Henri Martin (1860-1943)
Portrait of Odette
Signed. Painted in 1910
Oil on Board
18 x 21⅝ inches – 45.7 x 54.9 cms
‘Portrait of Odette’ dates to around 1910, a time at which Henri Martin had achieved significant success both on a reputational level with his gold medals at the Salon of 1889 and the Exposition Universelle of 1900, and commercially with his highly successful exhibition of that year, 1910, at the Galerie George Petit in Paris.
Martin was happily settled in his 17th century manor house, Marquayal, acquired in 1900, in the village of Labastide du Vert near Cahors, married and with four sons. Inspired by the landscape, his gardens and views from his terrace, Martin had abandoned his early academic style and the symbolist movement with which he had been aligned in the 1890’s. It was the landscape of the south, the people and their life and livelihood upon which he now drew for his subject matter.
‘Odette’, probably painted in his gardens at Marquayal, is almost contemporaneous in date with Martin’s ‘Self Portrait’ (Musee d’Orsay, Paris) of c1912. As in ‘Odette’ he utilizes a similar stylistic device of placing the subject in shadow in the frontal plane of the composition with the surrounding background flooded with sunlight. Both works exemplify Martin’s own individualistic version of neo-impressionism, a style created by Seurat (see ‘Une Basgnade Asnicres’ 1884 (National Gallery, London) and developed from impressionism in which short even brushstrokes are juxtaposed. It was a style with which Martin flirted some twenty years before, but here is seen in its maturity.
The years around 1910 and prior to the First World War saw Martin at his peak as an easel painter, the finest of his ‘Pergola’ paintings date from this period. The following decades see Martin achieve significant success, both as a mural painter and in producing large scale state commissions; compositions for town halls, Chambers of Commerce and institutions. While palette, style and colour of his easel paintings around 1910 presage those of the large scale works (see Chamber of Commerce, Beziers) the intensity of brushwork, the vivid use of colour and the bright southern light seen in the ‘Portrait of Odette’ and ‘Self Portrait’, produced at the height of the artist’s considerable powers do not carry over to the same degree in these sometimes immense compositions.
Private Collection, Monaco;
Private Collection, UK
Henri Martin entered l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Toulouse in 1877. Three years later in 1880 he first exhibited, at the exceptional age of twenty, at the Salon des Arts Français, and in 1883 won a first-class medal at the Salon. In 1885, Martin followed the well-trodden path to Italy with fellow painter Amand-Edmond Jean (1860-1935), a journey undertaken by numerous French artists who were encouraged by the state to study the Italian masters.
In 1899, his work “Serenité” was praised by no less than Puvis de Chavannes, further consolidating his reputation. In 1900 Martin’s career moved into the phase for which he is now justly renowned. He purchased ‘Marquayrol’ in La Bastide-du-Vert in Lot where he lived and painted for the rest of his long life. Marquayrol, an old farmhouse with a beautiful garden and extensive views provided much of his subject matter over the years to come. 1905 saw Martin elected as an Officer de la Legion d’Honneur and in 1907 “La Crepuscule” won the medal of honour at the Salon.
Martin was favoured with a number of State commissions including murals in the Capitole in Toulouse, a triptych for the staircase in the Prefecture du Lot in Cahors and in addition a war memorial for the same town. Martin exhibited at the Galerie Mancini in 1896; and in 1910 and 1926, exhibitions of his work were held at Galerie Georges Petit, and in 1935, a retrospective exhibition was held at the Musée du Petit Palais in Paris. Henri Martin was a symbolist; a painter of murals, but above all, an Impressionist and it is in this oeuvre that his reputation lies. A true painter of southern France, his paintings, particularly those of Marquayrol, reflect the clarity of light and vivid colouring of the south.
His works can be found in museums in: Bayonne; Beziers; Bordeaux; Carcassone; Cahors; Dijon; Douai; Lille; Montpellier; Mulhouse; Nantes; Paris, Musée d’art Moderne, Palais des Beaux-Arts; Toulouse and Montreal.