Jean-Louis Boussingault was not a man to look for honors or rewards. Notoriety would have been appropriate for him if it had not been accompanied by considerations external to his profound art. It will have been deeply marked by the butchery of the First World War that will make it switch from dandy worldly enjoying the life to disillusioned mysanthropist whose painting will be the outlet for the pains of his deep soul. However, Jean-Louis Boussingault was born in 1883 under favorable auspices. A bourgeois family, a recognized chemist grandfather, friend of Louis Pasteur, a father, senior civil servant, liberal in the relations he will have with him. Boussingault's vocation will be precocious. He can take courses in the School of Decorative Arts in Paris and learn lithography. It is by fulfiling his military obligations that he will make a decisive meeting in the person of André Dunoyer de Segonzac. He follows with him the courses of Luc-Olivier Merson at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, then Jean-Paul Laurens at the Julian Academy, and the Academy de la Palette. At that time, Boussingault is a pleasant person, his feature close to Bonnard and Toulouse-Lautrec (Souvenir of Maurice-Bar in Montmartre, 1905) makes him a skilful painter evolving in the worldly and semi-mundane world of the capital, universe that it captures with hindsight, relaxation, humor and accuracy. He frequents Montmartre and all the population of painters of the Butte. He shares tastes, hopes, parties, eejection of academicism, but not misery. On the contrary, his pace, his clothes, his easy elegance, his assumed dandyism contrast somewhat. He is the friend of many painters in Montmartre including Picasso, disguising himself as a femme fatale at the banquet that the latter will organize in honor of Douanier Rousseau. During the summer of 1906 he is with Segonzac and Luc-Albert Moreau in Saint-Tropez, and is part of the group of resistance to cubism that is formed around them. At the age of 24, he exhibits at the Salon des Indépendants. A master stroke for a first try, he wins the Bernheim Prize for a Nude with a Top Hat.
Dunoyer de Segonzac (standing) and Boussingault (sitting)
Recommended by Desvallières, close to the Black Band (see below), he continues to collaborate with Témoin by Iribe and Scheherazade by Cocteau and Benouard. He becomes one of the designers of the great fashion designer Paul Poiret, alongside Dufy and Fauconnet. His association with the patron culminates in an imposing, frescoed canvas designed to adorn the designer's new salons. In 1913, he presents Pesage at the Salon d'Automne. With success !
" A recent retrospective of the Museum of Decorative Arts has revealed to the general public the dimensions of Boussingault, removed in full talent by a premature death, who would have thought him, in fact, as big? " (Bernard Dorival, Paris,1944)
The Black Band, is a group of five painters claiming the realism of Courbet. Their painting uses dark colors to transcribe the reality of the difficulties of life and the feelings associated with it. As George Desvallières, André Dunoyer de Segonzac, Luc-Albert Moreau and Jean-Louis Boussingault share theses ideas. But this austere way has not yet seduced the general public. These three painters exhibit their paintings at the Barbazanges Gallery for a meager success.
Then, it's war. Boussingault will be injured in Belgium, then join Dunoyer de Segonzac at the 3rd Army. From this war he will come out transformed. Added to the experience of a disastrous marriage, this butchery will see him come back mysanthropic, living recluse, totally breaking with his previous life. He does not stop working, though, and maybe he does just that. He makes many drawings of Parisian boulevards, a high quality that places him at the top of the genre. He illustrates books (Lovers, Happy Lovers by Valery Larbaud and Spleen of Paris by Baudelaire) with talent. He becomes of a rare strictness, often unsatisfied he destroys a large number of his paintings. These are ordered, built, browns and ochres dominate in a vaporous atmosphere. He works a lot alongside Dunoyer de Segonzac and participates in the group of Galerie Marseille, painting scenes of ordinary life but felt.
At the turn of the thirties, his painting reveals a major change in him that seems to have come out of his inner purgatory. "In the thirties, his painting will blossom, voluptuously (...) The flavor of the material responds to the chromaticism brought to the incandescence of its yellows and its oranges.Now the light appears to emanate from a paste all the thicker because the chromatic range is sunny. The painter of Pesage excels at rendering, by a multitude of intertwined keys, the fruit pulp, the vibration of the complexions, the variegation of a bodice. He is, as Desnoyer, the diarist of the woman of the thirties, whose he stylizes her elegant, slender and sporty look. Hishymn to the good life, comfortable and of good taste, finds an extension in the cheerfulness of hisr gouaches. A Table servie in 1941 evokes by its composition certain works of the 40s of Matisse "(Michel Charzat, La Jeune peinture française).
In 1937, he decorates the foyer of the Palais de Chaillot and the War Museum
Became, according to Segonzac, "almost happy", Boussingault disappears in March 1943. A major retrospective of his work is organized by the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris at the Louvre Palace (March-April 1944). The dimension of his work is thus exposed to the public and the critics, stupefied, who had underestimated him, even neglected him. The great critic Bernard Dorival, as mea culpa wrote: "A recent retrospective of the Museum of Decorative Arts has revealed to the general public the dimensions of Boussingault, removed in full talent by a premature death. Who would have thought him, in fact, as big ? "
Bernard Dorival : Les étapes de la Peinture Française contemporaire (Volume Three) - Depuis le cubisme 1911-1944 - Gallimard, Paris, 1946
book at the publisher
Dorival, who is not particularly fond of flattery, composes here an artistic portrait full of admiration and regret. For those who know this criticism, not focused on the compliment of complacency, it is a notable rarity. The retrospective of the Museum of Decorative Arts from March-April 1944 (March 10 to April 23, 1944, NFTG*) offers a show of diversity in talent and wit, which desolates the critic writer when it follows a death that appears as premature as it is revealing. The enthusiasm of the public and the critics for this exhibition was considerable. Unfortunately for the posterity of the artist, it precedes very few events so far-reaching (the liberation of Paris and France) that they will permanently hide this artistic event.
"A recent retrospective of the Museum of Decorative Arts has revealed to the general public the dimensions of Boussingault, removed in full talent by an untimely death. Who would have thought, in fact, as big? His unsociable nature, his disdain of advertising, his remoteness from the exhibitions, his intimate demands, which made him destroy so many canvases, are not the only causes of this lack of knowledge. The habit of language that the names of Segonzac, Luc-Albert Moreau and Boussingault were declined together somehow drowned the figure of the latter in the shadow of those of his friends, especially that of the author of Les Canotiers sur le Morin (Segonzac, NFTG*). Nothing more unjust than this confusion. For if Boussingault shares the neo-realistic convictions of his comrades, everything, within the same aesthetic, separates his work from both theirs: themes, technique and inspiration.
Neither martial like Luc-Albert Moreau, nor peasant like Segonzac, this city-dweller, whose many lithographs celebrate the Boulevards or the Avenue des Champs-Elysées and who left gouaches so just dashed off from London, has never painted landscapes : sometimes a corner of nature and very humanized nature - garden, for example - appears at the bottom of his paintings, but it is to frame, and with what discretion! the flowers, the fruits, the game, the fishes, which constitute the principal motive. Nothing vulgar in the choice of what composes his still lifes: the raves and cabbages, dear to Segonzac, do not stop the eyes of this refined, who, even more than on luxury items, likes to linger on the elegant Parisian women, whose adulterated distinction is often marvelous, and graces often doubtful. Thus lived in the painting of Boussingault, the Boussingault of thirty years ago, the friend of Poiret and Paul Iribe, who had enjoyed, on the eve of the other war, in this "demi-monde" of then, to find there something artificial and false, which sounds more true and more authentically human than many other spectacles, and whose illustration allows to reach a hectic style of a deep and rare resonance.
This Boussingault nervous and tense under the air of frivolous dandy soon realized, in the aftermath of the other war, that the subjects, however suited they are to incline to the style, cannot however impart a perfect one: it springs only from the intrinsic quality of the work. From there, the crisis which he then traversed, destroying many of his works, and sparing only those in which he thought he had attained the object of all his research: the classy deportment - an impeccable, haughty, even haughty classy deportment. It is therefore not surprising that at that time his palette was only sober, a bit austere, ocher and brown ; these colors, a blond gray give them a pearly gloss, and some notes of pink and blue softened relax them. The form, very constructed, affirms its simple masses in a much less enveloping atmosphere than it will be thereafter, and allows itself to be submissively introduced into a set of obvious, insistent, very desired rhythms. The line emphasizes itself with fullness, a flexibility that does not exclude a beautiful dryness, rich in simple cadences, enveloping and jerky all together, reminiscent of those of the Ingresque period of Renoir. The Violinist could mark the climax in this way with her grace so conscious and her style a little tense.
