Réunion de famille (Family Reunion) by Frédéric Bazille

Family Reunion by Frederic Bazille (1867-69)

Often when I am driving down a large highway and see that the traffic flow in the opposite direction has stopped resulting in a formidable two or three mile tailback and I go further on, past the hold-up, around a bend in the road, and see cars heading towards the stopped traffic, the drivers of which are completely oblivious to what is around the bend.  They are happily driving on.  Life for them is good.  Maybe they are heading home or heading for a destination they have been counting down time to reach.   They have great plans with regards what they will do when they reach their destination.   It is at times like these that I think about life and death and the way we, like the driver and passengers of the cars heading unwittingly towards the tail-back.  We are happily going about our business, completely unaware of what is about to happen to us in a few minutes, or a few hours, or a few days or a few months hence.

So why do I start my art blog in such a fashion?   The reason is that for my next two blogs I am featuring works by two young artists who had their whole lives ahead of them and who must have believed theirs was to be a successful and happy future and yet because of a conscious decision they both made, their lives would end suddenly in the theatre of war.  Today I am going to once again look at the life and works of the nineteenth century French painter Frédéric Bazille and in the following blog I want to introduce you to an artist, who you may not have come across before, the English Victorian painter Brian Hatton.

Jean Frédéric Bazille was born in Montpellier at 11, Grand’rue in 1841. His father was Gaston Bazille and his mother was Camille Victorine Bazille (née Viliars).  Gaston Bazille was a wine merchant, senator and president of the Agricultural Society of Herault.  He was the head of an affluent and cultured upper middle-class Protestant family.  He and his wife had three children, Suzanne the eldest, followed by Jean Frédéric and Claude Marc.  Whilst living in Montpellier, Bazille became acquainted with a friend of his father, a local art collector Alfred Bruyas.  Bruyas was also a close friend and patron of the artist Gustave Courbet and, over time, he had built up a sizeable art collection with works by Jean-François  Millet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Eugène Delacroix and of course, many by his friend Courbet.   Young Frédéric Bazille often had the chance to examine these precious works and was fascinated with and inspired by the collection.   This was to be the start of the young man’s love affair with art.  He began to paint and sketch but his father told him that if he wanted to continue with his art he had to agree to continue with his studies. He graduated from high school in Montpellier, where he obtained a degree in 1859, and as he would do anything to continue with his art, he went along with his father’s wishes and began his medical studies at the Faculty of Montpellier.

To continue with his medical studies, Bazille had to move to Paris and so in November 1862 he travelled to the capital.   Whilst in Paris, Bazille, unbeknown to his father, spent more time sketching and painting than getting on with his medical studies.    In late 1862, Bazille enrolled at the private art studio of Charles Gleyre, the Swiss historical painter.   Whilst at this atelier he met and became friends with fellow aspiring artists, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and James McNeil Whistler.   Monet and Renoir would become close friends of Bazille’s and they were to influence his artistic style and approach toward art, particularly through the practice of en-plein air painting and directly observing life and nature.  During this time, a frequent meeting place for these artistic friends was the Café Guerbois in Paris, where new ideas and theories were discussed passionately.    Bazille, unlike Monet, had no money problems.  He came from a well-off family and he would often pay for many a round of drinks.   Bazille also paid for studio rent and art supplies and always helped ease the financial worries of the likes of Monet by buying some of their paintings and by doing so ensured that his new-found friends would be saved from complete financial despair.

When Gleyre’s studio closed the following year Bazille decided to leave Paris and follow his friends whilst he waited on the results of his medical exams.  In 1863 he went and lived alongside Monet at Chailly and learnt the en plein air painting technique in the Forest of Fontainebleau.  In 1864, he found out that he had failed his medical exams, much to his father’s disappointment.   Bazille gave up any idea of entering the medical profession and, from this time on, he concentrated all his efforts on his painting.

