1860 - 1923
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A pupil of his father Alphonse Chigot, Eugène Chigot enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1880, where he studied under Vayson, Cabanel and Bonnat. He exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1884-1924, and was commended by the jury of 1885, winning a third-class medal in 1887 and a second-class medal in 1890. After travelling in Spain, in 1887 he settled in Étaples in Flanders, before returning to Paris, where he became a founder of the Salon d’Automne. He was awarded bronze medals at the Paris Expositions Universelles of 1889 and 1990, and held his first solo show in Paris in 1905. He was an inspector of the museums of painting and drawing curated by the French maritime ministry, and an Officer of the Légion d’Honneur. His early works are large-scale history paintings, which he quickly relinquished in favour of landscapes, depicting scenes from his travels in southern France, Italy, the Auvergne, Vendée, Brittany and Flanders, whose light he particularly appreciated. Some of his works are reminiscent of paintings by Pissarro.
Eugène Chigot was born in Valenciennes in French Flanders on 22 November 1860, the fourth child of six of Alphonse Chigot (1824 – 1917) and Pauline Chigot (née Dubreuil) (1825 – 1910). His father was a former soldier and war artist who had served in the North African campaigns of the 1840s and later studied art in Valenciennes under Julien Potier. Eugène attended the Collège et Lycée Notre Dame des Dunes in Dunkerque where he met and befriended Henri Le Sidaner, who was to become a lifelong friend and supporter. His initial art training was as a pupil with his father Alphonse who operated an atelier in Valenciennes. His Father was not initially supportive of his son becoming a full-time artist but acquiesced to his son’s wishes upon the intervention of his artist colleague Alfred Philippe Roll (1846 – 1919), a former pupil of Léon Bonnat. In 1880 Chigot joined the atelier of Alexandre Cabanel and from 1881 until 1886 he attended the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts, at which he studied under Bonnat,Paul Vayson and Cabanel. The latter’s influence on the young Chigot was considerable. Although Cabanel mainly painted in an academic style, that was dismissed derisively as L’art pompier (literally ‘Fireman art’) by some critics, he was a skilled painter with a deep knowledge of nineteenth century French art, in particular impressionism and the naturalism of the Barbizon School from which Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Charles-François Daubigny were significant influences on Chigot. Chigot’s interests in the use of colour, softness of form and in atmospheric weather were formed under Cabanel’s tutelage.
Following his pupillage in Paris, Chigot searched for an appropriate environment from where he could paint. Initially he travelled to the south of France and to Italy. At this stage in his career Chigot favoured ‘En plein air’ painting, a theory credited to Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750–1819) that he expounded in a treatise entitled Reflections and Advice to a Student on Painting, Particularly on Landscape (1800) developing the concept of landscape portraiture by which the artist paints directly onto canvas in situ within the landscape. It enabled the artist to better capture the changing details of weather and light.
Eugène Chigot began exhibiting at the Paris Salon in 1884 and would continue to do so until 1924. He was commended by the jury in 1885 for Portrait des Artistes Français, before winning a third class medal in 1887 for La pêche interrompre and a second-class medal in 1890 for the maritime painting Prière du soir. These successes came with a monetary award which funded a stay in Spain in 1887. He then joined his long-term friend Henri Le Sidaner at Étaples on the Opal Coast, south of Calaiswhere they established an artists’ workshop and regular exhibitions that would eventually develop into a school of art, called the Villa des Roses. Étaples had a tradition of en plein air painting established by Charles-François Daubigny (1817–1878), who retreated there from the outbreak of the Paris Commune in 1871 and of the local Deauville painter Eugène Boudin (1824–1898), a leading post impressionist. In the period until the start of World War I in 1914 the area attracted numerous artists from abroad particularly the United States, Australia and the British Isles
Chigot lived in the area for most of the next twenty years initially at the villa attached to his studio in Étaples. In 1893 he married Martha Colle and spent part of his honeymoon in Berck, a favoured haunt of the impressionist painter Manet.Two years later, he bought a house in the new and wealthy resort of Le Touquet. The union produced a son Paul Louis, born in 1906 who was become an eminent decorated surgeon and a daughter Mathilde. The Chigots moved again in 1902 to the western Flanders town of Gravelines at the mouth of the river Aa where he built a chalet by the sea in which to paint. Chigot’s output during the 1890s was of a post impressionistic style, in which he depicted beach scenes with expansive skies, atmospheric seascapes, and local châteaux often with a pond in the foreground. His figures are intimate and placed within the coastal landscape. Chigot possessed the ability to convincingly paint still and moving water.
