Fine Art

Henri Martin

French, 1860-1943


Oil on panel
14 3/4 x 21 1/2 inches (37.5 x 55 cm)
Framed: 21 1/2 x 28 1/2 inches (54.5 x 72.3 cm)
Signed: Henri Martin


Private Collection, Argentina
The authenticity of this painting has been confirmed by Cyrille Martin


This painting will be published in the forthcoming catalogue raisonne on the artist by Marie-Anne Destrebecq Martin.

Henri-Jean Guillaume Martin was born in Toulouse in 1860 to a French cabinetmaker and a mother of Italian descent. Martin successfully persuaded his father to permit him to become an artist, and began his career in 1877 at the Toulouse School of the Fine Arts, where he was under the tutelage of Jules Garipuy (he was also a pupil of Henry-Eugéne Delacroix). In 1879, Martin relocated to Paris and with the help of a scholarship, was able to study in Jean-Paul Laurens' studio. Four years later, he received his first medal at the Paris Salon, where he would hold his first exhibition three years later in 1886.

The year after he won his first medal, Martin was awarded a scholarship for a tour in Italy, where he studied the early Renaissance work of masters such as Giotto and Masaccio. It was while touring Italy that Martin discovered a style involving a radically short brush technique that divided the picture plane in a multitude of small and highly visible strokes. In many ways the technique was reminiscent of that of Georges Seurat: some critics see Martin as absorbing the radical painting styles of the Impressionists and Post-impressionists yet using those styles to create highly conventional paintings.

Martin’s first visit to Venice affected him greatly and had a profound impact on his artistic development. Like contemporaries such as Boudin, Pissarro, Renoir and Monet, Venice fascinated the artist. Just before his return to France he wrote: ‘Of all the cities that I have seen on my trip, Venice is by far the one that delights me the most… What corners it has to paint in! I was not expecting such work, or I would have left Rome and Florence earlier… Italy offers everything to be desired. I will come back as soon as possible’. (quoted in C. Juskienewski, Henri Martin (exhibition catalogue), Cahors & Toulouse, 1993, p. 91

His stay in Italy brought a new lyrical freedom to his work, and on his return to Paris in 1889, he began experimenting with Pointillism and turned almost exclusively to landscape. In 1889, Martin exhibited at La Fete de la Federation, where he was presented with a gold medal. By the 1890s, his works showed links with Symbolism and he exhibited at all the major venues of the Symbolist painters: the first Salon de la Rose Croix in 1892; the Munich Secessionist exhibition of 1893, La Libre Esthetique in Brussels in 1896 and the Vienna Secessionist exhibition of 1898. He was named Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1896, and in 1900 won the grand prize at the Exposition Universelle. In 1914, Martin was titled Commander of the Legion of Honour and became a member of the Institute in 1918. In 1939, he bought Marquayrol, a mansion overlooking La Bastide du Vert, near Cahors, producing his highly regarded late works in the new tranquil environment, and died there in 1943.

In our painting, Martin shows the considerable influence that Venice played in his work. His magnificent brushwork captures the shimmering quality of the water and reveals his sensitivity to the effects of light and color. He succeeds in rendering the conventional subject matter of a Venetian canal into a novel and completely original work of art. Venice is among Martin’s most evocative paintings, capturing the poetic majesty of the city. Rather than depicting the city’s architectural splendor and impressive facades, the artist was interested in recording its sublime and romantic qualities. With a composition that emphasizes on the canal, he further accentuates the subject by the warm colors of the buildings in the background. The tighter brushwork of the buildings gives contrast to the rest of the composition, exemplifying his unique painting style. While the painting veers near abstraction, the extraordinary handlings of the reflections of the water bring the work back into the realm of Impressionist storytelling. The painting is truly an excellent example of Martin’s work and demonstrates his mastery of light resulting in an image of serene beauty of Venice.