Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The secret art of Albert Marquet

Albert Marquet, Figures on the Pont des Arts, lithograph, 1950

Think of the Fauve artist Albert Marquet and you think either of his iconic views of the Seine, leaden under a lowering sky, or of his bright and optimistic North African scenes. I have original prints by Marquet in both these modes – lithographs of Paris, and engravings of Algeria.

Albert Marquet, Minarets, engraving, 1947

But I also have a portfolio of lithographs of quite a different and unexpected order. Its innocent-sounding title is L’Académie des Dames: Vingt Attitudes. The nature of the contents is only given away by the insouciant made-up address of the publisher: New York: Sixty-ninth avenue. The portfolio was actually published in Paris, the name of the publisher being given as Éditions des Quatre-Chemins Éditart.

Albert Marquet, L'Académie des Dames, lithograph, c.1905

The portfolio contained 20 lithographs (I only have 19 of these) portraying two nude female models in a variety of erotic postures. It was issued in 25 copies on Japon imperial and 300 on vélin d’Arches, of which mine is no. 281. The work is definitely by Marquet – not just because the title page says so, or because the lithographs are signed in the stone with his initials, but because the freedom of line chimes completely with, say, the lovely quick sketches he made to illustrate Bubu of Montparnasse. It’s not the style but the subject matter that surprises.

Albert Marquet, L'Académie des Dames, lithograph, c.1905

If you look at photographs of Albert Marquet – sitting, for instance, in the beautiful light studio at 19, quai Saint-Michel that he took over from Matisse – he looks respectable and buttoned-up. You might take him for a successful small shopkeeper. You certainly wouldn’t expect him to have a portfolio of explicit lesbian lithographs tucked under his arm.

Albert Marquet, L'Académie des Dames, lithograph, c.1905

The portfolio isn’t dated. However, Le Dessin Fauve: 1900-1908, the catalogue of a 2002 exhibition at the Musée Cantini in Marseille, reproduces on page 130 two drawings by Marquet that are clearly linked to the Académie des Dames lithographs, showing the same models in similar poses. Another stylistically similar lewd drawing by Marquet reproduced in Le Dessin Fauve, dated 1905, shows the painter Charles Camoin with a nude model, in an attitude that suggests the young Fauves were enjoying a period of sexual freedom and louche behaviour at this time of artistic and personal self-discovery. Although the lesbian drawings are not precisely dated, this allows us to suggest a date c.1905 for the lithographs. Marquet would therefore have been a young man of about 30 when he made them. On the other hand I see that Wikipedia, which isn’t always wrong, dates “the illustration of a work on lesbian lovers” to 1910-1914. Whichever date is correct, we can certainly assume that the lithographs are pre-WWI, and pre-Marquet’s marriage.

In 1923 Albert Marquet married Marcelle Matinet, who wrote books under the pen-name Marcelle Marty. I suspect Mme Marquet would have taken a dim view of any further hot girl-on-girl modelling sessions. So the daring Académie des Dames lithographs, with their lithe, supple line and their tender sense of shared intimacy, remain perhaps our best chance to get to know the respectable artist as a passionate, young, unmarried man.

Albert Marquet, L'Académie des Dames, lithograph, c.1905

Like the rest of the Fauves, Pierre Léopold Albert Marquet came from a humble background. He was born in Bordeaux, where his father worked on the railways. When he was 15 it became clear that the boy should study art, drawing being his only interest, so mother and son went to Paris, where Marquet’s mother and her neice opened a dress shop to bring in enough money to fund his studies. It was at the École Nationale des Arts Décoratifs that Marquet met his lifelong friend Henri Matisse. When the two went on the Beaux-Arts to study under Gustave Moreau, they widened their circle to include Henri Manguin, Henri Evenepoël, and Charles Camoin.


Kmy said...

Very COOL drawings Love them all..

r8r said...

Glad I lucked onto this post, and very pleased that you posted these drawings by Albert Marquet.
I'm very familiar with his paintings relative to other French Fauvists, but this grouping of prints comes as a pleasant shock.
Writers are fond of noting that he had a way with a pen and brush, but they're stingy with examples of his drawing. You've made up for that nicely here.

I hope he made some good money with this edition.

Neil said...

Another great example of Marquet's drawing skills is his edition of Bubu de Montparnasse, which is crammed with beautifully observed little sketches.