France declared war on Prussia on 19 July 1870 but the other German states quickly joined on Prussia’s side and France was soon defeated.  In August 1870, at the age of 28, Frédéric Bazille, against the wishes and advice from his friends, enlisted in the Third Regiment of the Zouave.    Zouave was the title given to certain light infantry regiments in the French army which trained in Algeria.   One must remember that Bazille was a wealthy man and could, if he had so wanted, not have gone to war, for in those days, even if he had been drafted, he and his family could have paid for another person to substitute for him. However Bazille chose to serve his country.   Bazille died on November 28th 1870 at the Battle of Beaune-la-Rolande, near Orléans.  Bazille’s biographer, François Daulte wrote about the incident:
“... The company halted on the top of ridge overlooking Beaune. It was greeted with a hail of Prussian bullets. The first of the men advancing toward the town fell like flies …….. In the general chaos women and children were escaping from the town and running towards isolated farm buildings which would offer some protection …….. Bazille’s turn came and he charged, crying: “Don’t shoot! Women and children!” He was hit by two bullets to the arm and chest. He fell, face down in the earth, fifty metres from the château where Corot had painted one of his masterpieces…”

Bazille died on the battlefield just eight days before his twenty-ninth birthday.   His family was devastated and his father travelled to the battlefield a few days later to take his body back for burial at Montpellier.

My featured painting today is probably Frederic Bazille’s most famous work, entitled Réunion de famille also called Portraits de famille (Family Reunion also called Family Portraits) which he completed in 1867 and altered slightly two years later.  It is a large painting, measuring 152cms x 230cms.  The subject of the work is an extended family gathering at Bazille’s family’s country estate at Méric, near Montpellier during the summer of 1867.  The sun is shining brightly but the people are safeguarded from the harsh rays of the sun by the very large tree on the terrace, the foliage of which filters the sunlight, which allows the artist to cleverly depict the very sophisticated light and shadow effects against the subjects, their clothing and surroundings.  Look at the strong contrasts of the bright colours between that of the landscape and the sky in comparison to the shaded areas under the tree.  As the sunlight manages to filter through the leaves it manages to light up some of the pale clothing contrasting it against the darkness of the jackets, shawl and apron.  It illustrates how Bazille’s liked painting in the light of the South of France.

In this painting, Bazille has depicted various figures in a tableaux-type style.  Although there is a peaceful feeling about this depiction, it is just a group of figures.  There is a lack of interaction between the family members with all the figures stiffly-posed and all, except the father, looking towards us as if we were the photographer recording this family get-together.  The photographer aspect of this painting may not be as far-fetched as it seems as it is known that around about this time Frédéric’s brother Marc married Suzanne Tissié and it could well be that Frédéric was in some ways recording the family get-together a few days after this wedding.  There is an air of confidence about the demeanours of the people depicted, which probably came with their affluent status in society.  In the picture Bazille has included ten extended family members and he even added himself in the painting.  He is not in a prominent position.  He has squeezed himself into the far left of the painting, which may infer that he was somewhat reluctant to include himself.    Next to him stands his uncle by marriage, Gabriel des Hours-Farel.  Seated on a bench with their back to him is his mother, Camille, and father, Gaston, whilst at the table is his aunt, his mother’s sister, Élisa des Hours-Farel and her daughter Juliette Thérèse.     Standing by the trunk of the tree with their arms linked are Bazille’s cousin Thérèse Teulon-Valio, the married daughter of Gabriel and Élisa des Hours-Farel,  and her husband, Emile.  On the right of the painting, standing by the terrace wall is Marc Bazille, Frédéric’s brother with his wife of a few days, Suzanne Tissié and his sister Suzanne.    The Bazille and des Hours families used to spend every summer on the magnificent estate of Méric, in Castelnau-le-Lez, a village near Montpellier. The house and its grounds were slightly higher up, overlooking the village.

Two years later, after it was shown in the Salon, Bazille re-worked parts of the painting, replacing little dogs, which had been in the foreground, with a somewhat contrived still life made up of a furled umbrella, a straw hat and a bunch of flowers.

The painting was accepted by the French Salon of 1868, which slightly embarrassed Bazille as his friend Monet had failed to get any of his works accepted by the Salon jurists that year.  Bazille didn’t gloat much about his inclusion in the Salon, stating that his being chosen over Monet was “probably by mistake.”  Bazille’s is often now looked upon as a dilettante, an amateur who flirted with avant-gardism but lacked application and so remained a follower rather than a leader. However some of his contemporaries would disagree, Camille Pissaro described him as:  “one of the most gifted among us.”

Bazille produced many beautiful works of art during his short lifetime and who knows what he may have accomplished if he had not patriotically decided to fight for his country and sadly, within a year of painting today’s picture he was lying dead on a battlefield.

