Louis Anquetin and cloisonnism

Girl reading a Newspaper by Louis Anquetin (1890)
Girl reading a Newspaper by Louis Anquetin (1890)

Today I have a new artist for you and a new –ism !  My featured painter today is the nineteenth century French artist Louis Anquetin, who was one of the founders of the expressionist style of painting that was referred to as cloisonnism.  This artistic term comes from the French word cloison meaning partition and the French verb to partition off – cloisonner.   Cloisonné was originally a method used in decorating metalwork objects and later was used in the decorating of vitreous enamel. Wires known as cloisons were soldered to the body of the piece, filled with powdered glass and then fired.  There is also a similarity between cloisonné and old Gothic stained glass windows in which various pieces of coloured glass are often built up to form an image and are separated by black lead strips.   So why is the term attributable to an art form?  In art, the term cloisonnism refers to paintings that have areas of pure flat, colour enclosed by dark black outlines.  These areas, of often-unnatural colours, are entirely free of shading or anything that would give them a 3-D effect and so there is an overriding two-dimensional appearance.  In a lot of examples of cloisonnism there was an overwhelming simplicity to the forms seen in this artwork.  In some ways the emergence of cloisonnism was a way of counteracting works by the Impressionist painters who were fixated by depiction of light.  By resorting to cloisonnism, artists were able to bring together their artistic ideas with their chosen subject matter and by so doing, produce a more formidable form of modern art.   The French painters Émile Bernard and today’s featured painter, Louis Anquetin, around 1887, pioneered this new form of art.  Both painters had taken a great interest the Japanese Ukijo-e woodblock prints, which on Japan opening up its markets to the Western World in the late 1860’s, had a decade later become a major source of inspiration to the Post Impressionist artists of France.  Louis Anquetin and Bernard had both studied under Fernand Cormon at his Atelier Cormon in the late 1880’s along with Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec and the featured artist in my last blog, John Peter Russell. 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec by Louis Anquetin (1886)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec by Louis Anquetin (1886)

And so to my featured artist, Louis Anquetin.   Louis Anquetin was born in January 1861 in Étrépagny, a commune in the Eure department in the Haute-Normandie region of northern France.  He was an only child.  His father, George Anquetin, was a butcher by trade and his mother was Rose-Felicite Chauvet.  His father’s business was very successful and Louis was brought up in a prosperous household and being an only child, led a very pampered lifestyle.  When he was eleven years old his parents got him to take an interest in drawing and soon he needed little persuasion to while away the hours sketching.  With his love of drawing successfully nurtured, his parents arranged for him to attend the art school in the nearby city of Rouen, the Lycée Pierre Corneille, named after the 17th century French dramatist.  One of his fellow pupils at the time, who became his lifelong friend, was Edouard Dujardin, a man who would later become a much-respected writer and poet and be first to coin the term cloisonnism

Émile Bernard by Louis Anquetin (c.1887)
Émile Bernard by Louis Anquetin (c.1887)

After leaving school Louis went into the military and served in the 6th Cavalry Regiment of Dragoons.  Once he had completed his military service in 1882, Louis, now aged twenty-two, persuaded his parents to let him try to become a professional artist.  As had been the case for most of his early life, they were reluctant to deny their son anything and so acquiesced to his wish.  Louis travelled to Paris and took up lodgings in the city and went to study at the atelier of the painter, Léon Bonnat.     Whilst at Bonnat’s studio Louis became friends with another of Bonnat’s students, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec.  Louis only remained there a short time as Bonnat gave up his studio when he was appointed professor at the École des Beaux Arts.  In 1884, both Louis and Lautrec then moved on to work at the Atelier Cormon, which was run by the painter, Fernand Cormon.  Among the students there around this time were the Australian painter John Paul Russell, fellow Frenchman Émile Bernard and the Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh.

As we saw in the blog of John Peter Russell the aspiring painters at Fernand Cormon in an effort to improve their portraiture would ask their colleagues to sit for them and Louis Anquetin at this time completed portraits of both Toulouse Lautrec and Emile Bernard. Louis Anquetin eventually left the Atelier Cormon but remained friends with Lautrec, Bernard and van Gogh and often the painters would jointly hold informal exhibitions.  One such “exhibition” was held in July 1887 at the Café du Tambourin, and was hosted by a friend of Van Gogh, the restaurant’s proprietor, Agostina Segatori.   Segatori, an Italian by birth, had been an artist’s model and with the money she had earned, opened up her own Paris restaurant on the Boulevard de Clichy, just round the corner from Theo van Gogh’s apartment, which he shared with Vincent.  She had become a good friend of Van Gogh and the two had a good working arrangement – he supplied the artwork for the restaurant’s walls and she fed him!  This informal exhibition was a red-letter day for Anquetin for it was at this exhibition that he sold his first paintings.

Le Faucher by Louis Anquetin (1887)
Le Faucher by Louis Anquetin (1887)

It was around 1886 that Louis Anquetin was introduced to Georges Seurat and to his new artistic style, which became known as Divisionism or Pointillism (see My Daily Art Display, Oct 21st 2011).  Anquetin and his friend Émile Bernard tried their hand at this new form of art but soon tired of it and adopted a new artistic style of their own, which was christened cloisonnism by Anquetin’s former school friend and now writer, Edouard Dujardin, when he reviewed their work for the symbolist journal, Revue Independent.  He had gone to see their paintings which were on show at the 1888 Salon des Independents exhibition in Paris and the 15th Annual Exposition of Les XX in Brussels.  Two of the best-known cloisonnism paintings by Louis Anquetin are the Avenue de Clichy: Five O’ clock and Le Faucher. 

