Jean Marzelle's beginnings
Jean Marzelle was born on 24 January 1916 in Lauzun (Lot-et-Garonne), the youngest child of a family of three. From a very early age, the young boy was fascinated by drawing and painting, which he discovered at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier. As a secondary school pupil, he started his apprenticeship in the fine arts by copying works of the masters exhibited at the museum (Ingres, Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Courbet as well as the Impressionist, Frédéric Bazille).
His yearning to devote his life to painting came to the fore and, in 1934, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Montpellier, where he joined the drawing class under Monsieur Descossy and produced his first painted works en plein air in the Montpellier region. That same year, he joined the Society of Painters of the Hérault as an exhibiting member.
The following year, Marzelle moved to the rue Mouffetard in Paris, where he shared a studio with friends. He enrolled at the Parisian École des Beaux-Arts, where he was accepted for competitive entrance examinations in the galleries and copied ancient sculpture. He augmented his training and knowledge by regular visits to the Louvre.
His visit to the Cézanne exhibition at the Musée de l'Orangerie in 1936 was a shock for him. He confided in a friend, "Now I understand what real painting is." Marzelle continued to copy the masters on visits to art galleries and was interested in the work of Picasso, Marquet, Signac, and Rouault.
In 1940, shortly after the war broke out, Marzelle went back to Lauzun. The following year, he returned to his studio in rue de Verneuil, which he discovered to have been looted in his absence.
In 1942, he became friends with François Desnoyer, to whom he showed his work and who encouraged him to continue in his artistic pursuits. Desnoyer hired him to assist with the production of a large decorative scheme for the town hall in Cachan, entitled Un Dimanche dans la banlieue parisienne, on which he collaborated with Fougeron, Merle and Vaffier.
On 17 October 1942, Jean Marzelle married Hélène Chatel, who gave birth to a daughter, Catherine (born in 1945) and a son, François (born in 1951).
Through the good offices of Jean Cluseau-Lanove, Marzelle started teaching the history of art and decoration at the vocational centre of the École Estienne. Desnoyer invited him to participate in the exhibition, Maîtres et Jeunes at Galerie Berri-Raspail, and he submitted work for the first time to the Salon d'Automne. The work he exhibited was mentioned in a review by Gaston Diehl. In 1943, Galerie Pittoresque, run by Simone Camin (the future Mrs André Lhote) organised a first solo exhibition of his work. In 1945, Galerie Denise René invited him to exhibit alongside Burtin, Dayez and Eskenazi as part of a show entitled Histoire d'un tableau. He was awarded the Prix Bernheim at the Salon d'Automne and participated for the first time at the Salon de Mai, exhibiting there until 1978. In 1949, Marzelle moved to Grande Thumine, a property in the Aix-en-Provence region.
In 1952, Jean Marzelle discovered Spain (Madrid, Segovia, Avila and Toledo), and he continued to copy the masters at the Prado.
The following year, Galerie Marcel Guiot exhibited the work he had produced in Spain and Provence; the art critic, Jean Bouret, writing the preface to the exhibition catalogue.
In 1953, Marzelle was awarded a prize on his first showing at the Biennale de Menton (he would exhibit at this event until 1957).
From 1955 onwards, he exhibited at the Salon Comparaisons (until 1986) and at the Salon des Peintres Témoins de leur temps (in 1956 and 1976).
In October 1955, the Gallery Moderne, New York included his work in an exhibition of French artists, entitled Paris revisited. That same year, he exhibited his work, Homme devant Tolède, at the Galerie Charpentier.
In 1956, he first exhibited at the Galerie Suillerot and also participated in an exhibition of contemporary art in Mexico.
In 1957, Galerie Saint-Placide awarded him the Prix de la Critique; Bernard Buffet and Bernard Lorjou (joint winners 1948), André Minaux (1949) and Jean Couty (1950) were some of the first recipients of this award.
The same year, Marzelle visited Tuscany for the first time and took part in the exhibition, École de Paris 1957, organised by Galerie Charpentier.
The following year, he showed work at a group exhibition at Galerie Colline, Oran owned by Robert Martin and was made a knight of the Ordre des Arts et Lettres in April.
In 1958, the Musée de l'Athénée, Geneva, exhibited around forty canvases by Marzelle, with Jean-Albert Cartier contributing a preface to the accompanying exhibition catalogue.
In 1959, Marzelle moved out of his Parisian studio in rue des Plantes and settled in Gentilly. It was there that he showed work at the Galerie Camille Renault in an exhibition entitled, Dix-neuf études d'après les maîtres.
On the advice of his friend, the art dealer, Marcel Guiot, in 1960, Jean Marzelle visited the Netherlands and the port of Hoorn, which would furnish the motifs of many of his works from then on.
The following year, he exhibited at the Institut Néerlandais, Paris as part of a show entitled, Peintres Français en Hollande.
