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No-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, in 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.