Versatile at every turn, Albert Marquet is a master of style. His paintings reflect elements of different artistic schools from Fauvism to Post-Impressionism, while retaining a distinctive ‘Marquet’ quality. This has made the artist difficult to classify in the past – but a new exhibition at Paris’ Musee d’Art Moderne, a monographic retrospective featuring over a hundred of Marquet’s paintings, helps to mount the story behind his multi-faceted oeuvre.
Marquet was born in Bordeaux in 1875, the dawn of modernism; by the time he moved to Paris to study art at the Ecole des Arts Decoratif 1890, he was in the very midst of the radical and experimental innovation that characterised this era. The fact that his life and career would progress alongside some of the key artistic developments of the century does much to explain the evolution of his aesthetic. The exhibition is chronologically organised to illustrate the gradual impact of these changes.
Marquet’s subsequent years at the Ecole des Beaux Arts were particularly formative. Taught by Gustav Moreau, who strongly encouraged artists to study the masters while also developing their own individual style, his contemporaries included Georges Roualt, Henri Manguin, and Henri Matisse, who became a lifelong friend. After exhibiting their work together in 1905, critics labelled them “les fauves” (“wild beasts”) owing to their aggressive use of colour and simplification of shapes – the start of a movement subsequently known as Fauvism.
You can trace Marquet’s early dabbling with Fauvism in the vivid, bold brushstrokes of Nude (1898). This might seem far removed from the more restrained, serene aura of his later works, but his aesthetic kept hold of many of the basic principles of Fauvism. All of his works are to an extent underpinned by extreme formal simplicity, improvised appearance and mastery of colour. In particular, you can see how Fauvism began to shape his early depiction of seascapes in The Louvre Embankment (1905) and The Port, Le Havre (1906).
Indeed, it is as a landscape artist that Marquet has become best known. At the end of 1907 he stayed in Paris to paint a series of city views alongside Matisse, such as The Seine at Paris and Notre Dame, before travelling prolifically across Europe. He was consistently interested in sea harbours and window views, visiting places such as Venice, Naples and Algiers (where he lived between 1940 and 1945), and each of his paintings responded very sensitively to different atmospheric conditions and lighting.
This is the period which saw Marquet hone his eventual naturalistic and subdued style. When cross-referenced with the paintings by Matisse in 1907, which remained brightly hued and more abstract in shape, Marquet’s colours became slightly greyed and his perspective more linear. As illustrated in Le remorqueur à Triel (1935) and Le jardin au Pyla (1935) his work began to evoke the classical composure of Jean-Baptiste-Camile Corot, a painter he admired.
Among Marquet’s many qualities as an artist, he is most celebrated for his rendering of the effects of light. He was particularly proficient at capturing the silvery quality of light reflecting on water, as with the Port of Marseilles (1916) and La Plage de La Goulette (1926); he would apply light layers of paint over the scene to create a muted effect, and return to paint the same scene at different hours of the day. It’s testament the mature delicacy of his artwork, particularly when compared to his Fauvist beginnings.
Retrospectives can sometimes expose the monotony of an artist’s career, as their collection of paintings slowly blurs into one indistinct whole. Not for Marquet. In fact, his has the opposite effect; side by side, his works thrive, as their subtle shifts in style come to life. He may be considered a minor painter compared to the likes of Matisse, but his talent is no less plain – and this exhibition puts him rightfully back on the map.