Still Life with Pike and Bream, c. 1870
Oil on canvas, H. 0.52 m; W. 0.35 m
Provenance: Private collection
From an Italian family that had settled in Marseille, Monticelli began his artistic training at the art school of that city. In 1847-1848, during a trip to Paris in the studio of Paul Delaroche, he marvelled at the paintings by Rembrandt, Veronese and Watteau at the Louvre. When he returned to Paris in 1856, he was appreciated by Delacroix and was commissioned to paint a décor for the Tuileries palace. Monticelli attracted attention for the audacity of his painting technique: he superimposed touches of thick paint, dissolving the shape in a gush of pure colour. He returned permanently to Marseille in 1870 where he continued to create portraits the faces of which are built up in the luminous impasto, still lifes and flower bouquets with dazzling colours and landscapes saturated with sunlight.
Although he never met Monticelli, Vincent van Gogh was inspired by his technique. From Arles he wrote to his brother Theo in March 1888: “Sometimes Monticelli took a bouquet of flowers as a motif for gathering on a single canvas his entire range of the richest and best balanced shades.”
An exceptional artist, Monticelli played a complex role, prefiguring both Impressionism with his analysis of colour and his vibrant handling, Symbolism for the esoteric rarity of emotion and finally Van Gogh and Fauvism by the boldness of colours and his love of impasto.