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Camilla Care

The hidden side of artist Adolphe Valette, miles away from his ‘Manchester-scapes’

Vaseline 1 month ago

He is known for teaching LS Lowry and his huge oil paintings of industrial Manchester that hang in the City Art Gallery. They include, through his impressionistic eyes, the streets, canals, rivers, docks, fog and the twinkling lights of warehouses and offices such as India House, from 1908 to 1916.

Perhaps his most famous ‘Manchester-scape’ is ‘Albert Square’, with a hooded man pushing a wooden cart in the foreground, the memorial statues of Oliver Heywood and William Gladstone, and part of the Town Hall.

But an exhibition in the city of 70 of his works will show another side of Adolphe Valette: floral motifs for textiles and wallpaper. Although his legacy is mainly seen as beautiful oil paintings of Oxford Road, bridges over the River Irwell and horse-drawn taxis at All Saints Gardens, he, like other artists, had to make money in other ways.

Born in St Etienne, France in 1876, Valette arrived in Manchester in 1905. During the day he worked for a printing company and at night he studied art. In 1907 he was invited to teach at the Manchester Municipal School of Art, where his students included Lowry.

Albert Square by French Impressionist Adolphe Valette, now part of the Manchester City Art Gallery collection of his work

He was a portrait painter for the wealthy in Mancunian society and various commercial activities supplemented his income, including private home decorations, church decorations, commercial poster designs and textile designs.

During his early training in France at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de St Etienne, Valette took a flower drawing course. In the late 19th century, young aspiring artists in the St. Etienne and Lyon region learned to draw flowers with the aim of designing wallpaper or fabrics.

There was a need for skilled draftsmen who could draw any motif that the textile mills requested. Hundreds of such artists were needed and Valette freelanced in the ‘fabriques’ industry, doing such work while in Manchester.

Cecilia Lyon, a leading expert on Valette, whose book ‘Adolphe Valette & LS Lowry’ was published in 2020, said: “The activity of textile design was quite important for Valette. We can assume that he started while still in Manchester When Valette moved from Manchester back to Beaujolais in France in 1928, his wife Andrée, as people still do, made a ‘moving list of items to be transported’.

One of the exhibits in the Adolphe Valette exhibition at the Contemporary Six Gallery in Manchester

“The moving company was Harrods and we had the coincidence of finding in the archives Valette’s moving list with items in which the name ‘cretonnes’ (which is the name in French of these textile designs) appears several times and also the mention of a drawing board for ‘cretonnes’ and of large sheets of paper specifically used for ‘cretonnes’, indicating the importance of this activity for Valette.

“These designs are not signed or dated, which is common for that type of work. The numbers found on some sheets actually refer to pattern numbers, not a date. There are many handwritten notes in Valette’s hand about these designs , related to the colors or technical details regarding the patterns. The notes are in French, indicating that he would work for a French company.

“The motifs on the textile designs are varied and in keeping with the style that was in vogue at the time and used for rich interiors. The level of detail is astonishing. The style is elegant, intricate and harmonious at the same time. The motifs are usually floral, sometimes bird- and floral motifs, as was the tradition. The variety of colors used is wide and explored.

One of the designs by the French impressionist Adolphe Valette, for wallpaper or fabric

‘A good number of these designs have romantic and East Asian qualities. Initially, Valette wanted to go to Japan to study the influence of Japanese art and prints on Impressionism. One of his teachers in Bordeaux was the Japanese consul. Asian, Chinese and Japanese designs are part of what was then a new modern global trade that blossomed with world fairs.”

From 1905, when Valette worked for the Norbury, Natzio & Co printing company in Princess Street, opposite the Manchester Art Gallery, where he produced designs for stock cards intended for the Far East.

A beautiful floral motif by artist Adolphe Valette, which will be on display in the exhibition

Cecilia added: “We cannot completely rule out that some of these drawings were made for wallpaper, but in one small drawing there is a direct written link to ‘toile de Tours’, another well-known center for the production of silk fabrics in France, so in our opinion, and in accordance with what has been explained by the previous owners of these designs, we believe they were intended for upholstery and fabric trims.

Adolphe Valette’s ‘Oxford Road, Manchester 1911’, oil painting(Image: Surrey Advertiser)

The drawings have been kept intact for decades in the same family, the descendants of Mademoiselle Denavit, a friend of Valette in Blacé in Beaujolais where the artist had a house. Later they became part of an English collection.

One of the 70 designs by Adolphe Valette on display in the exhibition

They will now be exhibited at the Contemporary Six Gallery in Princess Street, Manchester, from April 27 to May 18 and will be available for purchase.

Alex Reuben, the gallery’s owner, said: “I am delighted that Manchester is staging this remarkable exhibition of never-before-seen paintings by the French Impressionist Adolphe Valette.

Valette is best known for his atmospheric and moody depictions of Manchester, created in the early 20th century. His impressive works sit alongside the paintings of his student LS Lowry in the Manchester Art Gallery.

“These works will surprise people. Although they are around 100 years old, they are a wonderful mix of beautiful, vibrant floral paintings, some with Japanese influences and many with colorful birds. They reinforce what we already knew, that he was an excellent draftsman. who never stopped creating.”

The artist Adolphe Valette and his second wife Andree with their dog Cora, who was rescued from the Manchester Home for Lost Dogs

Ceclia said: “It is a wonderful moment that these drawings, these ‘cretonnes’, can be admired by the general public and reveal a much forgotten aspect of Valette’s talent, and that these beautiful floral designs bring a touch of French brightness and brilliance to the homes of collectors in Manchester and the surrounding area, where they were initially conceived.”

Adolphe Valette (center) with his students at the Manchester Municipal School of Art

Lowry later acknowledged the debt he owed to this talented Frenchman. He said: ‘I cannot overestimate the impact on me the moment Adolphe Valette entered this dull city, full of French Impressionists, aware of everything that was happening in Paris. He had a freshness and a breadth of experience that excited students, I had never seen such drawings.”

While Lowry’s paintings sell for millions of pounds, Valette’s are in the low thousands – the exception being his Manchester paintings, which rarely come to market and can sell for more than £25,000. The 70 works on display this month range in price from £195 to £2,500.