Born in Dieppe, Valtat spent much of his youth in Versailles, moving in 1887 to Paris, where he studied under Gustave Moreau at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and under Jules Dupré at the Académie Julian. There he met Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard and Albert André. In the mid-1890s he was strongly influenced by Impressionism and Pointillism, and also van Gogh, before slowly developing his own style. In 1895 he collaborated with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and André on the set of Aurélien-François Lugné-Poë’s play Chariot de terre cuite. Under Toulouse-Lautrec’s influence, his own works darkened both in colour and sentiment. By 1896 he painted contemporary French life with an overall sunnier, more optimistic air, sometimes referring to van Gogh, and also looking to Fauvism for his use of bold colours.
From 1899 to 1914 Valtat divided much of his time between Paris and a house he built in Anthéor, near le Lavandou, but early on he also travelled and considerably broadened his contacts with other artists. In 1894 or early 1895 he spent time with Aristide Maillol in Banyuls and Collioure, at the point when Maillol abandoned a career in textiles for sculpture. In 1895 he went to Spain with Georges-Daniel de Monfreid and through him learnt more about Paul Gauguin’s work. He visited Auguste Renoir several times between 1900 and 1905 at Magagnosc, near Grasse. Their portraits of each other included a wood-engraving of Renoir and they collaborated on a sculpted bust of Cézanne. In 1902 in Venice Valtat translated his direct observations of southern light into a striking group of broadly painted works. He visited Signac at St Tropez in 1903 and 1904 and recorded North African street life in Algiers. He also explored Normandy in 1907.
As early as 1893 Valtat exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants, La Libre Esthétique in Brussels in 1900, and the Salon d’Automne in 1903. Among the reproductions in Louis Vauxcelle’s review of the Salon d’Automne of 1905 in which the term ‘Fauve’ was first used, was a loosely brushed marine scene by Valtat (untraced). Valtat, however, always remained detached and on the fringe of the Fauvist circle.
After 1914 he divided his time between Paris and regions near Rouen and Versailles. His interest turned to scenes of contemporary French life, flowers, sea and landscape. In many instances he experimented with colours and shapes as abstract intertwining patterns.
In 1948 he became blind from glaucoma.