Colour is often one of the most exciting components of a painting, as shown here by Henri Martin. In both figurative and abstract painting, colour can be used for its decorative beauty, to create mood and to express or arouse an emotion. In nature and in art, colour has a profound effect on the viewer. There is one colour this time of year that sings in a plethora of shades and surrounds us here in the beautiful Cotswolds, green. Green is the colour associated with harmony, security and balance. It creates a sense of peace, gentleness and modesty, especially the pale green shade. Green also symbolizes hope and is beautifully encapsulated in ‘Portrait of a Woman’ by Henri Martin (French, 1860-1943).
Henri Martin modelled many of his studies on relatives and friends; we believe this to be a portrait of Martin’s wife, Marie-Charlotte Barbaroux. Here she is portrayed as an allegorical feminine vision, with burnt umber leaves crowning her head; the use of colours and fine brushwork blend her with the foliage. The 1890s were the height of Martin’s symbolist period, and it was typical of him to represent female allegorical muses, often in very largescale compositions. Though Henry Martin’s allegories at this time drew on the Symbolist movement, they differed in that their symbolism was derived not from convention but the artist’s imagination. This figure is painted in profile with her head turned towards us. Her expression is contemplative and soft, drawing the viewer in to ponder what her story may be.
The characteristic dashes of Henri Martin’s oeuvre loosen and curve to round the neck and shoulders, and tightly speckle to create detail in her face and under her chin. Even with his unique painting technique, Henri Martin’s academic training manifests here as in many of his works as he deftly captures proportion, light and shadow, and depth within the painting. The individualised dabs of paint are a clear homage to the neo-impressionist technique of pointillism, a style which Henri Martin was not only renowned for but also won a gold award at the 1889 Salon.
The works of Henri Martin are held in many of the most prestigious collections internationally including Musee d’Orsay, Paris, Philadelphia Art Museum, Pennsylvania, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit and the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo.