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Édouard Vallet

Paysan debout, au marché, 1905
oil on canvas
130.5 x 80.0 cm
In portrait painting, Édouard Vallet displays real mastery, faithfully reproducing the features of his subjects. Yet beyond mere physical description, he is able to reveal their personality. Vallet is interested in the human figure in its day-to-day activity and selected most of his sitters from the world of peasants and, in some instances, from his own family.

Paysan debout, au marché (Peasant Standing, at the Market) was painted in 1905 in Carouge, before Vallet left on a trip to discover Italy, from April to November, and subsequently settled in Valais. This picture is part of a group of three large-scale canvases detailing life in a marketplace. Vallet composed a market garden scene whilst eliminating its quaint aspects. Standing almost at the centre of the canvas, the peasant is posed in a plain unaffected attitude that is devoid of stagy effects. His face is barely detailed; rubbed on the canvas, it seems to fade away. On the other hand, the blazing white of his shirt emphasises his imposing stature, whose monumental look is reinforced by the tightly framed composition. This robust character emerges from the summarily depicted background, where here and there the fleeting impression of a flower or vegetable looms out of the blur.

The abundance of the coloured spots lends rhythm to a composition that is constructed around a vertical segmentation. In this sensuous mix of hues punctuated by white glimmers, one can make out the areas where the paint is stretched and pulled, and that chromatic complexity gives the scene its lively cast. A surprising portrait comes together out of this colourful dance of red, yellow and blue spots. It is a frozen profile, meticulously transcribed, its classicism bringing to mind the Renaissance. The viewer’s eye is thus drawn to rove over several areas of the canvas. The attention Vallet pays to the world of the market heralds his interest in the peasant community living high in the mountains, whose existence he would choose to share soon after. In both instances, Vallet visually relates reality as he perceives it, shorn of picturesque details, in order to recreate an atmosphere more than a rigorous description.
Edouard Vallet, Paysan debout, au marché, 1905