Henri Martin falls into that rare category of artists whose mature style best defines their work. In his case, Martin developed a unique synthesis of a broadly Impressionistic approach combined with Pointillist brushwork. At the age of forty he bought a seventeenth-century house above the village of Labastide-du-Vert in the South-West, which, as Claude Juskiewenski has noted, brought Martin “his equilibrium, his personal and artistic fulfillment” (Henri Martin, exhibition catalogue, Musée de Cahors, Cahors, 1993, p. 103). If Baudelaire (whom he admired) aimed to highlight in his writing the ephemeral experience of life in an urban metropolis, Martin lived out the truth of it by retreating from Paris to a rural idyll annually during the summer and early autumn where his work centered on the exact opposite: the timelessness of man’s harmonious co-existence with nature.
Confronted by changeable natural light, at times brilliant and then diffuse, Martin noted the challenges presented by diverse atmospheric effects. But although his technical solutions and softened contours are masterful, what set Martin apart from contemporaries is his ability to combine both a human and spiritual dimension in his landscapes. Martin’s bucolic views of the valley are unmistakably populated and cultivated. The bridge of the present work, for example, is a recurring motif, and his perspectives are never sublime in the sweeping Romantic sense. But as Jacques Martin-Ferrières has correctly pointed out, his scenes are nonetheless deeply sensitive and poetic, his palette “an enchantment” (Jacques Martin-Ferrières, Henri Martin, Paris, 1967, p.35), and indeed his entire vision has an enchanted air. Man is ever-present, but with Martin’s increasingly sophisticated use of Pointillist techniques, the weighty human forms and buildings in his later paintings such as The Mowers (1905) paradoxically feel more ethereal than the ostensibly mythical figures of his Symbolist paintings of 1890s for the portentous Salon de la Rose+Croix exhibitions. In the words of another poet who inspired some of Martin’s more straightforwardly allegorical work as a young man, it is “the garden of the Everlasting Gardener” that is gently evoked in his elysian views of La-Bastide-du-Vert and the pagodas and pools of Marquayrol (Dante, Paradiso, Canto XXVI, lines 55–56).