MARQUET – A modern look

Exhibition from March 15th to May 31st 2016

Couverture du catalogue "Marquet un oeil moderne"

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Albert Marquet is originally from Bordeaux. Troughout his life he had a passion for the sea and rivers and was attracted to a simple life. A discreet, quiet and shy child, he became interested in drawing at a young age. His mother therefore decided to come and live in Paris in order to enrol him in a specialized school. Marquet entered the École des Arts Décoratifs in 1892 and thus began his training. In this school, he met Henri Matisse with whom he became friends. As early as 1894, Paul Baudoin, Albert’s professor, asked Gustave Moreau to welcome his student in his course at the École des Beaux-Arts. There, the young artist met those who along with Matisse, became his best friends – Camoin, Manguin, Puy…

They all discovered modern pleasures such as theatres, funfairs, dancehalls, circuses which offered them their raw material. They often ignored their Master’s workshop to sketch passers-by and scenes of street-life or on the terraces of cafes.

All felt the need to go beyond the academic principles and create their own style: with frank and vivid colours and original subjects reflecting the technical secret and cultural developments of the emerging modern world. Louis Vauxcelles eventually called this group, which was soon joined by Vlaminck, Derain… and who were exhibiting at the Salon d’Automne of 1905, “Les Fauves”.

Albert Marquet distinguished himself with drawings using minimalist yet clear, incisive, almost cartoonish, sometimes cruelly realistic strokes. Matisse compared his friend to Hokusai whose work was very appreciated at the time. This ability to capture reality is also reflected in his paintings. Moreover, Marius Mermillon wrote:

Marquet enters into commu- nication at once with the places he addresses… he immediately becomes familiar with them which allows him to obtain a realistic portrait, always verifiable as he used the best camera, his eye…. ” .1

As early as 1906, the painter abandoned the violent colours of fauvism to preserve only the purity of his strokes. He transformed his palette by loading it with muted tones, gradients ranging from black to white, from brown to ochre.

And yet, Marcel Sembat could write :

“Marquet possesses light like no other person, he has the secret of a pure, intense light whose uniform and colourless radiance fills the entire sky”.2

In Paris in 1905, Marquet was dedicated to the Quai des Grands Augustins, and then, in 1906, the Quai du Louvre. He created pure Parisian landscapes, centred on the essential. In 1908, he moved to Quai Saint-Michel to Matisse’s former workshop. He worked there until 1930, when he bought an apartment rue Dauphine, which overlooks the Pont Neuf and where he would live until his death. For these canvases, he selected innovative observation angles with views from above on the banks of the Seine or industrial docks.

At the same time, he scattered “his” quays with small characters sketched with a sure stroke that made Françoise Garcia say:

“The invention of Marquet lies in this minimalism of means which means that at the very moment when he is refining his colour, breaking his perspective and accentuating his stroke, he finds his own modernity in a repetitive, serial rhythm of the pattern”.3

During all these years he went on different trips: during the First World War, he divided his time between Paris and Marseille where he appreciated the cosmopolitan element. From 1920, he spent part of the winter in Algeria or Tunisia. Many paintings reproducing the bay or the port of Algiers, or the views of La Goulette, attest to his stays in North Africa. On this occasion, the painter rediscovered the vivid colours of his fauve period. In Algiers, he met Marcelle Martinet who became his wife in 1923. She was his model in many drawings and watercolours and his intermediary with regard to merchants, especially following the closure of the Galerie Druet in 1939.

In 1921, Marquet travelled to La Chaume, port of les Sables-d’Olonne, where he returned in 1933. In 1926, he spent several months in Hendaye. In 1936, despite his initial reluctance, he spent three months in Venice as the main guest of the Biennale. He brought back many canvases.

The painter remained faithful to his original pictorial choice; his painting gained in plenitude and confidence. From 1940 to 1945, the Marquet couple took refuge in Algiers. During these five years, the artist was deprived of the “only French river”, according to him, the Seine. With failing health, Marquet gave up his travels and settled for the last months of his life on the banks of his dear river, sharing his time between Paris and the village of La Frette, where he rented a house from 1938. He passed away there on the 14th of June 1947.

Michèle PARET Art Historian

1 M. Mermillon, Marquet, Paris, 1929, p.7
2 M. Sembat, Marquet in L’Art et les Artistes, nov. 1913, p.36
3 F. Garcia, Collection du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, 2002