Maximilien Luce – impressionist heritage

[29 Aug 2006]


Maximilien LUCE was one of the major artists of the neo-impressionist period. He was associated with Camille PISSARRO, Paul SIGNAC and Georges Pierre SEURAT who was probably the key figure of the neo-impressionist movement. During his life, i.e. between the 1880s and his death in 1941, Luce produced a large volume of work that includes oil paintings, lithographs and numerous drawings.

His favourite themes – which happen to be the most sought-after on the market – are the leisures and labours of the ordinary people of his epoch, as well as landscapes of Paris, Normandy and Brittany. As an ardent anarchist, Luce was particularly keen on depicting the living conditions of his working-class contemporaries in realist and everyday situations.

Luce’s oeuvre can be broadly divided into two distinct periods: A first neo-impressionist period, from 1885 to 1910 the First World War, during which Luce worked with the so-called divisionist technique, and a second post-impressionist period where Luce’s work becomes much less structured. In terms of prices, works from the latter period (i.e. post-WWI) are today much more affordable than his earlier works. In fact; Luce’s older oil paintings make frequent appearances in the auction rooms of Christie’s and Sotheby’s in Paris, London and New-York where they fetch somewhere between 80 and 500 thousand euros. By comparison, his later « twentieth century » works are accessible in a price range of roughly EUR 8,000 to EUR 50,000. On 21 June last, for example, his Constructeur, gare de l’est, dated 1929, sold for EUR 12,000 at Piasa in Paris, and certain Luce paintings from the 1920s and 30s go for between 3 and 5 thousand euros – as proved a week later when his 1937 landscape entitled Prairie et bouquet d’arbres sold for EUR 3,500 at Rossini in Paris.

Maximilien Luce’s all-time price record was generated on 8 November 1999 at Christie’s in New York when his La Seine au pont Saint-Michel, an oil painting dated 1900, sold for USD 950,000 (EUR 900,647). The major Anglo-American auction houses generate over 60% of the total revenue from Luce’s work on only 22% of total transactions! However, the French auction houses offer the widest choice (they handle 74% of all Luce transaction) including lots of drawings at reasonable prices. One can acquire drawings by Luce for between 150 and 1,000 euros such as the small Portrait d’enfant au fusain (9.2 x 8.8 cm) which sold for EUR 350 on 14 July last at Bailleul-Nentas in Bayeux. It is still even possible to pick up one of Luce key themes – and from his earlier period – for little more than a thousand euros: on June 28 of this year, his L’Acierie à Charleroi, a colour crayon drawing dated c1895 sold for EUR 1,300 at Tajan in Paris. Finally, his prints are regularly offered for sale and one can find etchings for between 100 and 200 euros and coloured prints for between 200 and 1,500 euros. In terms of price stability, Luce is considered a safe investment and his price index enjoys regular inflation: EUR 100 invested in 1997 would be worth an average of EUR 157 today.