But already a languor, an abundance, a voluptuousness emerge from this figure, which announce that Boussingault goes to other ways - royal roads that led him to the blossoming of fifty. He remains, in his last manner, the powerful and pure draftsman of the preceding epoch; more roundness in the line does not detract from the drawing of its force, and, in the face of such figures made with lead, one cannot help thinking of Maillol's sanguine blood. The light is now also involved in the creation of the hot and muffled light-form, as well as that of an afternoon of August, and that it seems to be sweet and syrupy. It bathes the objects of its thick fluidity, and far from disintegrating them, as the acid and spring day of the Impressionists did, increases its cohesion, consistency, and authenticity. At the same time, she models them with love and sensuality, especially caressing the complexions, which pulsate in this light, a little like those of the Women of Algiers (those of Delacroix, not Picasso NFTG*) in the twilight of the harem - and the object receives all its roundness and all its mass, covered with all its pulp, that also gives it this silky light. Exalting and deafening all the tones, it changed the chromaticism of Boussingault, which rose and identified himself. The colors brought to their saturation, as well as with Gauguin, whose influence is then manifest for the artist, have the opulent and dull brilliance of the juicy fruits to which they make one think. Intense yellows stand next to sunny orange, unless the master prefers to marry sustained greens with crushed strawberry roses. The flavor of its tones greatly contributes to the quality of its dough. Pretty thin in its beginnings, it presents at the end of its life a thickness and a density which however avoid this sluggishness of which Segonzac does not always dodge the dangers. Made of a thousand melted keys, the material, very fat, offers a smooth and smooth surface all together, which, too, evokes a beautiful ripe fruit.
But these properly sensual qualities in no way detract from the intellectual qualities of which the youth of the artist testified. Better than in the past, he has the art of composition, and it's wonderful to see how he furnishes the very oblong rectangles that he likes then for his still lifes. One thinks of the ordinances, so imposing in their simplicity, of Chardin's door-tops for the Château de Bellevue. It is because Boussingault's works offer an undeniable decorative character, where dark circles surround the forms, so as to create the arabesques with which Gauguin drew the ornamental part that we know. Although our painter did not perform many decorations - the one he made for the Palais de Chaillot is the most famous - all his easel paintings have a decorative character comforting: they are really made to adorn a wall.
But they are also to dispense a little joy in our sad interior. The last works of Boussingault are a hymn to the happiness of living. No doubt he remains sensitive to this sometimes morbid aristocracy that emanates from the spectacle of the elegant world, and he smells in contemporary society what I do not know what adulterant that Manet had smelled in that of the Second Empire , and Goya divined around the Majas and Manolas of the Bourbon world on the eve of his agony. If he gives, like them, style to modern life, it is a style that highlights his decadent lassitude and his disenchantment. On the greedy passion of the master for pretty women and beautiful things passes like a shadow of sadness, the very one of blasé enjoyment. But this cloud, it must be admitted, has become less and less opaque with time. The young man Boussingault could be bitter; on the contrary, the man seems quietly, happily in love with life. He says nothing but the golden fruits of the vines, the crustaceans still wet with the sound water of the ocean, the game, the feathers of plumage, the flowers especially which he cherishes the more they are more brilliant, heavier, more full of life, simpler too, more simply nature. If the floral production of a Redon is placed under the sign of the orchid, that of a Manet under that of the peony, and that of a Van Gogh under that of a sunflower, I would willingly put a bouquet of zinias at the front of Boussingault florist. And his women, too, become zinias, as thick as they are, blooming like them, like them high in color and a little poor in perfume - strangely modern women, of whom he has been able to create a type, and who will perhaps remain for posterity the image of the woman of 1930, like those of Renoir are for us the ones of their grandmothers. Women in flowers and blooming flowers thus define the last way of Boussingault and give somehow the tone of this work deliriously light-hearted. Is it to have reached the fullness of his art, by force of tension, of effort, of intimate exigencies, that Boussingault was able to know this youth at fifty, and in spite of the setbacks of his private life? It is permissible to think so. The lesson in this case is far-reaching, perhaps beyond that of his friend Moreau's painting. "
* NFTG : Notice From The Gallery
Michel Charzat, "La Jeune Peinture Française, 1910-1940", published by Editions Hazan in 2010
Bernard Dorival : Les étapes de la Peinture Française contemporaire (Volume Three) - Depuis le cubisme 1911-1944 - Gallimard, Paris, 1946