BIOGRAPHY - Gustave Loiseau (1865 - 1935)
Born on October 3, 1865 at the height of the Second Empire, Gustave Loiseau spent his early childhood in Paris at a time when it was one of the leading capitals of the world. His parents, Pierre Loiseau and Eugénie Lemonnier, ran a successful butcher’s shop in the Quartier Chaillot between the Bois de Bologne and the Seine. When their son was five years old, they moved into the very heart of the city to a location on the Île Saint-Louis. Gustave began his schooling in 1870, but it is a reasonable assumption that it was disrupted by the Franco-Prussian war initiated by Emperor Napoleon III in that same year. The following year saw the immense destruction of the city during the siege of the Commune. Loiseau’s parents may well have joined many others in fleeing to a safer location, possibly their hometown of Pontoise. [i]
Back in Paris following the war, Loiseau completed his education and was apprenticed to a butcher in the early 1880s. He was not enthusiastic about the work, and after suffering an attack of typhoid fever that nearly proved fatal, he informed his parents that he wanted to be an artist. They suggested that he work with a family friend who was a decorator and learn some basic skills in painting. More importantly, it was during the course of this apprenticeship that Loiseau made the acquaintance of the landscape painter Fernand Just Quignon (1854-1941) whose apartment was being remodeled. [ii] His compulsory military service interrupted this work in 1883-84, but Loiseau returned to the decorating firm as soon as he could. And he began to paint landscapes in his spare time.
An inheritance from his grandmother in 1887 enabled him to enroll at the École des arts décoratifs and to move into his own apartment on the rue Myrrha in Montmartre, a less than salubrious area at the time. Within a couple of years, however, he migrated to the Maison du Trappeur (House of the Hunter) on the rue de Ravignan, a marginally less dangerous part of the neighborhood. The place was badly constructed, freezing in the winter, and there was only one toilet for the whole building, but the rent was cheap, and the neighborhood was full of other artists. Today, the building is on the route of all the tourist busses because the young Spaniard who lived there some years later re-christened it Le Bateau Lavoir (the floating laundry). Picasso and his friends had no more money than the young Loiseau had a decade earlier.
Loiseau’s first year at the École des arts décoratifs focused primarily on life drawing, which provided him with a solid foundation, but was not especially satisfying to the emerging artist. After a year, he contacted Fernand Quignon and persuaded him to take him on as a pupil. Quignon was one of the many painters in the 1880s who combined traditional techniques with Realist imagery of daily life. Like many of his more avant-garde colleagues, he was particularly fascinated by the play of light across a landscape, but he remained firmly committed to finishing his sketches in the studio rather en plein air. As a result, his canvases often seem very still and airless. This dismayed Loiseau, but he respected Quignon’s advice when he suggested that a painting trip to Brittany might benefit his art. On May 11, 1890, Loiseau rented a room at Marie-Jeanne Gloanec’s inn at Pont-Aven, following in the footsteps of several Post-Impressionist painters, notably Paul Gauguin, Emile Bernard and Charles Laval. By the time Loiseau arrived, however, many of Gauguin’s followers had moved to Le Pouldu, and Gauguin himself had returned to Paris. [iii]
During his stay there, Loiseau met the painter Maxime Maufra (1861-1918) who became a lifelong friend. In 1890, Maufra had just decided that he would give up his career as a businessman to devote his attention to painting. Until that point, he had painted only occasionally, although he did find time to display his work at the annual Paris Salon in 1886. Loiseau also befriended Henry Moret (1856-1913), who had been painting in Brittany for several years, having met Gauguin, Bernard, Laval, Emile Jourdan and Ernest Ponthier de Chamaillard in 1888 at the Pension Gloanec. Like Maufra, Moret was at a turning point when the three men first became acquainted in May 1890; he had been heavily influenced by Gauguin but was just beginning to define his own artistic vision. In short, all three painters were about to claim their independent aesthetic voices.
By 189, Loiseau had settled comfortably in Pont-Aven where he met several like-minded artists. Together with Armand Séguin, Georges Chaudet and Eric Forbes-Robertson, he showed his work in small local exhibition during the summer of that year [iv] He also began to travel extensively in northern France, painting landscapes from Auvers-sur-Oise to the region around Nantes, always returning to Pont-Aven as his home base. Loiseau’s early canvases show some of the stiffness of Quignon’s work, but by 1892, the influence of post-Impressionism is quite evident in the looser brushwork and increasingly abstract forms. In Les roches vertes (The Green Rocks) of 1893, he displayed not only abstracted forms, but the use of arbitrary color. Although Paul Gauguin had left for Tahiti in April 1891, his influence lingered in the work of many painters in Pont-Aven, where Loiseau absorbed it readily.
