Three Sailing Boats by Joseph GaribaldiJoseph Garibaldi was born in Marseille, died there and rarely strayed very far in the intervening eight decades - which, perhaps, is one reason why he's still relatively unknown today. logoClick here to book a hotel in Marseille

Garibaldi's father worked at the Noilly-Prat apéritif factory in Marseille. Louis Prat, the owner of the factory, noticed Joseph's talent and arranged for him to attend art school, where he studied under the realist painter Antoine Vollon.

Big Sailing Ship in Cassis by Joseph GaribaldiiAfter a couple of early trips, to Tunisia, Venice and Corsica, Garibaldi (1863-1941) remained firmly based in Provence and many of his paintings capture the Old Port of Marseille, which the artist overlooked from his studio and painted at every possible time of the day.

But Garibaldi wasn't just a city painter. Some of his other works observe everyday life in the provençal countryside and the nearby villages along the coast.

They capture Cassis, where Garibaldi spent two years, as well as La Ciotat, Sanary sur Mer and Bandol to the east and Fos to the west where the artist had a cabanon (weekend cottage) on the beach in later life. Pictured, top left, Three Sailing Boats in Cassis, undated, and right Large Sailing Ship in Cassis, 1893, both Galerie Pentcheff.

Water is a central motif throughout his work, whether in a seascape, a fountain, a stream or a simple genre study of a fisherman or a washerwoman. Pictured: Washerwoman at the Well, 1895, private collection.

Washerwoman at the Well by Joseph GaribaldiGaribaldi remained detached from all the movements that revolutionised modern art in his lifetime. Instead, he was on the fringes of the Félibrige, the movement set up by Frédéric Mistral to promote provençal language, history and customs.

The art historian Pierre Murat suggests that, as the son of first-generation Italian immigrants, one motivation for Garibaldi was to become more provençal than the locals.

However, though certainly a conservative, he did not seem to support some of his colleague's more extreme reactionary views, such as opposition to female suffrage and outright condemnation of the avant-garde.

Even so, cubism and surrealism had little impact on Garibaldi's work, which sits firmly in the figurative tradition. A keen photographer himself, he was a friend of Antoine Lumière, the father of the Lumière Brothers who pioneered early cinema. Garibaldi visited the family regularly at La Ciotat.

Not that his paintings simply followed photo-realism - Garibaldi was inspired by his photographs rather than copying them in his paintings. These are marked by strong, stylised geometric compositions, shimmering light and vibrant blues - though towards the end of his life, when the artist was afflicted by glaucoma, the colours were distorted and his paintings took on an increasingly pinkish hue.

One arresting, rather moving late work reveals the effect of his blindness: it shows two haystacks barely visible in the dark-blue midnight. In it Garibaldi achieves a minimal and modernist style almost in spite of himself.

Much of the 20th century also remains beyond the edge of his frame - hence the title of the current exhibition, Le Midi Paisible (The Peaceful South).

The horrors of war are present only indirectly, in the darkening storm clouds over certain landscapes. Pictured: Storm over the Old Port of Marseille, 1914, Fondation Regards de Provence.

Garibaldi's world is inhabited by horse-drawn carriages and sailing boats. You won't see any trains in them, or automobiles; steamboats are as far as his paintings went in terms of contemporary transport.

Storm over the Old Port of Marseille by Joseph GaribaldiFamously, he refused in any of his many portraits of the Old Port to depict Marseille's Transbordeur Bridge, which spanned the port for four decades until it was destroyed in 1945 after being weakened by Nazi bombs. His work aimed for a timeless quality, and he even declined to date individual canvasses in later life.

Garibaldi kept a low profile and mistrusted pretentious theories of art. His simple philosophy was, in his own words, "to work, to steep oneself often in the sources of beauty by studying the works of the masters and to tell oneself that an artist needs character and honesty, in art as in life".

This modesty, combined with his refusal of modernism, is another reason why Garibaldi's work remains little-known. But that could be changing: his art is increasingly sought-after internationally and prices are on the rise. The major 2012 retrospective at the Palais des Arts in Marseille should further boost his reputation.

Website for the Fondation Regards de Provence


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