Louis Weldon Hawkins was born on the 1st July 1849 in Esslingen, Germany but spent his youth in Middlesex, England. After a brief spell in the Royal Navy he left in 1870 to pursue a career in art. He registered at the Académie Julian in Paris where he studied under the great masters Bouguereau and Lefèbvre, before moving on to the Académie des Beaux-Arts under Boulanger. These early years are well documented in two autobiographies by the Irish Writer George Moore (Confessions of a young man – 1888, and Hail and farewell – 1911).
During the early years of his career he worked in the artistic colony of Grez-sur-Loing close to the south east of Paris. Other artists in this area included many British and Irish painters including John Lavery and Frank O’Meara, who all were influenced to some degree by the work of Bastien-Lepage. It is from this artist that Hawkins developed his love of tranquil landscapes and grey-green autumnal tones.
He did not stay long in this environment however, and soon moved the more cosmopolitan and challenging environment of Paris. An ambitious and talented artist, he began the frequent the Avant-Garde circles of the day and became increasing interested in the works of the Symbolist movement, especially Stéphane Mallarmé to whom he dedicated a canvas – “La porte fermée” in 1896. He showed several of his paintings of this period at the Salon de la Rose+Croix, the epicentre of this interesting movement. He was interested in the work of the early Renaissance and the medieval period, but not content with representing one-sided characters and scenes, indeed Hawkin’s figures and landscapes often contain narrative ambiguities. All is not always how it seems.
After 1900 he produced fewer paintings and also began to experiment with other styles, particularly Impressionism. He was drawn to the Impressionist interest in the play of light and he developed a more fluid painting style. After the turn of the century, new movements such as Expressionism and the development of Cubism left him cold and he retreated to Brittany with his family. There he began to use a lighter palette in his oils and painted more commercially orientated watercolours to aid the growth of his family. His life was however cut short by a heart attack on the 24th May 1910. The artistic community in Paris paid their respects by mounting a small retrospective at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Since then there has been something of resurgence in interest in the artist after the purchase of two of his works by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, who used this as an excuse to mount a retrospective of 25 pictures in 1992 (to which an illustrated catalogue was written). His work is housed in many public and private collections throughout Europe and beyond.