Private Collection, Florida
Louis Valtat was born in the Normandy, France in 1869 to a wealthy family of ship owners. His father, an amateur painter, encouraged his interest in art, and at the age of seventeen decided on an artistic career. In 1887, he moved to Paris and enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts.
Later, Valtat studied at the Académie Julian under Jules Dupré, a landscape painter of the Barbizon school. He became close friends with fellow students Albert André, Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, and Edouard Vuillard, who, at that time, were members of the Nabis movement that was heavily influenced by Paul Gauguin. While Valtat’s work was never associated with this movement, he learned the Gauguin method of painting and it would remain a major influence for the rest of his career.
After winning the Jauvin d’Attainville prize in 1890, Louis Valtat set up his own studio in Paris. In 1893, he exhibited at the Salon des Independents, paintings of the street scenes surrounding his studio. His submission of Sur Le Boulevard caught the attention of art critic, Felix Fénéo. Valtat’s work from this time incorporated techniques from both the Impressionist and Pointillist Schools.
At the end of 1894, Louis Valtat collaborated with Henri Toulouse Lautrec and his friend Albert André on the set of the play Chariot de terre cuite (The Terracotta Chariot). At that time, Valtat began to suffer from tuberculosis and travelled to the South of France to convalesce. There he met a number of artists including Georges-Daniel de Monfried, a friend of Gauguin. In 1895, he visited Spain, and then returned to continue his recovery in the South of France.
While in Arcachon, Valtat was greatly inspired by the Southern light, as well as the artists who worked there. His work began to employ an intense and joyful colour palette, which he exhibited at the 1896 Salon of Independent Artists. These works were once again noticed by Fénéon, who praised them in a review in La Revue Blanche. While these brightly coloured paintings reflected the spontaneity of Impressionism, he gives more definition to the shapes and objects of his compositions than artists of that group. Influenced by Vincent Van Gogh and Gauguin, Valtat painted large areas with vivid colours, and applied thick brushstrokes. Van Gogh’s influence is noticeable in the swirling, divisionist quality of Valtat’s brushwork.
From 1898 until 1914, Valtat remained in the South of France. He built a house with his wife in Anthéor and continued to meet other artists in the area, such as Auguste Renoir and Paul Signac.. Between 1900 and 1905, Valtat visited Renoir’s home and they collaborated on several works. He also continued to travel throughout France and visited Italy and Algeria.
Renoir introduced Valtat’s works to Ambroise Vollard, the renowned art dealer. Louis Valtat was identified by Ambroise Vollard as one of the most exciting painters working in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. On Renoir’s advice, Vollard made an agreement with Valtat to purchase almost all of the artist’s work for the first decade of the 20th century (1902 – 1912), and to become his dealer and agent.
Vollard organized Valtat’s first solo exhibition at his gallery and submitted Valtat’s works to other exhibitions in Paris. In 1905, Valtat’s paintings were shown at the Salon d’Autumne, the exhibition in which journalist Louis Vauxcelles used the term Les Fauves (“Wild Beasts”) to describe the rebellious Southern French artists, of which Valtat was one. The exhibition caused a scandal, and some journalists dubbed this new approach as “colour madness,” and “pictorial aberration.”
In 1914, Louis Valtat left Anthéor and resided in Paris again. However, after ten years he bought a house with a garden in Choisel. His garden became a prominent subject for his paintings and his compositions became more demure, whilst maintaining the joyful use of colour he had developed in the South.
In 1927, Louis Valtat was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, which was considered the premier order of France. Throughout his career, Valtat remained true to his unique style and was never completely associated with a particular art movement, but influenced by many. After the occupation of France, Valtat rarely left his studio due to failing health. He suffered from glaucoma and went blind in 1948, and after becoming ill, died in 1952 in Paris.