Eugène Chigot was an active participant in the founding of the Salon d’Automne, now an annual art exhibition held in Paris, which opened on 31 October 1903. Perceived as a reaction against the conservative policies of the official Paris Salon, the new exhibition was an immediate success showcasing developments and innovations in early 20th Century art. The Salon d’Automne from its inception received strong support from artists across the artistic spectrum including some of the most established artists in France that included: Paul Cézanne, Édouard Vuillard and Auguste Rodin who featured works at the inaugural exhibition. At the 1905 exhibition Chigot exhibited three canvases featuring the Flanders landscape: Le Soir à Vormouth, Place morte, Jardin en Flanders. The salon also witnessed the birth of Fauvism in 1905 and of Cubism in 1910.
The febrile artistic atmosphere of the later Belle Époque undoubtedly affected Eugène Chigot, who was based in Paris from 1908. Whilst Chigot could not be seen as a radical painter it is possible to see a second period in his work from 1905 –1923 where he has incorporated elements of modernist movements especially in the use of colour which becomes more vibrant and abstract. During this second period Eugène Chigot painted the landscapes of different regions of France. He continued to be inspired by the light and landscapes of Flanders but he also painted in: Versailles, Normandy, Brittany and Ile de France in the north and in Clisson and in the forests of Nivernais. He was drawn to the light and exuberant colours of the Côte d’Azur also painting a few canvases over the France-Italy border in Liguria notably at Dolceacqua.
In 1891 Chigot accepted the offer to become an official painter for the Marine Nationale (Peintre officiel de la Marine). The position necessitated a series of official paintings to commemorate notable events including the Kronstadt–Toulon naval visits . In 1893 Chigot completed a number of official paintings to mark President Émile Loubet’s visit to the French fleet at Toulon and that of the Russian Admiral Theodor Avellan’s visit to Toulon. Then in 1897 he was commissioned by President Felix Faure to capture the moment when Faure left France to meet the Russian Tzar and sign the Franco-Russian Alliance. In 1913 Chigot’s large canvas Pax was donated by the French government to hang in the newly founded Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Peace Palace in The Hague.
The disruption to French cultural life of the Great War was severe and within a short period many artists were struggling financially. In response, art critic Louis Vauxcelles organised an Exposition at George Petit’s Gallery in Paris, to which Chigot contributed a painting, with the profits going to the relief of artists. At the Exposition La Triennial in 1916 he contributes four paintings : La rue fleurie à Menton, Solitude au Grand Trianon, Printemps en Flandre, la Mortola Italie. On a tangible level the war had a deleterious effect on Chigot. His Father Alphonse, was behind enemy lines after the fall of Valenciennes to the Germany army. As a consequence, Chigot was unable to visit his father during his final illness in October 1917. In the previous month he had moved his family to Dieppe to keep them away from the front-line.
In 1917, in his capacity as an official government artist, Chigot was approached to join the French forces at Calais where he helped organise a morale boosting exhibition of Great War art. He recorded war damaged Calais, in a series of drawings and paintings, some of which have been lost. One major canvas Le Port de Calais (1917) has survived and shows a group of, heroically posed dockers, purposefully repairing the destroyed dock in Calais. At Nieuport on the River Yser, he witnessed first hand the effects of the bombardment on the town and created a series of stark drawings and paintings of the destruction.
The psychological effects of his experiences in the Great War seem to have left him in a depressed state. He and his wife embarked on a long vacation on the Côte d’Azur, where paintings such as Juan-les-Pins (1919), displayed expressionist tendencies. He was re elected to the committee of the Salon d’Autumn in 1919 and in 1920 he received a modicum of international recognition when he had paintings exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, an exhibition that toured some of the major galleries of the United States.
Eugène Chigot died in Paris on July 14, 1923. His body was returned to Valenciennes and buried beside other members of his family at the Saint-Roch cemetery
1954, Musée Galliera, Paris
2008, Musée du Touquet
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Agen: Admiral Avellan Entering the Harbour at Toulon in a Dinghy (1893)
Amiens: Shipwreck in Rough Weather
Charleville-Mézières: Fleeing the Invasion
Lille: Evening Prayer
Limoux: Fishermen Interrupted at Work
Nantes (MBA): Lost on the High Seas
Paris (MAM): Tenderness at Night; Castle in Snow
Tourcoing: Le Lengenoer, Dunkirk
Valenciennes: Seascape; Marius Escaping Sylla’s Emissaries