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Compare the Valette with the Lowry

Submitted by on February 2, 2012 – 12:25 pmNo Comment

A blind man would have no trouble walking around Salford Quays. For a start, his heightened sense of hearing would allow him to sensitively detect the gentle lapping of the icy cold Salford water and avoid it accordingly.

Secondly, his blindness would protect him from the eye-squintingly bright glare that bounces off the shiny, silvery, ultra- modern buildings that make up the Quays. A drunken giant, on the other hand, would have an absolute nightmare. Temporarily blinded by the reflective light and staggering around in comical ‘classic drunk’ fashion, it’d surely only be a matter of time before he tripped and speared himself on one of the many spiky peaks atop the Lowry and Imperial War Museum, or on one of the uppity-downy type bridges that allow various-sized vessels to continue on their way.

Luckily for us all though, giants (and by extension, drunken giants) don’t exist. Which is a good thing really, because I quite like visiting the Lowry from time to time, and I’d hate to see it flattened by a pissed up behemoth and a vast amount of LS Lowry’s works destroyed.

When you sit there and mull it over though, it was a bit of a peculiar idea to house Lowry’s paintings in an area that looks like the angry creation of crack-addicted robots (a look which, in its own right isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Especially when you consider how at odds that is with Lowry’s depictions of dark, northern, industrial landscapes and the people that inhabited them. But house them it does, and if you’ve never been then it’s well worth a visit to have a ganders at what one of Stretford’s most famous sons left behind for the world to gaze at.

As with any art gallery worth its salt though, it isn’t just restricted to the paintings of one person. In addition to Lowry’s works hanging on the walls, there are the works of other artists keeping his paintings company once the lights have been switched off and the dark loneliness of an empty gallery takes its hold. Recently, the paintings of one artist in particular have graced the walls; the paintings of an artist important to the development of Lowry’s talents and fascinating to anyone interested in a little tit-bit of Mancunian history.

Pierre Adolphe Valette arrived in Manchester from France via London in 1905 and took the city to his heart, embracing the atmospheric, smog-imbued views and creating some wonderful paintings of various buildings and scenes in the impressionistic style he was famous for. In 1907 he embarked on evening classes at Manchester Municipal School of Art before being invited to join the staff as a teacher, mentoring budding Mancunian artists including a certain Lawrence Stephen Lowry.

So basically, a Frenchman came to Manchester, dazzled everyone with his talents and inspired a new generation to fulfil their own potential. And it’s at this point no doubt you’ll be expecting me to compare him to Eric (play along if you didn’t, that’s where I’m going with this article). Well, I suppose I could do that, but isn’t it a bit too obvious and predictable? No, I’m not going to go down that path but instead focus on Pierre and how he came to be in Manchester.

Are you sitting comfortably? No? Well I’m still going to begin anyway. His story can be traced back to Bill Fotherby phoning Martin Edwards to inquire about the availability of Denis Irwin, before Fergie scribbled on a bit of paper and then….. ah. There’s no escaping it really is there? Indeed, there are interesting parallels between Pierre Adolphe Valette and Eric Daniel Pierre Cantona both arriving in Manchester and having a profound effect on the people around them (Lowry admitted that Valette….”had a freshness and breadth of experience that exhilarated his students”). Though of course, Valette didn’t kick a mouthy xenophobe in a snidey leather jacket. As far as art historians are aware, anyway.

One thing Valette did do though, as with Cantona, was to embrace and understand Manchester. If Cantona understood the spirit of Manchester, as he did when he declared: “I feel close to the rebelliousness and vigour of the youth here. Perhaps time will separate us, but nobody can deny that here, behind the windows of Manchester, there is an insane love of football, of celebration and of music”, then Valette did the same with an industrial Manchester, albeit with his paint brush and canvas. His painting of India House highlights this perfectly, showing a foggy, industrial powerhouse, yet capturing a mysterious and dark sense of beauty. In fact, Valette himself commented “There is a beauty in Manchester”.

Point your peepers at his painting of Albert Square too. Another atmospheric scene, the hunched figure in the foreground foreshadowed similar figures in many of Lowry’s paintings. See? Lowry was Valette’s Scholes. Or Giggs. Or Beckham (pick one. Or all of them, it’s your choice). Having been trained by and inspired by a Gallic-cum-adopted-Mancunian master of his craft, they took their own careers on to new dizzying heights of excellence.

Putting mildly interesting football analogies away in the ‘I’m done with that now’ cupboard, it’s quite a sad state of affairs that Pierre Adolphe Valette became something of a forgotten man in the years following his death in 1942, which is odd when you consider his contribution to Impressionism. Perhaps paintings of an industrial Manchester didn’t compare to other cities with more of a ‘romantic’ reputation in the minds of certain people, but then if these people could miss the point of something so spectacularly, they didn’t deserve to get it. Or maybe I’m just speculating on things I actually have no idea about.

He doesn’t have to stay a forgotten man though, which is why you should have a look at his work if you get a chance. His exhibition at the Lowry has finished now, but you can still see his paintings housed in Manchester Art Gallery. You can even play a game of ‘compare the Valette with the Lowry’ if you want to add a bit of spice to proceedings, as both artists have paintings there. So go on, have a look, take in the work of a mercurial talent, marvel at the beauty of an early twentieth century Manchester, and I’ll go and cower in a corner whilst having nightmares about giants coming to crush modern day Manchester.

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