(1864 Nantes – Le Croisic 1930)
Piazzetta San Marco by Moonlight
Oil on canvas; 60 x 73 cm
Signed lower right: J. du.Puigaudeau.
Framed: 84 x 96,5 cm
Executed in 1904
Publications: Will be included in Tome II of the artist’s Catalogue Raisonné by Antoine Laurentin, to be published in November 2023
It was thanks to the financial support of Monsieur Royer de Mauvillain, the husband of one of his cousins, that Puigaudeau was able to take the trip to Venice that he had dreamed of so long. Accompanied by his wife, he arrived in La Serenissima on 15 August 1904 and settled into a studio lent to him by one of his friends. Filled with wonder by the city—as much its colors and the reflections of light as by its marble and mosaics—he left only in December, having executed no fewer than 60 canvases.
He painted tirelessly, his wife writing that he often did not come home until the wee hours of the morning, having spent all night working on his moonlit scenes. In his work, he executed quite small formats on site, as well as more ambitious compositions, like ours or his San Giorgio in the Moonlight (Collection G. Marciano, Los Angeles), that he finished in his studio. We would also note the very beautiful Gondola with Lanterns, in a private collection, a work that illustrates his interest in all forms of interplaying light, fireworks or lanterns.
In our canvas, Du Puigaudeau depicts one of his favorite views, Saint Mark’s Square giving on to the Grand Canal. If, on the right of our composition the famous Doge’s Palace with its perfect marriage of Gothic and Renaissance influences in its façade—illuminated only by the moon—can be clearly seen, in contrast, Santa Maria della Salute and the customs office, identifiable by its gilded sphere, seem to slumber peacefully in shadow.
As for the Marciana Library—at the center of our canvas—it seems to be still busy, the shimmering orangey shapes suggesting evening activities from which the figures along the quay may be hurrying home.
The dappled shadows of the two grey granite columns surmounted with symbols of the city—the winged lion at the center of our painting, along with Saint Theodore—advance across the quay, disappearing little by little in the foreground.
Puigaudeau painted another version of our canvas with some variations in the figures (Catalogue Raisonné, 1989, no. 62 “The Façade of the Doge’s Palace by Moonlight”), as well as a view of the area between the Doge’s Palace and the Marciana Library, facing the two columns (Cat. Raisonné no. 63 “Square by Moonlight”) that he kept for himself at the Manoir de Kervaudu.
From a technical point of view, there is a marvelous unity in his brushwork, with paint sparingly applied in a network of rapid, restrained touches, blended so that sky and stone melt into one another. Only the glowing moon is treated in impasto, with the small circular dabs of paint so typical of the artist.
The chromatic range of color used by Puigaudeau—very often dominated by tones of mauve—was perhaps inspired by the series of the Rouen Cathedral that Monet painted in the years between 1892 and 1894. Several of the canvases, in particular the one in the Musée Goulandris in Athens (fig. d), and that in the Musée d’Essen, are reminiscent of our work, not only incolour but also in treatment.
We thank Monsieur Antoine Laurentin for confirming that this work will be included in Tome II of his Catalogue Raisonné des œuvres de Ferdinand du Puigaudeau, to be published in November 2023.
Descended from a family of shipowners in Nantes, Ferdinand du Puygaudeau studied Classics before turning to painting. He then left for Italy and then Tunisia. In 1886, he met Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard in Pont-Aven, thus being present for the beginnings of what, in the future, would become the famous Ecole de Pont-Aven.
While the young artist was supposed to accompany Gauguin to Panama, his obligatory military service most unfortunately prevented him from doing so.
A few years later, in 1889, he left to go to Belgium, where he formed close ties with the group of artists known as Les XX, in particular, Jan Toorop and James Ensor.
Du Puygaudeau exhibited for the first time at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1890.
The new aesthetic created by the Ecole de Pont-Aven was decisive in the evolution of his work, even though he remained very influenced by the example of the Impressionists.
Passionately enthusiastic in his study of the effects of light, he executed numerous nocturnes, and left for Venice, where he concentrated on rendering water and its reflections.
Like Henry Moret, he signed an agreement with the Galerie Durand-Ruel, which was endeavoring to encourage a new generation of Impressionists at the time. Unfortunately, a disagreement occurred in 1900, bringing the contract to an end.
In 1907, he settled in Le Croisic, at the Manoir de Kervaudu, where he often invited his friends to join him, among them the painter Jean-Emile Laboureur and the poet José-Maria de Heredia.
He remained in Brittany until his death in 1930, executing numerous landscapes of the Brière marshes and the Guérande Peninsula. These were very personal works, bursting with color and oscillating between Pointillism and Divisionism (fig. a, Landscape with a Thatched Cottage 1921, Musée des Beaux-Arts in Quimper; fig. b, Sailboats on the Sea, Evening, 1910, private collection).