Discovering Cloisonnism and the incredible French artist Louis Anquetin

Gallery 241 in Art Institute of Chicago (European Painting and S
Gallery 241 in Art Institute of Chicago

The Impressionist painters are known for their atmospheric treatment of scenes, loose brushwork that takes precedence over lines and contours. Yet in the midst of the Impressionism galleries in the Art Institute of Chicago stands a painting with strong lines and contours.

"An Elegant Woman at the Élysée Montmartre", 1888 by French ar

An Elegant Woman at the Élysée Montmartre (Élégante à l’Élysée Montmartre)“, 1888, by French artist Louis Anquetin.

The strong outlines in the painting grabbed my attention. Further inspection gave me an appreciation for:

The beer glass in the lower right

As though the artist is welcoming you to sit down and enjoy a glass of beer with this painting.

The way the lights at the top fade off into the distance

Background lights detail ("An Elegant Woman at the Élysée Mont

The style difference between the main subject, and the women in the background. The background women are depicted with a certain fashion illustration style.

How the brim of her hat curves

Hat detail ("An Elegant Woman at the Élysée Montmartre", 1888

The curves demonstrate the thinness of the material.

How the gloves are painted

Detail of glove ("An Elegant Woman a

The gloves are painted very loose, but the face is very tight. Curious.

The vertical lines in the background

I’m not really sure how these lines work with the composition

The strong patterns in the dress, jacket lining, and hat

Detail of jacket and dress prints

How the details in the barrel are painted

Background detail ("An Elegant Woman at the Élysée Montmartre"

I stood in front of that painting for maybe about 10 minutes studying it. Funny thing is when you give a particular painting a lot of attention, other people come over and want to look at it too. Surely that painting must be interesting, because someone has been standing there for a long time looking at it. When someone else would come, I would step over to the side, so I wasn’t hogging the painting.

After spending a fair amount of time with this painting, I glanced around the room to see what neighbors were placed next to this painting for context.

"Ballet Dancers", 1885/86 by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. "An Elegant Woman at the Élysée Montmartre (Élégante à l’Élysée Montmartre)", 1888 by Louis Anquetin

To the left was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s “Ballet Dancers“, which makes sense, because the caption for Anquetin’s painting mentions how he worked with Anquetin.

Art Institute’s caption on the wall for Anquetin’s painting:

After arriving in Paris in 1882, Louis Anquetin studied at the Atelier Cormon, where he met and befriended Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The frenetically innovative Anquetin was, in Lautrec’s words, “the glory of the studio.”

The Lautrec painting wasn’t of much interest to me. It was certainly big. But it was too loose. Honestly, his painting is a mess compared to the tighter Anquetin.

The caption on the wall continues:

Both artists focused on la vie moderne, particularly the nocturnal life of Paris. This painting depicts an unescorted woman—unusual at that time—walking through the garden of the Élysée Montmartre, a dance hall that predated the Moulin de la Galette and the Moulin Rouge. Who she is remains a mystery, but her unusual printed dress and extravagant hat, more costume than fashion, suggest that she might be an off-duty performer. In contrast to the female figures who lurk among the trees in the background, Anquetin’s élégante appears at ease in the spotlight, not a visitor but a part of this popular entertainment spot.

Certainly a mystery!

There’s just something about the style of this painting. I couldn’t put my finger on it, until Wikipedia uncovered the secret.

The Wikipedia article for Louis Anquetin describes Anquetin’s style:

Around 1887, Anquetin and Bernard developed a painting style that used flat regions of color and thick, black contour outlines. This style, named cloisonnism by critic Edouard Dujardin, was inspired by both stained glass and Japanese ukiyo-e.

BOOM! Cloisonnism.

This was probably something I learned in art school decades ago. Now this style is renewed to me again.

As I look around gallery 241 in the Art Institute—of course!—Cloisonnism is all over the place. Van Gogh’s famous bedroom sits in that gallery.

"The Bedroom", 1889 by Vincent van Gogh

The black contour lines are very obvious. The bright flat colors very much call to mind stained glass

Gaughin uses a slight version of coloisonnism with flat colors. Hanging in the gallery is Arlésiennes (Mistral).

"Arlésiennes (Mistral)", 1888 by Paul Gauguin

Although, Gaughin’s version of coloisonnism is very weak. His colors are certainly flat, but in a very dull sense. He also lacks any bold contour outlines. I’ve never been a fan of Gaughin.

Anquetin’s Wikipedia article continues about his use of Cloisonnism:

One example of this can be seen in Avenue de Clichy: Five O’Clock in the Evening, argued by Dr. Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov as being inspiration for Van Gogh’s famous Cafe Terrace at Night.

Well, snap. Check this out:

That is just totally rad. LOUIS ANQUETIN IS BOSS.

BUT WAIT WAIT. HOLD ONTO YOUR HATS. Literally, your hats. Check out this self-portait Anquetin did of himself.

Louis Anquetin - Autoportrait à la pipe, 1892

Folks, this is 1892. People don’t paint portraits like this! Seriously. That goofy smile. It’s so hilarious. The wispy smoke trails from his pipe. The tall hat. That tall, tall hat! Lincoln could rock a stovepipe hat, but Anquetin totally DESTROYS the stovepipe hat. Look at the red berries with green leafs decorating the hat. What is this, Anquetin? Christmas? Who can get away with wearing mistletoe any time of the year? Louis Anquetin.

Really. Who is this guy?

The blog, SpokenVision, calls him THE MOST PROMISING ARTIST OF THE 19TH CENTURY:

Born in Etrepagny on January 26, 1861, Louis Anquetin was considered the greatest artist of the 19th century. He had a massive influence on the artists of his generation. In Paris, Anquetin was a member of an artist group including stalwarts such as Emile Bernard, Vincent van Gough, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin and George Seurat. He never stuck with any style and experimented with various styles all through his career. This may be because of his restless spirit and creative nature. Later, Anquetin was out of the art scene and when he died, he was almost forgotten.

SpokenVision does a very nice write-up of Anquetin. Please give it a read. They explain how Anquetin moved to a Classical style after seeing the works of Peter Paul Rubens, Franz Hals, and Rembrandt van Rijn.

The mystery of the mixed-up styles solved

Anquetin loves to shift around in styles, explaining the combination of styles we see in “An Elegant Woman at the Élysée Montmartre”. The dude just likes to mix it up and work in different styles. This painting in the Art Institute demonstrates that range of delights.

I’ll be doing more research on Louis Anquetin. There’s more of his work buried within various parts of the internet, thanks to artcyclopedia.com. I’ll also look into more examples of Cloisonnism. This style really resonates with me.

Are you digging on the Cloisonnism?

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Sarah Dukes
Sarah Dukes
8 months ago

Thanks for shedding some light on Anquetin… I don’t remember coming across him at all in our studies. Does the term for the painting come from the cloisonne setting of jewelry, or vice versa?

Jonny Phipps
Jonny Phipps
3 months ago

Anquetin is less well known simply because he lived a ‘normal’ life without sensation. Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Lautrec provided art dealers with fodder to bolster sales leaving Anquetin’s work hard to sell and almost forgotten. He was head and shoulders more talented in every aspect of avant garde picture making but abandoning it in favour of large mural commissions, most probably due to cash needs, placed him amongst the also-rans. This work is utterly unique, without a single element of trend, and clearly tells a story which hopefully research will find. Full of painterly magnificence with every brush stroke talking. Jonny P

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