Karen Tual: Vendee, the Good Life

“C’etais destin,” says French artist Karen Tual of her serendipitous introduction to the Austin art community. Tual discovered GSC quite by accident on her first visit to the U.S two years ago. Driving through central Austin, she happened upon the gallery and ventured in to explore. That chance meeting led to what is now an annual exhibition and a delightful friendship spanning language and culture.

To this reserved French artist’s delight, the response to her art has been overwhelmingly favorable! Collectors are captivated by the charming narrative and the refreshing naivete of each painting. Her images take us through the Loire Valley of western France, south to the artist’s native Vendee where vineyards and rolling hills stretch to the Atlantic coast. While we savor the pastoral beauty of each image, it is Tual’s ability to convey harmony and familial warmth that lingers most in our minds.

Tual, a self-taught artist, works in oils on wood panels gessoed and sanded until the surface is smooth as glass. Painting from memory in her studio, bathed in warm, natural light, she blocks in regional landscapes dotted with hills, ponds and expressive pastel skies. Gradually, she brings the composition to life with red-roofed hamlets and family gatherings, details recalling the joys of a simpler way of life in her province of Vendee. This is “my country” says Tual who speaks with pride of “the good life” of her native region.

This spring, Vendee’s “good life” was the highlight of my April trip to France. Karen and I drove through the countryside to visit her parents near Cholet. With a French- English dictionary close at hand, I took in the picturesque views – lines of poplar trees, white charlais cattle grazing lazily, stone buildings roofed in red tile. Playing fetch with the family dog at her parents’ house, I felt as if I had stepped into one of Karen’s paintings. Welcomed with an affection that surmounted even the language barrier, Karen’s mom served tea and the traditional brioche de Vendee as we chatted like old friends. Her dad and I surfed the universal “net”, and we enjoyed the early spring blooms of the family garden. Here in this place, much pleasure is found in time with family and friends, and it is this feeling of home that Karen Tual evokes in each of her timeless paintings.

Spring 1999