Jacques Emile Blanche (1861-1942)
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Jacques Emile Blanche was a French painter, particularly skilled in portraiture. Born in Paris, Blanche would eventually paint portraits of a number of famous people, including writer Marcel Proust, American painter John Singer Sargent and pianist Percy Grainger.
Blanche was terribly clever and imaginative in his portrait paintings, showing both a realistic depiction of his subject, as well as giving them a distinct character. Notice the hands in the portrait of pianist Percy Grainger. This painting was done later in his career, yet the hands are blurred and have no definition. This is most certainly not because he could not paint hands (see Sargent) but perhaps to give the portrait of this pianist character and movement in a symbolic way—with his hands looking as though in motion.
Growing up, Blanche received an excellent Parisian education and was brought up in a house that once belonged to Princess de Lamballe. One may be surprised to find that, although he received a little training from Henri Gervix, Blanche is in general a self-taught painter. It is rumored that he may have received training from both Monet and Degas. Blanche also had a stint as a literary critic, and gained much fame in his lifetime for both his contributions to art and literature.
Blanche was friendly with many of the people that served as subjects for his portraits. One of his most famous group portraits was of “Les Six”—a name coined by a critic of the composers and artists working in Montparnasse whose work is seen as a reaction against Wagnerism and Impressionism. In this 1922 painting of “Les Six,” Blanche again portrays his famous subjects in a creative manner: center, pianist Marcelle Meyer; from bottom to top: Germaine Tailleferre, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey; at right: Georges Auric, Francis Poulenc and Jean Cocteau.
It would be extremely rare to find a piece of work by Blanche that did not feature the famous or French elite. Landscapes, still life and sketches from early days as a student painter surely must exist nonetheless, but would be a few. Furthermore, he typically worked in oil alone, and to find watercolors, gouaches or pastels would be rare as well.
However, in the late 1890’s, Blanche did create a series of sepia-toned lithographs.
Blanche would eventually open a school in Paris called “La Palette.” He would continue to paint well into the late 1920s and was very prolific and well-known in Parisian art circles in his lifetime.
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