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An artist with links to late 19th-century movements such as Impressionism, Symbolism, and Neo-Impressionism, Henri Le Sidaner created evocative landscapes, street scenes, and garden pictures that were lauded for their aura of tranquility and mystery. Admirers of Le Sidaner’s mood-filled pictures also included the painter Paul Signac, who proclaimed: “His entire work is influenced by a taste for tender, soft and silent atmospheres ... he even went so far as to eliminate ... figures, as if he feared that the slightest human form might disturb their muffled silence” (as quoted in Yann Farinaux-Le Sidaner, Le Sidaner: L’Oeuvre Peint et Gravé [Paris: Éditions André Sauret, 1989, p. 31).

The son of a Breton-born ship inspector who worked for Lloyd’s of London, Le Sidaner was born in Port Louis, on the island of Mauritius. In 1872, his family moved to Dunkerque, France, where, having spent his boyhood in the warm tropics, Le Sidaner was enchanted by the “melancholy mists” drifting into the city from the “murmuring North Sea.” With the support and encouragement of his father––an art aficionado who bought him his first box of paints––Le Sidaner received his earliest art lessons in 1872, studying with the history painter Alexandre Desmidt. In 1881, he went to Paris, where he saw and was deeply impressed by the work of Édouard Manet and Claude Monet. 

After serving in the military in 1883, Le Sidaner enrolled in the atelier of Alexandre Cabanel, a much-admired academic figure painter at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. However, inspired by the stylistic innovations of the impressionists and dismayed by the rigid academicism promoted at the École (where students spent much of their time making copies of Old Masters in the Louvre), Le Sidaner abandoned his formal studies to pursue an independent path. Seeking a peaceful locale in which to live and work, he settled in Étaples, a port town and artists’ colony in northern France. 

Le Sidaner resided in Étaples from 1884 until 1893. During this period, he fraternized with a coterie of international painters that included Eugene Vail, Frits Thaulow, and Alexander Harrison. He also came into his own as an artist. Melding the fluent handling of Impressionism with his desire to convey his emotional response to his subject, he painted plein-air landscapes and street scenes, as well as ethereal images of virginal women in subtly lit settings—the latter motif a favorite of Belle-Époque symbolists. Executed en plein air, his works from these years exude a sense of quietude and isolation that reflected the artist’s propensity for solitude. Many art lovers of the day viewed his oils as pictorial equivalents to the music of Claude Debussy and others.

 After making his debut at the Salon des Artistes Français in 1887, Le Sidaner exhibited his work there and at venues such as the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. His first one-man show, held in 1897 at the Galerie Mancini in Paris, brought him a level of critical acclaim that was further enhanced in the ensuing years by successful solo exhibitions in London, Brussels, and elsewhere. Indeed, Le Sidaner’s ranking in the art world was such that in 1899 he signed an exclusive contract with the esteemed Parisian gallerist Georges Petit, who championed his work and remained his dealer until the gallery’s closure in 1933. In addition to cultivating an extensive collector base in Europe and the United Kingdom, Le Sidaner also established a reputation in United States, where his paintings were featured in exhibitions at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh and at Knoedler’s in New York. 

By 1900, when he settled in the city of Beauvais, about  40 miles miles north of Paris, Le Sidaner had adopted a refined divisionist style inspired by the example of painters such as Georges Seurat and Georges Signac, combining his own interpretation of neo-impressionist methodology with his enduring penchant for a nuanced palette and softly defined forms. He also banished the human figure from his repertoire of motifs, preferring to focus on landscapes and streetscapes inspired by visits to picturesque European locales such as Bruges, Chartres, London, and Venice. Le Sidaner was especially fond of portraying simple houses, cottages, and tranquil canals enveloped in the velvety light of dusk or bathed in moonlight.

In the wake of his 1897 exhibition at the Galerie Mancini in Paris and his new association with Georges Petit, Le Sidaner decided to seek a bucolic retreat outside of the capital where he could create a garden and paint without distraction. In 1901––on the recommendation of the ceramist Auguste Delaherche––he began renting a rustic cottage in Gerberoy, a small hill-top village in Picardy located about 78 miles from Paris. (Le Sidaner’s house still stands and, along with its garden, is open to the public. )

Delighted with his new surroundings––which he purchased in 1904––Le Sidaner subsequently focused most of his creative energies on portraying his domestic environment, specifically, his house and flower gardens. While intimist painters such as Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard also looked to their home grounds for inspiration, Le Sidaner pursued this theme in his own distinctive way, continuing to paint compositions that were devoid of figures and adhering to a subtle handling of form and color.

After 1912, the artist spent his summers in Gerberoy and the winter months in Versailles. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Legion of Honor of France (1930), Le Sidaner died in Versailles on July 16, 1939. Today, examples of his work grace the walls of such important museums and galleries as the Art Institute of Chicago; Tate London; the Thyssen-Bornemiza National Museum, Madrid; the Musée d’Orsay, Paris; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., among many others.

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