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"Porte Saint Denis" by E. Galien Laloue

E. Galien-Laloue’s Paintings and Technique

By Jeffrey Morseburg

E. Galien-Laloue and the Gouache Medium

Most of E. Galien Laloue’s scenes of Parisian life were painted in “gouache” or opaque watercolor, a medium that was rare in Laloue’s day and is even less rarely used today.  The watercolors that we usually see are transparent, with one wash of light color applied over another, so that the underlying color can be seen through the top application of paint.  Watercolors are made by mixing pure pigment with a binder – essentially an agent that helps the pigment stick together, such as gum arabic – and once they are mixed with water, watercolors can be brushed on.  However, artists like Galien-Laloue did not want viewers to see the sketch that they painted over, or earlier washes of color, so they used the medium known as gouache, which comes from the Italian word guazzo, for water paint, or what British art historians call “body colour.” Gouache is made the same way as common watercolors, but the pigment is usually ground less finely and a white pigment is mixed in so that when it is applied the paint is opaque and more reflective. The white pigment in 18th and early 19th century gouaches was lead white, but “Chinese White” or zinc oxide was made synthetically by the “French Method” in France from the 1840s on and so it was probably an inert agent in Galien-Lalou’s gouaches.

The most common question most collectors ask about Galien-Laloue’s work is why he chose to work in a water-soluble medium that must be protected by glass.  The simple answer would be that he liked the effects he could achieve with gouache and he enjoyed working with this medium.  We have to remember that Galien-Lalou’s drawing ability – fine, accurate draughtsmanship – was the armature on which his street scenes were constructed.  Working from his copious sketchbooks, he drew the scene he wished to paint onto his surface – usually pressed paper – and then began painting.  Galien-Laloue would have liked the fact that the water-soluble medium dried quickly but he would also have been well aware that can be tricky to use, for the darker colors tend to dry lighter and the lighter colors dry darker.  Because the color of the paper was often left to show through or just covered with a layer of transparent watercolor, mistakes were almost impossible to correct.  The areas of darker or more intense color were daubed on – for in Galien-Laloue’s case gouache was a dabbing medium – with thicker applications of paint than the surrounding areas, so if he colored outside the lines of his sketch, the painting could be ruined.  If you examine one of these little paintings carefully, you have to marvel at the incredible hand-eye coordination that Galien-Laloue must have possessed.  The precision and detail in each one of his opaque watercolors is remarkable, and his command of his medium is impressive to behold.

Describing the Work of E. Galien-Laloue

If we are to analyze the Galien-Laloue technique and his influences, how are we to describe him? At the time he was beginning his artistic career, during the 1870s, French art was in a period of great tumult.  While the Academic painters, the artists who painted portraits and huge allegorical and historical scenes, dominated the French artistic establishment, the painters of the Barbizon School were just beginning to be accepted and appreciated.  The Romantics were aging and passing from the scene.  Meanwhile, the Impressionists, the new painters on the boulevard, were just starting to outrage the established artists by holding their own exhibitions of brightly colored and brushy scenes drawn from modern life.

Most French painters were allied with one artistic camp or another, lumped in with the academic painters, allied with the Barbizon School or attempting something altogether new like the Impressionists or the Post-Impressionists.  Galien-Laloue, however, seemed to choose his own path, working with all the precision of an academic painter – his buildings were in perspective, every detail just right – but in his subject, the scenes of contemporary life, he was clearly influenced by the Impressionists. Galien-Laloue’s paintings were not the anecdotal scenes favored by the titans of the Salon – by Gerome, Vibert or Messionier – but scenes drawn from the streets, from the hurly-burly life of the modern city, like men unloading a barge on the Seine, a flower seller’s stall beneath a church or the stylish crowd outside the saucy, risqué Molin Rouge. His painting technique borrowed from the tried and true and the new as well.  He sketched each scene precisely in pencil and painted inside the lines he sketched with care, but the trees, flowers and the lights streaming from the windows are all handled with little dots of color, in an almost Pointillist technique.

The technique that E. Galien Laloue used for the Parisian scenes remained consistent throughout his career.  The draughtsmanship remained impeccable and the touch of the brush, the little daubs of color that he used for a the lights in a shop window or the flowers in a flower seller’s cart, were consistent from the beginning of his career to the end.  He worked as ably in oils as he did in the opaque watercolors he favored and he often used oils for larger paintings, because gouache was very time-consuming to apply on a larger scale.  While the oil paintings of Paris and the landscapes and harbor scenes signed with the “E. Galine-Laloue” name were based on his skillful use of perspective, they are usually done in a free, more painterly technique and often have a smoky, atmospheric quality.  Because of the limited palette he used for many of his oils, they can be described as “Tonalist.”  In conclusion, it isn’t fair to describe E. Galien-Laloue as an Impressionist, nor is he a member of the Barbizon School, an Academic or a Post-Impressionist.  He was simply an artist who used the medium and techniques that were popular and available to him to achieve the task at hand – painting beautiful depictions of Paris and the French countryside, ones that would sell readily to French collectors and foreign visitors. And he performed that task so well that we are still interested in who he was and how he painted a hundred years on.

We Do E. Galien Laloue Appraisals and Evaluations on Other French Paintings

Antoine Blanchard – Edouard Cortes – Luigi Loir


Posted 15/06/2011 by Jeffrey Morseburg

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