Paul Jean Martel, “Addingham in the Snow” 1932,  oil on canvas




Curated by Aaron Sheppard
Essay by Gail Phinney

In Belgium, as we grew up, we learned to see things through the dampness of an atmosphere heavily laden with humidity and sun. We Flemish people have always painted the colour values in our air – in that respect I believe I follow the Flemish tradition.

Paul Jean Martel is an artist who defies easy categorization. Equally rooted in the European traditions of the French and Belgian fin-de-siècle avant-garde and the academic realism of the early twentieth century Pennsylvania Impressionists, Martel’s paintings reveal a life-long passion for the paint medium. Martel’s oeuvre mirrors the dynamic evolution of European Modernism. With a nod to French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, Belgian Neo-Impressionism, and the Nabis, Martel’s stylistic influences are diverse. During his career, Martel exhibited alongside Mary Cassatt, Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard, among others. Inspired by the series paintings of Claude Monet, his interest began to shift from depicting the subject itself to a focus on the ephemeral atmosphere within which it was surrounded, which he attempted to capture over time in his paintings of Central Park in New York City, as well as in his more pastoral scenes of the countryside.

Martel’s work is possessed of a strong sense of time and place; documenting a life lived on two continents. Born in Belgium in 1879, he moved to Philadelphia with his mother whose employer took an interest in his budding artistic talent. When Martel was sent to Belgium to study at the Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles in 1897, he was exposed to an indigenous form of Impressionism, distinguished by a luminous color palette. In 1887, an avant-garde group of Belgian painters known as Les XX (The Twenty) had been instrumental in arranging the exhibition of Georges Seurat’s Un Dimanche à la Grande Jatte in Brussels, introducing Neo-Impressionism and a Pointillist technique that became the signature style of Belgian artists Théo Van Rysselberghe and George Lemmen. Following their lead, Martel came to develop his own form of Pointillism, with which he continued to experiment over his lifetime.

After graduation, Martel returned to America in 1906 to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under Thomas Anshutz, a student of the great realist Thomas Eakins. It was there that he became associated with the Pennsylvania school of landscape painters, including Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber, Frederick Wagner and others known as the New Hope painters; a diverse group of artists working in the New Hope region of Bucks County. Several of Martel’s paintings from that period exhibit the more realistic style of Impressionism favored by the group. Along with this notable group, Martel was an active and beloved member of the prestigious Philadelphia Sketch Club, America’s oldest artist club, from 1908 until his death.

Despite his many stylist derivations, one thing remained consistent throughout Martel’s career – color was always his muse. When interviewed about his work, Martel stated, “Colour to me, is the soul of painting.”

Gail Phinney, Director of Education

“Paul was an artistic genius and visionary aesthetic philosopher who remained true to his principles.” – Art Historian, Dr. Bruce Chambers

Still Life: Cezanne is well known for his oranges as they are depicted beyond gravity on a steeply angled table. Holding space all their own, he creates subtle, nearly imperceptible tension that is credited with inspiring Cubism. Here, Martel depicts apples in his own artistic, yet similar fashion. His subject becomes one within atmospheric haze, floating towards, or perhaps veiled from its viewers. Martel’s sensitive brushstrokes of color exude smells of the freshness of life and allow for sensory experiences of its viewers to complete its full picture.

City/Landscapes: From Belgium to New York, Martel invites us to share his life passage. Structures in his paintings tell stories of ways of life. Martel’s buildings within landscape, whether a single lonely cabin or massive erections towering over Central Park, give us a glimpse into environs of human existence bathed in light. In particular, Addingham in the Snow, 1932 depicts a small country house where Martel and the Philadelphia Sketch Club would gather for many years to paint.

Trees: Much like Monet’s haystacks, Martel relays to his viewers the way in which light informs objects. Color is important, yet is not allowed to overwhelm phenomenology of the human experience for interpreting form. Trees as a subject for Martel are important to his overall body of work. The subject deserves a gallery of its own for contemplation. We are placed within the midst of unmenacing trees as they tower above us, so as to simultaneously provide meditation of nature’s magnificence and our place within it.

Portraits/The Figure: Of Martel’s paintings, these are his most intimate and exposed. His subjects are not merely excellent descriptions of form, but they also allow us access into delicate personal pages of Martel’s own family journal. Many additional portraits of his family, and of himself, are available for viewing by contacting PVAC.

All works by Paul Jean Martel displayed here are for sale by contacting PVAC. For more information about the artist visit

Aaron Sheppard, Curator