Maximilien Luce

(1858 - 1941)

Maximilien Luce was born into a modest family in 1858 in Paris. From his early youth he mixed with impoverished artisans, and workers constructing the major roads and other works. At the age of thirteen, he was an appalled witness of the massacres carried out by government forces against the revolutionaries of the Paris Commune of 1871.

Full Artist Bio

Maximilien Luce was born into a modest family in 1858 in Paris. From his early youth he mixed with impoverished artisans, and workers constructing the major roads and other works. At the age of thirteen, he was an appalled witness of the massacres carried out by government forces against the revolutionaries of the Paris Commune of 1871. This was to haunt him for all his life. When he began to work the following year, the illustrated papers were coming into their own in Paris, and Maximilien’s father placed him as an apprentice in a wood engraving workshop, where he became a skilled worker. At the same time he began to draw and to paint scenes from the working class neighbourhoods, especially of Montrouge where he lived, taking night courses in painting.  In 1877 Luce left Paris and went to London. When he returned to France in 1879 he was called for military service, first in Brittany and then in Paris where he continued with his career as an engraver. It was during his military service that Luce met Charles Emile Carolus-Duran (1837-1917), the famous French painter and sculptor. His subsequent entrance to Carolus-Duran’s studio not only gave him painstaking training as a draftsman, but introduced him to the leading painters of the time.  Through his friendship with Camille Pissarro, a fellow anarchist sympathiser, Luce came to know Georges Seurat, Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross. Together with them he was one of the early Neo-Impressionists, who became famous for their experimentation with pointillism.

Luce was no theoretician but he absorbed many of Seurat’s ideas about painting. The neo-impressionists painted in pure divided tones in a “scientific” fashion, not mixing colours on the palette or the canvas. By dividing tones, the small spots of pure colour came together in the eyes of the observer, creating harmonious and vibrant masses of colour. Luce took liberties with the theories of Seurat, and contrasted areas of the canvas where the spots of colour were thickly gathered together with other areas of the canvas where the colour spots were separated by white spaces. This gave his paintings a vibrant dynamism. He marked himself out by his refined use of the spectrum and his frequent use of a range of colours to produce superb effects of light.  From 1897 he moved away from this “divisionist” style towards a more classic Impressionism, whilst retaining his use of vibrant colours and thickly crowded spaces.
At around this time, Luce began to participate in the activities of the anarchist group of the 14th arrondissement. He began to contribute to the anarchist press, being one of the first artists to come to the aid of Pere Peinard, providing more than 200 designs or lithographs right up to 1914. He was also the principal illustrator for Grave’s new paper Les Temps Nouveaux, from 1895 to 1914, supplying its first poster in 1896, L’Incendiare (The Incendiary).

In July 1894 Luce was arrested and imprisoned at Mazas, following the wave of repression against the anarchist movement. Luce was accused of inciting the people to revolt through his sketches. But due to insufficient evidence he was acquitted and freed on 17th August, after forty eight days in jail. Far from deterring Luce, this only strengthened his anarchist convictions, and he published an album of ten lithographs on prison life at Mazas. For a while he exiled himself to Charleroi in Belgium, but Luce was again arrested and imprisoned for several days in 1896 during the visit of King Alfonso XIII of Spain.

Apart from his portraits of Feneon, Pissarro, Signac, Louise Michel and his studies for the execution of the Communard Eugene Varlin, Luce created many paintings of the mining area of the Borinage between 1895 and 1900. He was fascinated by the blight of industrialisation on this region, depicting the furnaces and mines.

From 1903, and more than thirty years after the events, he began a series devoted to the Paris Commune. In one of them, Une Rue de Paris en Mai 1871, he depicts the corpses of four shot Communards, one of them a woman, lying alongside piles of cobbles. He exhibited this at the Salon of the Independent Artists in 1905.

During the First World War, he produced many paintings of the horrors of war and of returning and wounded soldiers. In the 1930s he concentrated on landscapes and on urban scenes depicting the life of dockers, building workers, labourers and fishermen. Other than politically-motivated scenes, he also painted a large number of urban views, landscapes, and portraits.

He succeeded Signac as President of the Society of Independent Artists in 1935 but resigned his post in 1940 to protest against the racial laws passed by the Vichy regime which banned Jewish artists from all official groups. He died the following year.

Luce’s works are featured in permanent collections of many internationally renowned museums including, among others, the Musée D’Orsay in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, N.Y., the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario, and the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco, California.