Œuvre en rapport : Louis Valtat, Les Chapeaux, 1898
Louis Valtat was born in Dieppe in 1897. His father, an amateur painter, introduced him to the graphic arts at a very young age. Following the move of his family to Versailles in 1880, Valtat enrolled in Paris’s School of Fine Arts (École des Beaux-Arts de Paris) in 1886, where he studied in the atelier of Jules Lefebvre, alongside which, he attended Académie Julian where he followed the teachings of first Gustave Boulanger and then BenjaminConstant. This is where he met the future members of the Nabis group, including Édouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, and Paul Sérusier. Suffering from tuberculosis, Valtat took several medical retreats in the South of France in the 1890s. From there, he went on various trips to Spain. These Hispanic excursions may be the subject source of the painting that we are presenting: Three Bohemians. In addition, the light of the South influenced how Valtat painted and had an effect on his color palette and style. Three Bohemians testifies to certain precepts that Louis Valtat shared with the Nabis and some figures of the Parisian scene who nourished each other artistically. The bold composition points to the influence of painters like Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec, who were vanguard forerunners in the late 19th century. The three bohemians, albeit subjects of the
composition, paradoxically appear in the back, where they’ve been seemingly pushed by the commotion in the foreground apparently caused by an onlooker whose imposing, black silhouette is the only thing we can see. This foray permits Louis Valtat to develop a vast, dark, highly uniform span, which forms a counterpart to the red area that occupies the upper part of the work. The female figures’ multicolored outfit, on the other hand, allow for a burst of color and dislocated strokes, which lends an eminently vibrant, almost sonorous aspect to the painting, and visually recreates the tumultuous atmosphere of the ongoing musical performance. It is precisely this liberation of color - which becomes a structuring element thanks to the large areas of solid color that shape the composition - which caused the likening of Valtat’s work to Fauvism, right from the scandal of the Salon d’Automne in 1905, even though his links with the movement’s founding members were but superficial. Their instinctive association by contemporary critics is in itself proof of the astonishing and brilliant modernity of Louis Valtat’s painting, as well as of his precocious inventiveness, which the Three Bohemians eloquently embodies.