Maximilien Luce (1858 – 1941) was a prolific French neo-impressionism painter, lithographer and draftsman. In the beginning, Luce paints in the impressionism style. However later he adopts the divisionism style (pointillism), inspired by the avant-garde Neo-Impressionism painters Signac, Seurat and Pissarro.
Maximilien Luce was born into a poor family and lived in Montparnasse, a working-class district of Paris . When he was thirteen, he witnessed government forces killing revolutionaries of the Paris Commune of 1871. This event will forever haunt him.
At the early age of 14, Luce apprenticed as a wood-engraver and made a living producing woodblock engravings used for printing publications. Throughout this period however, Luce sporadically attends drawing and painting classes.
Around the 1880s, Luce begins painting full time. At first, he paints beautiful landscapes in and around the nearby town of Lagny-sur-Marne. When he exhibits at the Salon des Artistes Independents, in Paris in 1887, his paintings catch the attention of art critics and other painters. His talent is evident!
Luce & the Neo-Impressionism Art Movement
Luce is now living in Montmartre and mingles in artistic circles. He befriends other Parisian painters, including Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. The famous four – Pissarro, Signac, Seurat and Luce will eventually work together, influence each other’s painting style and create a new form of painting – Neo-impressionism (pointillism).
The neo-impressionists painted in a “scientific” fashion. The theory was not to mix colours on the palette or the canvas but to juxtapose small spots of pure colour next to eachother. In the eyes of the spectator, these dots come together, creating a balanced and vibrant effect.
Luce adopted this new avant-garde style. He stood out from the others by using bolder colors to produce vibrant effects of light.
Neo-Impressionism Paintings reflecting the every day life of the Proletariat
Rather than paint the tranquil landscapes of the countryside, Luce felt passionate about capturing scenes of the working class in every day life. This is where he came from and where he felt most comfortable.
Many of his paintings depict street scenes of the run-down district of Montmartre where he lived for many years. Luce also captured scenes of the factory workers, life of the dockers and construction workers building the new boulevards of Paris.
When Luce was in the military during WW1, he painted what he saw. His paintings captured soldiers in battle, wounded men and soldiers returning home.
Luce’s neo-impressionism paintings gain recognition in the art world. He travels with his friend Camille Pissarro to London and later to Saint-Tropez with Signac. He continues to travel and paint scenes from Brittany, Normandy and Belgium. Some of his most famous paintings are of the Seine west of Paris, In these paintings he uses bold colors, almost pre-fauvism style.
An Active Anarchist Forever Seeking Justice
During his adult life, Luce participates in anarchist activities. With his printing skills, he volunteers to work for the anarchist press. In July 1894, the police arrest Luce and imprison him for his radical activities. They accuse him of inciting against the government and encouraging the people to revolt through his sketches. However, due to insufficient evidence he is acquitted after forty eight days in jail. This only strengthens and encourages Luce’s anarchist beliefs. He later publishes ten lithographs recording his experience in prison.
A Man of Principles
Maximilien Luce was a life long advocate for social justice. Coming from an impoverished background made him sensitive to the poor and the oppressed. He had no tolerance for racism.
When his friend Signac retired as President of the esteemed Société des Artistes Indépendants, Luce was elected. However he quickly quit in protest of the racial laws passed by the Vichy regime. These laws banned Jewish artists from admissions into all official institutions, including the Société des Artistes Indépendants .
Maximilien Luce died the following year.
Maximilien Luce was one of the great impressionism and neo-impressionism painters of his time. He was an extremely prolific and painted over two thousand oil paintings and a large number of watercolors, gouaches and pastels. Luce also left behind a rich collection of illustrations and lithograph prints. His artworks beautifully record life of the working class of the 19th century. His paintings today are national treasures.
Where to View Maximilien Luce Artworks
Maximilien Luce’s paintings are hung on the walls of the most esteemed art museums around the world. In France you can view his paintings in the following museums: