Maximilien Luce: Rare works at downtown gallery 

Few people have heard of, let alone seen, the work of French artist Maximilien Luce. Yet the names of his prominent friends — Pissarro, Seurat and Signac — recall an era of art that has garnered so much attention and popularity, the mystery seems impossible.

Pasquale Iannetti, owner of the Union Square-area gallery of the same name, is trying to change that with "Maximilien Luce: The Calm of Nature and Gentleness of Things," which he says is the first solo show of Luce’s works in the Bay Area.

Luce was born in the mid-1800s to a working-class Parisian family. He became a wood engraver, then a pointillist, then briefly, an imprisoned anarchist, and, eventually, a softer impressionist.

Pasquale Iannetti is showing 24 of his works, mostly landscapes from the later period when the artist abandoned the formulaic pointillism for the softer, Monet-like strokes.

Luce took interest in the daily life of the working class, portraying workers, bathers and children going about their day, usually outside. For Luce, the landscape and its inhabitants were equally important; only a few works show nature without any signs of human activity.

Although Luce goes back to impressionist brushstrokes, he does not embrace the lucidity of Monet, and instead clings to a muted palette. In "Lavandieres," for example, a picture of washerwomen working on the beach, everything is washed out like old laundry: the pink sand, the green water, the dark blue clothes. Part of this opaque effect comes from his use of the brush. Unlike Monet, whose canvases are highly textured, Luce employs a single layer of paint that tends not to reflect the light of the exhibition space.

Luce’s works often seem almost like watercolors; a closer view often reveals canvas behind the paint. But in a wonderful portrait of his wife, "Madame Luce," there’s an unexpected quirk — the background reveals a newspaper clipping that adds avant-garde fun to the work.

Due to his move away from pointillism and toward an older style (or perhaps for a non-artistic reason like luck), Luce never acquired the fame of some of his friends. The last major American exhibit of his works was 10 years ago. That makes this show a rare opportunity to learn about this master.

IF YOU GO

Maximilien Luce: The Calm of Nature and Gentleness of Things

Where: Pasquale Iannetti, 531 Sutter St., San Francisco

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; closes March 24

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 433-2771 or www.pasqualeart.com  

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