The early 1890s were productive years. Maufra introduced Loiseau to the art dealer Monsieur Le Barc, who welcomed many of the Nabis and other post-Impressionist painters at his gallery in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. The gallery, Le Barc de Boutteville, was especially important during the years following the death of Théo van Gogh, who had led the effort to represent avant-garde artists at Boussod-Valadon & Cie from 1878 to January 1891. Having representation at a Paris gallery helped Loiseau establish his reputation as an up and coming young artist, and in fact, it was at Le Barc de Boutteville that the Rouen collector François Depeaux would discover his work, purchasing two of his early canvases. [v]
With the encouragement of his friends Maufra and Moret, Loiseau also joined the Société des Artistes Indépendants in 1893, exhibiting six paintings at their annual Salon in Paris. That same year, he participated in the 5e exposition des peintres impressionnistes et symbolistes at Le Barc de Boutteville, showing a painting tilted simply Paysage (Landscape). [vi] In subsequent years, Loiseau would continue to exhibit at both the Salon des Indépendants and at the annual show at Le Barc de Boutteville. In 1894, he showed four paintings at the Salon and a work titled Matinée de Septembre à Pont-Aven at the 6e exposition des peintres impressionnistes et symbolistes. Likewise in 1895, he sent seven works to the Salon and four paintings to the 7e exposition des peintres impressionnistes et symbolistes; in 1896, he submitted seven works to the Salon and five to the 11e exposition des peintres impressionnistes et symbolistes at the Le Barc de Boutteville. And he began to exhibit at the annual Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. His career was launched.
The year 1894 brought an unexpected pleasure in the form of Paul Gauguin, who had returned from Tahiti to Paris in early September 1893. It should be noted that Gauguin also exhibited some of his work at Le Barc de Boutteville that fall. Loiseau may have made his acquaintance, however briefly, at that time. [vii] In April of 1894, Gauguin returned to Brittany, stopping at Le Pouldu before traveling on to Pont-Aven in early May. On May 25, a group of painters including Gauguin, Armand Séguin, Emile Jourdan and Roderic O’Connor (and their girlfriends) paid a visit to the ancient Celtic site at Concarneau not far from Le Pouldu, where they were reportedly assaulted by a group of local sailors. In the fray, Gauguin fractured his leg and was hospitalized for a short time. He was forced to spend the summer laid up at the Hôtel Ajoncs d’Or. It was during this period that Loiseau visited his friend regularly, hoping to cheer him up and encourage him to paint. [vii] Although Gauguin did not paint much, he did create a small still-life called Flowers and a Bowl of Fruit on a Table, which he gave to Loiseau in appreciation of his friendship. It remained in Loiseau’s possession until 1921 when he sold it to Durand-Ruel et Cie. [viii]
Loiseau was certainly aware of Durand-Ruel’s galleries at 16 rue Lafitte and 11 rue Le Peletier, not far from Le Barc de Boutteville. The art dealer’s support of the Impressionist painters was well known and by the 1890s, his success was legendary in the Paris art world. Loiseau originally met Paul Durand-Ruel in 1895, but it wasn’t until 1897 that the gallery offered him a contract. According to the terms of the agreement, the gallery would purchase the majority of Loiseau’s work, thus ensuring that he had reliable financial security. With this new arrangement in place, Loiseau began to travel more extensively throughout France. Home was now in Moret-sur-Loing about thirty-five miles southeast of Paris. From there, he journeyed to Brittany in the summer and Normandy, where he also owned a house in Saint-Cyr-du-Vaudreuil, in the winter.
Little is known of Loiseau’s personal life aside from his friendships with other artists, but he did marry Marie Reine Michaud on March 31, 1900 in Paris. Later that year, he traveled to Belle-Ile in Brittany with Maufra and Moret. In 1901 he discovered the pleasures of painting at the seaside resort of Dieppe; perhaps it was a more congenial spot for Marie Reine to stay as well. It became a regular part of his annual painting trips until 1909.
In the years leading up to World War I, Loiseau continued to travel extensively, primarily in Brittany and Normandy, but also venturing into Burgundy and the Dauphiné alps near the Italian border. In 1910, he moved his Paris studio to the quai Saint-Michel, which is a one-block stretch along the Seine in the heart of the Latin Quarter. During the war years, he relocated across the river to 5 quai d’Anjou on the Île Saint-Louis and painted only in the region immediately around Paris. Loiseau’s name appears in several records of charity exhibitions sponsored by various galleries in aid of the war victims: in 1917 the Galerie Georges Petit sponsored a show to support the Fraternité des Artistes, and in 1921 Galerie Knoedler hosted a charity exhibition for the Union des Aveugles de Guerre (an organization that helped blind people victimized by the war). Throughout this period, he also exhibited annually at the Salon d’Automne.
With the end of the war and the beginning of a new decade, Loiseau turned his attention to still-life painting and a renewed focus on urban street scenes in Paris. In 1922, he returned to Pont-Aven where he reconnected with his old friends, Emile Jourdan and Ernest Correlleau; together, they set up a small group exhibition with a local antiques dealer, Jean Le Coronc. Loiseau’s paintings were primarily still-life images and street scenes of Pont-Aven.
