The Vallée de la Creuse, an area surrounding the Creuse river North of Limoges and South of Chateauroux, was discovered by painters in the 1830’s and writer George Sand brought many or her artist friends there from her house of Nohant in Berry. For one hundred years, landscape painters enjoyed the “Great wilderness” of this “lost country” as Claude Monet described it. A patient and determined curator, Véronique Alemany, has assembled 140 works at Atelier Grognard in Rueil Malmaison to show how important this forgotten school of painting is. A true celebration of outdoors!
Some of the paintings are a little disconcerting with very bright colors and repetitive landscapes or just plain boredom. Armand Guillaumin has twenty paintings in the exhibition. He came to Creuse in 1892 and is considered as a precursor of fauvism. His countrysides in all seasons, in the snow and in the bright summer sun, tend to be almost abstract. Eugène Alluaud includes little houses and rocks painted in an architectural way. Leon Detroy uses Seurat type pointillism. Paul Madeline concentrates on a mill along the river. Francis Picabia paints the river Sédelle with abstract patches of color. He was the first painter to use a car and not a horse drive coach, in 1909, to get to Crozant.
This school of la Vallée de la Creuse seems to have been created by a group of friends who wanted to find a cheap environment for outdoor painting. Some of them came from Barbizon, others discovered the area when the Paris-Limoges train line was started in 1854, others just followed like Henri Rouart and Claude Monet who went in 1889. There were lots of little rivers, affluents of La Creuse, with their gorges and rocks and the painters nicknamed “pleinairistes” (open air painters), went there to escape from (already then) busy Paris. Today la Creuse is still synonym of lost countryside, in the middle of nowhere, unreachable houses with little train connections.
The exhibition is interesting for two reasons: it deals with a forgotten and virtually unknown school of painters. And it shows through geographic unity, the evolution of painting over a hundred years. Crozant is the most painted of all villages with its ruins overlooking the river Creuse and I bet this exhibition is going to send many tourists there this summer. I particularly liked the landscapes in the snow which show how rough the area is in winter. At a time when there are no more empty countrysides to visit, this show gives many ideas for a quiet summer escape.
Christophe Rameix, a modern art historian who specializes in Crozant, writes with authority in the catalog about the poverty of this area caught between two departments, l’Indre and la Creuse, where the area surrounding the thirty kilometers of river were forgotten by art historians because of desertification and lack of research.
He compares l’Ecole de la Creuse to Pont Aven and Barbizon. If some of the paintings are a little bit too bright with their purple heather and their ultra green fields, the exhibition is a discovery!
Until May 26, Atelier Grognard, in Rueil Malmaison (30 mins from Arc de Triomphe by car or 42 mins with RER A).
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