At the age of 15, an apprentice typesetter, Pourtau left Bordeaux for Paris. He worked in a small restaurant on the Rue Lafayette, where musicians gathered Orchestre Lamoureux. Thanks to them gets a job as a concert clarinetist in a Café-chantant. He toured with a circus band where he would help set up the tent and bathe the elephants. Back in Paris he entered the Conservatoire de Paris. During this period he married, had two children, and become a professor at the Conservatoire de Lyon at the age of 22 – the youngest ever.
He met George Seurat, himself also a musician, who taught him the impressionist technique. He took the opportunity of a concert tour in the US, which, after two years, earned him 20,000 Francs. At the annual exhibition of fine art held in Philadelphia over the winter of 1896–1897, he exhibited a painting, Quatre heures de l'après-midi (Four o'clock in the afternoon). This would be his only showing. Returning to Le Havre, Pourtau boarded the SS La Bourgogne. On 4 July 1898 she was sunk in collision in dense fog with the British sailing ship Cromartyshire off Sable Island (now belonging to Canada). The painter died in the accident.
Lecture sous la lampe
Sur la plage
c.f. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Seurat