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Femme se faisant les ongles (Woman doing her Nails). Etching, drypoint and aquatint in brownish-black on ivory-coloured paper. 14.7 x 20.7 cm. Signed. Circa 1890–95.
In the 1890s the late Impressionist painter, Maximilien Luce, produced a modest but notable printed oeuvre which bears testimony to his remarkable creativity and eagerness to experiment. The works he produced were often printed in small editions, which accounts for their rarity. Our understanding of his fascinating oeuvre is also hampered by the fact that a definitive critical catalogue has yet to be compiled. Having initially trained as a printmaker, Luce began his painting studies in 1876 under Eugène Froment and at the Académie Suisse in Paris. Together with his fellow students, Léo Gausson and Emile-Gustave Cavallo-Peduzzi, Luce founded a group of artists called the Groupe de Lagny, which critically examined George Seurat’s theory of colour. On the occasion of his debut at the Salon des Indépendants Luce made the acquaintance of Camille Pissarro and Paul Signac. The latter bought one of Luce’s paintings and remained on friendly terms with him for the rest of his life. In 1889 and 1892 Luce was invited by Emile Verhaeren and Theo van Rysselberghe to participate in the annual exhibition of Les Vingt, a progressive artists’ association in Brussels. This put him among the artistic avant-garde of his time, the closeness between his work and Seurat’s pointillist and divisionist style of painting making him one of the leading Neo-Impressionists.
The present delicate etching, which is extremely rare, bears all the hallmarks of this style. The bold simplification of the form and the reduction to essentials closely recall comparable figure studies by Seurat. The young woman with a fine lock of hair falling over her forehead is completely absorbed in manicuring her nails. The drypoint creates graphic surface patterns of great decorative appeal and accentuates parts of her corset, slender arms and shoulders as well as her face, most of which is in the shade. At the same time the soft aquatint grain and the effectively applied plate tone produce very fine tonal transitions and a subtle play of light. The warm light entering from the top left illuminates the flesh on the woman’s arms and shoulders. She lacks any personal traits, serving rather as the embodiment of femininity. The whole is infused with a private intimacy and feminine charm. A superb, crisp and tonal impression with thread margins. In impeccable condition. Luce produced a slightly modified version of this subject as a lithograph, which is also available.