Drawn to Impressionism

Posted On August 1, 2016

Look at the oil paintings of Noelle Brault and you might just as well be in a terroir of the Impressionists.

by Rachel Haynie

Photos by Jay Browne

Through the eyes of artist Noelle Brault, Columbia’s European influences are not only seen but are transported gently onto her canvases. Brault sees – and paints – her hometown in the kind of gentle light similar to the sketchy illumination for which this late 19th century art movement is still revered. For instance, she captures the Capital City’s landmarks by the same loose aesthetic with which Cezanne painted in Aix en Provence. 

“I paint with a limited palette,” she said. The soft colors she favors conjure up the muted hues of Degas, the blacks, taupes and pinks of Renoir. Finley Park takes on the shadowy mystique of Monet’s Giverny, as did her painting, “Spider Lilies on the Broad River in the Spring,” which quickly sold to a collector. 

The Columbia Canal could just as easily be meandering through Provence as stemming off the Broad River. In the deft hands of this artist, the State House is seen not with hard granite edges but fetchingly abstracted through blossoming branches. Even the Art Bar, known for conviviality, not architectural grace, has been rendered as picturesque.

Her “Downtown on Main” series captures the Sylvan building and the iconic clock as though they were on a corner of the Champs Elysees. The Palmetto Building was noticed anew with an artist’s eye on a night when an after-dinner stroll took the artist and her husband, Ed, to one of the city’s most enduring facades. Later, she committed to canvas the way that early 20th century skyscraper had spoken to her that evening. 

She captured the Governor’s Mansion in such a unique way that the Governor’s Mansion Commission purchased it. “It is hanging in the small drawing room,” Brault said.

Hanging in her own Victorian home are works emanating from her brushes, and works by other artists she admires. “Ed and I have to agree on a piece before we decide to purchase it. We look forward to attending art events, both in Columbia and beyond, and we both continue learning what we like,” Brault said. 

She and Ed already were settled in their home in the Elmwood Park neighborhood and were soon to become avid collectors of pieces by local artists around the time she began studying art with Michel McNinch. “She has been my teacher and my mentor,” Brault said. Among the works she and Ed have collected are a few works by McNinch, who is noted for her ability to teach as well as to make art herself. 

Although Brault didn’t act upon the innate urge to paint until 2008, she knew from an early age there was art in her, begging to be released. “I loved color as a child and drew quite a bit.” But at the University of South Carolina, she majored in math, not a discipline noted for complementing art. Well, maybe where proportions are concerned. And given the fact that she invests her work days in technology, as a software engineer with Southeastern Freight Lines, the soft effect she achieves through her art represents quite a contrast. 

“Math and computers call on me to be logical; both involve solving problems, which I like. That is creative, to be sure. Painting gives me the opportunity to be creative in a very different way,” Brault said. “I love color and light.” 

For Brault, Columbia scenes offer some of her favorite subjects to paint, but she also seeks out inspiration when she travels. “My husband is from Maine, so we go there often. I find many subjects to paint when we are visiting his family.”

The couple also loves taking short trips to the South Carolina Lowcountry. Charleston is a favorite destination. Brault is represented by a gallery there. “We also particularly love going to Edisto,” she said, and recently she completed a painting for the collection of Poinsett State Park where, earlier this year, she enjoyed sketching and painting as artist-in-residence. “I was pleasantly surprised by the difference in habitats at Poinsett. My piece was done from a reference photograph I shot, taking in both mountain laurel and Spanish moss. The park ranger said they hadn’t had one that depicted both, so I was glad that caught my eye.”

Brault’s summer calendar is filled with exhibitions. She has a solo show scheduled for Wine Down on Main in Brevard, NC in late July. In late August, the artist will have a solo show at Vista Studios/80808 Lady Street – where she began her lessons with McNinch.

Although she is relatively new at painting, a temporal fact contradicted by her skill and finesse, she has established a style easily recognizable around the city. “Paul Sloan carried my work for a number of years, and I’ve had work on view at Good Life Café, Sylvan’s Jewelers and Capital City Club.

This spring she participated in Arts on the Ridge in nearby Ridgeland, as well as the South Carolina Symphony League’s fundraiser at the Big Red Barn near Winnsboro.

As she expands her inventory in readiness for these summer shows, she already is thinking ahead to what she might like to paint next. “Ed and I rode our bicycles over to the Bull Street tract not long ago and looked around the former State Hospital campus with the wonderful Robert Mills building. I have my eye on that property.”

Brault said: “When I paint I feel connected to many beautiful places and things.  My wish is to make others feel the way I feel when first inspired to create a painting.”