Élisée Maclet was born in Lyons-en-Santerre on April 12th 1881. Growing up the son of a poor gardener in the Picardy province, Maclet began to work as a garner himself when he was a very young. However he was also an artistic boy who enjoyed sketching in the countryside. As well being a gardener, Maclet’s father was also the village sexton. He eventually took lessons from the parish priest who enjoyed painting as a Sunday afternoon hobby. Here Maclet developed his "primitive" style of painting which later earned him a place amongst the foremost "naive" painters in France during the early twentieth century.
In April 1892, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898), observed Maclet painting alongside his mentor and was so impressed that he approached the young artist’s father and offered to take him as a student. The elder Maclet refused, saying that his son was a gardener and would remain so. Despite his father’s opposition, the young Maclet eventually gave up gardening and left the village. He moved to Paris in 1906, settled in the Montmartre district, and there produced the majority of the landscape and street scenes for which he is best known.
Success did not come easily to Maclet and he held numerous jobs to support himself. He varnished beds, decorated floats for the Moulin Rouge, washed dishes, shucked oysters, cooked aboard a ship and finally painted dolls which he exhibited in the Salon de Humoristes. Throughout these various odd jobs, he always found time to paint. As a young artist beginning his career, Maclet began painting views of the surrounding hills, windmills, and winding streets of Montmartre long before his celebrated friend Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955).
When war broke out in 1914, Maclet found himself serving as a medical attendant in a hospital set up by the Little Sisters of the Poor. During his leave periods he would head back to Montmartre, staying in the cabaret hall of the Lapin Agile. He paid for his food by polishing copper pots and washing dishes. It was during one of these leaves that he painted two small works of the Sacre Coeur and Moulin de la Galette which were purchased by the famous executioner Anatole Deibler.
Maclet's Parisian scenes found success, especially following World War 1, and he maintained this success throughout the remainder of his career due to the unique sensitivity and original techniques that he demonstrated in his works. Many of the popular French writers were fond of his paintings and often wrote about him, including Max Jacob, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette, and Francis Carco.
In 1918 to 1919 Maclet painted seascapes in Dieppe, living in a house lent to him by Carco. He returned to Montmartre in 1919. In 1920 the art dealer, Dosbourg, bought some of his early Montmartre scenes providing much-needed income and allowing him more time to concentrate on his art. He exhibited with both Dosbourg and Hugo Perlsall that year.
In the early 1920's a wealthy admirer and collector, Baron Von Frey gave him a stipend with which to take an extended vacation in the south of France. He lived in Arles from 1923 to 1928 where he painted many remarkable landscapes expressing his enchantment with Mediterranean nature and culture, some of which are at times reminiscent of Matisse. In 1928, he moved to Corsica. He then went to Bretagne where he lived and worked in 1929 and 1930.
Unfortunately, Maclet remained mentally unstable during his life, and by 1933 had to be hospitalized for several months for disorders from which he never fully recovered. In 1935 he returned to Paris and began to paint again.
He died in Paris on Aug 23, 1962.