Henri Lebasque first visited the French Riveria in 1906 at the suggestion of his friend Henri Manguin. In 1924, Lebasque relocated to the region to permanently take advantage of its unparalleled light. In the intervening years, the artist who would earn the sobriquet "Painter of Joy and Light" returned often. In 1914, he brought his family to the town of Sainte-Maxime, about halfway between Cannes and St. Tropez. Here, he would undertake an idyllic series of family portraits set on the terrace of their waterfront house.
Lisa A. Banner interprets the Sainte-Maxime Terrasse series, among Lebasque's "most important formative works," as an example of the artist's attempt "to resolve thematic or compositional problems in his work by painting the same subject several times in nearly identical attitudes" (in Lebasque, exh. cat., Montgomery Gallery, San Francisco, 1986, op. cit., pp. 18-19). Along with its companion painting, La Terrasse (fig. 1), the present work is one of several "paintings done in various shapes and sizes, of the same family group breakfasting on the terrace, with sunlight streaming in through the open arches" (ibid., p. 21).
Though the two paintings are virtually identical in their central orientation, the present work is the more intimate of the pair. The upper and lower edges have been pared down from the airy, squared format to the composition's essential domestic forms, with the ruddy dog at lower center replacing the static toy horse. The soft pink walls and cozy foliage intimately enclose the tranquil family scene.
Banner further makes light of the "characteristic mysterious aspect" in Lebasque's work--"the absence of detail in his portrayal of faces." She goes on to note that the artist "achieves greater intimacy with his subjects by this technique, leaving them the anonymity of disguise by careful omission of facial distinction and coaxing greater expression from the limbs and body poses of his sitters" (ibid., p. 18). Indeed, in the present composition, the five figures' dispositions are conveyed more through their physical attitudes than their miens. The two children are seen mainly in profile, and three others wear sun hats which further mask their facial expressions.
Though their faces are largely obscured, the angles of the figures' heads, emphasized by the slants of their bonnets, create an intimate play of regards. The seated woman at right fixes intently on the pink-clad child, whose rhyming dress and tilted head tend toward the central seated figure. Her downward gaze in turn draws us to the ascendant woman in red, looking finally to the nude child at left--who, according to Banner, was added for "compositional balance" (ibid., p. 43). By choreographing this subtle dance of gazes, the artist invites the spectator into the close circle of his family. Though the scene takes place outdoors, under the dappled light of the French Riviera, Lebasque achieves an intimacy that rivals the interior domesticity of his contemporaries Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard. "The centerpiece of attention" at the Carnegie International Exhibitions of 1926 and 1935, the present painting exemplifies Lebasque's formative serial works.
(fig. 1) Henri Lebasque, La Terrasse, 1913-1914. Private collection, California. (BARCODE 28500322)