Guigou came from a wealthy family and, after completing his secondary education in Villars-les-Apt, he was destined for the legal profession. While training in a legal practice, he gave in to his artistic bent for drawing and painting landscapes and was encouraged by Émile Loubon, a highly regarded painter of the herds of bulls in the Camargue region of Provence and director of the École des Beaux-Arts in Marseilles. His first trip to Paris in 1856 confirmed him in his vocation. His family resigned themselves to his decision, he left Provence and settled in Paris in 1862. Although he worked in Paris on a regular basis, homesickness for Provence forced him to return frequently. In 1866, he made a brief trip to Algeria, where he executed some landscapes. Having joined the army, he returned to Paris in 1871, becoming drawing teacher to Baroness Rothschild. However, after catching a chill, he died of a stroke at Lariboisière Hospital on 21 December 1871, aged 37.From 1854, Guigou regularly took part in the Bouches-du-Rhône art society's exhibitions, which brought the works of Couture, Jules Dupré, Corot, Monticelli and Millet together with those of local artists. In Paris, he exhibited in various Salons. Even though his work was in the Louvre, and despite the 1927 retrospective exhibition in Paris at the Musée du Luxembourg, Guigou fell into obscurity after his early death. However, after regular exhibitions in the Paris galleries, his fame began to spread after 1938, and he has now gained his rightful place of an inspired and individual artist among the many French 19th-century landscape painters. Since then, exhibitions have been dedicated to him in Marseilles in 1959, New York and Columbus in 1987 and the Toulon Museum in 1989. He has also been represented in collective exhibitions such as: Women in Provence and the Mediterranean (Le Femme en Provence et en Méditerranée), Fondations Regards de Provence, Broély Castle, Marseilles.
In Provence, Guigou painted small, wooden panels, mainly in the valley of the Durances river, which he subsequently used for larger works. Lack of success forced him to give drawing and painting lessons. In the Île de France, he worked in the Seine and Loing valleys. In 1870, the review by the French art critic, Théodore Duret, helped to establish his talent. Guigou did nothing to help raise his profile and his natural reserve, his dislike of society and even for the friendship of other artists meant that he remained almost unknown. In the second half of the 19th century, when there was such a rich range of artistic talent in France, especially in landscape painting, Paul Guigou brings to mind the Dutch minor masters of the 17th century both in terms of his work and of the moral climate. Modest and stubborn, preferring to work alone, he was not influenced by any one particular school, but was a local artist, a painter of his Provençal homeland. His landscapes are well-composed and animated by the natural integration of human forms. His approach to landscape is faithful, fervent and meticulous, which is why he can be compared with the Dutch. His brief career, limited to just a dozen years of regular work, was restricted to exalting the beauty of his native Provence. In comparison with the rich painting of his time, he produced mainly small format paintings, which are more inspired than his larger works. Yet the confidential, intimate sentiment of these small landscapes, their fervour, faithfulness and virility, mean they are appreciated for the sincerity and originality of his message. Guigou's career raised no problems or concerns, but was harmonious. In his short life, he managed to capture the light of Provence and to embody in it a great diversity of views.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Aix-en-Provence (Mus. Granet): Pasture around Berre; Constantin Farm; Cows Grazing
Algiers (Mus. National des Beaux-Arts): Sunken Lane, Vaucluse
Edinburgh (Nat. Gal. of Scotland): The Olive Trees (oil on canvas)
Geneva (MAH): Rock by the Sea
Marseilles (Mus. Longchamp): Allauch Countryside; Washerwomen at the Stream (oil on canvas)
Montpellier (Mus. Fabre): Bridge and Washerwomen or Provençal Landscape (1869)
Paris (MAM): Landscape of Provence
Paris (Mus. d'Orsay): Washerwoman; Road to Gineste
Paris (Mus. du Petit Palais): View of St-Saturnin-les-Apt; White Road; Washerwoman
Périgueux: Outskirts of Marseilles; Hamlet of La Nerthe
Toulon: Banks of the River Arc at Milles near Aix (1865)