Camille Doncieux and Claude Monet

My next two blogs deal not with a particular painting but with the subject of a series of paintings completed lovingly by one artist.  The subject is Camille-Léonie Doncieux, who was the beloved model, mistress and wife of Claude Monet.  In 1861, Monet had enlisted as a soldier in the Chasseurs d’Afrique regiment and spent two years in Algeria.  His military life came to an end in 1863 because he had fallen ill with fever.  He went back to Paris where he studied at the atelier of the Swiss artist Charles Gleyre and it was during this time that he met up with the artists Sisley, Bazille and Renoir, who would later join together with others and become known as the Impressionists..

Camille Doncieux was born in 1846 and met the impoverished but talented painter, Claude Monet, for the first time in 1865 when she was just eighteen years of age.  She came from an ordinary unprivileged background.  She fell in love with him, leaving her home to live with the talented 25-year-old painter who struggled to sell his work. People called her La Monette.  Everyone she met fell under her spell.   It was recorded that she was a ravishingly good-looking girl with dark hair, very graceful, full of charm and kindness.  Monet, her future husband, was struck by her beauty and described her eyes as being wonderful.    It was not long after they met that she began modeling for him and soon became his favourite model.  His professional interest in her soon became personal and the two soon became lovers.   The first time we come across Camille in a painting by Monet was in a study for his ill-fated work Déjeuner sur l’Herbe.

Study for Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (1865/6)

In 1863, Édouard Manet had exhibited his painting Déjeuner sur l’Herbe at the Salon des Refusés (see My Daily Art Display, December 23rd 2010).   The critics and public were shocked by the work and Manet’s depiction of a nude woman seated with a pair of clothed men in a landscape setting.    Monet, who was known for his competitive streak decided to paint his own version of Déjeuner sur l’Herbe in the spring of 1865. This audacious venture would culminate in putting it forward for an exhibition at the Salon of 1866.  Following outdoor studies he made in the Forest of Fontainebleau, he immediately headed back to his nearby studio at Chaillyen-Bière and started to make preparatory sketches for what would be his mammoth canvas measuring an unbelievable 4.5 metres x 6 metres.  In one of his preparatory sketches, which he did in oil entitled Bazille and Camille (study for Déjeuner sur l’Herbe) we see Camille Doncieux and Monet’s fellow artist friend Frédéric Bazille.   Ultimately the painting was not a success. Monet was unable to finish it in time for the 1866 Salon and eventually abandoned the work. He left it, rolled up, with his landlord as part payment for rent he owed but it became damp and all that now remains are fragments of the work and some preparatory studies. The experience did, however, contribute to Monet’s realisation that to portray the brief moment in time, he would have to work on a much smaller scale.

La Femme à la Robe Verte by Monet (1866)

The next time we see Camille is in a painting Monet exhibited in the 1866 Salon.  The work was entitled Camille or Woman in a Green Dress and now hangs in the Kunsthalle, in Bremen.  After his disastrous attempt to emulate Manet with his painting of Déjeuner sur l’Herbe this work of his gained him critical acclaim.  Rumour had it that in his rush to meet the Salon deadline he completed the work in four days but one must doubt that assertion.  It is not strictly a portrait of Camille.  It is all about the dress.  She was simply his model for the painting.  The first thing which strikes one as we look at the work is the colour of the promenade dress which had probably been borrowed for the occasion.  Monet loved colour and the green he has used is awesome.  It dominates the painting and even detracts from the woman herself.  This is not about Camille but on the dress she wears and how it hangs.  The painting reminds one of a photograph out of a fashion shoot for a fashion magazine when the clothes are the important thing and not the model.  Look how the background is undefined.  It is simply plain and dark.  Monet had decided that nothing should deflect our gaze from the woman and her dress.  I like how Camille is just raising her right hand towards her face as if the picture has captured her just about to do something, a fleeting gesture, and we are left guessing as to what.  Maybe she is adjusting the ribbon of her bonnet.  The painting was accepted by the Salon jury and hung in their 1866 exhibition.    It was an immediate hit with both the art critics of the time and the public and the Paris newspapers called Camille the Parisian Queen.

