Self Portrait 1888

Charles Laval: biography, creativity, the best paintings

Charles Laval, The Aven Stream 1889
The Aven Stream 1889

Biography, creativity, the best paintings of the French post-impressionist artist

Charles Laval was a late 19th century French post-impressionist painter who was a member of the Pont-Aven School and made a significant contribution to the formation of synthetism. Charles Laval’s work is often underestimated, as few of his paintings have survived. What is so interesting about this talented but early deceased painter?

Charles Laval, Women by The Shore, Sketch 1887
Women by The Shore, Sketch 1887

Charles Laval was born in Paris on March 17, 1862. His father was an architect, so the boy was brought up and grew up in a creative environment. As a child, he studied at the School of Fine Arts under the teacher Leon Bonnat, then entered a private art workshop with Fernand Cormon. Together with Laval, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Émile Bernard and other famous artists worked in the studio.

Charles Laval biography

Charles Laval studied quickly and, at the age of 18, exhibited a landscape with a Barbizon view at the Salon. The next time he exhibited in 1883, but on both occasions critics greeted his work coldly. Then Laval, like many of his other colleagues, went to the colony of artists in Pont-Aven, located in Brittany in northwestern France.

Here Charles Laval was waiting for an acquaintance that was important for his creative development. He stayed at a boarding house where Paul Gauguin was staying at the same time. Although the latter did not communicate with any of the guests, he made an exception for the young colleague. This is how a friendship was born that lasted for several years. In search of new impressions, the artists went to Panama, dreaming of a tropical idyll far from civilization. Reality, however, met them with illnesses and an acute shortage of funds.

Charles Laval, Bathers 1888
Bathers 1888

Laval had to earn academic portraits of local residents, but orders were few. Currently, these works have been lost. Soon, the artists moved to the island of Martinique, where Charles Laval was seriously ill and, during a fever, nearly committed suicide. His friend, Paul Gauguin, returned to Brittany six months after his departure, and he himself stayed for several more months.

From Martinique, Laval brought quite a lot of paintings and sketches, made with unusually bright colors and energetic strokes. Gauguin, meanwhile, managed to get along with Emile Bernard. The three of them began to work on the principles of synthetism, which combined the techniques of cloisonnism, the simplicity and brightness of primitivism, and the attention to the inner world inherent in symbolism.

Charles Laval Bretons Strolling 1889
Bretons Strolling 1889

last years of life

The results of the work were presented in 1889 at an exhibition of “impressionists and synthetists” in the Parisian cafe Volpini. Charles Laval selected nine paintings for her, but critics condemned him for lack of original style and imitation of Gauguin. The young painter was indeed influenced by a friend, and the similarities between their works were noticeable. In the future, scammers used this, passing off Laval’s canvases as little-known works of Gauguin.

Going to Market, Brittany 1888
Going to Market, Brittany 1888

After 1889, Charles Laval wrote less and less as he suffered from consumption. At the same time, he moves away from Gauguin. The discord in their relationship came for personal reasons: both liked Emile Bernard’s sister Madeleine, who preferred Laval. Together, the couple left for Cairo to improve the health of the master, but their hopes were not justified. The artist died of tuberculosis on April 27, 1894, barely having time to celebrate his 32nd birthday.

Harvest In Brittany 1889
Harvest In Brittany 1889

After the death of Charles Laval, his name began to be forgotten. Gauguin attributed to himself the creation of synthetism and did not mention his friend anywhere. But modern researchers note the significant contribution of this artist and the undoubted individuality of the works created in Martinique. And the work of synthetists had a noticeable influence on Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard and other members of the Nabis artistic association.

The most famous paintings by Charles Laval

Charles Laval’s paintings are not numerous – only about 30 of his works are known. Some of them are probably attributed to Gauguin and await a more accurate attribution. But even such a modest heritage demonstrates the diversity of styles and genres. Here are some of the artist’s most famous paintings:

  1. Self-portrait (1888). The work was donated to Vincent van Gogh, who invited several artists to exchange self-portraits. He highly appreciated the painting by Laval, about which he wrote to his brother Theo.
  2. “Women and a Goat in the Countryside” (1887). This painting is signed with the name of Gauguin, but researchers confidently attribute it to Laval. Probably, the signature was forged due to the huge difference in price for the paintings of these artists.
  3. “Walking Bretons” (1889). The work is written in an unusual technique, close to pointillism, only short vertical strokes are used instead of dots or small spots.
  4. “Black Christ” (1893). A dramatic work written a year before his death and developing a religious theme. Despite the influence of Léon Bonn and Gauguin, the individuality of the author is clearly visible here.
Landscape on Martinique 1887
Landscape on Martinique 1887
Self Portrait 1888
Self Portrait 1888
Women and Goat in the Village 1887
Women and Goat in the Village 1887