In a small attic studio, Maria Lesieur paints as daylight filters through the north window. A palette swirled with 20 or so hues fills the room with the pungent smell of oil paint, and young Bettina Lesieur stands in the midst, peering over her mother’s shoulder as she dips the brush in blue and dabs at the canvas.
To this day, the smell of oil paints transports Lesieur to her mother’s attic. It was this cherished memory, in fact, that first directed her towards her preferred medium of oil painting. “Oils remind me of my mom and of my childhood,” she explains. But there is more than nostalgia that raises this medium to such high esteem for her. As a realist painter, she finds the timeless quality of oil paint unrivaled by other mediums, and says the richness and the color of the oils is her preference.
The unctuous oils are certainly suited to the depth and breadth of Lesieur’s paintings. Her landscape subjects range from the salty marshes and beaches of the South Shore to the bucolic scenes of Provence and Italy and the charm of Nantucket. Lesieur’s own home provides no shortage of inspiration. “I love the diversity and the change of seasons we have in New England,” she says. “There’s so much here within a short distance; we have the marshes, the woods, the city. I’m very inspired by the area.”
While her landscapes are striking and alluring, Lesieur’s pet portraiture is widely known to tug on heartstrings. “It makes me so happy,” she says, “to take my talent and do something meaningful with it by making somebody smile.”
Her pet portraiture is designed to portray each animal’s individual character by focusing on the eyes. Ironically, her affection for animals postponed Bettina’s artistic career for several years in her youth. Declining a full scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design after graduating high school, she decided instead to pursue animal sciences. but she finally realized that her passion had always been painting. No surprise. She is the daughter of a fashion design illustrator and a commercial artist who was also an accomplished fine artist. Indeed, her work is a distinct combination of her parents’ opposite styles. “I have my dad’s precision and my mom’s artistic spontaneity,” she says. She is showcasing the pieces of all three Lesieur artists at an outdoor art show at her gallery in Duxbury later this summer, reminiscent of the Annual Beacon Hill Art Walk that she enjoyed so extensively before the COVID pandemic.
Lesieur may have encountered some obstacles along her journey, but there is no question that she has found her calling. “Art is a type of expression that creative people have to articulate,” she asserts, “and as a scientist I felt really frustrated not doing that.” During the pandemic, she found herself content in the light and solitude of her studio, with the time to complete a large number of commissioned pieces that might have competed for her attention during a more frantic time.
For Lesieur, painting is an exercise in itself. With every stroke comes more experience and the opportunity to improve in technique and style. Like her parents, she not only portrays life through art but also experiences it. “My father used to say,’When you stop, you become stale.’ My saying is, ‘When you rest, you rust,” she laughs. “For me, art is not only a calling, but it’s a learning process that does not end.”
Bettina Lesieur’s work, as well as that of her family, can be found at her gallery, The Lesieur Gallery in Duxbury where she also offers remote art instruction.