Louis Valtat was a French painter, printmaker, and stage designer born in Dieppe on August 8, 1869. He spent much of his youth in Versailles before moving to Paris in 1887, where he studied under Gustave Boulanger, Jules Lefèvre, and Benjamin Constant at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He also studied under Jules Dupre at the Academie Julian, where he met Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, and Albert Andre.
Interested in both artistic precedents and contemporary trends, he spent the mid-1890s absorbing the chief tenets of Impressionism, Pointillism, and Van Gogh’s style before developing his own. After winning the Jauvin d’Attainville prize in 1890, Valtat set up his own studio at rue La Glaciere in Paris. In 1893, he took part in the Salon des Artistes Indépendants for the first time. In 1895, he collaborated with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Andre on the set of of Aurélien-François Lugné-Poë’s play, Chariot de terre cuite (The Terracotta Chariot), performed at the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre in Paris. Under Toulouse-Lautrec’s influence, his own work darkened in both color and sentiment, but by 1896, turned toward scenes of contemporary French life with a sunnier and more optimistic air.
During the mid-1890s, Valtat began to suffer from tuberculosis and traveled to Banylus in the South of France to recuperate. There he met various artists including Georges-Daniel de Monfried, a friend of Gaugin, and Aristide Maillol. In 1895, he visited Spain, and then returned to continue his convalescence in the South of France in Arcachon. From 1899 to 1914, Valtat divided much of his time between Paris and a house in Antheor, near Le Lavandou. While in the South of France, he continued to broaden his contacts with other artists in the area, such as Auguste Renoir and Paul Signac. Between 1900 and 1905, Valtat visited Renoir in his house in Cagnes, and they collaborated on several works.
It was Renoir who introduced Valtat to the legendary art dealer Ambroise Vollard. Vollard became Valtat’s agent from 1900 to 1912. He organized Valtat’s first one-man exhibition at his gallery just after that of Matisse’s, and sent Valtat’s entries to various exhibitions that were held in Paris.
Valtat participated in the groundbreaking Salon d’Automne in 1903. His greatest moment of notoriety occurred at the later Salon d’Automne of 1905. Among the reproductions in Louis Vauxcelle’s review of the Salon (in which the term ‘Fauve’ was first used) was a loosely brushed marine scene by the artist. Valtat, however, always remained detached from and on the fringe of the Fauvist movement. His palette may have been similarly bright, but the distortions of color and line were not quite as bold or reductive as those achieved by the leader of the Fauves, Henri Matisse.