Lavandière à genoux aux bords de l’eau

Lavandière à genoux aux bords de l’eau
Circa 1905
Oil on canvas
95 x 67 cm
Signed lower left
Private Collection, France (acquired in the 1920s), thence by descent

Aged 40 in 1900, Henri Martin purchased Marquayrol, a beautiful seventeenth century mansion, overlooking the small village of Labastide-du-Vert in southwestern France’s Languedoc region. The acquisition of this large country estate marked a turning point in the artist’s career. Marquayrol and its idyllic surroundings became Martin’s main source of inspiration and deeply influenced his painting style in the second half of his life. Leaving behind the allegorical themes of his younger years, he now fully devoted his art to the representation of nature.

“My preoccupation with rendering atmospheric effects increased (…) after three months in the country, face to face with nature. The natural light, now brilliant, then diffuse, which softened the contours of figures and landscape, powerfully obliging me to translate it any way I could, but other than by using a loaded brush – through pointillé and the breaking up of tone.” [1] 

For Henri Martin Marquayrol was what Giverny was to Claude Monet: his personal arcadia, where he could study the changing light and atmospheric effects on nature throughout the day and the seasons.  

Painted around 1905, the present work depicts a woman washing laundry in a body of water at dusk or dawn. A smoldering fire smokes behind her. Tall poplars in the background are mirrored in the water. They identify the location of this scene as the Vert River that ran by Martin’s property. The characteristic trees appear in many other of Martin’s works from Labastide-du-Vert. Using a rich and vibrant palette, Martin dissolves the forms of the landscape with broken brushwork, capturing the magical twilight of this peaceful scene.

Henri Martin was without contest an Impressionist and one who had the deepest sensitiveness, certainly equal to that of Monet, whom he most admired. Their interpretation of nature is certainly, owing to their utmost sensitiveness and not through research of a technical process, a poetical evocation hued by a thousand colors which can undoubtedly be called a work of art.[2]

[1] in Henri Martin (exhibition catalogue), Musée Henri Martin, Cahors, 1992, p. 89

[2] Jacques Martin-Ferrières, the artist’s son in: Jacques Martin-Ferrières, Henri Martin, Paris, 1967,p.35