The Pre-Impressionist

This section gives a little detail on the main point of the book JL Petit Britain’s Lost Pre-Impressionist (available under RPS Publications), essentially that Petit, almost uniquely in Britain mid-19th Century, took his art in a modern direction. Page numbers refer to the book where this, similar, or comparisons by other artists, are shown.

  1. Chalons-sur-Marne, 1855.

This town scene anticipates Camille Pissarro’s Road to Ghisors twenty years later. Both show the simple beauty of an everyday street scene. Petit’s is in the rain, and includes the church and its effect (pp 27-8)

  1. Locmariaquer, Brittany, 1854, above
  2. Portland, 1848, below

Rock studies have been described as conveying ‘a sense of timelessness, the transience of nature as well as its permanence, the rendering of space, and the equivocal relationship between surface and depth that would so influence the development of modern art in the early 20th Century’ Anne Dumas on Cezanne’s Rock and Quarry Paintings, 2020. Petit’s rock studies appear to have these and spiritual concerns too. (see also p 93, and p 96)

  1. The Roman Forum, 1854

Wholly different from Grand Tour or classical Italian views Petit’s view of the forum is half way to a modern depiction such as by Piper (pp 30-31). Still topographically accurate, without any artificial touches and with a colour distortion to get away from the pretty.

  1. Upper Longdon, 1867, above
  2. Tree Study, c1830s, below

Petit painted rocks and trees more frequently before he became busy and famous. In later years they seem to have been subjects for rare moments of leisure. With the same depth of the beauty of nature as it is not as classically depicted.

  1. Askeaton, Ireland, 1862

Petit’s modern and radical colour treatment of landscapes and town scenes seems to be unique to him. It is a style that he used occasionally from 1852 onwards, clearly deliberate because of the shading and not faded. See p 103-107 for more. ‘…it is possible that such means may be singular, and then it will be said his style is strange; but it is not a style at all, it is the saying of a particular thing in the only way it can be said.’ J Ruskin, Modern Painters I, p87.


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