Turner to Monet
Luce used landscape compositions such as Camaret, moonlight and fishing boats to explore formal issues of colour and light as well as his own political concerns. The painting depicts fishing boats at night in the protected harbour of Camaret, a small fishing village in Brittany on the Atlantic coast. It is executed in Luce’s characteristic divisionist style, distinguished by the building up of the painted surface using separate brushstrokes of colour. The artist employs varying shades of green and periwinkle blue, along with pink and yellow for the night sky. Violet, blue, turquoise and deep pink splotches, along with green and lemon-yellow strokes serve for the areas of shadowed and moonlit water. Deep blues, purples and near-blacks make up the silhouetted shapes of the fishing boats.
By 1887 Luce had adopted the divisionist technique first developed by Seurat, a fellow French Neo-Impressionist artist. The technique was based on theories about colour and seeing, which asserted that the eye would blend colours juxtaposed on the canvas. The adjacency of complementary strokes of colour would produce a brilliant effect, closely approximating the appearance of natural light. This effect was well suited to Luce’s project here, of representing the luminosity of moonlight on calm water.
Luce also began showing with other Neo-Impressionists in 1887, contributing to their third independent exhibition in Paris. In addition to a commitment to colour theory, Luce shared with some of these artists a dedication to the tenets of Anarchism. The form of Anarchism he endorsed was an idealistic socialism, involving precepts of social harmony and the absence of a centralised government.1His convictions included an abiding interest in the condition of the working class, whose members and places of employment occasionally appear in his paintings. Luce often portrayed modern industrial work sites as locations of strenuous labour or intrusion into the landscape.2In Camaret, moonlight and fishing boats, however, he depicts the boats as representatives of a more traditional livelihood. They are presented in a moment of quiet restfulness, fully integrated with the other elements in the scene. The repeated forms of hulls and bare masts become a decorative pattern against the variegated colours of the sea.
1 Joachim Pissarro and Eliot W. Rowlands, Maximilien Luce, 1858–1941: the evolution of a Post-Impressionist, New York: Wildenstein, 1997, pp. 12–14, 20.
2 Anne-Claire Ducreux and Aline Dardel, Maximilien Luce: peindre la condition humaine, Paris: Somogy Editions d’Art 2000, pp. 72–87; Denise Bazetoux, Maximilien Luce: catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint, vol. 2, Paris: Editions JBL 1986, cats 799–951, 1046–65.