(Mâcon 1854 - Paris 1929)
Signed hipp Petitjean in violet ink at the lower left.
388 x 587 mm. (15 1/4 x 23 1/8 in.)
In a letter dated 1 September 1893, Petitjean wrote to Camille Pissarro: ‘I worked more than usual, but nothing important, pochades, sketches, watercolours, a genre in which I am not very skilled but which I find very good for taking quick colour notes and which interests me a lot. In front of nature, it seems to me that instinctively I feel more and more the need to grasp the side of decorative simplicity but still a lot of indecision. I am also required by the diversity of tones and here is the difficulty: variety in unity. This is what I find is good in watercolour which, by its manner, forces you to a synthetic interpretation...’
The range and variety of Hippolyte Petitjean’s watercolours were only rediscovered several years after his death, at a centenary exhibition of his work at the Galerie de l’Institut in Paris in 1955. As one modern scholar has noted of these Neo-Impressionist watercolours, ‘All executed in pointillist style, they reveal a very individual side of his talent which fully justifies the collectors’ interest in them.’
Almost certainly intended as a finished work of art for sale, this very large sheet is a fine example of Petitjean’s mature pointillist technique as a watercolourist. Among stylistically comparable and sizeable watercolours by the artist is a view of A Broad Valley at Sunset in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and The Seine at Mantes-la-Jolie in the Indianapolis Museum of Art, as well as A Boat on a Pond in the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. Another closely comparable pointillist watercolour of sailboats in a bay by Petitjean, of similar dimensions to the present sheet and signed in the same way, is in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
Unlike many of his colleagues, Petitjean struggled financially for most of his career, and lived in relative poverty, only earning a modest salary as an art teacher. It was not until the sale of some of his paintings at a group exhibition of Neo-Impressionist artists at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1899 that he achieved a small measure of financial stability, but later years still found sales few and far between. In a notebook in which the artist carefully recorded his output between 1886 and his death, numerous paintings, drawings and watercolours are listed as having been being gifted or sold to creditors in exchange for services, or to pay bills, while in several years no sales are recorded at all. After 1917 Petitjean’s output slowed considerably, although his work continued to be exhibited with the Neo-Impressionists.
Petitjean maintained an adherence to Neo-Impressionist principles throughout his career, even after the decline in the movement’s critical fortunes following Seurat’s death in 1891. Not long after this, some members of the group, notably Camille Pissarro and his son Lucien, started to become disillusioned with the rigid demands of the pointillist technique. Yet despite Pissarro’s comments in a letter to Lucien written in January 1894 (‘I will give you the details of what passed between Petitjean and Signac; this is only the beginning of disagreeable discussions among the Neos, for Petitjean completely agrees with our view that there is no future in a method as constricted as that of the dot exclusively!’1), Petitjean seems never to have abandoned pointillism as a method of artistic expression. In his survey of the Société des Artistes Indépendants, published in 1920, the scholar and critic Gustave Coquiot noted that ‘In the phalanx of neo-impressionists, M. Petitjean ranks very high. He is best known for his Bathers, of pure classical style, and for his vividly coloured landscapes.’ The artist continued to exhibit his work regularly at the Salon des Indépendants until the very end of his career. In May 1929, shortly before his death, an exhibition of twenty-eight of his works was mounted at a Parisian gallery, from which one painting was purchased by the State for the Musée du Luxembourg.
Although he lived to the age of seventy-five, Petitjean was never very prolific as a painter, with an oeuvre of around 350 paintings, although some of these were rather large in scale. His subject matter included landscapes, urban scenes, mythological subjects and, occasionally, portraits. These works were often preceded by several preparatory studies, usually made en plein-air, though the paintings themselves were almost always executed in his large Parisian studio, built with the proceeds from the sale of two paintings by his friend Seurat.
In 2015-2016 a major Petitjean retrospective was mounted at the Musées des Mâcon, which today holds a substantial collection of the artist’s work, amounting to some 117 paintings and drawings.
Anonymous sale, London, Sotheby’s, 22 April 1971, lot 37 (bt. Marinoni)
Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s, 2 April 1974, lot 29 (bt. Johnson)
Anonymous sale, Los Angeles, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, 6 June 1978, lot 618
Bel Fine Art, New York
Acquired from them a private collector.