HENRI MARTIN

PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN IN PROFILE

1860 Toulouse - Labastide-du-Vert 1943
1913
Panel, 35 x 26,5 cm
Signed lower right Henri Martin

Essay

Henri Martin was from a modest milieu in Toulouse. He became an apprentice to a textile trader before entering the School of Fine Arts in Toulouse at the age of 17, where he studied under Jules Garipuy. In 1879, he received an award from the city Grand prix de la ville together with a grant that allowed him to pursue his studies in Paris at the studio of Jean-Paul Laurens. His academic career developed around the annual Salon of French Artists, where he began to present his work from 1880. His work was welcomed by critics of the time. In 1881 Martin married Marie-Charlotte Barbaroux, a young and talented pastellist. In 1885, thanks to a travel grant, he embarked upon a trip to Italy. Originally influenced by his master Laurens, Martin progressively liberated himself from the academic frame. From 1887 onwards, Martin began to loosely experiment with the neo-impressionist technique.

At the start of the 1890’s, Martin started to look for a summer retreat and in 1900 he moved to Marquayrol, a house located in the heights of the little village Labastide du Vert about ten kilometers from Cahors, in Lot. He stayed there every year from May until November, and surrounded himself with his family.

This change of scene marks a decisive turning point in Martin’s career. He moved away from symbolist themes and devoted himself completely to subjects of nature transcended by the meridian light. The architecture of the elegant countryside around Labastide du Vert and Saint Cirq-Lapopie with its rugged and wild plateaus began to appear in his work.

Between 1900 and 1910, Martin ordered the construction of a pergola in the western corner of the garden of Marquayrol; composed of round columns supporting a wrought iron arbor. Madame Martin and her friends from the village busied themselves with their work in this peaceful and cool refuge during the summer afternoons whilst babies slept in the shadow of wisterias and honeysuckle trees. The pergola, in the antique Tuscan style, offered the artist a large variety of views and inspired him to produce a number of paintings in which he captured the rhythm of the seasons in Marquayrol. (ill. 1 and 2). 

The pergola of Marquayrol serves as frame for a large decorative painting produced in 1913, titled Under the pergola in summer, or The knitters (ill. 3). Face of a woman in profile represents a preparatory study for this monumental work, which was presented in the Salon of French Artists in 1913.

The painting was purchased by the State and was originally placed in the city hall of Bouvron in 1952. It was thereafter assigned to the museum of Orsay in 1986. The knitters corresponds to another painting; The wool winders, a painting of similar dimensions acquired by the State in 1912.

Set in the perspective of the columns; two embroiderers sitting in front of each other on rattan armchairs, work silently while a young woman with her child keeps them company. The scene is typical of the simple and quiet happiness of country life that was a favorite theme of the artist. In this decorative work, with its rigorous and symmetric composition, Martin depicts a humble occupation, repetitive and familiar, magnified by the surrounding nature. The painter catches the concentration that this manual work requires; the young women in delicate profile leaning over their work have a real presence given the sincerity of their action. 

The work on this large painting was carried out in successive stages: the design of the motif, the composition of the groups in order to find a good balance, the preliminary sketches and the final execution of the painting in the studio.

A number of studies in many formats are associated with The knitters of 1913. These works have commanded a wide range of prices when reaching the market. A sketch for the composition of the ensemble was sold at Sotheby’s in 2013 (ill. 4).

In Face of a woman in profile, the painter focuses on the face of the embroiderer, probably his wife, sat on the left. There are other studies of this figure, in larger and smaller settings (ill. 5 and 6). In the painting of Roubaix, the painter sketches a part of the pergola and the wall behind the dressmakers on which pots of geraniums are set. 

Having moved to Marquayrol, Martin progressively modified his technique profiting from the divisionism of the neo-impressionists. He held the influence of nature responsible for this conversion to pointillism: « after three months in the countryside side by side with nature, the bright ample and diffusing light obliged me imperiously to translate it through pointillism and the decomposing of the colour.

He adopts the division of tones by using dots and streaks of colour, applying them uniformly across the whole surface of these paintings. Thereby, he skillfully achieves a vibration of the atmosphere. This portrait, painted with a juxtaposition of pure streaks of colour, constitutes an excellent example of this technique. The palette revolves around a multitude of tones (yellow, green, blue, turquoise, grey, white, rose, orange, red, black), which translate the decomposition of the light on the face of the young woman. Martin has a smooth touch, posed with fast and nervous gesture. The light, filtered by the luxurious vegetation of the pergola of Marquayrol, irradiates around the young woman almost dissolving the shape of her silhouette. 

 

Text by Amélie du Closel



Fig. 1 Henri Martin, Young women under the arbor
Oil on canvas

Fig. 2 Henri Martin, The pergola in springtime
around 1913, Oil on canvas, 90 x 116 cm,
signed lower left Henri Martin
Amiens, musée de Picardie

Fig. 3 Henri Martin, The knitters
1913, Oil on canvas, 209 x 283 cm,
Paris, Museum of Orsay State Depot at the city hall of Beuvron

Fig. 5 Henri Martin, The pergola in summer
around 1913, Oil on canvas, 70 x 76 cm,
Roubaix, museum of Art and History