Growing up in Southern California one has to be both perseverant and unrelenting in seeking to develop any meaningful level of sophistication and worldliness. So, many years ago, when I received my first real invitation to a formal dinner party, this was a memorable moment in my life.
The invitation came from the Martel family, who lived in a breathtaking 1920's Spanish home overlooking the Santa Monica Bay in Palos Verdes Estates. My chef and host for the evening was Carmen Martel, a stunning diva, who was the first Mexican women to perform on Broadway, and she danced in the first production of “West Side Story.” Carmen’s husband Remi Martel, was born in Belgium and the two of them had traveled around the world for decades, participating in art, culture, and dance exhibitions and performances.
After recovering from the initial sensory shock of the old world architecture, stunning ocean views, and overall refined taste, I became struck and curious about the remarkable art pieces exhibited around the house. One could almost immediately discern from the elegance, the grandeur and the importance of the pieces, that they were of a uniquely museum quality.
Of course, I needed the back story. They explained that Remi’s father, Paul Jean Martel, who was born in Belgium in the late 1800s was not only an extraordinary talented, and classically trained European painter, but also an avant garde artist. In 1920 Matel, showed alongside, Henri Matisse, at the Salon Triennal in Antwerp. Paul met his American wife, and emigrated from Belgium after the 1st World War. Martel was a prominent member of the historic Philadelphia Sketch Club from 1906 until his death in 1944.
Despite his world class gifts and talents, the bad timing of the Great Depression of the 1930s hindered Martel's career and prospects of fame. While Paul Jean Martel works of art can be found at the Smithsonian, National Portrait Gallery, and at other museums around the world, he has essentially become the forgotten missing-link connecting European impressionism with the American impressionist’s movement.
Very recently a letter between the King of Belgium and Martel has been rediscovered, related to the purchase, by the Belgium royal family, of some of the important Martel works of art. This letter further supports the important role that Martel played as the bridge between the European and American impressionists.
The public is now being invited to rediscover this great artist. Visitors will have the opportunity to make-up their own minds about the historical role of this great, lost painter.
By Michael Potter
(Entrepreneur, ART COLLECTOR, Enterprise Advisor & Investor, & Documentary Filmmaker)