Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli

1824 - 1886

Biography

Monticelli entered the Paris studio of Paul Delaroche at the age of 22. His parents initially favoured a career as a pharmacist, but were soon convinced of his artistic vocation, thanks more to their son’s complete lack of enthusiasm for any other activity than to evidence of outstanding talent on his part. Adolphe was a relatively undistinguished student during his three years at the municipal school of drawing in Marseilles; his true inspiration was the Louvre, where he spent long hours copying works by Rembrandt, Veronese and Giorgione, and where he met Delacroix, whom he admired throughout his life. He returned to Marseilles from 1849 to 1863, when he settled in the French capital once again until the outbreak of hostilities in 1870.Monticelli’s career was divided equally between Paris and Marseilles (he spent a total of 15 years in each). His artistic evolution is marked by clearly distinguishable ‘Paris’ and ‘Marseilles’ periods, but his work as a whole remains underpinned by an inexhaustible, lifelong exploration of the physical and expressive, spiritual properties of colour. His early Romantic works (before 1860) are characterised by capable drawing, careful handling and the use of glazes in shades of yellow and red-brown over a bituminous base. A handful of compositions from this period feature a livelier interplay of brighter, purer colours; by 1860, Monticelli’s technique had evolved increasingly in this direction. His paintings of the 1860s are characterised by pearly, iridescent effects and a sophisticated palette. His scenes from the Decameron, or fêtes galantes at St-Cloud, convey an exhilarating sense of joie de vivre, luxury and refined pleasure, perfectly in keeping with his ‘dandified’ persona. Napoleon III acquired two of his paintings, and he enjoyed an enthusiastic following among British collectors. Despite the limitations of his subject-matter and motifs, his painting was consistently fresh and sparkling, never mechanical. Delacroix expressed surprise at Monticelli’s success, and admiration: ‘There arose around Monticelli a kind of expectant rumour among his fellow painters’. Monticelli himself was untroubled by the views of his critics, whom he did not frequent, or his collectors, since he sold his pictures exclusively through dealers. He was devoid of social or financial ambition, content to sell enough work to support his chosen lifestyle, and never exhibited at the Salon. He was a stylish dresser, a womaniser and a gourmet. His distaste for social scheming may go some way to explain why he was never awarded the usual public honours. In the manner of Victor Hugo’s hero Ruy Blas, he nurtured a sentimental, idealised passion for Napoleon III’s Empress, Eugénie de Montijo, whose features are discernible in some of his female figures. With the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, Monticelli’s dilletante existence in Paris came to an abrupt end. He left his home in Romainville on foot, stayed for a few weeks in the southern French town of Salon and arrived in Marseilles in 1871, now aged 47. Misunderstood, and alienated from local collectors and the city’s intellectual élite, Monticelli was forced to work in isolation. In Marseilles – with its tumult and squalor, its sunsets redolent of the Oriental splendors of the Maghreb just over the horizon – Monticelli was free to develop his distinctive, mature style. When peace returned he chose to stay in the south, despite the entreaties of his Parisian friends, living in one room furnished with a low bed, an easel and two chairs. Bathed in purplish light from its only window, hung with a red flowered curtain, Monticelli delighted in his humble lodgings and settled contentedly into a new life of quiet probity, enjoying the company of a handful of local shopkeepers – simple, everyday people, lovers of good food and ritual drinkers of absinthe. He attended the opera and the Italian pantomime, highly popular at the time, and was transported by music of all kinds, especially that of the Hungarian gypsy bands who performed regularly in the city’s bars and cafés. ‘At the last flourish of the fiddler’s bow, he would hurry back to his garret, light all the candles he could muster and paint until he was weak with fatigue.’ (Paul Guigou). The correlation between music and images is central to Monticelli’s work throughout his final Marseilles period. Like his contemporaries Théophile Gautier and Baudelaire, he seems to have experienced synaesthesia, ‘hearing’ the melodic properties of colours and light in what became, for Monticelli, a permanently-altered perceptive state. ‘The sound of blues and greens reaches me in palpable waves’, he observed. This ‘musical climate’ remains an important factor distinguishing Monticelli’s work from the output of his many plagiarisers. His pictures are imbued with the sensory fluency of the Venetian school, mixed with a kind of ‘magical realism’ (his family were of Venetian origin, and he claimed to have lived in the city in past lives). Upon his arrival in Marseilles in 1871, he abandoned his earlier, virtuoso style in favour of a highly disciplined technique based on three colours: grey, yellow and violet. From 1875 onwards, however, colour flowed back into his work. Contrary to popular belief, he seldom painted with a palette knife, preferring short, hard brushes. His technique and handling are deft and innovative, wiping colours with a cloth, spreading paint with his fingers, using complementary colour contrasts, isolating elements of his composition within heavy outlines, employing bright hatching or dots in ‘major’ colours against neutral backgrounds. Cut off from the artistic mainstream, Monticelli was free to explore and innovate, off-setting impasto colour against the natural hues of his supports: red-brown mahogany, blond walnut. His prolific output of medium-sized easel paintings embraced flower-pieces, portraits, still-lifes and opera scenes, bathed in the light of the French Midi, bright and warm – Monticelli’s light. (‘I paint three keys higher…’, he noted.) His portraits burn with a strangely fevered light noted by Van Gogh. Unlike many other painters, Monticelli’s brand of Impressionism seeks to preserve form, rather than dissolving it in light. ‘Monticelli created a new generation of colour, the offspring of light itself’, wrote G. Boissy. ‘In this, he has no rival’. Monticelli’s extraordinary œuvre is peppered with masterpieces, and some notable failures, yet all of his works feature passages of exquisite, visionary quality.Monticelli’s work features regularly in thematic exhibitions, such as Women in Provence and the Mediterranean (Le Femme en Provence et en Méditerranée), organised by the Fondation Regards de Provence at the Château de Borély in Marseilles, in 2001.

