Bernard Lamotte ~ Early Studies, Drawings and Etchings


A collection of early oils, etchings, and drawings by the Parisian artist Bernard Lamotte (1903 – 1983) will be on exhibit at the Jessie Edwards Gallery on the second floor the Post Office building from June 25 to July 6.   There will be a virtual opening on June 25th.

Born in Paris and educated at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Sorbonne, Lamotte depicts scenes from daily life. The etchings in this exhibit were commissioned by the Limited Editions Club for their 1954 publication of Swann’s Way, the first volume of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, also known as In Search of Lost Time.  The oils are not related to Lamotte’s work for Swann’s Way.

Several of the oils are portraits. “Woman in a Red Scarf” is a profile in soft shades of gray against a pale blue and gray background. The crimson head scarf against her black hair brings the portrait to life.  “Sleeping Sailor” is another portrait in black, grays, and whites with the officer’s ear and nose set off in contrasting dabs of red. “ Pensive Woman” is a subdued image in gray, brown, white, and rose tones of a woman resting her hand on her chin.

 Other oils include scenes of a beach, a harbor, and fishermen.  In “Two Fishermen,” broad strokes define the men in the center as their boat lies at anchor in left background. The gray, white, and blue tones suggest either a morning departure or an evening return as they inspect what appear to be traps or boxes of fishing gear.

Lighter in tone, “Sailboats in a Harbor” shows us the wider scene of the harbor with boats anchored in the turquoise water of the sandy beach. A long black jetty stretches across the water and low mountain peaks rise in the sky.  A darker scene in grays and blues, “Bridge and Harbor,” takes us into the water for a look back at the houses clustered together along the harbor. Sailboats anchor under a bridge that spans the upper foreground. Pedestrians and trucks are seen in silhouette crossing the harbor. 

Three watercolor and graphite scenes have delicate lines and soft tones. “Sailboat” is an almost abstract view of a blue and red sailboat beached in front of a calm green sea and light gray clouds in the sky. In two street scenes, quick lines evoke the architectural details of the buildings along a narrow street and black splotches define the shapes of people walking or gathering together.

In contrast, “La Boulevardier” is a much more detailed scene of a city street, perhaps Paris. On the right, a lantern lights the street, while on the left, a man steps out of a building to stroll the streets in the tradition of Boulevardiers, also known as Flaneurs. Hand colored in varying shades of blue, it evokes the atmosphere of a pleasant evening spent wandering the streets of the city. An uncolored version of  “The Boulevardier” appears again in the series of etchings that Lamotte did for Swann’s Way that illustrate scenes from the novel.

Charles Swann is a friend of the narrator’s grandparents, who visits one night when the narrator, Marcel, is young boy. One part of the novel is about Marcel’s childhood in Combray -a fictitious town created by Proust and it is based on the town of Illiers, which Proust visited as a child.  The other part of the novel is the story of Swann’s love for Odette, with whom he has a child, Gilberte. They never marry and live apart.

It isn’t necessary to know the novel to appreciate Lamotte’s etchings depicting scenes from the life of the Marcel in the novel.   One is a portrait of Charles Swann in profile that accentuates his sharp nose, pointed beard, and blank expression. His top hat merges into the black vertical scrolls in the background.  “ The Women Gossip” is an interior scene of a bedroom in which two women chat by a window while a young boy listens. Fine lines detail the dresser, curtains, and the figures of the women, and capture the intimacy of the place and the occasion.  Similarly, “The Family Gossips after Dinner” is a view of well-appointed dining room in which the young boy peers through a doorway into the drawing room to overhear the after-dinner conversation, while the table is being cleared by a maid. 

“Combray: The Walk Among the Hawthornes,” is a scene of people walking through the lush foliage of the trees with the steeple of St. Jacques (the church in Illiers) in the background. Another, “The Steeple of St. Jacques,” is exactly that: a rendering of the spire that can be seen from around the countryside. “Paris: Morning in the Bois,” is the city equivalent of the “Walk Among the Hawthornes.”  It is a finely detailed view of people gathering along the paths under a canopy of trees. 

In the fine, spidery lines of “Paris: Swann in Odette’s Salon,” we see Swann from behind a chair in which he is sitting talking to Odette, who lounges languidly on a chaise, with swags, screen, and artwork in the background.  He is earnest; she is full of ennui. Another, “The Bouquet,” shows Odette seated on the chaise between vases of flowers. In a few strokes, Lamotte captures her blank, dispassionate gaze, which is repeated in that of a small dog seated on a nearby chair.

The warmest piece in these etchings is of a woman, perhaps a governess or nursemaid, carrying a sleeping, barefoot child in nightdress off to bed. In contrast to the other characters depicted in these works, there is a sense of affection in the woman’s softly rendered features.

During the week the gallery hours are Thursday through Monday 10-5:30pm and by appointment Tuesday and Wednesday. Call the gallery at 401-466-5314, call/text 401-301-5591 or email for further information.