XIX: Career and Life


If the last two decades of Lahner's active career can be counted among the most personally fulfilling and rewarding of his life, this late-blooming success does not go without some qualification. In substance, Lahner remained indifferent to wealth and fame and reluctant to assign monetary value to his works. His shyness with dealers, his laissez-faire command of French, and his growing deafness could only have accentuated an already well-developed disinclination for self-promotion. At the height of his form in the early 1960s, Lahner turned down a commission offered by Senghor to decorate a hall in the National Assembly building at Dakar.[126] Likewise, claiming indisposition due to advanced age, he never went to America to help foster the sale of his work.[127] Despite consistently good reviews he seems to have done nothing to follow up on the critical successes his exhibitions had scored in Paris, preferring to send periodically a group of paintings to Laky and let the balance accumulate undisturbed in his studio. It might be argued that success came too late in his life for him to take in all its advantages, but the artist appears at all ages to have been fundamentally lacking in the drive required to cultivate a major career. For these reasons, Lahner's reputation went on hold the moment he permanently laid his brush aside.

When Lahner died in Paris on 14 December 1980, friends, journalists, and fellow artists observed his passing with the quiet respect he had cultivated throughout his career.[128] One of the last surviving members of the École de Paris, Lahner like many of his compatriots died in relative obscurity, a price paid for the personal and artistic independence he had exercised since the day he arrived in Paris. If the French capital offered unbounded opportunities for exhibitions, cultural exchange, and individual liberty, it also allowed an artist like Lahner to turn his back on the post-war commercialization of art and the popular acclaim that often went hand in hand with it. In so doing, Lahner maintained his integrity and reaffirmed his commitment to his métier . No one was more sensitive to the pure pleasure offered by aesthetic experience than Lahner, but seldom has an artist been so quick to acknowledge that it is by the practice of routine labor that such aesthetic goals are attainable. Above all else, Lahner was a painter who enjoyed his work, and it is this that we feel when we come into contact with the output of his creative genius.


(126) Bouret 115. Bouret dates the proposed commission to 1959, but Senghor appears to have offered Lahner the opportunity of changing his mind several times thereafter.

(127) Interview with L. Laky.

(128) "Carnet. Emile Lahner," Le Monde , 17 December 1980, 18.