Today there are many painters who have discovered the fascination of painting familiar landmarks of Paris…the intriguing street cafes with their brilliant lights glowing in the rain, the flower stands by the Madeleine and the reflection of people and lights on wet Paris pavements.
In the nineteenth century, however, there was one fine painter who pioneered in this field and who demonstrated by his superbly handled watercolors how limitless the lure of Paris can be to a painter. He was Eugéne Galien-Laloue, now called the “Grandpère” of today’s Paris street scene painters. Since that time, though many have followed his example subject-wise, none have approached the very special subtlety and beauty of Laloue’s work.
Laloue was first of all an architect. His youthful training had been on the drafting board and his discipline had been one of precision workmanship in planning exact measurements and finite surface detail.
As a student, Laloue had been most enthusiastic in delving into the history of architecture and found tremendous pleasure in comparing and analyzing the historical developments of the architectural designs and the forces which shaped various periods, as well as in the linear precision of drafting board work. However, as time went on he found that building was not his field. In spite of his love of drawing up plans and designing exteriors, the business and promotion angles of the profession held no interest for him. He was still a young man when he came to the decision that he would never be completely happy or successful in a permanent career as an architect.
With his interest in linear forms, it was only a natural sequence for Laloue to turn from the drafting board to experimentation with engraving and other media of the graphic arts. In this field he was able to combine his knowledge and appreciation of architecture with his great feeling for line work. Both as an illustrator and engraver, he achieved a considerable reputation in Paris. However, Laloue reached his full statue as an artist in the field of watercolor and gouache, where he could combine all of his many-faceted skills. In this he developed a style uniquely his own.
His line work is unbelievably delicate and sensitive and yet gives great substance to the forms of both his buildings and figures. At first glance his color is softly muted, yet it is rich in tonal quality. He is at once able to combine the beauty of design and color pattern with a strong atmosphere of mood and reality.
His subjects are developed with infinite attention to detail, yet give the impression of spontaneity and easy flowing execution. In studying his work one marvels at the tremendous craftsmanship he developed in watercolor without in any way losing the inspiration, artistry and creative spirit without which such paintings would become coldly mechanical masterpieces.
As both an engraver and painter in watercolor, Laloue was closely associated with the Artistes Français and was continually invited to be represented in their exhibitions. Also numerous examples of his work were included in the Salon shows, especially during the later years of his life when his reputation had been firmly established.
Laloue, as his work itself would indicate, was far from a prolific painter. His objective was jewel-like
perfection. This, combined with great enthusiasm among collectors for his work, meant that his paintings quickly disappeared from the market and today are even more rarely found.
According to the very limited details available on his personal life, Laloue was all his life a Parisian. He was born in Paris and his work was the dominating interest of his life. At the time of his death, he had seen little of the outside world and lived in virtual retirement, but his reputation among collectors traveled infinitely further and his influence on twentieth century painters has been extensive.
On those infrequent occasions when one has an opportunity to study his work, one marvels at the great beauty, the very special qualities of perfection and animation, which Laloue achieved in watercolor. Each example of his work is an absorbing study complete in itself in which one continually discovers new details of sheer loveliness to enjoy.