10 May 2001
Maximilien Luce (1858-1941)
Le Pont-Neuf. La Seine. Petit bras
signed and dated 'Luce 1900' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 36¼ in. (65 x 92 cm.)
Painted in 1900
Anon. sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 24 February 1936.
Eric Hale, London.
Anon. sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 13 June 1974, lot 36.
Acquired by the present owner, 1974.
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P. Cazeau, Maximilien Luce, Paris, 1982, p. 126 (illustrated).
D. Bazetoux, Maximilien Luce, Catalogue de l'oeuvre peint, Paris, 1986, vol. II, p. 68, no. 245 (illustrated; dated 1892).
In 1879 Ogden N. Rood published his treatise "Modern Chromatics" in which he presented the discovery of the scientific principals of optical fusion. His writings drew the attention of the group of Impressionist painters who had been seeking a more systematic approach to rendering the effects of light and they applied this new understanding of how the eye mixed color to their painting. Rejecting the traditional system of mixing colors on a palette, they formulated a painterly technique in which pure pigments were placed directly on the canvas with short brushstrokes and art critics called the new technique "Divisionism" or "Pointillism".
Luce was one of the earliest practitioners of this technique and through his friendship with Camille Pissarro he came to know Georges Seurat, Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross. He exhibited seven "divisionist" paintings with the group in the third exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants in 1887. His entries to the exhibition earned the favorable attention of the art critic Felix Fenéon who singled them out for praise. Luce was less bound by the theoretical dicta of optical fusion than the other members of his circle and his paintings favored a more instinctive approach which he applied with equal interest to landscapes and portraits. Luce visited Pissarro in Ergany and Signac in Herblay, and the exchange between the artists played an important role in Luce's development. So intertwined were the lives of these artists during this period that Seurat's family asked Luce to inventory the contents of Seurat's studio when he died in 1891.
Starting in 1889, Luce painted a series of works portraying the Seine from different vantages and times of day. One of his earliest paintings of this subject, Le Pont-Neuf (J. Bouin-Luce and D. Bazetoux no. 250) was purchased by Signac. Le Pont-Neuf. La Seine. Petit bras is remarkable for its delicacy of color and atmosphere. According to Denise Bazetoux, "the 'divided' brush-stroke technique enables Luce to render the indecisive impression of falling twilight, or the shimmering of light" (op. cit., p. 64). The violet that permeates Le Pont-Neuf. La Seine. Petit bras is characteristic of his paintings from this period. Working with graduated tones, Luce captures the effect of dusk as it falls on the city and punctuates the darkness with small touches of golden light that emanate from the gas-lit windows.
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