Avenue de Clichy by Louis Anquetin

Avenue de Clichy by Louis Anquetin sweeps us into a rainy twilight in Montmartre, where lights from the butcher shop cast a warm glow on a crowded sidewalk. A lady in a stylish skirt, a jacket trimmed with white fur and a chic headpiece rushes to join the group gathering under the canopy ironically (or symbolically?) decorated with raindrop-shaped elements.

But what this painting is highly regarded for is not a depiction of Parisian life, as seen in Auguste Renoir‘s Luncheon of the Boating Party but the technique called ‘Cloisonnism’ that Anquetin developed along with Emile Bernard in 1887 and perfected in this work, exerting a great deal of influence on the artists around him. Black outlines and flat fields of color in Avenue de Clichy originate from the technique of ‘cloisonné’ widely practiced in medieval France. The technique consisted of firing colored glass that had been placed in compartmentalised metal framework that outlined the design of the object.

Louis Anquetin belonged to the group of artists that consisted of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, George Seurat, Emile Bernard and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – a group Van Gogh called the artists of the Petit Boulevard. Avenue de Clichy was included in the Groupe Impressioniste et Synthétiste exhibition that Gauguin organized at the Café Volpini in 1889. This street scene greatly impressed van Gogh and Lautrec and attracted them to this new manner. In some measure, it may have influenced Gauguin as well, who was working in a similar direction at this time.

You might find yourself wondering, at this point, why you have never come across this innovative Post-Impressionist artist before. The answer to this is that regardless his success Anquetin abandoned the desire for innovation too early. In 1892 he began to study the work of Rubens and Titian, which inspired him to undertake what he called his ‘retour au métier,’ a return to traditional craftsmanship in painting.

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