Georges d'Espagnat (1870 - 1950)

Georges d’Espagnat was born at Melun (Ile-de-France) on August 14th, 1870 to his parents Alfred, a court judge, and Marie-Lucille. He attended the Collège Melun as his artistic tendencies began to solidify. As a youth, he studied painting by copying exhibited works in the local museum. In the 1880's he went to Paris, but, unlike most artists who traveled to Paris, he pursued his artistic studies completely separately from formal training. He was a very independent with unusual self-discipline. He enjoyed saying that he had spent only four hours at the École des Beaux-Arts and not more than half an hour at the École des Arts Décoratifs. Instead, he studied on his own, once again copying works, but this time at La Louvre. He would go each morning, pencil in hand, to draw the works of his favorite artists: Reuben, Rembrandt and Delacroix, and he would leave each evening, his head full of new ideas. He spent his evenings at Montparnasse, absorbing the Parisian bohemian spirit.


He first submitted his work to the Palais des Arts Décoratifs and Salon des Réfusés in 1891 where he exhibited for the first time. The following year he began exhibiting at the Salon des Indépendants, where his participation became regular. The years following, perhaps feeling that he had made such strides with his style, d’Espagnat mysteriously destroyed a good portion of his œuvre. It is during these few years that he gained interest in engraving, a medium with which he portrayed much emotion, romanticism and melancholy. 


In 1894 the artist, along with his companion, Genève Agnès, bore a son, Jean. He participated at the expositions held in 1894 and 1895 by the Impressionists and Symbolists at Le Barc de Boutteville. In 1895, he held his first one-man show at Le Barc de Boutteville, showing 51 paintings, 26 drawings, 2 lithographs and 12 engravings. His admiration for the Impressionists and his close friendship with Albert Andre (1869-1954), Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Maurice Denis (1870-1943), Louis Valtat (1869-1952), Paul Signac (1863-1935), and Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) deepened and enhanced his love for bright and intimate interior scenes as well as landscapes. 


In 1898 he visited Morocco; his stay was enriched by his memories of the paintings Delacroix had painted there. He worked along the Mediterranean coast near Toulon, and, as in Morocco, he was excited by the strong light and vivid colors of the region. Between 1899 and 1905 his family and he lived at Les Mureaeux and Vernouillet where he collaborated and socialized with his many artist friends. He held expositions overseas, most notably in New York. In 1901 he traveled to Italy, visiting Rome, Florence, Naples and Sicily. 


In 1900, along with Valtat, he visited La Côte D’Azur and had the opportunity to meet with Renoir. In the following years, d’Espagnat often returned to frequent the coast of Esterel visiting his new friend and mentor. In 1903 the artist voyaged to Morocco, Spain, and Portugal where he immersed himself in his exotic surroundings. 


D'Espagnat helped found the Salon d' Automne as it developed in 1903 and, a year later, served as its vice president. D’Espagnat showed his unusually conservative work, La Terasse à l’Italienne at the infamous 1905 Salon d’Automne which produced the Fauves. In 1906 he collaborated on the illustrations for Remy de Gourmont's Sixtine. 


From 1905-1914, d’Espagnat spent much of his time developing his own personal painterly style and traveling. He spent time in Switzerland, Austria, England, Belgium, and Germany continuing his studies at all the principal museums. In 1908 he took part in an important still-life exhibition at the Paris Durand-Ruel Gallery with fellow painters Monet, Cézanne, Pissaro, Renoir and Sisley. He again exhibited in foreign countries, achieving a very successful show in St. Petersburg in 1912. The same year, d’Espagnat expanded his mediums to costume and set design for the Paris Théâtre des Arts play, Fastasio.


During his long career and posthumously, d'Espagnat had numerous exhibitions in Paris, many of them at the Galerie Durand-Ruel. He was a devoted correspondent with many of the artists of his time. Among the many portraits he painted were those of Paul Valery, Gustave Kahn, Maurice Ravel, Albert Roussel, Florent Schmitt, Albert Andre, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Paul Signac and Paule Gobillard. He collaborated on the designs, which show the influence of Daumier, for the Courrier Français. 


During the First World War, d’Espagnat put his painting on hold for the most part, hiding near Amiens. He made friends with fellow artists Dunoyer de Segonzac, Forain, Guirand de Scévola and Pinchon. In 1919 his son died suddenly from disease; this loss was great for the artist and begun a long period of mourning. D’Espagnat married Marie Constance Marguerite de Ginestet with which he had another son, Bernard a few years later, renewing his family life.


Following World War I, d 'Espagnat and his family purchased a house in Quercy, where they spent their summers. The surrounding countryside, along with that of Collioure, La Rochelle and Noirmoutiers, inspired his later work. He continued to exhibit in Paris at the Gallery Marcel Berheim and the Gallery Druet as well as exhibiting abroad in Philedephia, 1923 and in Brussels, 1929.


In addition to his painting, he illustrated books by Alphonse Daudet, Francis Jammes and others, and did decorative paintings for the Vincennes city hall in 1936 and the Toulouse law courts in 1937. In 1935 he also executed the ornate ceiling of the main dining room on the French passenger liner Normandie. He also continued his art at the Paris Opera, decorating and costuming for Cantegril, The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro.


Ironically, d'Espagnat, the same man who scoffed at the stuffy Parisian art schools as an teenager, was appointed professor and head of the studios at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1936, a post he held until 1940. His more famous exhibitions during this time were his 1931 exposition in New York with Albert André and his 1934 one-man show in London at the Wildenstein Gallery. He was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. During the Second World War, his art was limited to a few illustrations and theater decorations.


In 1945, d’Espagnat, succeeding Maurice Denis, became the president of La Société des Amis d’Eugène Delacroix, a position he held up into his death. In the following years he painted La Rochelle and Concarneau, villages along the coast of France, with his new favorite medium, watercolors.


In 1949, d’Espagnat exhibited at what would be his last show of his lifetime at the André Morice Gallery. The artist died in his home on the 17th of April, 1950, in Paris. A year later the Salon D’Automne honored him with an exposition dedicated to showing a variety of his large body of work. The Durand-Ruel Gallery also honored him shortly thereafter with a retrospective exhibit showing 51 of his works.