Further information: This work has been authenticated by the world expert on Leech, Dr Denise Ferran. The work is accompanied by an essay on the painting by Dr Ferran.
William John Leech (1881 – 1968)
‘The Market, Concarneau’
15” x 18” oil on canvas (French stamp on the back of the canvas.)
In 1901, the Irish painter, William John Leech proceeded from the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin and joined the hundreds of other students from all over the world in the Académie Julian in Paris. He enrolled in the studio of Bourguereau, who was then in his late 70’s, and of Ferrier, who was twenty years, Bourguereau’s junior. He was also taught painting by the history painter, Jean-Paul Laurens, who criticized any student for using an ‘impressionistic palette’ but it was the work of the Impressionists which most impressed Leech, firstly by his teacher in Dublin, Walter Osborne and then seeing their work in Dublin in the 1899 Loan Exhibition and again in the Parisien galleries of Durand-Ruel. In Paris, he shared a studio in Montparnasse, close to Julian’s, with two New Zealand friends, S.L. Thompson and C. Bickerton. When Thompson had to leave Julian’s in the summer of 1902 because of the heat and the fumes from the oil paint scrapings on the walls, Leech remained at Julian’s for another year but then followed Thompson to Concarneau in 2003, after completing two years at Julian’s. Going to Brittany was a route for French artists such as Gauguin but also for Irish artists before Leech, such as Nathaniel Hone and Walter Osborne. Irish artists, Helen Mabel Trevor, Aloysius O’Kelly, Henry Thaddeus Jones and John Lavery specifically made Concarneau their destination of choice, which after the 1880’s was accessible with the extension of the railway line.
Concarneau, with its harbour and its fishing industry was an attractive location for artists. Willing to pose for a modest fee, the local people brought along their coiffes and collars, the fishermen in their Breton fishing gear, whether they fished for sardines or tuna. S.L.Thompson, who became Leech’s lifelong friend, described the area in 1905 as full of ‘quaint fisherfolk, with their picturesque boats, and in the other villages characteristic types particularly valuable to figurative painters’ which he was. The four hotels in Concarneau were cheap to stay in and Leech stayed in the Hotel de France when he arrived and lodged there, on and off, until 1906. The Hôtel des Voyageurs provided studios for artists in their top floors but Leech most likely shared a studio with Thompson which was along the quayside, with views of the harbour and the markets, the large weekly market being held outside the Hôtel des Voyageurs. This painting of a market in Concarneau, is viewed from an elevated level, suggesting that Leech painted this from his studio window. It is a similar work to Leech’s ‘The hat stall, Concarneau’ and ‘The little blue cart’, illustrated in colour on page 114 and 115 in Ferran ‘Leech: An Irish Painter Abroad’ but with one difference, both these works are painted in brilliant sunlight, whereas ‘The Market, Concarneau’ is painted on a wet day, evident in the lower tones of greys and blues and the abundance of large black umbrellas. Three nuns in the left foreground, seen shopping for the Convent, are most likely of the order of Les Soeurs du St Esprit (The Sisters of the Holy Ghost) who ran the hospital, in which Leech and Thompson, spent time convalescing from typhoid fever in 1904. Beside the three nuns are two Breton women in traditional gear, in their long skirts and aprons and their hair tucked into their traditional coiffes, which were unique to each region in Brittany. Two carts, one painted green and the other left plain wood, resemble the two-wheeled simple cart, which Leech depicted in ‘The Blue Cart’. ‘The Market Concarneau’ and is probably painted during this period from 1903 until 1910. It is a similar size, 15” x 18”as ‘The fair, Concarneau’ which is also oil on canvas and a similar size to ‘The hat stall, Concarneau’ which is also oil on canvas and signed Leech in the lower left hand side. The painting shows Leech’s fluid brushstrokes, his strong diagonals created by the shoppers below and the space of the market yard, curtailed by tree trunks.
Dr Denise Ferran