Maximilien Luce (French, 1858–1941)—A painter, lithographer and draftsman, Maximilien Luce was born in Paris on March 13th, 1858 and died in the same city on February 6th, 1941. As a youth he apprenticed to become an engraver and took evening courses to deepen his knowledge in the field. In 1876, already a qualified craftsman, Luce entered the shop of the engraver Eugène Froment (1844–1900), a graduate of the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs. There, Luce worked on engravings, numerous illustrations for French newspapers as well as some for foreign periodicals.
In 1877 Luce left Paris for London. When he returned to France in 1879 he was called for military service, first in Brittany and then in Paris, were he continued with his career as an engraver. It was during his military service that Luce met Charles Emile Carolus-Duran (1837–1917), the famous French painter and sculptor whose students included countless artists—both French as well as foreign, John Singer Sargent (1856–1928) for example—who would go on to carve their niche in art history. Luce entered Carolus-Duran’s studio, a move which not only gave him meticulous training as a draftsman, but introduced him to the leading painters of the time.
One such artist Maximilien Luce met was Camille Pissarro (1830–1903), with whom he became very good friends and who gave Luce much artistic advice. Along with Pissarro, Georges Seurat (1859–1891) and Paul Signac (1863–1935) Luce was one of the founders of the Neo-Impressionist School (i.e. the Pointillists). For many years Luce adhered to the Divisionist technique of color separation and theories of the scientists Michel Chevreul, Charles Henry and Ogden Rood.
In 1887, Luce joined the Société des Indépendants, after which time he consistently participated in the avant-garde group’s exhibitions. Though landscapes made up most of his oeuvre, Luce executed some marvelous paintings of people in the Pointillist style—an aspect of his style which differentiated him from many of his fellow Neo-Impressionists.
Luce was always very interested in the worries and pains of ordinary people and attempted to honestly transmit such human plight in his portrayal of lockers, masons and other laborers whose daily work he witnessed. In fact, in his youth, Luce had been quite struck by the notion of ‘the commune’ and he subscribed to Anarchist magazines such as La Revolte and L’assiette au beurre (literally translated as “The Plate Cooked in Butter”) and was implicated in 1894 for politically incorrect behavior, for which he passed a stint in prison and subsequently recounted his adventures in his lithographic series Mazas.
Maximilien Luce was, for a period of time, a strict Pointillist. After 1920, however, when he began spending a large amount of time around Rolleboise, Luce started to paint in a freer manner. Concerned very little with accolades, he did, however, accept the position of President of the Société des Artistes Indépendants in 1935 subsequent to the death of Signac, a position from which he would resign as a statement against the society’s growing posture towards restricting Jewish artists from exhibiting.
Luce made a significant contribution towards exporting Neo-Impressionism and maintained strong ties with the Belgian Pointillist Théo van Rysselberghe (1862–1926). Luce was indefatigable and was a prolific artist. Maximilien Luce remains a very important figure in French Post-Impressionist Art, as a Pointillist and a social realist.