Avenue de Clichy - Five O'Clock in the Evening by Louis Anquetin (1887)
Avenue de Clichy – Five O’Clock in the Evening by Louis Anquetin (1887)

The work, Avenue de Clichy: Five o’clock in the Evening was painted in a Cloisonnist style with its graceful black outlines as well as the flat treatment of the subjects in the composition and there is a definite influence of Japanese woodcuts in the work.  The subject of the painting gives us an insight of Parisian life in the opulent times of the Third French Republic in the last three decades of the nineteenth century and which lasted until the outbreak of the First World War.   These were good time.  Times of war were over and there was a general sense of optimism and it was a time when the arts flourished and theatre-going and visits to the various Parisian music halls were de rigeur.  This period in French history later became known as the Belle Epoque.  The setting for the painting is the late afternoon on the Avenue de Clichy, which was in Montmartre, near to Anquetin’s home and he would have, on numerous occasions, viewed the hustle and bustle of the throngs of people moving along the Avenue.   It is still raining and people huddle under the awnings looking into the butcher’s shop which is bathed in light, whilst others with umbrellas raised brave the open street.  This work by Louis Anquetin is often looked upon as being one of his finest works.  In his book, Anquetin: La Passion d’être Peintre, the author Frederic Destremau wrote about this painting:

“…the iron and glass awning, an aspect of industrial design, above the butchers shop has a ethereal quality which suggests the roof of a pagoda, the legs strung up in a garland recall Japanese lanterns, the elegant woman seen from behind, raising her skirts, creates a gathering of folds that is drawn in a very Japoniste style, but […] more than any of these details, it is the use of dark outlines and flat colours that brings to mind Japanese prints…” 

It is also interesting to note the inclusion of la boucherie (butcher’s shop) in the left foreground of the painting.  Could this be Anquetin’s way of honouring his father who we know had his own butcher’s shop? This new style of Anquetin and Bernard was very popular with the public and critics alike.   Louis had his works on display at the Fourth Paris International Exposition of 1889, which marked the centenary of the French Revolution. The sale of his works brought him not only fame but also a healthy bank balance and in keeping with his new status he moved his studio from Montmartre to the more fashionable Rue de Rome.   

A Woman on the Champs-Elysées, at Night by Louis Anquetin (c. 1891)
A Woman on the Champs-Elysées, at Night by Louis Anquetin (c. 1891)

In 1891 he exhibited ten of his works at the Salon des Independents and the one that caught everybody’s eye and singled out as a gem was Woman on the Champs-Elysees by Night.  The painting depicts a finely attired woman who is walking alone along one of Paris’ main boulevards.  This somewhat enigmatic figure is illuminated from above by the glow of the streetlights. Although not easy to see, but to the right of the woman, there is a man with a  moustache who is paying close attention to her and one wonders whether he was there to find a companion for the night!   The painting is now housed in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and in a way is a reminder of the lifestyle van Gogh would have experienced whilst staying in the French capital with his brother Theo. Louis Anquetin’s new style of painting was to influence other artists of the time, such as Picasso, Gaugin and Toulouse Lautrec. 

However almost as quick as Anquetin had embraced this cloisonnism style of painting, he abandoned it.  Anquetin often changed his artistic style, always searching for something different.  The next change of style by Anquetin followed on from a trip he took to Belgium and Holland accompanied Toulouse Lautrec.  It was during this visit that Anquetin saw and was influenced by paintings of the great Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens and the Dutch Golden Age painters, Rembrandt van Rijn and Frans Hals.  He was extremely impressed by the brilliant colours used in their works and the fluidity of their brushstrokes and from then on Anquetin realised that he had to change his style yet again and moved to a more classical style. 

Lili Grenier by Louis Anquetin (1929)
Lili Grenier by Louis Anquetin (1929)

He also decided that to retain a classical style he must work in oil, which was a decision contrary to a number of his contemporaries who had abandoned oil in favour of pastels.  He had at this juncture in his artistic career decided to abandon modern art and concentrate on classical art.   Unfortunately this change of painting style meant that his erstwhile artistic friends, who did not share his artistic views, abandoned him.  Toulouse Lautrec and Émile Bernard were the exceptions. Another aspect of classical painting that Anquetin wanted to emulate was the classical painters’ knowledge of the human anatomy which was so well depicted in many of their works.   For that reason Anquetin decided that he too should carefully study anatomy and for two years attended the laboratory of the anatomist, Professor Arroux, in the Paris suburb of Clamart. 

Rubens by Louis Anquetin
Rubens by Louis Anquetin

In 1901 his former mentor and tutor, Fernand Cormon had received a commission to paint murals at the Hôtel de Ville in Tours and he asked Anquetin for his help.  Cormon commissioned his former student to complete four mural panels for the interior of the building each of which would represent four greats of French history – the writer, Honoré de Balzac, the philosopher, René Descartes, the humanist and writer, François Rabelais and the poet and playwright, Alfred de Vigny. In 1906, when Louis was forty-five years old he married an affluent widow, Berthe Coquinot, whose late husband had been an army officer.  The couple moved into a house in the well-to-do rue des Vignes in Paris’16th arondissement.  In their home Louis had a studio for his painting as well as a place to teach his students.  Louis Anquetin had always been interested in the theoretical side of art and would often give lectures on painting techniques and styles. Anquetin wrote a book about his favourite painter Peter Paul Rubens and it was published in 1924.  Louis Anquetin died in Paris in August 1932, aged 71.

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Author: jonathan5485

Just someone who is interested and loves art. I am neither an artist nor art historian but I am fascinated with the interpretaion and symbolism used in paintings and love to read about the life of the artists and their subjects.

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