One amusing anecdote about this painting was the story that Monet’s signature on the painting had been mistaken by many viewers for that of Manet, who had entered the Salon to a chorus of acclaim for his supposed work.  Monet told this story to the newspaper Le Temps:

“….imagine the consternation when he discovered that the picture about which he was being congratulated was actually by me !   The saddest part of all was that on leaving the Salon he came across a group which included Bazille and me.  ‘How goes it?’ one of them asked.  ‘Awful,’ replied Manet, ‘I am disgusted.  I have been complimented on a painting which is not mine’…….”

Camille au Petit Chien by Monet (1866)

That same year Monet produced a hauntingly beautiful and intimate portrait of his lover entitled Camille with a Little Dog, which is in a private collection.  We see Camille sitting side-on to us in quite a formal pose.  This is one of the few paintings of her by Monet that looks closely at her.  Once again as was the case in the Woman in a Green Dress, the background is plain and dark and in no way serves as a reason for taking our eyes off Camille.  We are not to be distracted from her beauty.  This painting is all about Camille.  It is interesting how Monet has painted the figure of the dog simply by thick brush strokes.  At a distance it looks like a dog but if you stand close up to the painting you can see it is just a mass of brush strokes.  However Monet has not treated the painting of Camille’s face with the same quick thick strokes of his brush.  She has been painted with delicate precision.  Monet did not want to depict the love of his life with hastily swishes of a brush. He took pains in her appearance.  This was a labour of love.

Luncheon by Monet (1868)

In 1867 Monet’s lover Camille gave birth to their son Jean.  A year later, during the winter of 1868, Monet started on his painting entitled Luncheon, which can be seen at the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Franfurt.   This family, which now included their son Jean, were staying in Étretat at the house of a patron, where Monet had taken refuge from his Parisian creditors and critics.  It is a large highly detailed oil on canvas painting measuring 230cms x 150cms.   It is simplistic in its subject.  Before us we have sitting at the dining table Camille and her blonde-haired son.  She looks lovingly at him whilst he seems to only have eyes for the food.  A visitor stands with her back to the window and the maidservant is seen leaving the room.  A place is set out ready for her husband to join her at the meal table.  Look how Monet has painted a number of items overlapping the surfaces they are resting on.  On the table we have the loaf of bread, the newspaper and the serviette  all hanging over the cloth which Monet has depicted as being somewhat creased.  In the background we have two books overlapping the edge of the table.  All this in some ways adds to the realism of the painting.  Sunlight pours through the large window to the left of the painting and bathes the well-stocked table in light and by doing so brings it to life.  Monet submitted the painting to the 1870 Salon jury but it was rejected.  Four years later he included the work in the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874.

to be concluded tomorrow………………………………

The Artist’s Studio, Rue de La Condamine by Frédéric Bazille

The Artist’s Studio, Rue de La Condamine by Frédéric Bazille

quem di diligunt, adolescens moritur

Whom the gods love, die young.”

The aphorism comes from the Roman playwright Plautus, who flourished around the end of the 3rd century and actually based his story on a Greek legend about a mother and her two sons.   The point of bringing up this saying is that it unhappily could refer to my featured artist of the day, who was so talented and yet was taken from us at such a young age by war.

Jean Frédéric Bazille was born in Montpellier in 1841.  His father was a senator and the head of an affluent and cultured middle-class Protestant family.    In Montpellier, Jean became acquainted with a friend of his father, a local art collector Alfred Bruyas.  Bruyas was a close friend of Gustave Courbet and he owned a large number of expensive paintings by Millet, Corot, Eugène Delacroix and many by his friend Courbet.  Young Frédéric Bazille was fascinated and inspired by the collection and this was the start of his love affair with art. He loved to paint and sketch but his father told him that if he wanted to continue with his art he had to agree to continue with his medical studies. He agreed to his father’s terms and in 1860 he started studying art.

 In 1862 he moved north to Paris to continue with his medical studies but spent most of his time sketching and painting.  Later that year he joined the studio of Charles Gleyre, the Swiss artist.  It was whilst there that he met and became friends with fellow aspiring artists, Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Whistler.   Gleyre’s studio closed the following year and Bazille decided to leave Paris and follow his friends whilst he waited on the results of his medical exams.

