Adolphe Monticelli

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Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli
Born (1824-10-14)October 14, 1824
Marseille, France
Died June 29, 1886(1886-06-29) (aged 61)
Marseille, France
Nationality French

Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli (October 14, 1824 – June 29, 1886) was a French painter of the generation preceding the Impressionists.


Still life with Sardines and Sea Urchins, 1880-1882, Dallas Museum of Art

Monticelli was born in Marseille in humble circumstances. He attended the École Municipale de Dessin in Marseille from 1842 to 1846, and continued his artistic training in Paris, where he studied under Paul Delaroche at the École des Beaux-Arts. In Paris he made copies after the Old Masters in the Louvre, and admired the oil sketches of Eugène Delacroix.[1] In 1855 he met Narcisse Diaz, a member of the Barbizon school, and the two often painted together in the Fontainebleau Forest. Monticelli frequently adopted Diaz's practice of introducing nudes or elegantly costumed figures into his landscapes.[1]

He developed a highly individual Romantic style of painting, in which richly colored, dappled, textured and glazed surfaces produce a scintillating effect. He painted courtly subjects inspired by Antoine Watteau; he also painted still lifes, portraits, and Orientalist subjects that owe much to the example of Delacroix.

After 1870, Monticelli returned to Marseille, where he would live in poverty despite a prolific output, selling his paintings for small sums. An unworldly man, he dedicated himself singlemindedly to his art.

The young Paul Cézanne had befriended Monticelli in the 1860s, and the influence of the older painter's work can be seen in Cézanne's work of that decade. Between 1878 and 1884 the two artists often painted landscapes together, once spending a month roaming the Aix countryside. Although Monticelli experimented briefly around 1870 with a treatment of light reflecting the discoveries of the Impressionists, he found the objectivity of this approach uncongenial.

Confronted with criticism of his style of painting Monticelli himself remarked, "I paint for thirty years from now".[2] His work reached its greatest spontaneity in the decade before his death in 1886.


Seascape Near Marseille, 1880, São Paulo Museum of Art
Courtesans with parrot, private collection
A Painter at Work on a House Wall, 1875, Städel

More than a century after his death, Monticelli's art is still subject to controversy.

In its painterly freedom Monticelli's work prefigures that of Vincent van Gogh, who greatly admired his work after seeing it in Paris when he arrived there in 1886. Van Gogh immediately adopted a brighter palette and a bolder attack, and later remarked, "I sometimes think I am really continuing that man."[3] In 1890, Van Gogh and his brother Theo were instrumental in publishing the first book about Monticelli.[1]

Monticelli's reputation grew after his death. Among his collectors was Oscar Wilde who, after going to prison in 1895, wrote of his bankruptcy in a letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, "De Profundis": "That all my charming things were to be sold: my Burne-Jones drawings: my Whistler drawings: my Monticelli: my Simeon Solomons: my china: my Library..."

Others still consider Monticelli a minor figure in 19th-century painting, a painter's painter, and some express their disregard in a colourful manner. In a statement published in 2005 in The Guardian, Sir Timothy Clifford, director general of the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, even chose Monticelli's A Garden Fete as the worst painting in Britain, and commented, "We have been bequested eight paintings by Monticelli, each one more hideous than the last. In my 21 years here, none has been hung because I think Monticelli produces screamingly awful art. I call this one a Fete Worse Than Death."[4]

From September 2008 to January 2009, an exhibition entitled "Van Gogh and Monticelli"[5] took place in Marseille's Centre de la Vieille Charité, highlighting Monticelli's influence on Van Gogh's work.

In February 2010 a "Foundation Monticelli" was set up at L'Estaque, in the outskirts of Marseille. It exhibits some of Monticelli's most representative artwork together with paintings from other Maîtres provençaux such as Jean-Baptiste Olive.


  1. ^ a b c Turner 2000, p. 314.
  2. ^ in: "Monticelli" par Gustave Coquiot, 1925 Albin Michel ed Paris
  3. ^ Impressionism 1973, p. 45.
  4. ^,8542,1552438,00.html Archived January 11, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^

See also[edit]

List of works by Auguste Carli


  • Loan exhibition of paintings by Adolphe Monticelli. New York: Paul Rosenberg & Co. Catalogue no. 91, 1954. LC 73171702 [1]
  • Monticelli Ausstellungskatalog, Hamburger Kunsthalle, April - Mai 1966. [Text in German] [2]
  • Impressionism. (1973). New York, N.Y.: Chartwell Books Inc.
  • Sheon, Aaron. Monticelli, his contemporaries, his influence. Pittsburgh: Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, 1978. LC 78060375 [3]
  • Garibaldi, Charles, and Garibaldi, Mario. Monticelli. Geneva: Skira, 1991. ISBN 2-605-00190-3 [Text in French.]
  • Turner, J. (2000). From Monet to Cézanne: late 19th-century French artists. Grove Art. New York: St Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-22971-2
  • Stammegna, Nadine. Monticelli écrit par Van Gogh. Marseille: Transbordeurs, 2003. ISBN 2-912728-20-7 [Text in French]
  • Raillard, Joseph. Monticelli l'étrange. Marseille: A. Dimanche, 2008. ISBN 978-2-86916-163-4 [Text in French]
  • Catalogue of the Van Gogh - Monticelli exhibition. Paris, Editions RMN, 2008. ISBN 978-2-7118-5418-9

External links[edit]