Gene Hatfield Water Color - Montreuil vue du Petit Jardin - La Maison - France .jpg

In October, 1956, Gene met Nicole Wable in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Nicole, a native of Montreuil-sur-mer, France, was visiting friends she had made as a graduate student studying English Literature as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville in 1953 - 1954. Finding connection and affection immediately, Gene knew he had to stay in touch with Nicole even though she was returning to France. The two continued to exchange letters. Their romance grew and Gene proposed to Nicole through handwritten letter. Gene and Nicole were married in 1957 in France. After the wedding, they lived in Conway where Nicole became a professor of foreign language at UCA. They had three children, Hadrian, Marc, and Mathilda, who were raised to speak both French and English - and to value both good art and a good French meal. 

During Gene’s teaching career, the family visited France almost every summer. While in Europe, Gene studied with Henri Goetz in Fontainebleau and Paris, with Leo Marchutz in Aix-en-Provence, and at the Fuller Art Studio in Saint Ives, England. The family inherited a home in Le Touquet in Pas de Calais, France, which they named “Phare Corner.” The term means lighthouse in French, and served as a play on words for the family, as the home stood on a corner in the shade of a lighthouse in far away France.

Gene was awarded medals in local art competitions, and some of his work hangs in the Musee d’Art Le Touquet as well as with local collectors. The French countryside, seascapes, and villages inspired Gene’s artwork, as did the picturesque streets and sidewalks of Paris. As an accomplished watercolorist, he made hundreds of beautiful paintings on location, depicting scenes of urban and rural life in post-war France and other parts of Europe, capturing the essence of the space and time around him.

As the family explored the French cities and countryside, Gene often pulled over in the middle of a trip to create a watercolor on site - despite any rumblings from his 3 young children. The striking beauty of France existing within the ordinary daily lives of the residents inspired him to create works at any given moment, in any given location. Gene's watercolors capture more than a photograph could, they display the essence and the energy surrounding him at the time, serving as both a journal and a photo album of the French lifestyle. 

Impressionists such as Cézanne and other traditional late-nineteenth-century figures influenced Gene’s style and color palette. Gene also worked in the style of French Painter Raoul Dufy at the request of his teacher, Marchutz. Overall, his experience in France shaped his style, process, and identity as an artist. He would come back to Conway, Arkansas with insights into a faraway world and the interesting people in it - and stacks of watercolors telling stories of his travels.