La Vie En Bleu: The Life & Art of Marguerite Castaing
November 4 – December 31, 2020 | www.margueritecastaing.com
Born in 1900 in southern France to a family of painters, Marguerite Castaing had a long career as an artist. At 16 she became a member of the French Salon where she exhibited for over two decades. While living in Paris, she studied under renowned artists Paul Albert Laurens and Pierre Bonnard, and she rubbed shoulders with influential writers, collectors, and critics like Pulitzer Prize winner Louis Bromfield. Marguerite’s work, Impressionistic in style, elicits passion and precision. The artist was inspired by the people and places that surrounded her, from family and friends to the rolling landscapes of southern France, and eventually the colorful seasons of New England. On display for the first time, this exhibition of her work showcases over 80 drawings, paintings and pastels detailing her life as a passionate female artist throughout the 20th Century.
In 2016, the St. Augustine Art Association was gifted a collection of over 80 paintings, pastels, drawings and sketches by the children of Jacques and Marjorie Dardenne–long-time residents and members of the St. Augustine Art Association. All of the work, Impressionist in style, was done by Jacques’ mother, Marguerite Castaing.
Marguerite Castaing was born to Joseph and Rose Castaing on September 28, 1900, in Pau, a town near the Pyrenees mountains in southwestern France. Joseph, a well-known painter and pastelist of his time, had a long career of teaching and painting commissions for churches and chateaus–often using his wife and children as models for paintings. Two of the Castaing children would follow in Joseph’s painterly footsteps: his son René-Marie and daughter Marguerite.
Marguerite began early studies under the instruction of her father, and by six years-old knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up: a painter. Joseph taught his daughter to work in various mediums including pencil, oils, and the not-so-common pastels. He impressed on all of his students the understanding of space and shape, a methodology visible throughout Marguerite’s work–she used shading to create shapes and depth, rarely drawing solid lines.
By 16, Marguerite Castaing’s dream became a reality. She was accepted into the Salon des Artistes Français aux Palais des Champs Elysees where she exhibited landscapes done in pen and ink, oils and pastels. Marguerite’s emergence in the Paris Salon came during a time when female artists were beginning to receive recognition in a male-dominated field. Her father, a champion for female artists, gave academic lectures on the topic of their importance in art and held classes strictly for women. Also during this time, the Académie Julian in Paris established itself as a progressive frontrunner in art education by allowing women to study in the classes.
In late 1918, after the death of her father, Marguerite moved to Paris. She took up studies with Paul Albert Laurens, son of artist Jean-Paul Laurens and instructor at the Académie Julian. Before long, her creativity was stifled, so she sought an instructor who painted with a little more freedom, Pierre Bonnard. “I went to Paris to study with Paul Laurens, but he made my painting too dry. So, I worked with Pierre Bonnard–he was really my master. He showed me freedom in painting.”
Bonnard, a Post-Impressionist painter known for his intimate scenes and colorfully decorative style, introduced Marguerite to a new world of subject matter and vibrant hues. Her interest in landscapes waned as she began to work in portraiture and nudes, though Bonnard’s colorful influence on her landscapes was undeniable.
While living in Paris, Marguerite Castaing continued exhibiting in the Salon, making her way through elite social circles of collectors, writers, critics, and celebrities. Friendships she developed with Pulitzer Prize winning author Louis Bromfield and noted art collector Andre Seligmann would prove beneficial later on. In 1924, Marguerite married Maurice Dardenne. A year later she welcomed her only child, Jacques. The family relocated to southern France, though Marguerite’s exhibitions in Paris and other regions continued for the next fifteen years.
She eventually was divorced from Maurice and in 1941, married American Francophile, Lewis Riley. The couple settled in St. Jean de Luz on the Basque Coast, though only for a short while as the Nazis were on the move. In Paris, they raided Jewish-owned galleries, starting with Andre Seligmann’s where over 400 valuable works were seized, forcing Seligmann to relocate to America.
“[The Germans] knew everything,” Marguerite said, “They said we should go to a concentration camp, so I packed everything and sent it to Pau. We escaped in the woods through Spain then to Portugal. Then we came to the United States.” Marguerite, Lewis and Jacques arrived in New York City on October 2, 1942.
On February 9, 1944, Andre Seligmann and Louis Bromfield introduced Marguerite Castaing to the American audience. Her debut in the David Koetser Gallery in New York City was so well-received, the gallery kept her work on display for the entire year. Three years later, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA, showcased her work with equal praise.
Whatever she attempts she stamps with her own personality. Her landscapes are notable for their feeling of atmosphere peculiar to the French countryside. But her paintings and drawings speak for themselves. I commend them to your attention. – Louis Bromfield
The family lived in Connecticut, where the artist’s affinity for landscapes was revived. “I never found in Europe as marvelous a country to paint as the autumn in the Berkshires,” she mused, “I see blue all over. The Impressionists showed me the color, and I do pastel like you do an oil, I never touch it with my thumb.”
In 1948, Lewis Riley unexpectedly passed away, and Marguerite moved to New York City to continue painting and exhibiting. She traveled to Maine, where she painted 24 landscapes for the Great Northern Paper Company calendars before retreating to warmer weather. Marguerite accepted a residency at Florida’s Hollywood Beach Hotel where she did portraits and commissions for the guests. At her niece’s wedding in 1958, she met Colonel John W. H. M. Huffer, the groom’s father. They hit it off and married two years later. Marguerite and John divided their time between Connecticut and Florida. She continued to paint and show her work until the late 1970s when her health began to decline. She passed away in 1984 at 84 years of age.
It is not known how many works Marguerite Castaing produced in her lifetime, but she elicited a passion and precision that garnered the attention of gallery owners, collectors and critics.
“When I think of all I did in my life, it sits like a wren on my shoulder.” – Marguerite Castaing
For the first time, this collection will be on exhibit at the St. Augustine Art Association November 4 – December 31, thanks to a generous JoAnn Crisp-Ellert Grant from The Community Foundation of Northeast Florida. Special events include Women in Art history talks with David Ouellette, performances of The Independents presented by A Classic Theatre, Impressionism in Art and Music presented by the St. Augustine Music Festival, and Impressions of the Holidays art camp for kids. The gallery is located at 22 Marine Street in historic downtown St. Augustine, FL.
Details on the exhibit, La Vie en Bleu, can be found at www.margueritecastaing.com.