The artist

Combining painting and aviation

From 1906 onwards Edmond Astruc exhibited successfully first in Marseilles, then in Avignon and Paris but a few years later, he could not bring himself to complete a large painting representing fishmongers on the Vieux Port of Marseilles. He had heard of the first flight achieved by Wilbur Wright and was really excited by this new adventure.

There must be a reason for this love of painting and aviation . Artists have always wanted to rise above down- to-earth considerations. Even leaving aside Leonardo da Vinci and his admirable drawings of a bird-man, the first aviators Farman and Delagrange were students at the Fine Arts school in Paris.

Towards maturity

Once the First World War was over, after a period of intense activity as a test pilot on aeroplanes and seaplanes, Edmond Astruc divided his time between Marseilles and his small farm of La Favière near Bormes (in the Var county) where he decided to become a peasant-painter and combine painting with vine-growing.

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Astruc was painting on the docks of the port of Marseille.
Photo by Emile Rastoing in June, 1937.

The period of my life associated with aviation had renewed and purified my vision. I was going back to the brightness and transparency of my early years as a painter at the Fine arts school when Alphonse Moutte, the director and teacher of painting, would look at my work and say : "Here’s the painter of spring" or, when I tried to render the smoky atmosphere of the studio : "Here’s the painter of mist".

Astruc was also influenced by the first exhibition of Monticelli at the Cercle Artistique, an influence which was felt by other young Marseilles painters such as Carrera, Bichebé, Agnelli or Mathieu Verdilhan in his first period.

I had done my first pictures of Allauch in very warm shades, using rather heavy coats of paint, with less light and atmosphere. Aviation and a direct contact with the wide open spaces of sea and sky and the colder tints of nature liberated me from a manner I now found excessively contrived.

The 1952 retrospective : ’55 years of painting’

Extract from an article by André R. Barutaud in the newspaper ’Le Méridional’ dated Sunday, January 1st 1956 :

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Astruc, in his studio, painting the light of Marseille with a brilliant youth, in a spirit similar to that of Utrillo.
Photo published in the journal "The Meridional" of Sunday, March 20, 1960.

The fist time I met Edmond Astruc was in 1952. A love of art and a vague form of curiosity had drawn me to the Moullot gallery where the veteran of the ’Provençal’ school exhibited ’55 years of painting’. It was an amazing retrospective, gathering over a hundred oils, gouaches and drawings of all periods. The major work was ’La marchande d’eau de mer’ (The sea water seller), an impressive composition representing a scene of the ’Vieux Port’ fifty years earlier, so full of life and typical of Marseilles that it deserves a place in one of our public galleries.

The painting has a long story. Edmond Astruc had given it up, to complete it only several years later. "When I started it", he said later, "the Wright brothers had just achieved their first flight. I was mad about aviation". An irresistible call which was to alter the course of his life.

A continuous evolution

In Astruc’s words again :

Having turned 78 since November 4th, I feel that my vision of beauty has never been so clear and varied. Where formerly I did not see anything more than an ordinary subject, I am now finding beauties which I try to chase out of their hiding-place for everybody to enjoy them in my paintings. About two months ago, I was doing the Place des Capucines when a clergyman hurrying towards the railway station with a suitcase in his hand stopped right in front of my picture and said : "Pardon me interrupting but allow me to congratulate you. Without your painting I should never have seen the beauty of this square which I often walk past." "That is what the painter’s job is about", I replied.