It was decidedly battle stations with this colorful painting, which came from a collection in the Lyon region to face the turmoil of the auction room. Acting as an official Navy painter, the artist illustrated his most daring artistic theories.
Charles Lapicque (1898-1988), Manœuvres au large de Brest (Maneuvres off the Coast of Brest), 1959, oil on canvas, 81 x 100 cm/31.8 x 39.3 in.
In the fall of 1958, Charles Lapicque (1898-1988) embarked on a French Navy aviso boat to follow the naval maneuvers taking place off Brest, in the Finistère region (Brittany). For several days, the painter made endless sketches of everything he saw, using them back in the studio as a basis for a new series of paintings that took up a good part of 1959, and abandoning a series he had been devoting to Roman history. Like cinematographic images reconstituting an overall movement, all these pictures—now scattered between private and public collections, with one in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, Burgundy—show how the operations unfolded, with a multitude of simultaneous details.
Manœuvres au large de Brest (Maneuvres off the Coast of Brest) is a very lively scene divided into several planes. In the first, two officers are seen deliberating, while further away on the deck, sailors are carrying out orders. The eye then moves to a ship that closes the perspective, as the artist has deliberately placed himself in its choppy wake. Lapicque's presence at the heart of the operations was no accident: officially appointed painter to the Navy in 1948, he had already participated in several maneuvers. His fascination with war fleets first came to light in a 1929 painting of a torpedo boat (Musée National d'Art Moderne).
Lapicque and the Laws of Optics
But Lapicque actually started out in a completely different direction. He entered the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in Paris, graduating in 1921. He then began a career in the power industry as an engineer: a job he abandoned in 1928 to concentrate solely on painting, which he practiced assiduously as an amateur. He then found a supporter in gallery owner Jeanne Bucher, who offered him a contract and staged his first exhibition in 1929. But the science bug was just as strong as his love of art: he resumed his studies at the University of Paris, and became fascinated by the perception of colors, his favorite area. To further his knowledge, he also enrolled at the Ecole Supérieure d'Optique and in 1938 submitted a brilliant doctoral thesis in Physics on "The Optics of the Eye and the Vision of Contours".
Manœuvres au large de Brest again shows how much this scholarly research influenced the painter's creative vision: the figures only come to life through interlinked colored masses, from the pale green sky to the ultramarine ocean by way of these astonishing pink and yellow rocks. This avant-garde approach always kept him on the fringe of the tiny circle of naval painters, all firm upholders of the realist tradition. Lapicque eventually gave up this position in 1966.