At first, I wasn’t sure why I thought of the nineteenth century painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema as I viewed the opening reception of Philippe Vasseur at Axelle Galerie in Chelsea. For both in terms of style and content the artists differ enormously. Alma-Tadema, of course, depicted with mythical clarity and discipline, scenes of grandeur and repose of the classical Roman Empire. Philippe Vasseur, on the other hand, with impressionistic freedom, displays humble views of a more everyday world.

But both, it seems, follow one rule with their painting: they succeed in creating sublime grace with scenes that are not dominated by natural landscapes. Instead, their works focus on settings created or woven with the lives of humans and portray a potential for beauty.

That beauty is not without its eeriness. Just as darkness lurks behind the stories in Alma-Tadema’s paintings (i.e., who could forget, those lovely roses petals in the Roses of Heliogabalus actually smother people), a certain melancholy haunts Vasseur’s works. Cafe bleu – which is nothing short of mesmerizing in both its depth, glow, and color – depicts a loneliness as all the patrons in the room sit alone at their tables. One hopes that they are able to appreciate the peace that exists in that moment of time.

Vasseur’s melancholy is one we can live with. Indeed, it makes his flashes of experience and light in life (often that come combined with the most unassuming seconds) so much more appreciated.

Vasseur is, fortunately, not alone in his successful style of merging impressionism with a strong awareness of physiological depth. Axelle Fine Arts Gallerie hosts other such fine artists. Also, recently, I reviewed a work by the elusive Jerilyn Jurinek who displayed similar skill. These artists and their galleries should be commended for their vision of art that respects classical traditions, while at the same time enables the development of work that is wondrous and new.

And Philippe Vasseur succeeds marvelously at creating awe in this show. His work is grand in that it evokes in awareness that life can be so extraordinary beautiful, yet at the same time these moments are not of a past time or society that we cannot attain. Though they are mythical, they are real: two men in silence in a room at sunset (Sans titre); an old weathered boat on a grey beach (Epave); a man sitting on the ground near a hound dog (Sur le trottoir). These are not the false legends which Alma-Tadema teased us with, but scenes of life that we live. And – though they may be without opulence – these “ordinary” times of our lives are filled with sensational beauty. We just have to make a choice in opening our awareness. And Vasseur inspires us to awaken our souls to the delicacies of our simple human world.

Philippe Vasseur is on view from June 3 – July 3, 2010 at Axelle Fine Arts