Le Sidaner developed his distinctive lexicon during the 1890s, under the influence of Symbolism. The poignant fin-de-siècle mood of early Belgian Symbolists Maurice Maeterlinck, Emile Verhaeren, and Fernand Khnopff set the tone of his œuvre. On a formal level, he found a suitably harmonious, all-over treatment for his compositions in Neo-Impressionism. The sense of understated mystery and gentle poetry, evident in Maisons au soleil, Villefranche-sur-Mer, was Le Sidaner's artistic inheritance from his Symbolist-inspired early years; while the richer palette, subtly worked contrasts and painterly application of pigment owed its debt to Impressionism. This dual aspect of his art was touched on by the critic, and his supporter, Camille Mauclair who wrote: ‘born out of Impressionism, [Le Sidaner] is as much the son of Verlaine than of the snow scenes of Monet’ (C. Mauclair, Henri Le Sidaner, Paris, 1928, p. 12).
In the decade after the Great War, the painter created the most celebrated part of his mature œuvre, by depicting the poetic suggestions of various corners of France: from his own garden in Gerberoy, to the park in Versailles, from the scenery of Brittany to that of the south of France. It is mostly here, in Villefranche-sur-Mer, that Le Sidaner found inspiration; the charming fishing village, which serves as the setting of the present work, had the privilege of being nestled at the bottom of a harbour, and therefore wonderfully sheltered from the winds and currents. As Yann Farinaux-Le Sidaner explained it ‘my great-grandfather liked to stroll on the quay. He could not find a happier setting than its beautifully coloured houses and its old walls arranged proudly on the water's edge’ (Y. Farinaux-Le Sidaner, Henri Le Sidaner, Paysages intimes, Sanit-Rémy-en-l’Eau, 2013, p. 182).
Le Sidaner’s mastery found a unique expression in the artist’s ability to capture light and, specifically, the indistinct hour when the day is about to die. It is that hour that Camille Mauclair had evocatively named ‘l'heure Le Sidaner’ (quoted in R. Le Sidaner, "Le peintre Henri Le Sidaner tel que je l'ai connu’, Henri Le Sidaner, exh. cat., Paris, 1989, p. 11), and that makes the Maisons au soleil, Villefranche-sur-Mer so emblematic of his works from this period.
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