Paul de Longpré (Paul-Henry-Georges Maucherat de Longpré) was born in Lyons, France on April 18, 1855, the son of Jean-Antoine-Marie-Victor Maucherat de Longpré (b. 1811) and Marie Therese (née Pinchaud). Although his parents were of noble descent, they were not wealthy, and Jean worked as a creator of textile designs for the famous silk looms of Lyons. At an early age, Paul began to assist his father, possibly an uncle, and other family members in the painting of flowers on fans. Bored with school, he spent his time in the fields drawing and painting flowers and birds. By the time he was twelve, and after the family had moved to Paris, he was engaged by a firm in that city to decorate fans.
In 1874, at eighteen years of age, Paul married Josephine Estievenard, and the couple eventually had three daughters, Blanche, Pauline, and Alice. By 1876, when only twenty-one, Paul continued to show great promise in his career as a flower painter, as a work reported to be a simple watercolor of a field daisy was accepted by the Paris Salon, where he continued to exhibit for several years. In 1889, he won a Silver Medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Indeed, during his lifetime, the recognition of his expertise in the painting of flower pieces earned him the title "Le Roi de Fleurs" (King of the Flower Painters). Most of his finest works were executed in watercolor and gouache, although he occasionally painted in oils.
Paul de Longpre - Easter lily and Stained Glass Window, 1908
Watercolor on paper, 20 x 14 inches
In 1890, after the failure of the Comptoir d' Escompte de Paris, the bank holding their life savings, the de Longprés came to the United States and settled in New York City. Paul soon felt the need for fresh flowers to serve as subjects for his paintings, so he arranged to spend the summer and fall seasons in possibly Short Hills, New Jersey and nearby Madison, a community known as "the Rose City," where he reportedly was given free access to the local greenhouses. Records also indicate that in 1892, while living at 104 East Eighty-fourth Street in New York, he submitted a work entitled A Decorated Fan to an exhibition at Gill's Art Galleries in Springfield, Massachusetts. However, his first major exhibition appears to have been at New York's American Art Galleries in 1895, and the success of this show launched his international reputation. Thereafter, his work was continually exhibited in New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia, and the state of his finances improved dramatically.
In 1898, Paul decided to settle permanently in California, at first establishing his family in a home at Adams and Figueroa in Los Angeles. In 1901, as his success continued, he moved to Hollywood, where he built a magnificent Moorish-Mission style villa on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Cahuenga Avenue, which he surrounded with a three acre garden eventually filled with four-thousand rose bushes. "I must plant before I can paint!" exclaimed the artist at the time, and, indeed, his house and gardens soon became a tourist attraction, as visitors flocked to enter the gallery of his grand mansion to compare the exhibited paintings with the blooms outdoors. Thousands of citizens including the President of the United States, the city officials of Los Angeles and the cultured residents of Southern California toured his displays of paintings and flowers. As a writer in a 1905 issue of The Craftsman is reported to have noted: "in the last three months twenty-five thousand people have visited him in his studio and gardens." Even the movie studios of Hollywood were aware of de Longpré's spectacular flowers. In 1910, the garden was immortalized by the film producer, D.W. Griffith, when he rented a portion from de Longpré in order to make a movie aptly titled Love among the Roses. Today, the house and garden no longer exist. By 1948, the Santa Fe Bus Station stood on the site, and it is now a busy intersection with tall buildings lining the streets.
Although de Longpré reportedly studied for a time with both Leon Bonnat and Jean Léon Gérôme in Paris, he was basically self-taught. Nevertheless, he appears to have made scientific studies of flowers in the horticultural conservatory of the famous M. Paillet of Chatenay, a suburb of Paris. Always a painter from nature, he never fell into the habit of simply replicating flowers in his studio; he always insisted on live subjects. He was a careful draftsman and colorist, and he combined the two talents to produce skillful effects. At the same time, his paintings reveal a poetic nature, where flowers, bumblebees, glass vessels, baskets and other elements were combined to create pleasing compositions. In addition, he was well aware of nineteenth century language of flowers literature. For example, in a work titled Pensez-A-Moi (think of me) of 1896, he depicted a row of pansies, flowers which refer to "tender and pleasant thoughts."
By the first decade of the twentieth century, Paul de Longpré's fame was widespread. Two New York monthly art magazines, Art Amateur and Art Interchange often enclosed loose lithographs called "art studies," many including de Longpré's flowers. Even daily newspapers offered prints within their Sunday supplements. Today, his paintings hang in both private and public collections including the Broughton Collection, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England; the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation in Pittsburgh; and the Currier Gallery of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire. Indeed, by the time of his death on June 29, 1911, Paul de Longpré was probably the most famous flower painter in America.
Barbara J. Mitnick, Ph. D.
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