Adolphe Valette: A French Impressionist in Manchester

Adolphe Valette: A French Impressionist in Manchester

Adolphe Valette: A French Impressionist in Manchester is a short art book we picked up from the city centre Manchester Art Gallery recently. Adolphe Valette (1876-1942) was a French Impressionist who spent most of his career in England—mainly in Manchester.

He was famous for paintings of urban landscapes, was the tutor of one L. S. Lowry, and most of his work is now in Manchester Art Gallery.

If you can’t get to Manchester for that, then this short book is a beautiful depiction of his sprawling work of urban decay (and otherwise).

Adolphe Valette’s Artistic Take on Manchester

Rooftops - Adolphe Valette
Rooftops – Adolphe Valette

Behold the above (and click on it for a closer look). It is Rooftops, Valette’s pastel work which is described in this little book thus:

“Hatched strokes and furry outlines are magically transformed into Manchester’s notoriously incessant rain as it mingles with the soot-ridden air. Taken from a dramatically high vantage point, it is perhaps his most perfect evocation of the city’s atmosphere on a wintry afternoon.”

Unfortunately, it’s unclear when Valette painted Rooftops. This enigmatic nature is rather in keeping with the man’s legacy.

As this little book documents he was a versatile painter skilled across urban, rural, landscape, and portrait paintings.

Unfortunately, after he returned to France later in his life, much of his work went into storage and became forgotten. Luckily! Manchester’s cultural scene came to the rescue. His work is now getting new and wider appreciation.

A Bit About Adolphe Valette

Adolphe Valette self-portrait
Adolphe Valette’s self-portrait

Valette’s career path is certainly unorthodox, not least given how dingy the working class life of early 20th century Manchester was. A pleasant place to be it so often wasn’t, instead being grimy, cold, characteristically rain-sodden, and home to mass poverty.

He was from Saint-Étienne in central France, a beautiful region.

After training at Ecole Municipale de Beaux-Arts et des Arts Decoratifs in Bordeaux, the painter moved to England in 1904. It seems he did that so he could study further at what is now the University of London.

In 1905, he made the intrepid journey to the North West and attended Manchester Municipal School of Art classes from 1907. He was so bloody good he got offered a job, which is where the young L. S. Lowry entered into his tutorage.

Valette personally taught L. S. Lowry during this time, who obviously went on to become much more celebrated and famous than his teacher. But Lowry held Valette in very high regard. He said he was:

“A dedicated teacher. I cannot underestimate the effect on me of the coming into this drab city of Adolphe Valette, full of French impressionists, aware of everything that was going on in Paris. He had a freshness and breadth of experience that exhilarated his students.”

He spent his time teaching between Manchester and Bolton (of Greater Manchester fame) for many and varied students. However, due to illness he left his more advanced roles in 1920. He stayed put in Lancashire for a while before returning to Paris in 1928.

After he died in April 1942 his body of work went into stasis. Adolphe Valette: A French Impressionist in Manchester covers this:

“Six years after Valette’s death in occupied France [i.e. the Nazi invasion] a proposed exhibition of his work at Manchester’s Art Gallery, shelved because of the war, was finally dropped. Soon his paintings went into storage where they remained largely forgotten by the public, until the revival of interest in his work in the early 1970s. This was triggered by the discovery of the enormous body of paintings and drawings lovingly preserved by Andree [his second wife]. Through a series of exhibitions at the Tib Lane Gallery, Manchester, and the resurrection of the Manchester views at the Art Gallery, enthusiasm for Valette’s work was rekindled and continues to grow.”

If you’re in Manchester, you can go into the Art Gallery now (it’s slap bang in the city centre) and you’ll find there a room dedicated to Valette’s work.

And we like this enigmatic Frenchman who, unexpectedly, popped up at the start of the 20th century. He must have looked out of place… maybe felt it, too. But looking at his work over 100 years on and he had a real capacity to capture the nature of industrial life.

Valette’s Impressionistic Take on Manchester

York Street leading to Charles Street - Adolphe Valette
York Street leading to Charles Street – Adolphe Valette

Thanks to his natural talent, Valette made Manchester his artistic and creative home and revelled in the murky, rain-sodden streets.

The city these days is famous for  football, music (wahey it’s Madchester), and partying. Art museums may seem to be non-existent, until you dig around a bit and realise there’s a bustling underbelly of artistic life here.

Manchester’s artistic capacity has always been there. You can go to the Northern Quarter and see fancy graffiti artwork whenever you like. But then, of course, there’s also L. S. Lowry—Manchester’s artistic God.

Lowry always felt indebted to Valette.

And you can see some similarities in their style, although the Englishman developed a unique “matchstick men” style that added more character (almost absurdist humour) to his work. Whereas Valette was more traditional in his depictions.

India House by Adolphe Valette
India House – Adolphe Valette

It’s a bit like what Claude Monet did when he stayed in London circa 1905, which you can see in many of his works (see Christine L. Corton’s London Fog biography).

Monet became infatuated with London’s smoggy nature.

And Valette, not long after, also seemed pretty smitten with the downtrodden, bustling, hustling, bleak nature of working class Manc life.

If there’s one thing we’ll remember him for, it’s capturing that relentless rainy day nature of England, the North West, and trudging about getting wet whilst grumbling about the weather (the #1 English pastime).

Adolphe Valette depiction of rain

Adolphe Valette: A French Impressionist in Manchester encapsulates the man and his work rather well indeed. It’s a great little art book, packed with fold-out elements so you can take in some of the artist’s early and later works.

At the end of the book there’s a picture of him from the 1930s, in Paris, looking dapper. Which we thought was a nice little touch.

We’re not sure of the availability of this book worldwide, but if you’re in the UK you’ll be able to pick this up for less than a fiver. Well worth it to catch up with one of the lesser-known 20th century artists.

If you’re worldwide, this nifty thing called Google has plenty of pictures for you to gawk at for free! 

Dispense with some gibberish!

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