1804 - 1869
Paul Huet was a pupil of Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, but soon became disenchanted with his master’s adherence to the academic style. He far preferred setting up his easel outdoors and painting from nature, in the Parc de St-Cloud near Paris, and the Île Seguin in the Seine Valley, which was still part of the countryside at that time. From 1819 to 1822 Huet studied at the studio of Antoine-Jean Gros, where he met the British landscapist Richard Parkes Bonington, who had moved from England to France in 1817. Together with Bonington, he painted seascapes on the Channel coast, at Honfleur and Trouville, which was then just a small port in Normandy; these canvases show him to be an excellent painter of raging seas. During this same period (around 1820) he also frequented the École des Beaux-Arts, and attended the Académie Suisse, in 1822. In this same year, he made the acquaintance of Delacroix.
In his early works, from 1821 and 1822, Huet painted the theme of the solitary cavalryman, with his back to the viewer, riding off into the heart of the forest or into a romantic landscape; and, in 1821, the theme of the Return of the Napoleonic Soldier, to which he would regularly return throughout his career. Thus, from the outset, Paul Huet may be regarded as a Romantic artist, in terms of the subjects he tackled, the feeling of anxiety that characterizes them, and the frenzied technique he used, which favours expressive eloquence over detail. His paintings are a visual record of his own state of mind, represented by mysterious forests or oppressive, stormy skies. However, on the occasions when he found inner peace, he produced far more serene pictures, such as his Elms at St-Cloud of 1823 (Paris, Petit Palais). It is highly probable, given his friendship with Bonington, that he saw the Constable exhibition that was held in Paris in 1824, and studied the paintings closely. In Constable’s works he would have discovered the same sense of natural light observed outdoors, and the same dramatisation of the landscape, that were cornerstones of his own painting. He shared the same ideas as Théodore Rousseau, Diaz and Jules Dupré, about the need to paint directly from nature, but was also, like them, harshly judged by the official juries. Nevertheless, he first won them over with his work View of the Environs of La Fère, which was accepted for exhibition at the Salon of 1827. In 1829 he painted panoramic views for the ‘Diorama’, a painted illusion of nature created by a variety of separate backgrounds and lighting effects (which, incidentally, is how the photographic pioneer Louis Daguerre began his career). In painting these panoramic backgrounds, Paul Huet perfected his sense of space, through extreme contrasts of distance and lighting: all of which is clearly evident in his View of Rouen from the Mont-aux-Malades of 1831 (now in the Musée de Rouen). He made engravings on wood and stone, and also made lithographs: for Huet, engraving was above all a means of accentuating effects of dark and light, and playing with contrasts. In 1831 he provided the illustrations for a book by Taylor and Nodier, entitled Picturesque Journeys. In 1831 he sent nine oil paintings and four watercolours to the Salon, which brought him to the public attention. From then on he regularly participated in the Salon exhibitions, and was awarded a second-class medal in 1833, the Légion d’Honneur in 1841, and first-class medals in 1848 and 1855. In 1836 he started teaching drawing to the Duchess of Orléans. As an artist of the Romantic movement he shared in its success, but also its decline in popularity among the public. He greatly admired his friend Delacroix, and shared his admiration for the English landscape painters. He was also a personal friend of the Fielding brothers. His pantheistic sense of nature, along with his open mind and cultivated spirit, earned him the esteem of Michelet, Hugo, Saint-Beuve and Lamartine. Huet travelled around provincial France in search of motifs, looking for picturesque, wild or grandiose places that lent themselves to the expression of his tormented state of mind, and found them on the Île-de-France, in Normandy at Houlgate, and in central France at Le Mont-Dore. He also travelled to Italy, but found the skies there too serene.
As a fully-fledged member of the Romantic movement, Paul Huet may be counted among the precursors of Impressionism; furthermore, the accuracy of his observations from nature, and his feeling for space, fresh air and light, undoubtedly influenced the painters of the Barbizon School. His allusive, feverish strokes of colour herald the greater artistic freedoms to come, and can be found in the work of Diaz. He understood all that was presaged in the paintings of Turner, and there are echoes of Turner’s influence in the pastel drawings he made towards the end of his life; his Pont-Neuf of 1847 can be regarded as a bridge between Turner’s shimmering mists and Claude Monet’s views of London.
Paul Huet’s work has been featured in some collective thematic exhibitions, including: in 2003, Lamartine and the Romantic Landscape around Paul Huet ( Lamartine et le paysage romantique autour de Paul Huet), at the Musée des Ursulines and the Musée Lamartine, in Mâcon, southern France. There have only been a few solo exhibitions celebrating his work, including: in 1938, at the Galerie Guy Stein in Paris; in 1965, at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen; in 1969, at the Pavillon des Arts in Paris; and Paul Huet, in 1995, at the Galerie Antoine Laurentin in Paris.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Ajaccio: Gate on the Road from Uriage to Vizille
Alençon: Interior of a Forest
Avignon: Gust of Wind, Memory of Auvergne; Torrent in Italy; View of Avignon, the Palais des Papes and the St-Bénézet Bridge
Béziers: A Farm in Bourron
Bordeaux: View of the Cliffs at Houlgate between Dives and Trouville
Bourges: View of Spoleto
La Rochelle: Landscape
Le Puy-en-Velay: Landscape
Lille: Rocks at Nice; Environs of Abbeville; Evening
Montpellier: Mountain Stream Bursting its Banks; Landscape; View from Bas-Meudon
Orléans: View of the Arques Valley and Château, near Dieppe; Wood at La Haye; two watercolours
Paris (Louvre): Flood at St-Cloud; Interior of a Forest; Hunters; Breakers on the Headland at Granville; The Park at St-Cloud; Farm; Cottage; Norman Horse; Interior of a Forest at Compiègne; Sunset at Seine-port; Morning Calm
Paris (Mus. du Petit Palais): Elms at St-Cloud (1823)
Rheims: Death Valley at the Foot of the Sancy
Rouen: View of Rouen from the Mont-aux-Malades (1831)
Vire: The Abyss