top of page

Edouard Athénosy : his life

Petit - 55.tif

«Low diving» Les Angles, France

Oil on board - 9 x 18 cm - 3,5 x 7 inch  / 1915

Edouard Anthénosy come out of the shadow, soar with the ardor of a plastic artist who introduce him with two museum exhibitions, and a convention at the Vaucluse Academy in 2020. He discovered him thanks to a small picture, which was for years in the library of the French Great poet René Char, a sensitive  and deep landscape in which the gaze fades but with no hope to never reach horizon. 


Born in the Vaucluse (France) in 1859, dead in 1934, the 75 years of Anthénosy’s existence  covers one of the most troubled time of the French history, from the Second Empire to the 3rd Republic, from the 1870’s war to the First World War. These political turmoils will go with an artistic revolution, speaking of painting : Cézanne or Van Gogh ; speaking of music : Mahler and Richard Strauss ; or speaking of literature : Verlaine, Rimbaud…


The scene take place in Provence. Athénosy’s childhood in Saumane de Vaucluse, has been struck by the beauty of the surrounding landscape which he will be searching for his painting during all his life. His father will impose his example : a career in the public service, but let him sign up in « l’école des Beaux Arts » (fine arts school) of Avignon from which he will become at the end of 1882, one of the most brilliant subjects. While his teacher Pierre Grivolas, headmaster of the Fine Arts institution, influenced his students to follow the Impressionist track, Anthénosy, faithful admirer of Corot or of Felix Vallotton styles, will keep his distance and autonomy. 

He has a double life : director of the prefect’s office of Vaucluse, his life escaped the material anxiety known by Monet or Pissaro. As a revenge he has the possibility of a free and personal search for arts solve his dilemma. From 1867 to 1871, Mallarmé, a French poet, will live in Avignon the same painful choice, between his job of English teacher that he was ashamed of and his vocation of being     a poet. 


The essential discovery of tools and Athénosy’s photographs, hidden by himself, during a hundred years in the false bottom of a drawer’s cupboard in his house in Angles, allow us to understand his practice. palette, paintbrush, paint color tubes, frame, go well with open-air work, and most of the time a reduced and unchanging size, which won’t go above 7’’x 9.5’’. Wearing a felt hat on his head, a black three-piece suit, his paint box on his belt, and the box containing the small pictures attached to a loop, Athénosy went out painting on the pattern with his cane stool. He was working, with the open box on his knees. 

We know that he prepared his equipment in spring, a bit before the blossoming of brooms - this is how he got the reduced nickname « painter of brooms »-, and that he got on the pattern until fall, around his house in Les Angles, watchful about details and of the variation of the light and the color, his obsession. The depicted landscape then become from 1911, the transitional object that Athénosy needed to watch life. 


Of Impressionism, Athénosy will only keep the silence of the landscapes. These ones are seldom moving, and when a character appears, his humanity is hardly obvious, he is treated distantly, as it would be a supple stem or a tree branch. The abstract landscape is not far, neither the idea of monochrome when we get lost in his skies, or in the contemplation of this sunset in Marseille, subject of a magnificent painting by Anthénosy. This master impose a different way to observe and see, as if nature had something essential to learn, as if painting a landscape was a matter of a spiritual quest, and at the end, an exercise of asceticism. Thus, Athénosy precedes the experience that will be the one of the painter Fabienne Verdier, for ten years, student of old masters of Chinese calligraphy, who educated « this invisible essential  », because the shape is « the revelation of the essence », when we « have cleanse the doors of perception ».


Athénosy did not travel. He explored intimacy and depth. Ambition was dangerous and painful. « Solitude », was written behind some of his little pictures. To have settle for a so small size during this bourgeois time, he was aware that he renounced public recognition and fame. A character as uncommon must have been constraining  and his requirements hard to share. His renunciations has certainly explain the disregards of his descendants. He would not be the first painter in this case, but his falls in the dark make the work much brighter, when a passionate look give it back to life.

        Anne Reinbold

Anne Reinbold

Photo of Édouard Athénosy © G.Liffran 2020
Photo of Édouard Athénosy © G.Liffran 2020
bottom of page