In Brilliant Color, Paintings by Alice de Boton

Now on display at the Columbia Public Library are two vivid paintings by the artist Alice de Boton, who lived in Columbia for many years and passed away April 10 at the age of 103. Learn a little about this remarkable artist and the encaustic painting technique she used.

Silhouettes, by Alice de Boton, encaustic on panel, 1991


Desert Storm, by Alice de Boton, encaustic on panel, ca. 1991.

Alice de Boton was born in Jaffa, Palestine (now Israel) to a Jewish family whose ancestors left Spain in the fifteenth century. They meandered through many parts of Europe, including Greece and Turkey before settling in Palestine. When World War I broke out, her family moved from Palestine to Port Said, Egypt, but returned after the end of the war. When Alice was in her twenties, she followed her brother to Paris, France to study art. She had always loved to paint and draw, and had taken private lessons along with her other studies.

Once in Paris, it became necessary for her to be more pragmatic about her education. She first earned a degree in law and then in chemistry. During this time in the 1930s, she met and married Jean Robert Bernard. They attempted to leave France as the storms of war approached, but they were overtaken and fled to southern France. Robert and Alice, as well as her brother Yves, were all variously involved in the French Resistance.

After World War II, Alice, Robert and their daughter Aline immigrated to the United States and settled in California’s Bay Area. Alice was finally able to take up painting in earnest. Over the years, she founded an art school, set up a gallery and won many awards. When Robert retired, they moved first to Mexico, then to the high desert of California, back to Israel and, finally, settled here in Columbia to be near their daughter. All through these years Alice painted in several different media, including oil, acrylic and watercolor. In her later years, she focused on encaustic.

The two pieces donated to the Columbia Public Library were painted in 1991 when Alice de Boton was in her mid-eighties. She and her husband had recently moved to Columbia from Israel. This was during the time of the first Gulf War, and the possibility of chemical warfare was a very real threat. Gas masks were being handed out in Israel. These two paintings reflect her anxiety for her family and friends in the Middle East and perhaps her memories of past wars. She used encaustic for these works and described the technique as follows,

"Encaustic painting is a technique in which pigments are mixed with hot wax. After all the colors have been applied to the painting surface, a heating element is passed over them until the individual brush or palette knife marks fuse into a uniform film. This 'burning in' of the colors is an essential element of encaustic technique. Apart from greater sophistication of modern heating methods and the use of resin or oil, present day techniques are similar to those described by 1st century scholar, Pliny the Elder. [Encaustic painting] is considered the oldest and most durable form of easel painting. Examples of ancient works have survived intact due to the inert nature of the beeswax and its resistance to moisture. The charm of an encaustic painting is in the luster of its enamel-like finish and the bright quality it gives to the pigment."

In an article in the Columbia Missourian from the same year, Alice spoke about her use of this medium, "I feel I will catch something better by encaustic, it brings more of my soul in it."

Obituatries: Columbia Daily Tribune | Missourian

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