From 1922 to 1928, he also created a series of canvases depicting the square and surrounding streets outside the Hôtel Ajoncs d’Or during all seasons and weather conditions. In these works, Loiseau’s use of a cross-hatched latticework technique (le treillis) is particularly notable. The effect creates a visual screen between the viewer and the painting, thus reinforcing the sense of looking at the image through a filter. The compositions grow increasingly abstract and painterly over time. Now in his sixties, Loiseau exhibited for the last time at the Salon des Independants in 1926, but he still participated in the occasional group show at the Galerie Georges Petit.
In 1929, the artist moved to Pontoise, his parents’ hometown just outside of Paris. He divided his time between there and his studio in Paris where he pursued his lifelong interest in painting the Seine. He died there on October 9, 1935 at age seventy. The following year, the Salon des Independants honored his life and work with a retrospective exhibition.
Janet Whitmore, Ph.D.
Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY
Art Institute of Chicago
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England
Chi-Mei Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England
Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, England
Metropolitan Museum, New York
Musée de Dieppe, Dieppe, France
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Musée de Pont-Aven, Pont-Aven, France
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes, France
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, France
Musée Lambinet, Versailles, France
Musée Louis Senlecq, L’Isle-Adam, France
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museo Nacional, Madrid
Tokyo Fuji Art Museum
York Art Gallery, York, England
[i] We do not yet know exactly when Loiseau’s parents left Paris, but their butcher shop would have been closed during the siege of the Commune. The Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) was a misguided venture from the outset. The emperor Napoléon III was provoked by the attempt of a Prussian prince (Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen) to become the king of Spain. The French diplomatic corps succeeded in pressuring the Prussians not to support that effort, but the rising power of General Otto von Bismarck fabricated a diplomatic incident that incited French public opinion against the Prussians. Ultimately France declared war against Prussia on July 19, 1870. It was all over in six months, and Napoléon III went into exile in London. The citizens of Paris, however, refused to accept the armistice and resisted any attempt by either the French regular army or the Prussian soldiers to enter the city. After a skirmish in March 1871, the French soldiers were forced to retreat to Versailles, and Paris was declared an independent sovereign nation with a revolutionary government in charge. The history of this period in France is both complex and crucial to its ultimate formation of an enduring democratic state. For more information, see Jean Vautrin, translated by John Howe, The Voice of the People (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002).
[ii] Marie-Bénédict Baranger, Gustave Loiseau et la Bretagne,1865-1935, (Paris: ADAGP and Musée de Pont-Aven, 2001) 70. Exhibition catalogue.
[iii] Paul Gauguin, Artist of Myth and Dream, Stephen Eisenman, ed. (Milan: Skira Editore, 2007) 434. Exhibition catalogue. For a detailed chronology of Gauguin’s life and work, see Françoise Cachin, Richard Brettell, Claire Frèches-Thory and Charles Stuckey, The Art of Paul Gauguin, (Boston: Little, Brown and Company in association with the New York Graphic Society Books, 1988). Exhibition catalogue.
[iv] Caroline Boyle-Turner, The Prints of the Pont-Aven School: Gauguin and his Circle in Brittany (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibition Service, 1986) 80-116. Exhibition catalogue. This seminal exhibition catalogue on the Pont-Aven printmakers remains a key work on the prints of Armand Séguin.
[v] François Depeaux was a successful businessman and an inventor in his own right. He was also an avid yachtsman, who came into contact with Gustave Caillebotte who was also a sailor. Over the course of four decades between 1880 and 1920, he amassed a collection of nearly 600 paintings—the vast majority of them works by the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists. Approximately half of his collection was donated to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen after his death. For more information about Depeaux’s collection, see Marc-Henri Telllier, François Depeaux (1853-1920), Le charbonnier et les impressionnistes (Rouen: M. H. Tellier, 2010).
[vi] Baranger, Gustave Loiseau et la Bretagne, 70.
[vii] See the exhaustive chronology of Gauguin’s life compiled by Isabelle Cahn and Gloria Groom for the 2004 exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. George T. M. Shackelford and Claire Frèches-Thory, Gauguin Tahiti, The Studio of the South Seas (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004) 344. Exhibition catalogue.
[viii] Gauguin’s predilection for alcohol was supplemented during his convalescence with morphine. It would ultimately prove to be a dangerous habit that contributed to his death in 1903. See Cahn and Groom, Chronology, 345.
[ix] The painting is now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, courtesy of the bequest of John Taylor Spaulding, who purchased it from Durand-Ruel in 1922. For more information, see: https://collections.mfa.org/objects/33275/flowers-and-a-bowl-of-fruit-on-a-table?ctx=cc3e4355-90b7-4f31-bd84-9c1baf1db889&idx=76