Brittany, Montmartre, Cassis, Antibe, Saint Paul de Vence, Nice, Menton, Corsica – all furnished settings for the paintings of Elisée Maclet, but his name and fame are so closely linked to Montmartre, the section of Paris loved by countless artists, that today Maclet is called one of “the painter of Montmartre.”
Jules Emile Elisée Maclet was the son of a gardener who lived in Lyon-en-Santerre in Picardy. He was born there in 1881. Since his family was poor, at an early age he began to work as an assistant to his father. Picardy is renowned for it’s’ roses, and Maclet used to say that he was born among cabbages and roses. By the mysterious alchemy of genius, the gardener’s son wielded a painter’s brush almost as soon as he swung a pick and hoe. His father was not only a gardener, but the sexton in the village church, so the boy inevitably became a choir boy. That brought him to the attention of the local cure, Father Delval who was both parish priest and painter. Often on fine days, he and Maclet set out to sketch and paint along the roads or on the banks of the ponds.
Puvis de Chavannes found the same scenes a source of inspiration, and on a Sunday in April 1892 he saw some of the work the twelve-year-old boy was doing. The great artist was so impressed that he sought out the elder Maclet and asked that he allow the boy to study with him. “My son is a gardener, and he will remain a gardener” was the father’s reply.
Despite the parental opposition, Elisée Maclet gave up gardening for art. Going to Montmartre did not mean immediate fame, however. He earned his living by varnishing iron bedsteads, decorating floats for the gala nights at the Moulin Rouge, washing dishes, opening oysters. In spite of all of these occupations, he found time to paint.
When Maclet arrived in Montmartre, much of the country charm still existed and he put it to canvas, even before Utrillo did so. Maclet knew practically all of the future great painters of his time, Utrillo and Quizet among them, who became his closest friends.
In a short time Maclet won a circle of admirers. The art dealer, Dosbourg bought his work, which gave him a fairly reliable income enabling him to devote more time to his painting. He ventured out into the suburbs of Paris, painting them with the same indulgent tenderness with which he painted Montmartre.
When war broke out in 1914, Maclet served as a medical attendant in a hospital run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. That enabled him to spend his leaves back in Montmartre.
Maclet’s admirers included Francis Carco, the Mayor of Montmartre, the famous writer Collette, the American dealer, Hugo Perls. They regarded him as the equal of the other great painters of the period. Famous dealers of the time hung Maclet’s work beside the paintings of Van Gogh and Picasso in their galleries.
In 1923 Maclet entered into a contract with a wealthy Austrian manufacturer, Baron Von Frey. One of the conditions of the contract was that he leave Paris for the south of France. Baron Von Frey sensed that Maclet would know how to handle the brilliant light and intense colors of the Midi. Maclet stayed in the region from 1924 to 1928, sending back to Von Frey glowing landscapes and glorious floral still lifes. Von Frey reserved for himself almost the total output of this period and sent most of the paintings to America, where wealthy collectors vied to buy them at high prices.
At an exhibition in Paris in 1928, Von Frey had the satisfaction of seeing paintings by Maclet purchased by important museums, among them the museums of Lyon, Grenoble, and Monte Carlo. Much more recently, Maclet’s paintings have entered the collections of the Musee d’Orsay, Musee de la Ville de Paris, the Kimble Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas and the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 1945 Maclet presented a large exhibition of his works in Paris under the title Around the Moulin.
In 1957, a Parisian gallery organized a retrospective exhibition of Maclet’s work, and the solid rise in prices of Maclet’s paintings dates from that retrospective exhibition. The canvases he had produced while he was in the south of France showed that he had become a master, but the general public in France did not grasp his importance and value until 1957.
Five years of life remained to the painter. Maclet’s independence and solid common sense never changed, not even when he became renowned and his paintings were eagerly sought after by wealthy and famous collectors.
Today Maclet is recognized as one of the great painters of Montmartre and has been included in many books, including Eighty Masters from Renoir to Kisling by Oscar Ghez and Françoise Daulte. The gardener from Picardy became a master painter.