1860 Toulouse- 1943 Labastide-du Vert
Canvas, 81 x 64,5 cm
Signed, dedicated and dated 1887
"A ma chère sœur Adeline / Henri Martin / 87"
Henri Martin came from a modest family in Toulouse and received his formation as a draper before entering at the age of seventeen into the Schools of Beaux-Arts of Toulouse, where he studied with Jules Garipuy.
At the Grand Prix of the city in 1879 he won a scholarship which allowed him to continue his studies in Paris in the atelier of Jean-Paul Laurens. He started an academic career which was built around the annual Salon of the French Artists, where he exhibited from 1880 on. In 1881 Henri Martin married Marie-Charlote Barbaroux, a young and talented pastellist. Due to a travel grant in 1885 he went to a round trip to Italy.
His first works exhibited in the Salon were praised by the critics, especially "TheTitans fight against Jupiter" : "Heurté, véhément, son tableau témoigne d'une telle volonté que ceux qui le voient en sont pénétrés". In the first parisian years, he is fascinated by the darkness of romantic drama. Being influenced by his teacher Laurens before Martin liberates himself progressively from his academic influence and after 1884, an evolution became apparent in his work.
If the portrait was not Henri Martins' dominant genre, the painter remained throughout his career interested in studies of the human figure. In order to escape the influence of the ecole des beaux arts he soon began to ask friends and relatives to sit for him, and it is in these portraits his full talent can be seen. In his early work, beginning in the 1880's he prefers the frontal view (Fig.1 and 2).
Our painting, being executed in 1887, was to be a conventional portrait; Adele Martin, the sister of the painter, is seen in full length, resting on a green sofa. She is shown wearing a magnificent white dress, contrasting the fan in her hand. Although the composition remains classic, the artist experiments with different techniques how to render the subject.
Regardless of the classic composition, the artist innovated and experimented with different techniques according to the areas he was painting: when certain elements like the divan are rendered with precision - others show a much more deliberated hand. The shadows on the dress and some parts of the floor are treated with angular hatchings and crossbred brushwork, which were applied with a brush or a knife (Fig. 3)
The broad brushwork used to paint her face shows that he instinctively was trying to detach every brushstroke and that he was experimenting with the vibrant light. (Fig.4).
From 1887, Henri Martin experimented also with the neo-impressionistic touch, which he applied with parsimony. Our portrait, which is a key work, may be considered as one of the first incursions of the artist off the beaten track.
One can find those pointilistic experiments in other canvases from the same time.
Other canvases from this time show him as a more pointilistic artist, for example in "Child embracing hismother" (Fig.5), done in 1886/1887 and in "Beautiful young girl walking throughthe fields a flower in her hand", painted in 1888/1889 (Fig.7). Again, he used his sister as a model in the latter painting, inspired by a poem of Alfred de Vigny (Fig.6).
The divided touch of this charming scene dissolves the forms of the landscape:
"En poursuivant les divers effets de la nature, j'ai ét´t amené à peindre différemment pour rendre l'atmosphère. La pleine lumière éclatante et diffuse, stompant les lignes du paysage, m'a obligé de la traduiere comme j'ai pu, par une sorte de pointillé qui représente assez bien, il me semble, les vibrations de la lumiére“.1
This painting is a fundamental testimony in the work of the artist, who appears not only as a follower of a venturous proselyte for impressionism but as an artist who is leading the plastic experimentations close to neo-impressionism contemporaneous to Seurat and Signac.
In his more daring works, Henri Martin painted systematically in a more neo-impressionist style. He adopted the division of tones by using points and stripes of colour applied uniformly on the whole surface of his canvases, rendering skillfully the vibration of the atmosphere (Fig. 8).
Text by Amélie du Closel
1 cited in Jacques Martin-Ferrières, Henri Martin, sa vie, son oevre, Paris, 1967, p.38
As present of the artist to his sister Adeline Martin, married Dupech
Collection of Jean Dupech, Carcassonne, in 1935
Henri Martin, Paris, Petit Palais, 1935, Exhibition Catalogue, Paris, 1935, no 10.
Henri Martin, 1860-1943, Etudes et peintures de chevalet, Toulouse, Palais des Arts, february-march 1983, Paris, mairie annexe du 5e arondissement, april-may 1983, Exhibition Catalogue, Toulouse, 1983, no 9.
Henri Martin, 1860-1943, Cahors, musée Henri Martin, Toulouse, musée du Capitole, 14 september - 29 october 1993, Exhibition Catalogue, Cahors, 1993, no 18.
Henri Martin, 1860-1943, Udstillig, Øregaard Museum, Hellerup, 12 september - 17 december 1995, Exhibition Catalogue, 1995, no 4.
Claude Juskiewenski, Henri Martin paysagiste et décorateur languedocien, Toulouse, 1974, thèse, volume 2, p. 36: "Il doit s'agir d'un très beau portrait d'une femme en tenue de soirée portrait de belle couleur vu par M. Mésplé et par la chanoine Sarraute et conservé par un petit neveu d'Henri Martin".
Fig.7: Henri Martin, Beautiful young girl walking through a field with a flower in her hand, 1889, canvas, 130 x 170 cm, signed and dated, private collection