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Antoine Blanchard was a prolific and successful Neo-Impressionist painter who specialized in nostalgic scenes of Fin de Siècle Paris. Inspired by the subjects as well as the success of earlier painters of Parisian life like Eugene Galien Laloue, Eduard Cortes, Jean Béraud and Luigi Loir, Blanchard painted hundreds of views of the “City of Light.” In the late 1950s, his street scenes were exported to the United States and the United Kingdom, where they sold briskly to collectors. By the 1960s, Blanchard paintings were bringing several hundred dollars in galleries, so they were not inexpensive, but were attractive to collectors who loved Parisian scenes but who could not afford the works of Cortes or one of the other French painters known for their views of Paris in Belle Époque. Eventually Blanchard’s more delicate, feathery pastel-toned scenes of rain-swept Paris became sought after in their own right and, when he died, he was considered the last of the Ecole de Paris or “School of Paris” painters.

The most salient fact about the life and career of the painter Antoine Blanchard was that he was actually born Marcel Masson, the son of a furniture maker who lived in the scenic Loire Valley, south of Paris, where the French nobility had their chateaus. The date that is usually given for Blanchard’s birth is November 15, 1910, but some of the facts of his life have always been clouded by early biographies that claimed even earlier dates for his birth, probably so that he would seem to be seen as a contemporary of the famous Belle Epoch painters rather than a follower. Blanchard grew up in the hardscrabble years following the First World War. Because he was artistically talented, he was sent first to the nearby city of Blois, the capital of the Loire-et-Cher Département, for artistic training and then to the École des Beaux-Arts in Rennes, on the Brittany peninsula, where he received a classical art education. By some accounts Blanchard also studied in Paris, where the historic École des Beaux-Arts is located, but the depth of his study and the style of his earliest work will require further research.

Marcel Masson was married in 1939, as war clouds gathered on the French horizon. He was drafted for service in the French Army and participated in the short and futile struggle against the invading German Panzers before returning to his family and his art during the Nazi occupation. A daughter, Nicole, was born in 1944 with a second daughter, Eveline, who eventually came to the United States, following in 1946. Masson’s early art career was interrupted, first by World War II and later by the necessity of keeping his father’s workshop running in the years after his death. By the late 1940s, though, Masson returned to his art and moved to Paris in order to further his career.

Exactly when Marcel Masson adopted the pseudonym Antoine Blanchard is not known, nor are we aware of his motivations for adopting a nom de plume, but the practice was not unusual for French painters. In most cases a pseudonym was adopted because the artist had contractual obligations with more than one agent or dealer. Another motivation could be to obscure the scope of a sizable artistic production. Or, like many painters before him Masson may have initially painted different subjects under different names. Marcel Masson né Blanchard would have been well aware that the famous and prolific French painter E. Galien Laloue painted under no less than four names – three pseudonyms in addition to name he was christened with – and so the adoption of another name was probably not seen as a liability to him.

In any event, by the 1950s Marcel Masson had become Antoine Blanchard, a painter of Paris. With the aging Edouard Cortes as a model, Blanchard began to specialize in scenes of la ville des lumières, or the “City of Light.” However, instead of painting contemporary Paris, the crowded metropolis of his own time, which he may have felt was lacking in romance, he chose to look at the French capital through the rear-view mirror. So Blanchard became known for his depictions of the hurly-burly life of Belle Epoch Paris. For inspiration, he is said to have collected old sepia-toned postcards of life in La Belle Époque (“The Beautiul Era”), the long period of peace and relative prosperity between the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the start of the First World War. In addition, however, the paintings of Loir, Baraud, Laloue and Cortes could be found and studied in the flea markets of Paris as well as the auctions at the l’Hôtel Drouot. Reminders of the Belle Epoch were thus all around Blanchard, and of course the architecture that he painted had survived the war intact. Soon he was painting the horse-drawn omnibuses that took turn-of-the-century Parisians on longer trips throughout the city as well as the tradesmen, children and fashionably dressed ladies that populated Baron Haussmann’s Les Grand Boulevards.

Blanchard’s early work was clearly modeled after the paintings of Edouard Cortes, but he was always his own man and never a slavish copyist. These paintings were darker in palette than the Blanchard paintings most American collectors have become familiar with and and his red and blue tones were often bolder than those of Cortes. He never adopted the heavy “impasto,” the build-up of paint on the highlights of Cortes’ work, leaving that artistic trademark to the master. Blanchard’s brushwork was painterly, but the buildings in the paintings were always well-rendered, for he had an excellent command of perspective.

In the late 1950s, agents began to purchase Blanchard’s paintings and then to export them to the United States, selling them to commercial galleries in far away Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. By 1965, his work was already well known enough to be in reproduced by print publishers. By the end of the 1960s, Blanchard had began to develop his own mature style by employing a lighter, brighter, palette and a deft, almost calligraphic style of brushwork. This helped him step out of Cortes’ shadow and become a sought-after painter in his own right.

Jeffrey Morseburg, 2010-11

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