movement of the rolling clouds in the sky, painted with longer, looser brushstrokes than their reflections in the water below. Where Loiseau delineates the foreground in straight vertical and horizontal touches, he instead conceives of his clouds as a cluster of circular strokes, suggesting a swirling and eddying movement of wind.
The way Loiseau has captured movement in Rivière en Normandie is outstanding. Swift brushstrokes dance across the canvas to the left, conveying the sway of the tall trees in the background. It seems that Loiseau must have sought to contrast the upper and lower registers of his painting. Where the sweep of foliage on the riverbank is captured in spontaneous, almost brushed strokes, the clouds and tops of the poplars are rendered in larger, more heavily worked patches of colour. Thus, where the foreground of the painting remains still, as the viewer’s gaze progresses up the canvas these larger strokes give an increasing impression of movement.
Even within the context of Loiseau’s love of saturated colour and complex atmospheric effects, Rivière en Normandie stands out as one of the artists most intense canvases. Between deep purples and violets, saturated greens, and harsh whites, Loiseau deploys the full complexity of his palette to dramatic effect; an effect only furthered by the vigorous, even turbulent brushwork. We need only compare this image to one of Loiseau’s earlier treatments of the subject painted in 1903, to reveal the true intensity of Rivière en Normandie.
Given the subject of the works, poplars by a river, the viewer is also immediately drawn to a comparison between Loiseau’s work and that of the great impressionist Claude Monet. Monet’s series of poplars, painted during the early 1890s, is perhaps the best-known treatment of this theme. Yet where Monet produced a dozen or so studies of the trees in a single year, Loiseau’s relationship with poplars spanned his entire career. From his earliest experiments in post-impressionist technique in the late 1890s, through to the confident fluidity of his mature works, Loiseau continually sought to both expand and refine his paintings of the subject.
Rivière en Normandie stands as a particularly pivotal treatment of poplars within Loiseau’s oeuvre. As has already been stated, this painting is startling in its vibrancy and colour, and in fact it marks a paradigm shift for the artist. Where the decade before this painting had seen Loiseau refining his Pissarro-inspired brushwork, around 1913 the artist rapidly began to adopt a much freer pictorial approach, characterised by a looser application of paint and a turn towards increasingly intense pigments. Rivière en Normandie therefore represents one of the first works in a period of great experiment throughout the 1910s, and is one of a small group of paintings that would set the tone for the rest of the artist’s career.