05 October 2011

Jules Bastien-Lepage

“And when other painters saw Bastien-Lepage´s pictures and discovered he had simply set up his easel outdoors, posed his models, and painted right there through to the finish, they sought to do likewise with an unprecedented fervor. All this activity resulted in a fresher, more vivid concept of outdoor color and by the year 1880 the plein-air movement was in full swing.” - Anthony Watkins

Equally so, the invention of the foldable paint tube in the 1840s was a technological breakthrough that made paintings outdoors easy.  Before he set up his easel in the open air, few painters had ventured outside as Jules Bastien-Lepage  (1848-1884) did.  A realist, like the much better known Jean-Francois Millet, Bastien-Lepage distinguished himself by the particularity he brought out in his subjects.


They stand before us, near the frame of his paintings, almost ready to walk out of the background where they stand.  Bastien-Lepage painted from a standing position to maintain the integrity of the relationship of the figures to their surroundings. His grasp of aerial perspective was much criticized but he defended it vehemently.

In many of his paintings the figure fills the canvas; the landscape around the figure is defined by the size of the brushstrokes the artist used to depict it. He used detailed marks for the grasses or stones in the foreground; broader, boxy strokes for the middle distance; and a series of softer, less definite strokes  suggest the far distance. Perspective is merely indicated, but notice the care Bastien-Lepage took in selecting titles for his paintings.  The  location and date of  Roadside Flowers in Damvillers is inscribed in the lower left corner, even as the care-weary child dominates the picture.

Bastien-Lepage grew up on a farm in rural eastern France, far from Paris.  Although his parents encouraged him to draw, they could not imagine a career in art for their son.  So Jules went to work as a postal clerk and studied art at night.  This context helps in looking at  Going To School  (at left), a work that might strike us as sentimental unless we remember that for rural children in the 19th century  to attend school was often a financial sacrifice for the family that depended on the labors of all its members..

While serving as a sharpshooter in the franco-Prussian War of 1870, Bastien-Lepage received a severe chest wound which may have contributed to his early death.  Having got himself to Paris, Jules tried ,with little success, to get work as an illustrator.  That came in 1874 when he showed Portrait of My Grandfather and again in 1877, when his Hayfield captivated the annual Salon.
In the few short, productive years that were given to him, the artist traveled to Italy, Switzerland, and England.  Several paintings commemorate his empathy for the working children of London's streets

The day after his death in his Paris studio on December 10, 1884, Jules Bastien-Lepage was buried in the family's cemetery in Damvillers.  The memorial exhibition at the Musee d'Orsay in 1885 sold out and his work was kept alive by the discerning critic Roger Marx, who arranged a show of Bastien-Lepage's work at the Paris International Exposition of 1900. 

The man, the artist, believed that everyone has a place in nature.    This is the connection between a figure like the woodcutter from Damvillers, whom he knew, and his Joan of Arc, a vividly imagined woman of the woods .   Both belong to a world that is encompassed by the phrase, coined by M.H. Abrams: 'natural supernaturalism.'

1.Portrait of the Artist's Mother, 1877, Musee des Beaux-arts, Nice.
2. Portrait of My Grandfather, 1869, Musee des Beax-Arts, Nice.
3.October Season - Picking Potatoes, 1879,  National Gallery of Australia, Melbourne.
4. The Woodcutter - Pere Jacques, 1881, Milwaukee Art Museum.
5. Going to School, 1884, Aberdeen Art Gallery, Scotland.
6. Marchande des fleurs  a Londre (Flower Seller in London), 1882, via Artmagick.
7. Pas de mache (Nothing Going), 1882, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.
8. Joan of Arc, 1878, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
9. Roadside Flowers in Damvillers a/k/a The Little Shepherdess , 1882, private collection, France.


Vincent Nappi said...

I love all of these articles. This blog is such a gem. Where else can I get my dose of 19th century art and literature all in one spot? Thanks so much for keeping it up!

Jane said...

Thank you, Vincent. I'm glad you enjoy this. There is quite a bit of 20th century art here, as well.

Melinda9 said...

I was only familiar with Joan of Arc, having seen it many times at the Met. Love how he chose the gaze of the subjects - for example, the little boy (girl?) looks like he's walking by and glances over at the artist and the viewer. Also like the chance to see 19th century clothes - the little shepherdess' jacket, the schoolchild's hood with pompoms.

Caregiver said...

Hi. I used the Joan of Arc in a blog recently. She sits in my living room watching over me. Love this blog and glad I found it.
Attaching link to my blog for your interest.

I will add you to my blog list!

Jane said...

Melinda and Caregiver, Bastien-Lepage's "Joan of Arc" was a great success for the artist. By that time he had begun to receive commissions to paint such famous contemporaries as Sarah Bernhardt.