A major exhibition of Adolphe Valette’s life and art opens its doors at The Lowry this season. The exhibit boasts over a hundred works by the little known French Impressionist who spent the best part of his career studying and teaching at the Municipal School of Art of Manchester (now part of Manchester Metropolitan University).
A young Adolphe arrived in England and settled in Manchester in 1905, possibly following in the footsteps of Monet, an artist he greatly admired who also had briefly taken refuge in English shores. Delighted by Valette’s obvious talent, his teachers offered him a teaching position soon after enrolling at the Municipal School of Art. The student became the master, and Valette’s (ex-) fellow students became his pupils, one LS Lowry amongst them.
The influence of Valette upon Lowry during those years and the friendship forged between the two artists came to be decisive in Lowry’s future trajectory. Lowry himself claimed that he could not “over-estimate the effect on me of the coming to this drab city of Adolphe Valette, full of French Impressionists”. Sam Rabin, another one of Valette’s students, declared that the two artists “had a warm regard for each other”. It is fitting that decades later Adolphe Valette’s largely overlooked oeuvre should be exhibited at the museum which bears the name of his former trainee.
Valette brought to Manchester his passion for French Impressionism and his fixation for the urban landscape as a subject. In his large, misty cityscapes, Valette’s penchant for the English fog and its capacity to transform an everyday scene into a magical event found its communion. Indeed, Manchester’s infamous weather combined with the characteristic landscapes and pollution of the Industrial Revolution would in fact be the main inspiration for the talented Impressionist artist from a small French town. The combination of factories, waterways and Victorian houses washed over by rain and smoke produced scenes of unquestionable beauty, capturing the atmosphere of early 20th century Manchester.
A selection of LS Lowry’s scenes of industrial Manchester are also exhibited alongside Valette’s; when comparing these, some striking similarities are revealed. Besides these cityscapes, the exhibition showcases a selection of (even) lesser-known paintings by Valette depicting bright landscapes and domestic scenes produced during his time in France, some of which are being exhibited to the public for the very first time.
He may not have worked in London or Paris, nor sought promotion or wide recognition, but Adolphe Valette’s delicate dexterity with the brush is not to be overlooked. He returned to France later in life, when his health worsened, but his years in Northwest England remain his most prolific period, and he owes that in great part to our beloved city. But it is Valette who is really to be honoured; after 17 years without coherent exhibition or collection, the artist takes his bow.
Sat 15th October 2011 – Sun 29th January 2012