lombard alfred nudeAlfred Lombard isn't a familiar name, but his gorgeous, sensual, light-filled images - brilliant fragments of the artistic explosion that rocked Provence in the early 20th century - are exciting to discover.

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Alfred Lombard: Couleur et Intimité (Alfred Lombard: Colour and Intimacy) was the title of a 2015 exhibition at the Musée Regards de Provence in Marseille. It united a hundred or so works by this neglected master, some of them on public display for the first time.

It was the first major solo show of his art in over a quarter of a century. He was a terrific revelation.

Born in Marseille, Lombard (1884-1973) didn't exactly get off to a great start as an artist. It's not uncommon for painters to begin to go blind towards the end of their lives, as did Joseph Garibaldi, also from Provence. But Lombard lost his sight in one eye as a child, after being stung by a wasp.

It didn't deter him from a career entirely based on looking at the world, though. "He might have only had one eye," says the art historian Bernard Plasse. "But what an eye!"

Lombard studied for two years at Marseille's École des Beaux Arts, but then stopped taking formal classes, declaring, "You can't teach someone to be a Giotto, Raphael or Cézanne."

lombard alfred woman in big hatInstead he went on to find his own way, first as one of the Fauvists, a loose group of artists based partly - though not exclusively - in Provence in the early 20th century.

Their swirling, free-form brushwork and crazy colours earned them the name of fauves (wild animals) from one unappreciative art critic at the time (René Seyssaud is another fine example).

Lombard produced a flurry of voluptuous nudes during this period. Several portraits of woman, either naked or clothed, feature flamboyant hats and head-dresses.

We especially liked Le grand chapeau (1909, Galerie Pentcheff), pictured, a high-angle portrait of a woman grinning proudly underneath an eccentric oversize hat.

There were still lifes, landscapes and street scenes too, of Provence as well as of Paris and elsewhere in France. Lombard preferred to go north in summer to escape the heat, but in winter captured the diamond-brilliant light of Provence in images such as Clear Winter Sun (1905, private collection), pictured below.

He didn't stay locked in one style, but reacted to new ideas and movements such as neo-classicism and cubism and produced some collage-like landscapes towards he end of his career.

And he took on ambitious design projects too, such as a huge ornate chapel for the Normandie, one of France's most prestigious transatlantic liners of the 1930s.

If you haven't heard of Lombard, it's hardly because his work lacks merit. "He could have been much more successful if he'd been more commercially minded," Plasse says.

lombard alfred winter sun in provenceBut Lombard took a vague, even careless approach to his own art. Some pieces went as gifts to members of his family; others were donated to museums; still more were put in store and subsequently forgotten about.

Lombard's grand-daughter, Sylvie Cartier-Bresson, recalls how the family would regularly find important canvases unframed, rolled up and tucked away to gather dust in the cellar.

She knows of the existence of about three hundred paintings today, plus numerous drawings - hardly a huge haul, given that Lombard was 89 when he died and enjoyed a career spanning many decades. But she suspects her grandfather produced many more gems yet to be unearthed.


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