The name Lauvray is well known to the historians of Claude Monet. It is that of a resident of Vetheuil, Notary Public by profession, who became Claude Monet’s neighbor in the Ile-de-France. The two men became friends and stayed in contact even when Monet decided to settle in Giverny a little below Vetheuil. In 1893 Claude Monet purchased a parcel of land situated on the other side of the road, where he wanted to make two ponds the future Water Lily Ponds. In order to do this, he needed to install an off takes from the river. The inhabitants of Giverny protested, so Claude Monet asked Mr. Lauvray to intervene on his behalf with the Sub-Prefet of Andelys. The intervention was successful and it is thus partially thanks to Pierre-Abel Lauvray that the installation of the Water Lily Ponds took place. The two men stayed in contact.
The notary public had a son named Abel, born in 1870. As a child he watched Monet work. The vocation of a painter awoke in the young man, who enrolled at the Fine Arts School and studied traditional learned technique from Monet. Back in Vetheuil Abel saw Claude Monet again and was allowed the rare privilege to accompany him on location. Monet sometimes took him on his boat-studio, which he later gave him. Contact with Monet lightened Lauvray’s palette, and developed in him a fine sensitiveness to light.
In 1895 Lauvray went to the south of France, where Monet himself had gone ten years earlier. There, he painted views of Antibes, Cannes and de la Napoule. In his letters he shared his hopes and his fears. During this period his parents supported him. Finally, Lauvray went to the Cormon Academy following in the footsteps of Van Gogh. Toulouse-Lautrec and Leon Joubert, who was certainly behind this decision. He learned a great deal and had in hand all the elements necessary to compose and execute a good work of art, as wellness as his painting of this period. In 1897 he did four paintings for the Champ de Mars Salon, though he had only to present two.
In 1900 Lauvray was 30 years old. In the ‘Classic” he had learned that Greece was the mother of our Western culture. In possession of his craft, he departed for this country. To our knowledge, he is one of the rare artists from this period to have sojourned in Greece. Considering that we know of about 20 paintings done in this country.
The following year, Lauvray went to Pond-Aven, the place made famous by Nabis’ Sojourn. This trend represented since 1888 by young artists such as Securier, M. Denis, and Bonnard Vuillard. Lauvray stayed not far from there, which inspired several paintings, including one which was admitted to the Salon of the National Society Fine Arts in 1902.
In 1904, a letter addressed to his parents, Lauvray shared his love for Avignon to paint landscapes where, starting in 1930 he spent every winter.
Lauvray was also exhibited at the Independents Salon in 1906, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1912, and 1914. In 1916 on the same page of the official catalog where the painters are listed, we find Archille Lauge, Marie Laurencin, Laurent-Gsell and Abel Lauvray. He was therefore able to meet these painters, see their work and discuss them.
In 1908 was a good year on the personal level. On February 3rd of that year, Abel Lauvray married Jeanne Lejard. She was an orphan to whom her father an important notary public and had left a very large dowry, which combined with the assets of the Lauvray family, placed the newlyweds above any financial worries.
His daughter, Genevieve, was born in 1913. Marriage did nothing to modify his style of life. He continued to paint constantly. He hardly traveled but floated on the Seine in the special boat Monet had constructed to dedicate himself to his art in any weather. During World War I, Abel Lauvray was drafted but because of his age was posted to the Territorial, which left him time for his art. After his marriage, he totally abandoned cities and isolated himself on the banks of the French rivers, in the fields and the forests, always in search of a ray of light, transparent water, the green of the leaf, a sky, cloudless or heavy with gray. He who had so traveled to Italy, Greece and all of France, hardly ever moved again.
In 1928 he exhibited a painting, entitled “Along the Seine in Vetheuil” at the Salon des Artistes Francais.
Two years later, Lauvray rented a house in Villeneuve-les-Avignon where the view was magnificent. From the house’s terrace Abel Lauvray could see from east side, the Rhone and the other side, the two arms of its calm water encircling Barthelasse Island. In 1939 the war locked him into Villeneuve les Avignon; the demarkation line cutting France in two, separating him from his homes in Vetheuil and Mantes, and from Tours where his only daughter, his son-in-law and his grandchildren lived.
The war ended in 1945 and he returned to his home in Vetheuil and the rest of his family joined him as well. But many disappointments awaited him. During his forced absence his beautiful home had been occupied by the Germans and his studio partially charred by incendiary bombs. Valuable objects disappeared, especially paintings and sketches. The fruits of his incessant labor from 1909, the year of his marriage to 1939 the year of the war, Mrs. Lauvray recounted, ‘He cried, he cried a lot” she said sadly. But despite his age, 75, he did not get discouraged.
Some people of Vetheuil still remember today seeing the old tired looking man with the white beard, struggling to carry his easel and his painting box in hand. He walked along the linden-tree lined path that led to the banks of the Seine and there painted for hours and hours. Nothing stopped him, not even the bitter cold. Mrs. Lauvray replied: “It was his passion.”
The fact that Lauvray distanced himself from the artistic milieu had the disadvantage of making him forgotten, not only by the dealers, but also by critics and collectors. His first major posthumous exhibition took place in 1963. To celebrate the centenary of his birth in 1970, a huge exhibition took place at the Yves Jaubert Gallery, and there again, collectors discovered paintings worthy of the master’s. The critics in the art magazines and the newspapers raved.
Guy Dormand in the ‘Courrier des Arts’ wrote “… a veritable impressionist, friend and companion of Claude Monet. His only fault? To have lived and painted for himself all of his life. Henceforth, one will never be able to forget him: he must be listed after Monet, Sisley and Pissarro, of which he appears to be like the fraternal, persuasive emulator”.
An article in art and literature magazine stated that “ The centenary exhibition of Abel Lauvray at the Yves Jaubert gallery, was placed under the presidency of Edmond Michelet, then government secretary, Charge of Cultural affairs, and Coincided with the release of the book that Claude Roger Marx consecrated to abel Lauvray.”
In fact, Lauvray, who had gone to so much trouble in his youth, to perfect himself, to participate in the big salons, to meet the juries in vogue, to frequent other painters, changed a great deal over the years. Painting remained his great passion, but with the mastery of art and technique worked without worrying what others thought.