Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Adolphe Valette: A French Impressionist in Manchester by Sandra Martin.

AV coverNo-one knows for sure why Pierre Adolphe Valette left his native France for England. The best guess is that he was following in the footsteps of his “god”, Claude Monet, who travelled to London at the onset of the Franco-Prussian War and subsequently made many return visits.

Valette however did not stay in London, but moved on to Manchester where he first studied and then taught at the Municipal School of Art. Somehow, in between teaching, he managed to produce an extraordinary series of paintings of the Edwardian city, capturing it at the moment when it hovered smokily between the past and the present. Many of the smog-laden cityscapes subsequently became the property of Manchester Art Gallery, and it is they who originally produced this delightful and unusual little book, now republished by Scala. The format … small pages on high quality paper that fold out into larger sheets … allows Valette’s paintings and drawings to be reproduced on the scale that they deserve.

The influence of Monet on Valette’s work is unmistakable. Like Monet, he returned to the same scene several times, inIndia House different lights – and was also fascinated by bridges. He too was a master of light and dark – viewing with an artist’s eyes the industrial wasteland that was Manchester at the beginning of the 20th Century and almost magically bestowing upon it an unworldly beauty.

Of Valette’s many pupils, few are remembered today and it’s ironic, as author Sandra Martin says, that it should be the one his fellow pupils regarded as a joke who so far surpassed both them and his art master that he now has a modern gallery dedicated to him in Salford.

L S Lowry said: “I cannot underestimate the effect on me at that time of the coming into this drab city of Adolphe Valette, full of the French Impressionists, aware of everything that was going on in Paris … I owe so much to him”.

When you stand in Manchester Art Gallery and admire Valette’s canvasses you can detect both the heart and eye of Monet – who so profoundly influenced him – and also the vision of Lowry whom he, in turn, influenced himself.

This delightful book explains why. Profusely illustrated, with a spare but lucid biographical text, it should be on the bookshelf of every art lover, industrial archaeologist and social historian. Adolphe Valette was unjustly overlooked for many years and it is only comparatively recently that the art world has begun to re-evaluate both him and his body of work. It was long past time that this little book was republished.

Scala Publishers Ltd. 4-fold pages. ISBN: 13-978-1-857-488-1. November 2007.

14 comments on “Adolphe Valette: A French Impressionist in Manchester by Sandra Martin.

  1. rosyb
    January 2, 2008

    How fascinating. I have never heard of him- sounds quite a unique figure. From those pictures you have illustrated it is hard to see but it looks a lot more traditionally solid than Monet – is that so? And more traditional for the time altogether than the likes of Lowry. Are they oils? The lower one almost looks like watercolour from here but I imagine that’s the reproduction on the screen making it look a bit faint.

    By the way, is there’s a word missing after Franco-Prussian?

  2. Mhairi
    January 2, 2008

    You mean like “War”? :o} Thanks for pointing it out! Duly amended.

    Yes … although his style varies quite a lot and some of his paintings are more – diaphanous, let’s say – there is, in general more solidity to Valette’s work in Manchester, but then he was painting a very dark and solid city. The cotton mills rose like great cliffs, part obscured by the filthy air … it would have been a hideous place in the early 20th century.

    Both of the paintings illustrated are oil on linen. The cover is “York Street Leading to Charles Street” (1913) and the second is my personal favourite – “India House” (1912).

  3. Jackie
    January 2, 2008

    These paintings are beautiful,”unworldly” so, as you say, I want to see more of his work. I know an industrial city of the era had to have been dark and grimy, to take that an turn it into paintings such as these, takes no small skill. Thank you for introducing hsi work to us by way of this lovely tribute book.

  4. sequinonsea
    January 6, 2008

    Never heard of him before either. Beautiful paintings. Am off to Google him now. Fascinating and unusual review. Many thanks.

  5. Charlie
    February 4, 2008

    I went to the Manchester art gallery this weekend and saw for the first time some of Adolphe Valette’s work. I was truly amazed by the beauty and atmospheric style of his work.

