A little-known oil sketch by L.S. Lowry's teacher Adolphe Valette was recently discovered in the Tate archive. Valette's biographer tells the story of how it got there
‘There is a beauty in Manchester,’ said Adolphe Valette – a beauty clearly portrayed in his well-known and monumental ‘Manchester-scapes’, but also apparent in his small sketches, such as Novembre 1912, Manchester, in which he captures the city’s light, atmosphere and buildings in an Impressionist manner.
Valette was a revered teacher at the Manchester School of Art and a keen advocate of painting en plein air. L.S. Lowry, a student of his for more than a decade, said:
I cannot overestimate the effect on me at that time of the coming into this drab city of Adolphe Valette, full of the French Impressionists, aware of everything that was going on in Paris. He had a freshness and a breadth of experience that exhilarated his students.
Together with his students, or on his own, Valette went into the centre of Manchester with his easel, brushes and tubes of paint to make oil sketches on pieces of board, cardboard or any suitable material he had to hand. Known as pochades, they are hardly larger than postcard size, but in a few square centimetres they encapsulate much of the spirit of French Impressionism. He used them as studies for the composition of his masterpieces, which he painted in his studio, but they also functioned as small works in their own right, created simply for the artist’s own pleasure.
Valette did not exhibit his pochades during his lifetime, and the story of how they came to public notice in the 1970s is fascinating. He sold his “Manchester-scapes” to Manchester Art Gallery in 1928 and left for France, taking with him the bulk of his other work, including the sketches. After he died in Lyon in 1942, his widow, who had been the guardian of his work, kept his paintings in their small house in the Beaujolais region, and later in Jersey where she lived in retirement. In the early 1970s contact was established between the Tib Lane Gallery, a private gallery in Manchester, and Madame Valette, who was keen that her husband’s paintings should become known again in the city where they had been created.
To start with, for reasons of cost and practicality, she sent the gallery the pochades rather than larger works. They immediately became popular, selling within minutes at the Tib Lane exhibitions as collectors queued outside to be the first to take their pick. This particular sketch was bought by the Reverend Geoffrey Bennett for £40 at the Tib Lane Gallery’s October 1971 show. Coincidentally, Bennett was a friend of Lowry and one of the first collectors of his works. He later donated drawings by Lowry to Tate, together with the Valette pochade.