Hippolyte Petitjean French, 1854-1929


Hippolyte Petitjean began his artistic training in Mâcon. In 1872 a bursary enabled him to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris under Alexandre Cabanel (1823-89). He made his début at the Paris Salon in 1880 and continued to contribute regularly until 1891. The paintings he produced in this period reflect his high regard for the work of Puvis de Chavannes.

Petitjean enjoyed a close friendship with Georges Seurat (1859-91) whom he first met in 1884. Seurat had set out to study theories of colour and perception in the early 1880s. In this, he laid the foundations for the development of divisionism, the technique that characterizes Neo-Impressionism. This technique – often called pointillism, though Seurat himself rejected the term – drew on colour theories proposed by Michel-

Eugène Chevreul. Chevreul's scientific research into optics and colour theories had been published in his book titled 'De la Loi du contraste simultané des Couleurs' [On the law of the simultaneous contrast of colours] in 1839. Petitjean became an enthusiastic advocate of divisionism and adopted the technique in 1886. He was to show his first large-format Neo-Impressionist painting at an exhibition in Stockholm only a year later.

He exhibited regularly at the Salon des Indépendants from 1891 onwards, as did his friends and fellow practitioners Seurat, Maximilien Luce, Camille Pissarro and Pissarro's son Lucien. In 1892, Petitjean also exhibited work at Le Barc de Boutteville, a gallery pioneering and promoting avant-garde painting.

Further exhibitions followed – in Brussels in the years 1893-8 in Berlin in 1898; in Weimar in 1903; and in Wiesbaden in 1921.

Petitjean struggled to earn a living for much of his career, unlike many of his colleagues. After the birth of his daughter in 1895, he moved to a house with a studio in the southern part of Paris and began to work as an art teacher. He turned increasingly to allegorical subjects — a series of decorative landscape watercolours produced in the years 1910 to 1912 mark a return to Neo-Impressionism.