Luigi Loir

The painter of Parisian boulevards.

Luigi Loir

My featured artist today lived in Paris during the Belle Epoch. The Belle Epoch was that period in time in France, between the end of the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 and the start of World War I in 1914. The term Belle Epoch is obviously a retrospective term as it is used to describe a time of optimism, peace and, for some, prosperity. I say “for some” as Paris was then both the richest and poorest city in France. A study of people living Paris in the early 1820’s deduced that just over a quarter of Parisians were upper- or middle-class while three-quarters were termed impoverished. Although this may seem a terrible disenfranchisement of the majority of Parisians, the comparative situation at that time in New York, known as the Gilded Age, showed that the wealthiest two per cent of American households owned more than a third of the nation’s wealth, and the top ten per cent of the population actually owned roughly three quarters of the city’s wealth.

Baron Haussmann and Napoleon III make official the annexation of eleven communes around Paris to the City. Painting by Adolphe Yvon

The artist I am showcasing today is Luigi Loir, or to give him his full name, Luigi Aloys-Francois-Joseph Loir. He was to become famous for his paintings depicting contemporary Paris, a city which had been extensively renovated. The renovation began around 1852 and lasted almost twenty years. Baron Haussmann, who was the Prefect of the Seine, was tasked by Napoleon III to carry out a massive urban renewal program of new boulevards, parks and public works in Paris and was looked upon as Haussmann’s renovation of Paris. The programme of public works Haussmann set about saw him arrange for the chaotic maze of tiny streets with their poor sanitation being bulldozed and replaced by wide, straight, tree-lined avenues, which connected the rail terminals and allowed for rapid and easy movement across the city possible for the first time.

Curinier in his 1899 Dictionnaire National Des Contemporains (National dictionary of present-day people) wrote of Luigi Loir:

“…One can say of this master that he created a genre: the “parisianism”…he is, in effect, the painter of Paris par excellence ; no different aspects of the city, often momentary and fleeting, and none of his successive transformations, is of any secret to him. The vigour of his colours, as well as in the brilliance of his mornings and of his afternoon sun, such as the mists of his twilights, is of a correct observation, that still enhances the conscientious study of the environment…”

Luigi Aloys-Francois-Joseph Loir was born on January 22nd, 1845 in Gorritz, Austria. His parents, of French origin, were Tancrède Loir François and Thérèse Leban. His family lived in Austria as employees of the French royal family, the Bourbons. His father was a valet while his mother was a governess and Luigi’s first two years were spent living at Gorritz Castle. In 1847, Luigi’s family along with the Bourbon family left Gorritz and moved into exile to the Duchy of Parma.

Paris, Morning by Luigi Loir (1890)

All was well for the Bourbon household in Parma until 1859 when the Bourbons were driven out by a revolution following the French and Sardinian victory in the war against Austria. The following year, the Luigi’s family, including his sister, returned to France but he remained in Parma and began studying painting and enrolled at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts in 1853. His artistic studies at the Academy came abruptly to an end in 1863 when news from Paris reached him of his father’s failing health. He immediately set off for Paris. For this eighteen-year-old it was his first time in the French capital and it was Baron Haussmann’s Paris that would inspire his scenes for the rest of his career. In 1865, he made his debut at the Paris Salon with his first notable work, a view of Villiers-sur-Seine that received very high praise. He continued to exhibit at the Salon, receiving multiple awards there, throughout his life.

Paris with Snow by Luigi Loir (1889)

Luigi Loir soon came under the influence of the artist Jean-Aimable Amédée Pastelot who became his primary art tutor. Pastelot, was a painter who concentrated on depicting characters from the Comédie delle’art, flowers and genre paintings in watercolour and gouache. He also produced many illustrations for caricature journals which were very popular during this period.

Jean Pastelot c. 1865

It was whilst working in Pastelot’s studio that Loir began experimenting with his art and trained to become a muralist. One of Loir’s first mural commissions was to paint the wall and ceiling friezes at the Châteaux du Diable (the Devil’s House), a bourgeois mansion in Bordeaux, in 1866.  Loir experimented in various media; mainly oils, watercolour and lithographs, and would also try out different art forms ranging from decoration, theatrical costumes, and illustrations for novels and gained a lot of artistic knowledge during his time with Pastelot.

Porte St Martin At Christmas Time In Paris by Luigi Loir (c.1889)

Luigi Loir was not just a painter. He was probably more known for his hundreds of graphic designs for commercial advertisements, book and music illustrations, menus. He also created numerous designs and theatrical decorations. Loir was recognized as being a very talented graphic artist, and received many commissions for his work, such to design the official exhibition cover of the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. It was around this time that print had been recognised as a genuine art form. Luigi Loir transformed the art of the poster.

