My account of the too-brief life and works of Frédéric Bazille (1841–1870) has brought him to the summer of 1868, with his successful and still-famous paintings of his family, in The Family Gathering, and most of all View of the Village (both 1868).
Another painting of figures in a landscape which he made that summer is Fisherman with a Net (1868), which was refused by the Salon jury of 1869. This was painted on the banks of the River Lez, close to Bazille’s family’s estate at Méric. Unlike most of his other figures in a landscape, it was executed quite quickly, with only one preparatory drawing.
The stark contrast between the flesh figures and the rich greens of the surrounding vegetation makes the two men pop out almost incongruously.
Bazille remained very productive that winter, in part because he and Renoir reorganised their shared studio. His portrait of Pierre Auguste Renoir (1868-69) was a quick oil sketch which probably filled in some free time when waiting for models to become available. It was painted over an abandoned still life – a wonderfully painterly snapshot in oils.
His growing success ensured that he had no difficulty finding models. Woman in Moorish Costume was painted during the winter of 1868-69, and is a nod towards the vogue of ‘orientalism’ at the time.
He also painted his second portrait of Edmond Maître in early 1869. Bazille met Maître (1840-1898) in 1865. Like Bazille, he had moved to Paris to study, in his case law in 1859, but had become a civil servant to provide him with sufficient free time to enjoy his pursuits, which included music and art. They were to remain close friends until Bazille’s death.
He was visited by Daubigny, and Alfred Stevens invited him to his evening meetings. With continuing hostility from some members of the Salon jury, notably Jean-Léon Gérôme, Bazille had only one painting, View of the Village, accepted for the Salon of 1869. However, he was not discouraged, and seems to have relished the continuing battle between the Impressionists and Gérôme.
Bazille started painting Summer Scene, also known as Bathers, during the summer of 1869 when he was on holiday in Montpellier. He had already made a series of compositional studies, from as early as February that year, but when he was working on the canvas, he did not find it easy going, and complained of headaches and other pains.
He eventually opted for a composition based on strong diagonals, in which the bathers in the foreground are in shade, while the two wrestlers in the distance are lit by sunshine. The landscape background was painted from the hot green mixture of grass with birch and pine trees, typical of the banks of the River Lez, near Montpellier. He completed this painting in early 1870, and it was accepted for the Salon of that year, where it was well-received by the critics.
La Toilette (1870) was one of his three planned projects for the winter of 1869-70. However, with three models required, he had to ask his father for money to cover their cost. It was refused by the Salon jury of 1870, the year in which Daubigny resigned from the jury in protest at its refusals.
Bazille’s Studio, or The Studio on the Rue La Condamine, was another project which he worked on during the winter of 1869-70.
Bazille clearly liked painting his studio, but the three canvases which he completed showing his different studios are not as simple as they might at first appear. Inspired by Fantin-Latour’s A Studio in the Batignolles Quarter (1869-70), which includes Bazille, it is in some ways its antithesis in the space shown.
Bazille was careful in the choice of paintings shown, which include View of the Village on the easel, Fisherman with a Net, Terrace at Méric, and La Toilette as yet unfinished. The largest painting hanging is Renoir’s Landscape with Two Figures, and there is also a small still life by Monet. Bazille used these as pictures within a picture to map his career, from the past to his aspirations for the Salon in 1870, not in his successes so much as in the paintings which were refused, and were the better appreciated by the colleagues who he shows in his studio.
Flowers (c 1870) is one of a small group of floral paintings which Bazille made during the Spring of 1870, when he moved to his own studio in the rue des Beaux-Arts.
Bazille painted two related but different versions of La négresse aux pivoines (Young Woman with Peonies) in the Spring of 1870. The model, a professional, is the same as that used for La Toilette. She is normally read as being a servant who is engaged in making the floral arrangement, although in the other version (at the National Gallery of Art in Washington) she appears to be a flower seller.
At the time, the dominant flower, the peony, was a relatively recent import to France, and would probably have been seen as bringing exoticism to the two paintings. The striking vase may have been borrowed from Fantin-Latour. Rishel has proposed that this painting, in Montpellier, was intended as homage to Gustave Courbet, and that in Washington was homage to Eugène Delacroix.
In the summer of 1870, Bazille worked on three paintings when he was staying at Méric, alone. Study for a Young Male Nude appears odd because it was painted over an unfinished painting of two women in a garden, and the lower third of the canvas shows the lower part of their dresses.
On 19 July 1870, France declared war on Prussia. Within a month, Bazille had enlisted in the Third Zouave Regiment. He spent September training with the regiment in Algeria, then returned into combat in France. On 28 November 1870, Bazille was killed at the Battle of Beaune-la-Rolande. He would have celebrated his twenty-ninth birthday just over a week later.
In but eight years of painting, Bazille had shown great technical skill, originality, and high promise for his future in the Impressionist movement. Unlike his close friends Monet and Renoir, he was particularly interested in and adept at depicting figures in landscapes. That brilliant future, which could so easily have changed Impressionism too, was abruptly ended in a futile attempt to relieve the Siege of Paris.
Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870) and the Birth of Impressionism is still open at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris until 5 March 2017. It then travels to the USA, where it opens at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. on 9 April 2017, and closes on 9 July 2017. With nearly 60 of his oil paintings and many of his drawings and sketches, it is not to be missed.
Its catalogue, cited below, is a unique account of his life and work, and has been invaluable to me in preparing these articles. I highly recommend it.
Hilaire, Michel, & Perrin, Paul (eds) (2016), Frédéric Bazille and the Birth of Impressionism, Flammarion. ISBN 978 2 080 20285 7.