For most of the late 19th and early 20th centuries Paris was the bustling heart of the art world, a thriving metropolis teeming with ideas and innovation that drew collectors and artists from all corners of the globe. The celebrated French painter Edouard Cortès became the city’s lyrical recorder, capturing the delicate intonations of its light, the vicissitudes of its weather, the passing of the seasons, its market stalls, tramcars and crowded streets with Impressionistic delicacy. ‘As long as I am able to get up and go to my easel,’ Cortès said, ‘I will paint until my last breath, because I was born from and for painting.’ He was, indeed, a prolific painter who found, in the many visitors to the city, a huge demand for his work.
Born to a French mother and the renowned Spanish painter Antonio Cortès, who had settled in the Île-de-France town of Lagny-sur-Marne, Cortès trained in his father’s studio from the age of 13. Although Lagny was only a small provincial town, it was 20 miles or so from central Paris, and, since the Barbizon movement of the early 19th century, had drawn artists from the city. Lagny became a small but important artistic centre where the young Cortès was exposed from an early age to avant-garde ideas such as Impressionism.
Cortès would remain enthralled to the northern French countryside, painting its landscapes in works such as Peniches sur la Rivière (c.1910-1920) and Paysage de Bord de Marne (c.1910-20) throughout his life. By 1900, he had begun producing his first Paris street scenes, with works such as Porte Saint-Denis, le Soir (c.1905-10). He would divide his life between Paris and Lagny for the rest of his life, his style changing very little, and his work continuing to depict an ever-vanishing world.
By the 1950s works like Porte Saint-Martin en Hiver (c.1940-1950) still showed horse-drawn carriages and styles of clothing long-vanished from the real streets of Paris. When asked why, he stated that he wished simply to halt history at 1939, before the trauma of the Second World War changed Paris irrevocably.
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