Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer was a Symbolist and Art Nouveau artist who was born on this day in 1865. In France, he is still celebrated in some quarters for his work — which includes paintings, drawings, ceramics, furniture and interior design — but he remains obscure, especially outside the Francosphere. Even though there aren’t any films about him that I know of — or even any books that I’ve found — I’m hopefully wrong. In that case, let me know so that I can add them to this entry and tell fans to seek them out. In any case, he’s also a great artist to look at because he was born in autumn, died in autumn, and most of his most recognizable work has a great, autumnal, crepuscular quality which is perfect for viewing as the nights grow longer and summer fades.
CHILDHOOD AND EDUCATION
Lévy was born 30 September, 1865 in Algiers (then part of occupied French Algeria) to Salomon Lévy and Pauline-Amélie Goldhurmer. In 1879, when he was fourteen years old, Lévy began studying drawing and sculpture at École communale supérieure de Dessin et Sculpture in Paris. He first exhibited in 1882 at the Salon de Paris, where he showed a ceramic piece, La Naissance de Vénus, d’après Cabanel — a reference to painter Alexandre Cabanel).
After school Lévy first worked as a lithographer. Then, from 1887 till1895, he worked as a ceramic decorator in the studio of Clément Massier, in Golfe-Juan. Though Jewish, much of Lévy’s early ceramic work bore the more obvious influence of Islamic Moorish art that had surrounded him during his childhood in North Africa.
In 1892 he became the artistic director of Massier’s studio and as such, began signing his pieces “L. Levy.” Throughout his stint at the studio he continued using oils and pastels and exhibited some work produced with them at 1894’s Peintres de l’âme collective exhibition alongside artists Edmond Aman-Jean, Émile-René Ménard, Alphonse Osbert, Carlos Schwabe, and Alexandre Séon.
In 1895 he returned to live in Paris to pursue a career in painting, where he met the poet Georges Rodenbach, whose portrait he painted shortly after in a style that, as with other works from the period, suggests the strong influence of Symbolist painter, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.
After a visit to Italy, Lévy’s work revealed an increased interest in German and Florentine Renaissance — resulting in paintings that fit in well alongside those of the English Pre-Raphaelites.
La Femme à la Médaille or Mystére (1896)
Portrait de Pierre Loti or Fantôme d’Orient (1896)
In 1896 the artist had his first solo exhibit of his work, billed as “Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer,” which added part of his mother’s maiden name (Goldhurmer) to his given family name. The exhibit included two sanguines, five paintings, and sixteen pastels and was shown at Georges Petit’s gallery. Success quickly followed and his prominent admirers included occultist writer Joséphin Peladan and artists such as Emile Bernard and Gustave Moreau.
In 1897, in the tradition of the Grand Tour, Lévy-Dhurmer began extensively traveling in Europe, Africa, and Asia — visiting Britain, Holland, Italy, Morocco, Spain, and Turkey. His work from this period began to increasingly focus on landscapes, albeit subjectively idealized ones, and he also depicted the inhabitants of the places through which he passed in portraits. As the fin-de-siècle transitioned into the début-de-siècle, Levy-Dhurmer continued to focus on landscapes and portraits that syncretized the styles of Claude Monet and James McNeill Whistler.
Levy-Dhurmer continued to exhibit his work in group exhibitions, salons, and solo shows. Also, between 1910 and 1914 he designed the Wisteria Dining Room at the home of Auguste Rateau (now preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art). In 1914 he married Emmy Fournier (Jeanne Marie Marnière), editor of the feminist newspaper La Fronde.
Levy-Dhurmer’s wife, whom he nicknamed “Perla,” died in 1944. Levy-Dhurmer died close to his 88th birthday, on 24 September, 1953.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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