Posts Tagged ‘Adolphe Valette’

While writing yesterday’s post on Adolphe Valette, I came across a photo that stopped me in my tracks.  It was a photo by early British photographer Robert Howlett of a man in stovepipe hat and dress of the 1850’s  standing in front of an immense spool of chain comprised of links that were a couple of feet in length.  The man’s hands were jammed in his pockets and a cigar jutted from the corner of his mouth as he leaned in a jaunty manner against the chain.  This man had confidence. And rightfully so.

His name was Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a name that I was sure I hadn’t heard before because I would certainly have remembered it.  But my ignorance of the name couldn’t hide the achievements of the man.  Born in 1806, Brunel was a n engineer who designed and built some of the great structures and projects of his age.  He designed and built numerous bridges and tunnels, built and innovated  railroads and engineered some of the greatest ships of that era.  The photo above is of him in front of the launching chains for the ship The Great Eastern.   At first named Leviathan, The Great Eastern was  the biggest of its time, over 700′ in length and  with a capacity of over 4000 passengers.  Although a commercial failure as a passenger ship after its launch in 1860, it was used for laying trans-Atlantic cables and remained the largest sea-going vessel for over 40 years.  The great photo below, also by Robert Howlett, is a wide shot of the Great Eastern being built.

I think that both of these photos are remarkable images, perfect documents of the scale and power of the Industrial Age.  The cocky confidence of Brunel as he stands dwarfed by the great chains and the huge ship towering above the ant-like workers represent to me our ability to do great things.  Big things.  To see possibility and find solutions to the hurdles that stand between us and that possibility.  It’s a quality that I sometimes feel is lacking today for most of us.  We could all use a little of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s vision and confidence.

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Adolph Valette- Albert Square 1910

I’m always interested in how artists of all kinds use their influences, about they evolve their own style from the sources of their inspiration.  Back in August, I wrote here about the British painter L.S. Lowry, the man best known for his matchstick men figures and the urban landscapes of his native Manchester.  He is generally considered a self-taught painter despite the many years he spent taking evening classes at the Manchester Municipal School of Art while he worked his days as a rent collector. It’s even more surprising that the critics still attach this self-taught tag to Lowry once you begin to look at the work of the primary influence on him, Adolphe Valette.   In looking at Valette’s paintings, you can see how Valette’s style and eye had a tremendous influence on Lowry.

Valette was a Frenchman who arrived in England in 1904, carrying with him the influence of the Impressionist movement that was in full bloom in France at the time.  He eventually ended up in the north of England, to Manchester, a city at the center of the British industrial revolution.  It’s smoke-filled and foggy landscape provided the perfect inspiration for the hazy and  evocative paintings of Valette and his student, Lowry.  Valette taught for many years there until returning to France in 1928, where he died in 1942 at the age 0f 66.

I’m  surprised that Valette didn’t gain more notoriety for his work , that his name and work wasn’t well known before Lowry’s popularity brought him to light.  The images that I can find are beautiful and strong, rivaling much of the work of his better known Impressionist contemporaries.  I suppose that painting and showing in Manchester in the early 1900’s didn’t provide much access to the salons and museums of the greater art world.  At least Lowry’s recognition has pulled him into the present, giving his influential works greater influence and making them the subject of study.

As it should be.



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