Le Boulevard sous la Pluie by Luigi Loir (1889)

Luigi Loir’s awards were numerous. In 1898 he was made Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur. He was also a member of the Société de Peintres-Lithographes, member of the Société des Aquarellistes, and a member of the Jury of the Société des Artists Français and of the Société des Arts Décoratifs since 1899. His artwork can be seen in galleries around the world.

Bond of the B.Sirven Co. issued May 14th 1901. Illustration by Luigi Loir

Charles Baudelaire, the Author of Modernism, once said that artists should represent the contemporary environment and there is no doubt that Luigi Loir embraced Baudelaire’s call. Looking at Loir’s style it is easy to note that he was interested in Impressionism and yet his work reflected that of many Naturalist painters. He designed some of the packaging for the famous LU French biscuit company and also illustrated a bond of the company B. Sirven, which was issued 14. May 14th 1901.

Boulevard Haussmann, Paris by Luigi Loir

Loir was entranced by the Parisian street scene which had been transformed by Haussmann’s mission to reshape the Parisian landscape transforming it from a labyrinthine network of dark and dingy narrow medieval streets, into the complex order of grand boulevards.

Evening in Paris by Luigi Loir

Loir must have taken from Pastelot an interest in capturing figural qualities, but Loir invested this type of training instead into his own synthesis of figures and landscape to produce the natural replication of the activity along the Parisian streets. This interest in the Parisian street scene was influenced, however, by another transformation that had entirely reshaped the Parisian landscape and how Parisians spent their leisure time. Beginning in the 1850s, Baron Georges Haussmann undertook an enormous project that changed Paris, from a labyrinthine maze of medieval streets, into the complex order of grands boulevards. For Loir, the streets themselves became the centre of activity – whether it be the bohemian centre of Montmartre or the upper-class promenades of the leisure class. Loir spent hours each day walking the streets in search of inspiration, all the time, studying them and the Parisians who populated them.

In one of the volumes of Figures Contemporaines: Tirées De L’album Mariani, illustrated biographies of famous contemporary characters from 1894 to 1925, Luigi Loir’s relationship with Paris as depicted in his art was explained:

“… he understands the sites; he likes the twilights in them; he studies all of their aspects. His canvases give off the reflection of a faithful mirage, of a conscientious study of urban nature. There is a dilettantism of a stroller and the contemplation of a poet in him. One feels that all of his impressions are real and that he only paints them while under a spell. His interest in the urban cityscape is perhaps more complex than a simple depiction of Paris and its inhabitants. Lori’s sincere reflections on the changing effects of both the different times of day and the weather, show the aesthetic reflection put into his paintings…”

Sortant De La Madeleine, Paris by Jean Béraud

Luigi Loir was not alone when it came to depicting life in Paris. A contemporary of his was the Russian-born Frenchman, Jean Béraud. Jean Béraud was known for his depictions of the changing face of Paris and the nightlife during the Belle Époque. He, like Loir, was captivated with modern life in Paris, especially after the major infrastructure project of what was termed, Haussmannisation, named for Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the prefect chosen to lead the urban renewal project. Béraud painted the newly widened boulevards, the new transportation systems and the intermingling of people from a wide array of social spheres. However, the scenes Béraud and Loir produced were different. Loir was more interested in depicting the environment whereas Béraud wanted to depict the people. In C.-E. Curinier, Dictionnaire Nationale des Contemporains, the difference between the two painters was succinctly put:

“…It is Béraud who paints the Parisians of Paris, but Loir who paints the Paris of the Parisians…”

The Quay of the Seine, Paris by Luigi Loir

In Loir’s depiction of Paris scenes his attention is not given to individual details so much as light and atmosphere

In 1870, Loir was commissioned into the military to record the battles of Bourget, part of the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. Loir concentrated exclusively on painting views of Paris. In these works, Loir caught and expressed the many faces of Paris, at all hours of the day and during different seasons. It was because of his work during this campaign of 1870, that Loir was elected to be the official painter of the Boulevards of Paris. This boosted his career and reputation. In 1879 in was awarded the Bronze medal from the Exposant Fidele des Artistes Francais. Loir was also elected into the Legion of Honor in 1898.

Luigi Aloys-François-Joseph Loir died in his beloved Paris on February 9th 1916 aged 70.

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.

2 thoughts on “Luigi Loir”

  1. Your blogs are so interesting and beautifully illustrated, and you have to handle a lot of information. But I have noticed what is a rare error. I do not think that Loir died on his birthday.

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