Louis Valtat was born in the Normandy region of France in 1869 to a wealthy family of ship owners. His father, an amateur painter, encouraged his interest in art, and at age seventeen decided on an artistic career. In 1887, he moved to Paris and enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts.
Later Valtat studied at the Académie Julian under Jules Dupré, a landscape painter of the Barbizon school. He became close friends with fellow students Albert André, Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, and Edouard Vuillard, who, at that time, were members of the Nabis movement that was heavily influenced by Paul Gauguin. While Valtat’s work was never associated with this movement, he learned the Gauguin method of painting and it would influence his works throughout his career.
After winning the Jauvin d’Attainville prize in 1890, Louis Valtat set up his own studio in Paris. In 1893, he exhibited, at the Salon of Independent, paintings of street scenes surrounding his studio. His submission of Sur Le Boulevard for this exhibition caught the attention of art critic, Felix Fénéo. Valtat’s work of this time incorporated techniques used in both Impressionism and Pointillism.
At the end of 1894, Louis Valtat collaborated with Henri Toulouse Lautrec and his friend Albert André on the set of the play Chariot de terre cuite (The Terracotta Chariot). At that time, Valtat began to suffer from tuberculosis and traveled to the South of France to recuperate. There he met a number of artists including Georges-Daniel de Monfried, a friend of Gauguin. In 1895, he visited Spain, and then returned to continue his convalescence in the South of France in Arcachon.
While in Arcachon, Valtat produced numerous paintings with intense colors, which he exhibited at the 1896 Salon of Independent Artists. These works were once again noticed by Fénéon, who mentioned them in a review in La Revue Blanche. While these intensely colored paintings reflected the spontaneity of Impressionism, he gives more definition to his shapes and objects of his compositions. Influenced by Vincent Van Gogh and Gauguin, he painted large areas with vivid colors, and applied thick brushstrokes onto the canvas.
From 1898 until 1914, Louis Valtat began to spend more time in the South of France. He built a house with his wife in Anthéor and continued to meet other artists in the area, such as Auguste Renoir and Paul Signac. Inspired by the region, his color palette became more intense and was filled with red and blues. Between 1900 and 1905, Valtat visited Renoir home and collaborated on several works. He also continued to travel throughout France and visited Italy and Algeria.
Renoir introduced Valtat’s works to Ambroise Vollard, the art dealer. Vollard became Valtat’s agent from 1900 to 1912. He organized Valtat’s first one-man exhibition at his gallery and submitted Valtat’s works to other exhibitions in Paris. In 1905, Valtat’s paintings were shown at the Salon d’Autumne, the exhibition in which journalist Louis Vauxcelles used the term Fauves (“Wild Beasts”) to describe the artists. The exhibition caused a scandal, and some journalists dubbed this new approach as “color madness,” and “pictorial aberration.”
In 1914, Louis Valtat left Anthéor and resided in Paris again. However, after ten years he bought a house with a garden in Choisel. His garden became a prominent subject for his paintings and his compositions became calmer while still using an intense color palette.
In 1927, Louis Valtat was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honor), which was considered the premier order of France. Throughout his career, Valtat remained true to his unique style and was never completely associated with a particular art movement, but was influenced by many. After the occupation of France, Valtat rarely left his studio due to failing health. He suffered from glaucoma and went blind in 1948, and after becoming ill, Valtat died in 1952 in Paris.
Louis Valtat works can be seen in the following museums: Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (Russia); Fondation Bemberg, Toulouse, Musée des Beaux Art, Bordeaux (France); Museum of Modern Art, New York City, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach (US); Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid (Spain)
“Valtat belongs to a generation of artists in between the Impressionists and post 1900 revolutionaries. It could have been said about him that he represents the indispensable link that accounts for the transition from Monet to Matisse.”
Quoted by Georges Peillex in the text for the supplement of the exhibition catalog entitled Louis Valtat; Retrospective Centenaire (1869-1968), Genève: Petit Palais, 1969.
The Friends of Louis Valtat