Galerie Marcel Guiot hosted another exhibition of his work and Les Lettres Françaises applauded the fact that he had liberated himself from the legacy of Cézanne, noting a “very seductive freedom and freshness” in his work.
In 1962, at the invitation of Jules Cavaillès, he exhibited at the Salon des Tuileries, and in Rabat as part of the exhibition, Peintres contemporains de l'École de Paris.
In 1964, he produced illustrations for Lettres à un ami by Paul Verlaine, published under the title, Quinze jours en Hollande. Each letter was illustrated by a colour aquatint, engraved on copper by Marzelle. He also executed a series of five stained glass windows for the chapel of Moulin de Vauboyen (Essonne), and visited Venice for the first time.
In 1965, he showed his work of the previous three years at Galerie Marcel Guiot. In a critical appraisal, René Barotte referred to Marzelle as the “master of blue”. He continued to sit on the jury of the Prix du Dôme (founded by Juliette Delpuech).
In 1966, Galerie Marcos Castillos in Caracas exhibited Marzelle as a member of the École de Paris, as did the Milloud Gallery in Houston in 1969. Marzelle sent work to the Biennale de Puteaux in 1966 and visited Venice for a second time in 1969.
Marzelle was the first person to be awarded the Prix international du portrait created by Paul-Louis Weiller.
He executed a fresco, La Seine, for the college of Bihorel-les-Rouen, and a mosaic, Le Cheval de Troie, for the secondary school in Villeurbanne.
He visited Guadeloupe for the first time in 1974 to execute a mosaic for the Raizet school cluster in Les Abymes.
He produced a number of sketches, drawings and works on paper on site, which were exhibited at Galerie Guiot the following year.
In 1976, he was commissioned to execute a mosaic for the Centre des Impôts in the 17th arrondissement of Paris, and he travelled to Pointe-à-Pitre in 1977 to install a mosaic at the high school in Baimbridge.
In 1978, he was awarded a new public commission by the town of Gentilly to execute a mosaic portrait of Victor Hugo for the façade of the Victor Hugo elementary school.
He was accorded several solo exhibitions abroad: Vasastadens Konstalong, Gothenburg in 1973, 1975 and 1977; Galerie Saint-Michel, Luxembourg in 1974; Galerie Marcos Castillos, Caracas in 1976 and Galerie Lutetia, Königstein in 1978.
Galerie de la Présidence organised a large solo exhibition of Marzelle’s work in 1978.
In 1982, Galerie Jean-Pierre Joubert opens its doors with a solo exhibition of work by Marzelle, which would be the start of a long-term collaboration between them, and Bernard Dorival wrote the preface for the accompanying catalogue.
That spring, Marzelle returned to Italy (Volterra, Assisi, San Gimignano, Gubbio, Arezzo) and admired the frescoes by Piero della Francesca and the Deposition from the Cross by Rosso.
The following year, he visited Rome and its artistic treasures for the first time (the Raphael stanzi at the Vatican).
In 1984, he travelled to the USSR with his students from the Académie de Port-Royal, visiting Moscow, Leningrad and the State Hermitage Museum for the first time, which left a powerful mark on him.
In 1985, he participated in two group exhibitions in the United States, L'École de Puteaux in Cleveland and Marzelle. Mouly. Ravel in Fresno. In 1986, he was accorded a second solo exhibition by Galerie Joubert, featuring a collection of thirty-five works on themes dear to the artist (the Netherlands, Provence, Toledo, La Rochelle).
Between 1983 and 1985, Marzelle was a member of Groupe 109 and participated in the Salon du Dessin et de la Peinture à l’eau from 1988 until 1995.
He visited Venice for the third time in 1989.
Marzelle visited the Netherlands again in 1990 and a retrospective of his work, 50 ans de peinture, was shown at Galerie Chardin.
That same year, Galerie Joubert hosted a solo exhibition of his work. He exhibited at Galerie Eliane Poggi, Grenoble in 1991. A monograph on his life and career by Jean-Louis Bruch was published in 1992 by Editions Jean-Pierre Joubert in the Terre des Arts series. He exhibited at the Salon d'Angers in 1992 and 1997.
In 1995, the Château de la Bertrandrière, L'Étrat (Loire) organised and hosted a large solo exhibition of his work. Galerie des Arts, Nîmes accorded him exhibitions in 1992 and 1997.
Jean Marzelle died on 11 August 2005.
The following year, the Town Hall of Gentilly paid homage to him.
In 2007, Musée d'art Roger-Quilliot, Clermont-Ferrand hosted an exhibition entitled, Années 50, l'alternative figurative, featuring works by Marzelle.
In 2008, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune and Galerie Joubert jointly showed an exhibition of works by Marzelle (oils and works on paper).
Finally, in 2013, the borough hall of the 6th arrondissement of Paris hosted a retrospective exhibition dedicated to the artist.