 

Museum and Gallery Holdings

 

Aix-en-Provence: Ladies in a Park; Landscape; Head of a Ruffianly Soldier

Aix-en-Provence (Mus. Granet): Park Scene (oil on canvas)

Algiers: Woman with a Dog

Allauch (Church of St-Sebastien): Let’s Go for Heaven

Amsterdam (Rijksmus.): Jesus among the Little Children; Sunlit Promontory; At the Altar; Woman in a Tailored Jacket; Outdoor Gathering of Ladies and Gentlemen; Elegant Company in a Park; Landscape

Amsterdam (Stedelijk Mus.): Resting in a Forest

Antwerp: Figure in a Park; The Port at Marseilles

Baltimore: Track through the Woods; Allegory (oil sketch); Allegory; Spring Morning; Allegory; Sunset; Portrait of Monticelli

Boston: Scene from Don Quixote; Scene on a Terrace; Landscape

Bowes: Landscape

Brussels: Autumn

Bucharest (Muz. National de Arta al României): Scene in a Park; Portrait of a Woman

Buffalo: Portrait of Madame Rosenthal (attributed); Cardiff: Capers

Dijon: Departure of the Hunt

Edinburgh (Nat. Gal. of Scotland): A Gypsy Encampment (oil/panel); The Fête (oil/panel); The Garden of Love (oil/panel); A Woodland Fête (oil/panel); A Garden Fête (oil?/panel); In the Grotto (oil/panel)

Frankfurt am Main: painting; Scene in a Park

Glasgow: Adoration of the Magi; A Garden Party; A Nuptial Procession

Grasse: Scene in a Park

Ixelles: Seascape

Lille: Scene from the Decameron; Landscape

London (NG): The Hayfield (1860-1880, oil/wood, on loan to the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin, since 1979); 12 paintings from Harry Wearne’s collection

Lyons: Portrait of Mme René; Scene in a Park; Bathing-party

Manchester (City AG): A Woodland Glade; Ladies on a Terrace

Marseilles (École des Beaux-Arts): Nude

Marseilles (MBA): Women with Swans; Waterfowl; Portrait of Mme Pascal; Turks at the Mosque

Marseilles (Mus. Cantini): Large Scene with Figures; Group of Figures with Mephistopheles; Riders and Figures; Provençal Landscape; Autumn Landscape (two works); Portrait of a child; Portrait of a Man; Portrait of a Woman; Portrait of M. Kahn

Marseilles (Mus. du Vieux Marseille): Portrait of M. Vincent Torcat

Marseilles (Mus. Grobet-Labadié): Bouquet of Flowers; Travelling Acrobats; Festive Scene in Spain; Faust and Margarete; Sketch; Monsoon; Landscape with Figures; Two Female Nudes; Two Cupids

Milan: Adoration of the Magi

Minneapolis (IA): Garden Scene (Scène de parc) (1868, oil on canvas)

Montreal: Garden Party; An Intimate Gathering; Country Party; Dancing in a Garden; Donkey and Cart

Moscow (Pushkin MFA): Landscape

Mulhouse: Preparing for the Ball; Parrot

New York: Ladies of Quality; Festive Scene

New York (Metropolitan Mus. of Art): The Court of the Princess (La Cour de la Princesse)

Paris (Louvre): Bathers; Strolling at Twilight; Serenade; Still-life; Gathering in a Park; Portrait of Mme Teissier; Women in a Glade

Paris (Mus. des Arts décoratifs): Women in a Glade; Scene in a Park

Paris (Mus. du Petit Palais): Gathering in a Park under the Valois

Philadelphia (MA, Johnson Collection): Masquerade; Nymphs Bathing

Philadelphia (MA, Wilstach Collection): A Boating-party

Pittsburgh (Carnegie MA): The Fountain of Youth (oil/panel)

Portland, ME (MA): Untitled (Landscape with Figures) (Sans titre (Paysage avec figures)) (c. 1880)

Rome: The Return

Rotterdam: Sea Urchins

Roubaix: Gilles the Seducer; A Lady in the Reign of Louis XIII

Sète: Gathering at a Château

St Louis: Arrival of the Guests; Isle of Cythera; Landscape with Figures

Stockholm: Woman with a Fan; Autumn Landscape; Walkers with a Dog; Park scene with Peacocks; Park scene

Strasbourg: Park scene

The Hague (Gemeentemus.): Scene in a Park; Landscape

The Hague (Mus. Mesdag): A Party at Night; Seascape

Toulon: Psyche distributing Cupid’s Jewels among her Sisters

Wassenaar: Flowers; Small Dog; Portrait of a Grandfather; Portrait of a Woman; Group of Women

Worcester: Confidences; The Banks of a River

Artworks

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Les Baigneuses Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli

c. 1876
Oil on panel

£9,950.00

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Les Baigneuses by Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli

Orientalist Figures Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli

1870
Oil on canvas

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Orientalist Figures by Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli - Sold

The Adoration of the Magi Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli

c. 1870
Oil on panel

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The Adoration of the Magi by Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli - Sold