Maxime LaLanne – "Nogente"

Maxime Lalanne, (Bordeaux 1827 – 1886), Nogente (1883), 6-1/4″ x 4-1/8″,
Etching on thin laid paper.

This delicate and sensitive rendering of the small French town of Nogent-sur-Marne was executed by Lalanne just three years before his death in that ancient commune situated in the eastern suburbs of Paris, France. The walkway on the left invites the viewer to tag along on a leisurely stroll around a quiet waterway hedged by charming old guinguettes1 and lush vegetation basking under a voluminous sky filled with expansive clouds.

I’m afraid I cannot locate my purchase notes about this piece but I believe it was bought in the mid 1990’s when I was finding art works from the old Vincent Price Fine Art Collection (Sears) in antique stores around the area. This piece is from one of the master etchers responsible for the etching revival in France near the end of the 19th century. Maxime Lalanne was a draughtsman, designer and etcher, and was known for his sensitive and poetic renderings of the French countryside, and often made political statements in his works.

I was familiar with Lalanne and when I saw this exciting little etching I had to take it off the wall for a closer look. Again, on the back, I found more Sears Vincent Price Fine Art Collections stickers that I’d been running across, but this time the original owner kept Price’s program note from the store, and there was an inscription taped to the back that was kept after someone had re-matted the work (I assumed). That old familiar feeling hit me hard again. I knew I’d purchase this subtle and pleasing work anyways, if not for its real value (it was an original 19th etching, and a bit costly), but Price’s notes and his inscription to someone I’d never heard of (Marion Mills) made for another art mystery I just had to investigate. From the information on the back I knew it came into public ownership via Price’s Fine Art Collection in the early 1960’s, but before that it would be anyone’s guess who the previous owners were since the print was about 80 years old when it was sold by Sears (125 years old as of this writing). That’s unfortunate since my research into Vincent Price the art collector reveled how meticulous he was with keeping records about the thousands of art purchases he made for Sears in those years. So I’m sure those records still exist, or existed, until his family liquidated most if not all of his holdings after his death in 1993.

This is what the man could do with a pencil (from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website) titled, “Ferme au grande arbre.” So elegant and expansive is this view of the French countryside and the adjoining valley.

The title, “Nogente,” refers to Nogent-sur-Marne, a commune or settlement located 11km east of the center of Paris, France. Nogent is one of the oldest Gallo-Roman settlements going as far back as the 6th century. The Merovingian King Chilpéric I (539-584) met the Roman Eastern Emperor Tiberius in his royal villa in Nogent, and in the Middle Ages, Nogent depended on the neighboring abbey of Saint-Maur, whose monks cleared the area and planted grapevine on the hills of the river Marne. At the end of the Ancient Regime, Nogent was a small village inhabited by farmers and wine-growers. The development of Nogent started under the Second Empire, with the opening of the railway lines Paris-Mulhouse (1854) and of the Bastille (1859). During the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, the inhabitants of Nogent moved to Paris, where the municipal council had its seat on boulevard Voltaire. After the war, the town thrived with the building of schools, a college and a colonial garden. During the Second World War, Nogent was a center of the anti-German Resistance. On August 24th, 1944, at 11:00, the local Committee of Liberation took control of the town hall. The next night the German army blew up the arches of the viaduct of Nogent and carried on the fight near the fort of Nogent. Eleven patriots were killed and buried there on August 29th, 1944.

Nogent is rich with history, and it served as the final resting place for Maxime Lalanne when he died there in 1886. This etching was made just three years before his death and is rapidly becoming a mystery since I haven’t been able to locate a single reference to it. The largest online collection of Maxime Lalanne etchings I’ve found is at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco website. There you’ll see many of his beautifully detailed landscapes, and why I think no other etcher in his time was able to render skies and trees as eloquently as he. But among the 55 ethereal works depicting towering windmills to lazy waterways, I didn’t find a single reference to Nogent.

