Los Angeles

Walter Sickert, Felix-Edmond Vallotton and Paul Signac

Long Beach Museum of Art

Three painters who attained maturity during the post-Impressionist period, emerging to prominence in the 1880s and 1890s, into an era of new styles and theories. Caught in an esthetic kaleidoscope, their major achievements stemmed from seeking freedom from old subject matter and exploration of the new scientific knowledge by experimenting in color and line with an increased emphasis on the incorporation of color with form.

A prolific writer, witty conversationalist and depictor of the vulgar, the Englishman Walter Sickert (1860–1942), chose only the most common and sensual situations for his subjects; lower class London music hall scenes comprised of men and women in attitudes of dalliance, intrigue or ennui. Thus, he was instrumental in freeing British art from the restrictions imposed by Victorian subject matter. As a pupil of Whistler, he learned at an early age to master the technique of etching. He was also one of the first to recognize the potential greatness of Whistler whose Arrangement in Black and Grey Sickert took to France for exhibition at the Salon of 1883. There he fell under the influence of the Impressionists, especially Degas whose theatrical themes he admired. His technical virtuosity cannot be denied, but many of Sickert’s works seem slight and unresolved when compared with those of Whistler.

Swiss painter and graphic artist Felix-Edmond Vallotton (1865–1925), like Sickert, gave new value to man’s everyday activities. His commentaries were composed with a boldness of form and contrast in black and white virtually unprecedented in the 19th-century woodcut—which heretofore had been restricted to only finely rendered reproductions. Although Vallotton owed much of his style to the influence of Japanese woodcuts and to the compositions of Aubrey Beardsley, he was most intrigued with the works of Paul Gauguin under whose personal influence his methods of expression developed. However, in contrast to Gauguin’s and Beardsley’s techniques, Vallotton never sought unusual textures by cutting or exposing the grain of wood. His prints are sheer black and white drama, never static, and often juxtaposed with such skill that the content appears to be rushing from paper into space. It is from the innovations of Vallotton, Gauguin and Munch that the esthetics of the modern language of woodcut developed.

The French artist Paul Signac (1863–1935), was instrumental, with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, in the revival of color lithography in France during the 1890s. He is better known for his lyrical canvases that stemmed from his interest in Impressionism and Pointillism; unlike Sickert and Vallotton who were prolific printmakers, Signac left only twenty examples of his graphic work. A unique stylist, Signac’s lithographs are pastel in tone but show a sparkling interplay of color reminiscent of the confetti-dot approach of Pointillism.

Betje Howell