During his journeys around Normandy with Monet  in 1864 they stopped off at Honfleur, which was at that time a special meeting place for the en plein air painters.   It was here that he met up with Monet’s friends, the French marine and landscape painter, Eugene Boudin and the Dutch landscape and seascape painter, Johan Jongkind.  These two artists would later be instrumental in the development of Impressionism.    In the autumn of 1864 Bazille returned with Monet to Chaillyen-Bière, near Fontainebleau.  It was around this time that he finds out that he had  failed his medical exams but fortunately for him, his father did not press him to re-sit them and instead allowed his son to concentrate solely on his artistic career.  In 1865 he put forward two of his paintings to the Paris Salon, Young Girl at the Piano and Still-life with Fish.  Annoyingly for him only his still-life was accepted for the exhibition by the Salon jury.

Bazille and Camille (Study for Déjeuner sur l'Herbe) 1865

Monet, who had a competitive streak, knew about Édouard Manet’s work  Déjeuner sur l’herbe (See My Daily Art Display December 23rd) and knew of the masses of publicity it had received (not all good of course!) when it was exhibited at the 1863 Salon des Refusés.  In the spring of 1865, he decided that he too would embark on his own version of Déjeuner sur l’herbe.   This idea of figure painting in the open air was a new venture for Monet.  He began sketches for his new large-scale painting (4metres x 6 metres) which he planned to finish back in his Paris studio.  The reason for huge size for the proposed work was mainly down to Monet being inspired by Courbet’s recent large scale paintings.   The figures in Monet’s painting were life-sized.  It was almost a group of portraits set in a landscape.  Bazille and Monet’s girlfriend Camille posed for part of this work.  This preparatory oil painting of the two of them exists entitled Bazille and Camille (Study for “Déjeuner sur l’Herbe”) and can be seen at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.  However, only fragments of Monet’s completed grand scale painting survive.   Monet left it with a landlord to cover a debt, and it was ruined by moisture and neglect.  At the same time Bazille himself completed a painting The Pink Dress, which was part of the study for Monet’s open-air mammoth portrait/landscape. 

Bazille having come from a wealthy family never had any financial problems unlike his newly found artist friends and he would often help them out by sharing his studio with them and providing them with artistic materials when they couldn’t afford to buy them.   He actually bought some of Monet’s paintings, including a large work entitled Women in the Garden,  just because the artist needed money.  His friendship with the soon-to-be Impressionists was recorded in a series of paintings he did one of which was set in his Paris studio where they would all meet and it is this work which is My Daily Art Display’s featured painting of the day. 

At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in August 1870, Bazille enlisted in the Zouave, which was the title given to certain light infantry regiments of the French army.  His friends had all tried to dissuade him from this patriotic gesture but to no avail.   In a battle close to the village of Beaune-la-Rolande, his commanding officer had been killed and he took control of his men leading an assault on the Prussian position.  He was hit twice by enemy fire and died on the battlefield.  His death on November 28th 1870 was just a few days before his twenty-ninth birthday.    His father was devastated by the news and a week later came north from Montpellier to the scene of the battle and took his son’s body back home for burial.

Today I am giving you The Artist’s Studio in the Rue de La Condamine, which Frederic Bazille completed in 1870, the same year he went off to fight and die for his country.  The painting currently hangs in the Musée d’Orsay.   One can imagine a group of friends nowadays doing the same as Bazille has done  – recording for posterity a gathering of companions in a photograph but of course in Bazille’s day,  it had to be a sketch or a painting.   The setting for the painting is Bazille’s studio at 9 rue de la Condamine, which he shared with Renoir from the beginning of 1868 until May 1870.   Some of Bazille’s works  are scattered around the room.  To the left, on the wall, we have his Fisherman with a Net and his painting entitled La Toilette can be seen hanging just above the white sofa.  The small still-life above the head of the piano player is a still life by Monet which Bazille had bought in order to support his friend.   We see three men standing at an easel discussing the painting on display.  The man with the hat standing in the middle is Édouard Manet and behind him we think is Monet.  The tall man to the right of the easel, palette in hand, is Bazille himself.  On the staircase is the journalist, writer and art critic, Emile Zola, who is in discussion with Renoir, who is seated below the staircase.  At the piano is Bazille’s musician friend Edmond Maitre.  The National Gallery at Washington houses a portrait of Maitre by Frédéric Bazille.

Frédéric Bazille was considered to be the most gifted of the soon-to-become Impressionists and, if he had lived, he might well have become one of the leaders of that group.  Camille Pissarro described him as one of the most gifted among us.