Here’s his bio courtesy of artoftheprint.com:
Maxime Lalanne: A leading French etcher and painter of landscapes and urban views, Maxime Lalanne studied under Gigoux. His art was first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1852 and he continued to regularly show both etchings and paintings there until the mid 1880’s. He was also the author of several important books on the subject of etching.

Maxime Lalanne was at the forefront of the French revival of etching during the 1860’s decade. He was a founding member of the Societe des Aquafortistes, along with Auguste Delatre, Cadart, Ribot and Bracquemond. In total Lalanne created over one hundred and fifty fine etchings.

Lalanne’s art continued to be influential in the early twentieth century when a major retrospective exhibition was held in London in 1905. His entire oeuvre of etchings was exhibited there and many contemporary British and French etchers closely studied his unique style. His ability to render almost Impressionistic effects of light and shade, in particular, is without equal in the medium of etching.
As with all the framed paper art that I’ve purchased, I disassembled the pieces from the wooden frame to more closely examine the work and to replace the backing, mat, tape, etc., with modern archival materials while saving any historical attributes (such as labels or stickers on the back). I found that the work had indeed been re-matted, and the etching was affixed to it with some old, dried-up masking tape. Fortunately, the tape pulled away clean from the etching, which doesn’t happen too often. Great care and patience must be employed when removing old materials stuck to paper art work, and if you don’t feel you have the patience or the dexterity to do this I suggest you take your precious art work to a framer or print restorer and pay them to do it for you. It’s well worth the time and money, and you will be confident that your fine art will be preserved for generations to come.

There is a slight sunburn around the margins of the plate, and unfortunately this is common with antique prints in their original frame. No art should be exposed to direct sunlight, but when it hangs on a wall inside your home the sun’s rays may reach it sometime during the day if you’re not careful about the location. This can also happen if artificial light is positioned too close to your art and it begins to ‘cook’ it, which will greatly affect it over time.

The etching was printed on thin laid paper and bears the MBM watermark. MBM stands for Morel, Bercious and Masure, who first introduced mouldmade machines to the Ingres d’Arches paper company in 1883. The artist signed, titled and dated the work in the plate.

As for the inscription, Vincent Price probably knew everyone of any importance during his lifetime and had lifelong friendships with actors, artists, writers, business heads and just about every other walk of life you can think of. So attempting to discover the identity of Marion Mills posed a real challenge. I am familiar with his writings, but that name didn’t ring a bell. So off to the internet I went, and of course, found a ton of Marion Mills’ listed in Google. From authors to cotton mills she showed up, none even remotely connected to Price or his art, until it dawned on me. He was an actor, so why not an actress?

The IMDb (Internet Movie Database) is a wonderful resource for actor, actress, and movie related searches, right down to the most obscure detail you can think of. That’s where I believe I found her; as an uncredited showgirl in the 1929 movie, “Words and Music.” This would fit in his time frame having broken into movies in the late 1930’s, meeting her and staying friends until his or her death. There’s another Marion Mills listed as a costume designer for the 1973 film, “Paperback Hero,” which would be even more plausible since Price’s second wife, Mary Grant, also was a costume designer of some fame. I guess I’ll never know for sure who she was, but as that old Italian saying goes, “O ‘bien travatto,” (If it ain’t the truth, it’d make a good story.)

Mike-

1. Small cabarets in the suburbs and surrounds of Paris.

4 comments:

  1. It's again a great classic by Maxime Lalanne. The beauty of nature has been rightly displayed in this work. The pencil sketch really provides us something good to cherish upon.

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  2. I completely agree with you Craig. We rarely see such masterpiece in pencil sketch. I get the feel of all sorts of feeling from this piece of art. It really adores me and I think the same for others as well.

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  3. It certainly looks like a real town. The artist has paid attention to very fine things. Something which others don't follow...

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  4. The title is "Nogent" not "Nogente". Nogent was a town near Paris where people gone the week-end in the last century. Today, it's in Paris

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