    If you have not seen any, go to a gallery as soon as you can, take a seat and just look at the pictures taking in all the emotions they evoke.

    They are wonderful.
    C

  6. Mhairi
    February 4, 2008

    Aren’t they just STUNNING, Charlie? 🙂

  7. stephen bower
    January 14, 2009

    I was at Manchester Art College in the 70`s and remember the Valette painting room / office well , it had a curved glazed window which was directly above the steps leading up to entrance to All Saints Art College and overlooked the park – very atmospheric even in those 70`s days of smoke and grime – but minus the horse drawn cabs! I think he is one of those underestimated artists whose art touches the heartstrings of those who love Manchester , I loved his art then as I do now.

  8. kady york
    February 25, 2009

    i recently found a painting called old cab at old saints by adolphe valette and would like some more information and the value of the painting if anyone can help please get in contact with me

  9. Barrie Ornzitt
    March 6, 2009

    To Kady york..

    The most recent sale was at Christies in 2006 I think. Sheep under a tree.
    I believe it sold in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands. But, the most important work of his, is I believe, them that was created in Mancheste UK between 1905 and 1910. He seems to be always ‘slotted’ into the same ‘school’ as the impressionists. But I hold an opinion contrary to that and suggest he was more ‘the influence behind the abstract expressionists’. To date, I have not come across an in-depth examination of his work. L.S. Lowry was a pupil and great admirer which is obviously apparent in that artist, especially when one views Valette’s Manchester work, of the period mentioned.

    George Barry
    Author

  10. Leonie Sellars
    December 28, 2009

    Valette is not a name that one comes across often in this country. However, my uncle’s wife was Winifred Valette before her marriage to my uncle. She came from near Manchester – I’m not sure exactly where.
    I’ve googled Adolphe Valette but can find no reference to any marriage or relations in the Manchester area, or anywhere in this country.
    My uncle was born in 1903 and presumably Winifred Valette was of a similar age, possibly a little younger.
    Does anyone know anything about Adolphe Valette’s private life, any wife or children? I should be extremely interested to hear of anything anyone is able to let me know.

  11. Arthur Butterworth
    January 12, 2010

    I am a Mancunian, born in 1923 and therefore familiar with what might be called the “residue” of Edwardian Manchester; for it was still familiar in the late 1920s and early 1930s. I became a member of the Halle Orchestra, where Barbirolli launched me as a composer (First Symphony at Cheltenham festival in 1957) I first saw paintings by Valette in Manchester Art Gallery in the early 1980s. Later, the Halle orchestra commissioned me to write a work for their final season (1995) in the Free Trade Hall; so this was inspired by Valette’s evocative paintings of Manchester; all of which I could vividly recall from my own childhood. The work is entitled “Mancunians” and was first performed by the Halle and the Scottish CWS Band from Glasgow
    (for it was also the 150th anniversary of the Co-operative movement) on 21st September 1995 conducted by Kent Nagano

    Arthur Butterworth

  12. Moira
    January 12, 2010

    Welcome to Vulpes Libris, Mr Butterworth – we’re delighted and honoured to have you with us. Oddly enough, I was actually given the CD of the Halle’s performance of your 1st and 4th Symphonies and Viola Concerto for Christmas – and love it, especially the 4th …

    http://bit.ly/7jO49Y

    I’ve always understood that Valette captured ‘on the cusp’ Manchester with considerable accuracy – albeit through the filter of an artist’s eyes – but it’s wonderful to have it confirmed by an eye witness – so to speak – and to learn that his work inspired yours. I can’t actually find a recording of ‘The Mancunians’ anywhere – but I hope one exists and that someone has the sense to issue it in due course.

  13. keith davies
    November 18, 2011

    my wife and i have long been admirers of adolphe valette. We are lucky enough to own a painting he did of his first wife Gabriella who died in 1917 in Manchester. We understand she was buried in Manchester but have been unable to locate her grave. It is possibly in Prestwich. Has anyone any information that may help.
    Keith Davies

  14. Pingback: Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life, by T J Clark and Anne M Wagner | Vulpes Libris

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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