« Auburtin, ami intime de Rodin dont il partageait les modèles, travaillera sur le thème de la danse pendant presque 20 ans, de 1902 à 1920.
Dans des tons pastels, souvent comme les japonais, cernés à l’encre de chine, les jeunes modèles sont vêtues de légères draperies flottantes, de voiles blancs ou de tuniques resserrées à l’antique comme autrefois dans l’art grec.
Auburtin connut Hanako, la japonaise, qui fut aussi le modèle d’Auguste Rodin. »
Francine Quentin Spécialiste de l'oeuvre du peintre Auburtin (JFA)
Dans la conférence qu’il a donnée le 8 Décembre 2011 au Grand Palais, sur le thème
« Monet, un cul de sac ? Le maître, ses successeurs …..et leurs problèmes » , Richard Thomson , commissaire de l’exposition Monet, a conclu son exposé en disant que si des peintres comme Maufra, Moret ou Ménard avaient souvent plagié Monet dans leurs paysages, Auburtin, lui, avait su innover dans ses œuvres de Normandie, de Belle Ile et de la Méditerranée.
Cet avis du Watson Gordon Professor of Fine Art de l'Université d'Edimbourg, également membre du conseil scientifique du Musée d’Orsay et de l'Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art est tout à l’honneur d’Auburtin, le symboliste de la Mer.
Some Observations on Jean-Francis Auburtin
Jean-Francis Auburtin (1866-1930) is mentioned in very few books which cover the history of art in France during the last years of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth. . Why, then, should we be interested in Auburtin?*. The answer is that there are excellent reasons to be interested in Auburtin.
The first is his drawing. Auburtin imposes himself as a draughtsman of virile authority.
An aspect of Auburtin’s drawing which is highly characteristic is his sense of what artists and critics of his generation called synthèse, his willingness to simplify, to reduce forms to their essential, st ripping away unnecessary detail to arrive at a powerful and harmonious whole. We find that in both his figures and his landscapes. In paintings such as Thalassa and Deux sirènes, exhibited respectively at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1897 and 1901, Auburtin presented the naked bodies and flowing hair of the sea-nymphs he had imagined with strong contours and deliberate lack of bodily detail.
Another striking quality of Auburtin’s drawing is his mise-en-page, the placement of forms within the composition so that each one sits firmly where it should and in appropriate relation to the other shapes and spaces. One finds this, for example, in the gouaches made at Belle-Ile in 1895-6. Goulphar is an excellent example. The great rocks are recognisable to anybody who has visited the site, and they are rendered with Auburtin’s typical synthèse. they are in pictorial space, delineating the foam breaking on the nearer rocks and spreading throughout the half-hidden bay, so that the placement of the jagged crags is defined by the irregular angularity of the illuminated surface between them. And in the lower right quadrant of this gouache the eye finds a single fishing boat, its brown sails picking up the colour of the seaweed on the exposed rocks behind it and the regularity of its sails contrasting with the rough serrations of the cliffs which tower above. By these means, the boat, perfectly placed off-centre, seems both to belong within and to intrude into the wild coastal terrain that Auburtin so savoured on the very edge of the continent. A completely different work, painted only a few years later, shows these skills apply in an entirely different kind of work. La Pêche au gangui dans le golfe de Marseille is a very large mural, completed in 1899, for one of the stairwells of the Palais de Longchamp at Marseille. . This mise-en-page of carefully counterpointed diagonals wonderfully combines a sense of the swell and surge of the sea with the decorative necessity of a visually pleasing and unified design.
Another remarkable aspect of Auburtin’s oeuvre is his versatility. He was extremely adaptable as an artist, without losing his own personal qualities. First, he had versatility of style. The intense gouaches made on Belle-Ile in the mid-1890s contrast strikingly with the watercolours he crafted at Etretat in 1898. There he chose motifs from the top of the high cliffs, often on the very edge, so that what he represented was a view so sharply down onto the beaches, rocks and waves that there is no sky and no horizon. These dramatic watercolours were delineated in Chinese ink and coloured with light washes, creating a quite different and consciously japoniste effect to the heavier motifs of Belle-Ile.from the beaches, are frequently sparse and economical, concentrating on a simple distant maritime motif and a specific effet of light or weather. The stretched formats gave a great sense of distance, and one that works doubly, suggesting both the distance straight ahead – say eastwards towards the cliffs around Dieppe – as well as across, to the very edges of the field of vision.
Auburtin’s stylistic versatility also involved his use of colour. If the Etretat watercolours are crisp, light and sharp, they offer a distinct contrast to the deep-toned mixed media paintings Auburtin made in the Pyrenees, such as his views of the Pic de Béhorléguy. These were done at the end of the day, in twilight or at moon-rise, setting the deep blue of the dark pointed peak, sometimes tinted at the top with the last of the ochre light, against a sombre and slightly modulated sky. At Roquebrune in the Alpes-Maritimes, he used colour to create a very different ambiance. beween blue and green, evoking an elegiac and musical mood.
But Auburtin’s stylistic versatility was matched by his range of subjects. Perhaps this is nowhere more remarkably manifested than in the mural he produced for the amphithéâtre de zoologie at the Sorbonne in 1898, now sadly in store. The title was Le Fond de la mer, and this extraordinary painting is an underwater cross-section. Only the narrow upper section represents above the surface of the sea, with cormorants and other birds on rocks. But the great majority of the large decoration depicts those rocks below the sea, and the plants, fish and other creatures which have their habitat on or around them..
Auburtin’s subjects also embraced dancers, and his friendship with the celebrated dancer Loïe Fuller gave him access to her students. Auburtin drew these girls and young women, dressed in the peplum typical of the ancient world, dancing in landscape settings, the rhythms of their dancing bodies set against the undulations of natural forms. Sometimes his imagination transformed the dancers into mythological creatures, nymphs blowing conches perhaps, or hippocamps, half woman, half sea-horse. Above all, Auburtin responded to landscape. He worked wide across France, from the mountains of the Pyrenees to the Alps around the Lac d’Annecy, along the Atlantic coast from Belle-Ile to Varengeville, and on the Mediterranean he enjoyed islands such as Corsica and Porquerolles. What these landscapes had in common was strength, the type of muscular motif to which Auburtin responded.
Auburtin was a creative figure of real stature, master of his craft, powerful in his drawing, versatile in both subject and style. His art is a rare combination of the virile and the sensitive, and we should admire him for that.
Watson Gordon Professor of Fine Art,
University of Edinburgh. July 2014.