A collection within a collection takes the spotlight this summer at Baylor University’s Martin Museum of Art, where works by French post-impressionist Edouard Léon Cortès go on exhibit.
The works, some 40 oil and gouache paintings by the 20th century painter, comprise one of the largest collections within the Martin Museum’s holdings. It’s the first public showing of the collection since its owner Bill Mead, who studied painting in Paris with Cortès, donated it to Baylor University 37 years ago. Many of the paintings have hung on office walls at Pat Neff Hall and in the Baylor president’s Allbritton House residence, but were returned by President Linda Livingstone to the Martin Museum.
Cortès, born in 1882, was a son and grandson of painters and became the youngest artist to show works at the prestigious Paris Salon, said Martin gallery attendant Elisa Crowder. He grew up outside Paris, then lived in the city and his paintings focused primarily on those two locales, with Paris in the 1870s to 1914 — the Belle Époque — his favorite setting.
“He wanted to freeze Paris in the Golden Era,” Crowder said. Part of that interest in the past might be due to his World War I experience, in which the pacifist served as a non-combatant artist for the army after his studio was bombed, and his growing apprehension of a second war in the late 1930s. The French artist survived the Second World War and died in France in 1969.
Though a contemporary with many French impressionist artists, Cortès was considered a post-impressionist due to a more representational style and his interest in an earlier France.
Still, a looser brush stroke and city scenes where lights are reflected on wet streets and in puddles show an influence from the artists around him, said collections manager Chani Jones. Unlike many of the impressionists, Cortès enjoyed a measure of commercial success and after World War II American and Canadian collectors sought his work.
“Masters from the Martin: Édouard Léon Cortès” will continue at the Baylor gallery through Aug. 11.