At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Albert Marquet, (or Pierre Léopold Albert Marquet) may appear to be a rather mysterious character. For all their simplicity, his paintings can seem to contain as much mystification as postmodernist intellectual frolics.
Albert Marquet’s life and work form a block without embellishments and cracks. One senses that this small, lanky man with thick glasses and a club foot has not changed and will never change. His life is like himself, simple, straightforward, and broad. He was a young man full of hang-ups before he became a discreet artist. It is probably true that naturalness and the ability to be oneself cannot be explained, but simply exist as a fact. At least for the moment. Now all that remains is to look and consider.
In Albert Marquet’s youth, as in that of Edouard Vuillard, a watchful mother played the most important role. The artist’s mother was born on the banks of the Arcachon Basin, a large mirror lined with pine trees and fields of wheat and corn. It is not superfluous to mention that this small and pretty, brave and cheerful peasant woman, who drew as a child, thought it natural that the gift should be reborn in her son. The quays and basins of Bordeaux were already beginning to inscribe their rigorous play of horizontals and verticals in the boy’s memory. He spent his holidays at Teich contemplating the sea and noticing the quiet conflict of nearby values, the differences between water and sky, between a boat and its shadow, between a rosier and an ashy grey.
The father, a Lorraine native and also of peasant descent, said to the child, attracted by the parallel lines racing through the tunnels and the comings and goings of the stations, “You, you will end up living on the streets!” Thus, two essential directions of Albert Marquet’s temperament became clear: an innate contemplative sense and a love of movement and wandering things. The fusion of the city and nature that he was to realise in his art was prepared by a half-rural, half-urban childhood, where the clouds of locomotives and cargo ships met other clouds and everything, even the railway embankment, was on the shore.
It is said that great Frenchmen are born in the provinces and die in Paris. Albert Marquet was no exception. He was born in Bordeaux on the 27th of March 1875, came to the capital as a teenager and never left. In 1890, at the age of fifteen, Albert Marquet left Bordeaux and enrolled at the School of Applied Arts in Paris. To follow him, his mother sold her plot of land and opened a small embroidery shop in Rue Monge in the centre of Paris. She did so despite strong opposition from her husband. It was during the outlook course that Matisse and Marquet met for the first time. The shy Marquet would remain in the shadows if it were not for his strong accent. As his wife said later: “It was not his fault that what was exciting to him was of no interest to others, and that his timidity prevented him from explaining himself.”
Because he never took off his glasses – he was very short-sighted – his classmates called him the Englishman. Through Matisse, Albert Marquet came into contact with Gustave Moreau, a liberal-minded professor who paid attention to the personality of certain rebel painters. On his advice, he would draw from antiquities at the “École des Beaux-Arts” and for a time attended the independent “Académie Carrière”. Matisse and Albert Marquet would soon meet at Moreau’s studio, where Albert Marquet received the city’s teaching certificate.
And so, Albert was not yet sixteen years old when he began his studies in Paris. As the only son of a humble railway clerk, he was, naturally, remote from the professional milieu and, still more, from the knowledge of the latest artistic trends. The 1890s was the time when the closing century met with the one about to begin. The fury of the last Impressionist exhibitions had died away, but Monet, Renoir and Pissarro were at the height of their success. Cézanne, still not fully recognised and known only to a very limited circle, was painting his finest canvases. At exhibitions, works by Bonnard, Signac, Henri Rousseau, Matisse and Gauguin hung side by side.
Public taste was habitually outraged and retained its devotion to traditional visual verisimilitude. Many of the techniques introduced by the Impressionists were already being used by the artists of the Salon, while in the schools of art the greatest respect was reserved for academic principles which dated back almost to the time of Jacques- Louis David. Albert Marquet was lucky. Soon after his arrival, he became acquainted with men who were destined to create the new art.
Some of the featured artworks of Albert Marquet:
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